At Puerto Rico Comic Con, Local Geeks Hope to Rejoice as the Island Recovers

After the damage caused from Hurricane María forced them to move, George Camacho, better known as his cosplay alter ego Geo Desu, wasn’t sure if he would be able to prepare for the year’s most awaited event, Puerto Rico Comic Con.

Though their unit was spared, the hurricane’s powerful winds and devastating rainfall all but destroyed the apartment complex in San Juan where he lived with his partner, Mariel Báez, a fellow cosplayer.

Cosplay, that is the combination of the words “costume” and “play,” is a hobby which involves creating and wearing elaborate costumes which represent a specific character from a movie, TV show, comic book, or Japanese manga or anime. People who engage in cosplay are called cosplayers, and they’re considered a subculture of geek culture.

Usually Camacho and other cosplayers like to plan and complete their costumes and props months in advance. He had planned to complete his costume by December, but wasn’t able to start working on it until February.

Camacho poses in one of his cosplays. He works on his cosplays for about four to five hours per day, up to five times a week. Photo by Antonio Díaz.

Now, nearly eight months after Hurricane María made landfall across Puerto Rico, Camacho is excited to finally be able to enjoy and showcase his hobby at the Puerto Rico Comic Con this weekend.

“I basically crammed four months of work into two months,” Camacho, 39, said. “But we’re excited to continue living our lives. It’s a relief to keep doing what we love thanks to this event.”

Every year, tens of thousands of people descend on San Juan to attend Puerto Rico Comic Con, an annual comic book and pop culture convention. For the last 16 years, comic book artists, entrepreneurs and content creators from the island, the mainland US and other places in the Caribbean showcase and sell their work, while attendees meet their favorite artists and entertainers from the industry (past celebrity guests have included Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time’s Lana Parrilla).

Puerto Rico Comic Con will be the first multitudinous family event to be hosted in Puerto Rico since Hurricane María made landfall in September of last year. This year, there will be approximately 350 booths at the three-day event, which is expected to sell out. In 2016, the event peaked at 42,000 registered attendees.

Event promoters have projected an impact to the local economy of about $2.5 to $3 million; this includes economic activity created by retailers and exhibitors, advertising investment, concession stand sales, and hotel bookings, among other ancillary activities. Historically, however, the economic impact has been of about $3.5 to $4 million.

“We’ve had to adjust to the local situation in Puerto Rico,” Ricardo Carrión, the executive producer of Puerto Rico Comic Con, said. “But the bottom line is that we’re not giving our audience less than what we give them every year.”

One of the things people look forward to the most is seeing the cosplayers’ elaborate costumes and taking pictures with people dressed as their favorite characters.

Cosplayers aren’t paid to attend the convention. Instead, they do it for fun and art’s sake. They register as regular attendees and show up in costume and with their props. At Puerto Rico Comic Con and other comic conventions like it, they can register to participate in cosplay competitions, where the audience and a panel of judges rates their cosplay for uniqueness, accuracy and skill.

Camacho poses in his cosplay for last year’s Comic Con as the character Raiden Ver 2.0 from the video game Metal Gear Rising. Photo via George Camacho/Facebook

While he’s learned to sew and do some makeup from his girlfriend, who is a makeup artists and hairdresser, Camacho usually focuses on making his props, which he makes out of a material called EVA foam. This year, he’s doing his first cross play, a pun on cosplay which combines the words “cross-dressing” and “play”. He’ll be dressing up as Lightning, a female character from the Final Fantasy saga.

“We love to create, that’s our lifestyle,” Camacho says. “And cosplay is our inspiration.”

For cosplayers, the event is also an opportunity to reconnect with their fellow hobbyists.

Since other smaller conventions have been cancelled in the last eight months, Roselyn Pérez, a 23-year-old grad student from Ponce, hasn’t had a chance to see her cosplayer friends.

Pérez poses as Kylo Ren from the Star Wars saga. Her costume is an example of cross-play, where people dress up as a character of the opposite sex. Photo by Walenda Ruiz.

“It’s always a shock to see them every few months, but to see them eight months later after everything that’s happened, is going to be twice as more shocking,” she said.

For Pérez, creating cosplays is a year-round hobby that not only helps her connect with other people, but helps her deal with stress. Like Camacho, Pérez had to move after the hurricane, only she ended moving back with her mom. For three months after the hurricane, with more urgent needs to tackle and a lack of supplies and free time, she was unable to work on her cosplays.

Pérez poses as Rocket Raccoon from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Photo by Gerardo González.

“Not working on cosplay for all that long, it did affect me,” she said. “I couldn’t find internal peace for three months.”

But in January, she was finally able to work on her projects again. And this time, cosplay had an unexpected result: it brought her closer to her mom.

“Growing up, she never really used to help me doing cosplays, and now she is!,” she said.

“She gives input when I ask her to and gives me different perspectives. Now that she sees and helps out, she’s even more proud of what I do.”

Although the producers don’t want the event to become politicized, the effects of Hurricane María and the recovery efforts on the island are a constant reminder for them. But for Carrión, the event sends the message that Puerto Rico is open for business.

“It’s very difficult to compete with the notion that Puerto Rico is closed. But we are looking forward.” he said, “The hurricane has already passed.”