By Jan S. Gephardt

I had so much fun at SoonerCon 30 – not the least of which came from the kaleidoscope of cosplay that I encountered everywhere. I had many lovely moments at this science fiction convention. But the cosplay was in a class of its own. The sheer, rich, visual diversity of these costumes provided a weekend of riches, just by themselves.

Even more than most of the other “cons” I attend (short for the admittedly-unwieldy term “science fiction convention”), SoonerCon is part literary con, part media/comics con, and part Anime con. It’s the latter two aspects that really focus on cosplay, or “costume play.”

Left-to-right, the passers-by included a woman in pink lace, a Goth lady, a pair of Jawas with glowing eyes, and a wizard in a cloak.
The people-watching at SoonerCon 30 was awesome! (all photos by author).

Costumes and Science Fiction: a Natural Match

The first science fiction cons (dating back to at least the 1930s) were literary cons, old-style fan-run conventions focused on written books, then later also the artwork that illustrated those books and the “fanzines” that connected often-isolated sf fans. Media conventions celebrate science fiction TV shows and movies, plus podcasts, music, and all manner of streaming media. Comics? Give you one guess. And then there’s the amazing and beautiful world of Anime, which originated in Japan, but quickly took the rest of the world by storm.

Every con has at least some costumed attendees, even if it doesn’t offer SoonerCon’s richly-varied kaleidoscope of cosplay. Costumes have been a beloved aspect of them since the dawn of sf cons. Compared to what walks in the door at the average science fiction convention today, those early costumes look amateurish, but they were pretty much always there. It’s like Halloween for kids of all ages, any time of the year. Indeed, many fans love Halloween more than any other holiday, including Christmas!

A baby in an Ewok costume stares at a couple of robed Jawas, Spider-Man strolls by, and a senior officer of the Royal Manticoran Navy strides toward the camera, while Lone Starr and Barf hurry past on the other side of the hallway.
The passing parade never stopped, and the kaleidoscope of cosplay seemed endless. (all photos by author).

Taking Their Costumes Seriously

By this point in their evolution, there are some amazingly skilled costumers in our midst. More than you might think make a part-time or full-time living, creating costumes of all varieties. Some costumers specialize in Anime, some in American comic and superhero characters. Some focus on creatures, in the form of everything from a small puppet to carry on one’s arm or wear, to full-body suits. Furry fandom is a whole other, amazing category of its own.

Some costumers specialize in Star Wars, Star Trek, and other media characters, and some focus on Steampunk or other niche categories (I’ve found more Steampunk at DemiCon than SoonerCon, however). Some costumers specialize so narrowly that they mainly make hats, masks, or high-quality corsets. The professionals have serious skills, but there also are gifted amateurs or semi-pros who can give them a run for their money!

Led by R2D2 and a gonk droid, a parade of Imperial officers and citizens of the Star Wars universe pass by Jan’s table.
The “Star Wars” was strong with these cosplayers. (photos by author).

Solid Support for SoonerCon’s Kaleidoscope of Cosplay

One enduring feature of SoonerCon has been the presence of Bernina of Oklahoma City. This year they were a Patron Sponsor of the convention. They had a big space in the Exhibitors Hall, where they showcased their machines, helped mend “wounded” costumes, and if you had a long enough string of badge ribbons, they’d even stitch them together for you. They helped offer a high-dollar sewing machine for the Masquerade Contest prize, and a simpler model for the Children’s Costume Contest.

It probably won’t surprise you that the ingenious costumers of science fiction fandom also have branched into other allied fields. You can’t create convincing aliens from any of the “Star” universes, for example, without skillful use of makeup and often-sophisticated prosthetics. And accessories (including weapons) makes up one of the most exuberant sub-categories at the con.

Sewing machines and science-fiction-themed quilts line the back wall of the Bernina Center in the SoonerCon Exhibition Hall.
The Bernina Center in the Exhibition Hall. (Photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Accessories and Gizmos

There’s no match for a good blaster at your side (or other “ray gun,” complete with lights and sound effects). Unless maybe it’s your own light saber. Yes, we had light sabers for all ages at SoonerCon, too. A few weeks ago, you read about my friend Zac Zacarola, his dealers room table for Ziggy’s West, and his “Wall of Doom.” Weapons at conventions must be peace-bonded. But many fans cherish their swords, knives, battle-axes, throwing stars, Bat’leths, and other weapons. They often display them proudly in their homes.

Perhaps most astounding of all are the mechanized creations, be they animatronics or robots. One man at SoonerCon wore an astounding Iron Man suit with a faceplate that lifted up and a glowing “arc reactor” on the breastplate. There are R2D2 Builders Club members and chapters all over the world. We have one in Kansas City, and there’s another in Oklahoma City. Norman, where SoonerCon is held, is the third-largest city in Oklahoma, but it’s also in the Oklahoma City metro area. So of course, we had one at SoonerCon.

Left-to-Right, the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” in progress; Iron Man; R2D2 and a gonk droid.
The Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom went up Thursday night. The Iron Man suit had a glowing “arc reactor,” and a faceplate that went up and down. R2D2 and the gonk droid led the “Star Wars” parade. (See credits below).

Imagination and Playfulness are Key

Whatever they specialize in, the costumers who created the kaleidoscope of cosplay at SoonerCon have two things in common. They take crafting an eye-popping costume very seriously. And they don’t always take themselves seriously. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be so good at playing. And one running theme throughout the convention was having fun. Among the Gaming Events, one could choose Muggle Quidditch, LARPing (Live Action Role Playing), and Nerf Wars, among other things. Style points for playing in a (durable) costume.

Folks in hall costumes often didn’t hesitate to deliver a speech in character, perform a skit, or just ad lib through their encounters. They staged impromptu parades. Throughout the convention center cosplayers banded together for group photos or posed for photographers who wanted to capture their individual costumes. With a kaleidoscope of cosplay all around them, it’s easy to see why everyone had their cameras out.

At left, Darth Vader stares up at the first floor balcony of the Embassy Suites and shakes his fist at Obi-Wan Kenobi, who shouts, “It’s over, Anakin! I have the high ground!” in a meme published by the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. At right, Kenneth Moore Jr. turned his mobility device into a dragon!
A “showdown” in the Atrium of the hotel, and a real-life dragonrider (Kenneth Moore, Jr.) offer examples of the creative fun with costumes at SoonerCon. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS

Jan took most of the photos in this post, and made all of the montages. She’s also deeply grateful to Tyrell E. Gephardt and his Canon camera for others. Ty spent a lot of his weekend taking individual shots of cosplayers, as well as candid hallway shots and general convention pictures.

One of Ty’s photos, the pic of the Ziggy’s West “Wall of Doom” going up, anchors one end of the post’s 5th image. Next (L-R) comes the photo of the Iron Man costume, by Brian Hook, courtesy of the SoonerCon Cosplay Facebook Group. Jan took the photo at far right (R2D2 & the gonk droid).

For the sixth and final image of this post, we owe massive thanks to the SoonerCon Cosplay Group. They published the “high ground” meme, by Warguts, Inc. They also provided a forum for Ariel Mayumi Wolf’s photo of Kenneth Moore, Jr., riding his “dragon.”

Many thanks to all!