Student Makes National Television Debut on Syfy

Monika Lee is one of about 20,000 students who attend Georgia Tech, but she has an online fan base twice the size of the student population.

Monika Lee cosplays as Chell from Portal 2
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Monika Lee, an industrial design student, cosplays as Chell from the Portal 2 video game. 

Lee is somewhat of a celebrity in the world of costume play, or cosplay, where participants dress as characters from books, films, video games or other media, sometimes adding an element of interactivity or role play with one another.

“Cosplay, for me, is like getting pretty and dressing up at prom,” Lee said. “Except it’s nerdy, awesome and badass.”

In all likelihood, Lee’s following, which numbers more than 40,000 on Facebook, is about to grow even greater. That’s because she is featured in “Heroes of Cosplay,” a new show from the Syfy network that follows nine cosplay enthusiasts around the country as they craft their costumes and travel to conventions.

The show is just the most recent accomplishment in a career that began when Lee was 13. After discovering online cosplay communities from her home in Alpharetta, she found cosplay was a way to combine her creativity with an existing love of anime, manga and video games. While in high school, she worked with a business that creates costume accessories, which eventually connected her to the Syfy opportunity.

Her time filming took her to Seattle, Houston, Kansas City and beyond for various comic and anime conventions. “It was extremely difficult to juggle my demanding class schedule with filming, making cosplays and attending conventions, and I definitely learned a lot from it,” she said.

But coming home to Atlanta, and specifically Georgia Tech, would be comfortable for any cosplayer. Atlanta is home to the world’s largest fantasy and sci-fi convention, Dragon*Con, which takes place downtown annually, and MomoCon, a convention that was started in 2005 by Georgia Tech’s anime club. In 2008, Celia Pearce, associate professor in the School of Literature, Media and Communication made a short documentary on cosplaying, Conventional Dress. Lee easily found kindred spirits at Tech from the moment she arrived on campus.

“I was most surprised during FASET when I met people who actually knew what cosplay was,” she said. “I spend most of my time explaining to strangers what I do and why it is that I do it, but it’s amazing to be on campus with a community of students who mostly understand cosplay, conventions and the source material.” Drawing many of her ideas from video games gives Lee a connection to fellow students with a passion for gaming. “I love Tech for its community and nerdiness.”

The relationship between Lee’s work as an industrial design major and designing costumes has been symbiotic thus far. Lee even believes her experience cosplaying in middle and high school gave her an edge as an applicant to Tech.

“My awareness of materials and processes for creating costumes has aided me in the creation of models and prototypes for studio,” she said, “but, for the most part, being an industrial design student has taught me more to aid the cosplay creation process.”

Lee’s creations are mostly a solo effort, with the help of a Husqvarna Viking sewing machine and a Brother serger. However, having an electrical engineer for a father, with power tools and circuit knowledge, has come in handy.

“If any part of my costume lights up, it’s because I made my dad hook up the LED circuit,” Lee said. 

Long-term, Lee hopes to work in the video game industry and continue to merge her cosplay and industrial design skills working in licensing. She spent this summer gaining experience at Blizzard Entertainment, a video game developer in California.

Lee makes her “Heroes of Cosplay” debut on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 10:30 p.m. on Syfy. She posts ongoing updates about her cosplaying endeavors on Twitter and Facebook. Local fans can also look for her at Dragon*Con in Atlanta during Labor Day weekend.