The show room at the Sear's Fan Expo. MACKENZIE STEWART/THE VARSITY

It’s always a treat in comics, film, or TV when characters from varying franchises cross over into each other’s worlds. For many, it’s this image of mixed-and-matched heroes and villains walking around in real life that makes Toronto’s Fan Expo so special, and it’s local cosplayers that breathe life into some of their most beloved characters.

Now in its twentieth year, Fan Expo invites lovers of comics, anime, gaming and more to socialize and celebrate their favourite franchises. A few of the many attractions offered every year include playable demos of upcoming video games, celebrity meet-and-greets, and a gallery of art for sale dubbed “Artist Alley.”

Dressing up as fan-favourite characters has been around as long as comic conventions themselves, but cosplaying has seen a recent explosion in popularity thanks to sites like Tumblr and Deviant Art that have allowed users and fans to share, promote, and view cosplayers’ hard work.

 J.D. Do is a first-year student at U of T who has attended Fan Expo in costume twice, starting last year. Pulling off a mean Spider-Man, the wall crawler tells me he was inspired to dress up after seeing how much of a great time other cosplayers were having at previous Expos. Stopping to pose for pictures with fans every few minutes, he admits that for him, letting kids have a chance to meet their heroes is the best part about cosplaying, along with taking pictures with the other heroes. 

For Tatyana Talbot , a fan of comics and anime, cosplaying is all about taking on the role of her character — in this case Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto Shippuden.” People ask for a picture and would yell out ‘Sasuke’ as if I was that character,” she says. She sees conventions like Fan Expo as the main community events for cosplayers, but knows some friends who go out together in costume for picnics and other outings.

When it comes to joining the cosplay community, Do and Talbot offer skeptical students the same advice: you may feel a bit embarrassed at first when no one else is dressed up, but once you enter the convention and see others in costume, it becomes an amazing experience you can’t fully understand until you put on the cape and cowl.  

It’s thanks to the cosplay community that Fan Expo is able to grow and expand every year.  Photo opportunities, stories, and unimaginable crossovers  —  Zombie Storm Troopers and Newly Graduated X-Men in gowns and caps to name a few­— are brought to the city thanks to these enthusiastic fans who take the time to step into the shoes of the characters they admire. 

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