At this very moment, they are walking among you. Mild-mannered men and women across Western North Carolina go about their daily business, blending into the everyday crowd, maintaining their inconspicuous civilian identities. They are normal in every respect save one: they are cosplayers, waiting for the right time to transform into emblems of justice and villainy.
A portmanteau of costume and play, cosplay is the practice of dressing up as fictional characters from popular media. TV shows, video games, and movies can all be sources of inspiration, but the heart of cosplay is comic books, and its greatest stages are the conventions that bring comic fans together. The Asheville Comic Con, sponsored by Timmy Mac’s Comics and Games and taking place at the WNC Agricultural Center in Fletcher this month, is the region’s premier event for cosplayers to show their dedication to the hobby.
Although the convention also features comic dealers, collectibles sales, and live artist sketches, it’s cosplay that gets top billing. Headlining the event is Morganton-based The Ultimate Experience, which has been bringing to life such classic superheroes such as Spiderman, Batman, and Wonder Woman since 2015.
Manager (and Spider-Woman) Fae Phillips explains that The Ultimate Experience arose from her desire to see these characters portrayed in suitably heroic fashion. “I find that the world has completely lost sight of teaching what’s right and what’s wrong. The movies have our favorite heroes swearing and doing things that they never did in the comic books,” she says. “I decided to get a group of heroes together that would dress the part and play it in a much more positive manner, as it was originally intended.”
To that end, Phillips and her band of cosplayers — including her husband Kris, better known as the authentically acrobatic Morganton Spider-The-Man — focus on using their powers for good. The Ultimate Experience regularly appears at fundraisers for organizations such as Levine Children’s Hospital and the American Cancer Society. When booked to perform at conventions and other events, the group’s skits strive to convey family-friendly morals.
“[These characters] teach children and adults alike what it is to be a hero,” Phillips says. “A hero at home, a hero at school, a hero pretty much anywhere and everywhere you go.”
Other groups attending the Asheville Comic Con are drawn to the darker side of cosplay. The 501st Legion, for example, specializes in costumes from the evil Galactic Empire of the Star Wars saga, while the Klingon Assault Group takes its cues from the fierce warrior race of Star Trek fame. Asheville-based Wolfthorne Cosplayers Club has members with takes on villains Scarecrow and Harley Quinn from Batman, Marvel antihero Deadpool, and old-school horror figure Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
As Wolfthorne leader Lucy Patton points out, however, these less-than-savory characters can still do good by building community. Everyone with a love for the culture of cosplay is welcome in her organization: its more than 40 members range in age from 17 to 68, and the club provides a safe space for LGBTQ individuals. The group meets regularly to work on its costumes, share skills, and attend events.
There’s a significant element of art to the cosplay scene, with many choosing to make their own garb from craft and thrift-store finds. This creativity extends to designs as well — Patton’s own “medieval Mandalorian” costume reinterprets the armor of Boba Fett from Star Wars as that of a knight, with sword and dagger replacing laser weaponry.
Some Wolfthorne members have even taken their hobby to a professional level, producing costume elements for other cosplayers. Anne King and Connor Weylyn run Foxfire Custom Designs in Flat Rock; their offerings include unicorn horns, Harry Potter house-themed scarves, and Pokemon-inspired plush balls.
But Patton emphasizes that all skill levels are welcome. “Even if a cosplay looks like someone cut cardboard with pinking shears, then spray-painted it and strapped it together with duct tape, it’s the intent and passion behind it that counts,” she says. “We help each other learn and grow in any way that we can.”
The Asheville Comic Con takes place in the Expo Building of WNC Agricultural Center (1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher) on Saturday, May 19, 10am–5pm. $5/adults, $3/kids 13 and under. Call 828-433-6322 or search Asheville Comic Con on Facebook for more information. For more information on The Ultimate Experience, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or search The Ultimate Experience on Facebook. Find Wolfthorne Cosplayers Club on Facebook or e-mail email@example.com.