The Internet’s most recognizable Joker tells us why he’s about to don his last smile

The world’s most famous male cosplayer really isn’t all that into the gig.

In fact, the guy you’ve seen for years as the Joker may be about to don his last smile.

Aja Romano / Daily Dot

If you’ve been on the Internet recently, chances are you’ve seen Anthony Misiano’s face—though perhaps not through his regular job as an actor. Instead, it’s his cosplay as the Joker that has catapulted him, if not to instant Internet fame, then to instant visibility as one of the web’s most recognizable faces—even if not many people know who’s behind the infamous grin.

Misiano began his stint as the Joker in 2012, after painstakingly crafting his costume for Halloween the previous year. While living in San Diego, he decided to dress up for Comic-Con—and instantly found himself going viral, as fans declared his costume the hit of the convention.

Misiano has racked up quite the fan following since then, with over 150,000 followers on Facebook for his alter-ego, “Harley’s Joker,” his own active fandom and appreciation blog on Tumblr, and an endless stream of fanart from his fans.

“Honestly, I want to do the entire Batman Rogue Gallery. I want to do them all. I would love to create and design costumes for all the villains from scratch.”

As Misiano’s popularity grew, so did demands for his attention. He was approached by dozens of eager fans with hypothetical dreams of doing fan projects with him as the lead. Then he finally got a chance to combine his day job with his hobby by portraying the Joker on screen when the production team behind The Batman Chronicles came forward with a script, a director, a cinematographer, a production timeline, and a budget.

“They’d been working [on] the script for maybe a year and a half on their own before they ever saw me,” Misiano told the Daily Dot. “Then they saw me and looked me up and found out I was an actor and saw some of my acting stuff online and thought, ‘Oh, this guy can actually act, cool!’ So they reached out to me.”

All this precipitated from a love of costume design and a spur-of-the-moment trip to Comic-Con.

“It’s a flash in the pan. It’s a meme. It’s just that I’ve taken it and beaten it to death, and it’s just gone on far too long.”

But Misiano, who is an actor by trade, doesn’t really feel like a proven part of the geek scene. I hadn’t heard of The Batman Chronicles before our conversation, which prompted Misiano to downplay his fame. “It got hundreds of thousands of views but you never saw it because I’m not that popular, despite what you believe!” This sentiment is one he echoes frequently. As we talk, he makes it clear he believe his success as the joker is “just an accidental meme,” even as he speaks of spending months perfecting the character’s look. He distances himself from the cosplay community, but gets animated discussing the painstaking detail he put into both of his costume designs as the Joker—the one he originally made for Halloween and the one he redesigned for the Batman Chronicles. “I had to completely start over and do it again without using any of the same elements.”

Misiano sees himself as a costume designer rather than a cosplayer, and focuses on the overall artistic and visual techniques used in the development of his first love, filmmaking. He talks equally enthusiastically about the cinematography of Emanuel Lubezki and the importance of using textures and adding depth to costume design. He loves the rise of comics in the mainstream, but laments the disappearance of mid-range Hollywood films that superhero movies have helped perpetuate.

Despite the cosplay community’s embrace of Misiano, and the fun he and his girlfriend, Alyssa King, who cosplays Harley Quinn, have had partnering for conventions, it’s clear he plans to move on. Next week, his attendance at New York Comic-Con may be his last joy ride as the Joker. 

We sat down with him to find out how his three-year whirlwind of cosplaying has dwindled down, and how he’s carried his love of costume design forward into his next creative phase.

Aja Romano / Daily Dot

DD: Can you talk about how all of this happened?

I could. This might be my hundredth interview. There’s like one a week online. And every one, this is their question. How’d the whole cosplay thing start. I was working on a Halloween costume back in 2011, just because I needed an art project to work on. I thought I’d never seen a real-life version of this character that I thought looked right to me—that was true to the comics while also being fleshed out in the real world, but still managing to stay true to the source material. 

So I had a lot of ideas for how I wanted to do it, so I started working on it just for fun. And Halloween came and went. I’d been working on it for about six months, and I just kept working on it and tooling away on it. And it was done in June 2012, and I was living in San Diego, and of course I was going to go to San Diego Comic-Con because that’s just what you do there. And so when July came, I said, hey, you know, I might as well wear this to Comic-Con, maybe they might get a kick out of it.

That was really it. I had never heard of cosplay. I never was interested, and I’m still not interested—it’s not really my thing.

I wore it and then it kind of blew up, and people found out my name. So I needed to find out a way to direct traffic away from it. My girlfriend created this [Facebook] page.

You were cosplaying together at that point?

No, she’d never done it before at that point either. After I’d done a few conventions, we decided we should really work on a Harley Quinn costume for her. She was really nervous about it. We spent about six months working on it, designing it, and we’ve been a pair ever since.

Does she enjoy it as much as you do? Would you do it separately if not together?

I’ve done it separately before, and she’s done it separately—last year at New York Comic Con, she dressed up and I just ran around and took photos.

Is your experience of cons different when you’re together or apart?

Yeah! When one of us isn’t dressed up, they don’t have to smile as much.

Does that get tiring?

No! No. Smiling is fun, I think it brings people happiness. Usually they don’t frown when they smile.

Even a Joker smile?

Nah. It’s the same thing, it’s just really happy. Bigger smile with angry eyebrows.

Misiano with girlfriend Alyssa King

Misiano with girlfriend Alyssa King

Facebook

Is your experience of cons different when you cosplay?

“Look at any of the Marvel costumes. Look at them up close. What do they all have? They have depth, they have layers, they have texture.” 

Oh, yeah, of course. I love going to conventions, but I miss it because I haven’t gotten to one in a long time. It’s different when I’ve gone dressed up. I don’t have a lot of money to go to conventions on my own, especially not as much as I’d like to. The way I end up going to conventions lately has been, a convention has invited me as a guest, but the trade-off is, well, you have to dress up. Because that’s of course why they want me there. So I’ve done that, but I don’t really get to see the convention much or experience it at all. And I miss that.

Does it make you feel like a celebrity?

No. Just an accidental meme.

Do you feel like this has helped your career in any way?

Oh, no, no, no, it can be very bad for me. That’s why I need to stop now. Because essentially, if I become too recognizable as this thing, it could be very bad for me as an actor… If it gets to a point where I go to a casting director’s office for some audition, and they recognize me and they say that phrase, ‘Oh, hey, you’re that Joker guy,’ instantly I’m no longer a candidate for a role because I’m no longer an actor, I’m no longer this clean slate. I am an established personality.

Have you actually had that happen?

No, not yet. Because so far I’m only known to a very small niche group of nerd subgenre. And in that small niche, they love me.

But also you are arguably one of the most recognizable cosplayers in the world.

No! My Facebook page has about 150,00 likes. Jessica Nigri’s has, what, two, three million now? I’m gonna say she’s a little more well known.

I don’t know, people might not know you but I think they know your face. I think if you went to people and said, ‘Oh, do you recognize this cosplayer?’ they would recognize your photo.

Maybe, but I don’t think so, because here’s the thing. I’m the only distributor of me. Any time you see any photos of me online, they have come directly from my Facebook page. That is it. So because of that, I see how many times something’s shared, how much it reaches, and everything else. So I know how many people I’ve reached, and I’ve not reached that many.

You have your own fuckyeah Tumblr! To me, that’s fame.

Hmm. But that was created in 2012, when I first blew up, in that first week, and it’s sort of died down. It’s a flash in the pan. It’s a meme. It’s just that I’ve taken it and beaten it to death, and it’s just gone on far too long.

You do have fans! They would probably disagree.

I do, and they’re wonderful people, and I love them. It’s just, I think based on just the numbers I can see on Facebook and all that, when you look at the number of likes any particular popular Facebook page has, you have to understand, it’s never that many people. If you have a page with 50,000 likes and it’s been around for three years, well guess what—50,000 people aren’t paying attention to it. The most recent 3,000 or 4,000 are. But that’s it. That’s all it ever is, is the most recent crop of people. People lose interest in things very quickly, especially if it’s just one magic trick being done over and over again. Eventually they’re like, I get it, it’s the queen of hearts. 

Tribute to Alex Ross, Tango With Evil

Tribute to Alex Ross, Tango With Evil

Facebook

And so, I don’t have 150,000 followers on Facebook. I have maybe 5,000. And before they came along, I had maybe 5,000. Because no one cleans out their Facebook laundry. No one goes through and thinks, well, there’s a thousand things I’ve liked over the years. I should probably go through and start cleaning out. No! No one does that. Because the way Facebook is engineered, you don’t see things you’re no longer engaged in. So you could have a backlog of thousands of pages of things that you’ve liked and are following that you’ll never see or hear from again and you’ve completely forgotten about. That’s the 140,000 of my likes.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. It’s definitely a good way to stay grounded.

It’s just very realistic. Maybe I’m aggressively seeking out humility when others don’t want me to have it, but I’m just very realistic. I did sales for a few years, and it made me very aware of numbers and statistics, and in the end everything comes down to numbers and statistics. I mean that’s how I pay the bills as an actor. It’s all about numbers and sales. If I submit myself to one or two auditions a week, I’m never going to read for anything. If I submit myself to 50 or 100 auditions a week, I might actually get called in to three or four or five auditions a week. If I physically go in to five auditions a week, I might get one job every other week, and be able to sustain my life. But it’s all numbers. Everything’s numbers.

How is your career working out for you? Are you satisfied? How do you find the time to do all those hundreds of auditions a week?

That’s just sitting on a computer. Auditions still take place in front of a casting director, but submitting to an audition is all done online. That’s how that all works now. So I just spend a couple of hours a day whenever I have a spare moment, I look through audition listings and just submit to the things I can.

As far as satisfaction goes, I’m never satisfied! If I were satisfied, I’d be retired! I can’t retire yet, I’m not dead. I think I’m going to work until I’m done. I’m very compulsively productive, I have to be working on something, and if I’m not I get really antsy. I’m like a puppy, I’ll start chewing on the furniture, peeing on stuff. But I’m happy with where I am in general. I’m ahead of the curve in that I don’t have a day job. I pay my bills from acting work. I’m on a very low rung on the ladder. I’m just starting out as far as getting my name known in the industry to get work. And that’s fine. That’s where I am right now. I’ll just continue to pay the bills and maybe be able to pay bigger bills one day.

What did you use for inspiration, when you said originally that you were going for—

Are you talking about the film project or the costume?

Well, both, because originally you said that you were drawing from the comics. Was that The Killing Joke Joker, or was that—

No, no, no, it was all of them. It was 75 years’ worth of picking and choosing elements I like that inspired me, and that I like, and then taking them all and creating my own thing based on those, adding a lot of my own ideas to it. Most of my ideas I added were things that would make it look better on camera. Things that would make it function better in the real world. Materials that had more details to them, more texture to them, that weren’t just flat.

The problem with most cosplays, in my opinion, and why I don’t like a lot of them, is that I personally feel they’re too dead-on to the comic books. And the problem with that is that it looks great as a three-inch tall two-dimensional drawing, but when you bring it to life, people look stupid in neon blue spandex, as a random arbitrary example. Luckily now there are so many films out. Look at the Spider-Man suit in the film. Look at any of the Marvel costumes. Look at them up close. What do they all have? They have depth, they have layers, they have texture. They’re true to the comic book design in many ways and very heavily inspired by them, but they’ve fleshed them out further. They’ve given them so much more depth and life. And that’s what I wanted to do with this. And same thing with the costume for the Batman Chronicles. I went even further with the depth and the texture and the layers just to make it look good on camera. But that’s also why I don’t see myself so much as a cosplayer as a costume designer.

Tribute to Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke

Tribute to Brian Bolland, The Killing Joke

Facebook

Have you done more costume designs besides your own?

Only for my own productions. I used to make and direct short films and I would often play a big hand in every aspect of the production, because I’d know what I wanted things to look like and feel like.

What would be your tips for other costume designers and cosplayers who are doing their own? What kinds of textures, etc?

Well, I say always take photographs of things as it moves along, and don’t use a good camera. Intentionally use a bad camera. I would always take photos of everything with a phone, with the flash turned on and off, just to see how it looks on camera. Because something may look great in person but then you take a picture and you’re like, oh, this looks terrible? Why? Well, that’s your job. Figure out why and then improve upon it.

As another random example, with Alyssa, my girlfriend, with her Harley Quinn costume, her white collar and white cuffs aren’t actually white. They’re sort of a greyish pink color. And it’s this textured, knit woven material. Why? Because white, pure white, completely blows out on camera and over-exposes. Same with people who do Joker and Harley Quinn makeup. They do white face makeup. That’s going to look terrible on camera. It’s great in concept because in your brain you say, well, what color is it? It’s white! Well, would it really be white? No, you need tones and variations and subtleties and things like that. It’s the same with skin. Your skin is not one color. My skin is not one color. My skin is a dozen shades of beige and tan and pink and oranges. I might be called white; I’m not white! There’s more color going on. It should be the same with costume design. Think about the depth that can be brought to something and think about how it looks on camera and how you can improve upon it. Be creative. I guess that’s the biggest thing. Just be creative. Break out of any sort of box or mold because those are boring as hell.

When you went the first time in 2012 without knowing what cosplay was, what were some of your first impressions?

Well, it’s not like I’d never seen it, I just never knew there was a term for it. I thought it was just, have fun, go dress up. I thought that was the phrase: go dress up! You know, like Halloween. I didn’t know there was a whole community. And I still don’t—I’m not part of the cosplay community. I’m sure there’s forums, websites and things where people convene. I have never communed. I’m very unaware. I’m very much in my own little bubble.

Well, you do cosplay with your friends—with your girlfriend. That counts.

Well, we’re sort of floating together in the same bubble.

Would you consider yourself a comics fan, just a DC comics fan, or just anything goes?

Anything goes. I’m a fan of everything. I’ve been a film fanatic since birth. I’ve probably gone to the movie theatre five times in the past week and a half. I love film so much. I love everything about the filmmaking process—I love pre-production, I love production, I love post-production. In my opinion it’s such an incredible art form because it uses every single other art film. When a film works, it’s because you have music, photography, costume design, performance, lighting design, set design. You have all these different and creative elements and they all are working together toward the same cohesive vision, and when they get there, they create this all-encompassing moment of purity. Of eliciting this emotional response from the audience through expertly executed work. That’s so beautiful and inspiring to me.

So when you say you want to stop, what kinds of things does that entail?

I don’t want to dress up at conventions any more. That’s all it is. I still might do occasional photo projects, because I still like those, and those are the things that people seem to like the most. People don’t recognize me from my convention photos. They recognize me from my recreation of the Killing Joke cover, or the trophies image, or the Alex Ross painting. I enjoy those because those are big art projects for me. And those aren’t, in quotations, ‘cosplay photography.’ It’s not. This is, I’ve spent a month planning this photoshoot that involves 30 different photographs, and it’s a very big project, it’s not me running around at a convention taking photos. So I enjoy that. I have ideas for a few more photos I want to do when the inspiration is all the way there. But as far as going to conventions and dressing up. New York Comic Con will hopefully be my last one.

“Just be creative. Break out of any sort of box or mold because those are boring as hell.”

‘Cause i figured, San Diego Comic-Con is the only other con that’s about a comparable size to New York Comic Con. And since that’s where I started, on one coast, I’d like to end on an appropriate note, sort of bookend it with the other coast’s big con.

There are other characters I’d love to do, there are. But because of how passionately detail-oriented and specific I am with any project of mine, if I were to create another costume, it would end up being another six months of my life and a lot of time and money. And I just don’t have the resources right now.

When I worked on the Joker costume, I was working a miserable day job, but I had some money coming in, so that money went toward this creative project. Now that all my income is from creative projects, that means I don’t have a lot of income. That’s usually how it works!

But you’re happier!

Oh, hell yes! I am so much happier with my life than I ever was before. But I’m broke! So I don’t see myself doing another costume. Honestly, I want to do the entire Batman Rogue Gallery. I want to do them all. I would love to create and design costumes for all the villains, as well as Batman, from scratch. I want to do it. But the time and the money required is just insane. And also, I’d want to find the right people who look how I think this character should look, as far as their face, body type, things like that. That’s just not going to happen. That’s just an unrealistic fantasy of mine and I accept that. If ever anyone gives me a grant of $200,000—

You could Kickstart it!

No, no, no, no, no, no. I would feel like a douchebag. I can’t use Kickstarter for fun things. It has to be something where the audience gets something out of it. I couldn’t do it.

You don’t think they’d sign up to buy the posters or the photos?

No. No. No. And not enough to be able to pay for the cost. It’s not worth it. But if I win the lottery, I’ll do a couple of more costumes.

Photo via The Batman Chronicles / Youtube (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Aja Romano

Aja Romano

Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.