Being an influencer without even trying. Talking with a cosplayer Alex Kuzmenkov

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Today we’re talking to Alex Kuzmenkov, designer, cosplayer, and the person whose impressions and reflections of Geralt cover the web. So, of course, this is a dialogue about passion, influencers, celebrities and the insides of the cosplay industry.

Alex Kuzmenkov
Source: Alex Kuzmenkov

His Geralt image is everywhere, and people use it image on their products and sell them without any concern from Alex. This photo can be easily found on various goods on Aliexpress (mugs and mousepads). And nothing can be done about it because these images are not NFT, for example (link to the material about NFT should be used here). So, we can say Alex influences the cosplay industry. Let us see how he views himself.

– Tell me something about yourself, things you’d like people to know.

– I am almost 31. I was born in Orsha, a city in Belarus some people call “small Chicago.” This nickname makes sense because this place still stays in the 'Dashing 90s', when there were punks, and you were bullied for how your haircut looks. While growing up, I found out what comic books were, and I liked drawing, so a passion for creating was born. When in school, I started to be interested in military-historical reconstruction, like when one bunch of guys in armor fights another one with swords and stuff. It was quite a painful experience. I got some injuries, so doctors suggested to stop having such fun even though I was pretty much into it. 

In 2015, some of my friends invited me to visit Unicon, the event in Minsk. It is like a local Comic-Con. I was impressed. I thought, “So, what you’re saying… people recreate costumes from games, books, and movies?” So next year, I attended the festival as a participant in the costume of Geralt from the Witcher game.

– Unfortunately, there has been a pandemic, and many activities have become impossible to organize. How is the situation like with events now? 

– If cosplayers cannot visit Cons, they still can show their work on social networks, you know. Now all these events are back, the problem of visiting them for me as a Belarusian is that our government did a pretty good job for its citizens not to be able to go anywhere we want (note: after the incident when Ryanair plane was intercepted by a fighter jet and forced to land in Minsk). So, in the situation we live in now, I’d rather stay home than go to Russian festivals, if you know what I mean.

Alex Kuzmenkov
Source: Alex Kuzmenkov

– I see. Let’s talk about your costumes!

– Well, 90% of the outfit is usually made by me, and for the rest of it, I need help. For example, I don’t have a 3D printer to make some details. I'm a nerd, so it takes me a year to make one suit, correctly sewed and weaved. It turned out that, for example, the Witcher's costume is also a reconstruction, only you are doing not a historical costume but something else. Most cosplayers do not bother to use the same material as an original costume has. And I think that since the outfit is medieval, it means that you need to make it that way. If a character has leather clothes on, then you need to use leather; if there is something metal, you use that also. Geralt has one outfit with a bearskin, so I used bearskin for my cosplay of him. 

Comic Con
Source: Comic Con

– Important question: Where did you get it? But please, don’t tell me there is a black market for such things!

– No, my friend has it, so I just borrowed it (note: no bears were killed while Alex was making his costume).

– They say you have a funny story about Miami Comic-Con.

– Right :) So, I won the Grand Prix once at a festival in Moscow six years ago. The prize was a fee and a paid flight to Miami for the festival.

I initially thought that I needed to take cosplay with me, but it turned out that this was not necessary at all. So, I flew from the cold winter Minsk to Miami, wearing a warm jacket with 35 kilograms of the costume in a travel bag. That's not the worst part. Geralt's costume and mine include the bearskin, the warmest padded jacket to the floor, and a leather cloak. I was used to the fact that, you had to walk around in a costume all day at previous festivals. I did. And in Miami, it was+ 28 °C.

After the competition, when they said that I won the Grand Prix there too, a dude from the jury came out and asked, “Are you walking like this all day? Where are you from? Belarus? What are you doing there, Marine, or what?" I said: “No, I'm a designer.”

Now the funniest part. Tickets for the festival are divided into categories. For example, a ticket for two days, a ticket for one day, a ticket for two days, plus VIP. The latter gives an opportunity to take pictures, get an autograph from a celebrity and enter the “close party.” At that festival, one of the media personalities was Ron Perlman from "Sons of Anarchy.”

Alex Kuzmenkov
Source: Alex Kuzmenkov

After the event, I'm standing outside the hotel, and the same jury guy comes up and asks if I'm going to a party. I answer that I do not have a VIP ticket. And he says, "Well, you are our winner, so please come, go to the reception, just say my name and they will let you in."

I agreed and said that I would return to the room, take off my suit, take a shower and join. So, I went back to my room and took a shower. Then I sat down to rest after wearing those 35 kilos on me the whole day. I woke up only in the morning when I had to fly. So that's how I hung out with Hollywood stars.

– This is hilarious! But at the same time, I am so sorry you missed it. And what is the story with an unfair victory?

– Before a cyberpunk game release, its creators would have been better off doing the game itself, but they were doing the marketing. And this marketing was everywhere. One part of their strategy was a cosplay contest. There were five locations where you could take part with your costume. They allegedly seriously decided to approach this and compiled a list of instructions and rules, what can and cannot be done, etc. In June, they announced a competition, and at the end of September, there was IgroMir Expo, within which it was possible to participate in the competition. 

I decided to take the character with the face torn off and used my usual approach to preparing the costume. I decided that since the hero has a biker jacket, it should be heavy; if pipes were sticking out of his jacket in the original, I’d make pipes. Only mine had an LED strip inserted that glowed. The timing was short. I had to order many things, print the same mask and make a base for a jacket, which I then had to rip open to insert some electronic stuff there. 

Nikolay Zharov
Source: Nikolay Zharov

In general, this fest itself goes on for four days. On the third day, there is a selection.

For three days, everyone came to me – the jury of the festival, the project managers of the game, all of them said how cool I was. They posted my costume on Twitter and other social networks. It was obvious that I had won. But now I think that we must always be on the alert and not flatter ourselves so that later it would not be a shame if something goes wrong.

And on the day of the competition, another Royce arrived. He had an exoskeleton. It was impressive because, in a very short period, a guy did a great job in terms of the size of the suit. 

There is such a thing as "jury review.” This is when they check your suit. So, if you came closer to that exoskeleton, you could see that the suit was glued from everything that came to hand - a system unit repainted with a balloon and something else.

It was also clearly written in the rules that if you cannot get on stage, then you will be disqualified. The man-exoskeleton could stand, but he could no longer climb the stairs, so he was pushed out by five people. My costume was technically better, neater. But from the hall, a hefty piece of something that stands still but at the same time glows looks better than what is perfectly made. I put on makeup for four hours, and this guy just had a poorly made mask. But then again, this was not visible from a distance. In the end, they gave him a prize. And it was decided not by the project managers of the game but by the jury. The main problem in the competition was that the organizers wrote the rules themselves, they wanted to make an incredible action, but they failed the rules.

Nikolay Zharov
Source: Nikolay Zharov

– Why do you think people are fond of cosplay anyway?

– Cosplay is a release for some, as for me, it’s escapism and the opportunity to create something. I am a character designer and work with 2D images; I can do everything in 3D format for cosplay.

I will not speak for everyone; I will speak for myself. I am a little of an attention whore, and I am pleased when people like me.

For some people, cosplay is all about money/business.

There are promo cosplayers, or guys who complete an order to release a game.

For example, there is Benjamin aka Maul Cosplay. He used to create “Geralt" and was not very famous. And now he works with game projects as an official cosplayer. A former stuntman, now Ben, earns more, precisely because certain companies pay him for promotions of their products.

– Let’s imagine I want to enter a cosplay contest. What is the procedure?

– While filling in the application, you must have a part-made suit. In addition, you need to send a photo so that people understand that you will come in something. Otherwise, it may turn out that you declared the costume of Doctor Strange, and upon arrival, the only thing you get from the character is a mustache.

– It is always very inspiring to listen to someone who is so passionate about what they do. Thank you for your story, Sasha! Would you like to add something else?

– What I am dreaming about right now is for this terrible war to end and the madness in my country to end.

We all should remember to always stay human!

I wish for everyone to get back to normal – visiting new places, meeting new people and having good time—catch the buzz from every moment, costume and cosplayer, and from every little thing in everyday life.

P.S. You can see Alex on our Hypetrain TikTok account. This is an example of him backstage getting ready to be Royce.

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