Anime Expo 2012: Cosplayer Yaya Han on Turning Her Hobby Into a Business
Liz Ohanesian Yaya Han at her Anime Expo 2012 booth
On Sunday afternoon at Anime Expo, I met Atlanta-based cosplayer Yaya Han at her booth inside the exhibit hall, surrounded by cat ears, unicorn horns and pegasus wings.
Han is part of a growing number of what she calls "cosplay entrepreneurs," people who have turned their hobbies into businesses. She sets up shop inside the exhibit hall of anywhere from 20 to 25 conventions a year, selling the cosplay accessories that she makes along with glossy photos of herself portraying a number of famed heroes and villains, calendars and T-shirts. There's almost always a crowd around Han's booth, more so when she's working it. On this day, as she tried to make her escape, she was stopped at least three times for photos. Han sweetly fulfilled all the requests.
Han was dressed as Chun-Li. More precisely, she was dressed as an Art Nouveau rendition of the butt-kicking Street Fighter heroine, based on a design by artist Razvan-Sedekiah. It took her 10 days to make the costume, not long considering that she included embroidery and other details.
"Every day I'm crafting, so I think that sped up my costume-making process," she says. The results were impressive, so much so that Han couldn't walk much more than five feet without someone asking for a photo. Every time she posed, a handful of others jumped in on the shot with professional cameras and cellphones. Maybe some were just taken by the video game character come to life, but others clearly knew Yaya Han, at least by her reputation as one of the best cosplayers in the U.S.
Born in China, Han has been a fan of anime and manga since childhood. She was also the kind of kid who was always drawing. When she moved to Germany with her mom, at a time when Japanese comics and animation were hardly known in the country, she learned that people didn't quite understand her interests. "I was always the freaky Asian girl who drew these weird-looking Barbie dolls in class," she recalls. But the trends caught up with Han. She once created her own 98-page manga for a high school project, which was ultimately published in a German magazine.
For the past 13 years, cosplay has been Han's art, a logical progression of what she has been doing since childhood. She's portrayed a diverse range of characters, from Rarity of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to George R.R. Martin's heroine Daenerys Targaryen, always with a focus on "the woman empowered." She makes her own costumes with great attention to detail and, while most are based on pop culture products, she has created original characters to cosplay as well.