Keely Graesser strode into a store's recent Free Comic Book Day in style, with backup. The Prosper mom was dressed as X-Men's Polaris, complete with a green wig and blue-and-yellow jumpsuit. Behind her was a small army of Star Wars Mandalorians: three surprisingly short, armor-clad mercenaries.
The Boba Fett-like squad was actually Graesser's young kids, three examples of the next generation of nerds getting an early start, and often for the better. When Graesser goes to geek gatherings and fan conventions, she's always in costume and usually accompanied by at least one of her kids.
Graesser and her kids are fans of cosplay, or dressing up as fictional characters from books, movies, TV shows or video games. North Texas opportunities to take part include pop culture juggernaut Fan Expo Dallas, genre-specific celebrations such as AnimeFest and new additions such as the upcoming inaugural Texas Latino Comic Con.
A moderator of several Facebook groups and member of cosplay clubs, Graesser has helped run comic book store costume contests, visited a children's hospital in Star Wars gear and donned a Black Widow catsuit at a foster children's adoption day.
She's not the only mom who decided to introduce her kids to cosplay early. The Facebook group Geeky Moms of North Texas has 60 members, many of whom are parents of cosplayers or convention-goers. It's a source of fun -- and sometimes, the parents say, it's been much more significant than that.
Starting them young
Graesser is also one fourth of Mutants, Maidens & Munchkins, a cosplay group where she and three other moms, Laura Maisano of Lake Dallas, Amy Scott of Shawnee, Okla., and Dianne Angel of Prosper, cosplay with their young kids. Graesser and Maisano began cosplaying on their own in the early 2000s. More than 10 years later, they, Scott and Angel started getting their kids involved.
Photos show Graesser and her kids decked out as Aliens characters, her youngest son covered in camo with an off-kilter army helmet reading Game Over Man. Another shows Graesser and Angel's kids dressed as Teen Titans, Angel's daughter in a power stance as the cloaked heroine Raven. In one, Graesser and Maisano combined fandoms with their daughters, using headbands and flared dresses to create an X-Men and Sailor Moon mashup.
Graesser's kids, at 8, 6 and 4, were all early to cosplay. She brought her oldest son to his first convention when he was 3 months old, sticking out a little among the mostly teenage crowd. Today, she takes all three of her kids to conventions about once every two months, and her oldest a little more often.
"At this point, most people at the conventions know all my kids," Graesser says.
For the kids, the experience is exciting. Graesser and Maisano say their kids were always bringing up ideas for their next costumes. For the moms, it's a chance to share something they love with their kids, and invite other parents to do the same. Their group has held several panels at conventions offering tips to parents wanting to make costumes for their kids, including everything from budgeting to making costumes a little too large so they'll last longer.
Parents Cassandra Clarke of Garland and Ivy Kiefer of Plano were largely swept into the cosplay world through their kids.
Clarke has been raising her 10-year-old niece, Serenity, for five years, and says cosplay helped Serenity finally find her people.
Serenity has encountered bullies at school largely because of her nerdier interests, Clarke says, but when she came to her first convention dressed as Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, the effect was instantaneous. "When she walked into that convention and started striking her poses, she realized that there was a whole community that embraced her." Clarke says. "Every time we go to a con and we cosplay, her confidence goes up a couple more notches. Because she's meeting other people -- not just other people, but other kids -- that are like her and that are into the same things."
Clarke and Kiefer met through a local cosplay Facebook group and realized their girls were the same age. Clarke says Serenity and Kiefer's daughter, Sharley, an avid cosplayer, were fast friends, bonding over shared interests and experiences.
Clarke and Kiefer say they have met several cosplaying parents. Kiefer says she had trouble connecting with other moms in Plano, but with the parents at conventions, she felt like she was part of something. To Clarke, the camaraderie and chance to compare parenting notes is vital. "That parent group has been key for me. It's made me realize I'm not screwing up, letting my kid be who she is," Clarke says.
For the whole family
Melissa McGinnis' whole family gets in on the cosplay game. The Kilgore resident said she usually goes to conventions with her husband, daughter, niece and nephew, who all wear costumes. To her, cosplay has been a source of self-acceptance for her daughter and herself.
McGinnis says that even as early as 6 years old, Rosaleen, now 10, was self-conscious about her appearance. She would say she wasn't as pretty as her friends or her cousin, or that she wanted to dye her hair blonde to be like them, McGinnis says. Conventions and cosplay were one of the ways McGinnis tried to show her daughter she's beautiful the way she is.
"Being in the community and seeing everybody being confident with themselves and enjoying what they do -- and meeting celebrities who said 'You have the prettiest eyes I've ever seen.' 'You are a beautiful young lady.' 'Wow, you're amazing.' 'You're awesome.' 'You're funny.' 'You're talented.' -- has been a huge confidence boost for her," McGinnis says.
Today, Rosaleen has her own cosplay Facebook page, where she dresses as characters such as Alice from Alice in Wonderland and the comic book villain Harley Quinn. McGinnis said her daughter is now much more outgoing and sure of herself. The same journey has been a slower one for McGinnis herself, who says she struggled with body image issues for years. Very recently, she says she's been making strides of her own.
"I've watched her bloom and blossom and it inspired me to do the same," McGinnis says. "I'm not trying to impress anybody anymore. My husband loves me for who I am. My daughter loves me for who I am. I have an incredibly supportive circle of friends and family who love me for who I am.'"
Her daughter's newfound confidence led McGinnis one day to say, " 'Today I want purple hair.' So, I did it. I went and dyed my hair purple," she says. " 'Oh, I want a new dress.' So, I bought a new dress, and didn't care that it had spaghetti straps instead of long sleeves. She's rubbed off on me a bit, actually."
McGinnis is working on her cosplay of Daenerys Targaryen, the fierce, dragon-wielding queen from Game of Thrones. A year ago, McGinnis says she wouldn't have considered dressing up as Emilia Clarke's thin, platinum blonde character. Today, she's ready, wig in hand.
McGinnis says cosplay has become an integral part of her family. Rosaleen, who's been cosplaying since she was 6, barely remembers a time before the activity was part of her life. Her husband has overcome shyness and formed many close friendships. Her nephew, a wary performer, won a cosplay contest dressed as Pokemon's Ash Ketchum. Her aunt and grandma have asked about tagging along to conventions or trying on costumes.
"It's definitely something that's been beneficial for all of us," McGinnis says.
Plan your life
If you're a parent looking to get in touch with other cosplaying parents, the Geeky Moms of North Texas and North Texas Cosplay are good places to start. For the latest on the nerdier side of D-FW, go to GuideLive.com/geek and check out the event listings.