by Alan Scholting
Sith photos by Steve Prue
Ewok photos by Mannon Pictures

How does one go about introducing an industry icon? Sometimes in life, a person becomes very successful in what they do. Regardless of the profession, that can be a challenging thing to accomplish. But when it comes to trying to be an artist of any sort, there is an additional set of hurdles due to the high level of competition that exists. So it’s safe to say that in the industry of artistry, anytime someone can recognize an artist’s name, they’re doing something right. Now, as that artist’s success continues to grow, people may recognize more than just their name; they may recognize their face, style, or even their entire body of work. And that’s when an artist truly starts to hit the big time.

But there’s a step even beyond that. The golden chalice that every artist dreams of someday attaining: To evolve the industry itself. Whenever a fan of country music hears the name Garth, they don’t need to hear the last name…they know who it’s referring to. The same can be said for football fans hearing the name Peyton, or comic book fans hearing the name Stan. These are all people who not only revolutionized their industry, they redefined it. And when cosplay enthusiasts hear the name Jessica, there’s one girl that instantly comes to mind. So to answer the question, ‘how does one go about introducing an icon’…you don’t. Because they’ve already done it.

For those that are unfamiliar with your story, how did you get into cosplaying?
It was all an accident. Completely fell into all of this by chance. So it all started in 2009 when my friend bought me tickets to San Diego Comic Con. They said, ‘Hey, Nigri! You’re a nerd! Want to go to SDCC with me?’ I had no idea what it was but happily said ‘HECK YES’…and it was a go. As the date drew nearer I got more and more excited to attend this fabled event of nerdom and geekfoolery having grown up on video games, anime, and comics myself. What I stumbled upon in my searches was costumed gentlemen and ladies parading about the show floor in elaborate and sexy outfits. I was captivated, having again, grown up with a mother who entered into multiple Race Day hat competitions and Wearable Art events (a lot of which I was forced into crazy and random outfits as a child). My creative mind was captured. I decided to do a sexy rendition of one of my favorite Pokemon, Pikachu! I also cosplayed as Rikku from Final Fantasy X-2 and Kairi from Kingdom Hearts.

We headed out to San Diego in the summer of 2009 with a rental car full of costumes and made it to the event. I don’t think my mouth has hurt so much from smiling so much at this event. I was stopped constantly for photos and my 19 year old self was absolutely stunned. All my life I had been the outcast in my friend groups, liking anime and games made me the weirdo (granted I did draw odd fan-art pairings of my favorite male characters). Afterward, thousands of images popped up on the web of me in my outfit and I was floored by the amount of love for this character I thought I was odd for liking. After that, I had to make a new Facebook account as someone had taken a close up shot of my badge as it was pinned to my skirt and people had found me over the weekend on the Internet. Flooded with friend requests, I made a tiny little ‘fan-page’ to redirect people to my cosplay so that I could hide my private profile and still interact with all these new people in my life. Cosplay in my life kind of just blew up! People hated on my ‘controversial’ (I say in quotes because it was just a 19-year-old wearing Pikachu ears, a skirt, and a bra…Oh my God, big deal, so controversial!) costume and I continued to make more fun sexy Pokemon. It was only after I had received a ton of anonymous hate on the internet that I realized I had ‘cosplayed’ Pikachu. I laughed and cried and continued to cosplay as the good exponentially outweighed the bad. Cosplay from the very beginning was just fun for me! I had my own ideas on how I wanted to make costumes and my own ideas on how characters should look. People hated it, but I had so much fun and made so many like-minded nerdy friends I couldn’t look back! It became addicting! Being able to bring my favorite characters (be it animal, male, alien) to life in my own way was incredible fun. I had no idea it was going to take me here, I had no intention being the best. I wanted fun. Costume Play… Okay, so let’s play!

Well, you are certainly not an outcast anymore. In fact, many people consider you one of, if not the biggest, representatives of the cosplaying community. How do you feel about having that title? And what sort of responsibilities come along with that?
Honestly I don’t see myself as a major representative of the cosplay community. I do however, always tell people to stay positive and to look past negativity and see the people behind it as people who don’t understand you and your own message. If you let negativity get to you, it will consume your entire being. My philosophy is, don’t retaliate to haters. They have already spent their most valuable resource, time, on you so you already win that mini battle. So live on and let the world handle them. Make sure you keep focused on your own dream and goals and pay no heed to haters. You have a mission and negativity will not get you there. You can apply this to all parts of your life, really.

So very true! Now over the years, you’ve made countless costumes. Are there any that you still have on your wish list that you haven’t gotten to yet?
I do! I have so many costumes I want to make! But they are all original secret ideas… So you’ll just have to keep creeping on my work to find out what they will be.

How about the construction aspect… is there anything you still struggle with after all these years of costume building?
I hate sewing. Which is ironic really, cosplay is about half or more sewing. But I hate it! I suck so bad at it! That’s why lately I’ve been really focused on making armor heavy costumes. EVA foam and Worbla are infinitely easier to work with for me. (Thinks about future projects where sewing is necessary and shudders.)

It’s no mystery that cosplay has now become your full-time job. Are you able to still enjoy cosplaying in the same manner you did at the beginning, or is it just a job to you now?
I enjoy cosplay more! I have acquired so many skills and I now have the time to make everything. Now, if I don’t make something on time it’s a really big deal and I love that stressful crunch. I do wish I had more time for group cosplays and I am definitely making that time in 2017. I have so many groups planned that I know I am going to really enjoy. There is so much love in cosplay and doing it in a group is so amazing.

Since you spend a good portion of your life dressed up as people with super-powers, what would you pick if you could have any super-power?
If I could have any super-power? Oh man… That is such an intense question. First I have to ask you, what universe are we in? Marvel or DC? Fantasy? Sci-Fi? I need to know parameters before I make my decision! There need to be limits! Or is this question limitless? I could pick God-mode and say Superman, cover all my bases. But is that considered one power? I love Nightcrawler from X-Men because he can teleport, but do I have to be blue? AAAHHHHH!

Okay, maybe that question is a little too intense. How about this one: What team and level are you on in PokemonGo?
I am Mystic! Level 25, and I’ve stopped playing (ha ha). Once they released that new update taking away the steps, all my passion for the game just disappeared. I loved the hunt! I loved the questing aspect where you could run around frantically for six to ten minutes trying to fan out over a field with your friends trying to find that stupid Scyther. Once they took it away, a lot my friends and I bailed so hard. But Mystic all the way…. Instinct is cool… Valor is trash. Just kidding… kind of.

Before we get out of here and thank you immensely for your time, the people want to know… Since you travel so much, what is the one food you have to look for in every new city you show up in?
When I travel… I need terrible Chinese food or gross burritos. The kind that you just KNOW is going to party with you in the morning. I don’t know why but when I’m out and about I’m just looking for grease and gross (ha ha). Also, smoothies and salads… sometimes.

For the few people out there who don’t yet follow Jessica Nigri on any of her many networks you can find her on Facebook: @officialjessicanigri
Twitter: @OJessicanigri
YouTube: user/jessicanigri
and at her store at http://jessicanigri.storenvy.com/

Ødfel: “I have been following Jessica Nigri for years — I am about the age now that Jessica was when she did her Pikachu, and following her and seeing her craftsmanship and style develop are truly inspiring to me. She is unapologetically herself and I really love how through everything she is still the same strong, sometimes derpy and incredibly talented person she has been all along.”

Yamino Cosplay (Lyn-Eliz): “Jessica Nigri has been a senpai of mine for a very long time. Not just in cosplay, but in life. She is a hardworking woman who has found a way to do what she loves. She always keeps a smiling face even if times have gotten tough. Her mass creativity and attitude towards all things have truly added something real and unique to the cosplay community. She is an inspiration to me and, I know, many others.”

RachniQueen Cosplay: “There are a lot of cosplayers who lack confidence in everything they do. Seeing Jess express herself freely without care of what others think or say is a huge inspiration to new cosplayers and even veteran cosplayers. Not only is she an amazing cosplayer and artist, she’s got an amazing personality. She’s definitely more than just an inspiration, she’s a living and breathing goal of a human being.”

Hailey S Cosplay: “Her presence at conventions is always wonderful and wild, and her costume designs are becoming more and more incredible. It took me a long time to find out what cosplay is to me and how it affects my life. I strive to take Jessica’s approach to life and continue to be myself; both in cosplay and life.”

Termina Cosplay: “It seems a bit odd to me to think about how a person I’ve only spoken to in person twice has had an impact on my life, but Jessica Nigri has done just that. The reason why she has been inspirational to me personally is because of what she represents. Ever since I found cosplay, I wanted to turn it into my career.  A life in any form of art is a long, difficult road, but with passion, hard work, and determination, it is possible. Seeing Jessica’s success drove me to try and be successful myself. She made me believe that my dreams were possible. For that, I thank her.”

Birdi Cosplay: “From her beautifully crafted cosplays to her hilarious Mail Monday videos it’s hard not to love Jessica Nigri. As a fellow cosplayer, Jessica has been such an inspiration throughout the years. She puts so much care, detail and originality into every cosplay, with each new creation even better than the last. Not only is she a talented cosplayer, but she is this absolutely wonderful, loving goofball that isn’t afraid to be herself. Jessica is truly a beautiful person inside and out.”

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