Foot traffic in the halls of the McAllen Convention Center slowed to a crawl at times Saturday as hoards gathered at South Texas Comic Con. At the biggest day in the history of the event, fans gathered to meet actors, voices and creators of their favorite movie, TV and comic book characters. But many came to be them.
Cosplaying, the portrayal of fictional personas while donning elaborate, usually-handcrafted costumes, is becoming more popular in the Rio Grande Valley, according to event organizer Ramsey Ramirez.
“We’ve definitely seen a huge growth in the quality, size and detail in all the costuming happening here,” Ramirez said.
The cosplay panels and competition are some of the convention’s biggest draws. With $1,000 cash up for grabs in the contest, some cosplayers work for months.
“Are you real?,” a little girl asks Jazmine Leija, who is dressed as evil sorceress Yzma from “The Emperor’s New Groove.”
Through white face paint and exaggerated lashes, Leija smiles and assures the kids she’s legitimate.
Attached to a harness on her back are eight 3-foot long fabric spikes flaring like a peacock’s feather that are supported by carbon fiber poles. She waddles down the packed halls, turnings sideways at times because of the wide load she tows.
Leija is tired from a long day of staying in character, mimicking the Yzma’s actions and posing for pictures. Despite her discomfort, she said it’s worth it to provide people with the chance to see this Disney villain brought to life.
“The most rewarding thing is putting on the costume after you’ve spent all these hours and … dollars making it, and seeing it come to life,” said Leah Lowman, who attended the conference as “Masters of the Universe” villain, Skeletor. “I can’t explain that feeling.”
Lowman worked on and off for more than half a year to create her intricate costume.
Before the contest, Lowman’s boyfriend adjusts her skeleton face to get ready for a picture. He helps her walk down the hall, as her vision is obstructed behind the glowing red eyes of the evil she hoped to embody.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she said, referring to the construction process.
Her movable skull mask, like the other components and accessories, were handmade using various methods — relying heavily on online tutorials.
“I really wanted to push myself and prove to myself that I’m capable of doing what these cosplayers are doing,” she said.
Conventions are like art shows, Lowman said, and it’s like going to a museum to see
the work versus simply seeing pieces as the internet images.
“It’s nice to see people wear costumes, but when they really get into it and are doing the voices, the motions and are waving their swords around, it’s a whole different thing,” Lowman said. “It’s a lot more immersive.”
The conventions also serve as an impromptu classroom to exchanges tips for the hobby described as “self-taught,” Lowman said.
“It’s like that at every con. We all know the struggle,” she said of scouring YouTube for relevant clues on materials and skills. “You always see the cosplayers there together admiring each other’s work.
“It’s a very supportive community,” she said, which is a common refrain from those at the con.
Lowman is part of a local cosplay collective, Luna Valley Cosplay. They began with a group Sailor Moon Halloween costume in 2014. None of them knew how to properly sew when they started, she said.
“I was going through a rough time in my life, and so were some of the girls. My mom had just passed away,” she said. “That was a real bonding experience for us. “It really brought us really close together as friends.”
And miraculously, after much trial and error, they completed those first get-ups — after making the white bodysuits four times, she laughed.
“It feels good to be a part of something … (with) like-minded individuals,” she said. “We want to grow the scene and, hopefully, it will be better for the younger cosplayers and they’ll have more information available to them.”
Leija was introduced to local cosplay at RGV PokéFest 2016. She said she was “shocked.”
“I didn’t know this many people here were this talented,” she said, which she partially attributed to the lack of overall support of arts. “When I saw all these people making these incredible outfits all on their own, it really surprised me.”
Growing up, these beloved roles from different fandoms are distant, on screens or in books. But portraying these roles, especially those that people might not get to see if not for a cosplayer caring enough to make it, is part of the appeal to Leija.
“The Valley has definitely brought it in term of making these cosplays and I think it rivals anywhere in the country,” Ramirez said, praising the chances people are taking now.
Local cosplayers are using foam in unique ways, adding lights and moving parts, Ramirez said.
But if someone is interested in cosplay and just starting, Lowman suggests they keep it simple to build confidence. She offered her group as a resource for those interested.
“We want a bigger convention scene,” she said. “Why does L.A. and San Diego get to have all the fun?”