(photo credit: Brittany Misra)
What color are you innately drawn to? For me, it’s always been the color pink. In Kindergarten, my preferred crayon or marker colors were Fuchsia and Magenta. A teacher once told me that “blue is better suited for little boys,” as she removed the Hot Pink crayon out of my hand and replaced it with Navy. Back then, I didn’t understand the correlation with blue being a “boy’s color” while pink is viewed as being “more feminine.” I tried to fall in love with blue, even though I knew that pink was made for me. I appreciate all colors, it’s just that pink was somehow my color, forever and always.
I learned slowly to appreciate blue, of course, and eventually discovered Aqua. No, not the Europop 90’s band, though I learned of their music from my friends across the street. To say my life was forever influenced by “Candy Man (Lollipop) would be an understatement.
Getting back to color, the addition of green to blue to make it more turquoise-than-navy managed to click with me. Aqua quickly became my answer to using some form of blue in school when writing papers and essays. Since teal wasn’t seen then as “a girl’s color,” I was able to blend in more with my seemingly-heteronormative school classmates and teachers. Our school eventually mandated that all written works must be in blue or black pen, I think just to spite me.
Fast forward to 1992, the introduction of video games in our household. At the time, I was living with my Mom, Grandmother and Grandfather. My grandmother, Peggy, who was well into her mid 70’s at this point, actually played Dr. Mario on the Nintendo Entertainment System. An original Atari system was even stored away in a closet upstairs. I have no idea who in my family played video games, considering the median age range at that time was roughly 47 years. I am, however, so thankful that was an integral part of my childhood. (P.S. Peggy don’t play. If I made anything less than a B on my schoolwork, I was grounded from playing video games.)
I don’t remember the exact moment that I was introduced to Mortal Kombat (MK). I was only five years old when the original launched, and I don’t actively remember playing that one at first. It was the sequel, Mortal Kombat II (MKII), that introduced gamers to a masked ninja in blue wielding steel battle fans known as Princess Kitana. Kitana is one of the games’ two playable female characters (or as MK would write, “kharacters”), the other being Kitana’s half-sister, Mileena who wore all pink. Kitana would eventually become one of the most well-known faces of the franchise, next to Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Lui Kang and a slew of other fighters.
Before I had my own copy of the game, I would have to play at the arcade (at the time, I had two choices of arcades) or a department store called Service Merchandise. The benefit of playing at Service Merchandise versus the arcade was that there weren’t long lines to wait in order to play. Best of all, my grandfather didn’t mind driving me there to do so.
I was able to fight the computer on a moderately difficult setting, honing my craft. Competitive playing in an arcade never appealed to me, mostly because I felt like an outsider to the groups that hovered the games in the arcade. “We don’t go to the same school,” “They look way older than me” “They’d probably tease me if I ended up sucking, which under the pressure, I probably would suck.” These were all the things I told myself as a reason for not playing with the others. I’d be more than content playing in the privacy of my own home, thank you.
I am unsure how I convinced my family to buy the game for me, yet the Christmas of 1993, there it was, wrapped in red paper. As excited as a six-year-old can be at that time, I was! Fun Fact: Mortal Kombat is the very game that led to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) being created, an organization that assigns age and content ratings on video games. Due to its violent nature, Mortal Kombat was causing quite a stir among many parents. Each kharacter has multiple finishing moves called Fatalities. At the end of a match, if you prove the victor, you have the opportunity to kill off your opponent in a gruesome way with just a few button inputs from your controller. It was a great way to rub your victory in the face of your friends and the kids at the arcade.
(courtesy of: SHAAR of YouTube | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hdb2k68pkOI)
Kitana served as inspiration for me in the Christmas play that year. I asked my teacher if we were allowed to bow at the end of the show. She told me that of course, everyone would bow when the show ended. I had been inspired by Kitana’s stance at the end of a match where she opens her fans, raises them both above her head, then bows, one fan in front of her and the other behind. I proceeded to show my teacher my interpretation of this bow and asked if it could be worked into the play. I would even make my own fans out of paper! The request was met simply with, “No, Matthew.”
I’m not going to lie; I was pretty distraught. How could my teacher not understand my need to bow like an Edenian Princess who’s 10,000 years old from a fictional video game all about murdering your opponent in gruesome ways? I wasn’t going to add blood-splatters to my paper fans, or even simulate a fight, I just want to bow like she does! She’s so elegant and beautiful, you know, for a sprite animation. She is also the blue ninja, meaning she’s meant for boys to play as, right? Granted, when I would play my friends, the guys would choose male characters (like Scorpion or Sub-Zero) and my gal pals were usually button-mashers with the female kharacters.
As more MK games were released, the more my friends and I would buy. I would often go over to my friend Greg’s house to play MK Trilogy which boasted nearly every playable character from all previous games and then some! He would kick my ass using any number of kharacters, but I stayed loyal to my girls. I wish I still had some of the drawings Greg did. He sketched a photo of Pocahontas once that we found in a TV Guide which was incredible. I saw some sketches he did of MK kharacters and thought he was destined to become a great graphic artist of some sort. To this day, we still stay in contact and reminisce over many games we played in our childhood. Naturally, he was one of the first people I told my plans for NY Comic Con 2019.
Over the years, I found myself wanting to create stories with female in the center of the narrative. Most of my action figures were of women. I was always drawn to Polly Pocket, Littlest Pet Shops, My Little Pony, and of course, you could do no wrong with Barbie Dolls. Come on, the epitome of glamour in pink (insert Aqua lyrics here)! I would even make films using my grandfather’s camcorder using these dolls and figures, though, sadly, I never owned a Kitana replica. I reckon she would have been one of the main cast in my ongoing series of homemade action figure movies.
Having dabbled in drag over the years, I am no stranger to the intricacies of costuming, particularly if you are a male representing a female character. While I am not an expert in the art of tucking (ugh), wig-styling (though I can do a decent wet-set with synthetic fibers) or even a half-decent drag makeup (I still struggle blocking off my eyebrows and I never get my contour right for “the back of the room”), I feel somehow more powerful when I am dressed up as a woman. I feel sexy, in control and approachable. It’s a fun exercise for me, granted the process can take hours to complete.
Once a year, I make it a point to shave off my beard, Veet my legs and underarms and don a costume, head to toe! Last year for Halloween, my friend and I went as Liberty Belle and Zoya the Destroya from Netflix’s GLOW. I went to Comic Con last year, not dressed up as anything special, and boy, was that a mistake. I saw so many amazing costumes and pieces that people worked hard on creating! I felt I was missing out with my slightly cartoon-ish Art Pop makeup paired with a navy blue suit. This year, though, I decided I was going to really do it up with my costume, hair and makeup!
I held a poll on my Instagram page back in May, asking which of the three female warriors introduced in MK II I should go as: Princess Kitana, her half-sister Mileena, or her childhood best friend, Jade (who was a non-playable secret kharacter in the game). Each of these kharacters over the years have evolved in their looks, mechanics and fan base. No matter who I choose to go as I will have good inspiration to derive my look from.
The results of the poll were unanimous: Jade.
Most everyone seemed to agree that Jade, would be the way to go! So, I ideated. I thought about how I would want to portray her, particularly with her reappearance in the latest game (MK 11) after having sat out of MKX. I played as her over and over, upgrading weapons and earning new outfits, but it was Kitana’s redesign and portrayal in the game that won me over. There was something more evolved in this rendition, and she just looked so bad ass from the get-go!
As months went on, I decided to go with my gut: Instead of going with the poll results, I’d go as Kitana, the very original Mortal Kombat kharacter I become obsessed with. The preparation to make my beloved Kitana come to life began a little over a month ago. I am so excited to share with you what I’ve been working on for what feels like an eternity (when in reality, it was only a little over a month). New York City Comic Con 2018 was such an exciting experience for. Sophie took me, and we had such a blast!
However, I felt severely underdressed, especially next to her. There were so many cool, imaginative costumes there, and people loved her Scorpion costume! I decided to play with the big boys and girls at Con. I am determined to stand out! This is my year!
Here are some sketches I worked on (sometimes until 2 o’clock in the morning on a work night). I took elements from her many designs but still made it my own. In my next post, I will show you how I take these illustrations and bring them to life. Tomorrow is Con, and I fully intend to get some amazing photos! Stay tuned!
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