Briana Lawrence (Brichibi Cosplays) and Jessica Walsh (SnowCosplays) are a cosplaying and writing couple known as Sewn Together Reflections. Briana is perhaps best known for her magical girl novel/comic hybrid MagnifiqueNOIR, which had its second book release recently, and Jessica spends much of her time creating cosplays to flatter all figures. They’re also freelance non-fiction writers as well as advocates for diversity in media and self-esteem with cosplay. We caught up with Briana and Jessica at Ohayocon 2020 to discuss how they met, how they get inspired, and much more!
Interview with JESSICA WALSH AND BRIANA LAWRENCE
Could you tell us how you two met and began working together on your creative pursuits?
We met writing Gundam Wing yaoi fanfiction... (laughs)
Yeah, back in 2001. We used to roleplay together—we still do—and we met in person at Anime Central in 2002. And we’ve been together ever since!
And we just got married a couple months ago!
We started writing together right when we met because we were roleplaying, and [Jessica] started making my costumes a couple years after that.
Our relationship is our creativity and it’s not going away.
Aww! So, what is it about fanfiction that makes it so special to you?
I know, for me, it was the one source of good queer representation I had when I was coming out in the late ‘90s. Even if it wasn’t terribly accurate, it was at least not...
...really homophobic and tragic. It was at least positive, happy characters.
So that’s why it was really important to me. And I ended up using it to write more. Currently, it’s my “de-stress” because there are no deadlines and there’s no person to answer to, so I can just chill and write about BakuDeku when I feel like it.
I actually find fanfiction to be harder to write than original stuff, because you’re either stuck with the characters or you’re stuck with the universe, and it’s kind of a challenge. I used it to learn how to write and to keep my brain going when I’m working on other stuff.
How do you think the world of anime has evolved in terms of diversity and queer representation over time?
I grew up in a time where queer representation was censored. Sailor Moon airbrushing in breasts to make the character a woman so it wasn’t a queer relationship... that doesn’t really happen anymore.
And now we have things like Yuri on Ice where it wasn’t expected to actually be a relationship, but then we had that moment on the internet when everyone was like, “Oh my god, we’re actually going to get this! It’s okay!”
I remember watching reaction videos and being stunned because it was guys who were like, “Yes, they got together!” There are even anime now that are talking about trans people.
Even in My Hero Academia, they had the correcting of pronouns [with Magne]. When they were talking to Overhaul, he immediately accepted and said that he wouldn’t make that mistake again. Yes, the character was killed, but they still took the time to do that part.
It was like, “I’m going to destroy society, but I’m not going to destroy the fact that trans lives matter!” Also, there are young kid characters [in anime] who are looking up terms to figure out what they mean. I actually thought I’d never see it in an anime because I grew up when everything was censored or made fun of.
It’s even going back into the yaoi stuff now. Before, it was the only place where you might find something [queer], and then it went into regular anime, and now yaoi is starting to catch up, too. So, you’re seeing manga coming out that are actually about good relationships.
Yeah! And My Brother’s Husband, and My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness...
We’re not just trying to get the guys together to kiss—we’re actually going to talk about relationships. Especially in Given, because that was also talking about trauma. There’s a part where the main character is freaking out about liking another guy, and the other person in the band says, “Yeah, so what? You just like a dude. It’s fine—I also like guys. It happens.” So, it’s getting a lot better. There’s still room for improvement, of course, but it’s going in the right direction.
You both do a lot of freelance writing and self-published fiction. How did you build your brand and get the public interested in your work?
It started with cosplay. We got kind of popular with cosplay, and we thought, “We go to anime cons anyway, and we know how to talk to these people, so let’s make that part of our brand.”
I remember when one of my books came out, I wanted to start selling it at cons. The other artists said, “Why would you do that?” Usually, you go to a book convention or a book event for that, but I wanted to go to anime cons. That’s what our genre is and where our fans are, so why wouldn’t I go there? We’ve been going to cons since 2002, and did Artist’s Alley before then with crafts and art, and just thought, “What if we swap that out for books and go from there?” And with cosplay, I feel like it just happened by accident. I got harassed online and responded by writing about it.
But even before you got harassed, we got some local attention.
And we really don’t separate [writing and cosplay] anymore—it’s just us. When we get guest invites, I say, “Hi, we’re writers and cosplayers.”
So, it was less of a concentrated effort and more just building up your base over time?
Yeah, it just organically grew over time and we just kept pushing at it.
And we split up social media responsibilities. She does Instagram, we both do Twitter now but originally it was just me, and then we both do Facebook.
And she focuses on conventions, while I focus on book marketing and making costumes. Our creativity is everything!
Briana, you used Kickstarter for MagnifiqueNOIR, so did you reach out to your fans that you already had?
Yeah, and I asked people how Kickstarter works. The first time I tried it, it didn’t work, but the second and third times it did. And I guess since I was used to reaching out for conventions, reaching out to artists was easy. Also, self-promotion is key, especially with Kickstarter. I’m probably going to keep using it as much as possible for other projects. It’s reassuring because people are getting on-board before the thing is out, and so it encourages you to get it done.
It’s also a good reliable way to give updates, since most social media now throttles you and it’s hard to actually get updates out to everyone.
Do you have any tips for writers or cosplayers who want to promote themselves?
Use your current base. You have friends who likely have tried or are into certain things, so reach out to the people you know first. Once you’ve run out of that, at the events you go to, take the time to collect business cards and talk to people. Just keep growing your connections, and eventually you’ll have this giant network that you have no idea where it came from.
Pay attention to hashtags and things that are going on social media-wise, different groups that are similar to what you’re into...
Don’t stress if something doesn’t work for you, but it worked for someone else. Everyone’s way of [promoting themselves] is different, and what works for you is going to be completely different.
And if you need to take a break, take a break. I highly recommend taking breaks.
So, Briana, what was your inspiration for creating MagnifiqueNOIR?
I loved the magical girl genre to begin with. I was supposed to be working on something else, but instead my muses were like, “You want to draw a magical girl—do that instead.” So, I drew Galactic Purple, the lead character. And I used to do etching on woodblocks, so I did her face on a woodblock. Then I ended up doing four characters like that, and I went to a con and posted, “Is anyone interested in this?” And they sold out immediately! On the way to another con, [Jessica] said, “What if you made it a series?” And I said, “What if every character was black and every character was queer? Can I do that? Is that too crazy?” She said, “Well it’s your story—do what you want.”
I recently had it featured on a website, and I got to write a preface for it. I wrote, “I wish I could say it was an idea I always had, that I always wanted this kind of representation, but the reality is that I thought I couldn’t and it took me a long time to get to the point where I was comfortable doing it.” And I feel like a lot of creators are like that because they see the stuff around them, and they figure that nobody is going to want to see someone who looks like them on a cover. I think I’ve always had the idea in the back of my head—“What’s the story that you would want your 18-year-old self, who’s in a college dorm room freaking out because she likes girls, to read?” That’s what this book is, but it just took me a long time to get there because I thought no one would want to read it.
And I also just wanted a fun black girl story. There was a time when a parent was asking about the book and she wanted to know if it was happy. She was trying to get a book for her kid that had queer stuff, but she didn’t want it to be tragic and sad. I said, “Well, the most stressful moment for a queer character is what to wear on a date.” Because that’s what I worry about when I go on dates with my wife.
It doesn’t have to be angsty all the time.
Right! I like angst, but you can have a story where the character already knows they’re queer, and they’re like, “I already know I like girls, so I’m going to go hit on that girl.”
It’s okay to be queer and hopeful!
Yeah! And that’s what I want this series to be.
How did you decide to structure MagnifiqueNOIR as a novel/comic hybrid with multiple contributing artists?
I just love art... like, a lot. I used to read visual novels, so I thought, “What if I did that, but with my magical girls?”
We also have a lot of artist friends, and we like supporting indie artists.
One of the pieces of art that we got was from a friend who just wanted to support us. And I thought, “What if I got more art and put it in the book?” So that’s the structure I came up with. One day I would love it to be a comic, and a cartoon, and a movie, and everything possible...
Have people cosplay from it...
I’ve had two people do that!
Two people have done Prism Pink, and I cried both times. I made a complete embarrassment of myself and I didn’t even care, because... aww, that’s my girl!
Jessica, what lessons has cosplay taught you over the years and how do you avoid getting burned out?
I use cosplay as a way to like myself. Actually, a really good story for it is back in college, before I was doing major costumes, I had a cloak that I wore as a winter coat. I decided that, if people were going to think I was weird anyway because I was kind of a strange girl who helped run the anime club, I was going to look my type of strange. It was my coat and I didn’t care, and cosplay also basically became that. I feel more comfortable in a costume than I do in most clothing. I’ve made it to fit me, I know what I look like in it, and I can kind of control how people are going to react to me. So, it’s almost like a shield, but I really like it anyways.
I especially like making costumes for other people that make them feel pretty. Convincing [Briana] that she’ll look good in a dress that she isn’t sure she can wear, or I’ve had a couple people where I’ve made their first dress before they start transitioning. That’s my absolute favorite part of making these outfits.
You’re both really involved in advocacy. Does that mostly happen through your panels, or are there other avenues you use?
Yeah, everything! I write a lot of articles, I post on Twitter a lot... but I also reached a point where I realized that I don’t have to address every issue. I talk about things when I can feel it, and usually I think, “Can I write an article about this?” to get all the words out cohesively.
Our table is very obviously queer—not just to market the books, but also to let people know that this is a safe space. If we’re at a con where there isn’t much queer merchandise, we tend to notice that we get a lot of queer congoers who come to our table just to have a place to talk and feel safe.
What have been some of your favorite moments from panels you’ve hosted?
Actually, I have one at this con. I was at a cosplay diversity panel—I wasn’t hosting it, but I was in the audience—and they were asking for examples of black characters in media. I was like, “My book characters!” And someone in the audience actually pulled out a copy of the books that they had bought while I was away from the table and said, “Yeah, look at the book!” And I thought, “Oh my god, thank you!”
I’ve also had moments in panels where attendees have cried because they’re just happy to have the support. It happened at the LGBT panel—they were just so happy that it existed, and I hugged them. Moments like that really touch me. One of my favorite moments was in a diversity in writing panel, and there was a white guy there. He said, “Hi, I’m here to learn how to get off of Straight White Guy Island.”
And he just listened to the whole thing. There was another moment where a white guy came up and asked, “Are there any white characters in your book?” And I said, “No,” and he was like, “Good.” And then he bought the book!
Awesome! So, what new projects can we look forward to seeing from you two in the future?
I’m going to have an All Might ballgown! That’s the next cosplay idea. Book-wise, [MagnifiqueNOIR’s] second book just came out on Friday [January 10th], so we’re going to be promoting that. Jessica is writing the third book in our urban fantasy series [called Hunters], and we have plans for enamel pins. There’s also stuff that I can’t talk about, but I’m super excited for them once I get the okay to actually mention what they are.
And lastly, what has been one of the most rewarding parts of your career?
The look of comfort on people’s faces when they see that they’re not alone—like when it comes to queer stuff, or seeing another black or plus-size cosplayer. You know, there’s something really magical when someone comes to the booth and they say, “You actually represented me!” One of my favorite moments of all time was when my mom came to a couple cons with me and saw people react to my stuff. And she just got this look of, “You’re doing it! My baby’s doing the thing!” And she just looked so proud. She buys everything and reads everything. And I love seeing people who are comfortable with themselves, because I know what it’s like to not be comfortable, and sometimes I even feel like that now. But those are my favorite moments of all.
Well, thank you very much for taking time to talk to us, and I hope you have a great rest of your con!