Comic-Con cosplay: Costumed role-players become temporary superstars

July 21, 2013 | 7:20 a.m.
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Joey Arnta, Briana Roecks, Michael Peterson, Josh Brown, Chris McElhatetton and Adam Earnhart suited up in San Diego. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Briana Roecks dressed as Batgirl at Comic-Con 2013. The San Diego Convention Center is in the background. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Sharing a high five are, from left, Briana Roecks as Batgirl, Adam Earnhart as Robin and Kristin Sanchez as Batman character Harley Quinn. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Adam Earnhart, Kristin Sanchez and Briana Roecks role-play at Comic-Con. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Briana Roecks checks her utility belt, which carries her makeup and lipstick. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Adam Earnhart and Briana Roecks designed their Batgirl and Robin costumes. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Adam Earnhart as Robin and Briana Roecks as Batgirl pose with other Comic-Con attendees. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Adam Earnhart and Briana Roecks are interviewed by college students at Comic-Con in San Diego (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Briana Roecks, dressed as Batgirl, gets costume tips from Josh Brown (Batman) and Joey Arnta (the Riddler). (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Briana Roecks of Los Angeles is one of the many Comic-Con attendees to arrive in costume. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

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Adam Earnhart adjusts the wings of Briana Roecks' Tinker Bell costume. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Clad cowl- to-boot in her handmade black and purple Batgirl suit, Briana Roecks arrives in the Gaslamp Quarter and pauses to adjust her boyfriend’s Robin cape. Instantly, the couple is surrounded by Comic-Con International attendees wielding camera phones.

Roecks, 27, and her sidekick, 30-year-old Adam Earnhart, shift seamlessly from pose to pose as the cameras snap. Soon a Yahoo producer snags them for a quick interview. Afterward, a group of fellow Batman fans dressed as the characters from “The Dark Knight Rises” join them for a round of impromptu photos. A man approaches Roecks and plops his baby in her arms for a picture. More videos. More pictures. More poses. In half an hour, the couple has moved only 50 feet.

“When you cosplay, you’re not a nobody,” said Roecks, who works in Hollywood as a visual effects assistant. “You’re not a stranger. You’re suddenly a character that everybody here knows and loves and wants to interact with, and they feel like they already know you, not in a weird getting-too-comfortable kind of way, but like you’re an old friend.”

FULL COVERAGE: San Diego Comic-Con 2013

Cosplay, short for costume play, is a mix of costume creation and role-playing, and it’s a big part of the scene at Comic-Con, the annual pop culture expo that kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday.

Transformers and Stormtroopers mingle with Dothraki warlords and Disney princesses. Cosplayers strive for authenticity, trying to come as close to the character as possible.

Briana Roecks dressed as Batgirl at Comic-Con 2013. The San Diego Convention Center is in the background. (Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

Briana Roecks dressed as Batgirl at Comic-Con 2013. The San Diego Convention Center is in the background. (Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

That doesn’t come easy. The Batgirl and Robin costumes that Roecks and Earnhart are rocking are the products of more than three months of bargain hunting, pattern-making and sewing.

While there are plenty of cardboard-and-tape costumes on the Comic-Con floor, serious cosplayers often spend months and sometimes thousands of dollars creating elaborate costumes, often more than one per convention.

Roecks and Earnhart are each wearing three costumes for San Diego Comic-Con. In addition to Thursday’s Batgirl and Robin getup, the couple joined a group of people dressed as fairies from Disney’s Tinker Bell franchise on Friday. And for Saturday’s Masquerade — the expo’s annual costume contest — Roecks, Earnhart and another friend are entering as Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts.

Now in its 43rd year, Comic-Con International has attracted costumed participants since the very beginning, said David Glanzer, spokesman for the convention. Glanzer recalls working with friends to create “Star Wars” costumes in the 1970s.

“It was living in a fantasy for a couple of hours and having people acknowledge that,” Glanzer said.

Jessica Merizan, lead community manager for Electronic Arts division BioWare Edmonton-Montreal and co-founder of cosplay fabrication shop Crabcat Industries, wrote her masters dissertation on cosplay and fandom. Merizan theorizes that putting on a costume is transformative, either revealing an aspect of the wearer that is normally hidden, or hiding an aspect the cosplayer would rather not show.

“Cosplay helped me get over being socially anxious and have more confidence in myself,” Merizan said. “It sounds really egotistical, but it does make you feel like you’re kind of a celebrity, just for that moment. Everyone is like paparazzi, and everyone wants your picture. And it’s really cool because you worked so hard and you’re really proud of what you’re wearing. … It’s like being Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.”

For some cosplayers, however, the appeal is more in creating the costume than in wearing it.

Lisa McKeever, a 29-year-old engineer who works on heart valve replacements, has been cosplaying since 2008. She spends months designing her costumes, spending between $200 and $900.

COMIC-CON PHOTOS: Cosplay costumes, in all their crazy glory

McKeever said there are two kinds of cosplayers: the people who enjoy making the costumes, and the ones who enjoy playing the character.

“I tend to be more of the first type of person,” she said. “I probably spend more than the average person does, because it’s a lot about the crafting. I like to take my time and kind of figure things out and try various methods to see what comes out best.”

Briana Roecks tries on her Tinker Bell costume as Adam Earnhart adjusts her wings.  (Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

Briana Roecks tries on her Tinker Bell costume as Adam Earnhart adjusts her wings. (Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

McKeever learned many of those techniques from online tutorials by other cosplayers and message boards on sites like cosplay.com.

“New people can come in, they can ask questions, so there is a lot of welcoming and help,” McKeever said. “Most people at a convention are so incredibly nice, excited to see you and genuinely appreciate your hard work. It’s these people who make all the work, stress and aching feet completely worth it.”

It’s that inclusive spirit and celebration of diverse interests that helps make Comic-Con the pop culture mecca it has become, attracting an estimated 130,000 fans and entertainment industry professionals.

“I felt like for the first time, I didn’t have to crack jokes about who I was,” Merizan recalled of her first visit to Comic-Con. “The thing I remember most profoundly about my first Comic-Con was how depressed I was at the end of it. It was like something was over, and I couldn’t get it back for another year. It was like ‘Brigadoon,’ like something that only happens every once in a while, and you’re never sure if you’re actually going to be able to get there, but when you do it’s amazing.”

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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Comments


3 Responses to Comic-Con cosplay: Costumed role-players become temporary superstars

  1. Adam says:

    My damn keyboard messed up. Here's one that is a little more gramatically correct. X_X;;

    As a cosplayer for almost 20 years, I can say that it truly is an amazing hobby to be part of. The creativity and art these people put into their costumes can be staggering. It's a shame there can be so much "diva-esque" drama in the scene, but if one can ignore it, they will find they can have an awesome time just being praised for their craftstmanship. Outsiders might claim that it is pathetic that adults dress up as superheroes, anime and video game characters. It is true, some may *not* want to grow up; but more often than not, they have regular jobs and lives like anyone else. It is no less "bizarre" or "immature" than someone sitting outside in the pouring rain or intense heat just to watch a football game; or wear their favorite baseball team's jersey; or even paint themselves their home team's colors. It's all fun and you get to meet others who share your passion.

  2. Briana R. says:

    Thanks, John!

  3. Neil says:

    I like I scream with my cosplay!

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