Though I can’t be certain, I’m pretty confident that Catwoman – namely, the Julie Newmar version from the old TV series – was my first pop cultural crush (it was either her or that cat from those Pepé Le Pew cartoons).
What made Catwoman one of my favorite female comic book characters, even after getting older, was her complexity and ambivalence. You could never totally understand or pin her down. Just when it seemed like she had renounced her criminal ways for good, she did something bad. And then just when it seemed like she was beyond reforming, she went and did something good. No wonder Batman was captivated by her.
When I discovered the work of Alexandra Wolfe, aka the Catwoman Cosplayer, the first thing that struck me was how remarkably she resembled my own internal vision of what Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, would actually look like were she to suddenly step out of the pages of a comic book. The next thing I noticed was Wolfe’s bold choice of a cosplayer name: the Catwoman Cosplayer. It was the first character-specific stage name I’d come across and suggested confidence in the cosplayer’s ability to represent the character. It also suggested what I sensed was a certain obsession with the character on her part. Intrigued, I set up an interview.
Q: I’ve seen Catwoman cosplay that has captured the look of the Julie Newmar version of Catwoman, the Michelle Pfieffer version or the Anne Hathaway version. But until now I had not seen any Catwoman cosplay that captured the comic book version in a way that made me think, “Yes, *that* is Catwoman.” But I have to say, yours has done that for me. You *are* Catwoman. Good work!
A: Thank you so much for your kind words about my cosplay! I am truly flattered. I take great pride in hearing people tell me, “You *are* Catwoman.” It means so much to me. It means I succeeded in bringing her to life.
Q: You’ve cited Adam Hughes as your favorite Catwoman artist. He’s one of mine as well and that’s actually the reason why I was so impressed by your cosplay. Hughes’ renditions of Catwoman are, to me, the definitive versions and you have captured that look so well. Did you consciously use his work as a kind of ideal to aspire to?
A: Adam Hughes is truly my favorite Catwoman artist. His portrayal of Selina using 50s icon Audrey Hepburn’s face changed Catwoman forever for me. Audrey always had a face that reminded me of a cat with her big beautiful eyes and her distinct features. He gave Selina a playful, softer side so that when the goggles are lifted up from her face, you get the face of an angel instead of the harsh, angry face you might have been expecting. To me, that made Catwoman even more beautiful. She is never what you expect her to be. Adam Hughes drove that point home.
Q: Please talk about in what ways you either identify with the Catwoman character or are inspired by her.
A: Catwoman has always been my role model ever since I first laid eyes on her in Batman: The Animated Series. I was hypnotized by how different she was from any female character I had ever seen. (My then cosplay choice as a five year old was Snow White). Catwoman was strong, smart, and cunning. She was -nothing- like the fairy tale princesses I was accustomed to thinking of as my role models. In kindergarten, my teacher asked me who I wanted to be when I grew up, and I sat there with my long, wavy brown hair, my big white bow and my Snow White dress, and I replied: “I want to be Catwoman.”
I relate to Catwoman because, like her, I’m not exactly what people expect either. I know that both in and out of the suit I have a very demure appearance. However, I have a deep, mature voice that really throws people off when they approach me. It’s so funny. People at conventions will talk to me like I’m a teenager but when I open my mouth, they’re like “Oh, I’m sorry! I thought you were in high school!” This often happens often outside of conventions, as well.
I guess I also identify with Catwoman because she is the kind of woman I want to be. She works hard for what she wants no matter what she is told otherwise and goes for it, grinning like a mischievous cat (not that I condone stealing!).
Q: Catwoman is a pop culture icon over which there has been much debate. But despite her hyper-sexualized image, I think there are ways in which she can be a redeeming and even inspiring role model. She’s intelligent, confident, independent, resilient, crafty and, when necessary, even ferocious. Even her sexuality (the obvious target for feminist critics) is just one of the weapons in her arsenal that she has used for survival in a brutal world. As you frequently put on your Catwoman costumes, pose like her, act like her, and possibly even imagine yourself to be her, have you found that some of her qualities have carried over into your real-life personality, even when you’re not in costume?
A: There are definitely times when I blur the line between cosplay and reality. Like when I go shopping. My whole wardrobe consists of pieces of clothing I’ve seen Selina wear while in civilian clothing in a comic book, movie or show. Honestly, Batman comic books have drastically improved my taste in clothes.
Not only has the character improved my style, but she has improved my confidence as well. Once upon a time, I was a painfully shy child who struggled to even make a peep, let alone make friends. I guess you could say I was as meek as a kitten! Reading Catwoman comics as I got older helped me gain confidence and poise I wished I had years ago. I now speak with conviction, I carry myself better, and I feel great wearing black everyday!
Q: It’s common for cosplayers to adopt stagenames but most of them pick one that’s non-specific to any particular character. Yet you chose the name Catwoman Cosplayer. I found this to be interesting and bold in that, on one hand, it’s almost like you’re staking a claim on this character. Yet it seems like there are also ways in which it could be limiting. For example, you’ve done a Governess cosplay, Black Widow cosplay and, just recently, a Faye Valentine cosplay. Could you talk about your thought process behind the choice of your pseudonym? Do you think there are any disadvantages of marketing yourself primarily around one character?
A: I will confess my stage name is an incredibly bold choice. But what kind of Catwoman would I be if I didn’t do something a little daring?! I do want to be known for my Catwoman cosplays. I’m proud of my portrayal of the princess of plunder. I don’t consider my stage name a disadvantage to my Cosplay choices at all. It’s simply a nice reminder of who I really am underneath all the other costumes.
It’s actually funny that you brought this up. I technically didn’t come up with my stage name. My fans did! At conventions, if I’m walking around in normal clothes and someone recognizes my face, they exclaim “Hey! You’re the Catwoman Cosplayer from yesterday!” Or “you’re the Catwoman Cosplayer that posed with my kid!” Or “You were the Catwoman Cosplayer at Kami/Momo/Anime Blues/Midsouth/Blah blah blah con!” People started calling me the Catwoman Cosplayer so I figured, “Why not?” Plus, I like alliteration!
Q: When did you start becoming interested in cosplay in any shape or form? And when did you first become an all-out cosplayer active in the con circuit?
A: I’ve always been a little intrigued by cosplay. As a child, I looked for any excuse to dress up. My mom is still telling the story of the little fashion show I gave her when I was three.
I didn’t really “start” getting into it until 2010, when I bought my first official catsuit. It was not my best suit, but hey, even Catwoman had a few fashion blunders herself. I attended GMX 2010 with my now-fiancé to see a web comic artist we both enjoy (Jeff Jacques, web comic artist of Questionable Content). I was, of course, enchanted instantly by the con scene.
However, I didn’t really start going to cons regularly until Memphis Comic and Fantasy Con 2011. I’ll credit this con as the one that started it all for me. The people were so kind and charming. I felt an instant sense of kinship with everyone around me at this place. And then…I saw it. I saw (and immediately bought) the one thing that would forever bind me to the cosplay community: a Michelle Pfeiffer Catsuit that fit to a T. Before, I was just intrigued but now I was really in love. I still do business with the people that made that Michelle Pfeiffer catsuit today.
A: At one time, I was frustrated with the con scene due to the treatment of both male and female cosplayers. It seems like sometimes it’s a war on body type, race, skin tone, height, whatever people feel like complaining about. I didn’t like it. I had inappropriate comments hurled my way as well and I did have men try to flirt with me or get my number despite knowing I was already engaged. I found it incredibly disrespectful, but you know what? There are people like that wherever you go. You simply have to put your foot down, get your claws out and firmly state that it ain’t happening.
Q: I’ve read some blog posts about female cosplayers’ thoughts on the sexual harassment they sometimes get at conventions and how they deal with it. How do you personally handle it and how would you react to some guy that made a lewd remark towards you? Because the popular image of Catwoman is so sexualized, I’d imagine that any cosplayer who dresses up as her would be a more frequent target for this kind of attention.
A: At a convention back in 2012, someone made a catcall at me and whistled as I passed by. Unfortunately, I couldn’t just turn around and start chewing the guy out. There were a LOT of kids present so my response options were limited. However, there’s no rule about responding to such comments in character.
So I turned around, looked the guilty party dead in the eye and lifted up my Catwoman goggles so he could see I was angry. I walked over to him and he was sitting on the floor by the wall so it gave me a height advantage. I cracked the whip above his head and said to him in a deep growl: “Don’t you EVER speak to me like that again. Do you understand me? I am a lady, not a DOG.” I cracked the whip one more time to get my point across and walked away. I could hear his friends laughing, “Oh, man! You just got schooled by Catwoman!”
You’re correct in that my catsuit does get attention, both positive and negative. The positive, I am always grateful for; the negative I won’t let anyone get away with. I am at the convention to be Catwoman, not to be catcalled.
Q: What kind of projects do you have lined up? And what are some of your future goals and ambitions, whether in the world of cosplay or otherwise?
A: I just finished showing off my costume of Fay Valentine (from Cowboy Bebop) at the Anime Blues Con, and I’m also currently focusing my energy on Catwoman from Arkham City as my next big cosplay. In the mean time, I want to work on other characters as well: Dr. Mrs. The Monarch from The Venture Bros., Ramona Flowers, Cherry Darling from Planet Terror, Betty Boop, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra, and Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones.
As far as non-cosplay life goes, I both model and act locally in my home town. The catsuit has landed me a few roles, in fact. I work with really amazing people that are really bringing art back into the community, which I’m so grateful to be a part of.
I’m also getting married in December. Being a bride has been the ultimate “cosplay” I’ve always dreamed of! I’m marrying my soul mate, who I’ve been with for four of the most wonderful years of my life. He has been incredibly supportive of my cosplay and I love him so much for it. So maybe someday at a convention, you’ll be seeing this Catwoman with a little Robin in her arms!