As the annual Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo nears, droves of overzealous, costume-clad characters will be parading the streets in preparation for their favourite time of the year. For the sheltered, it’s a real-life display of an after school special, with weird folk running around and pretending to be their favourite fictional characters.
But for others, it’s a way of life. Dara Defreitas, a Mount Royal University student and future journalism alumna, has been completely immersed in the culture since 2004, and it has opened up doors for her unlike anything else in her life. The former Counter-Strike disciple has been steadfast in her devotion to the art.
“Making a costume with the games I’ve already played or the movies I’ve already watched, it’s a whole other step than playing video games,” says Defreitas.
“You’re actually becoming the character. It’s a really fun hobby.”
Defreitas, who made her name in the nerd scene through her next-level gaming skills in the early 2000s, is one of Calgary’s most dedicated cosplayers. In addition to founding Club N3RD at MRU, she’s also started her own workshops to teach newcomers on how to make a proper outfit.
“The weathering of a costume makes a huge difference,” Defreitas explains. “If you’re a character from Elder Scrolls or something, your armour should be well used. We want to see scratches, marks, dirt… anything like that. It really changes the quality of a costume.”
Hardcore cosplayers like Defreitas commonly spend anywhere from $500 to $2,000 on a good costume, with the expenses on decent fabric like thin craft foam and Worbla making up for most of the heavy duty parts. In addition, the time that it takes to make the pieces spans over several months, especially with the additional detailing and fine-tuning that they go through. Defreitas also rents out a craft room at MRU every Sunday to hone her skills as well as teaching the newcomers.
“It’s growing. It’s definitely expanding. When I first started getting back into geek stuff again, there was a very small group of us that were into it,” says Defreitas of the Calgary cosplay community.
“But again, just by looking at the Calgary Comic Expo and going every single year and seeing how many more people are into that kind of stuff, it’s exploding.”
The numbers don’t lie: the event has seen a steady growth since its inception, with a peak of 60,000 recorded people in 2013. It only looks to grow further, as the social stigma that comes with being a nerd has all but vanished with the steady popularity of shows like The Big Bang Theory and King of the Nerds.
These days, its also common for cosplayers to make a profession out of their skills, as notable figures like Yaya Han, Ivy Doomkitty, Jessica Nigri and AlyChu have been travelling around North America to showcase their work for years.
“It’s a lot of social networking and who you talk to, just like any other job. It’s a huge thing,” Defreitas says of the pros.
“You really have to know how to self promote. You have to have good quality photos. You can’t just get a cell phone picture of your costume and put it up and expect people to ‘ooh’ and ‘aww.’ You need a professional photographer to take pictures of you so you can actually make them into posters and start selling your posters. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much goes into being a professional cosplayer.”
It’s a goal that she hopes to realize one day, as well as starting her own nerd-based clothing line, as she feels companies like Alchemy Apparel and Black Milk Clothing are lacking in their own unisex coverage, which is a big problem within the cosplay world.
“With society, it’s almost a little more accepting to dress up and don costumes whereas, with men, it’s one of those things where they have struggled for years to express their geeky-ness without being picked on. To actually go one step further and wear a costume is a big step.”
Catch up with Defreitas’ cosplay work at Dara Defreitas Cosplay on Facebook.
By Brandon McNeil
She-Hulk photo: Peter Fiorino (edited by Boss Logic Inc.)
Chandra Nalaar photo: Patrick Latter