By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette —
A few years ago, Shannon Neprily was just a Canadian dark fantasy author who had a love affair with Japanese anime, comic book conventions and dressing up with her friends as a character she'd seen on television or in movies.
Together with a group of friends, they'd visit local conventions in full cosplay – short for costume play – mode.
But then it all changed, as the St. Catherine's resident learned she, in fact, had breast cancer. It was during last year's rendition of Niagara Falls Comic Con she told her friends-in-cosplay. It was an emotional reveal, she said.
"Last year was rough," she said. "They had to carry me out of here."
But out of that pain and her struggle to regain her health, her cosplay group created a novel idea to raise money for research while reveling in what they'd done together for years. "Cosplay For A Cure" was born.
Saturday's rendition at Niagara Falls Comic Con featured Neprily as a character from the anime series Gundam Seed and her friend Rebecca Everitt, of Welland, Ont., as a character from the anime series Black Butler, posing with convention goers all for the sake of helping the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation to help find a cure so women – and some men – don't have to worry about the deadly condition in the future.
For various dollar amounts, the group of girls, which also included a pair of Riddler cosplayers from the Batman comic books Saturday, posed for pictures with or without the donor. Neprily, who said she's finished treatment but is dealing with some nasty aftereffects, also sells copies of her book, "The Forger," with proceeds also going towards the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
"(Neprily) was the inspiration for this," Everitt said. "We love doing this. It's so much fun."
It's all an effort to turn some tough news to swallow into a great thing.
Of course, comic book conventions like Niagara Falls Comic Con in Ontario this weekend are about more than just those passionate fans who dress like their favorite characters.
A number of celebrities were present Saturday, including actor Corey Feldman, Adam West (Batman), Lou Ferrigno (the Incredible Hulk), David Prowse (Star Wars), Jeremy Bulloch (Star Wars), Tim Russ (Star Trek: Voyager), Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Mick Foley (WWE Hall of Famer), the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (WWE Hall of Famer), Tom Savini, Larry Thomas, (Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi), Jason David Frank (Green Ranger in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers), and Madison Lintz (The Walking Dead).
This weekend's gathering is also about art. And the Niagara Falls version had plenty of artists on display from those who enjoy fantasy to those who showcase their talents in horror.
Offering his own take on classic horror, Toronto-based artist Chris Roberts took scaring viewers back into the old days of movie-monster magic.
"It's called the Monsterbatory World of Chris Roberts," he said. "My inspiration comes from my love of classic art and of classic horror movies. Mashing them together seemed like a good idea. People seem to enjoy it."
In his favorite piece to display, and arguably his most popular, he said, several classic horror movie characters from Frankenstein's Monster to the Creature from the Black Lagoon are all sitting for dinner along a rather long table, talking amongst themselves. In other words, they're enjoying "The Last Supper."
It's a daring piece of art, but it's received notice from popular art and horror magazines in recent months, he said.
But while Roberts is trying to be creative and gory, including turning the Mona Lisa into a skeleton in one of his pieces, Tyler Hojberg, a 22-year-old Port Colborne, Ont. artist, is too busy spilling coffee on his black-and-white comic book.
No, he's doing it on purpose. It's all part of the style which makes up the crisp edges of "Our Everyday Lives Include Coffee," the comic book he drew, wrote and published by himself.
So, why a comic book? Hojberg said the medium is perfect for what he wanted to accomplish.
"I am really into art, into a lot of different mediums," he said. "But I decided a comic book is really ... everything. You can put a painting in there, you can put a beautiful coffee-stained image in there. And it's accessible to everybody, everybody knows what a comic book is."
Hojberg got his start in illustrating when he entered a contest to work with former My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way. He drew a picture of Way with creatively spilled coffee in strategic places and submitted it. Way chose his drawing as the winner, an experience which Hojberg said he was thrilled to be part.
"We've been on a talking basis ever since, so it's been really cool," he said.
Of course, for fans not exhibiting or trying to sell their own creations, conventions like Niagara Falls Comic Con, which continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, are about experience. And these people continue to make conventions worthwhile to attend for the exhibition artists and playful cosplayers who simply want to leave their mark on the world.
Without the fans, these gatherings don't happen.
"(It's about) just meeting the fans," Roberts, the horror artist, said. "They all seem like really nice people. They all share my enthusiasm for this stuff."Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.