By Dana Moran, @danamoran
6:57 PM CDT, April 24, 2014
By day, Kyle Mathis is a mild-mannered Edgewater resident, going about his daily duties at Arda Wigs on the North Side. But that won't be the case this weekend at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, where Mathis, 28, will suit up as Big Daddy Subject Delta from "BioShock 2" for the convention's inaugural Crown Championships of Cosplay.
While this is C2E2's first time handing out awards for cosplay -- or costume play -- this is hardly Mathis' first time competing. He's won best in show awards for his portrayal of "Trigun" main man Vash the Stampede and "Nightmare Before Christmas" hero Jack Skellington, citing the latter as one of the creations he's most proud of.
"I actually have really good balance in stilts," said Mathis, who added that he stands about 8 feet tall when fully outfitted as the Tim Burton skeleton. "So that was part of why I decided to do that one, with the really lanky-looking extended arms and legs."
Big Daddy is his other magnum opus -- and it's easy to see why. Mathis started working on its massive shoes, motorized drill and old-school deep-sea-diver-like bodysuit over the summer, adding and refining pieces just days head of this weekend's competition. Thick foam pads out Mathis' figure, and once he's fully transformed himself into the character, he estimates that he's grown to a height of 8 or 9 feet. The costume is so intricate that Mathis can't put it on by himself -- his petite wife, Malinda, 26, has to help him strap on his mechanized creation.
"Last year, all of my co-workers were really excited about the new `[BioShock] Infinite,' " he said. "They were telling me about it, so then I played it and I loved it and I decided I wanted to add this costume to my list." Those co-workers also will be in "Bioshock" costume, including Malinda, dressed as Big Sister. But that group won't be competing -- they're hoping to see Mathis in a moment of glory.
He'll take the stage alongside 37 other competitors from across the country, including Daenerys Targaryen (Kathleen O'Brien of Philadelphia), Frankenberry 2.0 (Michael Wong of Fairfield, Ohio) and his friend and fellow Chicagoan, Brian Beech, who's dressing as Atlas from the video game "Portal." "It's this robot thing, it's rigged like a puppet on him," Mathis said. "He's almost done with it; it's looking really good."
The cosplayers are all vying for the $5,000 grand prize -- or $2,500 or $1,000 for second and third places, respectively -- in front of celebrity judges including Yaya Han from Heroes of Cosplay, "Project Runway All-Stars" designer Austin Scarlett and Ashley Eckstein of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." But Mathis says he's most excited about the pure spirit of competition.
"Even if I don't win, I'm looking forward to seeing all the different entrants and hopefully shaking hands with a few of them, swap notes, see the crowds," he said.
And what about the notion that dressing up in elaborate costumes is just for a bunch of adult nerds?
"I guess it's just a lot bigger than people assume it is," Mathis said. "It's becoming very mainstream. A lot of well-known cosplayers are just not necessarily crazy craftsmen like me, they just look good in a costume. It's kind of like acting and modeling, it's just coming up like that now. You see people everywhere."
Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo
Friday-Sunday, McCormick Place (2301 S. Lake Shore Drive)
Tickets: $25 Friday, $35 Saturday, $30 Sunday; $60 for a 3-day pass
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