Twin Cities heroes of cosplay

ROB CALLAHAN , Photos by CARLOS GONZALEZ | Updated 7/2/2014

On the eve of CONvergence, the Twin Cities’ standout cosplay practitioners are united by one thing: their love of the costume.

Jennifer Beaupre doesn’t remember making a conscious decision to start dressing up as comic-book characters and attending science-fiction conventions. She’s made her own Halloween costumes since childhood, honing and refining her craft for years until, at some point, a mere hobby edged closer to a full-blown calling.

“When I got into anime in middle school, and then more into science fiction and comics after that, it was just another way of doing what I’d always been doing anyway,” she said. “I love making all kinds of art, and costuming is kind of a hobby within everything else.”

Getting into cosplay can be an onerous venture. To outsiders, there’s an impression that cosplayers are another link in a long chain of mockworthy subcultures. They’ve been labeled as “fly nerd babes” or dismissed as “man children.” The SyFy channel’s 2013 reality series “Heroes of Cosplay” had contestants create costumes based on their favorite sci-fi/fantasy characters and compete for cash prizes at comic cons. The show’s portrayal was contentious, sparking debate among cosplayers. Underneath all the makeup and wigs, beneath the Lycra and leather, viewers still knew next to nothing about the people in the costumes.

On the eve of CONvergence — the leading science fiction/fantasy convention that returns to Bloomington this weekend — several standouts of the Twin Cities’ cosplay scene proudly donned their most detailed duds and screen-accurate accouterments for a Vita.mn photo shoot. One of them, Yancey Thrift, is a professional costumer at the Minnesota Opera. He says cosplay was an offshoot of his relationship with his brother, Damon.

“He asked me to help him with his first costume, which was Green Arrow,” Yancey said. “After he had been doing it and going to conventions for about two years, he said, ‘Why don’t you make yourself a costume and come to CONvergence with me?’ ”

The brothers set out to complement each other by creating tandem costumes. They appeared together at CONvergence as “Star Trek” redshirts, and as Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. They won “Best in Show” at CONvergence in 2011 for Yancey’s steampunk-styled Dalek and Damon’s TARDIS from “Doctor Who.” Their experience, said Damon, isn’t like what they’ve seen on “Heroes of Cosplay.”

“This is usually a minimum two-month process for us,” he said. “We don’t start creating costumes five days before a convention. Most costumers don’t work like this that we know.

“We don’t do this for a celebrity status or money,” Damon added. “We costume because we love creating costumes together and we enjoy showing off our hard work at conventions and spending time with fellow costumers. I don’t take ‘Heroes of Cosplay’ too seriously; I love that there is a show about our love of costuming on TV. I don’t judge the costumers on the show. They are people, just like us, who love costuming.”

“People love our steampunk TARDIS and Dalek, which makes me love them even more,” said Yancey Thrift. “Damon did a brilliant job designing those. Initially, the design concept was a hard sell for me, but Damon talked me into it. They’ve been, I would have to say, our most popular costumes.”

Beaupre, 27, is also a fan of more interpretive costumes. Many of her costumes stand out due to her unique, gender-bending approach. Beaupre specializes in “crossplay” — swapping the gender of heroes like Iron Man, reimagining the armor as part battle suit, part flapper chic and part ’60s mod. “My latest Iron Man was really fun, more detailed and with more difficult fabrics than my previous designs, and I got to do some cool new lighting stuff that I found online,” she said.

Although both Beaupre and the Thrifts enjoy reimagining characters for their costumes, they still find appeal in remaining faithful to the originals. Beaupre’s latest project is Chiana, a screen-accurate depiction of the snowy femme fatale from the TV series “Farscape” — which she debuted in Vita.mn’s photo shoot.

Cosplay isn’t all about dressing up and going to conventions. The Thrifts belong to MN Superheroes United, one of many local cosplay organizations. Their group visits children’s hospitals and marches in parades. Other cosplay groups also engage in their own forms of philanthropy.

“I enjoy wearing my ‘Star Wars: Episode III’ Obi-Wan, especially when children are present,” said Yancey Thrift. “They will ask me, ‘Are you Obi-Wan?’ I’ll say, ‘Yes.’ They’ll say, ‘You’re my favorite.’ It doesn’t get much better than that.”