ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – It’s like Halloween but all year round. Cosplay is the act of dressing up as your favorite movie or comic book character, and cosplayers in the Capital Region are bringing their unique passion to the masses.

For Harleen Dimopoulos, dressing in black and red is a way of life. She’s a professional cosplayer based in Albany who’s been dressing up as Harley Quinn from the Batman universe for over a decade. It started when she was 5 years old. She often sat next to her father watching Batman movies, and there on the couch, her commitment to the character Harley Quinn began.

“I only cosplay Harley Quinn religiously. If there is another universe I like, such as Star Wars, I will make a Harley Quinn Star Wars cosplay,” Dimopoulos said. “’Harleen’—that is my name. I went through the entire legal process about a year and a half ago.”

Harleen has meticulously created her different versions of Harley Quinn—everything from a wedding dress to a Christmas-themed clown. She recently hired a manager to handle her appearances and created her own business—Sweetheart Harley—where she sells custom costume creations, props, and merchandise. And the audience for these kinds of products is growing.

The first comic convention occurred in 1964 in New York City, but San Diego Comic-Con is considered the gold standard, bringing in millions of dollars each year. Local vendors don’t want to miss out on the hype—according to Allied Market Research, the global cosplay costumes market was estimated at $4.62 billion in 2020, and it’s projected to reach $23 billion by 2030.

Comic conventions are popping up across the country, and in the Capital Region, there is no lack of cosplay-centered events. Albany Comic Con just had its sixteenth event; Saratoga Comic-Con is going on for eight years come November, and the Toying Around Block Party in Johnston is around the corner on July 16. The block party will include a cosplay contest.

The Capital Region’s friendly neighborhood Spider-man—Frank Gillen—will be one of the judges for that contest. He said he’s booking more gigs since the recent Blockbuster hit, “Spider-man No Way Home,” broke box office records.

“Within the last week, I’ve done four events,” Gillen said. “The fact that things are so accessible now, it’s really eye-opening to see how much more this—at least at one point—niche kind of culture was, now it’s kind of expanding.” 

Some cosplayers don’t love that their secret world is going mainstream. The former subculture is permeating the masses, and with that comes changes. “I’ve grown to really love that now more people can understand what it is I do, what is I love, and why I love to do it,” Gillen said.

Gillen was suited up for the recent 2022 Capital Region Heart Walk and Run and the 2022 Albany Pride Parade. He took countless pictures with kids and adults, showing them unique, spidey poses.

“These kids are seeing these older people, like myself, dressing up in costume 24/7, year-round. And they are like, ‘Wow! I can dress up as my favorite character when it’s not Halloween?'” Dimopoulos said. “That is one of the greatest joys I have ever experienced in my life.”