At SDCC this year, I was lucky enough to check out the Dreamgirls Revue, an event held at the Urban Mo's Bar & Grill by RuPaul Drag Race All Stars Season One Winner, Chad Michaels. But more than that, Chad was gracious enough to give us an interview, along with fellow RuPaul's Drag Race stars Phi Phi O'Hara and Dax Exclamationpoint!
Chad, a San Diego local, is well known among Drag Race fans as being the talented, professional and stunning finalist of RuPaul's Drag Race season 4, and has been viewed as a paramount example of drag entertainment, especially for her incredible portrayals of Cher. But for the month of July, Chad challenged herself to #CosplayJuly, doing a different drag each day modeled on a character or theme from pop culture, ranging from Harley Quinn to Edward Scissorhands.
In the midst of this, and falling on the Preview Night of this year's San Diego Comic Con, Chad also hosted the fourth Dreamgirl's Revue Cosplay Special, as she tells me,
We're not affiliated with Comic Con, we kinda do this as a tribute to Comic Con. It's such a big event for our city, I mean it's massive, it brings so many people here. I've always had a love of cosplay since I was a child, beginning of my drag career, so I really wanted to capture the spirit of Comic Con
The Dreamgirl's Revue is an event held weekly in San Diego, with a special show each month as well, so the Cosplay show is just something Chad and her fellow drag queens put on each year during the biggest Comic Con in the Western world to celebrate. With the rise in cosplay drag in the drag community as well, it has never seemed more timely.
I've worked cosplay into my acts since '94 when I started. I think my first cosplay was Cruella DeVille, second was Poison Ivy, so it's been something that I have always loved, and it's something I've tried to instill in my cast members, because cosplay is not for everybody, and I've tried to get others excited about it to the point where now we can do a full show with six members.
Does the audience really feed of this combination of drag and cosplay in the shows too, though?
The crowd gets very excited about it. We do several theme nights throughout the year, last month was our Disney theme night, so our crowd expects big things from us. This is definitely…probably our biggest one, this and Halloween. So this one they really, really look forward to.
I asked Chad if she has a favorite character she has to perform in cosplay drag,
For me, I have a soft spot for Poison Ivy. I'm a DC girl, during the '90s, during the big rise of X-Men, I was bar-tending at night and sleeping all day so I kinda missed all that in my twenties. So, I'm a child of the Seventies and Eighties, so Justice League and DC was always my big thing growing up. I'm also a big fan of cosplaying film. I love film, I love television, not a gamer, I don't have a gaming system in my home so that's a whole other realm that I don't delve into.
So what exactly draws her to cosplay anyway?
With cosplay, everyone is motivated and loves different aspects of it and they do it for different reasons. I think the thing we all have in common is, y'know, finding that inner hero and putting on that costume you worked so hard on and letting that inner courage in you come out, and using that as a tool. I see a lot of people come out of their shells doing cosplay, and I think it's wonderful, it's therapeutic, it's entertaining and it's just good, clean fun.
I asked Chad if she sees cosplay as just another form of drag. Chad had to think about it for a moment, before she answered,
Yes! Everything is drag!
As RuPaul is known to say, we're all born naked and…
…the rest is drag! It's just that certain type of person's drag. And I think it's the most enchanting thing that's come along, and the rise of cosplay, it's inspiring and it gives hope and it gives people really something to enjoy in their life. I mean, these people commit their lives to it, they travel all over the world, they spend all of their money on their costumes and their wigs, it's like – it brings out the inner child, and you can't put a price on that.
Moving inside, with Janel working as our amazing photographer in tow, we met up with Phi Phi O'Hara, hard at work beating that mug for the gods ('beating that mug' is drag lingo for applying make-up). It was like finding ourselves in the Workroom of RuPaul's Drag Race and watching the magic of transformation happen!
Phi Phi this year has got to be one of the hardest working drag queens in the world, not necessarily just because of show appearances and her upcoming stint in RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars season two, but because she's been hard at work on her own personal project, 365 Days of Drag, where Phi Phi has modeled a different drag look every single day this year. Many of the looks have been inspired by pop culture too, from Disney to Nickelodeon, Hey, Arnold to My Little Pony, and her love of comics and Power Rangers (and a certain moon-dwelling witch) is well known.
Incredibly focused on her craft, I asked Phi Phi about the project as she painted her face, and any favorite characters she had while doing the project and any she looks forward to doing to tease us,
I loved Him from The Powerpuff Girls, and Oblina from Argh! Real Monsters for my 90s period. I'm doing for when Pokemon Sun & Moon come out in November, I'm doing the Eevee-lutions [i.e. the many and varied evolutions that Pokemon Eevee can become in the game] which I'm excited about, and then I'm doing Pokemon Gym Leaders as well but I was waiting for PokemonGO and I didn't realize it was going to come out so quick, so now I'm, like, behind on that, but I have a LOT of cosplay that I'm going to be doing this year.
Is there any extra challenge to cosplay drag as opposed to everyday drag?
For me, no, just because every time we transform, it's a different way of beating your face and a different costume to put on, and I think that drag in general is just a transformation and changing of a man into a female character. I think both have equal, umm, obstacles to overcome [laughs].
So does Phi Phi read comics?
I was a HUGE comic book reader when I was younger. I'm a big Marvel fan, so X-Men all the way. I mean, I love Harley Quinn and I love Poison Ivy, that's the extent of my – [laughs, after we point out we've got a DC fan girl in Chad Michaels]. But as a kid, we all had, like, not so good childhoods, growing up it could all be better, I looked at these comic book characters and I saw that they were like freaks and stuff, but they had their own community, so I respected them because I could feel like I could relate to them. So I'd get lost in these comic books and just wanted to put myself in this situation.
Was there a favorite character that was an inspiration is my natural next question, and before I can even finish –
Phoenix. That was actually my first drag name was Phoenix. I think a lot of people relate to her because she really has two sides to her, and I think everybody does, and just with her if you harness all the greatness and power that you have, you can be the most unstoppable person in the world. I think everybody has that inside of them, they've just got to find it.
Is this her first Comic Con, Cosplay Special at the Dreamgirls Revue?
No, this is my third Comic Con show here, but this is my first Comic Con attending this year, so I'm excited.
What are you most looking forward to?
I wanna see the costumes! I dunno, I just want to experience it as a whole, every year I wanna go, I live in New York so I always play good with the New York Comic Cons and their sold out instantly, but luckily I was able to get tickets for us here, I wanna be in the moment.
Finally, turning up as we finish our interview with Phi Phi comes Dax Exclamationpoint! Known as the Queen of the Nerds, Dax came into RuPaul's Drag Race season 8 immediately known for her incredible cosplay drags, with her entrance into the show sporting a 80s Punk Storm inspired look. At that point, this kind of cosplay drag and geek culture referencing hadn't been seen as much on the show, I asked if she sees it as a big part of her drag,
Yeah, totally. I mean, I always say that like drag is just another version of cosplay, because it's always done themed looks, themed numbers. For me it's like, I didn't always just do cosplay but I have the means and ability to do it so I do it as much as I can. It depends on the show, where I go and what I'm doing.
Perhaps a stupid question to ask given the loving attention to detail of all her drag's as Storm from the X-Men, I ask if there's a favorite character she loves to do,
I love dressing as Storm, I don't enjoy performing as Storm as much because she's a hard character to put music over. For performance I like to do Elektra, I like Elektra a lot, you can do a lot of different songs with it, it's just a lot of fun to do. I like the costume a lot. It's comfortable [laughs]
So, where does Dax fall on the Marvel/DC divide?
Marvel all day long. Always, always a Marvel girl. I love DC for reasons, I love their design aesthetic, I love like campy old school DC, I think it's very true superhero, when you think of superhero it's bright colors and weird pieces on their costume that don't make any sense, right. Like giant capes with a big collar for some reason, but Marvel was just more my home. DC I love because they have Catwoman, obviously, but if it wasn't for her I wouldn't like at DC at all, I wouldn't look at like a Batman comic ever.
Is the cosplay drag more challenging?
Yes, well, for me I think it's more challenging because all of your cosplay is a individual for the character, so if I'm travelling and bringing like six looks and rotate them out it's like, that's cute but every outfit has its own shoes, its own hair, its own pieces of undergarments, pretty much everything is pretty individual. Whereas other queens can just work to a specific color palette and just mix and match as they go, but if I'm doing a character I have to have all the right pieces.
I asked about Dax's vlogs as well, What's Up, Nerds, which are on YouTube, and why she did that too.
Honestly, well, right now we're kinda on hiatus with all the travelling and I want to give it a whole makeover and tidy it up, but my boyfriend and I started doing it because after Batman v Superman came out, we got drunk, and we got home and we were blathering on about it and I was like, 'I'm gonna record this, it's hilarious' and then it was like, why don't do this again but just tighter and cleaner and do it on purpose. And sober! Because Batman v Superman was so rough for me, it took forever, it made NO sense. The only good thing about it was Gal Gadot, because she looked amazing at all times. Whatever queen was dressing her!
So, as Dax is still a big comic book reader, what's her favorite book at the moment?
The best thing I read recently was The Worst X-Man, that little mini-series.Started reading it randomly in a comic shop in San Francisco.
Not wanting to take up any more of the queens time, we left them to prepare for the show, and took our seats in the audience, drinks, food and dollar bills for tipping the queens prepared. And what a show it was! A wonderful marriage of cosplay and drag, of geek pop culture and LGBTQ culture, the queens along with local stars Kickxy Vixen-Styles and Dolly Levi and visiting Entertainer of the Year, Daisy Deadpetals entertained the crowd and gave us life, lip-syncing and dancing in a range of classic characters.
If you are local to San Diego, I cannot recommend checking out the Dreamgirls Revue more…and if you're going to SDCC next year, make sure you stop by for the Cosplay Show – it is out of this world!
Joe Glass is a Bleeding Cool contributor and comic creator, writer of LGBTQ superhero series, The Pride, which is available here and on Comixology. He is also the co-writer of Stiffs, a horror comedy set in the South Wales valleys he calls home. It's available here and on Comixology, too.