A gracious group of mercenaries and rebels

12 News multimedia journalist James Wulff gets to know a few Star Wars and other movie/comic book characters who will be on hand at this weekend’s Phoenix Comicon event.

It’s probably not a good idea to keep a dozen or so mercenaries, rebel troopers and recon commanders waiting.

So I was a bit nervous when I finally showed up at the Phoenix Convention Center with 12 News multimedia journalist James Wulff, more than half an hour late for our scheduled shoot. (We were delayed by rush-hour traffic on our way from a prior shoot in northeast Scottsdale.)

Some of the characters had already been there for several hours, getting into costume to promote this Memorial Day Weekend’s Phoenix Comicon event . Like petite “Poison Ivy,” a.k.a. Victoria Paege, who wore full body makeup (it took her makeup artist two hours to apply it all), a wig and, well, a few strategically placed strands of artificial ivy.

Victoria Paege.

Paege is the official spokesperson for Phoenix Comicon. She’s also a working actress who bounces between Phoenix and Los Angeles. She’ll appear in the upcoming film “Piranha 3D,” which hits theaters in August. “I’m in all of the spring break scenes,” she told me. “In a pink bikini.”

While James conducted his interviews, I talked with some of the intricately costumed characters. I learned that each costume was custom-made. Some start with pieces you can buy. Carol Duckworth, a student at Phoenix College, visited an Army/Navy surplus store to get started on her Rebel Fleet Trooper costume. Phoenix resident Mike Little’s Rebel Pilot costume started with “a standard orange jumpsuit” but Little, who works for an insurance company, created the helmet, gadgets and attachments.

Lee Palmer of Phoenix  had an advantage when he started from scratch to build and mold his Biker Advanced Recon Commando (BARC) costume: He’s the superintendent for a construction company, so he’s used to building things. But James Ayers of Phoenix (Sandtrooper), does private security for Blackwater-type organizations. I’m not sure where he developed the skills (or how he found time) to build his molded-plastic costume while he’s been to and from Afghanistan in recent months.

Palmer told me he had “a couple thousand” invested in his BARC costume. He also has a Darth Vadar costume that cost closer to $6,000.

When you put that much effort into a costume, you want an excuse to wear it. So these people spend a lot of time doing appearances for charity. Their biggest annual event is the annual American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

It’s not all fun and games. Many of the suits are so form-fitted they can be extremely uncomfortable. “I will have blisters and bruises when I take this thing off,” Lee said.

As we were wrapping up the shoot, James packed up his equipment and took it out to his vehicle. I’d just met him that day, so I didn’t know this soft-spoken, methodical professional is somewhat of a performer himself. As he returned for his tripod, he tipped his ballcap at the group and said (in a spot-on Yoda imitation), “May the force be with you!”

You can watch James’s interview with Paege, along with some action shots he took of a mock Star Wars battle, tonight on 12 News, during the 5pm broadcast. We’ll post the video clip on our website tomorrow.

Phoenix Comicon is open to the public Friday through Sunday this weekend. Some of the proceeds benefit Kids Need to Read. Learn more at phoenixcomicon.com.

Watch our 12News report about Phoenix Comicon.

From left: Thomas Boyer (Mandalorian Merc), Carol Duckworth (Rebel Fleet Trooper), Lee Palmer (BARC), James Ayers (Sandtrooper) and Mike Little (Rebel Pilot); all are residents of Phoenix.