It all started with comic books and a Darth Vader mask

There was a time, long, long ago, like 2013, when we did not cosplay. It’s hard to even remember those times seeing as how half the house is now dedicated to worbla, EVA foam, sergers, belt sanders, and heat guns. Imagine if you will though a warm September week, a family of four, and time to kill.

It started earlier in the week when Brett read about Rose City Comic Con coming up that weekend. He’d been a comic book collector in his youth and still had the collection tucked away in the garage. He pulled it out and unveiled it in the living room. A couple hundred plastic sleeved comics to share with the kids. Captain America, Knight Rider, the original Secret Wars, Nightcrawler limited series, What-if’s, you name it. Comics littered the floors, the kids were intrigued, Brett was stuck somewhere on Memory Lane, so we decided to go to the con that Saturday and collect something new. Like a lifestyle.

Zack wearing Darth Vader helmet

Zack: “Zoe, I have lots of chin space!” “Zoe, did you know Darth Vader can’t see anything because he has a mask on!?” “Daddy, you’re way more handsomer than Darth Mal!”…and other things on our way to the Rose City Comic Con 2013!

Once Saturday rolled around, Zack had decided he wanted to wear his plastic Darth Vader mask. Beverly actually remembers wondering to herself if it would be “a little weird” if he had his mask on at the convention. Oh how young and naive we were back then! This also means technically, the little 6 year old wearing the store bought Darth Vader mask was officially the first cosplayer in the family.Once we’d arrived at Rose City Comic Con, we’d realized we all should have worn a Darth Vader mask. There were Cylons, a myriad of Princess Leia bikini-versions, hobbits, and Bender from Futurama. We were thrilled and entertained and intrigued. These weren’t just kids, these were grown ups of all ages in beautiful, homemade costumes walking around like it was the Star Wars cantina scene. Star Trek crew members were having their pictures taken with stormtroopers, Marty McFly was cruising around in his life preserver and hover board, Chewbacca was getting hugs from every available woman in 200’ radius, it was surreal! Most importantly though, and this was undoubtedly the deciding factor that made us fall in love with this life, was that everyone was happy. There were no bad vibes or drunken sports fans, no rude pushing or shoving through the crowds, there was just… happiness.

There were no bad vibes or drunken sports fans, no rude pushing or shoving through the crowds, there was just… happiness.

Towards the end of the day my daughter Zoe quietly mentioned to Beverly that she would like to make an elf costume for the next convention. Beverly, who has a bachelors degree from a world renowned art school back east, was on board before Zoe finished her sentence. This was going to happen, but Zoe wouldn’t be alone in dawning a new costume. Zoe was just the tip of the inspiration that fueled Beverly’s production fire and she was off! The next year at Rose City Comic Con 2014 saw the Downen’s in a collection of X-men costumes and a single elf adorned in a beautiful, homemade cloak. While attending our first costume contest that night with a packed crowd of 2000+ attendees, the man sitting in front of Brett turned around in his chair and asked “How come you aren’t in the contest? You guys would win for sure!” Brett looked at Beverly with a quizzical stare. “I didn’t even know we could enter the contest!” Once again, Beverly was off to the races.

Our first official backstage photograph during a Comic Con costume contest. No win this time but making new friends waiting to go onstage was worth a win and more!

Our first official backstage photograph during a Comic Con costume contest. No win this time but making new friends waiting to go onstage was worth a win and more!

Her goal was set for a few months later at Wizard World Comic Con in Portland in 2015, specifically this time the costume contest. She was falling in love with Marvel’s current movies, especially their latest Thor movies, so she decided to turn us into Thor and the Lady Sif. For the next few months she reignited the skills she’d learned in industrial design, picked up newer modern materials like worbla and EVA foam, and learned to design and build costumes as she went along. By the time Wizard World rolled around, Beverly had constructed Lady Sif’s entire costume, Thor’s armor and the entire outfit from The Dark World, and an incredible chrome painted helmet with fake blonde hair wrapped around the back as Brett is bald and doesn’t like wearing wigs! The only outside assistance came from our close friend Rob Leeds who contributed his time and some scrap auto body repair materials to construct Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. The kids also entered the costume contest independent from us as characters from the Lord of the Rings, Zoe was an elf Captain of the Guard and Zack was Balin the Dwarf.

Zoe and Zack also getting their very first backstage press photo. Then they went onstage without us, I was so proud!

Zoe and Zack also getting their very first backstage press photo. Then they went onstage without us, I was so proud!

While we didn’t take away a medal that day, Brett felt victorious enough watching his kids confidently go on stage in front of hundreds of people in their beautiful costumes, nail their poses, and smile and wave as they exited the stage. The entire experience for us was victory enough!

Next stop: Seattle’s Emerald City Comic Con

Beverly took the time between Wizard World Portland and Emerald City to make some refinements to Lady Sif and Thor and added a few accessories from experiences we’d learned along the way. Thor’s helmet could become a sweltering cauldron of perspiration throughout the day so she stealthily added hidden ventilation slats and two battery powered cooling fans inside. Lady Sif’s outfit received similar upgrades, armor refinements, paint retouches, and cleverly designed buckles for modular pieces securely functioning as one armored suit. Her refinements and her amazing attention to every last detail was more than enough to impress the judges and we took away our first win in the Duo division of the costume contest!

Photo by LV Lucid Photography

Photo by LV Lucid Photography

Apparently winning a prestigious cosplay event like Emerald City’s costume contest added plenty of fuel to her fire because soon after that win Beverly went back to the design table to construct her all-time favorite animated characters, Briareos, Deunan Knute, Prime Minister Athena, and the anti-hero, Hades, from the Japanese Manga series, Appleseed. This series had also become a family favorite and it’s had a special place in Beverly’s heart for years. Once again, Beverly upped her skills and decided to create her first silicone mold and resin cast of Briareos’ robotic head that she sculpted entirely by hand. While it added considerable time and effort to the build, the end result was nothing short of Hollywood quality costuming. The chest piece of Briareos was equally impressive and its workmanship stood out as a refined, professional costume piece. Zoe stepped up for this build as well, and with the keen oversight of Beverly, was able to construct her own cosplay character, Deunan Knute, Appleseed’s lead female character. When the collection was complete, two hand constructed costumes and two beautifully tailored costumes adorned the burgeoning cosplay family. This team build ended up winning the group competition a few weeks later at Rose City Comic Con. After the contest was wrapping up, one of the judges approached Brett and asked him how he could order his own Briareos helmet. Beverly was likely as scared as she was flattered to think about starting that process all over again!

After two straight wins in costume contests, we’ve taken a step back to appreciate the current collection, work with the charity group the Portland Superhero Coalition, work on some fun cosplay projects (Mad Max Fury Road characters are a current passion), attend a couple cons as your typical happy cosplayers, and regroup for the next big project. Beverly also entertains commissions now and is hard at work developing Downen Creative Studios into an independent cosplay business. It’s been an incredibly fast ride deep into the heart of the cosplay world since 2014 but the happiness, the time spent together as a family, and the wonderful cosplay friends we’re picking up along the way are all worth the efforts.

Stay tuned for more amazing cosplay, we’re just getting started!