New York Comic Con kicks off on Thursday, marking the start of four days of meet and greets, screenings and costume competition for lovers of all things comic, superhero and sci-fi.
The four-day convention, which packed more than 133,000 attendees into the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center last year, is an opportunity for local cosplayers who dress up and act as characters to shine.
Julian Keller, 22, said he hadn’t even heard of Comic Con until 2012, though he had been dressing up as his favorite characters since he was about 4 years old. This year, his costume, General Zod from Man of Steel, has landed him a spot to compete in the NYCC Eastern Championships of Cosplay, which organizers tout as the “most prestigious costume contest on the East Coast.”
Keller said the completed costume went “above and beyond” anything he thought “feasible,” because in the movie, the character’s armor was computer-generated.
The process started in the summer, with Keller and his father looking at a lot of photos of the character. They quickly realized they needed something more concrete, and purchased a “really expensive” scaled model to base their designs off of. The pair created a cast of Keller's chest to shape the costume, which is made from floor tile, rubber mats and repurposed pieces, such as the tubing from an old washing machine.
“The first time … I put on the entire suit of armor … the fact that it was a wearable suit and not horribly uncomfortable to walk around in, I was blown away,” Keller said. “I was completely shocked at how all these months of work finally came together to make a hulking mammoth of a suit of armor."
Stephanie Darius, a 32-year-old concierge by day and costumer by night, started attending conventions more than 10 years ago.
“The first time I ever saw cosplay was … the Big Apple Anime Fest,” Darius said. “When I saw people dressed in cosplay, characters from comic books and things I enjoy doing, I didn’t know they actually had something like that.”
Darius was born in Suriname, a small, Dutch-speaking country on South America’s Atlantic Coast, and came to the U.S. 20 years ago. After her first convention, Darius knew she wanted to start dressing up and making her own costumes. She taught herself to sew, though she credits her mother, who worked as a seamstress, for giving her some early pointers, and generally sources “regular household products” for her pieces and props.
Darius, who also creates and sells costumes, said she gets her “high” from seeing a design go from an initial idea to completed and wearable piece.
This year, Darius is attending the convention as different characters on different days, including Mystique from X-Men and Rita Repulsa, a villain the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers faced early in the series, which she will wear for the costume competition.
“My skill level from 2003 is completely different from what it is now,” Darius said. “Every year I’m learning new things to actually look like certain characters, to pretend to be one for a day … to do the character justice.”
Cici James, who will be competing dressed as Yuki Mori from Space Battleship Yamato, said she threw herself into the cosplay world about two years ago when she opened a sci-fi bookstore and publishing company, Singularity & Co, in Brooklyn.
“We started going as vendors at Comic Con and I quickly discovered I found it physically painful not to be in costume,” James said. “If people are in costume, I want to be in costume.”
James, 30, who is also a performer and hosting an after-party, COSPLAY AFTER DARK, said she works with a costumer to design her outfits. James said she goes after characters she already resembles, and is most interested in portraying the character as accurately as possible.
“My piece of it is basically scouring Google Images for multiple images of the character, up to 50, every single angle, to send my girl a very accurate a sort of detailed reference images to get every aspect just right,” James said. “I order a wig and generally spend a lot of time cutting it to make it perfect … if I have everything right, I get a weird satisfaction … everything is perfect, ready to go, I don’t have anything to worry about.”