Wizard World 2014: Chesnut Hill's Eric 'Smoke' Moran is king of cosplay

Eric "Smoke" Moran holds a prop gun from his Warhammer cosplay. Moran has over 200 different cosplay costumes. (Andrew Thayer / Staff Photographer)
Eric "Smoke" Moran holds a prop gun from his Warhammer cosplay. Moran has over 200 different cosplay costumes. (Andrew Thayer / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 19, 2014

HIS LIVING ROOM was a bit disheveled, the victim of last-minute haste. An enormous stack of silver and red sat in the corner. At the top was the square, metallic-blue helmet of Optimus Prime, overlooking the house with its antennae-like ears pointed upward.

It was just four days until Wizard World Philadelphia and Eric "The Smoke" Moran was making the final alterations to his new lineup of costumes with the same fervor and excitement of a believer on Christmas Eve.

In the basement of his Chestnut Hill townhouse, all four walls are covered with film posters, drawings and action figures - most still in their original packing. To the left of the television and every relevant video-gaming console is an electric-blue Star Trek uniform. Moran, 44, is a cosplayer - a man who decided that "costuming" for comic conventions was the best way to show his fandom.

Moran has loved comics since he was a toddler, when he would sneak into his oldest brother's room and snatch them from their hiding place under the pillow. The youngest Moran was always enamored with his comic heroes and their super sense of vigilantism. But even more than Batman and Captain America, he idolized his brothers. Following in their paths, he became this country's closest kin to Superman: a Marine.

In his "first uniform," Moran served from 1989 to 1992 and fought as part of Operation Desert Shield in Iraq. When he left the military, Moran became a professional wrestler under the ring name the Smoke. Fans as far as Oregon have recognized him for his time as a pro wrestler. (At 6 feet 2 with bulging arms, his 8-foot-tall Optimus Prime costume fits him better than you might think.) But his wrestling days are behind him and Moran's fame now comes from his role in the cosplay community.

The list of sci-fi celebrities that have admired Moran's work has grown long and illustrious. He was giddy recounting the time he dressed as Worf at a Star Trek convention in the '90s and the character's original actor, Michael Dorn, gave him "the nod" of approval.

Last Christmas, Moran sent DC Comics co-publisher and longtime friend Dan DiDio a card wishing him a happy holiday. DiDio replied with a special holiday present that sent ripples through the cosplay world. DiDio changed the alias of the DC character Freight Train to Eric Moran. Just as Bruce Wayne is Batman by night, Eric Moran is now Freight Train when trouble is afoot.

"You're officially a DC comic-book character," he said. "I'm like, oh my God."

Moran has spent thousands of dollars and countless hours to get to this point, always striving to materialize an idea that "no one's ever touched on." At Wizard World, he will debut eight costumes, two each day. These costumes will be a mere supplement to the two films he'll debut at the convention: "The Deep End," a spinoff of the "Dredd" film series, as well as a new episode of the Dr. Who/Torchwood crossover "Legacy." Both titles are produced by Moran's Together Brother Productions.

Moran will appear on discussion panels for both projects and will also lead the Wizard World costume contest.

"It doesn't matter if store-bought, doesn't matter if it's homemade, as long as you're having fun and you're embracing the character that you're doing," Moran said. "I always promote positivity and try to inspire others no matter what weight, age, gender, size."

At every turn, Moran has had a strong supporting cast of his own. His mother, a seamstress, never discouraged her son's hobby, especially as she saw it eventually earn him a spot in "Heroes of Cosplay" on the Syfy channel. Moran's father didn't mind what his son did as long as it made him happy. Both of Moran's brothers remain an inspiration, even after his oldest brother died from an injury he suffered in the Marine Corps. Moran's twin sister, who worked for Marvel, is certainly on his side. Even his 22-year-old daughter is considering trying on a few costumes herself.

Moran's wife of two years, Yahne, is a cosplayer, too, and she doesn't mind when he turns the living room into a costume workshop. "She totally gets it," Moran said.

For the man who celebrates Halloween just about every day, this weekend will be Christmas in June.

"Honey," Moran joked. "I'm going to clean it up after Wizard World."

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