TAMPA — Imagine spending hours of labor, or an arm and a leg, on a costume of your favorite character and traveling across the country for a convention — only for it to tear or break or come apart when you get there.
It’s a nightmare scenario for cosplayers at events like MegaCon Tampa Bay, which is drawing an expected 30,000 fans to the Tampa Convention Center this weekend. But there’s a solution:
In a small room at the end of a hallway, the Black Panther’s mask isn’t lighting up. Jahconus Sevilla, 19, tries to fix a wire — he blames his dad for weak soldering.
Jasmine Jackson, 27 of Orlando, struggles with fake wounds that keep peeling off her Harley Quinn costume. She finds some medical-grade adhesive, which comes through where Elmer’s Glue failed.
A broken costume can ruin the day for a convention-goer, said Jamie Kruger, 41, of Altamonte Springs. Kruger started the "Cospital" at MegaCon Orlando in 2014 with his spouse, Crow Hellum.
"It literally started as a table in the hallway," Kruger said. But the demand was too great. Cosplayers in need blocked the hallway.
Now, his team of volunteers — many with experience in theater, show up at fan conventions and offer first-aid for costume mishaps.
"This is high stress — a lot of triage going on," Kruger said.
Customized shoes often fall apart, he said, and fans without shoes can be asked to leave. And there are more embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions, especially "crotches and butts," so the Cospital offers a curtained-off changing room.
Sometimes, the fix is simple. Just before noon, Lauren Murray of Chicago handled a broken "warrior Little Mermaid" costume with hot glue and black duct tape.
At the convention center Saturday, attendees played table-top games, watched panels and crowded vendors’ booths. In a dark hall with high ceilings, sellers in wireframe booths hawked Star Trek quilts, Rick and Morty Monopoly sets and cell phone cases decorated with everything from the Stranger Things cast to Rihanna’s face. Conventioneers squeezed passed each other — a common criticism was that the event was smaller than its Orlando counterpart — often having to avoid walking through photos.
But it’s the costumes and cosplay that drive turnout.
Once Tampa 21-year-old Yanni Nunez learned about Comic-Con International, the famous San Diego weekend, she knew she wanted to do something similar, she said.
She donned her first costume, Goku from Dragon Ball Z, earlier this year. On Saturday, she wore a dark red jumpsuit, high black boots and blue paint on her forearms as Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
"You don’t feel weird" in a costume, Nunez said — everyone is in one. "I’m feeling a lot of that camaraderie, a lot of love, a lot of happiness."
It’s not just about seeing other fans, said Megan Carey, 27 of West Palm Beach.
"You see the things you love come to life."
Kaylee Diamond of Hudson and Jake Roakes of New Port Richey, both 15, were there as Lady Heartfilia and Natsu Dragneel from the manga series Fairy Tail. Their friend Josh O’Hara was Mercy from the videogame Overwatch. Their friendship started in fandom — Jake dyed his hair blue one day, and Kaylee made a manga joke in class.
Sometimes, the connections forged at MegaCon are more directed. Bill Bauldree, 36, worked his way into the convention as a volunteer and was assigned to the speed dating room.
"People are very wary about doing it," he said, choosing his words carefully. Often he has to "butter them up," but they enjoy it once it’s done, he said. An afternoon session drew about two dozen hopefuls.
Next door, the Cospital continued to treat patients. Its work is crucial for both the fans and the organizers, Kruger said.
"It keeps people happy. It keeps people at the show."
Indeed, about 3 p.m., Lauren Murray in the Little Mermaid costume was back — for more duct tape.
Contact Langston Taylor at (727) 893-8659 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @langstonitaylor.