Merida (left) and Garnet.

We went to C2E2 to find out.

A small boy wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt stands at the top of an escalator, gazing at the people flooding into the lobby below him. “Dad, look!” he exclaims. “It’s him! It’s actually him!” The boy points to someone coming up the escalator dressed as Spider-Man. He runs to the Marvel hero and asks to take a picture. Spider-Man happily obliges.

At the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), dreams come true. Kids meet their superhero idols, while kids-at-heart meet their favorite comic creators such as Stan Lee. Aside from the fangirling aspect, conventions like C2E2 provide a safe haven for comic lovers. Costume players, also known as cosplayers, are free to dress like their pop culture idols without fear of snarky comments or judgmental looks.

It takes forever to assemble the perfect costume for the occasion. Ensembles with bionic arms, perfectly groomed wigs and LED lighting can take weeks, sometimes months, to assemble. And your friends and family might think your obsession is a little, um, weird. So we went to C2E2 and asked cosplayers, “Why?”

Doctor Octopus

Tom (above): “I’ve been doing it a couple of years now, thanks to my wife. It’s just fun and I wish Halloween was actually more than just one day a year. [Cosplaying] makes you more a part of this overall community.”

The Iron Giant (left) and Lieutenant Uhura (right)
Pre-war Mulan

Pearl (above): “It’s really nice to just dress up and hang out and interact with other characters.”

Left to right: BB-8, Baby Gohan and Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn (left) and Lapis Lazuli (right)

Court (above, left): “It’s an ‘out’ from everyday life?—?like a little vacation from home. It’s fun becoming a new person and coming to cons to meet new people. It’s kind of how we met each other.”

Kelly (above, right): “[Cosplaying] just offers a really nice environment to just be yourself. You also get to explore other characters, too, which is always fun.”

Consuela (left) and Maui (right)

Phillip (above, left and right): “It’s really challenged me to try new things. I taught myself how to sew by going on YouTube and Google. I watched videos on how to program Arduino to make LED lights light up. I keep challenging myself to go out of my comfort zone. It takes me out of my day-to-day and helps expand my creative repertoire.”

Mermaid Man (left) and Numba 5 (right)
Moana (left) and Heihei (right)

Marisa (above): “When we went to go see the movie [Moana] with his nieces, he immediately said ‘I WANT TO BE THE CHICKEN!’ I said, ‘Alright, we’ll figure out how to do that, but maybe we should make it easier for people to recognize who you are.’ So I decided to cosplay Moana.”

Jessica Rabbit (left) and Wendy Corduroy (right)

Alannah (above, left and right): “It’s a way for me to get in touch with my geeky side and to live the life of my favorite characters. And it’s actually very validating. But I also like putting the pieces together. I like being as close to the actual character as possible.”

Left to right: Frank, Darth Maul and Groot
Obi-Wan Kenobi

Phil (above): “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do [since I was] a kid. Ever since I saw ‘Star Wars,’ I was like, ‘Dammit, I gotta be a Stormtrooper!’ Having achieved that goal at a young age, this is just icing on the cake.”

‘Dodgeball’s Average Joes (left) & Aku Aku and Uka Uka (right)

Kris (above): “Being the character [Garnet] is amazing because cosplay is more than just dressing up?—?it’s actually being the character. On top of that, I feel great when people come up to me and want to talk to me and thank me for being their favorite character. It’s an amazing feeling.”

From left to right: La Muerte, Toad and Ralphie

Arden (above): “I find it like a second Halloween, so it’s an excuse to dress up a second time. It’s really fun because you get to pretend you’re someone else.”

From left to right: McDonald’s dipping sauce, Powerline and Mario Kart characters
Space Wolves

Tony (above): “It allows you to be somebody different, you know? You can get away from the 9-to-5 and and kind of be what you want to be.”

All images by Antonio Manaligod for Dose.