Cosplay is described as dressing up as a movie, book or video game character, but according to Ro Malaga, the cosplay director for Salt Lake Comic Con, cosplay is about more than just the outfit.
“To be considered as cosplay, the majority of the outfit needs to be created or altered by you," Malaga said in an interview with the Deseret News. "Whether you make it, put a new pattern on top of the costume, or add a new twist, judges and con-goers will look at how you made the character your own."
Malaga said that he has loved watching the cosplay community develop in Utah, both through contests but also as it has created a subculture focused on support and charity.
“It’s becoming a subculture," he said. "It isn’t just a hobby anymore because it encompasses people’s lives.”
Not only is it a rapidly growing throng, but Malaga said Utah has a welcoming and tight-knit cosplay community that is always extending its reach to interested fans.
Ryan Bielik, a 30-year old cosplayer from Layton who received the 2016 Judge’s Choice Award at Salt Lake Comic Con for his creation of Soundwave from "Transformers," said that he has loved being engaged in the Utah cosplay scene over his years of involvement.
“It’s been great to have friends in this community that can help you when you’re stuck on a project," Bielik said. "They’re super helpful to workshop costume ideas with, and fun to travel to conventions with. We have fostered some great relationships with people we may not have found otherwise."
Bielik said that he and his wife, Candace, really enjoy how outgoing the Utah cosplay groups are and that the welcome they received helped them fall in love with the hobby. Bielik now spends up to 250 hours a year preparing for his cosplay outfits.
“It’s like a full-time job, right alongside my other full-time job,” Bielik said with a laugh.
The Bieliks try to meet up with their cosplay friends at least once a month, whether it be for a photo shoot or a convention trip. Ryan Bielik said they also like attending charity events in costume as a way to use their creativity to give back.
Malaga said that many comic fans use their cosplay talents to try to help those in the surrounding community. Salt Lake Comic Con recently honored one of these individuals, Eric Allan Hall, by inducting him into the new Salt Lake Comic Con Cosplay Hall of Fame, Malaga said.
Hall is an avid participant in Heroes Engaging Real Organizations in Charity, a Salt Lake City-based charity cosplay group that helps support charities and community events while portraying fantasy and science fiction characters, according to saltlakecomiccon.com.
Hall helped found the organization in 2011 after seeing numerous other organizations give service through their cosplay talents. He told the Deseret News that his first charity event was a 5K for pediatric cancer, at which he ran the race dressed as Spider-Man.
“It was just such a good experience to know that I could do something fun and creative that could also enrich other people’s lives,” Hall said.
After that event, Hall started attending multiple fundraisers a year and recognized a Star Wars group that was always participating alongside him. He wanted to create a superhero-themed group. Thus H.E.R.O.I.C. was born.
Since discovering Hall and his organization, Malaga has been working to give more publicity to the group to expand their reach and said that he made Hall the first member of the Hall of Fame for that reason.
“The Hall of Fame isn’t necessarily for bragging rights, but to create a role model for all cosplayers to aspire to," Malaga said. "Eric is an example of how you can use cosplay to help the community, to give interest and make somebody smile, not just to look cool."
Salt Lake Comic Con also gives H.E.R.O.I.C. a booth space at each convention, where the members pose with convention guests, recruit new members and raise funds for their charity efforts. They generate several hundred dollars at every convention that they then donate to a charity of their choice, according to Hall.
Hall said H.E.R.O.I.C. has worked with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Make-A-Wish, Toys for Tots and numerous other local and national organizations, either to provide characters for events or for publicity.
Malaga encourages all comic fans to participate in cosplay, whether for charity, contests or just for fun.
“Don’t be discouraged by your anxieties. Cosplay is a great way to come out of your shell,” he said.
Malaga said that body positivity is a priority for the Utah cosplay community. He said that the cosplayers in Utah have created a nurturing environment for self-image and that trying cosplay is a great way to overcome self-image worries.
“Registration for the cosplay contest is open now, but you don’t have to register," Malaga said. "As long as you have a day ticket for Comic Con, you are welcome to come hang out and look at some of Utah’s best talent.”
Salt Lake Comic Con FanX is March 17-18 at the Salt Palace Convention Center. See saltlakecomiccon.com for information, including tickets, prices and schedules.