The second Aurora Cruz's heels touched the comic convention floor she knew she had a winner. Her Rainbow Dash cosplay, complete with a multicolor wig to match the My Little Pony character's mane, brought people from every direction admiring her effort.
"I thought, 'Okay. I did this right," said the 25-year-old bartender/server from Tampa.
Wowing crowds is all apart of Cruz's plan, with fellow cosplay enthusiast Mike Reed, to elevate their hobby into the annals of high art.
"Cosplay is more than just something to do, it's an art form," said Reed, the CEO of Cos-Mods, a modeling troupe specifically for fictional character costumes. "It's a type of fashion, just as elaborate as mainstream fashion."
The Cos-Mods will host a panel Saturday at Tampa Bay Comic Con about the first stratagem in making cosplay part of society's norms: getting cosplayers to raise the level of their costumes. Their next step? Show the everyday appeal of cosplay fashion with a fashion show at Tampa's Khaotic Kon in May.
"We've been doing it a little bit over a year. Khaotic Kon will be our first fashion show," she said. "It started when Mike said, 'Let's do something new. Let's take cosplay and just bring it out into the real world.'"
Since that light-bulb moment, Cruz, Reed and co-founder Nicholas Graffio have been able to fish their pool of friends to find a rotating cast of 60 models to work event bookings such as conventions and nightclubs, Cruz said. All of the models are fans of anime, have made their own costumes before and try to breathe life into their characters not only in detailed looks but mannerisms.
With that base, Reed hopes to expand all sorts of events, from store openings to mainstream fashion shows.
Reed, 22, of Tampa, started costuming— which is hero-focused and slightly different from cosplay — when he was 15. The most he's ever spent on a look is $800 on a custom Black Ranger costume from the show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
He said the focus of his talk with Tampa's cosplayers on Saturday won't encourage them to spend that much to complete a look.
"I'm a budget costumer. I try not spend over $200 to $300 on a look. But I've made connections with people who will do things for me for free or low cost," he said.
Up until recently, there was a social divide between costumers and cosplayers because of a lack of effort on cosplay's part, Reed said. Costumers would work out religiously and get specially made spandex costumes before attempting to show up dressed as Superman, but any kid with a wig and headband could call himself Naruto, Reed said.
"And that's okay. If you want to raise the level there are different tools and techniques you can use," he explained.
Reed said Tampa's costume scene is a little lazier than our neighbors to the east and south.
"I don't think there is a big scene here. Of course, there are true fans and we have a great fan base. But most of the cosplayers come up to our conventions from Miami or over from Orlando."
Cruz said she can't sew so she develops relationships with seamstresses to get the details of her costumes right. She said that small bit of effort makes a big difference in the reception of her costumes.
"I have 20-something complete costumes. There are some I still haven't finished because certain pieces will be really expensive," she said.
Cos-Mods hopes Saturday's effort will win over the panel attendees and light a fire in the cosplay community.
"I would say it's most important for people to be true to the character," Cruz said. "People who cosplay have to love their characters. People who really love the characters are the ones that are going to do it justice."