By Alyssa Weston
Michael Wilson, a 19-year veteran deputy sheriff for the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, is an international cosplayer known as “Knightmage.”
“I always hate saying this, but I’m probably right in the top five to 10 male cosplayers in the world,” he said. “I’m very proud of that and sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve it.”
He began his love for costuming in 2011, when he made a Green Lantern costume for Halloween.
The costume was such a hit that he received an inquiry to wear it to Relay For Life. From there, he began to dress up as Green Lantern, Batman, Captain America and Spiderman for different charity events and hospital visits.
Wilson said at the time, he didn’t know about cosplaying, but was introduced to conventions in 2012.
“As soon as I stepped on the floor [of his first convention], I was blown away. I felt like I was with my people,” he said.
Since his first convention, Wilson has traveled the world going to conventions, made over 150 costumes and gained over 23,000 likes on Facebook.
Wilson uses 100 percent of the proceeds he makes from selling signed prints of himself at conventions to benefit different charities.
“I just try and find a local charity … and raise money. I give all my prints and autographs away for free and then ask for donations,” he said.
When it comes to characters, Wilson said nothing is off-limits.
“[My costumes] range from comics, to anime to TV movies and cartoons. I like to show that it doesn’t really matter — your age, sex, whatever it is. You can be whoever you want,” he said.
Wilson also budgets all of his costumes and said if he can’t make a costume for $250 or less, it’s not worth it.
“Unless I’m making it for a costume contest or for a company, then it’s not worth it for me to put all those hours and money into it,” he said.
In 2014, Wilson was awarded the Presidential Volunteers Award from President Barack Obama and the White House.
He has had acting roles on several Hollywood comic book movie productions including an alternate for the 2006 reality show “Who Wants To Be A Superhero?” hosted by Stan Lee, “Flash Fall” by Together Brother Productions and YouTube series “Man at Arms: Reforged.”
In addition to his acting roles, Wilson has created costumes for World Wrestling Entertainment superstars, is a spokesmodel for the independent comic companies Shot In The Dark Comics and Transgenesis Comics and is a spokesperson for FX latex product, Zombie-Skin.
Marilyn Lee, vice president of Putting Downs First, met Wilson roughly seven years ago when he dressed up as Batman for a Down Syndrome walk.
Since then, Wilson has formed a friendship with both Lee and her 11-year-old son with Down Syndrome, Dylan.
Wilson has raised money for Putting Downs First a few times, most recently at the Cleveland ConCoction event March 1 through 3.
According to Lee, Putting Downs First has never asked Wilson to raise money for their organization, instead he raises the money on his own terms. She said she didn’t know he was raising money at Cleveland ConCoction until he tagged the organization on a Facebook post.
“He chooses a lot of different charities around wherever he’s doing a comic con tour or event,” Lee said. “We don’t ask him to [raise money]. He does this for us out of the kindness of his heart.”
In the future, Wilson looks forward to the cosplay community growing and continuing to take advantage of advances in technology such as 3D printing to create elaborate costumes.
For Wilson, cosplaying brings on a wide range of positive, inspiring and motivating emotions.
“When [I] make a costume and [I] look at it, [I] take photographs of it, [I] see [myself] and [I] say to [myself], ‘Wow, I can’t believe I made that.’ It’s a very proud emotion,” he said. “Seeing people react to [my] costume, that’s a different type of emotion, like seeing a grown 40-something-year-old man totally lose it because [I’m] dressed as their favorite character, or [I] did such a good job and they love it so much.”