Stephanie Campodonico was 18 when she walked into her first comic convention dressed as her favorite anime character.
As she went through life and had children, her love for the conventions never faded. In fact, it flourished into something more: a family tradition.
Campodonico and her husband, Sardis, have five children: Kaylee, 15, Kahlila, 14, Sardis, 11, Kathryn, 10, and Keisi, 7. Every weekend, the family piles into their king-size bed to watch cartoons. What’s more is that they don’t just watch the cartoons, they study them.
The voices, outfits and mannerisms from the shows come to life when the family dresses up as the characters. It’s called cosplay, and it brings the family together as they travel to conventions across the country to hang out with friends and meet actors they idolize.
They’re currently preparing for Florida Supercon, which will take place July 12-15 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center. The family decides their costumes months in advance of the event, assigning a separate theme for each day.
Campodonico spends hundreds of dollars on materials and many hours hand-sewing every outfit. Buying scrap fabrics, plastering together helmets and styling wigs are typical items on her to-do list.
Their costumes for Friday at Florida Supercon are inspired by the hit cartoon “Rick and Morty,” a show about a crazy scientist named Rick and his dysfunctional family. The Campodincos’ costumes closely resemble those seen on the show. Blue wigs, face paint and cleverly designed masks were scattered throughout their Coconut Creek home on a recent weekday.
Come Friday, the youngest child, Keisi, will tuck her waist-long hair into a wig cap before placing a homemade yellow mask over her head. She will become Mr. Poopy Butthole, one of the bizarre characters from the show. “Oooo wee!” Keisi says, imitating the character with excitement.
The family attends about five conventions a year, having traveled to Georgia, New Jersey, New York and even Puerto Rico. Every convention leaves the family eager for their next chance to strut across a city in costume.
Once convention day arrives, getting into character can take hours. Campodonico says that when they dressed as DC Villians two years ago, it took nearly six hours to do everyone’s hair and makeup.
On Saturday, everyone will dress as Spiderman, which Campodonico says will be relatively easy. On Sunday, they will suit up as characters from “Star Wars.” These costumes will take about two hours to put on.
Then, the family will pile into their car and head to the convention center. But not without getting some weird looks on the way. “Some people look pretty scared depending on our costumes. But we don’t care. It’s part of the fun,” Campodonico says.
While the younger Sardis and Kathryn look forward to the video-game rooms at Supercon, Keisi says her favorite part is spending time with her family.
Campodonico says her father influenced her love of comic-book culture. She was 13 when her dad introduced her to anime. She would rush home from school to curl up on the couch and watch “Dragon Ball Z” with him.
“I just loved spending that time with my father,” she says, “and I wanted to share the same love with my own kids.”
All her kids say they want to pass this tradition on to their future families, too. “I love how it brings us all together,” Kathryn says.
Sardis agrees: “I will teach my kids all my awesome gaming skills.”
It’s clear that to this family, cosplaying is about more than just putting on a costume.
“We don’t just dress up. We get to be our favorite characters around our best friends,” Campodonico says. “My mom asks me, ‘Stephanie when are you going to grow up?’ I say, ‘Mom, I’m never going to grow up. This is something I can do with my kids and that we can always enjoy as a family.’ ”
Florida Supercon will take place July 12-15 at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. Tickets will be sold in advance only, and cost $20-$50, with multiday passes available. Go to FloridaSupercon.com.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 954-356-4745 or Twitter @ellierushing