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By Lisa Granshaw

Some families bond by visiting Disney World together or camping in the wilderness. But others stay together by cosplaying (short for costume play) together. Cosplay is common at comic-cons across the country, and it's not just for professionals anymore.

For the Brubrek family from Pleasanton, Calif., for example, this is the second year in a row the whole family dressed up for a convention. "The best thing about cosplaying as a family is experiencing the fun of it together, and watching each other enjoying being our favorite characters,” Helen Brubrek told

Helen, her husband David, her 12-year-old daughter Amy, and her 10-year-old son Andrew all attended San Diego Comic-Con in July. They dressed up as various characters from TV shows, movies, and anime. Helen said comic-cons are great places for family bonding because they allow parents and children alike to get excited about shared interests.

Jeni DeFeo, a social studies and reading teacher from Jefferson City, Mo., plans to attend Boston Comic-Con with her family this weekend. Throughout the year the DeFeos attend conventions in costume, including DragonCon in Atlanta, Megacon in Orlando, Fla., Planet Comiccon in Kansas City, and others.

Jeni said her 11-year-old son Joey, 9-year-old daughter Gwyn, and 8-year-old daughter Ellie are able to let their creativity shine when they plan costumes together for conventions. “My kids have embraced the whole thing," she told "When they’re in costume they don’t have a tendency to bicker like they normally would. In costume they play their characters.”

Ellie in particular takes her roles very seriously and uses them to deal with her shyness. According to Jeni, her youngest daughter lets the characters speak for her, allowing her to come out of her normal shell a little. Cosplaying at conventions has helped all three of her kids think outside the box, and traveling so much has allowed them to feel like a part of a community.

The Brubrek family at San Diego Comic-Con last month. From left, Amy as Katniss from The Hunger Games, Andrew as Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter, Helen as Condor Joe from Gatchaman, and David as a Jedi from Star Wars.Today

Ellie even came up with one of the family’s most creative cosplay ensembles, inspired by the Avengers, a Marvel Comics superhero team: Momma Fury and the Daycare Avengers. Jeni leads the team as a female version of Nick Fury, the super spy portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, sporting an eye patch, in "The Avengers" and other films.

Boston Comic-Con has particular significance for the city and the comics community, including the DeFeos. The convention was originally scheduled to take place April 20-21, but after the Boston marathon bombings that week, it was canceled. Eventually the event was rescheduled for August 3-4. “It’s another way we can show that Boston and the nation are healing after this kind of an attack,” Jeni said.

As a friend of the Boston Comic-Con organizers, Jeni is glad they were able to reschedule the event and attract almost everybody who was originally going to attend: “It’s going to be really good, I’m excited for the guys who organized it," she said. The DeFeos will be attending as Momma Fury and the Daycare Avengers this year, and will continue to dress up together for conventions in the future as they travel around the country.

“A lot of times people think comics and they think of nerdy guys who lives in their mom’s basement kind of thing, but it’s changed a lot," Jeni said. "There are whole new kinds of stuff for families. Popular culture has great messages, especially in comics.”

Helen Brubek agrees that there are important lessons for kids to learn through cosplaying at conventions. It teaches them self-confidence, self-respect, and that no matter what they’re interested in, there are others who share those interests and there’s no need to be ashamed of them.

“My children are proud of their interests and would never let other kids put them down for what they like,” Helen said. “When I was growing up, kids with 'geeky' interests were often taunted. My children know that anyone who makes fun of them for their interests is missing out, and they feel pity for those kids, rather than feeling ashamed of themselves.”