Interview with Tab Kimpton


Of the many people who have stalls at the MCM Expo in London this May, most will be skilled at one art. The artist at Artists Alley, the plushie makers and the jewellery makers. The list goes on and on. I was recently able to talk to Tab Kimpton, who will not only be bringing his comic series to the event, but also has expertise in cosplaying, prop design, and many other things. In this interview we discussed his comics, his future plans, what we can expect to see from him at MCM this month and his artistic inspirations.

Laura: For those who don’t know, could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Tab: My name’s Tab Kimpton, I work full time as a comic writer and dealer at anime events around the UK and Europe. I write an LGBT comic called Khaos Komix, a Steampunk book of Silly called the Khaotic Emporium, and sell related merchandise and accessories on a traders table at cons. I used to take on costume commissions but I decided to close those down this year to focus on more comic work.

I’m known by a lot of people because I give talks at events on how to make things and do occasional burlesque/cabaret style performances as part of the Khaotic Emporium, but that’s more something I do for fun, not really work!

Laura: How did you first get into cosplaying? How long was it before you knew you could turn it into a career?

Tab: I first encountered cosplay at a tiny little bookstore anime event in Southampton. A guy turned up in an awesome Cloud costume, and seeing him pushed me to have a go. I started attending my first real conventions, performing a lot of skit work which meant making more costumes, then did some competitions.

After college I couldn’t decide on a degree, so I looked around for work, landing a trainee accountant job. My intention was to use it to make enough money to continue all my hobbies at the same time (because cosplay is expensive!), but full time work took too much out of me. My boss was particularly horrible, and during the winter my partner’s mother died and he lost his job, so I had to stay in work to support him. I had been taking on some commissions for costume work here and there, and Khaos Komix earns me some money in donations, but it didn’t make enough money on its own, and the leap to full time had no guarantee to give enough income.

It was around this time I started getting into Steampunk, and noticed that a lot of the things I’d like to buy at cons weren’t being sold. I had some money in savings which I used to buy a bulk of pocket watches and goggles, made as many accessories as I could and bought a table at London Expo. In one weekend I earned over three months of my accountant wages. It was risky, but I knew something had to give, so I handed in my notice, bought more stock, and began my life as full time self employed.

Unfortunately for all those hopeful people out there, costume making is the one thing I do that makes the least amount of money. I have to put so much effort into each commission, and while my panel giving skills get me invited to events, it is basically free work.

Laura: What have been your favourite costumes to make and wear?

Tab: Of my own stuff, I loved making my Crystal Siegfried costume. It’s the most innovative with materials I’ve ever been, and is technically impressive. However it’s a massive pain to wear and to transport. The sword is pretty light, but it still throws my shoulder out for days afterwards, and the armour bruises my arms if I lift them up too much.

To wear, I love my Billy Strings costume. He’s an original character so I designed his costume to be comfortable. He’s not particularly impressive to look at, but when I wear him on stage the audience reaction is amazing, and as a performer that’s what I’m going for.

When it comes down to it, I just prefer sewing more! The problem is that most ‘impressive’ male costumes tend to be armour based, so I haven’t found anything sewn that catches my eye. And for female costumes, heels are a pain to wear at cons!

Laura: What are your artistic influences when designing your various comics?

Tab: When I first started drawing comics it was with a heavy Manga and Marvel influence to my characters. However as time has gone on I’ve just tried to aim to draw people as accurately as possible, because I found that I couldn’t sit in a style that wasn’t my own. From all of that some kind of style has emerged that I’d call my own, though there’s always ways that I want to improve it.

Laura: Did your “The Khaotic Emporium” comic or the Steampunk original character costumes come first? Was there a conscious choice to have the characters overlap between the two mediums when designing them?

Tab: I made the costumes first. Most of them started out as terrible jokes – Cogsworth the Clockwork Captain began as a idea about making a Steampunk mecha. Then with people actually wearing them and bringing them to life with silly voices and mannerisms, they took on their own personalities. We jokingly made stories about things they would do, I drew a few doodles, then I decided I’d bring out a comic to give them the back story they deserve. People liked the first book, so I’m now working on a second, hopefully to come out this year.

Laura: KhaosKomix covers a variety of different genders, sexualities and perspectives with amazing insight (many people I’ve shown it to have applauded it for its accuracy and believability). How much of what you write comes from your own experiences? Do you have to do much research?

Tab: I like to say that Khaos isn’t an LGBT comic, but one about gender and sexuality, something that everyone has to deal with, no matter where they realise they are in the end. Some of it comes from personal experience (I have slightly too many stories about falling in love with your best friend…), however a lot of it is completely new for me. Writing Amber and Nay’s stories were particularly hard because I didn’t want to be another guy writing a lesbian story badly. In the end all I really had to do was to treat each character like a person, not the sum of their respective labels, and it worked from there.

The earlier stories have less research, which I think shows slightly, but as I’ve gone on a lot more thought has been put into the characters and their lives. The last few chapters have dealt with trans issues, and I felt that it was vital that they be treated in a sensitive and respectful manner. A lot of my work has been done for me through the Khaos Komix forum – lots of people of different experiences gather there, and just by talking and reading what other people have to say I’ve learnt a lot.

Laura: If you don’t mind my asking, how do you personally identify yourself on the gender and sexuality spectrum? How has that effected both your cosplay choices and your comics?

Tab: I don’t tend to talk about my own experiences much, partially due to some rather vicious hate mail I got a few years ago that hit a bit too close to home.

I’m male, though rather effeminate in nature and not too fussed on people seeing me as a manly man. I identify as queer because I reserve the right to always change my mind, and other labels are too restrictive! I’m also polyamorous, something not brought up in Khaos, but something I hope to write about one day. I have a couple of romantic partners who all know about each other and are happy with the situation. I’ve been called a lot of things from greedy to ‘perpetuating the stereotype’ for that, but I just can’t understand how other people can only love one person, in the same way they probably find me just as bizarre.

When it comes to cosplay I have a habit of choosing costumes I can do with my partners because I like performing with them. Me and Matt have been doing couple cosplay for years, though we’re not that affectionate and most people think we’re just house mates, including good friends of ours who should know better! A lot of the stuff we do are things he likes, and I just make them because I like the challenge.

Laura: Do you have any advice for those looking to crossplay or those working out their place on the gender and sexuality spectrums?

Tab: Horrifically cliché, but “Be yourself”. It’s one of the hardest things you can do in life, but if you can’t live life as You, then what’s the point of living someone else’s life?

Laura: What can you tell us about your future plans after the end of Khaos Komix?

Tab: I keep getting asked this one! I’m on the last story so that’s probably why every interview this year has been about it!

I’m currently toying with the idea of a heavily illustrated novel (about a picture a page), revolving around a polyamorous triad (that’s threesome to those not up with lingo). The current working title is Los Tres Pecadores, which is spanish for The Three Sinners. It will probably be a bit more adult than Khaos, but that will be for many reasons, not just because it’s raunchy. It will be set in both the past and future, telling the story of Bill, a middle aged roadie who lost the love of his life twice.

Laura: What should we expect to see at your stall in May?

Tab: I’ll have my usual fare of gear, with some new pocket watch and jewellery designs as part of the Khaotic Emporium, but this May we’ll be bringing out some video game parody shirts to go with our costume and skit section with Khaos Kostumes. The Khaos Komix section now also features ringbows, the rainbow you can wear around your finger! They arrived about a month ago and I’ve been wearing mine ever since. It’s a nice subtle way to imply your queerness. I don’t know about other people, but everyone assuming I’m straight (HOW?) gets a bit tiring after a while.

Laura: Lastly, do you have any final words?

Tab: I’m totally done, rambled some preachy things for which I’m sorry.

Laura: No need to say sorry, Thank you very much for your time.

You can read Tab‘s current comic at Khaos Komix online here, and find out more about his costumes at Khaos Kostumes here.

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