It’s not uncommon for a cosplayer to use their skills and character portrayals to make hospital appearances for children with cancer. However, it’s not every day that a cosplayer uses their superpowers to make kids happy while constantly working to raise money for them and their families as they undergo treatment.
Sterling Bailey, also known as Vorian Cosplay, took this noble stride when he developed Cap For Kids: a foundation to help kids with cancer. In a recent interview, Sterling told Cosplay & Coffee his dreams for the charity and his experience as a cosplayer helping kids in the most fun and unique way possible.
Cosplay & Coffee: So first, how did you start cosplaying?
Sterling Bailey: Well probably — it’s a similar story to how it got started with the charity — I had a few friends who were pro cosplayers and they were like, “Dude, you gotta do it.” And I’m like, I don’t have time. You know I’ve got two jobs and I don’t know when I’ll have time. It seems like a lot of fun and would be really cool, but I just don’t know if I’d ever have the time to take away from work to get it done. So, peer pressure was a little bit of it and then a lot of my friends were telling me like, “You’d make a really great Captain America.” And I was like okay, okay. I could kind of see that.
And then I ran across a story of this guy –his name was Lenny — who would go up and down the East Coast with the whole Batman gear, visiting kids in hospitals (in a Lamborghini, no less). I saw the story and it was just so amazing. And I just got to thinking…well shoot; it’s a really good cause. And if Batman can do it, Captain America can do this. So this whole thing started. With some help from a few pro cosplayers just coaching me along and giving me encouragement, it kind of helped me get to the point where I could actually pull it off. I did my first convention in Denver and Townsend. And that was in 2014? So only a couple of years ago.
C&C: Why Captain America? Is it just the character you like the most?
SB: Well I don’t know if it’s the character I like the most. It’s a character I’ve liked since I was a little kid. I’ve always loved Captain America and his whole sense of justice and right and wrong. That sort of thing has always kind of resonated with me.
I was never huge into the comic books, but there were a few comics that I got a hold of as a kid and there was a few, of course, shows and cartoons and such that I got a hold of. And so I certainly resonated with the character, and then I could certainly see the resemblance. You know, there was something there. And then as the movies were starting to come out, the whole Avengers stuff for Marvel, I was like: Okay, this is a character I can certainly get on board with.
C&C: So is that the only character you cosplay as, or do you do other ones?
SB: I do a bunch, but that’s the main one, the Captain America one. Primarily because most of the time, cosplaying is spent around the charity. But I do Batman; I’ve got that full suit that I did at DragonCon. I did Axton from Borderlands. That was certainly painful and expensive project, but it worked out and it looks amazing.
C&C: That’s another thing about cosplaying. You want to be good at it so you have to be extremely detailed and you have to be crafty. Which, for me, has been a process.
SB: It’s totally a process. In this whole process, I’ve had to learn how to weld, to do auto paint, to do leather work, to do sewing on a sewing machine… so I had to learn all of this stuff that I had no idea before. And I’m like, well if I’m going to be Captain America I’ve got to learn how to build this stuff.
C&C: One of the reasons I was drawn to your Instagram page is because of the shields you make. Those are so cool.
SB: You know, I was going to do this Captain America thing so I’m like, well I need a shield. And at the time it certainly wasn’t something you could buy because I think now Marvel has this thing where you can buy the plastic one that looks very much like the medal shield. They didn’t even have anything like that back then. So I was happy for that because it made me go down this path. Like okay, now I want to learn how to make a metal shield that is a legitimate movie quality shield.
The replica prop forum was a good start for that. And there was a few guys that had done it. I became friends with Steve Radtke of Valor Replicas. He had done it a bunch and documented the process on the forum. So I got started working with a metal spinning company to get spun aluminum done and then how to make the brackets out of aluminum (I used steel initially and that welding process was fun and interesting, but I don’t think I’ll do that again). I use aluminum now. It’s all about learning how to cut aluminum and shape it.
C&C: So you make them yourself?
SB: I do it at home. I did my first one in my garage. It turned out so well. So for Cap4Kids the charity, I thought, what if we got some of these made and had them signed by Stan Lee? And then we can use those as like a giveaway item for an opportunity drawing.
So I started making a bunch of them. I’ve done nine or something now. I did one special for CNN and they gave it to a superhero. And then another one I gave to my buddy who is my supplier for spun aluminum out of Iowa. He had a sick little girl that he wanted to present that to. So I made that for him for her. I gave one away last year for the charity, a signed one. We’re giving another one at the end of this year. I make all those myself.
I get people on Instagram and Twitter all the time asking me if I sell them. But no I don’t because I don’t really like being sued by Marvel. They’re very very strict about that.
C&C: How did you get the shields signed by Stan Lee?
SB: I started by my first year going to Kamakazi in 2014. Just went through the process of getting something signed like you would at a con, and I got to meet the whole team. It was very surprising, and it was just blind luck I think. I don’t know. Got to meet Stan Lee’s wife right afterwards and chat with her. They really liked what I did and my cause and that sort of thing. So I initially did the normal thing and I paid and got those first few signed. Then after that they’re like, “Oh we gotcha.” So I’ve got four more signed and then four more about to be signed this month.
C&C: Tell us about Cap For Kids; What’s your goal?
SB: So Cap For Kids is a nonprofit public charity. Our focus is on helping kids with cancer. We do that in two ways. On one side, it’s character visits (like this past weekend we went to Children’s Hospital Colorado). It’s myself and other Avenger’s and others like Elsa and Anna. So that’s part of it.
The other part is we help the families with the financial burden of the cancer treatment itself because just a bone marrow transplant, you’re looking at a million-dollar bill. So our belief is that if we can help reduce the the financial stress of the families even just a little bit (because we help to the tine of $10,000 per family) it’s great. So each family we sponsor we basically pay hospital bills, mortgage payments, car payments, travel costs, food, you know, any kind of thing that our partner organizations don’t already cover. And so that’s the charity. That’s what we do.
C&C: How did Cap For Kids get started?
SB: Cap For Kids got started…well I kind of told you the story of kind of how we began. I read that story about Lenny. And incidentally, I don’t know if you heard of Lenny’s story at all, but he passed away last year in that car accident while he was working. He was in the Batsuit in the Lamborghini. He had car failure and pulled over and somebody ran right into him.
So it’s really unfortunate that that would happen because he kind of got me started on this. He just didn’t know it at the time. I just saw this as inspiration and something that I could do. And it kind of went from there. It initially started to where I wasn’t sure where it was going to go and I made it so that any donations I took didn’t actually come to my organization. It just went directly to the Children’s Hospital, Brent’s Place (which is a kind of a Ronald McDonald House just for cancer patients). We’ve kind of shifted the focus to where we’re taking in the donations and helping the families directly. So that’s kind of the model.
C&C: So you accept donations to help fund Cap For Kids and your sponsor families?
SB: That’s primarily it. We’ve got a bunch of big events planned now since we’re official, official. We’ve got 5K’s, golf tournaments, and things like that. Our primary fundraising is, and probably always will be, through the pop culture communities. You know, booths and tables at cons like MegaCon and DragonCon. We’ll probably partner with someone for SDCC (San Diego Comic Con).
So that’s primarily how we raise money for Cap For Kids. We have the booth and we have the shield giveaway. That draws a lot of people in because they’re like, “Oh my gosh, Stan Lee signed shields!” And we can talk to them about our charity.
We were at a tiny little con in northern Colorado a few weeks ago and I got a ton of donations just off of people coming up and me telling them what we do. I’ll give examples of the kids that we help and then they absolutely want to help out. A few celebrities like Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica loved what we do. Richard kind of took me under his wing and suggested some things that I should think about. So, just getting attention at these cons and kind of connecting with other people in the geek community. That’s our primary way for getting donations.
C&C: Your charity is so unique. Is there anything else out there like Cap For Kids? I mean, I’m sure there are other charities out there in the pop culture community, especially with cosplaying, but I guess I haven’t seen too many.
SB: It is unique; it’s centered around the pop culture community. So there are a few. There’s Comic Care. They have a focus around just helping kids in general; just any kids in the hospital. The founder looks exactly like Tony Stark. There’s very few that are public charities. But there are some, but very few just like us. And none specifically to help kids with cancer.
C&C: Are there any kids that you see on a regular basis?
SB: We have our one sponsored family, Ella, and we have two more that we’re supposed to take on this year. At least, once we make our funding goals (about $30,000). With some help, we’ll get there. We’re being featured in Geek Fuel and we’ll turn up the volume for the shield giveaways.
But back to your question: Primarily it’s are our existing families, although I would say we do work closely with that organization, Brent’s Place. We get to see the kids there time and again so they recognize us and know us.
You know, it’s tough because if they’re still there and we keep seeing them, it means they’re still battling cancer. But at the same time, you know, it’s great if they can go into remission and then maybe we don’t see them as often (maybe once a year for a fundraiser or something like that), which happens. But every once in a while, we don’t see them because it’s not a good story. So. We lost a couple last year. So it’s always tough.
C&C: That’s sounds like an amazing organization. Where do you hope to see this in the next few years?
SB: Yeah we love it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love. We took our first official sponsored family just last week. And meeting Ella and getting to know her and her quirky personality, you just fall in love with these kids. You’re just like, Okay, I have to do this. There’s no option. This isn’t like, I don’t feel like doing this today. No, we’re gonna do this.
Right now, we’ve been primarily focused on Colorado, just because that’s easier for us to do being local. My dream is to have a nationwide network of people who are doing hospital visits, who are helping us with fundraising efforts, where somebody could run Cap For Kids out of other states. I haven’t figured out all the logistics in my head yet, but all these other non-profits do it so it’s just a matter of getting some of those folks and figuring out what’s best way to pull this together.
We get cosplayers all the time that say, “Oh, I want to do this!” But you have to make your cosplay on point. The kids are really picky, so it’s gotta look good.
Bailey’s plan for Cap For Kids is to eventually get into the world of big charities to partner with foundations like Make A Wish. They have already plans to work with artists such as, Jason Meents and will be attending plenty of upcoming comic-cons.
Day to day, Bailey works as a Director of Solution Consultant to help pay his own bills along to help fund Cap For Kids. Check out his Instagram page for inspiring stories. You can see this cosplayer’s cancer foundation at Cap For Kids and find out how you can help!