Luisa from “Encanto,” Velma from “Scooby Doo” and Korra from “The Legend of Korra” fill Tranquil Ashes’ Instagram grid. In the cosplay photos, artist Anita Riggs, aka Tranquil Ashes, is not only dressed as each character but embodies their mannerisms. In the Luisa photo, taken at this year’s AwesomeCon, Riggs proudly flexes and poses next to a beaming young fan.
With over 17,000 followers on Instagram, Riggs’ cosplay origin story happened organically while living in Japan, teaching English through the Japanese Embassy.
“In Japan, a lot of our co-workers had events that you dress up for, like Halloween, and just anything themed,” Riggs says. “I would have these opportunities to dress up, and because I am all about the theme, I realized I really liked doing it.”
When she returned to the United States, she noticed that cosplay and anime had become more mainstream and decided to try dressing up and attending conventions. With a dual degree in art and mythology and a love for anime, the writing was already on the wall. Now eight years later, Riggs is a guest at conventions, has a growing following, and is carving out spaces in the community for BIPOC cosplayers to connect. Last May, Riggs created Black MerMayDay, a day in May “for all aquatic melanin fantasy cosplay.” We spoke to Riggs about the upcoming gala she founded, got some makeup tips and learned the ethos behind her character choice.
District Fray: How do you choose which character to cosplay?
Anita Riggs: What character makes me feel good is the character I tend to cosplay. And I like to feel strong, so I often cosplay characters that are strong. I tend to gender bend, which is cosplaying as male characters and bringing them to life in my own way. I also love playing villains.
Villains tend to have really good characterization and often dress better than our heroes. And sometimes their stories are compelling, even though they’re not the hero. So, Akuma from “Street Fighter” is one I really enjoy cosplaying because he’s diligent and has an honor code. He won’t fight you if you aren’t on the same level.
Last year, you started the CosGala. The second CosGala is on September 17. Why did you want
to create your own cosplay event?
Think of it as the Met Gala but for nerds. You know how designers make clothes for the stars? Well, we make our own things, and we present them at the gala. It’s a space for creatives and like-minded people to get together and commune and network. And it’s a talent show in a sense because I am trying to showcase a lot of talent around the area and build up the art community. I just don’t think that our local talent gets enough love. When I go to any type of event that showcases talent or has guests, very often they’re not from the DMV. Also, I love big fancy balls.
What is the inspiration behind the garment you are going to wear at the CosGala?
I came up with this year’s theme, cyberpunk. I am a “Star Trek” fan. And in one of their most recent shows, “Star Trek: Discovery,” there was a mobile suit kind of character in that I just was like, ‘Oh, that is cool. How can I take that and make it a gown?’ And that’s the point of the gala. I want people to expand their minds, to try new things and combinations you’ve never tried before and see what kind of doors will open.
How was your experience joining the cosplay community?
I kind of just did my cosplay, went to conventions and then went home. But once I started becoming friends with people in the community, I dove all the way in. I’ve had mostly positive experiences, but I’ve also had negative experiences on the internet because people don’t like to see you enjoy the things you do if they don’t think you fit a certain mold or a standard. And I really try to use my platform to debunk all those kinds of thoughts. The whole point of cosplay is it’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be for everyone. It’s supposed to be something where people can get together and enjoy fandoms and literature and art and everything that comes with whatever mutual thing that you like. And there shouldn’t be a color barrier. There shouldn’t be a weight barrier or a height or an age barrier. As a culture, we’re still stuck on those barriers, and I’m just very against that idea. I never went into this thinking I was going to be an example. But as I’ve gone on, I realized that I am an example for other people so they know that they can dress up as whoever they want.
Rapid Fire Round
What costume took you the longest to get ready for?
Rose Quartz in battle armor
Farthest place you’ve traveled for a convention?
Disney Channel, Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon?
Favorite literary-based fandom?
“Game of Thrones”
Kat Von D. She has this mini brush one that is so precise.
Best makeup remover?
Virgin olive oil
The CosGala: CYBERPUNK is September 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Martin’s Caterers in Baltimore. Visit the website to learn more about the event and get tickets, or follow them at @thecosgala. To stay up-to-date with Riggs, follow her on Instagram @tranquil_ashes or on Twitter @TranquilAshes.
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