Monday, September 4, 2006

Looking To The Stars - AnimeFest '06 Report

It is a very odd thing, conventions. Sometimes the biggest ones seem very small and the smallest ones seem very big. Case in point: Dallas is host to two notable Anime-themed conventions. A-KON and Animefest.

A-KON is the longest-running Anime and Manga Convention in the whole of the United States of America (Fun trivia fact: Dallas is also the first place in the USA to air Monty Python on PBS) and is famed for now being a convention capable of holding the interests of many branches of fandom as well as an international audience.

Animefest, by contrast, is a purer sort of convention. It has managed to stay mainly devoted to Anime and Manga, with gaming and webcomics making up a well-represented minority in the events and convention floor-space. It is more of a local con, or so I have heard. And yet, somehow, as I went to Animefest this year, I seemed to meet more people from far away than I did at A-Kon earlier this summer. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

This was my first time attending Animefest. Why? Well, me being a fanboy of American comics whom regards most Manga with the same cautious but potentially hostile attitude that the USA maintained toward East Germany during the 1960s, I’ve never had any reason to attend Anime-specific conventions before. But I am trying to broaden my horizons – become a Renaissance Fan as it were. And I thought that my readers who ARE fans of Anime/Manga might appreciate the low-down on the convention. And one of my old writing buddies from WAY back in the day was there as a guest of honor.

So it was with a mixture of glee and trepidation that I set forth that morning, managing to avoid the famous downtown Dallas mid-morning traffic jams that make a merry hell of the I-30/I-35 E changeover. One jaunt through the government district to an open and highly visible paid parking lot later and I was just a short walk from the famed Hyatt Regency Hotel at Reunion Tower. What is Reunion Tower you may ask? This.

Yeah. The big tower with the ball on top that you see in the opening of Dallas and Walker: Texas Ranger as well as most pictures of the Dallas skyline? THAT is Reunion Tower.

Still, I nearly didn’t make it to Animefest. To make a long story short, there were complications with my efforts to secure an advance press-pass. Thankfully, things got sorted out once I showed up and presented my bona fides Friday morning. So hats off to Jason, the media liaison, who did a thankless job on the fly quite well.

For once, I was far too early for a convention. Although things technically opened at ten in the morning, the dealers’ room did not open until noon and many of the guests in the Artists’ Alley were not there that early, perhaps due to jet lag from the day before. Still, it’s not hard to have fun at a convention just going around and talking to the people who are there.

Case in point: I spent a goodly hour chatting with Brandon McKinney of White Apple Multimedia about comic books and other things while he was setting his booth up. Brandon, it turns out, was the artist who designed the various badges for AnimeFest – including the rather fetching reporter lady who graced my Press Badge. I would offer a scan here, but the lamination is somehow blocking my scanners efforts to scan it. So take a gander at this, that my may see of his glory.

Brandon is a good artist and a class-act, who gave me an alternate-background version of a print that reminded me of my lady Sierra gratis when I didn’t have the money for it. The version of this print that can be purchased off his site, along with a number of other good prints, is shown above.

I also got a chance to talk to a trio from Florida; respectively a writer, an artist and a writer/artist of Manga whose work I had heard of, but not read. The writer/artist in question is the sweet and lovely Rivkah whose book Steady Beat, recently made the American Library Associations list of good graphic novels for Young Adults. The library I work at recently got this manga and I intend to review it, as best as a white-boy like myself can, at a future date.

I fear the same cannot be done for the other pair making up this trio, as their book is sold out darn near everywhere. I know this because I recommended it to my bosses at the library when they asked me what comics/manga we should try and pick up and my bosses said, after going through channels, that they couldn’t get it through their buyers. This dynamic duo is known to the world as Jared Hodges & Lindsay Cibos and if you can get a hold of their book Peach Fuzz, consider yourself lucky indeed. It is the story of a girl and her ferret and I can say without any qualms whatsoever that the artwork looks cute – even if I am not the target audience for a book about a girl and her ferret.

Still, as much fun as it can be to wander about, chat with random folks and take pictures of the costume-players, there is one important part of conventions that cannot be ignored: shopping! Even if you are living paycheck to paycheck like me, there is much fun to be had at a con just looking around and haggling dealers down.

I have one rule for patronizing a business – see how they treat you when they say you are just looking and don’t have money today and see how they react when you ask about special requests. The good ones appreciate browsers and while there are a lot of jerks who abuse the merchant goodwill, that won’t stop these good people from at least trying to make a potential customer happy. Sadly, my spending funds for this con were limited but the following merchants are very much worth patronizing on the World Wide Web

Trinkets and Baubles – A local dealer and maker of chainmail, I would have gotten one of their teddy-bears with a mail vest and a sword had I had the scratch. As it is, I’m going to have to contact them about getting a pink chainmail bikini bear for Sierra at some point.

Pegasus Publishing – Makers and sellers of all manner of Fandom t-shirts and bumper stickers. Odds are you’ve seen their work if you’ve ever walked through the parking lot at a convention. From the more common fandoms (Star Wars and Star Trek) to the more obscure (Forever Knight and Firefly), chances are you can find something to clothe your carcass or cover your car at Pegasus Publishing.

The Lazy Dragon – Another fine merchant of weaponry of all sorts, you have to love any business that keeps two stuffed monsters that sing “Mahna Mahna” hanging down at kid-height to delight passing children. And what is more, they will be having their own convention next summer with Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew as the guest of honor. Wookies and weapons? I’m so there.

Platypus Dreams – While a hand-knitted pair of cat-ears or a similar cap is not my cup of tea, any would-be catgirls out there could hardly do better than to buy their kitty headbands from Austin artist Kathy Bateman.

Knighthawk Armory – Makers of fine weapons yes, but very special weapons. All of their gear, from short swords to shields, is crafted from a special latex-foam blend that grants their gear two benefits. First, they are very durable despite being very soft and light. Second, they are a good deal safer than any home-made custom weapons and they look a lot better too! Their products are a bit pricey (daggers start at $20 and swords average about $70 from what I saw) but they are worth every penny to a LARPer or a parent who wants a nice safe toy weapon for their kids. I have one of their throwing daggers and can vouch for the strength, balance and general coolness of their weapons. And they do custom orders as well, allowing you to order props and weapons of any design if you have the cash and the ability to describe it. (Mental note – look into getting a Jack Knight cosmic rod at some point…)

After crashing for lunch and finding out why most people seemed to be skipping the hotel cafes ($9 for a Snapple and turkey sandwich?), I finally got a chance to make a historic meeting with R.K. Milholland – writer and artist for the much acclaimed webcomic Something Positive.

I’ve mentioned the comic before here but Randy hardly needs my help promoting his comics. The man was mentioned by name in Neil Gaiman’s speech at the Harveys in 2004, after he managed to raise enough money to match his yearly salary after he made an off-the-cuff remark that if people were that bothered by the delays in when the comic got posted due to his work, that he would quit his job and do the comic full time once they gave him the money to do so.

That is a very remarkable thing and I was lucky to get as much time to talk with him as I did given the constant crowd of fans that were circling about once he did get set up Friday afternoon. Not only did he have all manner of postcards and prints for sale, he had a Sailor Scout assistant. Classy!

Suffice it to say, he is a great guy and a terrific artist who I am fortunate enough to have written a few things with back when I was in high school – the legendary (if you were on a BBS in DFW during the 90s, anyway) Stories from Hell.

The Story From Hell was the first place I ever wrote anything for an audience. Somehow, they tolerated me despite a tendency to make far too many Monty Python references and my eschewing proper paragraph structure. I doubt I would be half the writer I am today, or indeed would have kept writing, had it not been for Randy and all the other members of the Squad From Hell.

So blame them if you don’t like my work.

But as for Randy’s work, he has generously allowed me to post this on his behalf. It is a little flyer he hands out at conventions detailing the joys and wonders of hygiene for clueless fanboys.

Aubrey’s Guide To Con Hygiene

Sadly, I wasn’t able to stick around the whole day or for the evening events. And quite honestly, AnimeFest isn’t quite my flavor of Pocky. It is a good convention if you’re a fan of Anime or Manga, to be sure! But there was only one dealer selling my kind of comics and nobody selling gaming gear that I saw. And my weekend work schedule sort of limited my chances to return on later days. Still, I had fun for what that’s worth. And for an American Fanboy in an Otaku Heaven, that is no small thing.


All the attendees and merchants of Anime Fest 2006.

All the staff and volunteers of Anime Fest 2006.

The staff of the Hyatt Regency Hotel of Dallas.

Christine and Keith, for offering to pay my way if I couldn’t get a press pass.

R.K. Milholland, for asking about my girlfriend’s health.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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  1. Randy is a lot less surly in person. hehe!

  2. sits here in tears reading this Matt you are as an incredible writer as you are a person and am so lucky to have met you and grins kept you

  3. *KISSES* You are a very silly girl to worry about me as much as you do. And I love you for that and so much more.

  4. I'd be careful - word gets out you two had a hand in inspiring my writing career, Scott Kurtz may put out a hit on you.

  5. Fuck Scott Kurtz right in the ear! I have no regrets!
    (Except for maybe Dan Juan. Ha!)

  6. Saw the article at Comics Nexus -- thanks for the business card and using our pic! ^_^ I was the Rikku with Meg!Tifa and Bre!Aeris and random original space pirate dude.
    Ooh, you used Lacey!Roxas too! ♥

  7. Yeah... but then we did Upset Jack right afterwards. :)

  8. I wish that pic had come out a little brighter and that I had thought to have gotten you all standing up. But it isn't too bad of a non-action shot...

  9. it turned out really good!
    the article was great XD