At the Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, New Jersey, fans gathered from as far away as Baltimore, Maryland, to share their love of all things geek and nerd. Many were dressed up as their favorite characters, and some were quite a bit enthusiastic.
“A-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAA!!!” could be heard from across the room as a vividly voiced Joker laid out his best laugh from behind a mask of the 1989 incarnation made famous by Jack Nicholson (and his purple costume at the show was complete with squirting flower). DC Comics’ Joker and his many incarnations from the Batman series of films and comic books could be seen wandering GSCF along with other villains like The Riddler, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, and more.
Despite the passion of being a cosplayer, hobbies do not tend to pay the bills. Yuffie Bunny, a New Jersey-based cosplayer featured in shows that have aired on MTV and HBO, works as a graphic designer. The recently engaged model says that her work helps make her costumes more visually appealing. Adaina Velez was an Auxiliary Sergeant for the NYPD and is an active member of her home community in the Bronx. But once she crosses the comic con threshold, she could be anyone from The Invisible Woman to Seven-of-Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. When she isn’t putting smiles on the faces of kids at cons, Supergirl Smiles enlightens their minds as a math teacher. And Queen Helene, a flight attendant, spends her downtime with boyfriend Dynamite Webber cosplaying their favorite DC superheroes, her favorite being Wonder Woman.
Over the years, thanks primarily to followings on social media, cosplay has grown (some might say mutated) from a social hobby into its own subdivision of geek culture. And the dedication to authenticity from homemade costumes clearly shows. Fans spend a multitude of hours to put together just one. Between cutting, sewing, gluing, and in some cases molding and/or screwing together, a costume (depending on materials and size) could take months to create.
None was more elaborate than the life sized Hulkbuster. Extreme Costumes reportedly spent 1,600 hours constructing the 9½-foot-tall suit of armor inspired by Marvel Comics’ Iron Man. The costume weighs 95 lbs. and takes its wearer 20 minutes to get into, piece by piece. The outfit comes complete with repulsor lights on the palms, and seems to walk with the greatest of ease. The costume debuted at New York Comic Con 2015 and is worn by Thomas DePetrillo, the director of the company.
But if fans don’t make the time to construct their costumes, have no fear! Cosplay has become so popular among fans that businesses are able to provide props, accessories, and even entire outfits at the click of a button. It might seem Christmas isn’t going to be the only holiday with a year-round shop anymore.
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Superheroes Unlimited is a cosplay company that provides just that; 24/7 availability of costumes and costume necessities. Two of their 12 current models graced the floor of GSCF on Sunday dressed as Starfire and Raven from the Teen Titans. Starfire, as played by Sapphire Nova, said that their most elaborate costumes (those involving full body paint) take about an hour apiece to put on. The cost is considerable, around $280 for some kits. Keep in mind, though, that includes the outfit itself, the wig, the body paint (if applicable), and any items associated with the character (although Jedi and Sith may still default to Ultrasabers for their weapons). Superheroes Unlimited also provides costume props, such as swords, wands, cloaks, etc., a la carte for those who just want to put on the finishing touches. For a company that provides such an involved service, it may be a surprise that they’ve only been around for a year. Last year’s GSCF was the first con for the company, and so far in 2016 alone they have appeared at over 20 events, with several more to go.
However, once the costume is all put on, the play begins, and the real fan experience of a con comes out. Alex Lutka, as Raven from Superheroes Unlimited, was amazed by her experience at GSCF. “The energy is just so good here,” she said. “Everyone is so happy, and the kids are so cute when they come up to you.” Lutka also commented on the atmosphere of the con as being “very family oriented.”
Children get in on the fun, too. Grace Wiseman, an energetic four-year-old girl dressed as Rae from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, had the time of her life meeting all the costumed heroes and villains. “Superman’s my favorite!” she enthusiastically said as she learned from Spider-Man how to crawl up walls before firing up her lightsaber to take on the extreme Hulkbuster mano e mano. Grace attends conventions with her ever supportive mother, Grace’s Cosplay Mommy on Facebook, while she proudly promotes her own business, a popular stuffed animal manufacturer.
Clearly, a great time was had by all fans. Some dressed as characters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to meet co-creator Kevin Eastman. Some donned their finest Power Rangers outfits to greet Jason David Frank. No matter the costume or theme, it seems like all fans came away from New Jersey’s fourth Garden State Comic Fest with smiles on their faces and memories to carry back home, along with all those autographed toys, prints, and of course, comics.