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C2E2 means plenty of fun when it comes to costumes — and cosplay

Ji Suk Yi is transformed into Wonder Woman courtesy of Chicago Costume Company. | Maria de la Guardia

I’ve heard of Comic-Con, but never C2E2.

Well, consider this newbie enlightened.

Lesson No. 1: Don’t call C2E2 “Comic-Con.”

C2E2 is short for the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. (Comic-Con International is held annually in San Diego.)

This weekend, tens of thousands of comic, cosplay, gaming and pop culture fans will descend upon McCormick Place, dressed in costumes. Last year, organizers said 80,000 fans attended. (And just in case you didn’t know, “cosplay” is short for “costume play.”)

And this year, for the first time, I’m headed there, too!

So who cosplays? In order to prepare and find out all about this pop culture phenomenon, I headed to Chicago Costume Company in Lincoln Park.

“You’d be surprised! It’s pretty much everybody. People who are really into it, people who have never been there before. People who love comics, who love pop culture, anime, all kinds of different things,” said store owner Courtland Hickey.

He would know. His mother, Mary Hickey Panayotou, started the family business in 1976, so he grew up trying on a lot of costumes. While the full-service costume shop works with theaters, schools and locals in need of pop culture attire for parties, there’s a large cosplay community they support.

Lesson No. 2: You don’t HAVE to wear a costume to C2E2. But it’s much more fun if you do.

Customer Bethany Alexander told me, “I don’t necessarily think everyone needs to cosplay if it’s not really your thing. But if you are interested in it, you should go for it! It is very liberating. It gives you a lot of freedom to be someone else, but in a way, more of who you really are.”

Well, what the heck! I gave it a go.

Ji Suk Yi channels her inner Cruella de Vil at Chicago Costume Shop. | Costume courtesy Chicago Costume Company/Sun-Times Photo

I asked store manager Maggie Brenner for much-needed help sorting through the 10,000 costumes just in their rental department (in addition to all the additional costumes for sale). Turns out the most popular costumes reflect what’s hot in the previous year’s movies, comics and pop culture. This year will be all about “Black Panther,” “Wonder Woman,”  “New Avengers” and “Dead Pool.”

Newer and more modern costumes have more accessories. If they’re not buying costumes, cosplayers can spend several months designing their own get-ups in preparation for a convention, investing thousands of dollars in their wardrobe.

Ji “Wonder Woman” Suk Yi has arrived! | Costume courtesy Chicago Costume Shop/Sun-Times Photo

Lesson No. 3: Cosplayers are passionate.

“Cosplay is awesome because it gives you the chance to bring your favorite characters to life, to look and act like the characters that wow and inspire us. In cosplay you can be anyone you want to be — a hero, a villain, or maybe someone in between!” said Brenner, while she expertly zipped up my plastic catsuit without pinching me.

It took several hours to find a costume that worked, during which I spoke to customers who were avid cosplayers. Each person radiated happiness when they spoke about C2E2. I kept hearing about the awesome energy, fun and great people I will see and meet. It reminded me of the way my friends would wistfully talk about the incredible vacation they just experienced, or the way your mouth waters when you think about your most favorite food.

I could taste the sense of escape C2E2 delivers for cosplayers. It’s a vacation from their daily lives.

“It’s a gathering of passionate people. Conventions allow these communities to celebrate that passion among other likeminded individuals. C2E2 gives everyone a chance to celebrate their inner nerd!” Maggie added, while agreeing the catsuit wouldn’t work. Too short.

Everyone kept telling me there was no right or wrong way to choose, dress or modify your costume. Cosplayers were passionate and each just wanted to share their excitement with me. They just wanted someone to geek out with.

From the ones I met, cosplayers seemed to be a very accepting and nonjudgmental bunch. And that’s a rarity in adult life — which at times can seem like an endless list of rules and obstacles. The appeal of a vacation from your life, job, personal problems or perhaps even this galaxy made complete sense to me.

Oh, so which costume am I wearing on Friday? You’ll have to watch the video to find out.

And if you’re still in need of a costume, Chicago Costume Company (www.chicagocostume.com) will have extended hours all weekend.

See you at C2E2!

This is a job for Supergirl! | Costume courtesy Chicago Costume Shop/Sun-Times Photo