Each week, #SpanningtheNeed will present an “Inspirational Person of the Week’ and have a “Q & A” with one of its many gifted individuals and/or groups who are willing to go out of their own way to help others. This week’s featured is Michael Wilson from Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office & Knightmage.
Name: Michael “Knightmage” Wilson
Position: Deputy Sheriff – International Professional Cosplayer
Organization: Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office – Knightmage
Michael “Knightmage” Wilson was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio and now resides in Youngstown, Ohio.
A current 24 year Deputy Sheriff for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio, Michael has been cosplaying since 2012. Having created over 350 costumes, Michael is an award winning international cosplayer with many of his creations being praised and displayed on numerous platforms in print and online. Michael is noted as one of the most influential and diverse male cosplayers in the world. Along with judging cosplay contests Michael often hosts cosplay panels and workshops at conventions showcasing the creative, positive, inspiring and supportive side of cosplay.
Having a love for acting and stunt work, Michael has worked on several Hollywood comic book movie productions. Michael was also an alternate for the 2006 reality show “Who Wants To Be A Superhero” hosted by Stan Lee. Michael has worked on and has been featured in several fan films and productions such as the popular YouTube series “MAN AT ARMS: Reforged”. Michael is also a spokesperson for FX latex product, Zombie-Skin. Michael has also created various costumes for World Wrestling Entertainment superstars. In 2022 the word “Knightmage” was added to Urban Dictionary describing some of the many positive cosplay philosophies that Michael holds along with others in the cosplay community.
Genuinely loving to entertain, make a positive impact and bring smiles, Michael most often uses his costuming by bringing awareness and participating in many charitable events, benefits, parades, birthdays and hospital visits to children. This has led him to becoming a member of esteemed costuming groups all over the United States such as “The League of Heroes, The Heroes Alliance-Ohio Branch, East Coast Avengers, Costumers with a Cause and Superheroes to Kids in Ohio and Heroic Inner Kids”.
Michael often works closely with charity organizations as a sponsor and has partnered with over 200 various organizations around the world to fundraise and bring awareness to these organizations. Michael has received numerous awards for his charitable deeds including the “’Outstanding Service Award” from Credit Where Credit Is Due, the CosBravo Award, Electonic Sports Industry Most Influential Male Cosplayer Award and most notably the “Presidential Volunteers Award” from President Barack Obama and the White House.
What made you want to go into this field?
I basically have two full-time jobs; both pay but it’s just that one is my career and the other is my passion.
My career is in Law Enforcement. I’m a 23-year Deputy for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office. Admittedly, I first got into the field because it seemed like a stable field to get into. I was 20 years old and really still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career path. The opportunity to go to the Police Academy and an offer to join the Sheriff’s Office came to my door step and thought it would be a good choice or would at least make for a good story. When I first joined, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the need for Law Enforcement but as time went on, I realized the difference it truly does make. I also didn’t know the extent of how broken the system is which is why I’m still doing it. I believe that the only way to see the change you want is to be it. I’m very fortunate that my department sees the value in my passion for the arts and fully supports it. It brings me great satisfaction being a community outreach Deputy and connecting with kids and even adults, I’m very open with my career and passion as I like to break the stigma of people who wear a badge and the actual person behind it. I’m of the belief that many people don’t need authority but sometimes just needs someone that understands them. I’m fully aware that no one person can make a mass change in attitudes, policies, and morals but if I can make a positive impact on just one person, then it’s worth it.
My passion for cosplay and the arts is going on 11 years. It basically started with Halloween as I always loved dressing up. It wasn’t until I was invited to participate in a charity event in cosplay and then attended my first comic convention that my love for it grew to the point that I knew this was where I didn’t just want be but needed to be. I’m a huge advocate of expressing yourself how you see fit, especially when it comes to cosplay. Cosplay at the core is nothing but your fan art of a character and while art is subjective to others, there’s no wrong way to do your own fan art. It doesn’t matter your race, sex, body type, or anything else. Cosplay is for everyone! I’ll often speak on the physical and mental benefits of cosplay and how therapeutic it can be. The truth is the cosplay and convention community is a very social community full of socially awkward people, which is exactly why we all understand and accept one another. I also love to teach the things I’ve learned whether it be armor making or makeup techniques. If I can help another person improve themselves then the goal has been met. My drive to give back through cosplay whether it be through fundraising for charities or doing hands on events and hospital visits is just as equal.
In general, I’m pretty much known as the “positive and diverse cosplay charity cop” and I’m totally ok with that. I think have a pretty unique perspective when it comes to both the career and the passion and how I intertwine the two. I’m extremely proud of all my accomplishments and awards no matter how big or small. I’m also always humbled by the love shown from fans. Never in a million years did I think I would be doing the things I’m doing now.
What’s the biggest factor that has helped you be successful?
The biggest factor was also my biggest struggle. Finding a way to balance everything. My schedule is pretty crazy. The day job, charity events, conventions, other obligations, creating new things with deadlines, and having a social life. It took a while but I figured it out. I had to learn to prioritize and also say no to things but also combine my passions. An example of that is when it got to a point where I would have a charity event but also an opportunity to go across the world for a different event. I want to do and make an impact with both but how do I do that? So, I decided that I could attend the conventions and while there fundraise for local charities by giving out my autographs and prints for free with an optional donation to whatever charity I’m supporting there. Also, when traveling and if it’s possible I’ll contact the local Children’s Hospital to see If I can do a visit in costume. I figure if I have a costume with me already then why not? It’s a win-win. I get to have fun and do some good.
Other struggles included being put in a public spotlight and navigating that including the negativity that comes from being on social media and an artist. Cosplay is very much an art form and all art is very much subjective. With that comes opinions, unwarranted critiques, and downright negativity for the sake of being negative. Racist, sexist, body and age comments are bound to come and it’s easy to overlook the thousand positive comments and focus on the few negative. Couple that with being in Law Enforcement which has a stigma in itself, I had to get comfortable and confident with who I am, what I do, and what my message is. Not just for myself but to show others who may want to do things and be themselves but is afraid of that negativity to not give up on doing what they love.
Being able to multi-task on a high level has absolutely been the reason for my success. Also, in the end, if I can inspire someone, make someone laugh, do some good, make some money and have fun in the process then those struggles were well worth it.
What is the biggest professional mistake you made along the way?
The biggest mistake by far is actually in three parts. Even though they maybe only lasted for a fleeting moment, they were still mistakes. First one, listening to naysayers. Letting people get in my head to make me doubt myself and my decisions. I’m always open for criticism as it’s good for self-reflection but there were moments that I never questioned the criticism itself. Always be willing to question yourself but always be determined to defend yourself as well. The second is believing my own hype. Letting authority go to my head. Remembering the only way to find a healthy balance and progress in a positive way was to be humble and grateful. Realizing that whether as a public servant or entertainer, it’s an honor and privilege, not a right. In wearing a badge or getting opportunities as a cosplayer, respect and trust were to be earned and never expected. And lastly, comparing myself to peers. It’s easy to look at where you’re at in comparison to others. They may be getting more recognition when you think you’re a harder worker or things could look easier for them than it is for you. It’s a tough pill to swallow but the truth is, not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to value you. Not everyone is going to agree with you and frankly, there’s people who are harder workers than you no matter what you think. Another truth is remembering that we all struggle with something, some just deal better than others. The best thing to do is focus on you and your journey. No one else is own your path except you.
What is the hardest decision you ever had to make in this field? There hasn’t been just one hard decision that sticks out but the hardest decisions do tie back to the biggest factor in my success and that’s saying no to people. When you’re a people pleaser and also want to experience all that you can it’s difficult to say no to things. The thoughts of regret and letting people down start to creep in your head but no matter how big those thoughts are the picture as a whole, your mental & physical health, need to be bigger.
If you could start all over again, what would you do differently regarding your profession?
With both my career and passion I would take them more seriously. With the career, realizing exactly how important it is and how important my role in it is. With my passion, realizing how much more I could do sooner if I thought outside the box.
What inspires you to do good in our community?
My hope is that in whatever way I do good, It inspires others to do good in their own way. A part of me also wants to leave my mark. It’s easy to coast and not get involved and honestly there’s nothing wrong with that but for me I want to try and be the change, no matter how small the impact is.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering in our community? It’s definitely the sense a fulfillment that comes with actively seeing that change and impact I talked about earlier. Seeing a smile, hearing a laugh, knowing that someone is going to leave the interaction inspired or motivated or just feeling good.
What song best describes you or is the soundtrack to your life?
“I gotta feeling. – The Black Eyed Peas
To me this song is about taking on the stress of life that we all go through and having those moments where we can actually live. It’s those moments that we know will eventually come and we look forward to that’s get us through and makes it worth it. I think it’s also generally about your future and your aspirations. Almost throwing caution to the wind and just going for it all. You don’t know exactly how good it’s going to be but you know it’s going to be good.
What is your best accomplishment/experience in life?
Making it to the point in life that I can have this conversation. Life has so many twists and turns and I never thought I would be in the position I’m in now. Making a small difference in my local community as well as traveling the world for my passion. I’m remain humbled, proud and thankful for it.
Who is your role model and Why?
This may sound really cliché but the cosplay community as a whole. There’s truly no other community like it. I’m continuously in awe of it’s comradery, encouragement, diversity and inclusion.
If there was one person that you would like to meet, past or present and why?
There’stons that I would like to meet but no one person in particular.
A favorite quote that you live by?
“Don’t Dream it, Be it” – Dr. Frank-N-Furter – The Rocky Horror Picture Show