Interview with Cosplayer Michael Hamm

Michael Hamm is a geek, model, Cosplayer, and social media personality from the beautiful city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Spending his entire life surrounded and obsessed with comic books, cartoons, and action figures, Michael’s passion for geekdom hit a peak when he attended his fist Comic book convention in 2009.

First attending conventions strictly as a fan, it wasn’t until 2013 at his hometown convention of Hal-Con that Michael fell in love with Cosplay.

Always excitedly, and impatiently waiting for Halloween, Michael was ecstatic to get the chance to dress as his favorite characters more than once a year.

With the support of his friends and family, Michael built a Robin costume that would later go slightly viral causing him to start a fan page due to the overwhelming friend requests. 8 years, and over 50 costumes later there is no looking back as Michael has been able to take what was once a hobby and turn it into a full time job.

Whether an invited guest, a panelist, a judge, or just a fan, Michael strives to promote that Cosplay is about more than costumes, it’s about enjoying your passions and doing whatever makes you happy.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Michael Hamm and I am a Canadian cosplayer, model, and as pretentious as this sounds, a content creator. I’ve been doing cosplay for about ten years in total and about six or seven professionally. Overall, I’m just a geeky guy who likes comic books, comic book related paraphernalia like toys and video games and other stuff like that.

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about how your projects relate to the LGBTQ+ community?

Yeah, I tend to get a little bit of flack when it comes to this because I don’t really do a lot when it comes to public representation. I do think the flack is warranted in many ways, but I do try to create queer content and content for queer people. I try to cosplay as many queer characters as I can, but It’s a balancing act between should I just cosplay them just because they are gay or should I actually cosplay them because I like them, or should I cosplay them because other people want to see me cosplay them?

On top of that, I’m really focused on supporting other queer artists. All of my commissions I get done are through queer artists, any artwork I have done I get from queer artists, and I mainly, probably 90 to 95 percent, only promote other queer cosplayers. So yeah, I think personally not a lot of my projects have a lot of queer influence, but what’s important to me is supporting other people in the queer community that aren’t at the same level that I’m at. So, if I can spend the queer dollars that are coming my way on other queer artists I think I’m doing something right. That is where I try to focus a lot of my energy. I’m a fairly private person when it comes to family and stuff like that, I don’t put a lot of that out on the internet.

Photo credit Shaun Simpson

The photoshoot you did recently with you as Jon Kent and another cosplayer (Duy Trương) dressed as Jay Nakamura was great.

Yeah, I loved doing it, but even that got some flack online. It was two queer creators, creating queer content and we got so much shit for it. There is just so much hate in our own community for each other and that is one of those things that prevents me from doing more of that type of content. The fear of everyone just getting pissed off at me. If you just stay quiet, no one can complain about anything.

Photo credit Shaun Simpson

Do you consider cosplaying a career (even if it’s a secondary one) or a hobby?

At this point I definitely consider it a career. That wasn’t always the case though because even when I was truly doing cosplay at a professional level, it still took me a few years to accept that. I noticed at some point, maybe four years in, there was a switch where it went from “I’m making costumes I want to make on my schedule” to being “I’m making costumes other people want, on their schedule.” And whether that is because I have to get new stuff done for a con, or I want to keep up with new content for Pateron, or there is high demand for a new character, or whatever, it just stopped being about me just making some obscure character because I really like them and it quickly became, “Ok, everyone wants to see another Nightwing, so I have to work on making a new Nightwing from that new comic book series.” I think that is when it shifted from a hobby to a career for me. Once I was doing what other people wanted, I realized that I’m selling a service rather than being financially supported by fans of my work.

Did you start using Patreon in 2015, you think?

It’s been so long now but I think it was late 2015, maybe in October-ish. I think I usually just say 2016.

Do you have preferred or favorite fandoms that you cosplay from?

I’m pretty strictly Marvel or DC, I’d say about 80% of my costumes are in that realm. It’s mainly because I don’t think I look good in wigs. I usually just cosplay white guys with brown hair and luckily for me Marvel and DC have a lot more of those than anime or video games protagonists. I definitely could spread out more, and I definitely should. I think anime is such a growing fandom and I know I’m missing a huge demographic of people. Not to mention that I also do enjoy watching anime and want to cosplay a few of my favorites. There are a slew of characters that I love that I’m just not cosplaying because I don’t want to put a wig on, which I know I need to get over. I think it’s my inability to style wigs and being too cheap to buy one professionally done.

Do you attend a lot of events? Do you usually travel for them or are you content to remain in your local area?

I used to travel a LOT and my peak was probably 2017-19. At that point I was gone almost three times a month and I was barely ever home. Sometimes that was for paid gigs, sometimes it was for gigs with free flights and hotel, and sometimes I was just  going to conventions to for fun and for personal reasons. Then the pandemic happened, obviously, and everything shut down, and now that everything is back I’ve really changed my views on travel and burnout. I knew by 2020 I had burned myself out on conventions, so now I have told myself that one every two months is my limit. I live in a small town and there is really only one convention locally, so I have to travel for pretty much everything else.

What’s something you haven’t done as a cosplayer that you’d like to do?

My main goal is to try and do more collaborations. After doing the Jon Kent and Jay photoshoot I realized that collaborating is a lot of fun. I’ve always been scared of it because I’ve always been hyper protective of my content and what I put out on the internet. I’m protective of how I’m seen on the internet so collaborating always seemed like a huge risk but in the end it felt really rewarding. Whether or not other people liked it in the end didn’t really matter to me and I just loved seeing the results. The creator of the comic series reshared us and that was a really important moment for me because obviously I like his work. So yeah, collaboration is the thing that I hope I can dip my toes into a little bit more because it always a been a thing I’ve been afraid of doing.

You have recently gotten into more professional modeling and acting, is that something you want to do more of?

Honestly, I’m quite content with just doing the cosplay part. I just did a modeling gig for Olympic hot tubs but that was really great because it’s a gay owned company and I knew that it would be promoted in the Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus. It was a really cool thing to do, but not something that’s common for me. If by happenstance things like that come up again, I have no problem doing it again, but I’m certainly not out there looking those opportunities. At this point I actually spend a lot of time saying no to things because they just don’t interest me. As for acting, that’s something I did a lot of in my early twenties but now I’m more focused on the cosplay.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your cosplaying journey?

It’s going to sound odd, considering what I do, but I really didn’t think it was a sex thing. When I started cosplaying and going to conventions, I was doing a panel called “Cosplay: It’s not a sex thing – How to explain cosplay to your parents”. It was based on the idea that everyone has this connotation of cosplay is roleplay, roleplay is a sex thing, so cosplay is a sex thing. I was trying to dispel that myth and talk about what cosplay really was and why we do it. Now I do a panel called “Cosplay: It is a sex thing – The inexplicable link between cosplay and sex work”. I just wish I had known that there was this whole market back then, because through doing the sexy stuff I’ve become so much more comfortable with myself, and with my body, and with my sexuality. I really think that the past version of Mike in his early 20s would have loved to have been this comfortable with himself. I truly wish I had known that it was OK to be sex positive, especially in regards to cosplay, because I feel like I spent so much time feeling repressed and shunning sexy cosplay.

What surprises you about cosplay?

Everyday feels surprising, but what I’m most surprised by is that so many people are cosplaying and that it continues to grow in popularity almost daily. I always think this is a weird thing, but it’s slowly becoming more and more mainstream. Geek culture in general, is becoming more accepted. There are conventions these days that are strictly for cosplay and it’s become almost typical to see more cosplayers in attendance than regular people. I can’t believe how fast it has just grown in such a short amount of time. I’m surprised that older people know what cosplay is now and it has become a common enough word that when it’s said people don’t have to ask what it is.

How has cosplay impacted your self-image, especially as a queer person?

The effects it has on my self-image ebbs and flows. In the long run it’s definitely been very good for me. Being able to see myself as someone else was a very helpful tactic in learning to love myself. That said, being on the internet obviously can be a very toxic place. For good or bad, everyone is focused on my looks and not on my personality which is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. But I realize that I’m selling looks and not personality, so I can’t complain about that too much. Generally, I try not to talk about the toxic stuff and the people that make me feel bad, so let me just say it’s been good. Honestly, it’s been really, really good for me because through the hate you can learn to appreciate yourself a lot more. You will always read the hateful comments, but then you realize that there are a lot more positive ones, and the people that matter are the ones leaving the positive comments, not the hatful ones. Content creation has also led me to get really into body positivity which has become something that is incredibly important to me. I quickly realized how much fake content I was putting out on the internet. I always had abs, I was always well lit, and I was always trying to look my best. Meanwhile I’m scrolling through Instagram saying “God, I wish I looked like that guy.” Knowing very well that they are likely doing the same thing that I was. People are looking at my content and thinking the same thing. That realization led me to a point where I had to put my foot down and post some more unflattering photos. To my surprise people loved them, which in turn made me want to post more of those photos. It made me feel like I don’t have to be in shape all of the time and I don’t have to just show the highlights of my life. It made me think it was OK not to look like a model every single day and that felt really good.

What’s your favorite photoshoot of your cosplays to date? What do you particularly like about it?

Typically, my favorite photos come from my least favorite photoshoots. Anything that is shot on location I find usually comes out the best. Hawkman comes to mind immediately as one of my favorite photoshoots. Aquaman was also a top tier shoot because we actually got to shoot in the ocean, which was amazing because of all the rocks and crashing waves. But, if I had to pick my number one shoot it would probably be the Venom shoot. That shoot really falls in line with the rule that “anything that was terrible at the time ends up being my favorite”. That was a nine-hour photoshoot where I had to shave my body because the whole suit was made of liquid latex. It was also a continuous series shoot where we wanted the venom to look like it was slowly taking over my body. That meant that we had to do a couple layers, let it dry, and take some photos. Then we would do a couple more layers, let that dry, followed by more photos, and it just kept going for 9 hours. It was excruciating. We also shot it in my apartment, so there was liquid latex everywhere. The worst part was peeling the latex off of my body. Shaun Simpson, the photographer, is allergic to latex, so we had to be extra careful the entire time. It was a nightmare, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Besides, the results speak for themselves in a big way.

Photo credit Shaun Simpson
Photo credit Shaun Simpson

Do you like the shoots that are more story driven, since you’ve done a few of them? Like the Venom one and the “Peter Parker comes home after patrolling” one?

Actually, to me those two are kind of the same in my head. The Venom shoot starts off with Peter Parker getting into the shower after a day out patrolling, and the “Spiderman: Coming Home” series is everything that happens before that. Even though that shoot ends a bit differently with Peter going to bed rather than taking a shower, I still think they blend really well together. I love the story driven stuff, but it’s just a lot harder to plan out. I’m not exactly sure if I like that style of shoot better than being able to create individual images because you just can’t get the same epic feel of shooting in studio. When we shoot in studio, we are basically able to make anything happen. If we want a character to be in space, we can edit that onto the green screen. If we want to have a character lifting a car above their head, we can edit that on the green screen. When we are on location doing a story-based shoot it is much harder to add those effects, so we rely on the props and posing a lot more. I guess I don’t really have a clear answer. I like each for different reasons.

Photo credit Shaun Simpson

You have been doing this for a few years now, what changes have happened that you notice, in the industry, and do you think they are good or bad changes?

I think in a tangible sense, things have gotten more affordable, supplies are easier to get a hold of, and there are a lot more resources online. I think that’s mainly because there are just more people doing cosplay and there are a bunch of new and easier to use products being created. When I started, Warbala (which is a heat forming material) wasn’t really a thing, and now it is something you can buy at any craft store. On top of that, fabric is so much easier to get, and cosplayers are even making their own fabric. And let’s not forget about how 3D printing has changed cosplay more than anything else in the entire world.

When it comes to what has changed negatively, I’d say there are more people, which has led to it being a bit more toxic. I feel like the cosplay community used to be really close knit because we were all feeling like outcasts. And while I do still think there is some of that community, I think having cosplay be a lot more mainstream means there is a lot more criticism. No one used to really care if you just bought a cosplay or if you made the cosplay. We would always say that dressing up is what cosplay is all about and it doesn’t matter whether you make it or buy it. I really feel like that has changed in a lot of ways. There is a lot more “Oh, they aren’t really a cosplayer because they bought their stuff.” Which is an incredibly toxic kind of mentality.

Oh! One more positive thing that’s changed is that there are a lot more male cosplayers and a lot more queer cosplayers now. I remember that I used to do panels on “Men in cosplay”, because there were so few of us that I felt I needed to speak on it. Now there are so many guys doing cosplay that a panel like that feels useless. We don’t need a panel on why it’s OK for boys to cosplay. And that’s been really, really great.

As a social media personality, how have you dealt with keeping your private life private?

It’s pretty easy for me, because I keep my private life private in my real life too. I am an extremely private person with major trust issues, so I don’t find it that difficult. I’m the type of person who doesn’t have a group of friends and instead I just have individual friends who have never met each other. I’m sure there is some past trauma to dig up about why, but my private life staying private has never really been a problem. I’m not afraid of anything getting out there though because I remember putting up an amazon wish list once and it had my full name, my home address, and all this other information on it. A lot of people were very worried that I had given out too much information, but I wasn’t, and am still not. Needless to say, I’m not too worried about dangerous packages arriving or people just showing up at my house. That said, I have had a couple of stalker-ish situations that have been a bit worrisome and have made me feel like I need to be a bit more private than I used to be. When I did the Jon Kent and Jay photo shoot, I had to warn the guy who played Jay (@cafededuy) that people would start messaging him about me and asking him questions about me. For some reason people love to become friends with my friends and then use them to get to me. It can be really weird and uncomfortable to see a friend used that way and I think that might be why I don’t do a lot of collaborations. I don’t want to put my friends in any sort of awkward position.

Most of your cosplay income comes from Patreon, correct? How has that worked for a business model?

Nearly 100% comes from Patreon at this point. I do print sales sometimes, but always donate all of that income to charity. And for cons I will usually ask to have my hotel, food and flight covered, but if there is an additional payment for attending a con, I will usually ask for it to be donated to charity as well. I am very lucky that Patreon is generating enough that I don’t have to try and make additional income someplace else. I feel very blessed that I can do that stuff now because it hasn’t always been like that. In the beginning I was getting money anywhere I could. I was doing cons, selling prints, working a fulltime job, selling costumes, doing shout out videos, and yeah… anything. I realize that patreon isn’t sustainable and every year I’m ready for it to end and every year I’m OK with the idea with it ending. I feel very lucky and fortunate to be doing this for as long as I have and if patreon got shut down tomorrow and it all got taken away from me, I would be very happy going to work at a restaurant. Knowing I’ve had six or seven great years of doing my hobby for a living is pretty incredible and more than enough for me.

So, do you have a “retirement” plan, or an idea what you will do next?

No, not at all. I live very cheaply and that is why Patreon can support me, because… I just really don’t spend a lot of money. I put about 70% of my income into savings because I know it won’t last forever. I was very happy living in an apartment, working as a server, and I know I could go back to that and still be just as happy. So yeah, no plan at the moment, but I’m just kind of just riding it out while it’s fun. Believe me though, the minute I no longer enjoy doing cosplay, or the cons begin to outweigh the pros I’m ready to start filling ketchup packets and rolling silverware again.

Are there any new projects you are currently working on and are at liberty to speak about?

I have a couple of things I can talk about! One is that a friend of mine and I just put out a book, which was very exciting. It’s the story of… well me… I guess. Well not exactly me, but a version of me. It’s about a cosplayer named Michael Hamm who finds a magical gem in the floorboards of the Stonewall Inn, and he gets the power to harness the abilities of anyone he’s ever cosplayed. The book is called Myriad: The Rise of a Superhero and everything surrounding that has been really fun and exciting.

It’s also about to be my ten-year anniversary of cosplaying, so I’m working on “The Ten Years of Hamm” or “X-Hamm” as I like to call it. The plan is to redo some of my original costumes with my new skill sets. It’s also a chance to start working with other artists and getting things commissioned. It’s basically doing a revamp of some old favorites.

I’m getting a Tim Drake design completely commissioned, which is really exciting because it’s being done by this amazing artist who creates the most beautiful suits and with Tim Drake coming out as bisexual, I thought it might be time to finally do the one Robin I’ve been missing. I’m also working on a new Iceman and just finished my new Ash a few months ago. I have a few more things in the works but those will have to wait.

After all that I’m planning going “gay panic blonde” and I have a huge list of blonde characters I’ve been dying to do. I’ve slowly been working on multiple blonde characters over the past year so that once I dye my hair the costumes will already be don and ready to go!

Aside from crafting and cosplaying, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I like this question, because I really don’t have any free time. That’s not really a complaint, because my whole life is work and I love what I do. I hear it from my friends all the time. It’s like, “All you talk about is cosplay, all you talk about is Patreon.” Unfortunately for them that is literally all there is. When I’m watching TV, or going to see movies, that is also “work” for me. Right now, I’m watching Vox Machina because I need to know who these characters are when I go to conventions. For example, if someone says that they like my costume, I need to be able to say, “I like your costume too, I love Vex” (a character in the show Critical Role). So even when I’m doing geeky things, like reading comic books, its usually for work. I’m catching up on X-men stuff right now because I’ll have to do a podcast on it soon. I am playing Hades on switch right now and it is one of the best games I’ve played in my life. I know I’m a few years late playing it because I’m pretty sure it won the best game of the year in 2020. Even though I love that game I still find it hard to find time to play. I wake up an hour early just to play it, and then I pick it back up at 11 pm at night because those are the only hours I have that make me feel guilt free. But again, I do love what I do, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. Who else can say “I watched anime for work”? I’m very lucky and happy that work takes up as much time as it does.

You have played some D&D as part of an online stream, was that just for that group? Or is it a hobby you enjoy also?

I started doing D&D a long, long time ago, and we were doing in person games. Then I stepped away for a while. After that I became a part of one online group, and then went into another one that would be broadcast online. The problem is that I live in the middle of nowhere, and my time zone sucks. Everyone wants to start at 7pm their time, which is 9 pm my time, or 10 pm my time, or even 11 pm my time if they are in the west coast. So yeah, I just can’t do it that late, and honestly, I prefer to play it in person now.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

This is a hard question, because it feels like you are asking “What does Mike want to talk about?”. Maybe it would just be nice to get asked “Are you happy?” Is that sad? I get a lot of flirty DMs and comments on my photos but no one asks “How are you? Are your parents doing well?”. That said, I am doing well. I like the slowed down pace of life right now and I think I’ve made some decisions lately to help prevent the burnout I was feeling. I’m excited to just spend time with myself over the next year. The pandemic was obviously tough for everyone, but for me I spent time figuring out who I was and I really didn’t love that. Right now though, I think I’m feeling good, and I think I like myself a bit more. I’m not particularly in shape, I’m not particularly eating very healthy, I’m not getting out and seeing people, but I feel good.

You can find more of Michael Hamm on Instagram @michael.hamm.cosplay and @Hammy73 and at his Patreon.

Interview with Photographer Shaun Simpson

G’day! I’m Shaun Simpson, a nerdy photographer from Halifax, Nova Scotia – on the East Coast of Canada; my preferred pronouns are he/him. 🙂 I can be found @ShaunTheShooter on most platforms, or via my social links site at:

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thanks! Quickly summarized, I’m just a hardcore geek with a camera. My fandoms generally include anything Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel or DC. I love reading comics – especially anything Tom Taylor writes – watching anime (BNHA, Jujutsu Kaisen, Demon Slayer, Death Note, etc.), and I’m heavy into IRL science geekery as well.

When it comes to photography, I shoot just about everything from landscapes to portraits, although I’m probably most known for my fitness and cosplay photography.

Cosplayer Michael Hamm (@hammy73) as Wiccan

Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about how your projects relate to the LGBTQ+ community?

For starters, I’m gay (demi/ace) and massively introverted, but photography has always given me an easy way to experience life from a more comfortable perspective. I love Pride events but being solo in the crowds was always a little anxiety inducing. As a photographer I could shoot the events from the sidelines, put the camera down when I wanted to be social, then I’d start shooting again when I needed to retreat. Since starting in photography I’ve shot numerous Pride events, drag performers and performances, and even worked on a few 2SLGBTQIA+ TV/films productions.

Growing up in a conservative small town, when I was coming out a comment I heard often was a variation of “Gay, why? Women are hot, guys are gross.” – so, when my photography started evolving from just shooting nature and landscapes, I made an effort to show that men, and masculine energy, could be beautiful, sensual, and artistic too.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a few cosplays of characters representing the 2SLGBTQIA+ community as well; seeing this inclusive evolution of comic book storytelling has been ridiculously inspiring!

Drag Artist Crystal (

How would you describe your creative process? Are there any methods you use to help better your concentration or progress?

Being self-taught in photography and post-production, I took the long way around and trial-and-errored my way into developing a creative process and style.

I digitally develop the photographs in Lightroom, then I load them into Photoshop. I created a Photoshop Action that runs about 60 steps to prepare the image, then I start the retouching process, compositing backgrounds, and adding effects. I have a strict policy of not manipulating a model’s body, but everything else is fair game for my post-production work; my final shots rarely resemble the straight from camera look, even for portraits and headshots.

Work on shots for models/cosplayers tends to be inspired by the people I’m working with; the more I connect and vibe with them, the easier it is for me to focus my creative energy. I think of it the same way as when actors talk about feeding from the energy of a live audience. Some people give that muse-like energy that feeds my creativity – they end up in front of my camera as often as I can book them for a shoot.

When I’m having a creative block, I force myself into doing small steps. Loading the images in Photoshop, completing one simple step no matter how small – just adjusting the cropping and rotation, just fixing a costume imperfection, just selecting a background. Once I get that one step finished, if I don’t feel the creativity flowing, I give myself permission to call it quits for the night, then I try again tomorrow.

Cosplayer Dan Morash (@danmorashcosplay) as Robin

What’s something you haven’t done as a photographer that you’d like to do?

I’d love to be able to travel and take my best friend with me to do epic location shoots – from luxurious NYC Penthouses, black-sanded beaches in Iceland, castles in Europe, to ancient forests in Japan; the logistics would be complex, but the memories would last a lifetime.

I’d like to travel to comic conventions to shoot as well. There are so many talented cosplayers around the world that I’ve connected with over the years; it’d be great to finally get to collaborate on a shoot together.

Model/Activist Myles Sexton (@mylessexton):

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your career?

Chasing likes and follows, trying to be the best photographer in my genre – it’s a fun challenge, but it isn’t sustainable for me; algorithms change, one minute you’re on top, and the next you’re buried below a thousand posts. Those goals weren’t motivating, and the self-applied pressure to constantly grow my audience was just pushing me into hardcore burnout.

I eventually realized, even if I paid to promote a post, the only ‘like’ I watched for was from the person I created the image with; if that person liked the shot, then I’d be happy, and if they say my work has been helpful, in any way – it’s the best feeling. What really motivates and sustains me creatively, as cheesy as it sounds, is the time I get to spend creating art with my friends. Creating something with the potential to be more than just a simple photograph; creating something filled with meaning or value, that’s the goal.

Do you do most of your photography shoots in your area? Or do you travel some?

Mostly just shooting in my area these days. I’d love to travel more for both nature and cosplay/fitness photography, but so far that opportunity hasn’t been readily accessible; maybe someday!

Cosplayer Jeremy M. (@jshrall) as Zero Suit Samus

Besides cosplayers, what other subject matter do you work with?

I love finding and capturing beauty in all its forms! I’ll happily shoot pretty much anything – from landscapes and wildlife, to fitness and fashion, and everything in between, with the exception of Weddings – too much pressure, I leave that to the pros.

Are there any new projects you are currently working on and are at liberty to speak about?

A lot of my studio work is dependent on model/cosplayer availability, which is always a bit of a moving target, but I do have a few fun new cosplay and creative shoots in the works; some new and familiar faces, stay tuned! 😉

Fitness Model Kyle Hynick (@kyle.hynick)

Aside from photography, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Besides photography, and my day job in the IT world, my free time is mostly spent being a professional introvert. I had a little brain surgery mishap years ago that left me with a permanent CSF leak/headache, so I tend to spend a fair amount of my time chilling online, at home. You can usually find me in front of my computer playing in Photoshop, at the gym, and catching up on shows or talking about comics with my friends.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

People often make comments, assuming the best part of a photographer’s job is just getting to work with ‘hot’ models. Most everyone enjoys a bit of eye candy, but for me the best part of the job is the conversation that happens during the shoots. Photographer Annie Leibovitz was quoted saying “When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them.” – I find that relatable, I’m a thoroughbred introvert, so it’s sometimes hard to make new connections, but the camera helps with that. The camera creates a connection and also a safety barrier, but as cheesy as it sounds, after a really good shoot, when I put the camera down, I find I’m no longer talking to just a model or a client, but a new friend.

Cosplayer Michael Hamm (@hammy73) as Superman (Jonathan Kent)

Finally, what LGBTQ crafters or creators would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

If you know my work, you almost certainly know my best friend, cosplayer and content creator extraordinaire, the iconic Michael Hamm (@Hammy73 & @Michael.Hamm.Cosplay on Insta). I’ve worked with Michael on dozens of fitness, fashion, and cosplay shoots over the past decade; check out his Patreon, where most of our work together lives at

Big shoutout to my nightly entertainment while editing photos, the phenomenal Twitch variety streamer Loganolio, and his wonderfully inclusive community.

Highly recommend checking out the inspiring work of my friend Akshay Tyagi, a remarkably talented stylist, and co-creator of the new fashion label Happiness Within.

And things wouldn’t be complete without adding my dearest friend (and ex-), the ineffable James Neish to the list – creativity personified; a talented comic book artist, painter, and illustrator.

Interview with Xiran Jay Zhao

Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Widow series. A first-gen Hui Chinese immigrant from small-town China to Vancouver, Canada, they were raised by the internet and made the inexplicable decision to leave their biochem degree in the dust to write books and make educational content instead. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, TikTok for fun short videos, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is their first middle grade novel.

I had the opportunity to interview Xiran, which you can read below.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor? What inspired the story?

It’s a middle grade adventure I pitch as Chinese Percy Jackson meets Yugioh! It features a 12-year-old Chinese American boy who’s not really connected to his Chinese heritage, but is compelled to go on a journey across China to fight historical and mythical figures and heist real artifacts after the First Emperor of China possesses his AR gaming headset. I was inspired to write this story when my friend Rebecca Schaeffer, author of the Not Even Bones series, encouraged me to try my hand at writing MG, since I’d been hyper fixating on Chinese history and myth, and myth stories make for very good MG novels. Immediately I thought of doing a Chinese take on Yugioh, the most formative anime of my childhood, in which I would combine modern gaming tech with ancient myths and magic.

When did you know you were first interested in writing, and what drew you specifically to speculative fiction and writing for young adult and middle grade audiences?

I’ve always had stories in my head inspired by the media I love. 7-year-old me would babble imaginary scenarios to my friends at recess—which I now recognize as basically Yugioh fanfiction. So in a way, I really came full circle on that with this book! I write kidlit because I’m drawn to coming of age stories, having had quite a tough time finding my identity while growing up. Writing kidlit allows me to share what I’ve learnt along the way to future generations, and I hope it can help them in some way. Not to mention that I can be as wacky as I want!

From the looks of the synopsis description, it looks like this book will explore the themes of diaspora and Chinese identity. As a member of a different diaspora myself, I’m curious what working on these subjects has meant to you as an author, exploring it within Zachary’s character and your writing in general?

Zachary Ying—both the book and character—pull deeply from the inner turmoil I struggled with when I was around his age (12). That was when I first immigrated from China to a small town in Canada and landed in a school where I was the only Asian kid. My experience there plummeted my self-esteem, and it took me years to unpack the shame I was made to feel about my heritage and identity. I’m incredibly grateful that I now get to write the books I wish I had when I was younger. Through my stories, I hope I can help the next generation of diaspora come to terms with their identity, so they will have a smoother adolescence than mine.

How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of the process?

I figure out the character arc I want my protagonist to have, the specific goal they’re trying to achieve in the story, then how the antagonist(s) competes with them for that goal. I used to have a problem with my plots meandering, but I solved it by constantly keeping in mind what my antagonist is doing and building a push and pull between my protagonist and antagonist. Then I whine nonstop to my friends about how impossible it’ll be to finish the book until I finish the book. I love worldbuilding and imagining the exciting scenes I want to put in a book, but putting the actual story to words is an absolute chore for me.

Were there any author, books, or media influences you feel have helped shaped you as a writer?

As mentioned before, Yugioh is the biggest direct inspiration for this book. I’ve always loved how Yugioh blends ancient magic with sci-fi technology—they don’t have to be kept in separate genres! I’m also inspired by a lot of Yugioh-adajcent shonen anime like Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya, plus superhero comics on the Western side. For some reason, I seem really drawn toward media that’s meant to target teenage boys. As for books, Lemony Snicket, Laini Taylor, Marie Lu, Rick Riordan, and Wu Cheng’en are some authors who’ve had big influences on me!

In addition to being a writer, you are also known for your YouTube videos discussing Chinese history and representation (and for your amazing costume!) May I ask how you got into both?

I got really into Chinese history a few years ago when I was in a pretty dark place in my life. Finding the stories of defiance and resilience in the historical records inspired me like nothing else. While there’s “typical Chinese culture” that seems to make everything about Confucianism and obedience and sticking within your designated social roles, there has also always been a counterculture that rebelled against that, and that spirit is just as Chinese. I think there’s much misunderstanding about Chinese culture from Western points of view, so I’ve made it my life’s mission to demystify it by spreading the stories I love. I didn’t have serious thoughts about becoming a YouTuber until I accidentally blew up with my first video though. I just wanted to rant about how terrible I found the 2020 live action Mulan movie, and Twitter wasn’t enough to express all my feelings, so I recorded a 35 minute video on a shoddy camera and made a YouTube account to throw it up there. Next thing I knew, the video had hundreds of thousands of views and my brand new account had more than 80 thousand subscribers from the single upload. I knew I couldn’t waste that platform, so I committed to making more videos. The costumes and clothing are stuff I’ve accumulated in my closet in my years of cosplaying. Turns out, the editing and makeup skills I’ve picked up from being active in fandom spaces translate really well to YouTubing.

As a queer writer, you are known for including some pretty cool queer characters within your work (including polyamory within Iron Widow, which is still pretty rare in YA!) Would you mind discussing what queer representation means to you (and whether we might see any in Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor?)

Oh yes, Zachary Ying is a queer book! Let’s just say his Chineseness isn’t the only identity Zack has to come to terms with. I will never write a book without queer rep because I’ve experienced what it’s like to crawl and scavenge for crumbs of representation when I was younger (and mainly by hanging onto characters the official creators will never admit to being queer), and that’s not something I want the next generation to go through. I want them to have a selection so large that they can find exactly what delights them.

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

Who are my inspirations when it comes to pop history outreach? The answer is famous Chinese historians like Yuan Tengfei, Meng Man, and Yi Zhongtian! Indeed, Chinese media has famous historians and archeologists who constantly appear on TV. A big show that broke them out was Lecture Hall (百家讲堂), which aired every day around noon and featured a professor giving a lecture on a certain topic, often history. I used to catch it every day during lunch break when I went to school in China (did you know Chinese schools and work give like 2-hour lunch breaks because you’re supposed to take a noon nap?). I never would’ve become so interested and knowledgeable in Chinese history without exposure to these amazing lecturers. My YouTube style is very inspired by them—I sit there and talk for a long time while giving my own opinions freely instead of doing short animated videos like most HistoryTubers. I’m grateful this works for me because I have neither the talent to do animations like that nor the restraint to talk about a topic for just 5-10 minutes.

Aside from being an author, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I am honestly a huge mess of a person. My life is not glamorous as it may seem. It involves a lot of sleeping and waking up at improbable hours and stressing out over deadlines.

What advice would you give for aspiring authors?

When you’re on your first draft, stop constantly going back and editing. Power through the whole thing so you train yourself to actually finish books, THEN dive into the mess to edit. This way, you’ll avoid the trap of being one of those writers who starts a lot of stories but can’t finish them.

Finally, what are some LGBTQIA+ books/authors you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Linden A. Lewis’ THE FIRST SISTER is a mind blowing space opera, pitched as Red Rising meets The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s seriously SO GOOD and has amazing queer characters. Please read it! There’s a full review on my website if you wanna know more.

SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN by Shelley Parker-Chan, a genderbent retelling of the founding of the Ming dynasty, should appeal to those who enjoy the historical aspect of my books as well.

FRAGILE REMEDY by Maria Ingrande Mora, a YA sci-fi, gave me huge Yugioh 5D’s vibes, so I’d recommend it for fellow Yugioh fans.

CUTE MUTANTS by SJ Whitby is a delightfully chaotic and queer take on superheroes!