The Hippo


Jun 6, 2020








Courtesy of David Lockhart.

Super Ella

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, each with different abilities. That’s a lesson Steven and Cristle Gordon of Hudson try to teach their daughter Ella every day. Ella is six years old and uses a motorized wheelchair because she has spinal muscular atrophy, or SMA. 
A few years ago she developed an interest in Spider-Man, which gave rise to an interest in all sorts of comic superheroes. 
Steven said they didn’t know much about them before Ella became interested.
“She’s gotten us into it,” he said.
When they go to Boston Children’s Hospital, they all wear superhero T-shirts.
“We often use superheroes to help her understand how SMA affects her body but also how it gives her superpowers. And also, when we go to the hospital and she gets treatments and stuff, how those are like the super serum that Captain America gets,” Cristle said.
Pretty soon that interest in superheroes naturally evolved into an interest in cosplaying.
For her first Granite State Comic Con in 2015, she came dressed as baby Groot, from Guardians of the Galaxy. The wheelchair is always incorporated into the costume in creative ways. In the case of Groot, it was the pot that Groot was planted in.
Then in 2016 she won the kids cosplay contest at Granite State Comic Con when she dressed as Wonder Woman with an invisible plane made entirely of balloons. 
She retained her title in 2017 when she came dressed as Vanellope Von Schweetz with her candy race car from Wreck-It Ralph. That year, Steven, who is a facilities maintenance man for a pediatric nursing home, dressed as Fix-It Felix. And Cristle was another candy car racer named Jubileena Bing-Bing.
They said they intend to dress up with her for each con in the future.
But to Ella, cosplaying is about more than winning awards. Steven said it’s about being able to interact with fellow fans and be treated like everyone else.
“She’s incorporated with everybody else who’s dressed up as well,” Steven said. “Everybody likes to come over and say ‘hi’ to her and it’s like she’s just one of them and her disability gets completely overlooked. It’s not about her in her wheelchair, it’s about her having fun with everybody else.”
Next year, Ella is thinking about being Spider-Gwen in a spider web or Princess Elsa in an ice castle, but she may come up with more ideas.
As of press time, Spider-Man is still her favorite superhero.
Art of the Cos
Since Stark made his first Iron Man suit in 2012, he hasn’t stopped making armor sets. He has made seven armor outfits, mostly for Iron Man but also for Pepper Potts and Iron Heart for female cosplayers to wear.
“It’s all made out of EVA foam and Plasti Dip,” Stark said. The EVA foam, he said, is available online or at craft stores like Hobby Lobby. The Plasti Dip, which comes in a can, is sold at Home Depot or Walmart. 
“I apply a lot of what I know as a machinist to trying to maintain building five or six armors at one time,” Stark said.
While Carlson mostly uses his two Captain America outfits (the newest being the one seen in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War movie) he also has costumes for Flynn Rider from Disney’s Tangled and Fred from Scooby Doo.
He made both of those costumes from scratch. Carlson said growing up with a single mother and grandmother who sewed a lot helped him to pick up that skill early on. And YouTube how-to videos help with the rest.
He’s even made boots by salvaging the soles of old shoes and sewing cloth and pleather patterns together onto the soles.
Right now, he’s trying to learn how to make his own Captain America shield by molding plastics.
Covey is often involved in judging costume contests and he said that, besides accuracy and attention to detail, one of the biggest things judges grade cosplayers on is how much of the costume was homemade; the more you make yourself, the more the judges like Covey will be impressed. 
Where to find cosplayers
Queen City Kamikaze (Saturday, March 17, at Manchester Memorial High School, is a geek culture, gaming and anime convention, so the most popular cosplay is usually anime and video game-themed.
Free Comic Book Day (Saturday, May 5, is an international celebration of comic books, with area comic book stores handing out free special editions and often holding celebrations with special comics-related guests, costume contests and appearances by cosplay groups, including superheroes and Ghostbusters.
The New Hampshire Renaissance Faire (Saturday, May 13, Sunday May 14, Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20, at Brookvale Pines Farm in Fremont, is a good place to see members of the New England Brethren of Pirates.
Kids Con New England (Sunday, June 10, at the Radisson Hotel in Nashua, is a good place to see cosplayers of all kinds, especially comic superheroes.
Cosplay and Photography Expo (Saturday, July 28, and Sunday, July 29, at the Holiday Inn in Nashua, will have cosplayers of all kinds.
Granite State Comic Con (Saturday, Sept. 8, and Sunday, Sept. 9, at the Manchester Downtown Hotel, is the state’s largest comic convention and will have all kinds of cosplayers, from Star Wars to pirates to superheroes.
The Gate City Steampunk Festival (Date TBD, at MakeIt Labs, 25 Crown St., Nashua, would be a good place to see steampunk-themed cosplay.

Cosplay saves the World
How comics-lovers and movie buffs use their fandom for good causes

By Ryan Lessard

 Local fans of superheroes, Jedi Knights, pirates, Ghostbusters, Disney princesses and more are playing dress-up, and in the process these “costume players” — better known as cosplayers — are helping save the world. As cosplaying has grown into a more popular hobby in recent years, a number of organizations have formed that make it easier for cosplayers to give back to their communities with super strength and super speed.

“Cosplay has kind of changed in the last few years where it’s a lot broader now,” said Kyle Stark, a cosplayer based in Connecticut who moonlights as Iron Man when he isn’t holding down a job at a CNC machine shop.
Stark — using his show name after Iron Man’s alter-ego Tony Stark — is one of the leaders of a New England-wide group called the Hero Army. Here’s a look at that group, plus some of the other area cosplay groups that have that superhero spirit. 
Hero Army
(Find them at, Twitter @HeroArmyCosplay or Instagram @heroarmycosplay)
The independent New England group that calls itself the Hero Army specializes in comic book heroes, according to Pat Covey, a local cosplay event organizer who coordinates with many of these cosplay organizations for things like Granite State Comic Con in Manchester and MASSive Comic Con in Worcester, Mass.
“[These events] have a huge amount of people all in different superhero costumes. No duplicates, so that way kids can see their favorite heroes that they don’t get to usually see,” Covey said. “So you’re going to see Spider-Man, you’re going to see Iron Man, you’re going to see Captain America, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman. All those characters all in one place at one time.”
Stark said when the group first started out around 2012, cosplayers would show up with less planning and there would be situations where kids wouldn’t like seeing two different people playing Batman.They learned from that and now make sure to have every unique hero listed on the roster for events.
Over the years, Stark said, he’s seen groups like his become more mainstream.
“We kinda started it for fun back when big cosplay groups weren’t the norm, as they are now,” Stark said.
They still do it for fun, but they also do good work for charity. It’s still an informal club, without any membership dues, and it isn’t a registered nonprofit. 
Aside from the odd raffle at events, they don’t usually collect money themselves. They partner with organizations like Autism Speaks who have representatives do the fundraising alongside them. And volunteer cosplayers will show up for walks for various causes and visit area children’s hospitals.
“When it comes to charity, we don’t want to make it about us,” Stark said.
When they work with kids, they stay in character. Stark said the children often ask them questions about the movies, or recognize relatively obscure characters, so the cosplayers need to be up on their trivia.
“They keep you on your toes,” he said.
He said there are currently about 50 to 60 regular members of the group across New England with costumes for about 140 characters. Stark and many of the other members are based in Connecticut but he said there are also members based in New Hampshire.
Causeplay New England
(Find them at, Twitter @CausePlayNE or email at
There are other groups in New Hampshire that also specialize in superhero costumes and charity work.
“If you’re not a member of the Hero Army, there are other smaller groups that go around and do charity events. They’re all raising for a good cause,” Covey said.
One of them is CausePlay New England.
Robert Carlson of North Andover, Mass., joined the group a few months ago. He’s been cosplaying for the last year and a half, mostly as Captain America, but he wanted a way to give back to the community.
He saw joining CausePlay New England as a good way to do that. 
On its Facebook page, the group describes itself as a “volunteer organization committed to uniting cosplayers with communities around New England to make a difference.” 
They visit kids in hospitals and attend charity events. Carlson said they also participate in the Special Olympics and Kids Con New England, which will be in the Nashua Radisson on June 10.
St Legion New England Garrison/Alderaan Base
(Find them at, or Twitter @NEG)
Erich Shafer is the commanding officer of two Star Wars-themed cosplay groups. He said there are 167 members throughout New England and they have added to their ranks in recent years.
“Ever since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, we’ve seen membership grow exponentially due to the movie-every-year strategy that they seem to have employed,” Shafer said. “A lot more people seem to want to come out and play plastic spaceman.”
The 501st Legion New England Garrison focuses on the baddies: Imperial soldiers, Sith lords, bounty hunters and the like. Alderaan Base focuses on the good guys: Jedi Knights, clone troopers, X-wing pilots and more.
The Garrison is a local chapter of the international cosplay group the 501st Legion, which has been around since the late 1990s, while Alderaan Base is an offshoot of the light-side club, the Rebel Legion.
The organizations are therefore a bit more formalized than many other cosplay groups, with a charter, officers and rules. To become a member of the 501st, you start out as a “cadet” and work, often with the help of existing members, to create your first costume, such as the armor set of a stormtrooper. The costume needs to meet certain requirements to be canonically accurate and screen-ready. After that, you need only attend one event per year with the costume in order to maintain membership. And you must be over 18 to join.
Costumes can range widely in cost. Some stormtrooper costumes can be bought and assembled for only $300 but Shafer said he’s seen people pay up to $3,000 to make sure it’s the highest-quality armor possible.
Shafer, who has been a part of the 501st for 10 years, said charity volunteer work is woven into the ethos of the group. 
“We’ve done a lot of events throughout New England. Everything from cancer walks to walks for autism to raising money for different charities,” Shafer said. “Especially in New Hampshire, our main focus and our main alliance has been Make-A-Wish.”
He said they do everything from granting wishes to showing up for breakfasts and lunches or seeing wish recipients off as they board their flight to Disney World.
For one wish recipient, a Portsmouth teenager named Cole, the group created a clone trooper outfit for the boy, who had brain cancer. Cole has since showed up to events with the group and Shafer said they consider him a little brother to the Garrison.
Usually, organizations like Make-A-Wish reach out to the 501st when they want to hire their help. And the group doesn’t get paid a cent for its services.
“As part of our alliance with Lucasfilm and Disney, we take no money for our services,” Shafer said. “We get paid in happiness and an occasional lunch.”
Sometimes they step in to help with special events even when they aren’t called. Recently, a 69-year-old Air Force veteran named Ron Villemaire, who had terminal colon cancer and was receiving hospice care at a nursing home in Bedford, wanted to watch the newest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, before he died. But there were complications getting him to a movie theater. 
The local fire department stepped in to make the arrangements and when that was reported in the news, a 501st member read about it. Shafer said the group immediately wanted to help out.
“We saw somebody who had a love of Star Wars. We have a love of Star Wars and felt a kinship and believed that this was doing right for somebody … who was going through a negative experience and we had an opportunity to bring some positivity into their life,” Shafer said.
They called up the family, the fire department and the theater to make the necessary arrangements. And when the day came to watch the movie, Darth Vader and four stormtroopers greeted him at the nursing home and about 24 characters escorted him through the theater when he arrived. Villemaire died a month later.
Shafer said the 501st is also a community that comes together to help fellow members when they need help with something, whether it’s constructing a new costume or just helping someone move to a new home. 
“We take a lot of pride in what we do. We’re always looking for more people to join us. If you have a love of Star Wars and you are interested in raising money with good people, we’d love to meet you,” Shafer said.
 Real Ghostbusters of New Hampshire
(Find them at or email
Jonny Ruckus of Auburn is the answer to the question: Who you gonna call? He and a small group of friends are Ghostbusters, with outfits and props straight out of the 1984 movie starring Bill Murray.
“We basically dress up as ourselves, so our name tags have our own last names on it,” Ruckus said.
He and a few other guys created their costumes and proton packs (the bulky equipment they wear on their backs) in 2009. Ruckus said when they wore them in public in Salem, Mass., during Halloween that year, they got a lot of attention and everyone wanted to take pictures with them.
Then, that same night, they met a guy with a Back to the Future Delorean time machine who was raising money for charity. The Ghostbusters looked at each other and thought this was something they could do too.
They even went as far as creating the Ecto-1 car with a Chevy HHR. Ruckus, who is a graphic designer, made the logo and painted the car. They had a welding shop attach the rack to the top of the roof, which is wired for a blue light bar and a sound system. There’s even a motor for a rotating device called a “sniffer.”
And it all just started out as a craft-making hobby.
“We never really intended to wear costumes. We just wanted to own props from the movies and have them in our house,” Ruckus said.
Now there are four core members, about seven total in New Hampshire, he said. They’ve since built other big props for photos such as a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and a giant portrait of Vigo the Carpathian.
He said it’s not cheap to make the proton packs. His cost him about $5,000 and he worked on it for two years. Cheaper versions can run you between $1,500 to $2,000. Other things like belt gizmos and goggles are less necessary than the proton pack, he said.
Covey said there are Ghostbusters groups in about every New England state now.
Ruckus said the New Hampshire group does charity work with a few different groups such as The One Fund, the Red Cross and area children’s hospitals.
“Our go-to is usually Make-A-Wish,” Ruckus said.
Usually, they collect donations for charities from people who want their picture taken with the Ghostbusters. People can get pictures for free, but the cosplayers kindly ask for donations. They also do raffles.
New England Bretheren of Pirates
(Find them at, or Twitter @thenebpirates)
If space soldiers or superheroes aren’t your thing, you could try living the pirate’s life.
Brandon Berry of Manchester had been a member of the 501st Legion for about two or three years when he started to dress like a pirate for events.
“I’ve been dressing up as Jack Sparrow for over 10 years now,” Berry said.
He started the group six years ago, inspired by his experience with the Legion, and the pirates have been around ever since.
After briefly having official membership, he opened it up to anyone who wants to participate. All that’s needed is a period-accurate pirate costume, or as accurate as something from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and an interest in volunteering for a good cause.
Members must be at least 18 years old and attend at least three events per year, not counting parades.
He said the group can number anywhere between around four and 35 at a comic convention. At the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston, he expects as many as 50 to 60 pirates to march with him. About 20 of them also march in the Manchester Christmas Parade.
He often raises money through donations in a treasure chest while people take photos with them or play games like sword fighting on a suspended wooden plank. They’ve built some elaborate backdrop props for photos that include a big ship wheel.
“I do a lot of charity through a lot of comic cons,” Berry said.
Usually comic cons are raising money for a charity themselves. Granite State Comic Con often partners with the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, for example.
They’ve also volunteered for events that raised funds for Toys 4 Tots and a fund called Live for Liv, which raised money for domestic violence prevention efforts.
Recently, Berry and a partner have started a for-profit venture called Feature Presentations, where they sell $5 selfies with a Stranger Things-themed backdrop with the Christmas lights alphabet on the wall, or $10 for a printed picture.
Some of the money from that will also be donated to charity and help to fund the Brethren’s expenses. 

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