FAN: Please introduce yourself!
Eric Kays (EK): My name is Eric Kays, but my cosplay persona is “Fan Service Thor.” I’m a freelance social media and transmedia developer and I recently graduated with a degree in film and television. I currently live in Atlanta, Georgia.
FAN: What was your first introduction to the cosplay hobby?
EK: I think that the moment that anyone becomes aware of fandoms and the general nerd culture, they’ll quickly become acquainted with the idea of making a costume in celebration of a character. I was probably officially introduced to cosplay during the release of the Lord of the Rings films, when my family would go to the midnight screenings in costume (somewhere there is a picture of 13 year old me wearing a hobbit cloak). I was not able to really indulge in cosplay for almost a decade after this, until my junior and senior years in college when I officially went to a convention myself, which was Momocon 2013, and threw together the laziest humanized Thor costume I could make in 30 minutes. In 2014, just after graduating, I attended Disney’s 24-hour Rock Your Disney Side event wearing a slightly better costume and officially caught the bug from there.
FAN: What is your approach to cosplay? How do you go about putting together the costumes?
EK: As a new person to costume creation, I’m literally making up my process as I go along. Sometimes I take something someone else has done – there’s a great tutorial on Tumblr I used to create my muscle suit for my Thor costume – and sometimes I look at the options and say “screw it, I’m using hot glue and seeing where this goes!” I plan on taking courses and continuing to educate myself to figure out how to be less wasteful of materials and more intentional with design. I will say, though, that one specific approach that I’ve always had since starting is to always do what I know, but to also add one thing I don’t. I wanted to make a pair of boots for my roommate’s Gambit costume. The boots needed to have a smooth metallic look, which is rather hard to attain with everyday materials. A cosplaying friend of mine, Royall Cosplay, showed me a technique using acrylic gesso to create the smoothness necessary for the effect. You’ll be seeing this technique used on the upgrade of my sleeves for Thor when I add the scalemail to them. Anyone who wants to grow in a skill or hobby needs to find a way that they can challenge their current abilities, so I approach any project of mine the same way.
FAN: What is one of the best and most memorable experiences you’ve had with cosplay?
EK: There are a number of experiences that have been incredible: my experience at Dragon*Con was the first time I had trouble moving from one location to another from the amount of attention I gained, or the several times I’ve arm wrestled Gaston at Disney World. My most memorable experience, however, comes from Disney World when I was still walking around in a t-shirt and a cape made of duck cloth from Wal-Mart. People were continually calling out “Thor!” as I would walk by, so I got used to hearing the name and responding to it. Around 11 PM that night, I once again heard it, and turned around. A mother with a boy about four or five years old ran up to me and told me that her son had been denied the opportunity to ride Space Mountain because of his height. She then went on to explain that he had seen me and wanted to get a picture with Thor. This was one of the key moments for me that solidified one of the reasons I love cosplay and especially love dressing as Thor so much. There’s always going to be people who want to take pictures of me or want to get pictures with me, but the opportunity to get a picture with a child who sees you as the character you represent, instead of just another great cosplayer, is far more special to me. I don’t ever want to forget that impact that I can have on a child with nothing more than 15 seconds of my time being willing to interact with them.
FAN: What was one of your worst?
EK: I think I’ve been really fortunate in my short time cosplaying because I don’t really have a “horrible” experience to talk about. I have, however, noticed a trend with people breaking unspoken boundaries with me in cosplay. I adhere to the rule that you do not touch another cosplayer or their props without their permission. This is an unspoken contract between a cosplayer and anyone who interacts with them, maybe more so when the cosplayer is a woman. In my experience, however, almost every convention I’ve been to, someone, in most cases a woman, has approached me and started touching my hair without asking me. Believe me, I get it. My hair is glorious and needs to be touched. But my hair is a part of my body and I don’t want people to touch it without permission. Man or woman, cosplay is not consent. I will note, though, that if you ask and aren’t terribly creepy about it, I’m probably not going to say no. I am Fan Service Thor, after all!
FAN: You were super popular with the crowds at Virginia Comicon with your Thor outfit. How does this level of attention impact your convention-going experience?
EK: I’ve yet to have the attention I receive negatively impact my experience at conventions. I’m dressed in a costume to celebrate my love for the film rendition of Thor; I am asking for some amount of attention by trying to stand out in that way. There have been times I’ve just stood in one spot for 10 minutes posing for cameras. Sometimes I can’t walk more than four steps without someone asking for my picture, either. When I go to a comic con my focus is more on my cosplay, so this kind of attention works out well. When I go to a different convention, say NekoCon or Dragon*Con, I have goals that I try to keep, namely going to specific panels. But I’ve yet to be late to a panel because of people stopping me for a picture. All in all, the impact of attention I get at conventions is exactly what I am expecting and planning for.
FAN: You refer to yourself as the “Fan Service Thor.” Care to explain the nickname?
EK: This name originates back in the Spring of 2013 at Momocon. As I said before, I attended the convention and wound up making a “Humanized Thor” costume simply because I wanted to try to participate beyond being an observer at the convention. Wearing nothing but pants and shoes and carrying a duct tape hammer, I went to the convention as Thor from that one scene in the first film where he’s shirtless for a few minutes. I dubbed this version “Fan Service Thor” for obvious reasons. When I started working on social media for my cosplays in May, I decided that “Fan Service Thor” worked as a cosplay personality name and I’ve been using it ever since. One other reason I took on “Fan Service Thor” specifically is because of the nature of cosplay and costume creation for women characters. Love it or hate it, there’s a definite culture that is still pervasive surrounding what women look like in entertainment and media. There is rarely a product on the market now that doesn’t put women in a nonfunctional battle suit, make them wear small amounts of clothing for the male gaze, or have them “tastefully” nude at some point in a story for no reason. All of these things surround the concept of “fan service,” usually for an audience of men. When Marvel started producing scenes in their films with obviously unnecessary but totally wonderful sequences with their leading men shirtless, it really intrigued me to see reactions from women around me mimicking the reactions of men when a woman takes off her shirt on screen. A friend of mine has dubbed this “equal opportunity objectification” where women are finally getting to enjoy fan service with men just like men have with women. If women have been dealing with this for so many years with such grace and willingness, why should I hide as a cosplayer and not be willing to provide the same thing? I’m no better than women and by far I’m no worse either. It’s my way of nodding to that issue and providing some fun at my own expense every once in a while.
FAN: Do you have any major costume or convention plans lined up in the near future?
EK: I’m always updating my costume between conventions. As of yet, I haven’t missed an upgrade, and I hope I never do. I plan on finishing this version of the costume, then beginning a much slower process of creating a full film-accurate version that isn’t made of craft foam and hot glue. Other costumes I’m considering or will be working on include Darth Vader, Ghirahim from The Legend of Zelda, anything Sean Bean, a male rendition of Gamora from the film version of Guardians of the Galaxy, and Princess Thor (inspired by this comic). I know I plan on going to Dragon*Con again in 2015, and I hope to attend Anime Weekend Atlanta as well as MomoCon again this year. There’s also some discussion at this time as to whether I’ll visit Tidewater Comicon again in May and/or go to a convention in the Boston area this spring. Currently the only convention I have planned is Conooga in Tennessee. All of these decisions unfortunately require me to have time off from work and money to spend on travel and hotel expenses, which is something I’m unsure I’ll have now that I’m no longer a student.
FAN: What kind of issues do you feel cosplayers face the most these days?
EK: I am not far enough along in the community to answer this question adequately. In my case, I constantly have to battle the idea of giving up completely on cosplay. I’ve recently been addressing depression that causes me to severely doubt myself with things like my career and cosplay. No matter how good my costume is or how many people want to take pictures with me, there’s always this thought inside that tells me to give up on it all or to accept myself as a mediocre creator at best. If it wasn’t for other cosplayers like Silhouette Cosplay commenting on my page with consistency, and people in general commenting on how good I look in my cosplays, I think I might have given up on the hobby by now. Cosplay is now important to me not only because it’s fun and I get to meet new people, but also because it shows me that the thoughts I have about myself are not true. I think at this point, giving up on cosplay would once again be giving up on myself like I have in the past with previous projects and hobbies. With over 200 people watching me on my fanpage encouraging me just by liking what I produce, I’m not ready or willing to let myself give up this time.
FAN: What do you think cosplay adds to the overall convention experience?
EK: Conventions are a great place to talk about what we love, buy what we love, play what we love, and learn more about what we love. As a participant at other forms of conventions it’s been very formal and business-like to go through that system over and over again. Cosplay as a culture creates a way for the consumer at conventions to express that celebration beyond just their wallets and filling up seats. There are several signs I would use to tell myself that I’ve made it as an artist or original content creator. 1: Sitting on a panel to talk about my content at a major convention, 2: Finding that someone wrote erotic fanfic about my content, and 3: Meeting someone dressed in a costume inspired by my content. Cosplay in my mind is one of those steps that shows an incredible amount of love and appreciation for that product that someone has made for us. We’ve spent countless dollars on that fandom we love, and to show other people and hopefully the creators of that fandom how much we love it by spending and hours upon hours to bring to life what we love for a day. Without that celebration, I think conventions would wind up being more formal and business-like and would forget what we love about the fandoms we are a part of.
FAN: Anything else you’d like to add? (Where we can find you on social media, etc.)
EK: I love interacting with people, and especially swapping information on cosplay construction. Please feel free to contact me and interact with me. Especially at this time, I have the ability to respond more directly with people than I’m sure a lot of other cosplayers do, so don’t be afraid to at least say hi. You can find me on Facebook (Facebook.com/Fanservicethor) Tumblr (Fanservicethor.tumblr.com) and Instagram (Instagram.com/Fanservicethor).