“You see these people give you all this love online,” says Hannah Indigo when asked about being stopped for a chat and a photo at MCM London Comic Con. “They’re following me because they love my work, or they’re inspired by it. The fact that I can meet them here and say thank you in person… it’s great.”
A self-taught SFX make-up artist, Hannah’s first foray into cosplay was when she attended MCM Birmingham in November 2015 to showcase her work by cosplaying as the Joker (she later declared that “it was crap, but the make-up was cool.”)
She has incorporated make-up and special effects cosplaying characters such as Poison Ivy and variations of Harley Quinn, and Carl from The Walking Dead, with a shot out eye. Despite hurtful comments (“There was a little phase I went through where people were just being really horrible”), Hannah has since achieved a significant following on Instagram.
Our interview was conducted on the Sunday of MCM London Comic Con, with Hannah cosplaying Cardboard Box D.Va from Overwatch (complete with Doritos and Mountain Dew). “I love her costume, I love her colours,” said Hannah of the mech pilot. “She’s the first character I’ve done that I feel like I’m her.” During our time, Hannah mentioned being tired, yet came across excited and talkative. Given the short time that she had been been cosplaying, it was also clear just how passionate she was about it, particularly when it came to hearing her discuss her special effects and make-up skills, dealing with crazy comments, being a perfectionist, and male cosplayers.
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Who have you been cosplaying at MCM London this weekend?
On Friday I did the classic Harley Quinn, but I did a latex version, and I had the mallet. On Saturday I did Poison Ivy, but I modified her a little bit, so she’s a bit more like a pin-up girl. And today I’m doing Cardboard Box D.Va [from Overwatch].
You mentioned the latex Harley Quinn. This was custom made by Kaori’s Latex Dreams.
That’s right, yeah.
It was your first time cosplaying in latex.
You initially spoke about being a little worried that you wouldn’t have the confidence in yourself with it. How did it go down when you cosplayed this variation of Harley?
I think it’s different when you step onto the convention floor. All of a sudden you have this confidence that you didn’t have. Like when I’m on the tube, or even in the hotel beforehand, I could be having panic attacks, I could be freaking out about it. I could be on the tube and be like, “I don’t want to go. I can’t do it.”
I put her on in the morning, then I freaked out because the wig was looking really bad. I just thought, “What am I doing? I can’t do this. I’m already ready, and it takes me hours to get ready. I can’t take it off and put something else on.” I’m like, “No Hannah, just chill out, you’ll be fine.” I got here and I absolutely loved it. I think the people do definitely help with the confidence.
When people are seeing you in cosplay and the reactions you’re getting?
Yeah. Like today, doing Cardboard Box D.Va. I hear people when I walk past them going, (puts on twee voice) “Oh my God, she looks so cute!” That makes me smile.
One of my friends in cosplay, Adam (Jimcrediblecosplay) he said, (adopts manly voice. Waves arms) “Oh my God, I love that you’ve done Cardboard Box D.Va.” He came up to me and said, “You look so happy.”
I was like, “Yeah, I am. I’m in my element, I love it!” (Laughs).
In regards to Harley Quinn, are you still looking for a half-red, half-black wig?
I am, yeah! The struggle of trying to find a decent half-red, half-black wig is so hard. I’m a perfectionist, especially when it comes to wigs. The advice I always give is buy a good wig, because it can make such a difference to your cosplay. (Places hands on her hair) This is a cheap one (laughs). But the half-red, half-black wig, I tried dying one. It turned out pink and grey. It didn’t work. I have bought cheap ones, but they just look shiny and plasticy. So if anyone knows where I can find one, I’m still on the hunt for one.
You mentioned being a perfectionist.
In one of your make-up videos you called it “a blessing and a curse.”
It’s so right, isn’t it? It’s a blessing because that can make the difference on your cosplay being great or not, and the confidence you have on it. But also it’s a curse because then (puts on posh accent) it can take me hours to get ready. Or I criticise myself… like really criticise myself.
You’re really hard on yourself?
I’m really hard on myself! Because I just want to be the best.
You’re a self-taught SFX make-up artist. You did it some years ago and then got back into it?
I did, yeah.
In a few of your make-up videos on Facebook, you’ve said, “I don’t like things to look pretty and neat and nice…I like doing special effects, bruises, cuts and scars. I like making people look like zombies!”
What was it that initially drew you to SFX make-up?
Me and my dad, we love the same sort of films. We used to go to the cinema together every single weekend. I remember when I was about… I want to say 12… we stayed up one night and he showed me one of the Hammer horror Dracula films. I absolutely loved it. But my mum went skitz the next day. That’s where it started for me. I looked at it and was like, “I want to do that. That’s really cool.”
I worked in make-up for a few years, in cosmetics. I didn’t enjoy sitting people down and doing nice bridal looks, or the going out to a party type of thing. Being a perfectionist, it has to be beautifully perfect. But when it comes to special effects, it can be messy, bloody and gory. You can go wrong and it’s so easy to cover it up. Or I find it easy to cover up anyway. I can be as messy as I want when I do special effects.
What was the turning point when you wanted to use your make-up skills for cosplaying?
I started to train myself in special effects and watched a few tutorials online. One of them was for the Chelsea Smile. So I did it and I thought, “Oh, I can turn this into the Joker really easily.” So I did the look, and then I was like, “Oh, I’ll put some white make-up on, some black eyes.” I took some photos, put it on Instagram, and that was a make-up look. It was just a way of practising, testing out my skills, doing different things. So I did The Exorcist, I did the Joker, I did a look from The Revenant as well. It was just great ways of testing and practising. Then I was like, “This is a thing. I can go and do it.”
My first convention was MCM Birmingham last November. That’s when I did the Joker look. The whole point of me doing it was to showcase my make-up work and get it noticed. Then I was like, “Oh, cosplay is a thing.” That’s how I learnt what cosplay was.
I remember for the Sunday [of MCM London in May] I was trying to do a comfortable cosplay. I remember I wanted to do Carl from The Walking Dead, because that was such an iconic make-up look. It was something that I knew I could produce beforehand and apply it on the day. So that would be the first time I used special effects on the convention floor.
MCM Birmingham was your first convention, with your Joker make-up look. How was that experience for you?
I felt quite overwhelmed. I remember sitting in the car before we went, thinking I’m overdressed. I was wearing black jeans, a black top with the Joker make-up and a wig. I thought, “Oh, I’m going to look like an idiot, I’m going to be really overdressed.” I got there, stepped out of the car and was like, (looks around her) “Yeah, I think I’m underdressed.”
Seeing all these people, I was like, “I haven’t got enough on. I don’t look dressed up enough.” So, it was good fun, but I wanted to be better. I had a few people ask me for photos then. That was fun. And I got filmed for a cosplay video.
How did that feel?
They go, “Can I get a photo of you?”
I’m like, (confused expression) “Yeah.” Because at your first convention you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t see why, but yeah, go ahead.” I remember you just stand there and pose, whereas now I practice the poses for every character, so they all look different. It was amazing. It’s like stepping out of your own life and being somebody completely different.
Poison Ivy was the first cosplay you made entirely by yourself for MCM Birmingham in March 2016. You also had to remake the costume.
Yeah, I did (laughs).
You’ve called it your favourite costume. Does that still stand or has that changed after this weekend?
My favourite is now D.Va, Cardboard Box D.Va. The first time I wore D.Va was at EGX in Birmingham. I thought I’ll test D.Va out. So I did and I loved it. I just feel like I really fit her character.
I can just be cute and nerdy. It’s good fun. Some of my other costumes are a bit restricting and a bit uncomfortable. I mean (points to the cardboard box) this isn’t great for getting through crowds. Getting down here, I was like, “Oh, I’m sorry, excuse me.” But none of my cosplays are comfortable.
What is it about D.Va that you like so much?
She’s so different from any other character I do. I can just mess around and be a kid, eat Doritos and drink Mountain Dew. Even before I left the hotel, I put it on and I was like, “This is my favourite cosplay. I want to be in this all the time!” And the reaction I’m getting from people… I love it.
I actually prefer her original skin to any other skin. She’s just really cute, she has fun and she’s quirky. She has all these weird little catchphrases. She’s just a little kid that gets to run around and have fun. I don’t know if you’ve seen all the memes and stuff of her? It’s just her stuffing her face with Doritos and gaming. That’s literally all I do when I’m at home. I just sit there, play Overwatch and stuff my face.
So D.Va is probably the closest character to-
To my personality? Yeah! She’s a bit of a dork, she eats too much and she games. That’s me (laughs).
Amidst the heap of praise you’ve received on social media, you had a few silly comments. Notably about one of your variations of Harley Quinn.
How do you deal with the crazy comments?
It’s really hard. When it’s over social media you can really analyse and pick apart the sentences. You can overthink it, and I’m a massive overthinker. I’m very self-critical. I… (pauses) don’t take things too seriously, but when someone says something, I really take it to heart. When it’s face-to-face, it’s harder.
It’s never [happened] at a convention, it’s happened when I’ve been on a night out and I’ve been with my friend Adam. He’s [a cosplayer], he’ll get chatting to people. Cosplay comes up, you start showing people photos of cosplays, and they’ll look at mine and go, “Yeah… your Harley’s okay, but the wig’s not right. This isn’t right, that’s not right.”
I don’t know if people are just more critical over female cosplayers. You’re sitting there and you’ve got someone that essentially doesn’t know anything about cosplay, doesn’t know anything about the characters, they’re just picking apart your costume and going, (pointing) “That’s not right, that’s not right, that’s not right.”
I’m like, “Okay, but you’re not saying that to my friend.” That was really difficult.
It’s good when you’ve got supportive friends. Especially like Olivia (lolita_ward). We really support each other. Online, if one of us gets a bad comment, the other one is there like, (serious) “I’m sorry, who do you think you are?” (Laughs) But online, if you get a nasty comment, you can just delete it and it’s gone.
The thing is, you’ve read it.
Yeah, you’ve still read it.
It’s there, in the back of your head.
Yeah, it’s hard. It’s funny, I say this. I mean, who doesn’t get nasty comments online? But I’ve become more confident since doing cosplay and I’ve become more comfortable with myself. I still have days where I don’t like myself. But I’ve become more confident with it, because I know that I have this skill where I can get dressed up, put make-up on and look like a character. I can have fun for the day.
You still read it, and it’s hard. You have to take it with a pinch of salt. You know that these people are just being horrible for no reason. Cosplayers I think are really good at sticking together, which is nice.
Social media has became really prevalent when it comes to cosplay. It’s interesting seeing how it can really help a cosplayer, or in some instances, it can crush them.
Yeah, it’s had me at moments where I’m like, “Why do I do it? I’m not doing it anymore. All I’m getting is rubbish.” But for all the rubbish comments you get, you get ten times as many nice comments and support. So you have to learn to just delete them and block them. That’s it. They can’t talk to you again.
With SFX make-up being your speciality, have you had moments where you’re watching a film, playing a game, or reading a comic, and you see an impossible look that makes you think, “I’d like to have a go at recreating that”?
Yeah. I do it with make-up a lot. Because I can look at it and I go, “I can do that. I can find a way around working that.” For me it was Carl’s eye [from The Walking Dead]. When you photograph something, you can angle it in a way, or light it in a way where it looks better. But when I brought it to the convention floor, I didn’t have any of that. People were seeing it fresh and seeing it real. For me it was a challenge. How do I make it look like I haven’t got an eye? There’s things that I can work with, and I can use trickery to make it look like that. I can look at most things and I can figure out how to do it most of the time. Sometimes money is a restriction, and materials. But most of the time, at least if I can’t do it myself, because of the materials, I can kind of look at it and go, “I know how I would work that out.” There’s a newer Walking Dead look I would like to do, but I’m not going to give any spoilers.
So in terms of a look you’ve seen recently you’d like to recreate, it’s another Walking Dead one?
Yeah, but I’m not going to give any spoilers, because I don’t know who would have watched it (laughs).
In your Female Joker make-up tutorial video, after worrying that you’ve messed things up, you find that you’re quite pleased with the result. This was when applying liquid liner (Maybelline New York Master Ink Liner in Matte).
Would you say you tend to have moments where you still surprise yourself?
Yes I do. It happens a lot with D.Va’s triangles, on her cheeks, because I think to myself I struggle to do them. Then I put them on and they’re perfect. But for me, eyeliner is something I wear every single day of my life. This morning, I struggled. I had to take it off and put it back on again. But some days I can just do it and I’m like, (majestic) “Woah! I’ve got the hands of a God!”
There was one of the things with doing the Joker, doing his smile. I really struggled with the angle that comes out at the corner of the mouth. This was just a basic make-up look with a liner and lipstick. I really struggled. I did it live [on Facebook]. I do a lot of my videos live. You can see me getting really frustrated in the video. Then my internet cut out. I got really anxious and frustrated that I couldn’t do it. I messaged my friend Adam that does the Joker. I said, “I need your help. Phone me, I don’t know how to do this.”
He said, “I’ll be off on my lunch in a minute, I’ll phone you then.” I continued the video, and I did it. He said, “You don’t need me, you’ve done it!” It was like a light bulb moment where I’m just like, DING (clicks fingers)! Then I can do it.
Olivia says to me, “If you can’t do it, just leave it and come back to it later.” Sometimes I think you can really overwork something. You can overthink it, then you get so frustrated and angry that your hands (presents hands and wiggles fingers) just won’t work with you. Especially being a make-up artist, you need your hands to be… perfect. Still and steady.
Is this the perfectionist coming out?
Where everyone else tells you, “This looks good, this looks fine.” Whereas in your mind, you’re thinking, “No it’s not.”
Exactly, yeah! I do that a lot. I do it with every cosplay I do. I’ll look at it and go, “That was wrong.”Even down to poses and facial expressions. Really, it’s hard.
What advice would you give to those starting out with make-up for their cosplay?
Practice. Really practice. I can’t stress enough, before any convention I do, even if I’ve done the cosplay before, I will always do a test run for make-up. So I know that on the morning I can be really slick, I know what I’m doing and I know what to do in what order. And just get on YouTube. It’s the best thing to watch video [tutorials]. I’m completely self-taught when it comes to make-up. Mainly it’s through trial and error and being inspired by other YouTubers, or on Instagram. But I would say, starting out, maybe start with one thing. People always say to me, “How do you get your eyeliner that perfect?” It’s just practice. I’ve been wearing eyeliner since I was like… I don’t know, I can’t remember. I’ve been practising it for ages and it’s become second nature. If I look at my eyeliner six months ago, it looks rubbish compared to now, where I’m happy with it.
You started up a cosplay community page on Instagram called underdog_cosplay. What motivated you to do this?
Me and Olivia were getting a little bit annoyed with pages that call themselves cosplay pages, and all it is… is boobs, bums and girls in Batman pants. It was getting really frustrating that somebody putting on a Batman T-shirt is suddenly cosplay and it gets featured on a page with 65,000 followers. Because it’s a girl with curves, they get noticed. Which is great, but I wanted somewhere for people that maybe weren’t known so much, had just started out, and they want to be noticed. Obviously underdogs.
It’s not a big page at all, it’s more of a community of people who love cosplay, gaming, comic books. It’s just people networking. I know now, on there, there are people that hadn’t connected on Instagram before, and they’ve connected now. It’s just a nice little community.
I found as well that men were struggling to be featured. Male cosplayers do not get the light of day on social media and it frustrates me so much. Most of my friends in cosplay are probably male. I was running an Instagram account for another cosplayer, and I really struggled. It really surprised me. I could put a photo up of a latex Harley and I can get a thousand Likes on it. Put up a photo of a male cosplayer, who is incredible and talented, has amazing armour and it wouldn’t get half as many Likes. Really, I felt so bad for all these male cosplayers. Some of them are really close friends and their work is incredible, yet they’re just going under the radar. That was one of the main things I wanted to feature on there, which is guys as well. Just anyone who has a passion or talent for what they do.
You know, you name on your hand famous female cosplayers – you’ve got Jessica Nigri, you’ve got Yaya Han, you’ve got all these amazing cosplayers. You try and name some male cosplayers… (waits for me to answer).
I could, but I don’t know if most people could.
There’s a few I know, obviously, because I love promoting them. But I think [most people] would find it more difficult. It’s a shame because some of them are so talented and so passionate. Some of my favourite cosplayers are male. They’re mainly Jokers. Like a guy over in the States called Wild Card Cosplay; he’s insane. You’ve got Lone Star Joker. I get messages from people saying, “I love the idea behind your page.” That was all I wanted it for; for people to feel like there’s a place for them.
How does it feel for you when you’re here at MCM London and people stop to ask you for a photo and talk to you about your cosplay?
It’s surreal. It’s a blessing. I love it. [Me and Olivia] ended up on the Metro website, on IMDb as well. Then we were photographed for The Telegraph. I said to my mum, (excited) “Mum, look, I’m in the paper!”
And she was like, “Oh my God.”
This weekend for me is the first time I’ve had people come up to me and ask, “You’re Hannah aren’t you?”
I’m like, (excited) “Yeah! I’m Hannah!”
They say, “Oh, I follow you on Instagram,” or, “I’ve seen you on Facebook.”
And I’m like, “Oh my God.” Having the recognition, it’s amazing.
It’s amazing to be recognised, but that wouldn’t have happened without social media. Social media has completely flipped it. Being noticed a bit more has been great. Again it’s surreal, because I know I’ll go home and I’ll be in work tomorrow, and I will just be… me. I will not be Hannah Indigo Cosplay.
Finally, you love horror films. What’s a horror film you’ve seen recently that you’d recommend?
You know what I’d recommend? It’s called Clown. It reminds me of cosplay so much because I always get stuck in Poison Ivy, in the corset. It’s basically about this guy, he puts on a clown costume for his kid’s birthday party and he can’t get out of it. So whenever I get stuck in Ivy, I’m like, (imitates trying to take off a corset) “I have become Poison Ivy, I can’t get out!” It always reminds me of that film. But with the whole clown thing going on at the minute… watch it! It’s so well done. And I hate clowns… although, ironically, I love the Joker. But that’s definitely worth a watch.
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Interview by Shalimar Sahota.