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Inside the World of the Hardcore Comic Fair

The term “fan” became popular the late 1800s to describe the most passionate and “fanatic” supporters of local baseball teams. The word is still typically associated with followers of sports teams. However, sports are not alone in creating passionate fans. Comic-book and sci-fi enthusiasts are equally passionate and pour copious amounts of time and money to accurately impersonate their favorite characters from comic books, videogames, movies and fantasy worlds. For these fanatics, cosplay is their sport and Comic-con is their stadium.

Cosplay, short for costume play, is a popular hobby among sci-fi, comic book, and gaming fans. Enthusiasts dress as their favorite characters from different fictional worlds for various events and conventions. “It’s fun to dress up to be somebody else for a day,” said Sebrina Thompson, a local cosplay enthusiast, who along with her fiancé Erich Truitt made many of their combined 15-plus costumes. “The Scarlet Spider, that’s my staple, everyone knows me for that one,” said Erich. “A lot of the people around Buffalo know me for my Black Widow and my Black Cat costumes,” said Sebrina, “but when we go to big conventions we try to make new costumes so we’ve got quite a collection.”

The first cosplay reference dates back to 1908 when Mr. William Fell was reported wearing a Mr. Skygack, from Mars, costume to a masquerade party. Mr. Skygack, a Martian studying the odd behavior of humans, was the first science fiction comic strip character and was syndicated in newspapers across the country. The Tacoma Times in 1912 reported Mr. August Olson, also wearing a Skygack costume, won the prize at a famous masked ball.

But cosplay really took off in the United States with the advent of comic conventions, called Comic-Cons, during the 1970s. To give you an idea of the explosive growth Comic-Cons, in 2010 Comic-Con International: San Diego was the largest show in North America filling the San Diego Convention Center to its 130,000 capacity. Not to be outdone, the New York Comiccon started in 2006 and had only 15,000 attendees. By 2014 the New York Comiccon had 151,000 attendees, surpassing San Diego as the largest show in North America. Actor George Clooney even left his honeymoon last year to be on a panel at the New York Comiccon and join other actors, artists, writers, video creators, movie studio and comic industry heads, and of course thousands of fans engaged in cosplay. There are comic-cons now all over the world and in several major cities in the U.S., including the Buffalo Comicon coming March 29, 2015.

Although “comic” is in the name, more than just fans of the graphic arts will be attending. The events have become a gathering place for fans from popular franchises Star Wars and Star Trek to lesser know anime cartoons and manga comics from Japan and just about every fictional world in between. Many of those attending the Buffalo event will be there paying homage to their favorite characters in the form of cosplay.

Both Sebrina and Erich got into cosplay because they were interested in American comic books and Japanese manga comics. “I was 15 when I first started. I was reading a lot of manga and watching a lot of anime, said Sebrina. “I had friends who were also really into it so we started going to some small conventions around the area, and decided we wanted to dress up.” With the help of her parents Sebrina began making her own costumes. “I’ve been sewing since I was little, my mom does a lot knitting and taught me to sew and my dad does a lot of steel fabrication and helps me make props and stuff, so to me just making things and being crafty has always been a thing, it was something that I was already doing.”

Erich got into the hobby slightly older at the age of 21. “I’ve been collecting comic books since I was 15-years-old and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday because I get to dress up and act like a fool. When I found out what exactly cosplay was I immediately said: ‘Oh my god there are conventions for this, why am I not doing it?’” said Erich.

While most cosplay outfits are hand made, many premade outfits can be purchased but they typically cost a pretty penny. “It’s pricey to purchase premade stuff,” said Erich. “I actually have a Frank the Bunny costume from the movie Donnie Darko, which is just a fabric body-suit and a mask, it cost me $125.” According the Erich and Sebrina, cosplay outfits typically range around $130 and up. “The replica of some of the [online video game] League of Legends weaponry is up there in price. For a recent convention we went as the game’s characters Katarina and Jayce. A [premade] replica of Jayce’s hammer is upwards of $400 alone,” said Erich.

The process for making their cosplay outfits from scratch starts months before an event. “It really is a three month process. We have a list of the characters that we want to do, and we look at them and we look at the price of everything to make the costume. We try to cycle through characters, one from a comic book, then from a video game, again from a comic, stuff like that,” said Erich.

As Erich mentioned most cosplayers have a go-to costume that is regarded as their best or most liked outfit, but many have more than one costume and continue to add more as they go along.

“When deciding what we’re going to wear, a lot of it comes down to what we are most interested in at that time. We’ve recently been doing our League of Legends costumes because Erich has been playing a lot of League of Legends lately,” said Sebrina. The couples’ most recent creation came from the popular League of Legends with the blade-wielding assassin Katarina, and the tuxedo wearing “Defender of Tomorrow” Jayce.

Sebrina starts the process by printing out different photos of the characters and looking at the unique features of each outfit. After the designing the outfit and deciding what materials to use it’s on the production phase.

“The sewing aspects usually take one or two weeks per costume, and that’s only because I have to work and go to school, because of my sewing skills I can get through that fairly quickly, but the crafting aspects can take months,” said Sebrina. “To make Jayce’s hammer it took us around two months. We started with a giant piece of Styrofoam and just kept whittling it down.” After a few coats of paint and some finishing touches to the blades and hammer the costumes were complete. What was the response to the couples’ hard work? The weaponry was realistic enough that Sebrina was stopped twice by security to make sure the blades were not real and Erich was almost denied entry with his massive 7-foot hammer in fear it would cause serious injury if it struck someone. “The weapons were a big hit with other League of Legends cosplayers, people looked at the huge hammer and were like ‘Holy crap how did you do that?’” said Erich.

There is an appreciation for that kind of hard work amongst cosplay enthusiasts, and an overall willingness to help others succeed at producing the best costumes possible. There is a countless number online forums that are visited regularly by thousands of enthusiasts looking for or giving advice on how to make different costumes. “The people that we usually come across are very friendly. You can share your ideas with them and figure out new ways of doing things,” said Sebrina. Although the couple does not belong to any official associations, they stay in constant contact with other cosplayers they meet at events through email, social media and playing online games together.

While the cosplay community is about good-vibes towards others, the same cannot be said for those on the outside. Since the inception of comic conventions, Cosplayers have been hit with the negative stereotypes. Often thought of as nerds who never leave their parent’s basement and are constantly wearing their costumes.

The stereotypes about cosplay are simply not true in relations to the community as a whole. Cosplayers range from kids to fully grown adults, both male and female. Like Sebrina and Erich, some do cosplay with their significant others and some even do it as whole families. They work in a variety of different fields and pay scales. In the case of Sebrina she is actually attending the State University of New York at Buffalo majoring in Business Finance. As the hobby grows some of the negativity has warn down but cosplay is still somewhat taboo to the general public. “We don’t really wear our costumes unless it’s for an event, but you certainly get some stares from people while you’re on your way to an event,” said Erich. “When we were walking from our hotel to the New York City Comic-Con, [Sebrina] was in her Black Cat costume and I was in a skin-tight Spiderman outfit, we were getting stopped and pointed at all the time.” According to Sebrina the responses are not always in bad taste. “There was a foreigner in the NYC Hotel, and he got really excited when he opened up his door and saw Erich in his Spiderman costume. Sometimes you get those reactions and it makes you laugh and smile, that’s what I like to get out of it,” said Sebrina.

According to the couple, there is a deeper problem going on both inside and outside of the cosplay community involving the harassment of female cosplayers. To properly portray many of the female characters from comic books, video games, and sci-fi worlds, a costume often involves wearing revealing or provocative attire, which some see as an open invitation to say or do anything to the woman cosplayer. “There was actually a sign on display at the New York Comic-Con that I am a huge proponent of that read: “Cosplay is not consent.” Do no harass the female cosplayers when they are dressed up, if they say no, it means no. If you want to take a picture with them and they say ‘No, I’m business,’ don’t stay there harassing them,” said Erich. Both feel that the best way to fight against the harassment is by joining to together as a cosplay community. “There are professional cosplayers that have spoken out against harassment, events have stricter rules to help deter it, but mostly it has to be from people standing up for each other, and not allowing it go on,” said Sebrina.

Despite the negativity created by some of the general public, cosplay still provides a great deal of enjoyment to its enthusiasts, who take the hobby and turn it into an art form. “I do cosplay for the fun of it, I’ve always loved to sew and it’s another way to express myself. I get to make something and show it to the world. I actually had a little girl who was inspired by my Black Cat costume and she wanted to dress up like Black Cat as well. When that stuff happens to me it’s the best feeling in the world,” said Sebrina.

The reasons people decide to partake in cosplay are the same reasons why many fans watch sports or follow their favorite musician; it’s something that is enjoyable and gives them a break from everyday life. “I cosplay to escape,” said Enrich. “I work in the Human Services field so it can be extremely stressful, but to be able to dress up as someone like the Scarlett Spider, as a super hero, I get to escape all that stress and provide not only enjoyment to myself and to others as well.”

For anyone wanting to take a chance on cosplay and bring out the secret Iron Man or Cat Woman in you, the Buffalo Comicon is your opportunity. The event is at the Marriott Inn 1340 Millersport Hwy., Amherst on March 29th. Tickets are available at Queen City Books or call 716 833-6220 for info.

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