SAN DIEGO -- By day, Cash Branson is a mild-mannered human resources worker from Pittsburgh. But this weekend, he will transform into Iron Man, Daredevil, Grandmaster and a handful of other superheroes at San Diego Comic-Con.
Branson, whose cosplay name is Capt Cash (he's @CaptCash on Instagram), is one of the thousands of Comic-Con attendees who spend months and sometimes thousands of dollars designing elaborate costumes and makeup for the annual five-day event at the San Diego Convention Center.
On the cosplay circuit, Branson, 37, describes himself as "small-time," since he makes, paints and wires most of his costumes from scratch with simple store-bought materials and has attended fewer than 20 conventions over the years. But the effort to create these costumes is a hobby that consumes much of his spare time and money, and in recent years, he has roped in two of his best friends into traveling to Comic-Con with him each year.
Branson makes all of their costumes and they walk the convention center exhibition hall and lobby as a trio. One year, they were characters from the "Punisher" comics. Another year, they were characters from "Game of Thrones." On Thursday, they were Marvel Avengers from the "Endgame" movie. Branson was Iron Man wearing the Infinity gauntlet; his buddy Tom Kelly, 36, of Phoenix was a battered and bruised Captain America; and his friend since childhood Alex Daniel, 36, of Cincinatti, was the slightly gone-to-seed Thor.
Everywhere the trio walked on Thursday, a horde of fans shooting cellphone photos, amateur videographers and TV crews followed. Each year they arrive in San Diego with multiple costumes which they sometimes change twice a day. They don't attend many panels because they're in such heavy demand for photos, but they enjoy finding nearby events where they can have a beer, meet other cosplayers and catch up.
"I do it because I love seeing the fan reaction, but also because it's a good excuse to hang out with these guys," Branson said. All three are married dads with two children under the age of 6, so getting away for the occasional convention is an increasingly rare opportunity.
Branson grew up in Cincinnati where he and Daniel met in first grade. Daniel said they always loved reading comic books and watching and discussing superhero movies and TV shows together. Branson and Kelly met in college, where Branson spent a year as a theater major and discovered his love for performing for a crowd.
But it wasn't until June 2005, when he was living in Japan working as an English teacher, that he had his first cosplay experience. He heard there was an anime convention in town so he dressed up like the character Lupin the Third. The positive reaction he received from fellow conventioneers felt so good that he's been cosplaying ever since.
His elaborate costumes over the years have included the Human Torch, the Punisher, Amos from "The Expanse," Wolverine, Spider-Man, the Red Viper from "Game of Thrones" and even a blue-skinned Mary Poppins. Branson -- who is married with two children, ages 3 and 9 months -- said that his wife kindly indulges his hobby and has, on occasion, joined him in dressing up for a convention.
To keep costs down, he makes virtually everything from scratch using stretchy Lycra-like fabrics, costume foam, plastic, wood, paints and other elements, including electrical wiring that illuminated his Infinity gauntlet on Thursday. Most of his costumes take about a month to conceive and construct. Some have cost as little as $20, others cost more than he'd like to admit. He often repurposes old costume elements to make new ones and sometimes redecorates old costumes with candy canes and Christmas wrapping for the holidays.
In 2013, he talked Kelly into joining him at San Diego Comic-Con and he was quickly hooked. Daniel signed on in 2014. Kelly and Daniel say they appreciate Branson's design skills, but most of all they love his energy and enthusiasm for cosplay. Branson and Kelly also co-host a podcast, "Hops and Box Office Flops," where they talk about famous movie failures over a couple of beers.
Because he has a young family and full-time job, Branson said he limits the number of conventions he attends each year, but San Diego's Comic-Con is the granddaddy of them all and he looks forward to it each year.
"I get a great sense of pride in creating these costumes and when it all comes together I'm proud that I pulled it off," he said.
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