The few days before the annual Cosplacon convention are like the calm before the storm. Organizers have one last chance to take a deep breath.
Then, all universes break loose.
“By the end of the weekend, we’re all hot and tired and exhausted, but we’re also on cloud nine,” organizer Erica McClary said with a smile.
And that’s how it’s been for the previous seven years of Cosplacon history.
This coming June marks the eighth annual convention, themed “Into the Game,” and organizers are already running around to make sure the nearly 1,000 people they’re expecting will be accommodated, entertained and “in a phenomenal mood.”
Much of that is determined by what they can offer, and Cosplacon staff is constantly listening to feedback and seeking ways to improve.
It’s taken organizers a handful of years to perfect the practice of scouting talent, but being fans themselves, McClary said, has helped them find guests to bring to the Con, national and local.
This year, voice actors Derek Stephen Prince, known for his roles in “Digimon,” “Naruto,” “Bleach” and the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise; Brian Donovan, known for “Naruto,” “Digimon” and “Rurouni Kenshin”; and Paul St. Peter, known for “Naruto,” “Digimon” and the “Kingdom Hearts” franchise, will headline Cosplacon 2020 as official guests.
Cosplay guests include Pros and Cons Cosplay, Strange Cat Cosplay, Ex-Shadow and Malindachan.
“We do definitely focus on cosplay — that’s more our thing,” McClary said. “But we do try to include the whole community — nerds, in general.”
One of the largest attractions each year is the Cosplay Royale, a cosplay competition judged on costume quality and stage presence. It’s broken down into four categories to ensure a variety of people — and skill levels — can compete, ranging from “Exhibition” (the entrant has made 50 percent or less of their cosplay) to “Master Craftsmanship” (cosplayers who have crafted their own looks for years and won several awards).
Winners are awarded various prizes including a cash prize for “Best in Show.” There’s also an “Audience Choice” award.
With the amount of creativity that walks through the hotel doors, it’s almost certain picking “Best in Show” won’t be an easy task. Many attendees spend hours upon hours, weeks upon weeks making their cosplays from scratch or scavenging the web and resale shops for the perfect accessories to complete their look.
And that’s just the clothing. Makeup and hair can play an important role in completely embodying the character and polishing off the finishing touches. It’s certainly not out of the ordinary to see glowing red contact lenses, blue face paint or gravity-defying fluorescent yellow-orange spiky hair.
One cosplayer went as far as sculpting an entire bodysuit out of resin. It was so detailed and so complex McClary said she couldn’t begin to imagine the work that went into it.
“It’s astounding,” McClary said. “Just the creativity that walks into that hotel over the weekend blows me away every year.”
It’s that creative freedom that keeps many attendees coming back — and the ability to share it with a community that cares. Even though Cosplacon is smaller than other Missouri conventions, like Naka-Kon in Kansas City, it fills a gap for Jefferson City residents who want to attend something local.
When the Con first started, organizers were surprised to see 500-600 people show up. Since then, they’ve grown steadily. Some organizers have kept a close watch on the possibility of a standalone convention center to Jefferson City.
“For 500 people to show up to our little no name, out of nowhere convention — and some of them from as far as Alabama and New Mexico — we were like, ‘How did this happen?’” McClary said.
That’s a testament to the different types of people who attend Cosplacon each year. The event is family-friendly and open to people of all ages, genders, backgrounds and so on. Organizers proudly hold on to the fact Cosplacon is for all fandoms and say there’s something for everyone. The best part about the Con, McClary said, is ages can range from 5 years old to the upper 60s and 70s.
While there’s still a lingering stigma against cosplay, and the very mention of it can make some uncomfortable, McClary said superheroes have become much more mainstream with recent productions like “The Avengers,” “Black Panther” and game-changing women like Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman.”
But if cosplay isn’t where you feel most comfortable, the Con features a video gaming room, scavenger hunt, various panels, a “Mainframe Masquerade” (a Tron-themed dance fittingly matching this year’s theme, “Into the Game”) and more.
And when the lights dim and the children head off to sleep, that’s when Jami Harris takes over the show.
Harris, who has been with the Con since its inception, organizes the 18 and older events including a burlesque show and “Queens of Cosplay,” a drag show.
So much of Cosplacon is geared toward families, Harris said, that it’s important to give adults a safe space to enjoy themselves as well.
“It is important to have adult entertainment. I have two children — and they’re my world — but I’m allowed to function outside of (being a parent),” Harris said.
The rest of the Con staff has been extremely accommodating to the burlesque show, Harris said, and puts measures in place to ensure it stays a safe space.
All 18 and older events take place behind closed doors with security and staff checking IDs. And yes, there are rules to burlesque: No touching. If an audience member wishes to tip the performers, “kittens” circulate the crowds with tip jars. All of the money collected goes to the freelance performers hired for the show.
Bringing burlesque to the Con has offered a stage for body positivity. Burlesque, Harris said, is about inclusion similar to Cosplacon itself.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that it’s very inspiring and that they would like to do it. … After every show — it never fails — we have at least one or two girls who are like, ‘Can I do this now?’” Harris said.
Planning for the event can be stressful, and it’s a whole year ordeal, but it’s all worth it in the end, McClary said.
“Then the weekend happens, and you get to stand back and go, ‘I did that.’ It’s all these people smiling, having a good time and getting to be themselves — which isn’t something that happens all the time for all of them,” she said. “It’s pretty cool to be a part of something like that.”
The annual Cosplacon convention will start at 4 p.m. June 18 and run through the afternoon hours of June 21 for a total of four days of events and cosplay galore at the Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center in Jefferson City.
Tickets for Cosplacon are currently on sale for $40 during pre-registration. A pre-registration ticket includes a four-day pass to Cosplacon. All 18 and older badges must be purchased with an accompanying valid photo ID. Badges will be required to enter all convention rooms and events. Children ages 7 and under enter the convention for free.
Registration does not include a hotel room.