STARBURST: How did you get started with cosplaying?
Shannon: I started cosplaying in 2005. A childhood friend of mine was over at my house, and she asked me if I had ever heard of it. I had no idea! At the time, cosplay wasn’t nearly as massive or mainstream as it is now, it was kinda this niche hobby. I remember instantly being taken with the concept of it; I’ve always loved Halloween, costumes, and being creative. Needless to say, when I learned about cosplay, everything clicked wonderfully. The idea of getting to be my favourite characters for a day was revolutionary to me, and it’s that exciting idea that keeps the hobby fresh and fun in my mind years later.
My very first event I cosplayed at with my first costume was a festival at an Asian market. I had MacGyvered a King Dedede costume from the Kirby video game franchise, where I donned a silk faux-fur trimmed robe, a decimated Santa hat, and yellow rubber kitchen gloves.
It was at some point while parading around the market aisles looking like the bootleg version of a beloved holiday figure as confused customers looked on with concern and unease that I figured I could keep doing this. Nearly twelve years later, here I am!
I started out attending anime conventions and putting costumes together of anime and video game characters. About seven years in, I realised my interests and my costumes didn’t really align with anime conventions or events anymore. It was then that I made the switch to comic cons, and haven’t looked back since. I find the atmosphere at comic cons to be much more in tune with what I enjoy and the content I want to see and experience. A key part in keeping the thrill alive in the hobby is being willing to adapt as your interests shift over the years. If you have a specific area of interest, don’t be afraid to look into the community and see what meet-ups or events might be happening. Fandom is a powerful and exciting thing, it unites us and creates friendships that last a lifetime.
Probably the best advice I can give to fellow cosplayers and those who may be looking to get into the hobby is this: cosplay for yourself. Cosplay as characters that YOU love, from movies and content that YOU enjoy, and don’t get caught up in being an accessory to somebody else. When a costume starts feeling like an obligation, that’s when it’s time to mix things up and start something new. I went through that exact situation with one of my cosplays, where it got to the point that I felt like I HAD to wear it for conventions due to my cosplay group at the time. I was craving a change, and then one day I watched a movie called Back to the Future.
So tell us about your fascination with Marty McFly and BTTF…
Right off the bat, I need to come clean: I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up with Back to the Future. I wasn’t even alive when the movie came out, I was born in 1990! My parents had the soundtrack, which I would always see as I flipped through their CD collection, but I had no idea what this movie was. Or how much it would be a part of my life many years later!
I’ve met BTTF fans who have told me how they’ve loved these movies since childhood or saw the movie on opening day in 1985. I love hearing these stories and am always honoured when fellow fans open up to me and share their BTTF origin story, the moment they feel in love with the movies. I so greatly envy the fans who have had Doc and Marty in their lives since they were young. As someone who didn’t get to experience that and have that nostalgia factor, it’s amazing to me.
My encounter happened when I was visiting some very close friends of mine. I was going through a bit of a rough time, and it was suggested that we all sit down and enjoy a movie together. After flipping through our options, one of my friends suggested Back to the Future. When I replied that I had never seen it, I was rightfully met with looks of horror, disbelief, bewilderment, and shame. “It has a cool car in it, you’ll like it”, they said.
And just like that, something clicked. Not a quiet sound, but a prominent echo that resonated in my very soul.
When I got home, I immediately jumped into researching the movie, and it didn’t take me long to reach the conclusion that I needed to put together a Marty McFly cosplay.
I love the character of Marty McFly simply because of how REAL he is. Marty spends the entire movie in over his head while wearing a look of complete bewilderment. He’s extremely expressive in both gestures and emotion, and that’s something that really caught my attention. He isn’t this larger than life character that seems completely out of a fantasy: he’s simply a kid who was unwillingly thrown head-first into this grand adventure where he has absolutely no clue what he’s doing. He’s a fish out of temporal water.
I’ve always been extremely fascinated with history and times that I was never a part of. My parents always referred to me as an ‘old soul’. I’ve always been more interested in the past than the future. A big reason why Back to the Future really resonated with me was the premise of going back in time and the possibility of time travel. To experience history first-hand and take in the culture of a time period you were never meant to experience. This movie had all the components to completely captivate me. As someone who’s been fascinated with classic cars since they were very young, I remember staring wide-eyed as the DeLorean backed out of Doc’s truck for the first time. I was utterly taken with its design and gullwing doors. Never has there been such a perfect blend of the past and future than in the design of the DeLorean time machine.
What’s the best experience you’ve had as Marty?
I consider myself extremely fortunate that multiple memories spring to mind. I’ll go through them chronologically. Watch for the changes, and try to keep up!
I met my first time machine on January 24th, 2014. I had just gotten my Marty cosplay together, and Wizard World Portland was going to be my first comic con with it. When I had heard that the DeLorean was going to be there, simply saying I was thrilled wouldn’t even come close. I had never thought I’d get to see one, let alone get a photo in one!
I’ll never forget how I felt the first time I saw it. I timidly approached the booth, was instantly greeted with an excited, “Marty! You made it!” I was on cloud nine. The owners of this DeLorean time machine were Oliver and Terry Holler of ToTheFuture.org, who travel the world in their time machine they built themselves, raising funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation through Team Fox. I could not have asked for a better first time machine encounter. I was instantly taken by the Hollers and their warm and genuine personalities. I’ll never forget Oliver asking me what my birthday was, and inputting it into the time circuits. Oliver and Terry gave me the confidence to keep going as Marty.
I remember quietly sitting against the back wall to the side of the booth so I could still see a glimpse of the car without bothering them, eating my lunch and wishing more than anything that one day I could volunteer with them to help raise funds for the Foundation. That if I could do that with my costume, it would be mean everything to me. A couple years later at the same convention, I got that chance.
In 2015, it was announced that an immense Back to the Future celebration would be taking place in October to commemorate a date of great importance in Back to the Future history: October 21st, 2015. Future Day, the date that Doc and Marty travel to in Back to the Future Part II. 2015, in general, was a huge year for fans of the movies, but this celebration was going to be the biggest event happening in the world. The biggest Back to the Future event ever! It was called We’re Going Back, and this would be the second time the event has ever taken place, the first being in 2010 for the 25th anniversary of the movie.
I wasn’t in the community for the 2010 event, but once I found out about it I poured over photos and watched as many videos from the event as I could. I wished I could have been a part of it, because it looked like something out of a dream! Needless to say, when the 2015 event was announced, I was ecstatic!
But as the months passed by, reality set in. I was saving, but the combined costs of the trip were going to be too much. I tried to stay positive, but I knew I couldn’t make it happen. Regardless, I checked the website every day, hoping that it wasn’t too late.
Then one day, my friend Brady who leads the cosplay volunteer group I’m a part of, the Portland Superheroes Coalition, messaged me asking if I could meet up to record a special birthday message as Marty for a young Back to the Future fan. Absolutely! We worked out a time and place, and I showed up excited to be doing this for a fellow fan. Brady handed me what appeared to be a script, and he simply asked me to read from it while our friend Hank recorded the message. It seemed odd that it started out with, “Hi Shannon, this is a surprise message to you, from your friends...” It continued. “We didn’t do a Kickstarter or GoFundMe.” What was going on? “But we did sneak behind your back a little with a secret/private Facebook event called ‘Send Shannon Back to the Future!’ Thanks to the OVERWHELMING RESPONSE from people who (apparently) love you, we have now received ALMOST $2,000 IN PLEDGES, which means...” I flipped the page and immediately broke down in tears. “YOU ARE GOING TO LOS ANGELES IN OCTOBER FOR THE GIANT FIVE-DAY BACK TO THE FUTURE CELEBRATION!”
I was in disbelief. I was shaking. There was no way. But right there, in big bold letters was the truth. I was going to We’re Going Back. I was going because my friends were sending me Back! Because they knew how much this meant to me. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.
Time travelling forward to October 17th, 2015, the day I left for We're Going Back, we took a DeLorean convoy to LA from my home in Oregon. I rode in my friend Andrew’s DeLorean, while we followed Oliver and Terry Holler in their time machine. We fitted the cars with CB radios so we could keep in contact, and we ended up spending the night camping in the Redwood forest in California after a day of driving and looking for Sasquatch. The next day, we made it to LA safely for the event.
Andrew and I decided to head out to Puente Hills Mall (filming location for Twin Pines Mall) before the event. This was the first filming location I ever visited, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Earlier in the day, by some weird coincidence it has rained, so that night the mall pavement was wet just like it was in the film. Andrew wanted me to have my own special experience, so he dropped me off around the corner in the DeLorean, and I was to walk in by myself. JVC in hand, I rounded the corner after taking a moment and walked. I saw the Twin Pines Mall sign that was placed right where it should be in honour of We’re Going Back, and started crying. I stood next to the sign and saw Doc’s truck. Right where it should be. It was incredible. It was the movie. Andrew had parked his DeLorean right behind the truck, where he was talking to a group of people who had gathered. Upon seeing me up by the sign, he waved to me and announced to the group that it was my first time visiting the mall. The group applauded, I wiped my tears as quick as I could, and I made my way down to the van. We stayed in the parking lot until about 3:30 am.
October 21st, 2015 was the first day of We’re Going Back. It was also a red-letter date in Back to the Future history! The atmosphere was full of excitement at Universal Studios in Hollywood where we were all gathered. We hopped on the trams and took the backlot tour with a very special stop. We rounded a corner and suddenly we were in Hill Valley. We got off the trams and had time to walk around the lot, taking everything in. Looking up at the clock tower for the first time on October 21st was one of my absolute favourite experiences. Unforgettable. I was standing in Hill Valley, California on October 21, 2015, at the world’s largest Back to the Future event ever. I felt like I was dreaming! It was so surreal to be in the real location, and knowing your way around simply from watching the movie. There’s nowhere else I would have rather been on that day.
On Day Two, we spent the day in Fillmore, California, which had been transformed into our own Hill Valley. DeLorean, Marty’s 4x4, and even a 2015 police cruiser lined the streets. Oliver and Terry had their time machine on the train tracks that ran through town, a replica clock was mounted above City Hall, the band was playing, and there were cosplayers everywhere. It was like seeing a real functional Hill Valley! We were free to roam the entire day. Cranes were even set up to give people hoverboard rides, using the same method they used during filming! The day concluded with an outdoor showing of Back to the Future Part III.
On Day Three, we did a locations tour, and the craziest thing I’ve ever done as Marty took place on that day. While we were on Bushnell Avenue, the street where George, Lorraine, and Biff’s Grandmother’s house is located (Along with the Peeping Tom tree!), I sneaked off with Oliver and Terry around the corner in the DeLorean. When we were ready, I got the hoverboard and hung onto the side of the car. The sea of hundreds of Back to the Future fans parted as I hoverboarded down Bushnell Avenue for real, while hanging onto the side of a time machine. I think it’s safe to say that was a first!
We ended Day Three with the best block party to ever take place: on the McFly block. The Lyon Estate signs were set up at the front of the street, and Marty’s Toyota 4x4 was parked in the McFly house driveway for attendees to take photos with. It was incredible. It was a great night to meet back up with friends, as well as make new ones. I brought my Valterra skateboard that day and recreated the scene at the beginning of the movie where Marty skates through the Lyon Estate signs on his way home. After the party had officially ended, my friend and I stayed behind to help clean up. It was then that the neighbour next door to the McFly house brought me over to the picnic table she had set up on her lawn and gave me snacks and a cool print out of her photos she took during filming. She was so sweet. A little later the owner of the McFly house, Mary, came out and shared some of her time with us. I immensely thanked her for sharing her home with all of us, expressed how much it means to the fans that she did this for us. She was very kind and granted me permission to take a photo on the front porch.
Another favourite experience at We’re Going Back was being at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance on Day 4. The dance was an incredible replica that took place in the exact same location used in the movie. I felt like I was sent back in time to 1955! The decorations were perfect, Marvin Berry and the Starlighters were performing, and it was so beautifully surreal. I ended up helping at the Team Fox booth located just outside, between being inside the dance fanning everyone. Just like during filming, the church location had no air conditioning and it was HOT. I always kinda wondered what my role at the dance would have been if I was there, but I never thought it would be fanning the attendees and celebrities! It was a truly unforgettable night.
The last day of We’re Going Back took place at Puente Hills Mall on October 26th, the anniversary of the world’s successful temporal experiment. During the day, we sat in on talks and presentations given by those who worked on the films and the ride. We learned about designing the DeLorean time machine, saw concept art from the films, got to see some of the SFX work that went into the movies, and more! Outside fans could mingle and take photos with Doc’s truck and the Twin Pines Mall sign. The final night of the event began with a Skype call with Christopher Lloyd himself, followed by a showing of the first movie in the exact same parking lot Doc and Marty were at. Coinciding with what was happening in the movie, the chase scene at the mall was re-enacted in real time! The event concluded with an auction and the rest, as they say, is history.
We’re Going Back was the best time I’ve ever had as Marty. The best five days of my life, and favourite trip I’ve ever experienced. I was in costume all five days of the event from start to finish, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was the most immersive adventure I could have ever hoped for. It was made all the more memorable because my friends had sent me. As long as I live I’ll never forget that.
In 2016, I was able to achieve everything I wasn’t able to at We’re Going Back: meeting Michael J. Fox. That was the craziest bucket list item I had, and one that I never imagined I’d actually achieve. Michael attending conventions is extremely rare, so it seemed like an unbelievable longshot to meet him. So I was absolutely shocked to see him announced along with Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson for the first Silicon Valley Comic Con in San Jose. I knew that had to be my chance. I saved up like crazy and ended up making it happen. I brought my favourite model DeLorean for both Michael and Chris to sign. I was trying so hard to keep my nerves calm as I inched closer and closer to my moment. When the time finally came I looked at Michael, introduced myself, and told him a heartfelt “thank you” for inspiring me and for being at the convention with all of us. He spoke softly but sincerely as he said my name, and I’ll never forget the kindness and compassion I saw looking into the man’s eyes. He signed my DeLorean, and said “heavy” without even being prompted to! He never remarked on the costume, but I’ll never forget how he seemed to regard me.
My next moment was for our photo, and when I walked through the curtain Michael said, “Nice to see you again”. I’ll never know if he truly remembered me or if he was being wonderfully polite, but I’d really like to believe he happened to remember me. When I picked up my photo, I was moved near tears at the wonderful smile he flashed, and it will be a memento I will always treasure.
At Silicon Valley, I also met Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson. My other goal for this convention, and another item off my bucket list was having a moment being Marty McFly with the Doc himself. I was volunteering at the Team Fox booth with the DeLorean all weekend. One of the photos you could purchase was with Christopher Lloyd and the DeLorean. When the time came we all prepared the booth for the photo session, and just like that, Christopher Lloyd walks into the booth and I’m suddenly standing five feet away from the Doc himself. I jump in line with everyone else, and when my turn comes, Chris doesn’t hesitate to meet my handshake and pull me in close for the photo. Being able to stand with Christopher Lloyd next to the DeLorean truly was a dream come true! Later on, he signed the same model DeLorean and I thanked him for everything he’s done for the fans, for sharing his time with us, and how much I enjoy the character of Doc Brown.
Meeting Lea Thompson was nothing short of an absolute joy. After getting Christopher Lloyd’s autograph, I hopped on over next door to her line, and I chose an adorable photo of Lorraine from her photo selections for her to sign. I greeted her, expressed how much I appreciated her being at the convention, and how I thoroughly enjoyed her performance as Lorraine. She was so personable, genuine, and utterly kind. At no point did I feel rushed to move along, and she truly took the time to connect with me. Lea’s sister was sitting next to her, and when she told Lea while signing my photo, “Look at her costume!” Lea looked up and with a bright smile gasped and complimented my costume. It was so completely unexpected! I showed her my AIWA cassette player with the ‘Edward Van Halen’ tape in it and she got such a kick out of it. It was clear that she was a fan of the trilogy herself, and truly embraced the fans with a bright, welcoming, and cheerful demeanour that puts most to shame. After a shared photo with Lea and two of my friends, she called me “son”.
While back at the booth, we get a call that Lea is interested in doing a surprise photo session to help raise funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Soon, in walks Lea and her sister and we prepare for everyone to start lining up for the photo session. Once everyone in line has gotten their photo, we each take turns posing with Lea before she has to leave. I’ll never forget how Lea pulled me in for a warm embrace for our photo. When all was said and done, $3,120 was raised in 20 minutes. 100% of it went to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
They say never meet your heroes, but I can confidently say that the cast of Back to the Future are just as wonderful as you imagine they are.
The last cast member encounter I need to mention is the original DeLorean time machine, the ‘A’ Car. I flew out to LA in July of 2016 for a special screening of the ‘A’ Car restoration documentary called OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine. I knew I had to be there to show my support for my friend Joe Walser, who led the Time Machine Restoration Team, Steve Concotelli who directed the documentary, as well as my friend Andrew Wells who worked on the SFX for the car. It would also be my first time experiencing the ‘A’ Car.
The day of the screening at the Petersen Automotive Museum, which is now home to the ‘A’ Car, a group of friends decided to head down early to get a more personal experience with the car before the big night. The Petersen had moved the car downstairs to their largest room, where the screening would take place. I was adamant about shielding my eyes from view of the car until the time was right. Led by one of my friends while covering my eyes, I opened them only to be face-to-face with the real time machine in all of its fully restored and pristine glory. It was akin to a religious experience. The time circuits were beautifully reflected in the glass of the flux capacitor. In a rare experience, the car was available for a full 360 degree walk-around. I never imagined I’d be able to get so close to it. It was surreal knowing that this was the same car that I had watched back out of Doc’s truck the first time I watched the movie. Here it was. It was real. The DeLorean definitely has a presence to it. It’s not something that I can describe, only something that can be experienced. If you find yourself in LA, definitely make the journey to the Petersen Automotive Museum to visit the car. I promise it’s something you won’t regret!
What was the most difficult part of the cosplay?
Finding clothes and props that are at least 32 years old! You either get lucky and find the real deal, settle with close enough, or end up having to make something yourself. Not to mention these clothes and props are hard to come by BECAUSE of their connection to Back to the Future. It’s crazy. You’ll spend YEARS scouring the Internet waiting for a correct piece to pop up. When I decided I was going to put together a Marty cosplay I remember thinking ‘oh yeah, that’ll be easy enough’. I didn’t realise exactly how deep that rabbit hole went until I tripped and fell right into it. It’s the same as any other costume though: over the years you just replace certain things when you find something more suitable or accurate, and it evolves from there.
Clothing-wise, I think the most difficult piece to find is the denim jacket. It’s a Guess Georges Marciano brand (there are people out there who will disagree with me on that), and finding the right version of it makes finding a unicorn look like a walk in the park. The correct vest is a Class-5, a brand that doesn’t even exist anymore. They’ll pop up from time to time, but you’re lucky if one actually graces your eBay search results in your size.
The most difficult prop/accessory to find is Marty’s AIWA cassette player, most famously seen in the ‘Darth Vader from Planet Vulcan’ scene. The model is an AIWA HS-P02 MkII, and you won’t score one of those without parting with a right arm and your first born child. I was stupidly lucky and was gifted mine from a dear friend of mine, and I usually always have it on me as part of the costume (yes - complete with Edward Van Halen tape!). Music is a huge part of Marty’s life, so I feel it’s important to carry it with me in costume. While I won’t try and melt your brain with it (unless you want me to), I will be more than happy to share it with a fellow fan!
Also, have you ever realised how many layers of clothing Marty McFly wears? A down vest, denim jacket, checkered shirt, and a red shirt. That’s four layers of clothing. This kid lives in California, I don’t get it! So there’s another difficulty to the costume: staying conscious. The closest call I ever had was on the second day of We’re Going Back. We spent the day in Fillmore, California, and it was the hottest day of the week. Insisting on being in full costume, I kept everything on and nearly lost consciousness when the heat finally caught up to me in the afternoon. I spend nearly two hours upstairs in the Fillmore Theater with my legs propped up against a wall with a cold compress to my wrists. Since that incident, I try to be more aware of what my limits are and make it a point to stay hydrated.
A difficulty I personally face at times is people being close-minded. I’m a female portraying a male character, and for a select few, that doesn’t fly. No matter what I say or do, nothing will change that. Nearly everybody I’ve been fortunate enough to meet at conventions and events have been wonderful. The positives far outweigh the select negatives I’ve experienced. You’ll experience negative people no matter what you do or who you are, it’s simply a fact of life. I love Back to the Future, and my Marty is an expression of that love. I might not look like Michael J. Fox, but as Huey Lewis might say, I’ve got a lot of heart and soul. I think that counts for something. Also trying to figure out Marty McFly’s hair keeps me up at night.
What shows are you looking forward to going ‘Back to (in) the Future’?
I’m looking forward to seeing where the BTTF community takes me. I was fortunate enough to make friends from all over the world at We’re Going Back. There’s a lot of possibilities there! You never know what the future holds. I’d love to attend a convention or event in Europe someday if I ever get the chance. Of course, any opportunity to help out and volunteer for Team Fox, I’ll go for it!
I do think I’m destined to be in California at the end of October for the next several years of my life, which I’m perfectly fine with: celebrating the anniversary of We’re Going Back, and something tells me that on October 26th, I’ll find myself dressed as Marty McFly standing in the parking lot at Puente Hills Mall at some ungodly hour of the morning. Call it density if you will.
Find out more about Shannon at facebook.com/hypershadowcosplay, and the charity work she does at facebook.com/PortlandSuperheroesCoalition. Please consider donating to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research at fundraise.michaeljfox.org. If you want to appear in STARBURST's Cosplay Catwalk in the print magazine, email email@example.com.