Hero Behind the Mask: Joe Mignano

There are a lot of great people out there and I recently got to meet one of those great people through becoming a leader in Outer Rim Brigade. Joe describes himself as a man with many hats. And he is that! If he isn’t helping fellow Star Wars nerds in varying capacities he is working on a Star Wars podcast! Get to know this great man and show some support. Joe, thank you for your positive attitude and inspiration! –Mala
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Name: Joe Mignano

Location: Southern California

What got you into CAUSEplaying?
That’s a long story! Basically, after my wife passed away a little over a decade ago, I embraced a lot of the things I enjoyed most in life, as a sort of means of coping with the loss. I immersed myself in Star Wars, whereas before I was a fan but didn’t have many Star Wars things. I started collecting books, autographs, etc. Then, thanks to social media (which at the time was pretty much Myspace), I learned about conventions like Comic Con in San Diego, and groups of costumers that not only wore Star Wars attire, but also used their costumes for charitable purposes. I never knew at the time that there were such things, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it. It’s a part of my life to this day.

What keeps you CAUSEplaying?
Getting to be the Star Wars figure that I always wanted to be as a kid, and being able to use that live action figure for a good cause, especially when it involves doing something positive in the lives of children, really keeps me motivated to contribute all I can, as much as I can, as often as I can, even if I’m not often able to.

What was your first CAUSEplay event?
I really don’t remember! I think, technically, it was at Comic Con in San Diego, in either 2007 or 2008. I had a silly little campy YouTube show at the time called “The Dark Side Chats,” in which I’d often wear a custom Sith get-up, and of course talk about Star Wars. It was my first foray into podcasting, which over the years would also
become a favorite pastime of mine. Star Wars podcasting, of course.

What is your favorite costume to wear while CAUSEplaying, and Why?
I only have two outfits, believe it or not. I have a custom Sith and a Darth Sidious (prequel era, before Palpy got scarred for life by that traitor Mace Windu). Of those, I’d have to say I love my custom Sith, since it’s very non-restricting, breathes easily, and is rather comfortable. Plus, it’s something I concocted on my own, which gives the costume its own sort of uniqueness.

Most memorab photo Mark Edwards photography 189697341_zpstrydwoas.jpgle CAUSEplay moment(s): There are so many. But I’d have to say that one of my most favorites was while I was wearing my custom Sith, and I was working a table for The Dark Empire at an event, which is something I don’t really do anymore (I’m more involved with the 501st Legion these days). I had started something up called HoloNet Audio Dramas, one of a few Star Wars podcasts that I do, in which I narrate well-written short family-friendly Star Wars fanfiction, and set it to music and sound effects – the idea being not just to have a fan audio presentation (sort of like fanfilms, but audio only), but to also target that media toward fans that may be blind, have difficulty reading, etc.

On this particular occasion, a blind woman was led to the table I was at, and her hand was gently guided along that props that were on display. Without any hesitation or guesswork on her part, she knew what a lightsaber hilt was and what a Sith holocron was. I described the outfit I was wearing to her, and let her feel the material. I was amazed at the expression her face made as she took in the details of the display pieces and costume fabric with her fingertips.

I then offered her a free audio disc of HoloNet Audio Dramas material; it had about ten stories on it, and I used to give them away regularly. She later told me that she thoroughly enjoyed listening to the stories, and “seeing” what we had on display; she really experienced Star Wars in a way that she hadn’t before. That did it for me! I’ve never forgotten that, and I’ve given out close to 1,000 audio discs since, before retiring disc distribution last year. I still give free ones out on rare occasion, and I always think of that particular encounter with a blind Star Wars fan when I do.

What is your favorite cause to support and what have you done for them?
Hillsides children’s group home (an orphanage), is a cause that I’ve supported since 2011, having organized a Star Wars Day event for the kids there each year, now twice a year. I actually wrote a blog about it on the Star Wars website (link: http://www.starwars.com/news/celebrating-5-years-of-star-wars-at-hillsides-child-care-facility) , and it was mentioned in the Bantha Tracks section of the January 2015 issue of Star Wars Insider. Organizing an event like that for kids that depend on so much from volunteers means a lot to me, and I think it’s the reason why volunteers like us volunteer to do what we photo 1398881_10151840662688241_1116444032_o_zpsifute0zi.jpg do.

The silliest/strangest thing you have done for a cause?
The silliest thing I’ve ever done was probably be Santa Sith one Sithmas, a long time ago…

Who inspires you in life or cosplay?
I’m inspired by all of the people that volunteer their time and efforts into not only enjoying w
hat they do, but using it to give back, as well. The story of Albin Johnson, his late daughter Katie, and a baby girl once known as Princess Leah when she was alive were and still my biggest inspirations.

Advice for CAUSEplaying: Always be professional, but also have fun! If you aren’t having fun, then you’re doing something wrong.

What CAUSEplay events do you have coming up?
Hillsides every August is the single-most event that I look forward to, and also in December.

Do you prefer to be called a cosplayer or costumer?
Costumer. I think “cosplayer” is a term best describing a person that wears a costume for playful purposes, whereas a “costumer” doesn’t just wear a costume, they make it themselves and use it for a purpose beyond play.

What was your first costume/cosplay?
My custom Sith, or a very primitive version thereof.

What is your dream cosplay?
I’d like to do one or two more of the many fun outfits that are worn in the 501st Legion, and I’d really like to make some type of bounty hunter outfit at some point. The Royal Guard costume is really calling to me, but I’m also not sure if I want to demote myself from Emperor just yet. photo BrutalOne_zpsbvxlvdrm.jpg

How do you feel you have influenced the cosplay community?
Ironically enough, I think through podcasting. Although Dark Empire Radio is now its own entity, it once was the official podcast of The Dark Empire costume club, and I served as it’s main voice for a number of years, as well as the first PR Officer of that particular club. I’m now happily involved co-hosting and post-producing the 501stCast, the official podcast of the 501st Legion.

What is your day job (a.k.a. how I pay for my expensive hobby)?
I wear many hats. Security guard, park ranger, voice over guy. I guess it all depends on which hat I’m wearing at the time.

If you could have any job what would it be and why?
If “philanthropist” were an occupation, I’d love to list my everyday job as that. I dream of being able to freely give as much as possible, without the hindrance of having to work hard to be able to.

Tell us something random about yourself: I love cheesecake. Immensely. Some say too much; I say hardly enough.

Star Wars or Star Trek: I love both, but it’s the Wars that inspired me to do what I do. It’s all about the Wars!

Marvel or DC: I loved Super Friends as a kid, so DC when it comes to old school comics. But, Marvel all the way otherwise!

Favorite Comic Series: Dark Empire, the FIRST “expanded universe” or Legends comic from Dark Horse!

Favorite Comic Character: Darth Talon. I’m a Sith. A male Sith. It was only inevitable.

Least favorite comic character and why? The rabbit fellow in the old Marvel Star Wars comics. I can’t remember his name, and probably for good reason.

Favorite Book: Star Wars Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide, by Ben Burtt, with illustrations by Sergio Aragones. Think Mad Magazine and Star Wars together, and learn a bit of Huttese in the process. Major win!

 photo Joe Mignano 73 Front_zpss4ughjsa.pngFavorite Video Game: Battlefront II from 2004. Nothing comes close.

Favorite Convention: Celebration 6 in Orlando, Florida in 2012 was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had at a con. I’ve also enjoyed going to ConNooga in Tennessee, and San Diego Comic Con in years past. Alas, I’m conventioned-out anymore!

Affiliations (clubs or groups): 501st Legion, Saber Guild, The Dark Empire, Outer Rim Brigade

Facebook: facebook.com/lordbruticus

Twitter: @mignanojoe

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Hero Behind the Mask: Skyman

This month’s interview is a little different than my usual interview. This month I interviewed a Real Life Super Hero in my local community instead of a CAUSEplayer. This man has a heart of gold and truly makes a difference in his community. He recently had his birthday and instead of throwing himself a party he arranged a homeless outreach event. As you can see by this example he is truly an inspiration regarding his community and we can all copy a page from the Book of Skyman! Here is to you Skyman! I can’t wait to continue following your adventures!-Mala

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Can you please describe for the readers what a real life super hero is? 
What is a Real-life Superhero (RLSH)? Well, there are a lot of definitions swirling about the internet and definitely Wikipedia! I’m going to give you the definition that I find relevant for myself and the others that I interact with through social media. An RLSH is one that has developed a superhero persona of their own creation that isn’t part of any canon of comic-books. We are our own creations, yet with a nod to the inspiration we get from comic-books.

The costume is intended to either be intimidating or inspiring depending upon what your purpose is. Some wear the mask to keep their personal lives private and some wear it to continue with the iconic imagery that the comic-book superhero has. Now does the ‘secret identity’ really work in the real world? Not so much, however I do know some that have kept up the separation and we don’t know their real names. To them I have much respect… some do have lives that need to be kept.. secret.

Having created a persona with a name and individual costume we travel outside in the real world attempting to make real change in our neighborhoods. An RLSH’s given ‘work’ is only limited by the groundings in reality… we don’t have superpowers! The stereotypical work is primarily through neighborhood watch patrolling and seeking out the ‘criminal element’ At least that’s the hope! Never really happens though, being in the right place at the right time to intervene in a physical altercation or anything related that needs de-escalation is few and far between.

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What inspired you to become a super hero?
Well, its been an evolution of my personality really. You see, back in Junior High in football I was given the nick-name of ‘SkyMan’ as my first name is Skyler. It stuck. When I was diagnosed with a mental illness in my teenage years I needed something to help quell the personal demons I was battling. So I turned to back to my childhood of superhero comics and cartoons. From there I created the inner personality of SkyMan to help Skyler survive the bouts of depressive suicidal idiation and manic cycles.

It was only in 2010 that I stumbled upon the movement/concept/community of the Real-life Superhero. I was still battling the demon of alcoholism that Ive been struggling with for 20 yrs now and one afternoon of drinking was watching the Watchmen movie DVD Boxed set. There was a documentary attached to it entitled “Real Superheroes, Real Vigilantes”

Of course I immediately Googled the term and then found the online movement and saw that there are people that actually do this in real world situations.

What does being a local super hero mean to you?
I truly believe being an RLSH should be a beacon of hope and inspiration. I guess you could say I want to hearken back to the Golden Age of superheroes that were colorfully clad and had high ideals. I also believe that being a member of your locality is where one should start. I live in a major metropolitan area and can spread myself out a bit. The Greater Seattle area is where I operate and am from and live in a suburb. Hailing from Federal Way I have, over the years, become a bit of a local notable. I attend and volunteer at events around town, show up to community led charity walks, been featured in the local newspaper, and have even shown up at City Council meetings to lobby for issues that I find important. I do some neighborhood watch in my community but have found it difficult over the years to fully develop a strategy to defend my local turf.

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What do you hope to accomplish by doing this?
Simple and grandiose answer? To save the world, of course!

I know that’s not entirely doable for just one man in some handcrafted armor and some colors though… Really, I want to get to a place where I am happy to live my own life. To have a life worth living. I’m not there yet and some 6 yrs in I don’t expect to be anytime soon. I call myself a ‘crusader’ Well, my crusade is that SkyMan continuously improve Skylers life. Its a selfish answer but its the one I live by.

What differences have you made?
Over my career as a ‘costumed activist’ I’ve foiled a few crimes in progress, saved a life or two by being in the right place at the right time and many, MANY, acts of charitable kindness. I’ve helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless stay alive one more night through the homeless kits and supplies I’ve given out; paid for out of my own pocket mostly. I’ve shared my own personal struggles of battling mental illness and substance abuse with many people by sharing my own ‘experience, strength, and hope.’ Most importantly, being SkyMan and doing the work of an RLSH, being committed to a cause greater than myself, has saved my life on more than a few occasions by not succumbing to my depression.

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How do you keep yourself safe while patrolling?
I made one rule for myself that I’ve pretty much adhered to over the years;
‘Never patrol alone’. Does it mean I get out there on the ‘mean streets’ less than Id like?

Of course. But I’ve always believed that there is strength in numbers and you cant have eyes in the back of your head or keep your situation awareness up constantly. Our heads weren’t born on a swivel.
I do carry a fully stocked and functional utility belt that carries personal self-defense devices; pepper spray, baton, and stun knuckles It also has a fully stocked trauma rated First Aid kit. So I don’ t go out on patrol without the ‘tools of the trade’ However, I’ve been in patrolling groups where the others I’m working with carry enough protection for the lot of us so I’ve been known to only go out in my armor.

I also wear a Level IIIa bullet-resistant vest. For many years I operated without one to prove the point that you don’t have to have it to do the work… also, its always been outside my budget and very hard to find plus sizes. I lucked out around Christmas last year as one of my teammates picked up the tab on a functional vest he found for me. So after many years I do have one that I wear for patrol and crowd control purposes.

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Do you feel that others can be super heroes without a costume? If so, why?
I feel that we all have the ability to emulate the compassion, tenacity, and true heroism that the comic-book inspired superheroes show us. The costume, or super-suit as we call it in the RLSH community, is just the tool we use to draw attention to ourselves. To be a true superhero get outside yourself and do something for others. Whether its as brave as helping to feed the homeless or something as simple as smiling to your neighbor…. that’s enough.

How long have you done this in your community?
SkyMan the Tri-Colored Crusader was given form on Arbor Day 2010 in a local park where he helped with trail maintenance and planting.

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What advice do you have for becoming a real super hero?
Advice for somebody wanting to join the RLSH Community and to become one?
First, do some cursory research on what you are passionate about and search for your inner heroes identity. Do plenty of internet research into the people involved in the movement and read about us and what we do. Why? There are always people coming and going in the community that I find it troublesome that the lack of research and examination isn’t done.

Also, please try and be creative with your persona. There are a lot of black-clad ninja looking folks out there that think they have to be Batman and skulk in the shadows. I’m here to tell you as one of the more experienced, seasoned, and active RLSH out there that that mindset and attire don’t work. Its not in the imagery of the iconic golden-age era of superheroes that wanted to present a friendly image to the general populace. I understand that names and creativity are difficult… but nobody said that being a superhero was simple, much less easy!

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Favorite Comic Character: Captain America! Sure, Steve was given the super-soldier serum that turned him into a super-strength powered person but before that the tenacity and patriotism of the scrawny youth was what made him a real hero.

Least favorite comic character and why? Superman! He is an alien from another planet trying to fit in when we all know he cant. His a God among mere mortals and is an anomaly.

Favorite Book: How to be a Superhero by NightRider. Its one of the very first published manuals out there and documents the very early days of the RLSH Community.

Favorite Video Game: I grew up on Super Mario Bros. And my SNES.

Favorite Convention: Emerald City Comic Con… even though its become a larger than life event. I’m going to stay loyal as I won my 4 day pass this past year.

Affiliations (clubs or groups): I’m a member of a local team of RLSH in the greater Seattle area, the Emerald City Heroes Organization (ECHO)

Facebook: is the one major form of social media I participate in on a daily basis.
https://www.facebook.com/skyler.nichols

Twitter: SkyMan253