Cosplay Feature – Q Mandolin

Following on from Mary West, another utterly brilliant cosplayer Q Mandolin, was very kind in granting us an interview too. When you read through these interviews you come to realise that they cosplayers themselves are ever bit as awesome as some of the characters they play.

So without further ado, drum roll please:

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Well let’s see… My cosplay name is Q Mandolin. I’m 28. I have a cat and a dog (who are best friends). I live with my boyfriend and roommates in a house in Evanston IL (a northshore suburb of Chicago).

By day I work at a music school teaching voice and piano and I just opened a theatre school about a month ago. It started out as a summer camp through the music school and it became so popular, we decided to open a sister school so we could have more space and run the theatre programs year-round! Next thing I know, we’re opening a whole new LLC and I’m the majority owner. It’s TERRIFYING.

What or who inspired you to Cosplay?

I’ve always been into what you’d call “geek culture” so when I finally moved to Chicago, I was excited to finally go to a real convention! I decided to go in costume just for fun (and because that’s what I saw other people do). I had a VERY simple Poison Ivy outfit I bought for a web series a friend of mine started and never finished so I threw it on. It was nothing more than a red wig, green corset, green underwear and tights, and boots I already owned.

Despite the simplicity of my cosplay, I was still treated like a movie star! People wanted to take my picture everywhere I went! It made me feel really special, but extremely undeserving. I saw some of the other cosplays there that involved so much more effort and skill! It made me determined to step my game up!

From there, I because addicted to “the build.” When you’re a grown up, it’s so easy to get caught up in your routine and forget to try/learn new things. I realized that this hobby does just that! It sparks my creativity, forces me to learn new skills in order to pull off my vision, gives me a deadline to complete the project (VERY important for someone like me), and then culminates in a situation that rewards me with all kinds of validation and praise for my hard work. It’s exactly the cycle I need to make time in my busy schedule every year to do something new. It’s a very fulfilling hobby:)

Now that I’ve actually started immersing myself in the community this past year, meeting all these supportive and inspiring people, seeing how this hobby can be used to help with charities and creating unforgettable experiences for kids, well… You could say that I’m officially hooked for life.

Are there specific types of character that you particularly gravitate towards and why?

I tend to stick to characters or franchises that I have a personal connection with. I love genderbends and Pokemon gijinkas (human interpretations of Pokemon) especially because it gives me the freedom to create my own design (which is super fun) and gives me a little more flexibility in how I decide to bring the character’s aesthetics to life.

I also find myself really drawn to armor when I look at my future cosplay plans. Probably because I’m not the best seamstress. Armor is more construction based.

What for you have been the most challenging characters that you’ve cosplayed as, and which have been the most enjoyable?

Ryuk is tough to wear because it consists of a wig, contacts (which I do not wear regularly), a prosthetic that’s glued to my face, a corset, and heels – All of which basically become torture devices when worn for longer than an hour o_O I also do all my cosplay makeup myself and Ryuk takes HOURS to put on. But visually, it’s my absolute favorite. It photographs unbelievably and it’s terrifyingly gorgeous in person.

My Samurai Gyarados is my most recent cosplay and was definitely the most time consuming since I built the armor entirely from scratch. I worked nonstop for MONTHS on it! But it’s the time I put into it that makes it so satisfying and fun to wear. It’s also fairly comfortable, which is definitely a bonus. I’d say it’s the one I’m the most proud of to date.

Elsa was also tricky because like I said, I’m not really a seamstress. I tag-teamed with a very talented friend of mine, Jeanine Fry, who sewed the dress itself, and I got to do all the detailing on bodice and cape, I made the shoes, and I built the wig (I murdered a cheaper wig and clipped the wefts in layer by layer to give the braid the right amount of thickness). While Elsa isn’t necessarily one of my personal favorites anymore (only because I’ve worn it SO many times), I’m particularly fond of it because I don’t wear it for me. Kids are still CRAZY about Frozen and they love Queen Elsa. I try to go out of my way to really commit to my character when I’m in this cosplay and make sure I interact with the kids in a really personal way. Elsa is definitely the cosplay that’s given me the most truly special moments.

Could you take us through a little on how you made your outfits?

Spring time is Con season. The first thing I do is gather some reference visuals and sketch out the design. Usually around the winter. I annotate it with materials and notes on how to achieve the desired effect. Then I shop around for the billions of different options for materials or pieces I don’t feel like making (usually undershirts, etc) on the internet. I pin them all to my “Cosplay in Progress” Pinterest board so I can access them whenever I want. That’s also where I put all my visual references. It’s organized chaos.

I try to order the materials ahead of time since overseas stuff can take over a month to get here. My builds usually start around February (with the first con usually kicking off at the end of April). As my cosplays have gotten more elaborate, I’ve noticed that I’ve had to start earlier and earlier… but I never finish on time. It’s just not in my nature. Haha I should probably get better at that because the older I get, the worse I get at handling all nighters… Especially the night before a con!

I’m still learning a lot about the traditional cosplay practices so my build techniques are still pretty fast and loose. Most people make drafts and take measurements. Some people even use computers! I keep things pretty freehand. Probably very foolish on my end, but I’m learning!

I bounce around between pieces to keep myself from burning out and make a HUGE mess in my basement. I rip things apart and reassemble them in a way that makes them more durable. Stuff will be drying in my laundry room and garage while I work on other things. My hot glue gun is on CONSTANTLY. Occasionally my boyfriend comes down to feed me or my cat comes down to yell at me for not being in bed yet.

The materials vary but the process is usually the same:)

Which Conventions have the most enjoyable for you to attend and why?

There are several cons in the Chicago area and I’m really only just starting to branch out. The two major ones are Wizard World and C2E2. C2E2 is definitely my favorite. It’s reasonably priced, has interesting events, and just crowded enough for it to feel exciting and attract good celebs and vendors without it getting overwhelming.

Have there been any memorable reactions to your costumes, and if so, what were they?

Ryuk is always fun on drives to cons because of the reactions I get from people who look over and catch a glimpse of me at red lights. BEST.

Elsa always gets the most memorable reactions tho.

I’ve had little girls burst into happy tears at the site of me and little boys drag their parents over only to completely freeze up once they get within three feet. Elsa’s a rockstar to little ones and as someone who works with kids, I’ve come to take that pretty seriously.

The first time I ever cosplayed as Elsa to C2E2, a guy came up and asked if he could get some footage of me for his music video. My enthusiastic friend told him that I could sing the song too so next thing I know, he whips out a speaker, and starts playing the instrumental track while playing along with the Ocarina. I just start singing automatically. In the middle of the McCormick Convention center. It was amazing. I had a couple people approach me this past con (two years later) and tell me they and their kids still remember that. It’s crazy.

The absolute best experience I had as Elsa was at the Lurie Children’s Hospital Dance Marathon benefitting their young cancer patients. I was working with a wonderful organization called We Are Cosplay providing moral support for all the dancers. We were there for 13 hours! About halfway through, they took a break for a talent showcase starring past and present patients. One of the little girls was supposed to start us off with a song, but her nerves got to her. She started tearing up and her dad helped her off stage and they moved on to the next performer. Well of course, my theatre teacher instincts totally took over. I approached her and started talking to her. I told her about how I (Elsa) knew what it was like to feel scared – Especially in front of so many people! We talked about how I (Elsa) used to handle feeling scared by running away, and it was a lot easier to be brave when you have help from people who care about you. I asked her if she wanted to go up and sing WITH me, and she agreed. She didn’t want to sing the song she picked any more, so we decided on Let It Go instead. Luckily, I keep an instrumental track on my iPod for Elsa birthday party purposes (something I do freelance to help finance my future cosplays)! When we first went up onstage, she wouldn’t let go of my hand. But by the end, she found her voice. The Anna and Olaf cosplayers joined us about halfway through, the audience was singing along with her… It was magical. There’s seriously no other word for it. I’ll never forget it.

A question about photographers. Obviously cosplayers are a dream come true for photographers, great outfits and poses, does it ever get a bit tiring having to pose endlessly for them, and how do you prefer to be approached by a photographer?

Like I mentioned before, I actually LOVE getting my picture taken in cosplay. It’s one of the reasons WHY I do this. It makes me feel super cool! Not ashamed:)

In my experience, professional photographers are almost always exactly that… Professional. The ones I’ve had the best experiences (and the best photos) with are ones who actually do research on my character before they shoot me and don’t hesitate to give me suggestions and direction on how to pose. I always have a couple choice poses, but I’ve been doing those all day and I’m not a model. Feedback and proactive participation in creating the photo helps SO MUCH. At least for me.

As for the amateur photographers on the floor, I will say that my biggest pet peeves is people who ask for pictures while I’m eating, sitting down, if I’m partially out of my cosplay, or worst of all… all of the above. If I’m trying to take a break, I personally don’t mind if you snap a candid picture (though some people prefer you ask), but PLEASE don’t make me stand up before I’m ready… Many people don’t realize how draining being in a cosplay can be.

Of course we enjoy getting our picture taken! We want to interact with you! It comes with the territory. But treat it like a mutually beneficial interaction, not like we “owe it to you” or something. Most cosplayers don’t get paid for what they do at conventions like these. They have very likely spent a lot of time, energy, and money on what they’re wearing for no other reason than fun, photos, and maybe the occasional compliment! Treat the pieces with respect and the humans wearing them with respect. Simple stuff:)

I’m happy to say that this kind of etiquette seems to be becoming more common knowledge tho! Most of the people I interact with at cons are wonderful and a lot of conventions have even started having lounges specifically for cosplayers to take a break (and even make small repairs) without being bothered. That’s REALLY nice.

What impact has cosplaying had on your life?

I haven’t exactly gained enough notoriety for it to affect me too much on that front… Although there are people at cons who remember me from previous years – That’s fun! Oh and when I went to my ten year high school reunion, I found out that there are a couple acquaintances who actually follow my work pretty closely. One of them called himself a “fan” so that was kind of weirdly cool. Haha

The biggest impact has just been on me personally. I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends and connections, and like I said before, I really love having a hobby that forces me to learn new skills, stick to a deadline, and demands my focus outside of my “work-self.” The photo shoots do wonders for my self esteem and there’s just something so honest and pure (for lack of a better term) about just… building something, you know? It’s become an incredible form of therapy.

Do you have any advice for anybody thinking of cosplaying?

– It’s great if you bear some resemblance to the character you’re cosplaying, but I find it’s much more rewarding when you feel connected to the character you cosplay.

– Practice a couple poses before a con. Don’t just stand there when people take your picture! Trust me, a good character pose totally makes a picture, no matter what skill level you’re at!

– For the sake of your sanity (and possibly even your physical well being), set realistic expectations for yourself and give your skills the chance to grow.

– If you’re going to challenge yourself, GIVE YOURSELF LOTS OF TIME.

– There is no wrong way to cosplay, no matter what strong opinions on the internet might claim. Every community has “purists” and snobs. Don’t let them make you second guess yourself. Cosplay in whatever way makes YOU happy.

– Saying “Get creative and have fun” can seem like a cliche sometimes, but it’s really the essence of this hobby. Stick with that, and you can’t go wrong:)

We’d like to thank Q Mandolin for her time, and more importantly,wish her well with the LLC!

Web Links:

Facebook –
Group Cosplay Facebook –
Instagram –
Tumblr –

Photo Credits:

Elsa – Photo by Eddie B Photos, Composite by Kaminsky Kandids
Poison Ivy – River Walk Studios



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