- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2014

Superheroes aren’t used to losing, but Friday afternoon, not even a gathering of good guys could emerge victorious.

Awesome Con, a convention for comic book fans taking place this weekend in Washington, failed to break the Guinness World Record for largest group of people dressed as comic book characters in one place. To break the record, 1,531 people would have needed to show up. Only 237 costumed comic fans arrived at the Capitol reflecting pool.

Ben Penrod, a promoter of the three-day comic book convention, said some participants were confused and went to the Washington Monument reflecting pool instead. They may try to break the record again at next year’s convention, he said.

For Jesse Fresco, months of work went into his costume as Bloodshot from Valiant Comics. The Davidsonville, Md., resident said he put in five months of weight training to make sure he was in shape to pull off the shirtless costume after “looking a little flabby” at New York Comic Con in October.

Mr. Fresco wore bright red contact lenses and also got his torso, arms and head professionally airbrushed with paint that will not come off for five days to last him through the comic book convention that ends Sunday.

“Everything feels kind of sticky, but your skin can still breathe,” he said.

To complete the costume as a former-soldier-turned-superhero, he had several rubber pistols in arm and leg holsters. He also carried an airsoft assault rifle, though he’d removed the trigger after getting hassled in New York.

While he said he walked through the streets of D.C. to the Capitol grounds without anyone questioning him, Capitol Police confirmed that they spoke with an man matching his description to make sure his weapons were fake.

“We confirmed that USCP officers did speak with the individual whose items were determined not to be real,” Lt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokesman for the Capitol Police, said. “With our multiple layers of security in place, this allows USCP officers the flexibility to effectively manage events on U.S. Capitol Grounds.”

Women were in a small minority in the crowd. Crystal Behring, who came from Baltimore, said she thinks women tend to shy away from the nerdy stereotype and don’t want to be laughed at, but cosplay — or dressing up as fantasy characters — has always been a part of her life. She started going to conventions with her dad when she was five years old.

Ms. Behring was dressed as Rogue from X-Men, more conservatively than most women at the event, saying that she likes to be able to wear pieces of her costumes in real life.

“Other people like to be another part of themselves,” she said.

Megan Mattingly couldn’t walk more than a few steps without people asking to take a picture with Emma Frost from X-Men. Ms. Mattingly said she picked the outfit — long blonde wig, white bustier and skirt with a cape and tall boots — because she said the white queen is a good role model and an “analytic, hot chick.”

“I’m a loud and proud, very out there nerd,” she said. “Women often don’t discuss their nerdiness, because they think it makes them less attractive. That is not true.”

While it was Ms. Mattingly’s first convention, other participants had been dressing up for years. Jonathan Gross and his wife Nastassia of Silver Spring have a combined 20 years cosplaying between the two of them. They met at Anime USA in 2006 and were married in 2012.

“Half of the closet is her costumes, half is my costumes,” he said. “And our everyday work clothes are stuffed somewhere, not hung up.”

The couple, dressed as Harvey Dent and Poison Ivy from Batman, usually attends three conventions every year, where they socialize with friends they’ve made at other comic book events.

One guard from Star Wars was left out of the official count toward the world record, despite showing up at the event. While some of the Star Wars comics came out before the movies, the guards didn’t appear in the comic books. Since the rules said all characters must originally appear in comic books, the adjudicator wouldn’t count him.

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