WORDS BY: DANIEL GREEN
PHOTOS BY: TRANG LE
If you were walking around near the Long Beach Convention Center last weekend you may have noticed groups of people dressed up in neon colored wigs, capes and masks.
You might have thought these people were getting a head start on Halloween, but in actuality, they were dressed up for the annual Long Beach Comic-Con.
The event started as a chance for comic book fans to celebrate their favorite characters but it has grown beyond the comic book genre.
All dressed up
One of the most popular parts of the convention is seeing attendees dress up, or “cosplay,” as their favorite characters. Cosplayers can sometimes spend months putting together outfits that often include characters from comics, movies or television shows.
Over in the Cosplay Corner, you could run into someone like Brent Tuanquin. Tuanquin started cosplaying after a friend convinced him to try it and has been doing it ever since.
“I started in early 2012 as Red Hood and it just kicked off. I did WonderCon, and then I did Comikaze. I did Long Beach when it was tiny, when there were barely any cosplayers,” Tuanquin said. “There were barely any movie stars, unlike now where we have the entire cast of Firefly here with us.”
In recent years, cosplay has become more popular, which has led to the increase of professional cosplayers. These cosplayers gain a following on social media platforms like Instagram and travel to different conventions around the country.
Alicia Marie is a fan of superheroes and started making costumes before she was noticed for her cosplays.
“I was cosplaying back when it was the weirdos who wore costumes and it wasn’t Halloween yet,” Marie said. “Now cosplays a thing, but when I started it was just weirdos who wore costumes like me.”
Marie has been cosplaying for seven years, but was invited by a convention to appear as a featured guest three years ago. Featured guests, like Marie, are invited and promoted by conventions to give fans a chance to meet their favorite cosplayers.
“When I was a floater, people were like ‘Oh my gosh, I want to take a picture with either Ms. Marvel or Storm,’ but now it’s ‘Oh I want to take a picture with Alicia,’” Marie said. "It’s a good feeling.”
Although many dress like their favorite comic book character, not everyone dressed up in the Cosplay Corner is trying to become someone else. If any cosplayer finds themselves in a costume emergency, they can find help from Todd Kimmel, known by cosplayers as Sergeant Cross-Stitch, and Kaitlin Brown, similarly called Sergeant Swift Stitch, of the International Cosplay Corps.
The goal of the International Cosplay Corps is to assist cosplayers who need help with wardrobe malfunctions. Kimmel and Brown became interested in the idea after hearing about a cosplayer in Australia who was doing the same thing.
“There’s actually this guy down in Australia called Captain Patch-It. He started it as a joke. He wanted to be something, but couldn’t figure out what he wanted to be. So he went as this Captain America, patch type of character, and it caught on like wildfire. People started to use his services,” Kimmel said.
Brown found Patch-It online and invited him to come down to San Diego Comic-Con, where she and Kimmel followed him around. Brown had experience making historical costumes and Kimmel had made costumes for theater.
“It’s incredible,” Brown said. “People don’t realize that what we do is legitimate. They think it’s a fun costume or it’s a cool idea.”
The reception to the Corps has been positive so far and has been rewarding for both of them.
“We both cosplay ourselves, but since we started doing this, this is our cosplay now,” Brown said.
Walking away from the Cosplay Corner, you’ll be surrounded by booths full of items and art for sale. The cosplayers are not the only ones who enjoy showing off their creativity.
At the Smoke Tree Workshop, you can find some of your favorite video game and movie characters laser etched onto a wood-inlay wall. Owner Tom Wright said that he began selling his pieces at conventions about a year and a half ago, after quitting his job as a restaurant manager.
“I managed a restaurant for a bunch of years. I just got tired of working sixty-hour weeks. This is way cooler,” Wright said.
Wright started doing carpentry five years ago when he decided he needed a way to relax after work.
“When I was working at the restaurant, you sort of get done dealing with people all day and the last thing you want to do is deal with another person. So I had to do it by myself, and I wasn’t around other folk,” said Wright. “It was a very anti-social move, which is funny that it ended up here.”
Next to the exhibitors is the Artist Alley, where you can find professional and amateur artists selling pieces and taking commissions. One of the artists there was painter Sandy Delgado, who works primarily with toothpicks.
Delgado started painting when she was about seven years old. She used traditional brushes until she realized she liked the texture and feel of toothpicks.
“After I graduated from high school I really didn’t have many of my own materials, so I was working on a piece and I couldn’t get the smaller details with the brush I had. So, improvising with a toothpick, I thought I could fill in whatever I had to with that,” Delgado said.
This year’s Long Beach Comic-Con was Delgado’s first convention as an artist. She shared a booth with her uncle, Bobby Breed, who she says has always been her biggest supporter.
“I used to go to conventions with him when I was younger, and he would always tell other artists about my artwork,” Delgado said. “That’s kind of what motivated me to stick with it.”
Breed said that he has never seen anyone use toothpicks and loves to embarrass Delgado by bragging about her to other artists.
“I knew from an early age that she was talented and amazing,” Breed said. “She deserved to have the limelight. She deserved to have some way to spotlight her work, and this is it.”
These are the droids you are looking for
As Comic-Con’s popularity has increased, it has grown beyond being solely a comic book convention. It now covers almost every franchise on television, movies or video games. Like many movies Star Wars cosplays and merchandise can be soon around the hall.
And who better to represent it than the lovable droid R2-D2?
The R2-D2 Builders Club is a group that builds and designs working R2-D2s and other droids that move, light up, beep and even shoot steam.
“We do about every Comic-Con, geek convention there is,” said member Keri Bean. “Star Wars celebrations are always the biggest because those are the Star Wars themes where we’ll have over a hundred droids show up. More local ‘Cons like this we can get five to ten maybe.”
Building a droid can take a lot of time and effort. Members can spend anywhere from $500 to $40,000 and take around two to three years to complete a project. Bean has been working on her droid since she joined the club in October 2014.
Bean said she hopes to build a BB-8 droid eventually.
The group helps its members by getting together and sharing blueprints and tips on droid-building. Members of the group even helped build droids for the latest Star Wars movie.
Brian Dodds was one of the members who helped improve the design of the inner circuitry by figuring out how to make it smaller and save space.
“It’s cool to think that something I designed ended up in a movie,” Dodds said.