Ally Blaze and Dynamite Webber are two of the most prominent cosplay couples in the state.
One of the most popular cosplay couples in the state boasts nearly 70,000 combined followers on Instagram.
Whether they’re teamed up in a photo as Batgirl and Nightwing or Marvel characters X-23 and Deadpool -- Ally Paquette (Ally Blaze) and her boyfriend Shawn Webber (Dynamite Webber), both of Milford, are turning heads with their charming cosplay pictures.
The power couple will show off new X-23 and Captain Spider-Man costumes at their booth at the fifth Dover Comic Con downtown on Saturday, Aug. 18.
Free, and with multiple indoor locations and an outdoor market (from Dover Public Library and The Green to Loockerman Way Plaza), there will be more than 100 exhibitors at Dover Con, including artists, fan groups, activities, panels, food trucks and more.
This year marks the second straight that Blaze, 26, will have a booth. Being a guest comes full circle for her, because in the three years she’s cosplayed, one of her first cons was Dover’s, she said.
Blaze, a teacher at Milford Central Academy, said she likes the Dover Con because it’s free, and that helps to give kids an outlet to express their love for nerd culture, something she noticed that isn’t always embraced by children in school.
“When kids are going through school, especially with me being a teacher, I see there are some kids that enjoy the nerdy things,” she said. “They get bullied and picked on for it.
“Some people in the comic con community have had that experience growing up. So for kids to experience something cool like this, it brings them into that community where they feel safe, can express themselves and see other people who enjoy the same things.”
Blaze didn’t start attending cons until a few years ago when a friend explained to her what they’re all about.
“She introduced me to it and said, ‘You love Halloween so much. Here’s another event where you can dress up and no one will make fun of you,”‘ Blaze said. “I got kind of hooked after that.’
Her boyfriend, Dynamite Webber, went to Otakon in 2002, his first con, when he was a senior in high school.
“I had no idea cosplay was a thing,” he said. “I saw all these people in the costumes of all these animes I loved. I was like, ‘this is amazing.”’
Webber’s Instagram account has 62,000 followers. He’s known for his impressive Nightwing cosplays, featuring realistic-looking armor he’s crafted with EVA foam.
The Milford resident, who said he attracted his fan base “by accident,” did so through a combination of posting behind-the-scenes footage of his unfinished cosplays, forming relationships with other cosplayers and posting photos of himself in costume nearly every day.
Webber said anyone can and should give cosplaying a try if they’re interested in doing it. But they shouldn’t be consumed with how many social media followers they can gain.
“Don’t make that your main goal. It is about fun,” he said. “If you can gain popularity and do it, then cool. But don’t live or die by those likes on your picture.”
Blaze has built up over 5,000 followers on Instagram in nearly three years.
She said new cosplayers can grow their fan base, like she has, partly by being friendly to photographers and networking with them, and complementing cosplayers on their costumes, both online and in person.
Like her boyfriend, Blaze said her goal for cosplaying isn’t about gaining a ton of followers, but rather enjoying the culture with her friends.
“It’s one of those things where you have to understand everyone is not going to have the same amount of followers,” Blaze said. “I know my Instagram is not even close to Shawn’s. And it’s not going to get close to Shawn’s.”
Fellow Milford cosplayer Luis Andres Valdez, better known as “The Brown Ranger,” has over 8,000 Instagram followers.
He reached that point partly by getting out of his comfort zone and talking to handfuls of new cosplayers he meets at cons and taking selfies with them. Brown Ranger also posts frequently on social media.
“Just be yourself,” Brown Ranger said. “When I first stated, I was happy to be in the community. My end game was to never be popular. If you lead, people will follow.”
Instead of attracting a big following, Brown Ranger, there’s something else he values over that as a cosplayer.
“I don’t thing it’s about the numbers, it’s abut the friendships and connections you can build in the community that mean something,” he said.
While Blaze has been able to find other like-minded people online who share her passion, she has also learned that everyone isn’t a fan.
In November, Blaze said, two eighth-grade students from her school discovered her Instagram account and told their friends about it, which led to students verbally harassing her.
“They pretty much blew up my Instagram, trying to follow me. I had a couple students personally message me," she said, adding students sent insulting messages.
Blaze said the insults by the students were in reference to a photo she posted wearing an X-23 cosplay, an outfit that featured her in leather pants and a cropped tank top.
The only revealing thing about the costume was her belly button. Blaze said her outfit met the guidelines for her job, which states employees can’t wear anything less than a bathing suit.
Despite parents complaining to her principal, Blaze said she received strong support from her principal and her union rep.
The situation ultimately turned positive, because Blaze was able to help a student in her school feel more comfortable with opening up about cosplaying.
“I had a student who’d come up to me who was very shy,” Blaze said. “When she found out I did cosplay, she was able to come up to me and find out which cons I was going to, she wanted to see which outfits I was wearing and wanted advice on how to make hers better too. She opened up a lot more, which was really nice,” the Milford teacher said.
New things to do at Dover Con
Kerri Hollyday, librarian for Dover Public Library, said revelers will find themselves exploring new activities and vendors at Dover Con, including the chance to have fun in a mobile escape room off Federal Street, where a team will receive clues that can lead to an escape-room in a trailer, where there’s a time limit to figure out all the clues.
Also new this year will be Pursuit for Peace, a cosplay group of Disney princesses who’ll be at the library all day.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson will venture to the Capital City to solve a murder case at the Old State House at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hollyday said there will be pirates from The Pirate Empire hanging out by the Biggs Museum of American Art, alongside a pirate ship.
“They’ve built a pirate ship and it’s kind of like the Black Pearl from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’” Hollyday said. “All the pirates are in character and I’ve seen them at other cons. We’re excited they’re coming out.”
The librarian said Dover Con, founded by Dover Public Library, has attracted 10,000 revelers the last two years. Though she’d like to see greater attendance this weekend, she’s content with the current size of the event.
“It’d be great if it grows. But we’re more than happy with the 10,000,” Hollyday said. “We never thought it’d grow beyond the library. Now we’re like, ‘holy crap!”