There are poets who can’t help but write in verse, and painters who must put color to canvas. Similarly, cosplay is a form of art that needs to be expressed, as Cranston native Tom Quinn put it. He’s better known under the guise of his alter ego, “Cosplay Dad.”
“Cosplay is just another canvas on which to create,” Quinn said of the niche hobby, short for costume playing.
Every year, Quinn, 59, is among the thousands who put their cosplay on full display at the annual Rhode Island Comic Convention, a three-day event where people gather and dress up in elaborate costumes depicting characters from movies, comics, books, and video games. This year’s convention runs from Nov. 3-5 at the Rhode Island Convention Center and Amica Mutual Pavilion, and Quinn is among the featured cosplayers in the convention lineup, which also includes celebrity guests like Anthony Daniels (”Star Wars”), Anthony Michael Hall (”The Breakfast Club”), Christina Ricci (”The Addams Family”), and Marisa Tomei (”Spider-Man: Homecoming”).
Quinn is well-known in the local cosplay community, and most widely recognized for his depiction of Carl Fredricksen, the old man from Disney’s 2009 movie, “Up.”. He often hands out small soda bottle caps, homemade “Ellie badges,” a reference to the movie that also lists his website, cosplaydad.com. Quinn also often cosplays Mermaid Man from the Nickelodeon cartoon ”SpongeBob SquarePants,” and Nicholas St. North from the book, “Rise of the Guardians.” For this year’s Comic Con, Quinn plans to debut a new costume depicting Captain Pike from “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.” He hopes to take a picture with actor Anson Mount, who plays Captain Pike, who will also be at this year’s Comic Con.
Quinn has attended the Rhode Island Comic Con every year since 2014, and calls it his “home con.” He coined the “Cosplay Dad” moniker in 2011, after attending a Boston Anime convention with his two kids.
“But I’ve been a nerd all my life,” Quinn said. “I grew up reading comic books. I made my first Spider Man costume on my mom’s sewing machine when I was 12.”
Contrary to his “Cosplay Dad” persona, Quinn considers himself an introvert.
“But when I dress up at Comic Con, I’m not me anymore,” he said. “I’m the character I’m dressed up as.”
When he’s Mermaid Man, “I can be silly,” he said. “I can play and do things a normal 60-year-old man can’t.”
When he’s Carl Fredricksen, “I can talk to all these people and interact with them with no stress or strain,” Quinn said. “And people love to see him. They love to get their photos taken with him ... I have had grandmothers hug me and tell me how much they loved the movie, which of course I had nothing to do with.”
The Rhode Island Comic Con is an opportunity to “express yourself and have fun, and interact with people of all ages,” Quinn said.
“Even if you’re dressed up as an obscure character, somebody there is going to recognize it and get excited about it, and then you can share your fandom,” Quinn said.
Getting ready for a typical day at the Rhode Island Comic Con takes Quinn about an hour, depending on the costume. This year’s looks are fairly simplistic in comparison to costumes from past years, he said. For his Captain Pike costume, Quinn is wearing yellow clothing and bringing a prop “phaser.”
“The hardest part has been planning my last two haircuts to emulate his style,” Quinn said.
For his Mr. Fredricksen costume, Quinn used to carry around a real bouquet of balloons, just like the character does in the movie. But many venues have banned latex over the years, and Cosplay Dad had to find another way.
“I had to sew myself up some artificial balloons,” Quinn said, adding that he stuffs the toy balloons with packaging peanuts.
“On several occasions, I have had security guards not believe that they were not real,” Quinn said.
He reflected back on the year he dressed up as Odin from “Thor: The Dark World.” It took him four months to build the costume, which is made out of EVA foam, fabric, synthetic leather, and a shapeable thermal plastic called Worbla.
“The total cost from this build was approximately $500,” Quinn said. “It is quite impossible to ride in a car while wearing it.”
Quinn touched on how it’s hard to make money cosplaying, and how people really just do it for the joy of it.
“We just had a New York Comic Con a week or so ago, and a beautiful dress won first-place prize at the cosplay contest. I’m sure that the prize money didn’t even cover the costs of the materials for the dress,” Quinn said. “Sometimes cosplayers will get an idea in their head of something they’d like to portray, and they can’t stop until they get that idea out of their head and into three dimensions as something they can wear.”
Quinn has met lifelong idols at Rhode Island Comic Cons over the years, like Stan Lee, the comic book writer who wrote Marvel Comics.
“I got my photo taken with Stan Lee as Stan Lee,” Quinn said.
Quinn reflected on how there weren’t as many outlets for him to express himself when he was growing up.
“There was no social network. Nerds couldn’t interact with each other, most of us were alone in our little communities,” he said. “With the rise of the internet and Comic Cons, there’s places where people can gather and feel safe to express their love for what normal society would have once considered weird.”
By day, Quinn is a medical equipment technician.
“I will deliver and set up the equipment needed for people to have oxygen in their home,” Quinn said. “So during the day, I kinda save people too, but it’s not nearly as flashy as a super hero.”