Amber Nebula
Amber Skies as Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy

The sister convention of San Diego Comic-Con—WonderCon, March 31-April 2 in Anaheim—is three full days of fascinating creativity.

WonderCon is a full exhibition. It seems almost everyone participates in WonderCon’s cosplay art. Attendees with a passion for pop culture take center stage while their everyday ego stays at home. There is a mix of DIY-ers, industry professionals and future make-up artists.

The search to perfectly represent your favorite character frequently comes down to the last detail, including make-up. Be it alien skin tone, a scar or tattoo—or in some cases painted on clothes—the desire to add make-up to your cosplay has reached a fever pitch. From internet tutorials to reality TV, many skills can now be learned and achieved in any city nationwide.

Attendees of WonderCon constantly seek to learn more about make-up. In fact, a panel titled “Cosplay Make Up 101,” led by Dawn Banks, sold out and attracted a crowd with a line extending outside the ballroom at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Spencer Neustadt has been cosplaying for three years. While many draw inspiration from stateside films and TV, his aesthetic comes from Japan. “If it’s cute and has big eyes, I like it,” said Neustadt. However, the current character he cosplays is far from cute: Little Sister from BioShock is a genetically altered immortal.

Spencer Neustadt
Spencer Neustadt creating his Little Sister BioShock character
Spencer Neustadt’s final Little Sister look

Cosplaying knows no gender or race, allowing anyone to portray their character of choice. When it comes to make-up’s role in cosplay, Neustadt says, “Make-up is insanely important! It’s the attention to make-up detail that can really set you apart.”

It’s not just skin deep for Neustadt though. When asked what cosplay means to him, Neustadt replied, “Cosplay has been a life changer. It’s helped me become more outgoing, has allowed me to meet some amazing new friends and gives me a unique outlet to express my love of certain fandoms.”

Spencer’s Little Sister cosplay garners a variety of reactions. Some briefly recoil, other folks snarl a smile and shout encouragement and compliments. Frequently it results in being asked for a photo and connection on social media. Follow Spencer and his cosplay pursuits on Instagram @Haypeppa.

Raylene Chavez making a statement as Ursula

Wandering the exhibition floor of WonderCon was an eye-catching Ursula cosplay. Raylene Chavez, 15, of Victorville, Calif., started early in the morning with her cotton-and-latex buildup make-up. Her cosplay makes a loud and clear statement on ocean pollution. Airbrush paint completed the purple pallor of the sea witch.

Make-up students’ work was on full display with demos from Make-up Designory and Cinema Makeup School (CMS). Gabi Gonzales of CMS drew inspiration from a ’90s graphic artist icon: with bright pop colors, a Lisa Frank-inspired cat person came to life.

“I grew up with Lisa Frank in the ’90s. There’s so much desaturated looks, I want to bring colors back.” With a cat prosthetic, neon colors from European Body Art and an airbrush leopard stencil, Gonzales achieved her goal. She is also excited to be competing at the upcoming IMATS New York Battle of the Brushes student competition. (For more on IMATS New York, see Issue 126—coming soon.)

Another common trend among cosplayers is to add battle damage to their heroes or villains. Riley Nightingall, from MUD, adds some edge to an otherwise G-rated princess: Belle of Beauty and the Beast. “I wanted to do something gross and gory, a Brothers Grimm ending would be a little more fun,” explains Nightingall. A slit-neck appliance from Rubber Wear was the star of this character make-up. Nightingall is a 10-year cosplayer and it was this passion that led her to pursue a make-up career.

Riley Nightingall’s final Belle look

“Cosplay is what pushed me into being a make-up artist. I really enjoyed spending all the time on it and I thought I could make an amazing career out of it, so why not go forth with it.” More of Nightingall’s work can be seen on Instagram @RileyNightingallFX.

Cosplayer and co-host of the podcast “The RichyRich and Westopher Show,” Wes Ferguson opted for body paint rather than a traditional costume. Hand-painted and airbrushed early in the morning by this writer, Ferguson’s “Superboy” body paint attracted a lot of attention and led to many photo opportunities. When asked about his cosplay experience, Ferguson said, “In regular clothes you’re more of spectator, while being dressed up you feel like you’re part of the show. I think body paint takes [cosplay] to another level!”

Lots of great work can be seen at WonderCon. Now, most cosplayers have their eye on the next big stage: San Diego Comic-Con!