Joe Serrano, the man behind SpicyPandaCreations, is the king of cosplay on Instructables. A psychology doctoral student by day, and a superhero by night, his lifestyle is nothing short of ambitious. If you've ever looked at a costume and thought: "Holy smokes, how do I make something like that?" then you're sure to enjoy Joe's playful creations.
First off, what is Spicy Panda Creations?
Art has been such an integral part of my life and I feel that each of our talents and gifts should be shared with the world. I was thinking of a name to originally call my Tumblr site and I was playing with several ideas. Spicy Panda Creations came about because: 1) My last name is “Serrano,” which happens to be an edible hot pepper, hence the “Spicy” component. 2) I’m Asian, so one of my nicknames amongst friends is “Panda.” 3) I do many different types of art projects, so I decided “creations” was a fitting description. Put those together and you have “Spicy Panda Creations.”
When did you first get started making costumes, and what did you make?
I started making my own costumes when I was a kid. When Halloween came, I got tired of spending money on store bought costumes that eventually fell apart or seeing 7 other kids in the same costume, so I started making little props and costumes for myself. After each year, I got a little better at ideas and building. Eventually, I wanted to include my friends, so I started building their costumes too.
I remember building a prison outfit when I was 10 or so. I took some black electrical tape and put stripes all over my white clothes. I then electrical taped an entire tetherball and tied it to my leg for the entire evening. I’d like to think my cosplay has gotten a lot better over the past few decades!
You’ve got an awesome tumblr. What prompted you to bring your projects to the Instructables platform?
I originally found Tumblr through the suggestion of a friend. I was able to post all my art projects, including my paintings, sketches, props, and costumes. Despite a relatively friendly atmosphere on Tumblr, I really wanted to find a community that shared my passion for making things. I was drawn to Instructables for the community’s sense of positivity, constructive feedback, and idea sharing from others who emulated the same passion for creating as I did. It’s been a really warm welcome here and I’d really like to continue establishing roots.
Of the costumes you’ve posted on Instructables, which is your favorite and why?
Actually, all my costumes have a special place in my heart. They all brought about a sense of togetherness and collaboration from those who helped, and especially brought about feelings of happiness, excitement, and empowerment for those who wore them at that time. Lastly, each costume provided its own unique challenge within its construction, which allowed a good stretch of creative muscle.
My favorite costume is my Transformers “Hot Rod” costume. The reason why I particularly enjoy this costume is because it pays homage to one of my favorite1980s cartoon “The Transformers.” I think that the real difference between wearing a costume and engaging in cosplay lies in truly becoming that character when in costume as opposed to simply looking like that character. I appreciate Hot Rod because he wasn’t a natural leader, and had to grow into a leadership role. He wasn’t perfect, but that’s what made him more relatable.
The costume build itself was quite intricate and time consuming; it even has some nifty components about it such as a working Autobot “Matrix of Leadership.” To me, that costume really personified creativity, persistence, and a labor of love.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? Do you prefer to pick favorite characters, or more those that are visually interesting?
I grew up on comic books as a child. My interests started with the X-men, which grew to Marvel comics, and then to DC comics, and soon generalized to comic books as a whole. I then became interested in anime, video games, and sci-fi movies.
I try to pick costumes based on the challenge of the build, the physique of the cosplayer, and if the costume has been done before. I like giving the spotlight to characters who don’t get as much publicity within the cosplay subculture. I know that at a convention, there will be your fan favorite characters such as Spiderman, Dr. Who, Supergirl, Mario, etc., so I think it’s especially important to stand out and show others that there are still many amazing characters to be brought to life.
How long do these costumes usually take to finish?
It honestly depends on the costume itself. I advocate the philosophy, “Go Big or Go Home” which can get me in trouble at times. I can sometimes finish a costume in a weekend, but sometimes it takes a lot longer depending on the availability of materials and my schedule. My most time consuming project was when I agreed to build 7 Transformer costumes in 3 months. My apartment was a wreck, but it was such a surreal experience. I’m very fortunate that I have some very talented friends who bring their own skills, ideas, and time to the table during each construction “season.”
How do you see your costume artwork improving over time?
It’s becoming more challenging to come up with something new and impressive each year. However, I’m so grateful that I meet talented people every day that spark a new sense of excitement, creativity, and/or motivation in me. As the years progress, I’d really like to start incorporating more electrical components into my costumes, whether to make pieces mechanically move, make noise, or light up. I’d also like to start working with latex and casting if time permits. I’ve also started playing around with the idea of making gigantic costumes that have some type of cockpit, like a vehicle of some sort.
It looks like you wear most of your creations to conventions - where do you usually show off your work? Any favorites?
I’m based out of Chicago, so my projects are always at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) around the month of April. My costumes and I also try to make it out to Wizard World Chicago if we’re available. I do have hopes to one day make it to the San Diego Comic Con.
Have you won any cosplay competitions offline?
To be honest, neither I, nor any cosplayer who has worn any of my costumes, have ever enrolled in a contest. Competitions tend to occupy a large portion of time at conventions, and I would rather spend my time immersed within the crowd. Additionally, I have started to do group costumes, and many competitions only allow for individual participation. Who knows though, maybe one day you will find me or one of my costumes on stage somewhere.
Do you have any cosplay heroes?
I think there is a lot of great talent currently out there. I am a big fan and supporter for anyone who is willing to express their artistic talents, especially in regards to cosplay. I also think there are underrated or unknown artists that still have yet to break into the scene. That being said, there are some individuals who seem to specialize in certain types of cosplay, such as Anthony Le and his amazing Ironman suits, Kris Lee from JK cosplay, or even the girls from Dangerous Ladies on Tumblr.
Are all of those costumes very comfortable? Tell us what it's like to wear a full-body foam costume, like Darkseid and The Thing, for an entire day at a convention.
A full body costume can actually be quite uncomfortable over a prolonged time period. You have to take into account many variables, such as how much the cosplayer will be walking, how much energy is needed to use this costume, how crowded the setting is, the process of getting dressed, and/ or the temperature of the location. So for example, “Is there air conditioning in this small apartment of 30 people?” or “how far away is the parking lot from the convention center and should I get dressed in my 15 lbs costume inside the parking lot?”
Other times, you have to take into account the person’s accessories such as glasses, and how that will fit within the context of a costume. For example, “how can this person’s glasses fit inside this helmet/mask?” All these things combined can make a costume somewhat uncomfortable. However, with proper planning, you should be able to stay in a costume for a few hours until you need to take it off.
Most of your creations are inspired by comic books, so we have to ask: if you could have any superpower, what would it be? And would you use this power for good or evil?
I’m currently a doctoral student in the field of psychology and hope to continue changing the world for the better once this chapter of my life is complete. I think it would be incredibly helpful to be a telepath in my field so that I could really understand people on a deeper level, like a modern day Professor Charles Xavier. I’d be able to provide effective therapy, help others by really understanding their thought patterns, figuring out damage to the psyche, and work through really difficult behaviors and feelings. I wouldn’t need to speak the same language since I could connect directly to someone’s mind, I could tell if someone was lying, I’d be able to decrease pain, I’d be able to enhance feelings of compassion and love, and decrease feelings of anger or judgment to others. If only it were that easy!
If I couldn’t be a telepath, I’d really be interested in the power to affect karma. I think it would be really interesting to “read” auras and either give people a little pick-me-up in the day like getting a free coke in the vending machine, or deliver a small sense of justice like having that car who cut you off get stuck at the next 5 red lights. I think there is a lot of potential for this superpower, as it could really test an individual’s sense of morals and ethics, play on the concept of egoism, and address the repercussions for the distributed rewards and consequences. I think a huge challenge would be in determining how strong the power could be: Get several compliments today or have mustard spilled on your pants…Win a new car or get fired from work…Beat cancer or get in a car crash.
With either of these two super powers, I think there are pros and cons that could be discussed. But have no fear, I’m a firm believer in Uncle Ben’s iconic words, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Making anything fun for Halloween this year?
Unfortunately, my demanding academic life occupies a large portion of my time. However, I think I’ll have a few days free in October to come up with something fancy. I like to let ideas simmer for a while before I commit to the building process. Who knows, maybe I’ll even surprise myself with the next installment of Spicy Panda Creations!