Interview with Toni Darling of Cosplay Fame
By Michael Bradley
Toni Darling has fast become a nationally known cosplayer and model. Her iconic Lady Thor cosplay and abs of steel make her easily recognizable to fans at events. At Phoenix ComicCon 2013 I saw her again at the Cosplay Calendar girls booth dressed as Halibel. Hundreds of fans swarmed her and the other awesome ladies of cosplay featured in the calendar.
It was my pleasure to be able to write some notes and arrange a time for Patti Hulstrand to interview her for KWOD Radio prior to Toni Darling appearing as a guest locally at CopperCon, following her guest appearance at San Diego International ComicCon and other events. The following is a paraphrase of key interview moments.
For the full interview, please go to:
PH - Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. You are famous for Lady Thor, Lady Death and now Halibel cosplay among others. How did this all start?
TD - Well, I always enjoyed nerdy things and going to renaissance festivals growing up. One day I saw there was going to be a Zombie Bikini contest in Mesa and I thought it would be fun. I showed up dressed as a cowgirl zombie and had fun. While I was there, other people encouraged me to do more outfits at other events.
PJ - That was just as recent as January of 2012? Things have moved quickly then?
TD - Yes, they have. I didn't really know about cosplay like I do now. Jim Miller at Geek Associated Press and Tasha McEntire gave me my start. Other cosplayers were nice and explained things to me. I want to really thank Cara Nicole, also known as AZ Powergirl. She took me under her wing and really mentored me in a major way. She's a great friend and I can't say enough about how much she has looked out for me and helped me.
PJ - Lady Thor is a very well known character of yours now. It's gone kind of viral on the web. How did you decide to do a female twist on such a famous male character?
TD - Crossplay - or cosplaying the opposite gender character is pretty common now. I didn't start out to play Lady Thor. I liked going to ren fairs so I always wanted to have a character where I could wear armor. I had bought the helmet before just because I really liked it and I loved the character Thor. I have several of the comics and I am really into the story and the character. I made my own costume out of formed foam, but the one you see was made for me. So, I had the idea of a character with armor in my head long before it was Lady Thor. The outfit is actually really comfortable and they fitted it to me so I can wear it quite awhile at a time.
PH - In your Lady Death outfit you show a lot of skin and it has to be all white. How long does it take to get that look?
TD - It's actually pretty easy. Most of it is sprayed on then I use some powder and even it out. The face and around the eyes takes a bit longer, but it's easier than you might think.
PH - You started playing Halibel recently. Do you get nervous with a new character, especially one showing that much skin?
TD - No, not really. I mean, I want it to look really good and I spend a lot of time on that, making sure it the outfit is right. I am pretty confident and I enjoy playing the characters. I wanted to cosplay that story line for quite awhile and didn't really want to do the other characters. Halibel feels very natural for me.
PH - What is the best part of the cosplay experience for you?
TD - For me it's really the other cosplayers, especially many of the girls I have become friends with. They really do support you and help and I look forward to events where we can be together. Surprisingly, we don't get to see each other as much as you would think. That is why I really look forward to events like CopperCon, where I will be able to catch up with all my friends.
PH - So there's not a lot of friction between all of you going to the same events?
TD - Not really. In most fields I know you would have a lot of competition and drama, but we don't have much of that. I think it's because we all got into this as fans and to have fun. I really enjoy my fellow cosplayers; they are great to be with.
PH - What do you recommend to new cosplayers?
TD - They should cosplay to have fun. Now that there is more popularity, people think there is a lot of money to be had and there isn't. We have a lot of people I don't even know that want to be in future calendars. They should start going to events, creating their characters and having fun first. Once everyone gets to know them and knows they really care about cosplay, those opportunities can come up. There are some people who don't understand and just want to show up, have someone make them a costume, and get paid. The few women who really do well in cosplay have worked really hard for years, making their own costumes and going to events because they are real fans.
PH - I was encouraged to ask you about your workout and diet regimen. I've been told you are famous for your abs?
TD - (laughs) It takes a lot of constant work to stay in that kind of shape. You can't look that way all the time and women shouldn't expect that. I build up and workout following a strict regimen and then I do a reducing program before a major event or modeling shoot to get that kind of a look. I actually eat around six times per day; I just eat the right things in the correct amounts and follow my exercise plan. I work with a friend and if I don't feel motivated, we can talk and come up with an alternative to keep up. You can't stop with your routine or you can't maintain it.
I have exercise videos I am putting together and training videos as well as a diet plan. Once I finish my certifications I will be able to directly train people, which is something I am very committed to doing. If anyone is interested, they should contact me at my Facebook page, Toni Darling. I am more than happy to talk to them and help them out.
PH - I am looking forward to seeing you at Copper Con.
TD - I am looking forward to seeing my friends there. The local cons like CopperCon give you a lot better opportunity to talk with people and to just have fun. San Diego ComicCon is exciting but you also get really tired from the long schedule, the crowds and the amount of activity. I'm always happy when I can get to Arizona and spend time with my friends.