Rick Stafford aka The True Aquaman
When was your first cosplay and what was it?
My first official cosplay was in May of 2005 for the premier night of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith in Miami, Florida. I was an all-white Star Wars, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones Clone Trooper. I received the armour kit three months earlier as a gift from the Florida Garrison of the 501st Legion Star Wars Costuming Group as a Thank You Gift for allowing them to be part of my son’s Celebration of Life Ceremony. My son (Christian Richard Stafford), passed away at the age of eight in my arms from Leukaemia, March of 2005. He thought his cancer battle was actually his Jedi Trials as he was a huge fan of everything Star Wars. I fed his belief by being his Jedi Master while he was in the hospital and taught him lessons on sword fighting, meditation and mindfulness. He would never leave his hospital room without first putting on his Jedi robe.
The day after he passed away, I went to the crematorium and dressed him one last time in his Jedi costume and robe so that he would forever be the Jedi he hoped to become. On the night of the premier in Miami, those of us working the event were given the privilege of seeing an advance screening several hours before the general public. At that showing, I went to the concession stand and purchased an order of nachos, a hotdog, and pink lemonade. As I sat in the theatre with the rest of the 501st and Rebel Legion costumers, I placed the food and drink in the seat next to me and in the cup holder separating my seat from the next, I placed a small metal container with a Jedi badge affixed to it that contained my young Padawan. I fulfilled my promise to my son of taking him to see the last Star Wars movie. I have been a costumer ever since, and I do so to honor the memory of my son, Christian. He never got to grow up…SO WHY SHOULD I?!
Thanks to cosplay, I have had a long list of achievements. I have been in two major documentaries: “Heart of an Empire” and as part of the Star Wars Blu-Ray Box Collection under Special Features “Star Warriors.” “Star Warriors” documents the 501st costume group and how George Lucas and Lucas Films chose 200 individuals from around the world to represent Star Wars fandom by having us march in the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade in California. George Lucas was the Grand Marshal and we got to march as Imperial Forces in front of thousands of fans and televised worldwide. I was also selected by Lucas Arts and flown to New York City as part of the 501st to March on Time Square as part of the release of the game Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and the release of Revenge of the Sith on DVD.
My picture made the front page of the New York Times, and we were all on the CBS Morning Show. It was really cool to find out the I was listed on IMDB for my part in the 501st documentary “Heart of an Empire.” I later got internet attention when I started showing up in my now famous King Aquaman leather armoured costume. I had people from all walks of life telling me they had seen me on one website or another, showcasing images of my costuming. The King Aquaman armor was constructed by an uber talented leather worker named Sam Lee from Prince Armory. It took over a year to fully construct based on our combined design.
But one of my biggest achievements was not even an award. Several years ago I was leaving a convention here in Orlando called MegaCon. As I left the show floor and was heading out onto the main concourse, a little old lady stopped me and asked if her husband could have a photo with me. I was dressed in the classic version of Aquaman that included the low cut neckline and the black shorts over the green leggings with the fins on the calves. I quickly obliged and stood next to the frail old man and holding my trident, I did my best hero pose for him. After his wife had taken several pictures with her disposable camera, I began to walk away, and that was when the old man lightly grabbed my arm and told me, “You are exactly as I imagined you would look like.” I thanked him for the compliment and again began to leave and again he stopped me and said, “You are the living embodiment of my imagination.” At this point I again thanked him, but also felt things were getting a little weird.
He saw the puzzled expression behind my smile and asked if I knew who he was. I politely told him that I did not. That is when he told me, “My name is Nick Cardy, I invented Aquaman.” He was on his way to a panel of Golden Age Comic Artists and saw me and had to have a photo of me because I was exactly what he pictured when he first developed Aquaman. So my biggest achievement is being told by the creator of the character that so many people recognize me as, that I am The True Aquaman. To this day I am humbled by that encounter. Nick Cardy passed away a couple years ago and I never got to see the pictures of us together as I did not have a phone on me at the time since Aquaman has no pouches on his belt to hide it in. But it is an amazing memory for me none the less.
Cosplay pet peeve:
Cosplay bullies in any and all forms: body shaming, costume divas that think only they can be a particular character, cosplayers that use false accusations to bully others out of cosplay for their own reasons, cosplayers that act like they are royalty and are better than the rest of us cosplayers and convention goers that disrespect anyone’s cosplay whether it is store bought or handmade and not perfect. We are a community of geeks and nerds that love to express our fandoms with costumes. It’s about having fun and socializing with others who share our mutual fandoms. This is not high school, and we do not need to make this a popularity contest. Respect everyone and their choice of fandoms and the way they choose to represent their love of a character in costume.
What is the piece you are most proud of?
First, I would say my Iron Man costume as it was my first major cosplay costume. It weighs in at 85lbs. and is a total labor of love to wear as it is not comfortable, but it is loved by all the fans who see it. And the one I am best known for now is my King Aquaman armor. From the idea conception to finally wearing it was a year-long wait, but I am very proud of how it turned out and love the feeling I get wearing it and the feeling of being regal I have when I am walking around in it. The old saying, “The suit makes the man,” and in the case of my Aquaman armor, it truly does.
Who is your dream team to work on a cosplay with?
In the last 10 years, I have gotten to work with so many amazing people that putting together a Dream Team would leave out so many incredibly talented individuals that I absolutely adore. Just to throw out a few names would include Danny and Heather Kelly, Chad Tango, Charles Hass, Brian Parsley, and Chase Law. Some that I would love to get to work with, but have not worked out the logistics yet, include Saraphina Cosplay, RJ Foster, Rebecca McGillicuddy, and Nica Stone to name a few.
What is a typical day in the life of you when working on a cosplay?
This question can be interpreted in two ways: when I am constructing a cosplay and when I am working as a cosplayer at a convention. I’ll answer both. I am a stickler for detail work when I develop a costume, so I try to make sure I have all the right tools and supplies to do the job correctly the first time. If I know something will require snaps added to it, I make sure I have the proper kind of snaps and the snap tool laid out and ready to use. I often work in a large open area on my hardwood floor that I cover with a drop cloth and then use large pieces of thick cardboard to protect the flooring underneath from cuts, dents, scratches and paint or glue drips. When I get started, I usually forget to eat or drink as I get so focused on the task at hand that I will work for hours and lose total track of time. Because of this, I tend to hold off on working on projects till one of my days off.
At conventions, I try to get to the event early so I can meet with the convention promoter and get my table or booth set up as quickly as possible. I then tend to wander around and introduce myself to the vendors and get an idea of what they have, so that if I see something I like, I can try to make a deal for it before the end of the convention. I usually suit up in the costume for the day about 30 minutes before general opening of the doors, so I have time to fix anything that might go wrong and get acclimated to temperature of the convention site. Sometimes they are now well air-conditioned and other times they might have it cracked down really low in anticipation of heavy crowds and lots of warm bodies.
I hardly ever sit or stay behind my table at events as I like to interact with fans and guests who stop by. It’s much easier to do a selfie with a fan while standing next to them then it is to lean across my table and do so. During lulls in the convention traffic, I try to again visit the different vendors, now in costume, so that they get a chance to get photos with me since they are usually not able to venture far from their merchandise or artwork. They really seem to appreciate the thoughtfulness on my part to bring a segment of the convention experience to them. I will chat with people all day long about all aspects of cosplay and particular fandoms while at the show.
But if I see a child who wants to do a photo with me, I will pause any conversation to honor the photo request of a family. I truly enjoy the interaction with the guests and fans alike at conventions. I typically bring my own food to the con and try to eat it as discreetly as possible so as not to have photos show up on the internet with Aquaman stuffing his face with grilled chicken and brown rice. (LOL). Another thing I am very careful to do is always use a stall when I need to use the bathroom as it is not safe with current cell phone cameras to simply do your business in costume and have to worry about photos of it showing up on the web. This is a good practice for any male cosplayer.
Who are your inspirations?
My major inspiration is and will always be my son, Christian. I do all of this for his memory. If I had to honestly trade all that I have done in the cosplay world to have him back…HELL YES, I WOULD! Beyond my son, I would say I am inspired by those cosplayers that truly put themselves out in the community at large for the sake of real charity work. Those that visit hospitals and clinics, those that raise money for charities and those that stand up for those who do not have the strength to do it themselves, such as the anti-bullying cosplayers.
What is the current project you are working on?
I actually have several that are in the planning stages. Three new versions of Aquaman are being developed over the next year, an aquatic character suit is being completed in the next six months. The Force Awakens version of the X-Wing pilot costume and a couple other surprises are being sketched out.
What is your dream project?
This is a hard one as the King Aquaman was such a massive undertaking and overall successful project. I would really like to have another Iron Man costume that if as close to movie accurate as possible with electronic moving parts and sound system that allows me to sound like Ironman. I’m keeping my eyes out for someone talented enough to build the version I would ultimately want to have and wear.
If you could pick anyone to act as your mentor, who would it be?
As a mentor, I would really appreciate having Scott Fensterer. He is an incredibly talented artist, prop builder and make-up artist. Learning a tenth of what he knows would be incredible. He was one of the last five competitors on this seasons Syfy Channel show Face/Off. Not only is he a talented artist, he is an amazing man all the way around and I truly look up to all he has to offer as a great human being.
How has the industry changed since you first started?
The cosplay community when I first started over ten years ago, was much more fandom loving based. Unfortunately, due to the mass media glamorization of the cosplay community—with reality shows and major coverage of the cosplayers at events like San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con—the community has been inundated with people seeing the prospect of being at conventions as the new cool place to been seen at. This has led to a large increase in shaming and cosplay bullying by individuals who are not truly in the community for the love of the fandoms they represent, but rather to be seen as cool because they are in a costume from the current popular craze in the media. This has me defining the community in two factions. My personal definition of a Cosplayer is: a person who dons a costume and does their best to represent the character in both actions and knowledge like an actor taking on the role. A Costumer: is a person who wears a costume because they simply like the character, but are not trying to become the character. Like a sports fan wearing a jersey of their favorite team, but obviously not being an athlete. Some would argue that a costumer is someone who makes their own costumes, but I prefer to call them costume designers. We are all allowed to use our own vernacular.
The mass media has made conventions big business for a lot of promoters, but the spirit of the fandom driven events has suffered for it as it is now much more a mass market event to sell products and less and less about fans coming together to enjoy their mutual love of different sci-fi and fantasy genres.
Who is your favorite comic book character?
Who is your favorite author (books)?
Jules Verne, a man way ahead of his time.
What is your favorite movie?
Original Star Wars and Princess Bride. Both are great hero stories.
What is your favorite band/music artist?
Tough one as my musical tastes truly are all over the place. Nine Inch Nials and Florence and the Machine are a couple of my picks.
What is a quirk you have (like dipping fries into chocolate Sunday)?
I tend to eat all of one thing on my plate before I move to something else.
Day or night
Day, I love the feeling of sunlight on my face.
Star trek or star wars
I like Star Trek, but I am a child of Star Wars and it will always be my favorite.
Coffee or tea
Definenty tea. I love a kettle of Moroccan Mint Green Tea every day.
Summer or winter
Summer, I cannot stand going days without seeing the blue skies and sunshine.
Cats or dogs
DOGS! I love love love dogs. I tend to be an alpha male to them.
Batman or Superman
I prefer to throw those options out for a third, Aquaman. (LOL)
Movies or a book
I love all kinds of movies, but a book always beats a movie, but I can get through more movies due to time constraints.
Pizza or Burgers
Pizza for cheat days, and a good burger (Five Guys) when I have weight training days.
Next project release date of current project:
Probably going to be about six months as I am taking my time to make sure I add a lot of detail to my current projects.