Cosplay has evolved.
There was a time when dressing up as superheroes was a chance for people to step outside themselves, to grow more confident in their own skin.
It seems, at least according to the devoted cosplayers at Baltimore Comic-Con, that as fantasy culture becomes more widely accepted into the main stream so too does costume play.
To these craftsmen, artists, engineers and builders – it’s about creation and community.
“I invest my time in it because, one, I’ve always wanted to be a Space Marine and I thought that would be rad,” said Drew Carrington. “My friends get into it. It’s fun to show up and see such a vibrant community of so many people putting all their time and effort and blood, sweat and tears into building and maintain just this amazing community of people that comes together.”
The annual costume contest hosted by Baltimore Comic-Con is the convention’s marquee event. Held on Saturday afternoon, scores of cosplayers were judged and cheered by an at-capacity hall on the top most floor of the Baltimore Convention Center.
Carrington drew playful scorn from other so-called armatures. His towering Crimson Fist Space Marine Captain costume from the table top game War Hammer 40,000 could’ve easily been submitted in the professional’s group.
“It’s just this passion to create,” Carrington said. “I think everyone is just innately creative here. … Some people have a need to work with their hands, some people have a need to be seen in public getting applause, some people just build for the love of it.
“But the biggest thing – the community,” Carrington continued. “No matter when you go to one of these events in costume, you’re going to find people you click with. It’s a fast way to make friends.”
Kristina Green, a long-time cosplayer and member of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, had the daunting task of judging the costume categories, where split into: professional, group, amateur men’s and amateur women’s.
“It’s very overwhelming,” she said. “It’s very hard to pick the best of the best, especially when you’re judging the professional group. Everyone has these very elaborate intricate costumes. … How do you categorize all these different costumes into first, second and third place?
“Every year I see it get better and better and it’s going to continue to get better and better with more organization and lessons learned,” she said. “I would love to be able to grade regardless of gender next year.”
The judges resoundingly awarded newcomer Robert Tongue with the Best In Show award for his Evil Tin-Man costume, complete with Munchkin skulls for knee caps and a compelling story.
“The Tin-Man, to me, he got gipped,” Tongue said. “Everybody else got what they wanted. He got a clock. They told him it was a heart. But it was a clock. I was like, what would the Tin-Man be if The Wizard didn’t give him a heart and he had to make his own? It just so happened, my heart was tainted. So I became the evil Tin-Man.”
Tongue’s evil alter-ego, complete with steam-punk inspired battle ax, was reserved solely for the contest. The 55-year-old brimmed ear-to-ear more than happy to continue wearing his foam suit to pose with no less than 30 pictures on just the walk down from the top floor of the convention center.
“I’m a show-stopper,” he said, the realization setting in. “I just won Baltimore Comic-Con.”
His suit took three weeks of continuous attention to create.
“I destroyed my wife’s ironing board in the process,” he said.
His evil Tin-Man was only his second successful outing as a costume builder.
“Honestly, I get it from my mom,” he said. “My mother was a very creative person. She passed away in 1997. I would look up to her and the stuff she did. I draw and I do other stuff, but this right here, man, you think of something and to bring it to life – it’s amazing.”
“The amount of attention to detail, which is what I go for, the very technique and the style of it is very intriguing to me,” Reid said. “I always love seeing other people’s passion and their eye for detail and the originality of their creations come alive. It’s amazing to me and there is never a dull moment.”
She compared cosplay culture to the more mainstream love of sports.
— Ireland Reid (@Irelandreid) September 27, 2015
“It’s like being a fanatic of something,” she began. "So whether you’re into a football game, or your favorite sport, you’re dressing in the body paint, you’re getting the beads, you’re doing the signs … because you’re excited about that time – that’s how [cosplayers] are excited about those characters.
“Whatever it is, they’re expressing their fandom in their own creative ways. And that’s what cosplay is – costume play. … It’s just amazing how people’s passion and the desire and their own personal journeys – it’s just amazing to me.”
Carrington enter the contest – aside for his love of War Hammer – to make a little extra cash for his wedding to a woman who fully supports his devotion to building costumes.
“Like the Dr. Seuss quote says ‘find someone whose weirdness matches with yours and they call it love.’ We both have a love of building fun things and just playing games together,” he said.
Had he entered the professional bracket, Carrington could’ve won the $1,000 grand prize.
Instead, he won a $200 gift card.
“So now I’m going to go buy some nerdy T-shirts guilt free,” he said.
The children's costume contest will be held Sunday at Baltimore Comic-Con. Click here for details.