Yaya Han

Don't tell these sci fi-fantasy geeks to "Get a life!" They already have one — and it's making them pretty damn famous. Syfy's new reality series Heroes of Cosplay, premiering Tuesday at10:30 pm/9:30c, will follow nine uberobsessed cosplayers — that's short for "costume players" — as they travel the comic-book conventions of America dressed as their favorite characters from film, TV, anime and video games. Their costumes are elaborate, self-made and, in some cases, quite erotic.

"If you assume the world of cosplay is filled with social misfits confused about the priorities in life, you're in for a surprise," says executive producer Mark Cronin. "These people are very good at what they do and many turn their skills into a highly successful business." Cronin notes that "most of these folks started in cosplay for a goof or a lark. Now they have massive fan followings, merchandise lines, product endorsements. The stakes are huge, especially when it comes to the costume competitions."

Among the fans profiled are Atlanta-based Con queen Yaya Han, widely considered the first cosplay superstar, as well as Chloe Dykstra, daughter of Star Wars special-effects whiz John Dykstra, and Carrie Fisher lookalike Victoria Schmidt, who played Princess Leia in the 2007 Rose Bowl parade. In fact, eight of the nine cosplayers spotlighted in the series are female.

"Male characters tend to be simpler — lots of body armor and weaponry and spandex and capes," observes Cronin. "They're usually nowhere near as interesting and intricate, or sexy and cool, as the costumes worn by the women. And, let's face it, female sexuality is a big part of comic-book art and a big element in the Con world."

Not all cosplayers are born show-offs, however. "Many of them are surprisingly shy," Cronin observes. "Someone whose personality is nowhere near that of Iron Man's will put on his costume and suddenly have swagger and strut and inner strength. It can be a pricey undertaking. You might win $500 in a costume contest for an outfit that cost you $2000 to make. But you're stepping into the shoes of greatness."

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