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A Real Superhero: This Cosplayer Is Making COVID-19 Protective Gear

Abel Gutierrez has transferred his cosplay costume-making skills into manufacturing gear for first responders.
Abel Gutierrez has transferred his cosplay costume-making skills into manufacturing gear for first responders.
Shantell Gutierrez

Abel Gutierrez’s foray into the world of cosplay started about seven years ago, when his kids came to him with a request for custom costumes. “My son wanted to be a Transformer, and my daughter wanted to be a Ghostbuster,” Gutierrez says. “So I started with them and took it to Denver Comic Con, and then I started doing it the next year for myself and still with my kids.”

Gutierrez, who is an IT manager for CenturyLink, says he was soon drawn into the subculture of dressing up and acting out as characters from movies, comics and cartoons. He first played an eight-foot Iron Giant, a movie character from the ’90s. “People love that one, because he’s a lovable character that everyone can relate to,” Gutierrez says. “I had people running up and taking pictures — which was difficult because I was on stilts and I couldn’t really see out of the mask.”

Gutierrez makes parts for his costumes on 3-D printers at his Firestone home. He’s been a street judge from the 2012 Judge Dredd movie Dredd (underrated), and a character from the Fallout 4 video game. He also dressed up as a character from the fantasy book series The Witcher, as part of a group that won best-in-show honors at the 2016 Denver Pop Culture Con.

“I bought the 3-D printer to print props for the costumes,” he says. “That way I wouldn’t have to carve or manufacture stuff. I could just upload a 3-D file and print it.”

It’s been a fun hobby for Gutierrez and his family for the past half-dozen years. But it's unlikely that large groups of people will be getting together to show off their costumes any time soon; Denver Pop Culture Con, originally slated for Fourth of July weekend, is now rescheduled for November 27 to 29.

An ear protector that Abel Gutierrez made on his 3-D printer.EXPAND
An ear protector that Abel Gutierrez made on his 3-D printer.
Kaitlin Baird

But Gutierrez is staying busy: He's started making equipment for people on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus, including face shields and ear protectors, after learning of the need for such gear on an online cosplay forum.

Ear protectors "prevent a lot of the chafing and bruising that a lot of the health-care workers have been experiencing,” Gutierrez says “They have been wearing these these masks fourteen, sixteen hours a day.”

True to form, an ear protector Gutierrez made reads "By Grabthar's Hammer," a quote from Galaxy Quest, a movie that sends up Star Trek.

Gutierrez estimates that in the past several weeks, he has printed 3,000 of the ear protectors. He’s also making face-shield parts on his printer and assembling finished shields with a variety of parts.

“The demand has been a lot higher that I thought it was going to be,” he says. “I figured it would be a couple of weeks and mass production would catch up, and that hasn’t been the case.”

His equipment has gone as far away as New York state and California, but he’s also made gear locally for the Frederick Firestone Fire Protection District and the Firestone Police Department. He’s not charging for the gear, and leaving it on his front door in an effort to maintain social distancing.

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Regardless, recipients have found ways to say thanks.

“People have left me twelve-packs of beer, and some people have left an envelope with a little bit of cash or a thank-you letter, and that’s been pretty amazing. The thank-yous I’ve received online have been more worth it. People send pictures of them wearing it while they’ve been working. ... It’s been very awesome.”

Gutierrez says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of those in the cosplay community to chip in to make equipment for first responders. Other people, he says, have made things like cloth masks to help with the coronavirus effort.

“We are filling a need, and it’s absolutely every bit as fulfilling as creating a costume,” he says. “It’s almost more so, because you know what you are doing is going to help people who absolutely need this. You’re not just doing it for a photo op or to attend a convention.” 

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