Cosplay shines at Comic-Con

At Grand Rapids Comic-Con, as with every major con in the US, thousands of people arrived in costumes, dressed up as their favorite characters from every show, band, movie, book and video game imaginable. Though many buy or commission their costumes, some people go the extra mile, handcrafting armor, weapons and sewing costumes from scratch. 

Chimes interviewed four cosplayers about their experience with the cosplay community. The similarities in experience were

striking, as almost all spoke about how cosplay was a wonderful way to meet people, make friends and escape from real life for a bit.

Grace Cole

Mia, a professional cosplayer that was a guest at the Cosplay 101 panel, started cosplaying in 2012. This weekend, she was dressed as American Maid, a character from the animated series “The Tick.” She went to her first con dressed up to see one of her favorite actors from “The Boondock Saints.” “I didn’t even know what I was doing had a name: cosplay.” She had just recently moved to Grand Rapids, and the cosplay community was a great way for her to meet people and make friends. Mia described how her degree in fashion design also helped her enthusiasm for cosplay. She sewed and created her entire costume by hand. When asked what she would change about the community, she spoke of how often women dressed in more revealing costumes are groped or have their personal space violated. “Cosplay is not consent,” Mia said. 

Grace Cole

At the Cosplay 101 panel, Mia told a story about a little girl that came up to her and asked if Mia thought it was okay that she was dressed as a princess that wasn’t her skin color.  Mia responded, “You love this character. Wear it because you love it and don’t let anyone tell you different.”

Tim, a 40-something man, was dressed in a completely 3-D printed mech suit, cosplaying as Master Chief from the Halo video game series. He attended GR Comic-Con with his daughter, who wanted to get into cosplay after she saw her dad do it. Tim described the cosplay community as “super supportive and loving,” and that cosplay started as a way to “get away from real life for a bit.” He described the arduous process of creating his costume, as he 3-D printed every part, taking 108 days with his printer running 24 hours a day. 

Ashlee Kalthoff, a professional cosplayer, stood six feet tall in satyr legs with hooves, a giant steampunk scythe, large handmade horns and leather armor. With her completely handmade costume, Ashlee won the craftsmanship award at the costume contest that evening. Kalthoff stomped forward through the convention hall during the whole interview, as people gasped at her appearance and parted in her way. She yelled, “If you want pictures go to room 228!”

Her assistant carried her heavy scythe while she was interviewed. Kalthoff described how, with a Bachelors of Art and Design with

a focus on welding, she was a shop teacher at a Detroit high school. When her program got cut, Kalthoff started her prop and costume studio, Difusional Studios, and now does cosplay as a job. When asked about the negative side of the cosplay community, she quickly replied, “I don’t put myself into parts of the cosplay community I don’t like. I don’t have time for drama, I have my own drama.” 

Nelley, a woman in her early 30s, cosplayed as Mei from the video game “Overwatch.” Nelley got into cosplay in 2014, when her husband introduced it to her. Similarly to Mia, Nelley found that cosplay was a great way to meet people and make friends. When asked about her favorite part of cosplaying, Nelley replied with a smile, “I love seeing people get super excited when they recognize me as one of their favorite characters. Especially when it’s a kid.” 

When asked about what she would change about the community, Nelley simply replied “the toxicities.” When asked to expand, Nelley described the body-shaming that came from online comments as well as critiques of one’s cosplay “not being good enough.” Nelley concluded by saying, “cosplay should be for everyone.”