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At Salt Lake Comic Con, you'll see Han Solo in carbonite, the TARDIS from "Doctor Who," Lou Ferrigno, Stan Lee and authentic statues from "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings."

But mostly, you'll see regular folks dressed up as their favorite characters during the second annual event running Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 4-6. (Visit for details.)

It's a tradition called cosplay, and Brooke Wilkins describes it as Halloween for the rest of the year. She can usually be found at the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City, managing the daily operations of renting costumes to film producers and theater acts. But on her favorite days of the year, she can be spotted in a Star Trek outfit at a convention. She calls herself a trekkie, but she has also played the Queen of Hearts, Peter Pan and, during Fantasy Con in July, a witch.

Jen McGrew, owner of the custom costume design studio McGrew Studios on Pierpont Avenue in Salt Lake City, prefers to stay behind the scenes. She spends most of her time making elaborate outfits for film sets, theater productions, devoted cosplayers and musicians. She's also the director of the Salt Lake Comic Con Cosplay Contest for the second time.

Wilkins and McGrew offer their tips to the devoted fans at Comic Con:

No matter which character or costume you choose to wear, be yourself.

"Choose something that you love," Wilkins said. "Just go with where your heart is because that's what it's about. You're going to be wearing a little piece of your soul on the outside."

Do not procrastinate.

McGrew says a cosplayer should start months in advance and avoid waiting until the last minute at all costs. "If you wait till the last minute, it'll be disappointing," she said.

Ask for help if you need it.

McGrew's studio, among other businesses, offers assistance with tailoring.

Be creative, especially if you want to keep the cost down.

Wilkins recommends shopping secondhand stores to upcycle old objects.

"You can be really creative and repurpose things … taking old things that kind of look right and spray painting them a different color," she said. "Using … kids toys, rip them apart to get at the electronics and the lights."

She said to learn to spot items not for what they are now, but what they could be.

"It takes creativity and an eye to see things … to be able to look at an item of clothing and be able to see 'Well, that may be a skirt right now, but I can turn it into a cape.' "

Dress for your level of comfort and modesty.

"Just because a character's scantily clad in a comic strip, you should dress for the level of your own modesty and your own comfort," McGrew said. "Basically there's nothing taboo or nothing forbidden, as long as it kind of falls within covering certain parts of your body."

She added that cosplayers should use their own judgment when deciding how much clothing to wear. "They shouldn't be afraid to have a good time and … don't care what other people think. Just enjoy yourself and honor your iconic character within."

As for the 6-inch heels, McGrew says, "Just because a character's wearing platform soles, you're probably not going to be very comfortable in those all day. … Unless you have a Segway, I wouldn't advise that."

If you end up with a costume that you don't love, don't try to pull it off, she said.

"If you make a costume and it's not comfortable, don't do it," McGrew said. "If something's pinching or hurting you, don't do it."

Avoid tape and research your glues.

"The costumes that have the most malfunctions are the ones that are glued and taped together," Wilkins said. "So if you're gluing and taping your costume together, you can almost expect to have a problem."

If possible, she said, avoid tape and use sturdy construction techniques, like sewing. If "your materials don't lend themselves to sewing," find the right type of glue. But steer clear of hot glue, she said. If you have no choice but to use glue and tape, bring them to Comic Con, she said.

If you get desperate or your costume falls apart completely, visit the cosplay first-aid station.

Make your costume easily accessible for the bathroom.

Even if a costume has many layers and a complicated assembly, McGrew said, "You need to be able to have fast access to your costume so that if you need the bathroom, you're not in trouble."

Make a bag or pockets that coordinate with your costume.

You likely won't leave Comic Con empty-handed. "It's good to have something to carry everything in that coordinates with your costume," she said. "Or have pockets and places to hide things that work with your costume."

If the costume has armor, for example, maybe attach some pockets on the back to slip in money. —

"The whole point of it is to honor the fine art and craft of building costumes," said contest runner Jen McGrew about the cosplay competition. "And so the participants who enter, they have to build at least 70 to 80 percent of their own costume."

She said you can make the costume around a found object like a leotard or a pair of shoes — that's OK. "But the object is that most of it's made by the person who's either wearing it or it's made by someone and then they have a model that's wearing it."

There are three categories: beginners, intermediate and masters.

Individuals and groups can enter. Those who wish to participate need to preregister and purchase a Comic Con pass.

The cosplayers will be judged on their costume throughout the day Saturday. The stage event will take place in front of a live crowd at 6 p.m.

Participants will be judged on areas such as interactivity with the crowd and how well they portray their character. After the show, an awards ceremony will announce the winners.

"This is the heart of Comic Con because it's kind of rewarding people for the act of being fanboys and fangirls," McGrew said. "If you just adore Wonder Woman and you go through all that effort to build your own costume, the cosplay competition is a place to show that off and to show off your skill."

Danielle Manley —

Salt Lake Comic Con

The second annual event, drawing together fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror and other genres.

Where • Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City

When • Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 4-6.

Hours • 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; floor opens an hour earlier for Gold and VIP passholders.

Admission • $60 for a basic three-day multipass; $25 for Thursday only; $35 for Friday only; $40 for Saturday only. Gold and VIP packages also available, as well as discounts for buying in advance. Go to for details.