Illustrator wows with cosplay, from Bowser to M’Baku

As a black geek growing up in predominantly white spaces, Jazmine Boatman struggled to find acceptance amid a slew of expectations of how she should act and what she should be interested in. It’s no surprise she put her nerdier passions, including comic books, on the back burner for a while.

In 2009, while browsing YouTube, she discovered a low-tech video featuring cosplayers from San Diego Comic-Con and was drawn to the vivid costumes and fun convention atmosphere.

In 2013, she crafted her first cosplay, based on Garnet from Steven Universe. She describes the experience as her “representation matters” moment — it freed her to pursue cosplay of other characters she loved. She also found camaraderie among like-minded geeks in the cosplay and convention community. 

Since then, Jazmine has gained notoriety for her powerful yet playful cosplays, which take full advantage of her 6-foot, 3-inch build, including striking renditions of Black Panther’s M’Baku, Super Mario Bros.’ Bowser, and DC Comics’ Big Barda.

She’s been been featured in the multimedia project The Space Between: Celebrating Black Womxn in Geekdom, and celebrated in several “best of” cosplay lists, including one by Nerds of Color and PopSugar’s 16 Black Cosplay Queens.

Jazmine is also an illustrator, studying sequential art at Savannah College of Art and Design. Fulfilling a childhood wish, she’s already crowdfunded an exciting project: Black Magic Zine, which features fantasy scenes filled with black characters, created by more than 35 black women and non-binary artists. 

Read on to learn more about Jazmine — you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter –and her fascinating geeky endeavors. Maybe you’ll have the pleasure of bumping into her at your next convention. 

You’re a cosplayer and aspiring illustrator and sequential artist who’s gained notoriety for your epic cosplays of characters such as M’Baku from Black Panther, DC Comics’ Big Barda, and Bowser from Super Mario Bros. When and how did you first discover cosplay?

I first really discovered cosplay through YouTube, actually! Back in 2009, I was browsing random videos, when I came across a video from a YouTuber I watched pretty regularly. In this video, he was doing interviews with cosplayers at San Diego Comic-Con. Up until that point, I had vaguely been aware of cosplaying and cons based on what I had heard from friends but that was my first time seeing how cool the costumes were and how fun conventions actually looked! Looking back at the video itself, it’s pretty cringey, but I do have to credit it for getting me started in cosplay.

Do you remember your very first cosplay? Tell me about it.

My first true cosplay was Garnet from Steven Universe. I had been following the show since its original concept work and after watching the first pilot episode in 2013, I was hooked! The show was fun, had great writing, and best of all, it had Garnet. Watching this character that acted like me, looked like me, and was such vital part of the show’s story really inspired me to jump the gun and finally cosplay for myself.

I tell people all the time, that for me, seeing Garnet was a true “representation matters” moment. I had been hesitant to cosplay because I was under the impression that if the character didn’t look like me, I was going to have a bad time. After seeing Garnet though, I not only felt confident in my ability to look like her but I felt this intense need to show my appreciation for her as a character; cosplaying her felt like the best way to do that. Since then, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t have been concerned about cosplaying characters that didn’t look like me but, for me personally, doing so was vital to building my confidence to branch out.

I can’t tell you how much I love your cosplay of Jabari leader M’Baku from Marvel’s Black Panther movie. Why did you decide to take on that character? Tell me about the process of putting that together.

Thank you! M’Baku has definitely been one of my favorite cosplays to date! Upon first watching Black Panther, I was immediately blown away by the costume design and work of head designer Ruth Carter. The amount of obvious detail, time, effort, and research that went into creating each individual look really spoke to me and when the movie was over, I immediately knew that I HAD to cosplay someone from it!

I chose M’Baku because his character really resonated with me. Not only did I gravitate towards him because he was a strong warrior but also because I sympathized with his position as the leader of an outcast tribe that held a lot of bitterness but still managed to show compassion when it was absolutely necessary. He’s a character I really respect, and I thought his costume would be a very interesting thing to recreate so … I went for it!

Creating his costume proved to be quite a challenge as it involved incorporating a lot of techniques I had yet to familiarize myself with. There was also a lot of improvisation on my part, as I had to create elements of his costume without having the tools and skills that are readily available for costume work on a big budget film.

I had to solve problems I never knew I would ever have to solve in my life, such as, “How does one take a PVC pipe and a Styrofoam ball and make it look like a wooden staff.” It was a wild time (especially since I only gave myself 8 days to get it done), but it was fun!

Jazmine Big Barda

Photo: Dan Smith

I know one of your favorite cosplays is Big Barda. Why do you love that character? What does it feel like to cosplay her?

A lot of my favorite characters are my favorite because I admire their characterization and their ability to prevail through their hardships. Big Barda is no exception. To me, Barda is such a powerful and underrated character and she’s been a huge influence to me.

She’s a 7-foot tall warrior raised on a cruel, desolate planet to be an aggressive and ruthless leader but she ultimately chooses to go against everything she was taught and expected to be, in order to pursue a life of love, peace, and justice. She goes through a lot of internal and external conflict in order to achieve what she wants but she never gives up and is never afraid to fight for what she believes is right. She embraces (and is loved for) her features that contradict what is traditionally feminine, such as her height, her fierce intensity, and her strength and her confidence in herself is unwavering and absolute.

When I cosplay Big Barda, I feel extremely empowered. I feel like I’m truly at peace with my features that I’m usually kind of insecure about. My height and my build have always been big sources of my insecurities as a woman, and especially as a black woman. Sometimes I feel like my femininity is always being questioned and scrutinized, and even more so when I expose certain elements of my personality.

And with that, I’m always a little self-conscious and sensitive about how I’m perceived as a woman. To me, Big Barda is someone who has found balance and acceptance in who she is as a person both physically and mentally so, in a way, cosplaying her is kind of therapeutic and helps me get closer to finding that balance and acceptance for myself.

I read that you like to take advantage of your height — you’re 6’3” — when creating a cosplay.

Haha, well at this point, it’s no secret that I like characters that are taller than average and when I’m cosplaying these characters, my height kind of acts as a way to add to the effect of my cosplay. I don’t know …. for me, it kind of makes me feel like I stand out more as a cosplayer when I emphasize my height and play up to the fact that chances are I’m going to be one of the tallest cosplayers that anyone has ever seen. It’s kind of hard to explain but it’s also just really fun to see the look on people’s faces when they spot a 6’3” woman in 4-inch heels walking the convention hall dressed as Bowser.

Photo: Jazmin LaShea

What are some of your other favorite cosplays that you’ve done?

I’ve only made about eight cosplays so far so I don’t have a lot to pick from and, honestly, each one has a special place in my heart since each one marks my improvement and growth as a cosplayer and an artist. All of my cosplays are my favorite in their own way!

Tell me about what cosplay means to you. I read on your social media channels that it’s helped you feel less isolated (as someone who grew up in predominantly white spaces), overcome shyness, and connect with “amazing people.” 

Cosplay has definitely been an outlet for personal and social growth for me. Personally, cosplaying has helped me address and work on some of my insecurities physically and mentally and doing so has allowed me to gain more confidence. Socially, cosplay has opened me up to a whole new community that I would have had no idea existed if I hadn’t started cosplaying.

Growing up, I had always had interests that were considered nerdy but I had no one to really share those interests with. Growing up in predominantly white spaces, I had all these expectations placed on me to act a certain way and to only be interested in certain things based on the fact that I was black. Every time I deviated from those expectations, I was met with confusion from both my white friends and my few black friends. That prompted me to kind of put my interests on the back burner in order to conform in a way.

It wasn’t until I started cosplaying that I began to find black people that had gone through similar struggles and that were interested in the same nerdy stuff as me. Through cosplay, I’ve been able to meet and interact with some really cool people and we’ve been able to not only bond through our love for nerdy media but we’ve also been able to support one another in our artistic and cosplaying endeavors. I feel like I have this amazing support system filled with people (some of which I have never even met in person) that want nothing more than to see me succeed. Words can’t explain how great that feels.

You’ve also talked about the “ups and downs” of being a black woman in nerd culture. Could you elaborate on what that experience is like?

A lot of the struggle that comes with being a black woman nerd is constantly having to realize that nerd culture and most media in general is not accommodating for the consumption of and contribution by anyone that is not straight, cis and white. With being a black woman nerd, you also have to come to terms with the fact that just by existing and being interested in the things you’re interested in, you’re battling preconceived notions and stereotypes based on years and years of misinformation and baseless assumptions.

The very concept of a black woman being interested in “nerdy” media (such as anime, video games, comics, etc.) is seemingly so foreign and unheard of to so many people from various communities and walks of life (not excluding the black community) that when a black woman makes herself known in a nerdy space, she’s not only fighting for her right to be there, but she’s also fighting for her right to have her voice, her contributions, opinions, critiques, and demands for representation be validated, acknowledged and taken seriously.

There have been plenty of instances where I have felt that I was not welcomed in nerd culture because I am a black woman. Whether it be in cosplay, when I cosplay a character that is white and get negative comments because I am not white and, therefore, inaccurate and stupid for attempting the cosplay in the first place.

Or when I’m browsing Twitter and I see hateful comments about Marvel introducing a new black character, which then annoyingly sparks outrage about “pandering” and “forced diversity.” I’m never awarded the luxury of not being reminded that being black makes me the “other” in nerd culture and that can be really disheartening sometimes.

You’ve been featured in the multimedia project The Space Between: Celebrating Black Womxn in Geekdom, as well as on several cosplays lists, including Nerds of Color’s list and PopSugar’s 16 Black Cosplay Queens. What does that feel like?

Honestly, it feels really amazing and validating. I’m not always really confident in my abilities as an artist and a cosplayer so every time I’m added to one of these cosplay lists or asked to be a part of projects like The Space Between, I really get a much need confidence boost. To think that people enjoy my work in any of my artistic outlets really keeps me motivated to keep creating. I don’t necessarily need an audience to keep doing what I do, but there’s something really special about having people acknowledge and celebrate your efforts.

Jazmine’s bedroom.

You’re a comic book enthusiast. How did you get into that? What are some of your favorite comics?

I’ve been reading comics since I was about 5 years old. It started off with me just reading the comics in the Sunday papers and I slowly graduated to longer series! My comic reading slowed down in my years through middle school and high school as I focused more on sports and regular literature but starting college and deciding to major in Sequential Art reignited my love for comics and I’ve been going strong ever since!

I am a huge superhero comics fan with my preference leaning more towards DC rather than Marvel (still love Marvel too, though) but I have favorites in many different genres of comics. My ultimate favorite series though are Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Saga by Brian K. Vaughn.

What are some of your favorite fandoms?

I try to avoid being super involved in fandoms because I’ve personally had some not so great experiences, but I do enjoy a lot of fan content that comes from the Overwatch, Dragon Ball, and superhero fandoms!

You’re an artist studying at Savannah College of Art and Design. What kind of art would you ultimately like to do?

My major at SCAD is Sequential Art, meaning that my focus is in comics and storyboarding and I learn the basics of any combination of art in sequence. I like making comics but it’s a lot of work so I typically prefer either storyboarding or illustration. I’m not super set on sticking to any specific form of art, as I have experience in a lot of different forms. My ultimate goal is to just do something where I can keep creating and sharing my work with others.

You funded an exciting project on Indiegogo — Black Magic Zine, which promotes black girl and nonbinary visibility in the fantasy genre and features more than 35 artists. Tell me more about how you conceived of this project and what it’s about.

Growing up, one of the biggest things I wish I had seen more of was black people in fantasy. I feel like I was (and continue to be) deprived of seeing things such as black fairies, black princesses, black knights, wizards, elves, etc., and it’s been really frustrating. I think black people have been so far removed from fictional stories that we, as a community, have lost sight in our ability to imagine ourselves as the heroes of fantastical settings.

I wholly believe that diverse representation in fiction and fantasy is the key to broadening the horizons and the expanse of peoples’ imaginations. I think black people, other people of color, and other marginalized groups deserve to see themselves as heroes, beautiful otherworldly creatures, and people of great power capable of finding love, adventure, and new understanding of the world around them.

Black Magic Zine is my attempt to create an outlet and conversation around the concept of including more black characters in fantasy and specifically more black women and non-binary/genderfluid characters. I’ve done so by gathering over 35 black women and non-binary artists and tasking them with illustrating fantasy scenes with black characters. The only requirement was that they needed to include black characters, and their imaginations went from there. It has been really amazing to see so many talented creators come together to create something this special.

If readers would like to support the zine project or your work, what’s the best way they can do that?

As of right now, the physical book is not available for purchase as the only way to get a copy was to contribute to the initial fundraising. I do however, encourage anyone that is interested to follow BlackMagicZine (via Twitter and Instagram) for updates on the possibility of getting a digital copy in the future.

What cosplays do you have planned for 2019?

Oh man, this is the hardest question! I always have at least five things planned only to completely scrap them all when I find something I’m immediately more interested in making. I can guarantee though that I will be making Thunderstorm, who is the hypothetical daughter of Storm and Thor, who was almost introduced by Marvel in the most recent Exiles Series.

I also plan on tackling my first Pokemon costume! I also have big plans to collaborate with a friend for an original costume concept, which I’m very excited about! Anything else I decide to make is, as of right now, just as much as a mystery to me as it is to anyone else. We’ll have to see where the year takes me!

Do you have any ultimate, bucket-list cosplays you’d like to do in the future?

My biggest dream is make something with wings! Everyone better watch out because the day I make them is the day I become unstoppable!

Photo of Jazmine as M’Baku by Kecia Stovall.

Art by Jazmine Boatman.