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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Cosplayers wait to promenade into a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, where the celebrity guest lineup for this fall's Salt Lake Comic Con was announced.

SALT LAKE CITY — For cosplay enthusiasts, the art of dressing up as fictional characters can carry a stigma of being “geeky,” “nerdy” or just “weird.”

But Lindsey Lopez doesn’t buy into that.

“Don’t knock it till you try it,” she said. “Cosplay, to me, is just a hobby that is different than yours. … It just happens to carry costumes with it or crazy, colorful characters.”

Lopez, 29, is a resident of Cedar City and a senior studying opera at Southern Utah University. She’s also a serious cosplay artist who recently won Anime Expo's U.S. preliminaries, which, last month, gave her and partner Megan Tubridy an all-expenses paid, weeklong trip to Japan representing the U.S. in the World Cosplay Summit (though China took home the title).

Her love for the art form typically involves Japanese anime (animation) and manga (comic books or graphic novels) characters but can be inspired by many kinds of stories. It began about six or seven years ago, when she “just fell in love with this idea of taking a 2D character and turning it into a 3D person where it was a living, breathing character,” she said.

But Lopez isn’t alone in her love of bringing fictional characters to life. With multiple anime or similar conventions in Utah that see thousands of participants each year, cosplay is becoming an increasingly popular way for anime, fantasy and sci-fi enthusiasts to celebrate their favorite stories.

The difference between cosplay and just dressing up, said Salt Lake Comic Con co-founder Bryan Brandenburg, is that cosplay involves the entire person, not just the costume.

“If it’s just about the costume, then it’s costuming,” he said. “But cosplay is actually playing in the costume. So you’ll have people dressed up as Jack Sparrow and they’ll delve right into his mannerisms and voice. … They’re acting as well as wearing the costume.”

Brandenburg said cosplay is a huge part of Salt Lake Comic Con, which began in 2013, and in 2015 saw over 125,000 attendees, according to its website. It runs both a cosplay contest and a children's cosplay parade, and about 10 to 15 percent of its attendees participate in cosplay, Brandenburg said, depending on how cosplay is defined (for instance, some people just add a cape to their regular clothes, which some would not consider true cosplay). Comic Con will be held at the Salt Lake Palace Convention Center Sept. 21-23.

But other events are even more focused on the cosplay aspect. The Anime Banzai Convention, for example, which began as a Salt Lake Community College club in 2005, is “a lot more focused on Japanese animation, aka anime,” public relations representative Chris Allen said. “So … people really put focus more onto the specific anime that they’re trying to cosplay from.”

According to its website, Anime Banzai saw about 600 people its first year, but Allen said it now averages 4,000 people each year. He believes cosplay does well in Utah simply because people love dressing up.

“Halloween is a huge event here,” he said, “and all the conventions and expos help get people even more opportunities to do what they love.”

Brandenburg said people simply want to emulate characters they admire.

“Personally, I think a lot of reason for cosplay is because who doesn’t want to be a superhero?” he said. “This allows people to have some fun fantasies.”

He also said cosplay is successful in Utah because of a prevalent do-it-yourself culture.

“People spend all year working on their costumes,” he said.

But Brandenburg also said it’s important to respect a cosplayer’s space.

“You don’t go up and put your arm around a cosplayer while a friend takes a picture,” he said. “You need to ask permission. Don’t touch cosplayers because they’re attractive or have a costume that you’re attracted to.”

Lopez knows a thing or two about creating those costumes, as she and Tubridy each spent about 200 hours on their World Cosplay Summit costumes, she said.

“Our costumes look incredibly simple, but there’s so much love and dedication put into them,” Lopez said. “I am a historically trained seamstress (and) lace-maker. I was also trained by a leather-smith. … I use so many techniques I’ve learned from different masters over the years.”

But you don’t have to be a multi-skilled, award-winning cosplayer to belong in the community.

“(Cosplayers) find other people that have the same mentality at our event, and everybody’s cool,” said Ro Malaga, cosplay producer for Salt Lake Comic Con. “I think one of the most positive things that comes out of our cosplay community is a sense of belonging with a bigger group.”

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