Ro Malaga is the cosplay coordinator for Salt Lake Comic Con. He brings together creative people to compete in what has become one of the most popular events at the Salt Lake cons.
Ro’s background is in entertainment. He is a hip hop dancer and choreographer who has worked on commercial project such as the High School Musical franchise. He first got involved with SLCC as a volunteer.
He says, “The first con had a dire need to get bodies. They needed volunteers. I helped in any way I could.” He went on from there to help oversee the volunteer program as well as coordinating programming panels, photo ops, scheduling breaks and putting together swag. Once his entertainment background came to light, they asked him if he wanted to help with cosplay.
One of the things he wanted to do when he took over was the draw new people to the competition. He knew that there were people who already loved it and would come no matter what, but he wanted to bring in new faces that wouldn’t normally go to that type of event.
He generated excitement by bringing in events like a flash mob from The Hillywood Show, a group that parodies blockbuster films through costume, song and dance. Last year Salt Lake Comic Con was the only event they attended. For this year’s September event they used the entire ballroom. Between 100 to 120 dancers took part using choreography that Ro worked on with the Hillywood crew in Vegas via internet. He then worked with local dancers to teach them the choreography.
His influence seems to be working with over 300 cosplay entries at the September SLCC event. In comparison, the first comic con drew around 70 participants. He says, “a lot more people are interested and dipping their toes in the water. I love the growth.”
The categories include Novice for beginners, Intermediate, Master – first place winners in previous years have higher craftsmanship. They also have competitions in Original Mashup using combined characters such as an Assassins Creed Elsa, group competitors with 4 to 5 people, and for the first time, a props category.
Each category awards a first, second and third place. The event has gotten so big that the judges do pre-judging to eliminate and cut down entries for the stage version. Even with the cuts, the event is over two hours long. The celebrity judges make the final calls for awards.
In September, the Best in Show was awarded to Mike Wiggins. He took two years to create his cosplay. He was technically a novice because it was his first cosplay competition. His career in engineering bumped him into the masters category. Ro says his costume was massive huge and detailed.
Salt Lake Comic Con doesn’t make any money off cosplay. Anyone with a day pass can enter and potentially win best of show. There are no registration or paperwork fees. Cash prizes are $800 to $1000, and customized trophies and medals from McGee Trophies and Stamps.
Ro remembers one of his favorite entries from September 2015. He said a young kid entered the mashup category with a character he had invented. “His black and white costume was made from taped Tupperware and it looked fantastic. The kid asked me not to tell his mom because he didn’t ask and it was her good Tupperware. People MacGyver these things and the characters represent the side of people you don’t see. I still need to show people that cosplay is a way for them to be something they want to be. It is a sort of release therapy art form. And that’s the best part.”
Ro is happy doing what he’s doing and looks forward to next year, “It’s a privilege to be in the position I am with Salt Lake Comic Con. Our national ranking is great and I’m surrounded with amazing people. They are the best pre-production people in Utah.”