Michael Hamm and Shaun Simpson: Dynamic Duo of Cosplay
Cosplaying is now just as mainstream as superhero movies and cosplay costumes are getting just as elaborate as the CGI effects featured in films. Two Canadian superhero enthusiasts and social media personalities, Michael Hamm and Shaun Simpson often team up, for cosplay photoshoots that garner quite a bit of viral attention. They both spoke to The Racket via email, about their dynamic collaborations, and the origin story about their partnership.
According to Simpson, who describes himself as a “computer geek by day and an even geekier photographer” during evenings and weekends, this partnership has a pretty generic origin story. About eight years ago, the photographer, originally from New Brunswick but based in Halifax posted an ad online looking for models. Hamm responded and Simpson said they hit it off right away. “Working with Michael was an inspiring collaborative experience; before I left the studio after finishing our first shoot together, I was already planning a second shoot for him,” said Simpson. “The conversation and collaboration just felt like hanging out with an old friend, and it's only gotten better over the years.”
Despite being known for their cosplay shoots, this partnership began when Simpson was shooting Hamm for fashion and fitness photos. “At the time I was regularly shooting editorial and catalog work for underwear and swimwear retailers and manufacturers,” said Simpson. “I was always looking to improve my work, so I'd often shoot similar shoot concepts with fitness models; Michael was always my first-choice model to shoot with when trying new ideas.”
These photoshoots often result in what Simpson and Hamm refer to as “lewds” since Hamm is often wearing next to nothing and showing off his physique. "I had some weight issues when I was growing up so after busting my ass for years to get in shape, I really wanted to show that off with one of the best fitness photographers in [Halifax],” said Hamm.
Shooting these types of photos requires a great working relationship and a certain degree of trust, which Hamm and Simpson seem to possess. “As far as trust goes, I trust him with my phone password, what more can you ask for?” joked Simpson.
The two men also share a love of superheroes, which is where the cosplay shoots originate. Hamm, who is from Halifax describes himself as “a nerd who puts way too much effort into playing dress up,” and has been “obsessed” with comics and cartoons since he was a kid. “And much to my mom's dismay, I still am!” he joked. “Superheroes and comic books make up about 90% of what I care about in this world.” Hamm credits his uncle for introducing him to comics and exposing him to the world of “nerd”.
Simpson said he grew up reading comics and soon drifted into other fandoms like Star Trek because the closest comic book shop was a ninety-minute drive from where he grew up. “Shooting and talking cosplay with Michael has completely reinvigorated my love of comics,” said Simpson who listed Venom as his favourite character because he was drawn to the idea of an alien symbiotic lifeform because of his love of Sci-Fi.
According to Simpson, a lot of work goes into a cosplay shoot. "Initially the process was straightforward, Michael would tell me he had a new cosplay ready, then we'd set up a green screen shoot in the studio. I'd [then] pick the best shots and start work on the post-production, [and] let him know when the finished photos were ready,” he said.
Hamm would also be in charge of character selection, costume design, and building or assembling the look. Now, the process is much more collaborative. “We generally discuss the concept and some of the setups prior to the shoot, we spend a couple hours shooting in the studio or on location, then Michael and I review the shots to pick our favourites for editing,” said Simpson.
Despite all the work involved, Hamm said that he and Simpson have a lot of fun together during this creative process. Hamm, who graduated with an honours degree in Industrial Psychology, likes to travel to several comics conventions. These appearances can be for business like either when he is a featured guest, or trying to network, or simply because he is attending as a fan.
Neither man has attended Sci-Fi on the Rock, Newfoundland’s biggest comic convention. Simpson, who usually sticks to conventions based in the Halifax area like Hal-Con said he hopes to do more travelling to conventions next year, and noted an interest in coming to Newfoundland to shoot some of the province’s landscape and to check out Sci-Fi on the Rock.
“I’d love to go the Newfoundland and Sci-fi on the Rock,” said Hamm, noting that Newfoundland is the only Canadian province he hasn’t visited yet. “I’m dying to go. I’ve only ever heard incredible things,” he said.
Both Hamm and Simpson have quite the Instagram following and their cosplay photos definitely play a part in that and Simpson advises that staying “on brand” with content is important as well as engaging with followers. “A 'Like' or 'Follow' doesn't count for much in the algorithms, so it is more important engage with followers through comments, replies, and shares; the more engagement on your account, the more frequently the algorithms show your content to new potential fans and followers,” he said.
For Hamm, gaining followers has a lot to do with luck. “It could be a ‘right place, right time’ moment, it could be a viral post, and it could be that you have really popular friends who tag you in things. Someone could be doing everything I’m doing, in the EXACT way I’m that I’m doing it and still not gain a following,” he said. He continued, “The thing I always have to remind myself is that my Instagram is not for me, it’s for my audience.”
This can lead to pressure to live a certain lifestyle or present a certain image to his followers. This past summer, Hamm posted a picture with a detailed caption about unhealthy and unrealistic body standards. “Do I feel any pressure to live a certain lifestyle or present a certain image to my followers? The short answer is absolutely,” said Hamm. “It’s somewhat inevitable in today’s social media climate, but what’s interesting is that I’m not really trying to seem more exciting than I am. In fact, sometimes I try to tone it down a bit because I hate people who come off as showy. I just to show people the highlights of my life because I’m proud of them, but I like to try and make sure it never comes off as pretentious. I feel so lucky and grateful to be doing what I’m doing and it’s wildly humbling.”
Hamm and Simpson recently collaborated on a Venom cosplay photoshoot that is gaining a lot of attention on Instagram. The two show no sign of slowing down either and it will be fun to see what they come up with next.