It is, at last, my favorite day of the year.
Well, the eve of my favorite day of the year when this post is scheduled to go live, that is.
What other time is it socially acceptable to dress up, devour an unhealthy amount of sweets, and embrace all that is spooky and spoopy?
Costumes have always been my favorite part of Halloween, and now that I'm an adult and am not reliant on anyone's wallet but my own and have gotten better with makeup than I was in my teen years, it's become even more enjoyable to piece things together and bring my ideas to life.
For the past few years, I've done what could be called "Closet Costumes," which basically entails rummaging through my closet and thrifting clothes that embody a character and assembling my costume in such a fashion.
2021, however, saw something completely new for me. Between a bad reaction to a new sleep med keeping me awake and thrusting me down the DIY and cosplay rabbit holes of YouTube and working at a job where several coworkers share my delight in going all out for dress-up days, I kicked things up a few notches with the most complicated Halloween costume I've ever taken on: Johnny Silverhand from Cyberpunk 2077.
Despite its flaws and a messy release full of bugs, Cyberpunk 2077 was a game I had a good time with, and a massive part of that was Keanu Reeves's character, Johnny Silverhand.
For context, Johnny Silverhand appears as something of a ghost only the player can see. His soul exists as an engram on a chip that is revived alongside V after a botched heist. The catch? They now share a brain, with Johnny's presence slowly taking over and killing V.
I'm the kind of person who gets started planning Halloween costumes ridiculously far in advance, and I was already itching to tackle a Johnny costume before I even completed my first run of the game.
A lot of it seemed relatively straightforward. Samurai tank top, leather pants, black wig, sunglasses, combat boots.
There was, however, one crucial part I had no clue how to approach: Johnny Silverhand's prosthetic arm.
Countless hours of DIY and an admittedly excessive haul of crafting supplies later, I somehow pulled it off. And I learned a lot along the way not just about cosplay and DIY, but surprisingly about writing.
A year after the most intense Halloween costume I've ever taken on, it's time to look at some of the lessons I learned from becoming Johnny Silverhand.
These tips might not help you survive the streets of Night City, but they might prove helpful to your writing journey.
Do Your Research
Even though I like to think I have a fairly good understanding of the historical backdrop of my WIPs, I spend a good deal of time in the throes of research. Some historical aspects are shared among my stories, but other details are unique to specific plotlines and characters. This often has something to do with the setting if I'm using an IRL location rather than one of my own design or a character's profession.
While I do know a fair bit about Regency England and can build new stories off of what I have learned from past ones, there are still things I need to figure out before diving into anything new.
The same can be said for plunging into the world of cosplay.
With time and practice, I've become confident in my abilities to create masculine facial hair with eyeliner and eyeshadow. I know what to look for when buying wigs online and where to go for reasonably priced clothing items if I don't already have something in my closet that would do the job.
That was most of what a Johnny Silverhand costume would need.
But then, there's his arm. And that's where I had no clue what I was doing.
I had no idea what materials to use or which methods were best suited for the project.
The majority of my research was done via YouTube, finding channels devoted to cosplay. These tutorials gave me a better understanding of what tools and materials I needed and ways to approach the project.
Quite a few recommended Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate foam—or simply EVA foam—especially for larger builds where the creators were constructing entire suits of armor. I wasn't making as many pieces, but the one piece I was making would be one I would be wearing on a body part I use frequently in my everyday life, so having something sturdy yet lightweight was vital.
EVA foam comes in a variety of thicknesses. The thickest is best for props, weapons and shields and such, and the thinnest tends to be used for detail work, like a layer of scales; I also found out that some companies have pre-cut scales and other shapes in bulk so you don't have to devote hours to cutting them out yourself. 3D shapes and EVA clay you can mold into whatever you need are also out there.
I purchased my EVA foam from TNT Cosplay Supply (not sponsored, BTW), starting with a sample pack to get a feel for which thicknesses I would need.
As is the case with writing, being able to see what you're researching in person helps a ton!
With all this in mind, all that was left for me to do was gather the rest of my supplies and get to work.
Back To The Drafting Board
As with any new skill, there was a lot of trial and error involved in making Johnny's arm.
My Drafting years definitely came in handy when it came to designing the pattern pieces for the arm, but the execution of crafting them was a different matter because while I was able to sketch the patterns more quickly than I anticipated, it took some time to figure out how to take those flat pieces and make them into 3D components.
The fingertips are a perfect example of this. They were actually the first thing I made--in fact, they were the first four things I made because I ended up making several batches in the process of figuring out the process and acquainting myself with the materials.
First was the EVA foam clay set. I thought it would work perfectly because it can be shaped like clay but behaves like EVA foam once it's dried. Unlike the joints, which I planned to slip on like rings, the fingertips encapsulated the entire area. My plan was to pop them on the way we'd run around with Bugles on our fingers as kids and pretend they were claws or witch fingers.
What I didn't account for was shrinkage. I also didn't think to mold these first fingertips to the width of my fingers when wearing the glove serving as a base, making them absolutely impossible to fit.
Keeping with the clay idea, I tested out some oven-bake polymer clay, since I would be using it for other areas of the costume. While this didn't shrink, the fingertips ended up being too heavy and clunky; I already expected to lose dexterity in my hand when wearing the costume, but this rendered me unable to function.
So the oven-baked fingers went into the trash and I shifted to an air-dry modeling clay. This batch was much lighter than dry, but also much more fragile and cracked easily.
This all happened within about a week and a half, cutting into my time. While I did account for mistakes and goofs when setting my budgets for both time and money, this was getting excessive.
In the end, I revamped my original pattern, tested out a method for hiding seams that worked astonishingly well, and made the fingertips with 4mm EVA foam—but only after making a few paper prototypes.
Trial and error can be frustrating in any scenario, but it's often how we learn what works and what will not do as well.
Writing is no exception.
We all know how many drafts we have to go through before we feel that the story we're writing is good enough to ship off to a critique partner or beta readers. Their feedback will probably send you back to the drafting board with new insight and awareness of issues previously escaping your notice.
If you're perusing the traditional path to publication, chances are your agent might suggest and request additional changes before you go on sub.
Both self-publishing authors and those taken on by a press will be aligned with a professional editor who will, shockingly, point out additional things needing more work.
Every draft becomes more polished than the last, but most will still have flaws needing to be fixed. What matters is how you work through those imperfections and build off the knowledge gained and lessons learned from the previous attempt.
This is something I have struggled with in pretty much every creative endeavor I've taken on. Not just writing, and not just costumes.
My research into cosplay led me to many incredibly talented artists creating impressive suits of armor and props that looked so realistic it was hard to believe they were made from EVA foam.
Following along with the tutorials, I hoped to achieve something of their caliber.
I learned a lot from their instruction, but my final product was far from what I had hoped for. It was fine, especially for a first go, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was my first time using EVA foam, and the first time I'd ever taken on a costume of this scale. I had my limitations.
Several of the creators I watched have been cosplaying and using EVA foam for years. With much more practice under their belts, they have a better understanding of the art. Some even mentioned being sponsored by different companies in exchange for a review of their products, and one creator's project was a commission from a video game developer to recreate a suit of armor from an upcoming game. Needless to say, the combination of expertise, years of practice, and in some cases access to tools and materials out of my wheelhouse, put these creations in a separate category—and I had to separate myself from these comparisons.
Cosplay, just like writing, is a journey.
I'm trying to get myself out of comparing myself to other writers at different stages of the process. And to be honest, some days are harder than others.
In the case of my Johnny Silverhand cosplay, I think I did okay for a first attempt. He's a gritty, rockstar rebel with a cause, and such a different style from characters I've dressed up as in the past like Carmen Sandiego or the many, many years I was Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
But over time, I've gotten so much better with masculine makeup. Looking back at my eyeshadow facial hair from my Daryl Dixon and Ross Poldark costumes, I laugh at myself sometimes. It's good, and my Poldark is leaps and bounds better than my Daryl, but compared to my Johnny, it's not great.
The same can be said for wigs. I was Enjolras from Les Miserables senior year of high school, with my outfit being a mix of stage Enjolras and Aaron Tveit's portrayal in the 2012 film. My wig was admittedly cheap, and even then I wasn't happy with the look of it. I didn't know about wig caps back then, making it itchy and uncomfortable to wear.
Wigs are actually one of my favorite additions to a costume now, though! And part of that is in knowledge I didn't have eight years ago.
So what does this mean for writing?
Revisiting the first drafts of any of my WIPs, the growth of the concepts and my development as I writer is easy to see. I've improved so much since I started writing in my teen years.
Is my writing in my mid-twenties perfect? No. Far from it, actually.
But I've come so far from where I began.
So even though I'm not yet published and haven't been able to announce I'm now represented by an agent or am going on sub with my book, or that I'm preparing to self-publish if I determine that it's the right move for me someday, I'm closer to those goals than I was at fourteen.
Because the only person you should be comparing yourself to is your past self. Not your future self. And not the present self of another person at a different stage of their own creative journey.
Becoming Johnny Silverhand was an experience to say the least.
Revisiting this cosplay one year later, I'm able to appreciate everything that went right with it. The makeup is the best I've ever done for a costume. The temporary tattoos I made are perfect (even though they did pick up a bit of lint over the days I had them on and were tough to scrub off).
Granted, there are some things I wish I had done differently, like having more dexterity in the fingers or finding a way to attach the arm that didn't involve pinning it to a nude-but-obvious bra strap.
Is my take on Johnny Silverhand perfect? No. But am I still impressed with myself? Absolutely.
I'm still proud of myself for taking on something completely new and stepping out of my comfort zone. I know it will be a long time before I take on anything this DIY-intense, but I know that the next time I embrace a challenge, the skills I learned from the arm of Johnny Silverhand will have my back—and that can never fade away.