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Cosplay makes fans part of the show

| Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Courtesy of Alex Kinnamon
From left, Matthew Mullen in ODST Armor from the 'Halo' series of video games, Tony Panaro as Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series and Cheyenne Conrad as a Madalorian — the culture from which Boba Fetta emerged in the 'Star Wars' universe. Built by Monroeville-based Kinetech Forge, cost for these cosplay suits would range from $1,000 to $2,000.
Courtesy of Scott Allen Stafford
Maia Bryant of Penn Hills poses in costume as Princess Iolande from the Green Lantern comic books.

Maia Bryant is looking for a man in spandex and face paint.

As Bryant meandered through a crowd of caped crusaders and anime characters at a pop-culture convention in Pittsburgh last week, she said the plan is to someday find a husband who could share in the cosplay experience.

“It's the environment, the vibe you get around other cosplayers,” Bryant said. “Recently, it's been the friendships.”

Cosplay — a term derived from the phrase “costume play” — is a subculture that celebrates fandom by dressing up as characters from comic books, anime and other pop-culture stories.

Visitors to this weekend's Steel City Con in Monroeville will see a variety of cosplayers — including Bryant, of Penn Hills — paying homage to their favorite heroes and villains.

Costumed fans will mingle with the crowd at the Steel City Con and then pose for photos they could later show off on social media sites.

Some will compete for prizes in three different age brackets.

Cosplay has gained in popularity over the past 10 years, fueled by superhero movies such as “Iron Man 3” and “The Avengers,” which now are among the 10 highest-grossing movies in box-office history, and TV series such as “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones.”

“Comic-book and cartoon culture is driving the entertainment industry,” said Joe Wos, a cartoonist who opened the Toonseum seven years ago in downtown Pittsburgh. “Geek is good.”

Attendance at the Tekkoshocon convention in Pittsburgh last weekend reached at least 5,000 this year, which is a 30-percent increase from last year, co-organizer Justin Quaranta said.

The rise in popularity of cosplay in Pittsburgh inspired three Monroeville artists to turn their passion for pop culture in to a business.

Kinetech Forge, a home-based business in Monroeville, designs costumes and props for local cosplayers and filmmakers.

Co-owners Tony Panaro and Matthew Mullen, both of Monroeville, modeled a few of Kinetech Forge's latest creations at the convention last weekend.

Among their wares was an armored suit — well, a rubber suit that looked a lot like metal armor — that required about 125 hours of work and about $70 in material to create, said Alex Kinnamon, who also owns a share of the business.

A suit that would take that amount of time to build would sell for between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on the level of detail requested by the client, Kinnamon said.

“The real cost is obviously the sweat equity,” he said.

Bryant, 39, attended her first convention about 20 years ago when she was in high school.

Last week, her daughter, 15, attended the convention with her.

Cosplay has become a multigenerational hobby that enables pop-culture fans to escape the real world for a few hours, said Vincent Zurzolo, co-owner of New York-based Metropolis Collectibles.

“It's like Halloween every day,” he said.

Bryant said most of the characters she has played over the years were single, to maintain the authenticity of the character.

But Dragon Con in Atlanta this summer could be different, when a friend is supposed to set Bryant up with a date.

The plan is for Bryant to dress as Fatality — a character originally from the “Green Lantern” comic books — while her date would dress as Fatality's boyfriend.

“I'm excited because this will be my first actual love interest through a character,” Bryant said.

Love interest or not, Bryant will make the trip to Atlanta for the fifth consecutive year.

“(Some) people think this is wrong but (think) it's OK to drink and do drugs,” Bryant said. “I get high on this.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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