Lauraine in wonderland: Inside a cosplayer’s magical world
YOU may know her as Princess Ariel one day and the Winter Soldier the next.
Lauraine Richards is a familiar face in Wide Bay cosplay circles, often appearing at Bundaberg events as well as those in her home region of the Fraser Coast.
The avid enthusiast has even travelled to conventions overseas and now boasts an Instragram following of more than 11,000.
It's been a labour of love for Ms Richards since she visited Brisbane's Oz Comic Con event, but she's never short of inspiration.
"I'm inspired by movies or cartoons that mean something to me, character suggestions from children that meet me at cosplay events and character costumes that I think might challenge me creatively," she said.
Ms Richards has sewn and hand-crafted a number of her own outfits, all the way from details on boots to light-up props.
"To create a costume from planning to completion takes me about a year, but if I recycle materials and put together a costume, it takes about three months," she said.
Ms Richards' closet is a magical realm, fitted out to transform her into Strawberry Shortcake, Princess Ariel, Prince Adam from Beauty and The Beast, Astro Boy, Marvel's Winter Soldier, Antman and Black Widow, Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter film series, some characters from Dragonball Z characters, Alice in Wonderland, Harley Quinn and Storm of The X-Men.
While she loves them all, there are a afew favourites.
"I love to dress up in the regal outfit of Prince Adam's (from Disney's Beauty & The Beast), Strawberry Shortcake and Astro Boy because they are two of my favourite characters of all time and the masked Winter Soldier because it challenges me to change my appearance a lot from what I look like in real life," she said.
In the future, Ms Richards hopes to see her collection expand.
"I'd love to dress up as a Disney classic Cinderella, a character from Sailor Moon, Velma from Scooby-Doo and Aladdin in his prince outfit," she said.
Ms Richards has attended conventions in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Toowoomba and even Philadelphia in the US.
Some of Ms Richards' most special moments have been through using cosplay to bring joy to others.
"Last year, I was lucky enough to have been invited to dress up as the Marvel character Antman and surprise a terminally ill child on her birthday," she said.
"I was allowed to present the child with a gift of an Antman figure from the newest Avengers movie that she was about to watch.
"Her reaction to the birthday gift was heart-warming."
Another highlight was winning place in the cosplay competition at FraserPop Expo in Maryborough with the Winter Soldier costume she mostly made.
Like all things in life, the pandemic has impacted the cosplay world, making events harder to hold and forcing organisers to get creative.
"Comic Con events have been cancelled, but some conventions have run online events," Ms Richards said.
"I can't speak for every cosplayer, but I've found all the extra time at home has given me a lot more time to sew and craft future costumes and to mend and add more detail to costumes I already have.
"It's also given me time to learn new skills, such as sewing."
Ms Richards says the break from conventions and social meet-ups has held some enthusiasts back, but she valued the quiet time.
"I think the COVID lockdown laws and restrictions in a lot of places has discouraged some cosplayers to keep on creating, but I think for people like myself, with interest in learning new skills, like sewing, photography or EVA foam armour crafting, cosplay will always provide a creative outlet to apply skill to beloved characters of popular culture," she said.
For anyone wanting to get started in the world of wonder, Ms Richards says there are a few golden rules to follow.
"Always choose a character that you love or a character from a film, cartoon, TV series or a book that means something special to you," she said.
"If you wear something you love, be it a character costume or just an outfit inspired by that character, you can't go wrong."
Ms Richards said there were some common misconceptions about cosplay.
There's no right or wrong outfit and no right or wrong body type.
"It's ok to buy a costume, it's ok to be creative and have a go at making or putting together a costume yourself and it's ok to ask for help or have something commissioned," she said.
"No one has the wrong body shape to cosplay. Every one should feel welcome to choose to wear any character costume or character inspired outfit that they like or feel happy and comfortable wearing."