Savannah Sheets loves anime and video games – and it shows in her epic Arcade Sona cosplay from the game “League of Legends.” (Photo: Divided by Zero Photography)

Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.

Anime has been a touchpoint for Savannah Sheets since she was a kid—and it’s inspired her to pursue art as well as cosplay.

“[It] just seemed to be what was the most prominent [influence for me],” Sheets said. “Not only did they seem to have a much better selection on TV to watch but also it’s [why] I was able to find the friends that I did.”

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Sheets met her best friend through their shared love of “Inuyasha” but also credits other shows like “Sailor Moon,” “Card Captor Sakura,” “Big O,” and “Cowboy Bebop” being of interest. By the time she went to college, she was ready to take the plunge into cosplay and con-going, with JAMPcon being her first con.

“I couldn’t help but be enthralled with all the cosplayers,” she explains. “Now that it’s come back I can’t wait to attend again!”

Locally, the 25-year-old student also attends Anime Blast and Connooga. She also heads down to Atlanta to Momocon and finds that bigger cons offer a lot of options for attendees.

“From my experience, I’ve always enjoyed bigger cons more just because it normally offers more for you to do and there’s more people to see,”  Sheets said. “I’ve found that even if you can’t find a panel you want to attend, you can still have fun if there’s enough [people] in attendance.”

Outside of the con scene, Sheets wishes there were more cosplay-focused meetups for fans in the Scenic City.

“I personally feel like it would be awesome to have more cosplay photo-shoot or picnic opportunities for those who work hard on costumes that can’t make it out to conventions or just want to be able to make new friends,” she said. “I don’t think it would hurt either to have some sort of anime or manga meet up where you can review what’s new in Japan or even sharing your favorite ones with others.”

The self-expression and creative challenge of cosplay

Sheets began cosplaying back in 2011. She dressed up as an Organization 13 member from the video game “Kingdom Hearts.” Since that initial cosplay, she’s discovered she enjoys cosplaying villains like Tom Riddle from the “Harry Potter” series and Lady Loki from the “Thor” comics.

“The first cosplay I remember having fun with was Grell from ‘Kuroshitsuji,’ or ‘Black Butler’ as it’s known in the U.S. He’s such a flamboyant character that you could do or act in just about any way and people would still love it,” she said. “After that I kind of noticed that I’m naturally kind of flamboyant and snarky so any kind of character with that sort of attitude [was] always a joy to wear.”

Like many cosplayers, the first steps for building a costume come down to sourcing the materials and Sheets relies on ready-made pieces from her own closet or the thrift store as a starting point.

“Thrift stores are an awesome source to find cosplay materials for pretty inexpensive [prices],” she said. “I thrifted my first costume of Grell with some pants from the thrift store, a jacket found at a yard sale and a vest I already had in my closet. I just had to buy the wig and boots.”

Cosplay has allowed Savannah Sheets to explore her darker, more snarky side. Here, she’s dressed as Tom Riddle, the early incarnation of Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” series. (Photo: Rickie Blevins)

For cosplayers that may fall outside of the range of off-the-rack sizes, the challenge of finding the right piece can be even more intense, but Sheets turns to sites and seamstresses that either offer extended sizes or custom-made items. While more expensive, it’s a good option if a costume build is out of your skill set or you’re short on time. Sheets also credits many of the ready-made pieces available through retailers like Her Universe as a good resource as well.

“As someone who doesn’t always have the time or motivation to sit down and create a costume start to finish I think it’s an excellent idea that they have these available and in extended sizes,” she said. “Not just for those like me who got burned out on crafting but this offers those who are just starting out in cosplaying great quality ready-made pieces that they can either wear on their own or incorporate into a full costume. The plus side is you could also wear these as geeky fashion. I personally think it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Sheets has lots of characters on her cosplay wish list for the year, including Negasonic Teenage Warhead from “Deadpool” and Edea from the “Final Fantasy VIII” video game, while also revamping some old favorite cosplays like Queen Amidala from “Star Wars,” Lady Loki, and Ping from “Mulan.”

Giving back with Chattooine

As an avid cosplayer, another love close to Sheets’ heart is giving back. Back in 2014, she attended a Chattooine event and found a new cause to be involved in.

“From the outside, it looked like an awesome way to cosplay and hang out with other awesome nerds without having to pay for a con badge,” she said. “After joining, I realized it was more than that. This group was like a second family whose purpose was to make other people laugh and smile and have fun with the characters they love so much.”

Sheets likens the group to one big happy geeky family whose job is to bring smiles to the faces of whoever they are visiting, whether its “Star Wars night” at a Chattanooga Lookouts game or a smaller charity event.

“They… are friendly and helpful towards those just starting out and looking for advice and always try and make everyone feel welcome,” Sheets said. “Since I’ve started I’ve become the current treasurer of Chattooine and hope to help make the group even better than before.”

Anime has also inspired Sheets’ own art. This piece was used as the press badge art at Yama-Con. (Photo: Contributed)

Anime as artistic and professional inspiration

Sheets has been drawing since she was a kid, with anime adding flourishes to her own personal style—and that love translated into her placing third in an art contest at Yamacon, an anime convention in Pigeon Forge. Her artwork appeared on press badges as well as the con’s programming book. To date, her artwork has also appeared alongside the work of one of her favorite authors, Ellen Schreiber.  Her goal is to be an established artist who works on commission.

“My art has definitely come a long way, but it’s still awesome to say my art got published in a book for millions of readers to see,” she said. “For now though, I’m working on a Graphic Design degree with a focus on Illustration in hopes that it’ll lead me somewhere.”

Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a “Doctor Who” fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Chattacon, Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who, and ConGT. She also reviewed “Doctor Who” novels and Big Finish audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to be featured? Email Rachel at rachelcat[email protected].

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