Family of Fans

A ninja, a space princess and a T. rex walk into the Student Union …

Photos: Douglas Levere

By Andrew Coddington


“What time is it? It’s Adventure Time!” shouted host Kaitlyn Johnson, a senior, into the microphone. The audience erupted in cheers. If ever there was a group who could appreciate the reference to the cartoon series, it was this one, gathered in the Student Union theater in April to watch the 29th annual UBCon cosplay contest. For the next hour, contestants dressed in an array of elaborate, mostly handmade costumes drawn from their favorite fandoms strutted across the stage as if it were a catwalk.

The cosplay, or “costumed player,” contest is among the most popular events held during UBCon, the university’s own multimedia fan convention. This year, the three-day affair welcomed more than 2,000 gamers, anime aficionados, manga maniacs, creative cosplayers and other fans to the North Campus to take part in a boggling array of activities. Among the 200-plus scheduled events: tabletop, card and videogame matches; two overnight Nerf wars; displays of original art and merchandise offered by dozens of vendors; and numerous panels, workshops and signings featuring celebrity guests, such as actor and author Spike Spencer, who has dozens of credits in movies and games, like World of Warcraft.

“It’s all about community,” says senior Brendan Loos, vice president of the UB Strategists and Role Players Association (SARPA) and this year’s UBCon director. “It may be run by a small team of undergrad students, but in reality, it’s more of a community project that’s 29 years in the making.”

The roots of that community run deep, as many organizers continue to mentor new generations of students in the ways of the Con. Over the nearly 30 years the convention has been around, David Schwartz has missed only two. Schwartz helped run events like the cosplay contest as a student here in the early 2000s and has returned many times to serve as emcee. This year he was invited to serve on the guest judges panel. Introduced alongside professional cosplayers, Schwartz received the longest and loudest applause by far.

“I’m 40 now,” Schwartz says. “But to have the younger generation still remember me and appreciate what I did … it was absolutely unreal,” he says, admitting that the show of support brought a tear to his eye.

The high-running emotions are a testament to the bonds that students past and present form with one another through their shared interests. Says Loos: “If not for this, a lot of people—myself included—might have stayed in their dorm room all day and not branched out. It welcomed me in as a lost freshman, as it did for many before me, and as it will for many after me.”