Luna Flare (foreground), the cosplayer persona of graphic designer Julian Rivera, pictured at left in this merged image created by Jim Barcus. (photo by Jim Barcus)
Striving to Make Dreams Real
“Everyone has to put on a costume” — for work, for school, for socializing. Why not “interact with the world in a way you never thought you could?” asks Julian Rivera.
Rivera is a full-time graphic designer at HNTB in Kansas City, where he is currently working on an architectural project. It’s his persona as Luna Flare, however, in which he/she experiences and presents to others a vastly more colorful world. He describes it as “magical — that’s like really corny!”
Luna Flare is a total entity — a drag queen, a renowned cosplay star, a participant and instructor with the Filipino Association of Greater Kansas City.
She hosts and performs at Hamburger Mary’s brunch every Saturday, along with sporadic weeknight shows. She volunteers and teaches dance at the Filipino Cultural Center every Sunday afternoon. (A free performance will be offered Nov. 19 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.) She delivers at Drag Queen Story Time at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Hamburger Mary’s. And she is never not engaged in cosplay.
Cosplay is, simply, the art of dressing up as a favorite character from a book, movie or video game; i.e., the expression of one’s “fandom.” But there is really no “simply” about it. Participants live for it, plan for it and put forth amazing efforts to maximize their experience. Its sci-fi origins go back to the 1970s, but the Internet has broadened and intensified it into fantasy, live action role playing, comics, film and television.
Cosplay is booming in Kansas City — and everywhere. Its biggest event here is Planet Comicon, founded by Chris Jackson, which happens annually at the KC Convention Center. In 2023 it will be held March 17-19 with celebrities William Shatner, Giancarlo Esposito and Rachael Lee Cook attending, according to spokesperson Chris Phelan. Making the world a happier place is a strong element of Planet Comicon. Many participants come to its stage feeling lonely or depressed but, in their guises, they find more confidence and comfort, “break out of their shell” and find “family.”
Rivalling Planet Comicon in reach is the anime-focused Naka-Kon. There are smaller events, “satellite cons,” including Sausomecon and Fountain City, scheduled throughout the area. Collect-A-Con at the Convention Center and Free State Comicon in Lawrence both took place in September. There is abundant anime cosplay at the Japanese American Festival each fall.
And Nicholas Young, a fairly new devotee, has directed a documentary, “What We Can Be,” a joyous and moving introduction into the world of cosplay. As Cairn Productions posted on Facebook, “Behind the masks, underneath the cowls, and beneath the makeup, these cosplayers seek to reconnect with family and friends, reckon with mental health concerns, express LGBTQ+ pride, and find the courage to overcome both external adversity and inner demons.” The movie is making the rounds at film festivals and is available to stream on Vimeo.
Much more than fun, cosplay, as Flare describes it, is “a microcosm for society at large.” It plays its own role and is “community building.” “We take care of each other,” as one player explains in Young’s documentary. Some go on to start businesses, including garment, costume, and makeup design. Walking & Rollin Costumes of Olathe now provides any child with a disability “a unique and custom-built costume, free of charge to the family.” It was started by a father constructing a costume for his son, who uses a wheelchair. Flare celebrates “being able to share in the joy and couple that with a good cause.”
As a cosplayer, Flare is most renowned for her Disney princesses. A few years ago, she was Moana, and being Filipino, playing a Pacific Islander was fulfilling. Last year she was Isabella from “Encanto.” She’s been Ariel, Ursula, Cinderella, Hologram Princess Leia. Her own five-person cosplay group is “Another Castle Creations.”
Flare represents the princesses at birthday and bachelorette parties, at the AIDS walk, at suicide prevention gatherings, KC Cares, and recently at “Rise,” a benefit for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. She makes appearances at hospitals. She said she felt “out of my comfort zone” when she first visited a little girl, but realized she brought “a sliver of happiness for her that day.”
Her parents, both nurses, moved to the area from the Philippines in the 1980s. She and her sister were born a few years later. Flare attended Rockhurst High School and there discovered her love for musical theater and role playing. She went to KU and obtained a degree in graphic design and illustration. Back in Kansas City, she began with burlesque performances and continued to plays with Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre and the Barn Players, including “Tommy,” “Rent,” “Sister Act” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” It was in “Legally Blonde” that she had her first drag role, which led her to want to expand and develop her own act, unfolding it at Missie B’s and Hamburger Mary’s. Flare fondly remembers her parents first coming to see her and her mother’s first words after the show, “Wow, you have a waist!”
Flare’s cosplay career started with her passion for sewing, which she taught herself with help from a cousin. It’s hard to imagine how she finds the time for it all with a “regular” job. But Flare wonders if her more flamboyant, costumed life wouldn’t lose some of its sparkle if she did it solely, and the salary, healthcare and retirement benefits from her designer job allow her to cover her expenses and follow her course.
Flare participated in “Drag Survivor” in 2018 and is a judge this year. She’s contemplating teaching her art. But after a “year of yes,” when she accepted almost everything offered to her, she says she is currently “cocooning,” working on a new “Monster High” persona and plotting next moves. She sees a whole new “mini economy” in both drag and cosplay.
Whatever she does, Flare will continue to “make the uncertainty and darkness in our world a little less dark.” And like any good princess, she’ll strive to “make dreams real.”
For more about Luna Flare, visit linktr.ee/mslunaflare.