I would say that you’re a big deal when a friend tells you that a blind date of hers pulled out a photo of himself posing with you. I am that friend speaking about Luis Marquez, who was dressed as his infamous character “Barf” from the Mel Brook’s film Spaceballs in said photograph. And just to be clear, this date took place before quarantine started.
My friend doesn’t just go around dressed up as a character from a movie wherever he goes. He is a cosplayer. A cosplayer, in case you are wondering dresses as characters from comic books, films or anime.
Cosplay is something that you would see attending conventions such as Wizard World or Comic Con. Of course, many things have changed since Marquez attended his first convention. In recent years we have seen many superheroes on the big screen come alive, such as the Avengers and Justice League characters, and cosplaying these heroes is more popular now.
Luis attended his first Con in 1999. While you had actors, artists, and celebrities attending to sign autographs and meet fans, he had started going just for items, such as action figures, memorabilia, jewelry and of course comic books. He recalls most costumes that people used to cosplay were simple. They were not as elaborate as they are now. However, Star Wars characters, specifically Storm Troopers were and still are some of the most elaborate costumes.
Seeing a couple attendees dressed as a favorite character, he did ask to take photos. It is something common that still happens if you dress as a well-known character. On one occasion, a woman who was dressed as a Twi’lek from Star Wars, although compliant, seemed bothered to take a photo which sparked in Marquez the itch to cosplay a character two years after he attended his first Con. “It makes people happy to see someone who is a beloved character. I would be glad to take a photo with anyone who asks for a photo” he says.
So in 2013, Luis decided to put together his first cosplay and to debut it at Wizard World. Thinking about it, Luis knew he had to play to what he had. Spaceballs, the film that parodies Star Wars stared John Candy as Barf. A great comedian who had a great presence, Luis felt he was just the character to cosplay.
To get started, Luis decided to order a mechanic suit online. For the name tag embroidery he typed in “Barf”, the company thinking it was a mistake, corrected the spelling to “Bart”. After a quick phone call to customer service, he received another with the correct spelling. As for the wig, there were not many options. He ended up picking out one that was labeled for a bounty hunter and made do with ears from a donkey costume. While it is customary for cosplayers to use theater makeup, he said he used 99¢ makeup from Walmart this first time. “I didn’t know about theater makeup” and didn’t personally know anyone who cosplayed at the time Marquez comments. At last his costume was ready. Putting it on, Luis asked himself “What am I doing?”
He continued nonetheless. Luis got in his car and drove out to Rosemont, Illinois where he was making his debut as Barf at the Wizard World convention at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Luis was supposed to meet with friends at Gibson’s Steakhouse before heading over to the convention. As Luis was walking over to his table to meet with his friends, He heard a deep voice call out “Barf! Barf!” It was former Chicago Bulls player, Dennis Rodman. Having received Rodman’s approval and a picture with the world champion, any feelings of nervousness or second-guessing himself that Luis had went out the window. After Luis got settled at his table, Rodman asked Luis: “Why Barf?” Luis responded, “Well, I couldn’t pull off Wolverine.” “That made Rodman laugh” recalled Luis. Rodman would be the first of a handful of celebrities Luis would meet in years to come.
Although he didn’t consider his costume to be very elaborate, but very simple, it took him 30 minutes to get from the entrance of the convention to the ticket table. He was surprised at the amount of people that were stopping him for photos. It was like nothing he had experienced before. It goes to show that fans really do love those characters from their favorite fandoms.
As I previously mentioned, Star Wars characters especially Stormtroopers are some of the best cosplay outfits in terms of costuming and costs. A well-known group is 501st Legion, who’s costumes are some of the most pristine in the cosplay world. A group of members noticed Marquez and someone who was dressed as Darth Maul yelled out to Barf to “come over here.” That made Luis freeze for a second. “Nice guys”, says Marquez. He was happy that he did not experience negativity dressed as a character from a Star Wars parody film.
Luis initially thought his experience would be a one-and-done. He thought of reusing Barf for Halloween at the most, but C2E2 – another comic con, was coming up. So in 2014, he decided to pull out Barf one more time. At this point, Luis’s cosplay circle of friends started growing and a Star Wars cosplayer asked if he would be attending Star Wars Day in Joliet, Illinois. Luis had no idea what that was. An annual parade with Star Wars characters, once the parade is done, fans can partake in activities and take pictures with their favorite Star Wars characters. The Star Wars cosplayer also asked Luis if he would like to partake in the parade. Luis wasn’t sure how to feel about it at first. He felt that even though Spaceballs is a parady of Star Wars, it is not Star Wars. He thought that he might ruffle some feathers by walking in the parade.
He did make the choice to participate in the parade. He felt a bit out of place as he showed up with just one small duffle bag with his costume while others showed up with crates of elaborate costumes and make-up. “It was such a great time.” recalls Luis. After the parade, he was approached throughout the day for photos by attendees. The organizer of Star Wars Day enjoyed having Luis as Barf, and he has been invited back every year since.
From then on, Luis fully embraced the art of cosplay. While he has dressed up as SNL characters, Fat Fury – a comic book character, Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, Barf is his favorite. After all, it is as Barf that he met Max Brooks, Mel Brook’s son, Daphne Zuniga, the actress who played Princess Vespa in Spaceballs, Stan Lee, and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters while in New Orleans.
While meeting celebrities and attending conventions is a great time, Luis has used his cosplay skills to spread cheer alongside other cosplayers by volunteering with Customers With a Cause. It is a non-profit organization in which volunteers visit children in the hospitals, and supports various non-profit community organizations. During these occasions, Luis visits the children dressed up as Shrek. “I don’t think they would know who Barf is.” he says.
Marquez reiterates that while it was something he never thought of doing before, it has been fun and has given him the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. “I encourage anyone who has thought of it, to try it. Just have fun with it.” There is no right or wrong way to do something. You see a little bit of everything these days. Heroes, villains, princesses….it’s become very mainstream. It is not something dorky but something cool. And it’s definitely become easier to find costumes, accessories, and pieces for your creations than it was 10 years ago he adds.
While the COVID -19 pandemic has been cause for cancellation of any upcoming events where one can cosplay, Luis believes that it is for the better. We should be staying safe and social distancing. But when we come out of this, and can attend a convention again, “it will be that much sweeter.” In the meantime, Luis is taking this time to organize all his costumes and materials. Any questions for him about cosplaying? Ask him! He is happy to help.
Find Luis on his Facebook Page and Instagram handle @groovielouie
All photos courtesy of Luis Marquez