Heroes Con 2014: Adventures in Spandex. A Special Report from the View of the Amateur Cosplayer.
Celebrating their 32nd year, Heroes Con returned to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend (6/20-6/22). Occupying some 200,000 square feet of space at the Charlotte Convention Center, Heroes Con attendees numbered in the thousands.
What blows people away about this show is that it is a true comic book convention with no film or television actors present. Yet, Heroes Con draws similar numbers to the large, corporate conventions. The celebrity lineup at Heroes Con is comprised of some of the biggest names in the comics industry (both print and animation). It is a family-friendly show with a focus on the craft itself. Sure, there are enough vendors to keep you shopping for the full 3-days, but Heroes Con offers so much more for its fans. There are interactive panels and workshops for artists and writers. You can watch the creators of your favorite comics series design exclusive commissions. There are auctions and contests, and numerous non-profit organizations. You can learn all about the comics industry from every aspect. I encourage you to do a hashtag search on various social media outlets. Seriously…search for #HeroesCon and take a look at some of the photos people have posted of the artwork that came out of this year’s convention. Absolutely stunning!
Of course, Heroes Con is also known for its amazing cosplay element. As I’ve mentioned in previous reports on Charlotte Comicon and the Heroes Mini-Con, cosplay in the Carolinas is a force to be reckoned with. You’ll have your 501st Carolina Garrison of Star Wars characters roaming about, as well as the Carolina Ghostbusters. And, you’ll have a large number of ‘professional’ costumers and cosplayers. But, the number of amateur cosplayers has grown exponentially. It’s quite an incredible sight to behold. Honestly, I could attend a convention like this and do nothing other than ogle the costumes and I’d be a happy camper. After working at conventions and reporting on conventions for quite some time now, I thought it was time I threw my hat in the ring.
I have a history of throwing together costumes for special events, competitions, performances and the like. I’m not a big proponent of running to the Halloween or Party store and buying a one-size-fits-most costume in a bag, though in my 40 years it has happened. And when I do, I always find ways to alter and make it my own. I keep those costumes for future reuse. My attic looks like a Halloween junkyard. At any given time of the year you will find fake blood, a bottle of latex, and a bag of makeup kicking around my home. I believe in costuming on a budget. I’ve never spent more than a day brainstorming a costume idea and another day, at most, to execute the plan.
Once I have chosen a character I begin searching the house for pieces that I can use. Most often, I have everything I need right here. Occasionally, a trip to GoodWill or Walmart might be necessary. And even less often, a new wig needs to be purchased. I’ve never spent more than $75 on a costume. A few of my favorites were done ‘on the fly’ in under an hour. Makeup usually is the most time consuming aspect. And if there is a component that I cannot create, I throw the task to my husband or one of my friends. My costumes have never been ‘professional’ level by any means, but I am a firm believer in ‘owning’ your character. It’s all in the presentation. If you are having fun and if you can stay in character, oftentimes that is far more impressive than the guy covered in a 20-piece costume with custom leather and authentic replica weapons.
So began my journey. About 2.5 weeks before the show, I was faced with car troubles and had to cancel my trips to both Walker Stalker Boston and Wizard World Philly (which was also the same weekend as Heroes Con). Since I knew I would be staying local, I decided to commit one day to Heroes Con as a cosplayer. I began scouring the internet for female comic book characters with short hair. I wasn’t impressed. I debated buying a wig. I searched and searched and then had an epiphany: Gozer the Gozerian. I see the Carolina Ghostbusters at convention after convention. But rarely have I seen any supporting characters from the film, and never Gozer. Done! I found photos of the original costume on a mannequin that someone had purchased at an auction. There were clear, up close shots of the full costume, front, back, and shoes. Ideas began to brew in my mind. Done!
Step one: Find a nude unitard. Not as easy as it sounds when working on a tight budget. Since I have an unopened sewing machine and zero sewing skills, I would have to purchase this base layer. I went to a number of dance supply shops in the area. None had unitards. Wrong time of year was the stock answer. So, I hit the internet once more. I ended up ordering a nude unitard by Capezio for $28 with free shipping.
Step two: Take the $40 cash that I had and visit Hobby Lobby. I pulled up the photos I’d saved to my phone (both of the actual costume and some clips from the film) and I began to wander the aisles. I snaked my way through the store on a mission like the Terminator. Along the way I picked up some Haute Fur by Yarn Bee, a wide roll of silver shimmery ribbon, a large bag of decorative glass gem stones, and 13 clear, plastic Christmas ornaments in varying sizes. I already had a few yards of white tulle at home from a poodle skirt sock hop frenzy a few years back.
Step three: Take a weekend off to go to the beach.
Step four: Make the costume. This step began on the Monday morning prior to the convention. Procrastination at its finest. I used a razor blade utility knife to slice the Christmas ornaments in half. This method worked poorly for about 3hrs until I broke the razor blade. I quit for the day. On Tuesday, I spent another 3hrs attempting to do the same thing. This was a total mess and again, I quit. On Wednesday, G was home and provided me with his ‘hot knife’. We plugged in the tool and began slicing through the ornaments like butter. Then, I changed the tip out and used the same tool to poke holes in the plastic halves. After that, I plugged in the hot glue gun and attached gem stones to the inside of each ornament half. The ornaments would become the bubbles on the costume. I thought–correctly–that the stones would provide depth to the bubbles, giving them a scaly look as well as catching and reflecting any light that hit them. After that I began the process of stitching the bubbles to the unitard by hand. Again, I am not a seamstress. I can barely sew a button. I’ve no idea what I was thinking. And with no access to the center or extremities of the unitard, in many instances I was flying blind. I managed to sew the first few bubbles to my undergarments (as I was wearing the unitard when I began in order to get proper placement over my ladybits). Hey…I never said I knew what I was doing. After 7.5hrs I had to pack it in and head to my trivia gig.
I woke up on Thursday morning to find that the weight of the bubbles combined with taking the costume off and on and caused most of the stitches to snap. I spent the better part of the day restitching all of the pieces I’d done the day before. I was making no progress with all of the backtracking. By late afternoon I’d reached my breaking point. I was ready to scrap the whole idea and go as a zombie. G made me stop for dinner when we had a much delayed brainstorm session that led us to Walmart for monofilament fishing line. We got home and, unfortunately, I had to go back and restitch all of the original bubbles again. But, it was the final time, as fishing line is weight tested and will not snap like thread. Huzzah! After 9 hours, though, I was wiped. Feeling confident that this could actually work, I went to bed.
Friday morning, I woke up and put on the costume. At this point, I need to tell you that taking this thing off and on is ridiculous. The unitard is a nylon/spandex blend that is skin tight. The fishing line pulled the bubbles very securely to the fabric allowing very little room for stretch. So, as I pulled the costume up my body and fought to get my arms and torso into it, each bubble scraped through the fabric, tearing at my skin. Groan. But, the fishing line held! Immediately, G took the remaining 11 bubbles and began numbering them and tracing them on my back. This would simplify things for sewing them on. That afternoon, our friend Bryan came over. I put on the costume again (ouch) and he studied the photos on my phone. I handed him my paper bag of parts and said, “Make it work!” Bryan began the task of stitching the tulle to me and designing a reverse-cowl that I could pull over and cinch to form the collar. We broke for karaoke. Music therapy is important.
Saturday morning arrived. I had already seen numerous pictures popping up on Facebook of people who were at Heroes Con for Day One. Already I was feeling intimidated. It’s silly, I know. But when you see some of the costumes! It’s easy to feel like the kid wrapped in toilet paper next to the kid in a proper mummy costume. I just needed to keep reminding myself that sometimes, the kid in the toilet paper is the better person for having done it. That’s the kid I want to hang with. The one brave enough to show up and have a good time. Hell, I moderated a panel at the last Charlotte Comicon featuring professional cosplayers who spent an hour encouraging kids of all ages to play nice. There are conduct rules and a mutual respect that must be shared throughout the cosplay community. It takes a lot of courage to go out in public in costume. And even more courage to do it in something that you made yourself. I consider myself a confident person. I’ve worn many costumes on stage and off over the years with little to no shame. But I was genuinely nervous about Heroes Con. After taking my measurements to order the unitard, I was certain that I should eat nothing but celery ever again. Then I got mad at myself and ate a gallon of ice cream. I am the mother of a 16 year old girl. Body issues are a no-no in this house and I had to lead by example. Time to get my big girl panties…er…thong…ready and put on that unitard!
A little before 10am I began hair and makeup. Piece of cake. I couldn’t afford colored contact lenses so I bought a bright red lip liner instead. After making my face white, I lined the inside of my upper and lower eyelids with the red pencil and then made a thin line of red around the outside edge of each eye. Then I began working in blacks and silver. The lip liner is a different consistency than a standard eye pencil and the color was a tad runny. This made my eyes look very red. Effect achieved! (Word of caution…it took 2 full days to remove the red). Once I finished hair and makeup, G put the costume on me. I added a pair of nude pageant heels that I had from a few years prior. I balanced myself on a foot stool as G began stitching and tying on more tulle, ribbon and yarn, adding depth to the costume. He even patted on fist fulls of baby powder for a coddled effect. In total, it took 2.5hrs to get ready that morning. I was so nervous I forgot to eat. Not that I would have eaten anyway, given that from 10:30 on there was no physical way for me to remove the costume and use the bathroom.
It was about a 20 minute ride to Charlotte. We parked in the garage at the convention center and my panic attack set in. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said. I could hear Chris Farley singing in my head “fat guy in a little coat” and I was certain that I looked like a potato on two sticks. Seriously, I have the oddest body shape. G took my hand and we stepped out of the elevator and into the fray.
What happened next was one of the coolest things of my life….People liked my costume. I was stopped dozens of times for photos before we’d even picked up our badges. I found myself posing on the escalator for people overhead yelling to me and taking pictures. I was asked at least 50 times “Are you a God?” before we’d reached the center of the showroom. People wanted to take my picture. People wanted me to be in their pictures. The Ghostbusters excitedly requested my presence at the Ecto-1 car for fan photos. It was insane! Numerous people asked for details on how I made the costume and how long it took. And so many–including the Ghostbusters–said that I was the first Gozer cosplay they’d ever encountered. (While I find that hard to believe, I’m afraid there is truth to it. When you Google the costume, there are a small number of photos of women in cosplay and most are repeats of the same 2 women over and over). I guess I’m among the elite few who have attempted this outfit? That felt kind of cool, knowing that I’d chosen a winning combination: Something unique and readily recognizable in pop culture by fans of varying age. I did it!
Of course, over the course of a few hours, I wore 6 blisters on my feet (ended up ditching the shoes and finishing out my time there barefoot). The bubbles left suction marks on my skin under the costume (one on the back of my left thigh left a pretty bad abrasion) and I managed to injure my ankle coming out of the big Class Photo (thanks to the Wolverine on my right who quickly steadied me). 20 minutes in a squat position in heels was a bad idea. When it came time to stand up, my legs were totally dead from the knee down and my thigh muscles were shaking. The first step I tried to take, I totally dropped off that right ankle. Oh well. It was worth it.
I have participated in conventions in many roles and have experienced them from many sides of the gaming die. This was the first time that I experienced one from this perspective. After nearly 30hrs of trying to design and create a costume by hand with no clue what I was doing and no money to do it with, I can tell you that my already high respect level for costumers has gone through the roof. I have worked with some amazingly talented costume designers in theatre, but knowing that these fans do this just for the enjoyment astounds me. Cosplay is not a cheap hobby. And it is not a widely respected hobby. Cosplayers require handlers (for complicated costumes) and safety buddies to see them through the day. While they are kings and queens and gods on the showroom floor, cosplayers can be bullied and ridiculed outside of that safe space. It takes more than just talent to cosplay at a convention, or elsewhere. It takes courage. Cosplay takes a level of self-confidence that most people lack. Cosplayers come in all ages, all races, all religions, all sexual orientations, all socioeconomic backgrounds. Some do it as a release from the stresses of day to day life. Some do it for charity. Some do it for the contest prizes. Some do it to feel stronger; by taking on a character’s persona it enables them to feel bigger than who they think they truly are. But who these people truly are, are larger than life. Sure, there are always a few bad bananas who try to ruin it for the rest of the bunch. On a whole, however, cosplayers are a community of people that have many lessons to teach. It was an honor to be a part of it all, if even for just one day.
I had no intention of returning on Sunday for the costume contest. While I was pleased with my Gozer, I had no delusions that it was prize-winning level. It was fun seeing some of my favorite local cosplay heroes there; DJ Spider, Amberle Linnea, Todd Lacey, and the Clown Prince of Charlotte. Heroes Con outdid itself this year. I am in awe of the costumes that were created. I am in awe of the sketches and paintings that were done. This convention is like attending an educational trade show at its finest. You can’t beat the price, that’s for sure. Shelton Drum and his crew have given Charlotte yet another Heroes Con people will be talking about for weeks to come. I had a fantastic time (wish I’d had a bottomless wallet to do some shopping with!) and am grateful to have been a part of something where I–like other writers, artists, and cosplayers–was welcomed and not judged. Thanks for a great time, Heroes Con!
Here’s a cool fan video I found on YouTube created by Wayne Gamer. (I found myself at 3:01 and 3:08) It’s a fun glimpse of what you missed if you weren’t at Heroes Con 2014.