Mandalorians on the move: Local costumers prepare for conventions, charity events
Sgt. Benjamin Kullman,
24th Press Camp Headquarters:
There are many types of hobbies like sports, fishing, cooking, gaming or scrapbooking. But there is also costuming. Getting into a costume is viewed by most people as a once-a-year activity during the Halloween season. For some, however, it is a yearlong effort and hobby.
In the last several years, costuming or “cosplay” has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon, resulting in the creation of many different costuming clubs. One of these costuming clubs, made up of servicemembers and others from in and around El Paso, is The Vhe’rang Clan.
The members of this club spend much of their after-work hours, weekends and sometimes large amounts of money creating accurate costumes to participate in conventions and appear at events. The club also contributes their free time and effort to raise money for different charity organizations and assists its community through volunteer work.
The Vhe’rang Clan is the local chapter of the international Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club which is a Star Wars-based costume club focusing on building customized “Mandalorian Armor” initially made popular in the Star Wars films by the characters of Boba and Jango Fett. The group’s costumes are also influenced by the Mandalorian culture further developed in other Star Wars books, comics and television series.
The Vhe’rang Clan was originally founded by Tony Johnson and has since continued to grow and become more active. During the past year the “Mercs” have appeared at several different locations around the area, including throwing out the first pitch at an El Paso Diablos baseball game during the team’s Star Wars night at Cohen Stadium.
The club is not just focused on creating costumes but also offers a welcoming family-like atmosphere outside of work as it gives its members a chance to socialize with others that share the same interest.
Spc. Alexander Banner from E Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Armored Division, recently discovered the group. He is in the initial stages of building his armor and wishes he had found the club earlier.
“I’ve been here for two years, and I pretty much accepted that there was no fun to be had in El Paso,” said Banner. “Now, actually finding a group who is not just sitting around but is actually active and doing things, that’s great. I’m looking to have a lot of fun.”
Although this group is Banner’s first introduction to active costuming outside of a theater, he is looking forward to the experience.
In addition to its appearances, the club has devoted much of their time to charities and community welfare projects that have become part of the group’s mission. Participants of the club, by mandate, do not seek a financial profit and are expected to represent the franchise in a positive and respectful manner. The club does not charge for its services or appearances, but event hosts are encouraged to make donations to a charity in the clan’s name.
One of the Vhe’rang Clan’s charities, in coordination with different local organizations, will offer free admission the premiere re-release of the next two Star Wars movies to disadvantaged children around El Paso, who normally would not have the opportunity or means to attend.
The next two chapters of the Star Wars Saga have been converted into 3D and are scheduled to open in theaters next fall. In addition to free admission, the children will be treated to popcorn, drinks and candy provided for them with money gathered by the club from various fundraisers throughout the year. The children will also be able to participate in various games, raffles and activities the evening of the films with members of the Vhe’rang Clan.
New and old members of the group attended El Paso ComicCon, a comic book convention, Friday through Sunday. El Paso ComicCon is one of the area’s largest pop culture gathering and boasts a variety of special guests and activities. The Vhe’rang clan staffed a booth during the event, providing information on the group and their activities as well as raising funds for their charity through several activities throughout the weekend. Along with open donations and a raffle for a valuable piece of Star Wars memorabilia, the “Mercs” hosted a “bounty hunt.” During the hunt, attendees of the convention had the opportunity to donate money and have one of their friends or family members humorously “arrested” by one of the Mandalorians and put temporarily into a jail cell on the convention floor.
Piecing together one of the group’s costumes is not as simple as going to the Post Exchange and picking up one off the shelf. Many labor intensive hours go into each part of the finished product. Beginning with a planning process, each member considers what type of armor set they want to build and the colors they want to paint it. Each member also decides on any additions they want to make to their costume so that it is personal and unique.
The group hosts “armor parties” during the weekends where they meet at one of the member’s houses to assist and offer each other advice in the construction of their costumes. Using a variety of techniques, the costumes slowly come together as pieces are constructed or bought from different stores and online sources. Some members who normally would not go into a Lowes or Home Depot find themselves on repeated trips to these hardware stores, picking up various items needed to complete their construction. Some members have spent months working on their costumes to get it just right.
“I think the real trick with the armor process is getting a vest that fits properly and actually attaching the plates on to it,” said Pfc. Ian Tarr, B Company, 47th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, who has been a member of the club almost since the beginning.
Following months of painstaking work and once the costumes are complete and approved, new members are able to join the rest of the group in their variety of different activities and appearances.
“I’m looking forward to ‘trooping’,” said Tarr, “and getting my name out there – our name out there.”
The Vhe’rang Clan has planned several events after the El Paso Comic Con to continue their interaction with the community. As members work towards their goal of finishing their armor in time for future events, they are ready to participate as fully costumed members of the group.
Through their efforts, the Vhe’rang Clan will continue to celebrate the Star Wars universe, promote the camaraderie of costuming, and find more ways for their hobby to benefit the community.
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