"These claws always come loose," Christine Sprankle says as she struggles to pick up her spear. She takes extra care, not just because of the claws, but because with her pitch-black contacts, she doesn't exactly have 20/20 vision. "I can see pretty good close up, but for anything far away, it gets real difficult. And I hate reading in these."
At Grand Prix Albuquerque, Sprankle is doing what she often does at GPs—expansive, high-quality cosplay of characters from the Magic universe. This weekend she's Avacyn, the Purifier. She's Archangel Avacyn after the madness got to her. Her wings are dipped in red, her outfit is menacing, and even her spear has become transformed.
Sprankle herself performs a similar transformation every time she attends one of these events. The wonderful woman becomes an avenging angel—if not before our eyes, then darn well close to it. This is the cosplay life. Get ready and put on your "war paint," as Sprankle calls it, and inhabit your favorite characters.
Here at Grand Prix Albuquerque, Sprankle is not the only cosplayer. Simone Mularkey, A.E. Marling, and Arielle Lien all came to play suited up—as Sorin, Stitcher Geralf, and Arlinn Kord, respectively. There was even a certain young child dressed in a full Jace getup (Lien's niece).
All four of these people have transformed into characters they love to pose for photos, sign autographs, interact with the community (often in character, especially for Marling), and add greatly to the ambiance of the event.
Though cosplay has long been a staple at conventions, it is a relatively new addition to the Magic scene. And the three non-Sprankles today point to Sprankle as one of the chief reasons they are here.
"I don't want to call her a mentor," Mularkey says. "She just set the bar so high with her commitment and her work; she's amazing." Likewise, Marling says that seeing Sprankle at Worlds 2011 convinced him to try it as well.
Sprankle, who's been a cosplayer since 2007, when she was in high school, started planning Magic cosplay the moment she opened a booster pack. "In my draft I pulled Elspeth Tirel, and the cosplayer reaction is instinctively 'Oh, I gotta make that.'" So she did.
Worlds 2011 was happening soon, so she war-painted up and readied for the show. But people were telling her that's not how Magic players do it. Cosplay wasn't "a thing" here. "I said, 'But it sounds like a convention, right? Well, that's what I do at conventions.'" So she made it a thing.
At first she regretted her decision. "It was terrifying, honestly." The reactions were unsure at first. "I thought I was doing something wrong." But it was just the community before its own transformation.
Not only did it work out eventually, but she carved out space in the Magic community that wasn't there before. She helped the community grow, and aided in the continuing inclusivity of Magic to all types of Magic lovers. It takes guts to do what she did. Which is not surprising, because Sprankle in character is confident, even when she herself is not.
"Before I put on the costume, I have no confidence, but as Liliana I can be a huge [jerk] to people and they love me for it. Because that's how Liliana would be." She expresses herself though the costume, in ways she couldn't otherwise. And she's not alone.
Mularkey says, "You can feel pretty cool, but you can still be those hidden parts of yourself." The hidden parts you're usually afraid to show. "But of course it makes you feel different, too—I don't have people asking to pose with me all the time."
Lien also feels this way about her cosplay, and it's helped her through hard times in her life. "Even if it's the crappiest morning, once the costume's on, wooosh—it feels completely different." Getting out in front of everyone and seeing the smiles can change your entire demeanor. "I love getting to make people happy, especially kids. When kids come up to me, it's just the best."
The confidence from this alternate self can seep into life behind the mask. "My customer service has gone up exponentially," Sprankle says. She works with children, and not only does she relate to the kids because she's "just a big kid," but the constant interaction at conventions helps her immeasurably.
Though within the cosplay community some believe in "total transformation" into a character, leaving a bit of yourself in there does wonders. "Cosplay is a lot more flexible than that," Mularkey adds. "You can be the character, but the real Sorin probably wouldn't be friendly; he would be over all these people completely."
Marling has something to say on the subject too: "People are afraid about what they don't know, even if it's good for them. I'm reanimating corpses. In this case it's a benefit to everyone, because corpses are a renewable resource!"
However cosplayers engage with their characters, there isn't a clear dichotomy between the two, and that's part of the appeal. It's not a transformation, but a merging.
Without the costume, "I've got no war paint on!" says Sprankle, but she's always part Avacyn, Elspeth, and Liliana. That earned confidence doesn't just disappear. And Sprankle earned it not just by cosplaying, but by helping forge a new avenue of expression in the Magic community. Five years since her debut at Worlds 2011, cosplay is now a staple of the Grand Prix experience.
Those characters that resonate with you? You can become them and you can interact with them. That's what cosplay does, and that's pretty awesome. "This will always be part of me," Sprankle says. "I already have old characters planned for later."
"Cosplay has inspired me so much. I want to inspire others." It seems very clear she already has.