They come wearing masks, makeup and intricate headpieces, covered with body paint, toting props. They wander the vast halls of convention centers, stopping to gush and laugh with delight at the imagination on display. They pose for photos with arch enemies and heroes alike — and whoever they are and wherever they are from, they feel welcome.
For cosplayers, a comics convention is the best of all possible worlds.
At a time when human connection seems harder to come by, it is perhaps ironic that a fertile source of connection involves dressing up as fictional characters. But ask anyone who engages in cosplay — short for “costume play” — and they will tell you the main reason they love it are the potential connections they can make with the strangers around them.
Making friends as an adult isn’t always easy, but at a comic con — like the Florida Supercon, which took place last weekend in Miami Beach and included autograph sessions, panels, parties and celebrity appearances — potential new friends are everywhere. A “Star Wars” fan dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi can spend a solid hour talking canon with Darth Maul. Batman can confront his villains (Batman villains are always out in full force at comic cons, from the Joker to Harley Quinn). Sailor Moon can keep an eye out for fellow guardians of Tokyo, while Mortal Kombat characters can pretend to fight without mortality coming into the picture.
It’s fun. It’s creative. It’s a way to form a quick connection with like-minded souls. In the words of one Miami cosplayer: “I feel like I am not alone.”
Cosplaying can be easy. You can throw on a white business shirt unbuttoned halfway down to reveal a Superman T shirt underneath or slap on a headband with a funky green triangle-shaped figure and call yourself one of the Sims. If you want to go a little harder, find an appropriately 1980s wig, make a bat with fake spikes in it and go as Steve from “Stranger Things.”
But South Florida’s most fervent cosplayers crave a challenge in bringing their favorite characters from comics, anime, manga, video games and movies to life.
Meet a few of them.
Inquisitor, “Star Wars”
This just in: There is no galactic law that prohibits creating your own character to cosplay.
The strikingly tall inquisitor with the glowing red eyes does not exist in the “Star Wars” universe. He’s a character dreamed up by Cody Dickinson from Palm Beach County, a die-hard ‘Star Wars’ fan who put his costume together in 48 hours, glowing red contacts and all.
“I love original ideas,” he says. “You can be anybody from anywhere at any time — a farmer, a general, an inquisitor, and all of it would be canon because the universe is so large. What I love in cosplay is that you can show off your own creative abilities and original concepts. People will say to me, ‘I love your inquisitor; which one is he?’ I tell them he’s my original version, and because he looks like he belongs in the universe, people accept that he belongs there.”
By the way, the glowing red contacts do hurt, but only for the first five minutes or so: “After that, my eyes will adjust.”
Sally, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
Nicole Bobbing of Oakland Park has cosplayed other characters, but she grew up loving Tim Burton’s beloved Halloween movie and couldn’t resist cosplaying Jack Skellington’s love interest.
Making her costume was not easy.
“I have been gathering things for this costume for two years,” she says. “I tried to make a dress myself, and that didn’t work out. So I had the dress hand-made by someone else. I added paint for the stitches.”
For Zero, her dog accessory, she used stencils and an LED light. “Wiring Zero alone took a week and a half,” she says. “I cried at one point.”
Also tear-worthy: Walking around the convention center in heels. Fortunately her boyfriend carried a pair of flats for her.
“I walked in heels as long as I could, but my feet were killing me,” she admits.
Dark Star Mordekeiser, ‘League of Legends’
Cosplaying one of the characters from the popular online game is a workout for Matthew Harden of Miami Gardens, who built an eye-popping costume so big and bulky he needs help getting it on and off.
“It gets heavy,” he says. “Over time it starts weighing down on me. I have to take it off after 20 or 30 minutes.”
The costume, which took him about a year to complete, is so hot he hangs small fans around his neck to keep from melting. But it’s all worth it when he puts it on and everyone in the convention hall crowds around and clamors for a photo or video.
And when he calls the cosplay community “a safe space,” he means it on both levels.
“You can be comfortable getting into character and not be discriminated against or feel awkward,” he says. “I could literally take my costume off and leave it here, and no one will touch it because everyone respects your stuff. They have huge appreciation for your work. I love that environment.”
Aloy, ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’
Briana O’Dowd of Homestead has been cosplaying since 2003 and has been thrilled to witness the growth of cosplaying in South Florida.
“Over the past 20 years I’ve seen the cosplay convention community absolutely explode in Miami, from these tiny little cons with maybe 75 or 100 people at FIU to where we are now, with thousands of people and major celebrities,” she says. “It has just exploded in popularity.”
One thing hasn’t changed, though: the thrill she gets from dressing up, walking around and meeting fellow Horizon fans. Being recognized by like-minded gamers is her favorite part of cosplaying.
“Obviously I’m a huge fan of video games, and I like sharing that with other people,” she says. “Dressing up gives me a place to start a conversation and meet new people who are into the same things that I am.”
Chainsaw Man, from the manga series
For obvious reasons, Hyde Ratliff, who traveled to Miami from Tampa for Florida Supercon, has to be careful nodding in her cosplay costume, that of Denji, aka Chainsaw Man. And she’s nodding a lot, because a surprising number of fans recognize her iconic look (some, it should be noted, just marvel at the chainsaw coming out of her helmet).
The challenge of replicating one of her favorite manga characters is worth any minor hassle.
“I like how much effort gets put into cosplay,” she says. “I used to do Odyssey of the Mind, a competition where you build stuff. Since I stopped doing that, I’ve found ways to incorporate that into building and dressing up.”
And while she may be wearing Chainsaw Man’s blood-spattered shirt in 2022, she’s already considering ideas for next year.
“I really like making stuff,” she says. “I’m thinking of what else I could do and how long it will take. I like keeping busy.”
The Joker, ‘Batman’
Sometimes cosplaying is simple: Pick an easily recognizable character.
Gabriela Edingberg of Hollywood just wanted to have fun. So she dressed up as Batman’s nemesis the Joker — the Joaquin Phoenix version — because who has more fun than the Joker?
“He’s a big meme character, and he’s really cool, so why not?” she says.
Poison Ivy, ‘Batman’
Never let it be said that comics fans are tired of the classics.
Kristen A. Murphy of South Miami has loved Poison Ivy since she watched the ‘Batman’ TV show as a kid.
“I like the color green, and I love her red hair,” she says. “She just has this vibe about being herself. She’s honest.”
This year marked Murphy’s first time making her own costume. Luckily, she was able to recycle a wig from a previous cosplaying adventure as The Little Mermaid (red hair is red hair, after all).
After two years not attending the convention because of the pandemic, Murphy was happy to be back. She even attended a Dungeons & Dragons event, something she had never done before.
“I just got out of my comfort zone,” she says. “People are so nice and welcoming. You get to be who you want to be without judgment.”
Dracule Mihawk, ‘One Piece’
Anthony Gonzalez of Fort Lauderdale has attended comic conventions before but never had the inspiration to cosplay until this year. When his friends suggested creating costumes, he decided on swordsman Dracule Mihawk from the Japanese anime series “One Piece.”
“It was two weeks of no sleep, working 40 hours a week plus trying to put this together,” he says. “But it was an opportunity to make a big sword.”
Gonzalez didn’t have time to build a sheath so he could wear the sword on his back, but he was careful to make the prop lightweight, so it wouldn’t be too difficult to drag around.
And no, he hasn’t seen all 1,000-plus episodes of the show yet. But he plans to watch them all.
Nightmare, ‘Soulcaliber II’
Not all swords are created equal, as Joshua Jara from Miami Gardens discovered.
He has been cosplaying anime characters for 10 years, but this year he wanted to do something special. He landed on an obscure character from an old video game that he played and loved as a kid.
Nightmare’s sword, which took him three weeks to build, is iconic. It’s also really heavy when you’re on your feet all day.
“It’s about 10 pounds,” he says. “Holding it still is fine. Walking around with it is hard. I didn’t really take into account the weight. But that’s part of the consequences of making a bigger costume.”
He has no regrets about his choice — “I’m having a blast,” he says, adding that a few diehard gamers have recognized him, while others are just attracted by the size of the bloody sword and its bizarre eye. But next year, “I’ll make something from lighter material.”
Ranni the Witch, ‘Elden Ring’
Michelle Olivo from Kendall wasn’t even playing the game ‘Elden Ring’ when she fell in love with the character of Ranni the Witch. She was watching her boyfriend play it. One of the endings finished with Ranni and the moon, and Olivo was inspired.
“It was just the most beautiful character I’ve ever seen in my life,” she says.
Ranni, in fact, was so beautiful she inspired Olivo to cosplay for the first time. The recognition and compliments left her a little stunned.
“I have never had an experience like this,” she says. “I’ve never had people want to take photos with me. Someone just fangirled over me! It’s surreal. I feel like I’m sticking out like a sore thumb — in a good way. I feel proud of myself, since it’s my first time.”
Princess Daisy, ‘Super Mario Land’
Angela Alvarez from Flagler relates strongly to this video game princess, the first character she has ever cosplayed.
“I’m not a damsel in distress; I want to fight,” she explains. “Daisy is an energetic princess. She wants to fight the villain. She’s playful, and she loves sports. I love sports as well. She’s underappreciated.”
Alvarez, who attended the convention with a group of friends, says this will not be her last time cosplaying.
“I feel like I’m in my natural habitat,” she says. “I feel like I am not alone. Now I understand why this community is great.”
Poison Ivy, The Batman Who Laughs and Catwoman, ‘Batman’
The best thing about cosplaying for Samuel Adler of Weston is enjoying how the times have changed.
“Growing up as a nerd, I love seeing the culture explode outward,” he says. “I never got to experience any of this stuff. So being able to dress up and see people get really excited when they see their favorite character, that makes me really happy.”
Weston, cosplaying as the Batman Who Laughs (a hybrid of Batman and the Joker), came to the convention with Sophia Ware, who cosplayed Poison Ivy and Samantha Ware, who cosplayed Catwoman.
“It’s a safe space,” Sophia Ware says of the cosplaying community. “People who maybe don’t fit in where they live or work come here, and everyone is the same.”
As for why Samantha Ware chose Catwoman as her alter ego? “I thought the leather suit looked really good on me.” As good a reason as any.
This story was originally published July 12, 2022 12:47 PM.