WOOD RIVER — At comic and sci-fi conventions, attendees may catch Batman, Iron Man or Daenerys Targaryen strolling down the aisles — or at least close approximations thereof.
The hobby of getting dressed up in character is known as “cosplay” and for devotees, the outfits often rival the film and TV versions. At conventions they participate in contests, masquerade balls and impromptu photo shoots as enthusiastic attendees crowd around for a picture with fan favorites. For local makeup artist and costumer Caitlin Smay, it’s all part of the fun.
“I didn’t know it was cosplay at first; I just considered it dressing up,” Smay said. “I always wanted to be Laura Croft from Tomb Raider since I was a teenager because she was my hero. Then I found the movie ‘The Crow’ and wanted to dress up like that. But I never went anywhere to show off my costumes because I didn’t know there were places for that. Later I found out that people dress up all the time at conventions. For the last two years I’ve cosplayed characters from comic books that I love and adore.”
Her first public outing was as a female Joker.
“The fun I had and the response got me wanting to do it more often,” she said. “People were excited. It’s an incredible experience to have people want to take pictures and to come up and ask questions about my costume. The interaction appeals to the social butterfly part of me. It’s also fun to play a role of someone you admire.”
The initial experience prompted her to get more ambitious as the character Crow from the hit indie comic “East of West.”
“It was a daring step going from a homemade Joker costume to an all-over bodysuit,” she said.
At the popular C2E2 convention in Chicago, she had the opportunity to show her work to the comic’s creators Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta. According to Smay, the artist was “blown away” to see he inspired her to dress up as one of his characters. Other heroes she has played are Catwoman, Elvira and a My Little Pony.
Outside of comic conventions, she works as a bartender at the Pump House Bar & Grill in Wood River while developing a profession as a freelance makeup artist.
“I’ve been doing makeup professionally for a year,” she said. “I started working with smaller projects and friends that needed help with makeup. That allowed me to get skin types down and learn to apply makeup to other people. I knew how to do it to myself, but putting makeup on others is difficult. I started picking up tips and tricks and learning how to do it.”
Now she applies cosmetics for wedding parties but prefers working with models for magazine shoots due to the artistic nature of it.
“What is more interesting is what I do to myself, because model photographers usually don’t want anything super crazy,” she said. “But any time I break out my giant dreadlock wigs, I get inspiration and go with crazy colors all over my face.”
Her artistic weapon of choice is a rainbow of vivid colored eye makeup from Sugarpill Cosmetics.
“I think I can purchase a small car with my makeup collection,” she joked.
Her next costume project is a sharply dressed version of She-Hulk in her day-job persona as a lawyer.
“It’s a challenge figuring out how to paint myself green without having it rub off on everything,” Smay said, smiling. She is also developing a YouTube channel providing cosmetic reviews and makeup tutorials.
When asked what advice she would give to people interested in stepping into the world of cosplay, Smay said, “Just do it.” She continued, “You’ll meet people that have the same passion. It opens you up to a whole other world. Just keep it fun and don’t think that your costume is not good enough. Everybody loves characters, so share and enjoy the experience.”