In a tiny, cluttered northeast Houston bedroom, beauty meets geek.
Maria Ramos wears her "inner nerd" on her sleeve, figuratively and literally. For the 24-year-old Monterrey native, cosplay isn't just a hobby. It's a chance to bring what she loves to life.
== Passion to play dress-up ==
Like thousands of other cosplayers, Ramos draws inspiration from fiction for her varied costumes. Her road to cosplay began with a late-night session of Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" and the Japanese cartoon "Fooly Cooly".
"I remember I was 17 and it said you had to be 18 to watch it and I was like, oh my gosh! Maybe I shouldn't watch it, but then I did anyway. Then the show came on and I was like, what is this? And then I was like, this is awesome! I went online and I looked it up and that's how I came across Naruto and then I was like, what is this? And then I started watching that and it was awesome and it snowballed from there," she said.
Things quickly escalated when she began digging deeper into some of her favorite cartoons.
"When I started looking up the characters, I came across Japanese people who would dress up like these characters and I was like, oh my gosh! You're bringing my favorite characters to life; I just thought it was amazing. I wanted to try it out myself. My first cosplay was Lenalee from ‘D. Gray Man'. I didn't make her outfit; I bought it from EBay because back then I didn't know how to sew," she said.
With her costume ready, Ramos took a trip to Galveston's annual Onicon and made a friend there. United by common interests, Ramos spent time at that friend's house, learning the craft of costume-making.
"Ever since then, I've started to practice more and starting to get better and better at it. I'm getting pretty good at making my own stuff, so it's really fun," she said.
== All eyes on Houston cosplay star ==
Today, a large sewing machine rests on a small table next to Ramos' bed. Above it, several paper print-outs of cartoon and comic book characters are taped to the wall, all ongoing costume projects. Adjacent to the door, I could see an array of wigs and mannequins atop a wooden cabinet.
Nowhere in that room will you see the nearly 8,000 fans who have flocked to Ramos on her Facebook fan page. Her posts, even the most mundane, can command dozens of comments and hundreds of likes.
"I think it's because they think I'm pretty and they're just like, this chick is good looking, and they like to look at my pictures, but I do talk to a lot of my fans and they do generally like what I have to say," she said.
== A dream of lights, cameras and nerd action ==
It's easy to see the camera and the people love Ramos. She said it's also easy for people to get the wrong idea about what she does.
"I started modeling two and a half years ago and it wasn't until lately that I started combining my cosplay with my modeling, so it's funny when people meet me. They get this idea that I only cosplay because of modeling when it's the other way around," she said.
She wants to become a renowned cosplayer, but she's also looking to sing her way into the entertainment industry.
"I like to sing. A lot. I guess that's where a lot of my fondness for dressing up as characters comes from because I love Disney movies and I would always fantasize about being Ariel or Jasmine and I love singing their music too," she said.
When I asked her if she could sing something, she replied with a 15-second sample of "Whole New World" from Disney's "Aladdin". You can watch my video report to see how well she did.
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