Costume play celebrity is all dressed up with plenty of places to go

Kit Quinn wipes away the sweat below her faux-ruby-encrusted tiara as she makes her way by foot to Anime Expo, an annual mecca of sorts for anime and manga lovers. It’s been two years since she’s been there, and she’s surprised by the hordes of people at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Her raven black hair and fair skin, coupled with a red and white schoolgirl uniform, elbow-length gloves and red pumps, make her a near-perfect doppelganger of the wildly popular anime character Sailor Mars. Quinn draws attention before she even makes it through the door.

“She’s definitely one of the best,” Jon Racasa, a cosplay photographer, said of Quinn. “You always want to stop and take her photo.”

Cosplay, or costumed play, is when people dress up as their favorite anime, comic book, movie or video game character, typically at special-interest conventions.

At 23, Quinn finds it weird that people know her name, let alone want to take photos with her. She doesn’t ever go to a convention thinking she’ll be noticed, not even at Anime Expo earlier this month, or as she was headed to San Diego for mid-July’s Comic-Con.

Cosplaying is more of a way to connect with people united in “mutual nerd admiration” of their favorite superhero or cartoon character, Quinn said. It’s the idea of tapping into her creative side to make a costume and meeting with friends from across the country she only sees at these events. Sometimes she’ll go to a panel, but mostly she’ll walk around, take pictures and hang out.

Nevertheless, in the world of cosplayers, she’s become a minor celebrity — enough so that she goes by the pseudonym Kit Quinn to separate her personal life from her anime life. She also gets stopped by strangers who recognize her from the Internet and has been approached by four production companies about being on a reality TV show, she said.

None of this should be a surprise, considering that Quinn — who does not want her real name published — has been a force at conventions since 2007, has served on discussion panels and has been a guest judge for costume contests.

The Wednesday before Anime Expo opened, Quinn is rummaging through L.A.'s fashion district for a particular shade of green and sheer gold fabrics for finishing touches on a few costumes. Her best friend and fellow cosplayer Tallest Silver, also a pseudonym, calls. They have only a few hours before their meeting with a reality TV production company.

“If you want to walk down to the Metro station, I can pick you up there and we can continue onto adventure!” Quinn said.

It was Silver who invited Quinn to her first Comic-Con the summer after their freshman year of college. But they’ve known each other since the seventh grade. A shared love of comic books and dressing up made them natural roommates.

In their North Hollywood apartment — or “Hall of Justice,” as Quinn affectionately calls it — comic books are scattered on the coffee table, and three costumes in need of upgrades hang on a rack in the corner of the dining room. In her bedroom, shoe boxes of old costumes are stuffed in the closet.

She’s worn everything from Disney’s Cheshire Cat and Snow White to gender-reversed Superma’am. Out of about a dozen costumes, she’s made all but one: a metal bikini for Slave Leia, which required special materials.

Quinn said she began getting a lot of attention at the 2009 Comic-Con. That’s when her first fan tapped her on the shoulder, saying he recognized her from cosplay photos on the Internet.

It’s “still weird being talked to by people you don’t know, but they know you,” Quinn said. “It’s not a bad thing. It’s not their fault, but it’s still weird.”

At the end of the day, cosplaying remains a hobby, something she does on the weekend. It’s opened up a few opportunities, but it doesn’t pay the bills. During the week, she works odd jobs to pay the rent. Her dream job, she said, is to do voice-overs.

Sometimes she wishes she could go back to the days when it didn’t take her an hour to wade through photographers, but she knows that cosplaying is now a part of who she is.

“I cannot allow myself to count how many times someone recognizes me and let it matter. Can’t do it. A lot of times it’s cluttered up with friends, like people I actually know, and are just saying, ‘Hi,’ ” Quinn said. “It’s hard to distinguish, and I think that’s a really good thing.”