Super Heroes: 'There's nothing like it'

by Sonja J. Keith

Like the Super Heroes they portray, Bradley Osborne and other members of COBRA are all about helping others.

Founded by Bradley, Cosplayers Organizing, Building and Rising in Arkansas (COBRA) is entering its third year and is focused on community service.

Bradley attended the first ComiCon-way as a “regular guy” several years ago and became very interested in cosplaying – dressing as a fictional character – but he didn’t want to do it alone. He said to be taken seriously to start a group he knew he would need an amazing costume, so he saved up for over a year to purchase a Power Ranger suit. The character appealed to him because he remembers as a second-grader watching the TV show when it aired in the U.S. and not missing any episode. He also felt like he needed a character that symbolized a leader.

“I started making appearances randomly and anonymously,” he said, showing up at parks and the Conway Bowling Alley as well as attending charity events. “We started picking up people more and more. It was like a snowball. We just always collected more and more people as we went into it.”

Bradley also attended cosplay conventions. When he spotted those with neat costumes, he would ask if they were interested in doing charity events outside of conventions. Along the way he met and became good friends with Eric Salmon (Spiderman) and Dustin Hamm (Batman).

Eric recalls hearing about Bradley and finding a Facebook photo of him delivering donated school supplies. “I thought that was awesome and I contacted him and said, ‘Dude, I think that’s awesome. I want in,’” Eric said. “We kind of teamed up shortly thereafter. Getting involved in the community aspect of it was what really inspired me to get involved.”

Eric said years ago he wore a Halloween-type, low-quality costume to a charity event. “Getting to be a Super Hero for kids – there’s nothing better to see the little kids, the 2 to 4-year-olds, when they look up at you, you are their Super Hero. It’s a great feeling.”

“I think that’s the reason most of us do it, really,” said Dustin, who has only been a part of the group for about a year. He has been Batman since 2010, portraying the Super Hero to promote programs and events at the Benton Police Department, where he works. “It’s all pretty much community based. That’s the only reason I got into it. That’s what I enjoy is the charity side.”

“We’re all nerds at heart and we love doing the conventions,” Eric said “That’s stuff we don’t necessarily feel obligated to do. That’s our fun side of it. The COBRA group is mainly geared toward charity and volunteer work.”

Brad said through COBRA, members have gotten the satisfaction of helping others bring smiles to even adults, while also getting opportunities at conventions to meet some of the individuals behind the characters they portray.

All three have put a lot of time and resources into their costumes. Without a central location from which to purchase all elements of a costume, they have pieced theirs together from different sources and have handcrafted some of the materials.

“We have spent hours and days and months on costumes,” said Bradley, adding that the pricing for costumes that are of high-quality and authentic is lucrative.

Brad recently switched from Power Ranger to Thor, explaining that it became difficult to get his hair inside the form-fitting mask. He and Dustin spent many hours to plan and create the costume from scratch. “It’s been great. I’ve done a lot of different characters. This is the first one I don’t have a mask. I don’t have to worry so much about breaking or tearing. I can interact with kids a whole lot more.”

Dustin’s suit was purchased through a licensed company in Canada. “I have changed it up a little bit to make it little bit more authentic,” he said, adding that he has spent about $3,000 on the costume and he’s still making changes. “That doesn’t include the stuff we’ve done on our own.”

“Spiderman is relatively cheap,” Eric said. “Overall, I have $500 in mine if you count the changing out of my face shield and lenses. Underneath the fabric, there is a plastic shell that gives the correct frame of the face so you’re not seeing the face imprint in the mask. There are lenses that attach magnetically to the outside.”

The Arkansas Cosplay Network is another group in Central Arkansas that exists to serve as a resource for those interested in cos-playing. The group has about 200 members, with a lot of growth over the last six months. (To learn more about both groups, search for them on Facebook.)

All three said cosplaying is a great activity for families, and a great way to encourage young people to be creative. They also have found it to be  a good way to meet new people and make new friends.

While there might be a comparison to Halloween, all three explain that cosplaying is more like role-playing.

“We put so much work and effort into our costumes,” said Eric. “We take it a lot more seriously.”

“When you jump into that costume, a lot of times  you become that character. At Halloween, you’re kind of that character but really just walking around in a suit,” said Dustin. “When it comes to cosplay and charity, you are that character. You’re that person to them.”

Bradley said there is a lot of interest in Super Heroes. Recently, he posted on Facebook on a Friday that COBRA members would be at a Conway park on that Sunday. An estimated 400 showed up, including some children dressed in Super Heroes.

“We’re definitely in the era of Super Heroes,” Dustin said. “It’s all about inspiration.”