Stepping into the expansive exhibit hall of the Oregon Convention Center, countless booths showcase comic books, artwork, and a life-size moving R2D2. Visitors drive around, browsing wares and lining up to meet celebrity guests. But Rose City Comic Con’s most compelling attraction is the attendees themselves, many of whom dress up as different characters, from Marvel superheroes to Pokémon.
Portland high school student Miles Stansbury entered a contest where participants show off handmade cosplays. Colored contacts turn his eyes orange, and he sports a neatly styled white-haired wig with red streaks and horns while dressed as Arataki Itto, a character from the popular video game Genshin Impact. While the excitement is in the air, the competition is intense.
“I’ve been competing against people who’ve been doing this for 20 years too, so it’s a little, a little nerve-wracking,” Stansbury said.
This cosplay contest is one of many activities at Rose City Comic Con, which drew around 45,000 people last weekend. This is the convention’s second year, since it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the contest, Stansbury walks across a stage dressed as Itto and poses for the judges and audience members. Although he didn’t win, Stansbury said he had fun. He lost to Annie Bugg in the rookie division.
Cosplayers Ellie Gossett and Sydney Gore enjoy meeting friends and interacting with other Comic Con attendees.
Gossett, a college student and cosplayer, met “Lord of the Rings” actor Elijah Wood at Comic Con while dressed as Bilbo Baggins from JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”
“The interactions with little kids who are really excited if you cosplay their favorite superhero or someone they recognise,” Gossett said, “Those are those moments that are super rewarding of, ‘yes, I’m here to have fun with you and embrace that inner child.”
Gore, on the other hand, was able to pose for a photo at the convention while dressed as Scarlet Witch from Marvel’s “WandaVision” and Bela Dimitrescu from the video game Resident Evil Village.
“When you get those finished photos back and they look just amazing and you see all of your hard work and effort that you put into trying to embody this character, it comes across so perfectly in this photo,” said Gore.
Cosplay – the act of dressing up and acting as a character – is a combination of the words costume and play.
“Sometimes people create their own quirky characters and you can dress up and have fun in this space,” Victoria Fisher said.
Fisher, dressed as a warrior-style Rapunzel, fully embraces her Disney Princess personas as she walks the convention.
“If you see Ariel swearing like a sailor, the kids are going to be a little confused,” Fisher said. “It’s really fun to pretend you’re a different person for a while and sometimes it gives you the strength of a superhero or the delicacy of a princess.”
One of the hallmarks of cosplay is its inclusiveness. Many people also come up with creative ways to adapt and combine their cosplays. Jenni Skelton paired her Poison Ivy cosplay with a prop of Audrey II, a man-eating alien plant from “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“All of my cosplays are designed to be built with or around a wheelchair because I’m disabled,” Skelton said, “I actually sometimes do a panel on how to tweak your cosplay and make it work for your disability.”
For Skelton, the cosplay community is a big part of convention.
“The cosplay community is absolutely the warmest, most inclusive, feel-good group that attends these jerks,” Skelton said.
Some people spend hundreds of dollars on their cosplays, but Fisher says anyone can participate.
“It’s a really easy way to start, just find things at the thrift store or find things in your own closet, because a lot of the characters are wearing normal clothes,” Fisher said.
Gossett has made cosplay a career. Gossett got a scholarship to go to college and plans to pursue full-time work in costume making.
“It was just something fun and stupid that I did because I was a nerd and now I can design shows and do theater full time,” Gossett said.
Online cosplay has given people like Fisher a chance to connect with people and make close friends, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it kind of turned into something beautiful because we were able to connect more not only with local cosplayers that we couldn’t be with, but I’ve been in groups that are at across the world now,” Fisher said.
Fisher posts photos and videos of her completed costumes on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Conventions give her the chance to see friends online in person and admire other people’s cosplays.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the online community. Some cosplayers have faced sexism and objectification because of their costumes, dating back many years.
“Early on I had a few cases with scarier comments, especially as a young cosplayer, that’s something you unfortunately face,” Gore said.
Now many conventions have created tools to create a safe space for cosplayers. Many conventions have started providing online models for cosplayers. They can post the model online, letting people know of their personal boundaries.
“That’s been a really big push for cosplayers, especially to be like, ‘these are my comfort zones and you can’t violate them,’ which has been really nice. I know I usually post one right before the convention,” Gossett said.
For those who missed this year’s convention, Rose City Comic Con returns next September.