Finding fellowship in cosplay

Three participants’ mission is to bring practice back to art form


It took Chris Clarke about five minutes to completely transform from plainclothes civilian to cosplay hero.

First, he pulled his armor, made of ethylene-vinyl acetate foam, over his legs. Then came the chest plate. The final piece, a converted motorcycle helmet with foam aesthetics was placed on his head, and he was Altera Blademaster, a humanoid from the video game “Monster Hunter: Frontier G.”

The suit won Clarke the Best in Show at GalaxyFest and Cheyenne Comic Con, as well as a judge’s award at Denver Comic Con, all in 2017. He carefully measured every edge and curve to fit the exact model of the blademaster’s complicated armor. The armor, helmet and scepter took months to finish and cost about $400.

“A lot of people are like, ‘I want to be that character,’” Clarke said. “I just picked mine because it was big and it was spikey.”

On this hot summer evening at Lions Park in Golden, as the Sept. 16 cycling race rolled into town, Clarke, 34 of Commerce City, and two friends had come for a photo shoot for this story about the meaning of cosplay. Clarke’s transformation instantly drew stares from passersby. The suit makes Clarke look like an action figure, or, more specifically, a real live video game avatar, over his all-black elastic heat gear and leggings.

Cosplay — a combination of “costume” and “play” — is the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book or video game. It’s mostly popular in the realms of manga or anime, traiditional Japanese animations, and is used as an outlet of expression, either based on relation to a certain character, resemblance to a character or for the challenge of the costume itself.

Clarke’s costume is specific for competition, but the meaning of cosplay is deeper to him than just for winning trophies. He started an online group, Colorado Academy of Cosplay, to be a home for a community of about 350 cosplayers from around the state that specializes in educating beginners into the art of cosplay.

As Clarke strode across the parking lot at Lions Park, his form even resembled some sort of animation, walking almost robotically yet powerful and confident. He met his two co-founders of the Colorado Academy of Cosplay, Jennifer “Suvi” Losty, 33 of Lone Tree, and Elena Mathys, 21, of Golden. Losty cosplays as Valka, a main character from the movie “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and Mathys cosplays as Bandit Sivir, a battle mistress from the video game “League of Legends.”

The three formed the Colorado Academy of Cosplay in June as a group designed “for cosplayers, by cosplayers” to essentially bring back the purity of the art form. The group took off in just three months.

They were frustrated by what they saw as tarnishing the name of cosplay. First of all, they said, the changing competition rules from local conventions made it difficult for serious competitors to compete. Mathys also explained how the art of cosplay has been diluted by people seeking attention and by followers, using the opportunity to dress in skimpy or scandalous outfits that is common among cosplay outfits.

“At a lot of competitions, there’s a lot of body-shaming … That should not be happening,” Mathys said. “Cosplay is for everyone. Cosplay is for anyone. Cosplay shouldn’t be about followers. It should be about art, the effort, the friends that you make and the community.”

Clarke, Losty and Mathys take pride in the details of their costumes — Losty spent more than $500 on hers. To them, there’s a constant drive to approach perfection, even though they admittedly won’t ever be completely satisfied.

Cosplay also provides social opportunities. Mathys goes to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Clarke is a lab technician and Losty works in software.

“By nature,” Losty said, “we’re all introverts.”

Nearby, the “Golden Giddyup” mountain bike race drew a crowd of hundreds to Lions Park. For the most part, the trio of cosplayers drew confused stares and gaping mouths, with the exceptional thumbs-up or passing biker shouting “You guys are my heroes.”

In a situation when most people would feel awkward or uncomfortable dressed up as if they’re going to a costume party — as one little boy pointed out — dressing together in cosplay provided almost a heightened sense of self-confidence.

“I’m not super social,” Mathys said. “Personally, going out and seeing people, talking to strangers isn’t something I do on the normal. There’s strength in numbers. You know you’re not being singled out. There’s support from people behind you.”


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