In this documentary photo essay, Arman Shah takes an intimate look into the life of Jeremy, a cosplayer from Singapore whose passion lies in Marvel superhero and pop culture icon Spider-Man.

Jeremy looked larger than life as he stood under the vast night sky with a fraction of Chinatown splashed majestically before his eyes. We were doing a shoot on the rooftop of Pearls Centre – now permanently shut down to make way for Singapore’s Thomson Line – and we suddenly found ourselves in the company of unexpected guests.

Two photography enthusiasts who were also there for the view approached us in fits of laughter before one of them excitedly proclaimed, “You look exactly like Spider-Man! Can we take a picture with you?” Jeremy obliged. I guess interactions of such nature is common when you’re a cosplayer.

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“Why Spider-Man?” I asked him once on a separate occasion.

That question took him by surprise. “I’ve been interested in superheroes ever since I was a kid, and I had watched all these cartoons like Iron Man and Superman when I was younger; but, there was just, I don’t know, something about Spider-Man that appealed to me,” he tried to explain.

While he may have failed to articulate his feelings for the Marvel character, his room – or “Spidey’s hideout” as he calls it – speaks volumes about his affinity for the fictional vigilante. Towels, toys, mugs, t-shirts, caps and even ankle socks were themed around the web-slinger. Clearly, there is nothing casual about his brand of adoration – this is hard-core passion.

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This burgeoning passion also happens to be a relatively expensive one. In the privacy of his lair stands a stunning display case where he keeps his figurine collection safely stored behind regularly polished glass. His most expensive purchase to date is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle set that cost him $6,000.

“Before I buy a figurine, I pay a lot of attention to the sculpting and paint job. Sometimes, I would acquire pieces through online trading. These figurines appreciate in value, so I’d sell them off to get new ones. I just keep a few of my favourites like Venom, Wolverine and Spider-Man,” Jeremy enthused.

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What sparked a desire to put on the iconic red and blue costume, then?

According to Jeremy, that flame was ignited when his friend introduced him to the world of cosplay after the release of the Spider-Man movie. “I wanted to learn more about the cosplay culture, so I started looking it up on the Internet – did such a thing even exist in Singapore?” he wondered.

His research would later reveal that cosplay is indeed a blossoming subculture that’s rapidly growing in popularity amongst local fans of anime, Marvel and DC Comics. He eventually jumped on the bandwagon and bought his first Spider-Man suit in 2012.

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“It was a really bad quality suit that I got for $60 from some cheap website. I had to spend another $100 to enhance it,” Jeremy lamented.

Relying on pure imagination, he used paint and pieces of string to make the webbing details on the costume three-dimensional. He also cut out a piece of foam that was used to make the logo on his chest pop up.

That costume was eventually sold off, and Jeremy has now progressed to his fifth costume. “It’s similar to the version Andrew Garfield wore in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I commissioned someone to make it for $1,600 and had to wait eight months for it, but it was worth it,” he said triumphantly.

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A suit of such calibre requires lots of care, and Jeremy exercises due diligence when maintaining it. “The soles are susceptible to wear and tear, so I have to constantly check for that. I would also have to replace the eyes when they get damaged,” he shared. In the tropical humidity of Singapore, he also has to maintain hygiene by washing the costume often.

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“You can sweat a lot in this suit, so I’ll wash it after each use,” Jeremy admitted. To clean the costume, he would firstly rinse the soles before dipping the whole suit into a basin of water. He’ll then use some detergent to wash it by hand before hanging it up to dry.

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Needless to say, squeezing into a seamless, tight-fitting layer of stretchable spandex requires a certain physique, and Jeremy is fiercely adamant about staying in shape to look the part of his hero.

“Some cosplayers simply do not care, but I demand certain standards for myself because I do not want to spoil the image of my favourite character,” he said with a hint of annoyance in his voice.

To stay lean and fit, he hits the gym about three to five times a week. He’ll also do some body weight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups at the community park near his home.

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In a day and age where virtually everyone is online, Jeremy also puts much thought into building a social media presence. Ever since he branded himself as Dynamic Spidey in 2013, he has garnered over 3,000 fans on Facebook and 17,900 followers on Instagram.

Through social media, photographers – like yours truly – have connected with him to do shoots, and most recently, a social networking company had even invited him and a few other influencers to promote the new offerings at a café.

“That all sounds great, but does it weird you out when fans interact with you like you are the real Spider-Man?” I asked, genuinely curious. “Not really, but you do get some weirdos out there,” he said matter-of-factly.

In the past three years, Jeremy has received many strange requests from fans, including one to show off the palm of his hands on Instagram. He also had to block an obscene individual with a spandex fetish who tried to chat him up.

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Online antics, however, are not as dangerous as offline interactions. Once, a guy who volunteered to help him put his mask on started touching him as he was changing into his Spider-Man suit. There were also photographers who took pictures of him from questionably low angles.

“The worst was when I got attacked by this guy at a cosplay event. He did a headlock on me and almost strangled me to death for no apparent reason. I had to take him down,” he shared, still bewildered by that incident.

“I’ve been learning self-defence since I was 14. I did a little bit of Taekwondo, boxing, kick-boxing and Muay Thai. It’s important to learn these things so that you’ll know what to do if someone attacks you,” he said earnestly.

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Over the years, Jeremy has learnt to take the bad with the good, and he’s still relatively active in the local cosplay scene. “I’ve lost count of the number of events I’ve attended over the years. When I first started out, I would usually attend cosplay events. Subsequently, people reached out to me to attend birthday parties and corporate events,” he shared fondly.

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As and when the opportunity arises, Jeremy would also attend charity events or pay visits to old folks’ homes. He might even pop by hospitals where kids who are suffering from various medical conditions are excited to see him.

“How do I feel when kids are happy to see me? Well, I’m happy to see them. I see many different faces all the time as a cosplayer, but they only see one of me, so it’s a special moment for them. I just try my best to give them Spider-Man and portray my character correctly,” he said earnestly.

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There are, however, certain lines that Jeremy would not cross in the name of portraying his character. He is very aware of his humanity and wouldn’t put himself in any unnecessary danger – like standing on the edge of a building – for the sake of taking a spectacular picture.

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The kind of risk that Jeremy is willing to take lies in investments. While he does research and development for an organisation outside the fantastical world of cosplay – which coincidentally sounds like the kind of thing that Peter Parker would be doing – he’s also savvy about earning a sideline income.

“This world is big, and there is money to be made. If people are spearheading projects that I find promising, I’ll put some money in and watch my investment grow. You just need to have a little faith,” he enthused.

When he’s not preoccupied with thoughts of cosplay or financing himself, Jeremy can be found studying for exams at his community library. He’s currently a part-time business management student at a private university.

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With such a packed work schedule and only a year of school left before he graduates with a bachelor’s degree, I couldn’t help but wonder how cosplay fits into the future plans of a man who’s turning 30 this year.

“I’m not sure, but for now I’m using it as motivation to bring my ass to the gym and stay healthy. With that being said, I also need to find balance between life and this fantasy world because I can end up neglecting the people who matter in my life,” Jeremy confessed.

Reflecting upon his cosplay journey, he added, “If you’re spending too much time being Spider-Man, the people you neglect will not be there for you when you need them. You cannot always be in this costume. You need to take off this mask and be yourself, too.”

Keen to meet Dynamic Spidey? Catch him at STGCC 2016 that’s happening from 10 to 11 September at Marina Bay Sands. For more information click here.