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Sarasota Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 7 months ago

Cosplayer finds a niche portraying superheroes

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Longtime cosplayer Kristopher Paul walks in the Sarasota Holiday Parade as a costumed adventurer each year.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Kristopher Paul makes things. 

He made his bones designing flyers and posters with a graphic design background. When he's not working in wheelchair transportation, Paul is also helping make furniture as a handyman. 

But he makes other things, too. Paul, 36, is a dedicated cosplayer — someone who dresses up as characters from pop culture— and has attended many conventions and nerd gatherings to show off his costumes and designs he makes himself.

Those have included multiple Power Ranger suits, a superhero from the CW DC Show “Legends of Tomorrow” and and the futuristic Batman suit from "Batman Beyond". 

As of late, he’s had a new role — playing Captain America in the Sarasota Downtown Holiday Parade. Paul recently donned his costume to walk in the holiday tradition to the cheers of families and fans on either side of Main Street. 

“Kids were screaming ‘It’s Captain America!’” Paul said. “They were loving it.”

Kristopher Paul wears his suit to conventions every chance he gets.

Paul’s time in Florida started in 2005 when he moved to the Tampa area from Brooklyn to attend school for graphic design. He befriended fellow students who were into anime — who shared his love of Dragon Ball, Gundam and other stylish productions — and that’s where his interest in nerd culture really stepped up. 

“I always took Halloween pretty seriously,” Paul said. “My friends suggested ‘Why don’t you get a Green Lantern suit?’ and I started going to conventions. At first it felt weird since you’re wearing full-blown spandex and then you get used to it — you pick up the ins and outs.”

It didn’t hurt that Paul was a lover of performance and theater as well, and took to wearing costumes easily. It took time learning how to construct the costumes he loved — not to mention finding the fabric designers and craftsmen that could assist him — but he had help from cosplaying friends who’d been in the same boat. 

“Cosplayers help each other,” Paul said. “They help out the new guy, and then eventually I became that kind of person for others.”

While living in Port Charlotte, Paul needed a place to pick up his comics each Wednesday and found The Dark Side comics shop in Sarasota. That led to him dressing as superheroes during the shop’s Free Comic Book day in the summertime and ultimately resulted in his walking with the shop’s cosplay group in the downtown holiday parade each year.

“It just adds another level of fun,” says Brian Polizzi, owner of The Dark Side. "It blows kids' minds to see these real life versions of these characters."

These days Paul dresses as Sam Wilson, the Marvel comics superhero known as The Falcon who served as Captain America’s partner for decades of comics publishing. 

Notably, Sam Wilson took on the Captain America mantle himself in the Rick Remender-penned and Stuart Immonen-drawn comics series from 2014. Paul read those comics as they were coming out and felt that version of Wilson was a perfect character to play. 

“The day Sam Wilson became Captain America was the day I sketched out the suit exactly how it would look (on me),” Paul said. 

He’s had a few iterations of the body suit designed by fabric printers and added a backpack for wings, goggles and other accessories. Very few knew about the look early on and even fewer went to cosplay as Sam, which Paul says helped get him attention when he debuted in the suit. 

“Eventually more and more people started to do the costume, so I had to do something major to stand out,” Paul said. “I designed wings out of cardboard (for conventions). Those first wings hurt, they were very heavy on my back."

He switched to the foam that's used as flooring in children's playgrounds for his wings, picked up a proper Captain America shield to pose with and hasn’t looked back.

Pop culture eventually caught up to Paul’s love of the character. A scene in the 2019 Avengers movie “Endgame” had Captain America — now aged and unable to fight reminiscent of the 2014 comic series— passing on his shield to Sam.

Paul, who attender the premier in full Captain America costume, couldn’t contain in his excitement. 

“I screamed ‘Take the shield!’” Paul said. “My wife is grabbing my arm in the theater … it was the most amazing feeling I’d had in my life.”

The subsequent “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” television show on Disney Plus cemented Wilson’s status as Captain America and ended with the character wearing the stars and stripes. 

The look had reached the public at large, and Paul knew it was time to show it off. He put on his costume and, along with other Dark Side comics cosplayers and fans, recently marched down Main Street to the cheers of families during the holiday parade. 

Paul brought his latest wing and suit design to the parade and, while he had trouble seeing in the dark with his red-tinted goggles, enjoyed seeing all the children notice his light-up sneakers that he wore for extra effect. Seeing how the crowd reacted to his both his costume and mannerisms playing the character he loved, is what made it great.

Paul has only more plans for his cosplay ahead of him. He recently attended a convention in St. Pete and plans to visit more as they happen in Florida. He'll be bringing his wings and shield with him.

"My cosplay (work) has kept growing and growing,” Paul said. 

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