Girls In Costumes @ Wizard World Chicago '07

When you think of the crowd at comic book conventions, certain stereotypes come to mind. You probably imagine fanboys or wannabe creators, but if you've never been to a con, you might imagine they're filled with people dressed in colorful costumes. As comic books gain in popularity and earn more coverage from the press, local newscasts report from the big cons and, as they're the most noticeable people in the crowd, it's the cosplayers who get the spotlight – and, it seems, the more elaborate, expensive and embarrassing the costume is, the better.

What is also not widely reported is the fact that girls go to comic book conventions. In previous years it seemed that the female con population was made up only of fanboys' girlfriends or the so-called "booth babes," and that girls who were there just because they liked comics were rare. That's changed, obviously, and we're seeing girls at conventions who are just as excited about the books and being there as the guys are. So excited, it seems, that they're sometimes compelled to dress up in costumes.

Stereotypes and myths still persist, naturally, but CBR News sought to seek out and dispel them by speaking with fangirls in costume at Wizard World Chicago 2007.

Myth #1: Girls don't read comics.

"I'm a hardcore fan," said Carly Spade, 21, from Chicago. "Oh, yeah!" she said, her face lit up talking about Michael Turner and his version of Supergirl. Spade was dressed as Black Canary, and went on about other costumes she's made, including a lady pirate for a short film, and how she is trying to promote more blonde superheroes, making note of the Supergirl costume she wore last year. She said she didn't follow "every single title" but showed that she knew what she was talking about as a comics fan, including credentials as a colorist for Particle 9, an indie comics publisher with a presence at the convention.

Myth #2: Girls dress up just because their boyfriends talk them into it.

"My boyfriend was going to come as Bruce Willis, but he couldn't get his costume ready in time," said Karrie "Banana" Benda, 19, who dressed as Leeloo from "The Fifth Element." With no boyfriend in sight, Benda said her "Banana" nickname came from a banana costume she and a friend made, which she wore frequently. A devoted cosplayer, she couldn't count the number of costumes she has, but guessed she had about seven wigs she mixes and matches for different costumes. Benda's made all her own costumes, having plenty of time to work on them at her job at a gas station. "The suspenders were the hardest part," she said, looking down at a costume that also included gold leggings and gigantic boots.

Myth #3: Girls don't make their own costumes.

Jia Crens, 24, made her own Rogue costume from head to toe. She's a professional seamstress and the costume was her idea and her doing. She didn't even skimp on getting a leather jacket for the mid-'90s version of the character – a jacket she made herself. "Rogue's my favorite character," Crens said, as she smiled from under an unwieldy skunk-colored wig. Crens usually makes anime costumes, though she loves mainstream superhero comics. She puts in easily 40 solid hours a week making costumes and the Rogue outfit took about 20 hours and was originally made for Dragon*Con, the fantasy/sci-fi convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Another seamstress in attendance at Wizard World was Maurynna Kyrissean, 21, who made her own White Queen costume, based on the '80s issues of "Uncanny X-Men," though she has also made one for the more recent version of the character. The costume, which includes a fur-topped cape, took less than a week to make and cost under $150 (she did not make the boots.)

Indeed, most of the costumes at WWC were made by the girls themselves, and it's obviously a labor of love. The elaborate designs and work that have gone into constructing the suits, demonstrate a clear devotion to not only to the costumes but to the characters from which the outfits are inspired.

Myth #4: Girls in costumes are "booth babes."

"Booth babes" have almost always had a presence at comic conventions. At WWC, Legion Studios had girls in gothic devil costumes; Zenoscope had girls dressed as Cinderella and Snow White, handing out samplers of the company's projects; and a goth-school girl was handing out slick fliers for the horror comic "Pogrom."

Another girl in costume to promote her booth was Anna Gorski, 27, but it was her idea to dress up. "I made a Zatanna costume for Halloween and just decided to wear it to the convention," Gorski said. She works at the Graham Crackers comics retail chain and is also planning a Kitty Pryde costume for this coming Halloween. For the Zatanna costume, Gorski said the hardest part was getting a top hat and bowtie that looked right. To complete the outfit -- and promotion for the booth -- she had a sign shaped as a word balloon with the name of the company's website -- all written backwards, of course.

Sometimes the stereotypes are true. Liga Circene, 19, from Latvia, was in Chicago visiting relatives and, being a manga fan, went to Wizard World to explore and have fun but was asked early on to wear an Evil Supergirl costume as part of a promotion. CBR News was unable to verify what exactly Circene's employer was meant to be advertising, but judging by the number of pictures that have appeared online, Circene's was a popular costume.

Though having attractive women in or out of costume is certainly effective in grabbing attention for a booth, more often than not girls are dressing up simply because they want to dress up, not only because they're paid eye-candy. Besides, when they wear the same costume day after day, you have to wonder if their hotel has a laundry service and if they're taking advantage of it.

Myth #5: Girls can't be Stormtroopers.

Perhaps the most popular costumes seen in media coverage of comic cons are Stormtroopers. They're instantly recognizable, they show the intense level of dedication that must go into making and wearing the costumes, and those wearing the costumes often travel in packs. Since it's hard to tell if the person wearing the costume is a man, woman, or other, it's usually assumed they're a male -- but that's not always the case. Females can be hardcore "Star Wars" fans just as much as the next person can. In the case of this convention, two of the half-dozen Stormtroopers wandering the aisles were female: Wendy, 44, and Jeany, 55, both from Indiana. It was Jeany's idea to outfit her friends as the "Star Wars" bad guys, and necessitated membership in the 501st Legion -- "The World's Definitive Imperial Costuming Organization"-as well as construction of the costume, which must be done by hand from a pattern that has to be ordered and can easily cost over $1000 for just a middle-of-the-road version. Both women talked about their costumes and their Kokomo, IA-based battalion, which numbers 87 members -- all with costumes, and a fair number of females.

Slave Leia.

In an event that can feature of a ratio of dozens of guys to one girl, female conventioneers can be very popular. Perhaps the most famous fangirl of recent times is Christy Marie, who in her Slave Leia costume has been featured in many prominent photos from this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego and the Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles. The authenticity of the skimpy costume, purchased online for about $600, is not in question, as no observing "Star Wars" fanboys will argue. And even if Marie wasn't dressed up in costume, she's a comic-convention celebrity just the same, being the girlfriend of comics superstar J. Scott Campbell, whom she met as a fan when he was doing a signing. "We're the 'Brangelina' of the comic convention," Marie laughed, though she was sure to credit Campbell with coming up with the line.

While comics publishers big and small scramble to capture the historically elusive but hugely lucrative female audience, it's clear to see on the convention floors that female fandom is alive, well, and gaining numbers every day and every year. While manga and anime might be a gateway for some, it's clear that characters from mainstream American comics, even superhero ones, are similarly popular with female readers – at least, if their choices of costumes are any indication. These fangirls are just as quick to shrug off the myths of girls in con costumes as they are to the notion that girls don't read comics.

Photographs by Marlan Harris and Brad Heitmeyer

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