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Cosplaining—Nerd Culture And Cosplay Behind The Scenes At C2E2

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on May 1, 2015 8:10PM

At C2E2 we found ourselves in a very unique green room. Part of the festivities this year included the Crown Championship of Cosplay. ReedPOP and Wikia sponsored this event, which was the culmination of a circuit of cosplay competitions held at their other cons around the country, including the PAX cons and Seattle’s famous Emerald City Comicon. We got invited to go behind the scenes before the final judging for photos and to get a first-hand look at the artistry and talent that it takes to get to the finals and compete for $10,000.

Nerds have stormed the pop culture scene in the past few years and we’ve been glad to see it. Many of us predate the “acceptance” of all things nerdy by mainstream culture. We grew up feeling weird, seeing the stigma attached to all sorts of fandoms, maybe even keeping our phasers stowed in fear of being labelled a Trekkie. One of our favorite things about cons, especially C2E2, is the friendly atmosphere, and the feeling of being, as fellow nerd Aisha Tyler puts it, “with your tribe.” For the most part, the people that pack the floors at conventions are passionate fans of all sorts of things, from wrestling to comics to television shows, video games and movies. They know the in jokes and they’re ready to tell you all of the reasons they love the things they love.

But even in a subculture, there are people seen as “on the fringe.” People might be fine with you knowing the differences between NCC-1701A and D, but once you, for example, create and wear a My Little Pony costume on the floor, you may find yourself in a different situation, especially if you’re a male. As a female, you may find yourself under fire for ‘trying to pull off’ dressing as your favorite character if you do not, in fact, have the same measurements as the person you wish to portray. It’s a sad fact that the very people who got made fun of for the things that they liked can turn around and do the same thing to people with interests they don’t understand. People are quick to give “bronies” the side-eye and raise their eyebrows at “cross-players” (those who cosplay as a character of a different gender) without really understanding the things they mock.

Cosplay is an art form. What we saw when we were behind the scenes Saturday amazed us. The 31 competitors who were preparing to go on stage to compete had spent thousands of hours doing everything from sculpting and sewing to leatherworking, etching and metal work to recreate their favorite characters.

They were of every imaginable shape, size, color and nationality. They were also incredibly welcoming, eager to share the stories behind their costumes and fun to be around. We met couples who cosplayed together and a man who’s now known as CosplayDad on Twitter who started to dress up as a way to interact with his daughter. By the time we got to know them, however briefly, we’d gotten encouragement and tips on how to start cosplaying, stories of past costumes and discussed everything from our favorite books and movies to MacGyver moments when making the costumes they were going to be taking before the judges. We felt like part of the community even in our street clothes and found ourselves nervous for them as they lined up to face the judges.

It was an amazing event, each costume wowing a capacity crowd, but in the end, the prize was awarded to Jim Schmid, a towering Chicago native who competed as the much loved Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. His costume was a labor of love with incredible amounts of detail, including moss on his shoulders and a head that was so realistic we thought he may actually have to water it.

It can be hard to appreciate things you’re unfamiliar with, but we found that even if we couldn’t figure out who everyone was dressed as, they were more than happy to tell us all about it. At its heart, cosplay is all about artistic expression and fun and we feel like there’s room for more of that in everyone’s life. We hope to see even more people diving in at C2E2 and beyond.