‘Living cartoon’ drag queen Erika Klash on the inspiration behind her epic gaming-meets-anime style
Erika Klash is a deeply talented drag artist who makes the inhuman, human.
Inspired by video games and anime, this New York based queen paints her body like a living cartoon in a ‘Klash’ of vibrant colour. Nerdy references (including Street Fighter-inspired characters and gaming cosplay) merge with fashion for a style that’s unique on the drag scene.
We caught up with Erika to find out more about how she first got into drag, and what inspires her vibrant signature look.
Where did it all begin for you?
Like a lot of people in my generation, I was watching Drag Race from 14 or 15 years old. Then I got to see my first live drag show, I think in 2013, and I said, oh, I’ve got to do this. There was just something telling me to pursue that. So as soon as I turned 21, the following year I signed up for an amateur competition in the West Village in New York City. Yuhua Hamasaki of Drag Race fame was the hostess, and that was where I got started. I just decided to do it, it was a conscious choice to do it and to pursue it.
Who is Erika? How would you describe your drag?
There are a few different things: video games, anime, Japanese street fashion. And now since Dragula, I’ve also folded in my horror nerdom. So all these different nerdy references. Initially, she was conceived as this Princess Peach type. Now she’s sort of like a Sailor Moon villain. Klash is meant to signify the sort of vibrancy of colours, conflicting colours, or colour stories that are very, very wacky. I’m always trying to push that envelope with my drag.
Why the living cartoon style?
Cartoons are more interesting. They’re larger than life. Being a queen that does cosplay, there was something really, really fun to me about bringing these characters that I admired to life, embodying them, stepping into their shoes. And there’s this feeling of, with the sort of Sailor Moon Magical Girl influence, of wanting to reclaim your feminine power, wanting to reclaim those parts of yourself that you hid away. I think by being that sort of cartoonish character, a part of myself comes out that is a real genuine part of myself. But also it’s just more fun.
Who or what are your inspirations?
Even though I would consider myself a cosplay drag artist, I really do like to do characters that are not human. Or if I’m gonna do a character that’s human, what are the ways in which I can glamorise it or impose the drag silhouette onto it? My Earthbound cosplay, that’s sort of a high glam version of what’s really just a pair of shorts and a t-shirt for that original character and a hat. So how can you turn those things and make them into drag, into this new space of glamour? So it’s either that, or I take a non-human character and impose it on the human shape.
How have you found doing digital drag shows? Are you keen to get back into physical shows?
I think there are certain pros and cons. I feel like the technical limitations of certain venues can get in the way: when I want to use video, when I want to do specific kinds of lighting; not every venue’s equipped to do that. But digital drag you get to really make a music video, it’s a mix of performing and video editing and lighting, so that can be fun and rewarding. But in terms of the economic side of things, digital drag is certainly not a replacement for live bookings. So you know that there can be a little bit of discomfort in terms of ‘I want to feel valued economically, not just artistically and creatively’. And so yes, I am keen to get back into shows, I think there’s nothing that can replace that communal experience of going to a venue. That experience cannot be replaced or duplicated.
But now you’ve got Twitch…
That’s been not just great for me as an artist, but so healthy for me to have that social outlet to engage my fans in a new way. And so I’m really, really glad that I got that sorted because I had wanted to get that set up for a while. I’ve even thought of it as like this piece of the puzzle that was kind of missing, because I’ve always been a video game drag artist, I’ve always been so inspired by them. And I have all this trivia knowledge of gaming history. So to share my favourite games with my audience, getting to interact with them both in and out of drag, has been really nice.
Why did you choose to bring gaming into drag?
I’ve just always been a video game nerd. And in college, I got super into listening to video game soundtracks. I often just was thinking, what if I found a way to incorporate all these video game references and music and styles and bring that into the drag world? So that was really the kernel of when Erika started as this video game princess come to life. I felt like it was something that hadn’t really been done as much, at least not in the mainstream or what you’re seeing on Drag Race.
Why do you think gaming is so inspirational for drag queens?
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I’ve heard this from Biqtch Puddin, this idea that, for her, it’s more the Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter kind of vixen characters: big titties, big hips, super voluptuous and beautiful, but that can beat the s**t out of you. That’s something they identify with because it reflects a power that we haven’t always felt in the world. For me, Sailor Moon being able to spread joy and love, but also be this crime fighting – or monster fighting – girl. The fact that she’s also a younger woman, and that she has all these powers but also these foibles I think is very relatable to people. Part of why I moved away from [the Princess Peach] archetype is because she is a damsel in distress character. I wanted to always subvert that, even from the beginning. So the logical next step from that was drawing inspiration from Sailor Moon, who is a princess but she’s much more powerful than her male counterpart.
What kind of games are you into?
I’ve always been a Nintendo person but my Twitch community is kind of helping me broaden that a little bit. They’re actually getting me into horror games, which is kind of fun. So one day a week we’ll do our standard Nintendo content. One day a week we’ll do Pokémon because I’m big into Pokémon. And then one day a week generally we’ll do a horror game.
And you’re mixing it up with some more retro games…
Right, and that’s such a big staple for our channel. It’s just good to have a break in what game you’re playing. So it’s always good to have a game that’s maybe newer, but then we’re going to always switch it up and do a deep cut, like Super Castlevania IV. And these are games that not necessarily a lot of folks have played. It’s really fun to share my trivia knowledge, because that’s the sort of nerding out that I do when I’m pulling references for a performance or for a look. It’s getting into the source material, and really, really stewing in it and pulling out all the best bits from it, and turning it into art.