My first convention was actually not even an anime con. My boyfriend dragged me kicking and screaming in 1997 to Wizard World Chicago, the first year Wizard had taken over what was formerly known as the Chicago Comic Con. I wasn't thrilled with the concept of going, despite the fact that I was very much into a few western titles like X-men, Witchblade, and The Darkness, and was only just starting my long-running obsession with Anime. Sailor Moon imports were just starting to dot my shelves, and I had just watched Akira for the first time.
I remember feeling terribly excited and nervous when we got there, and then overwhelmed with the day's events. But the glamour quickly faded away as I became the carry-girl for all of the bags of back issues for my then-boyfriend as he ignored me and drooled over booth babes, babbled about things I didn't understand, and basically ignored me for the better portion of the day. Adam Kubert actually commented on it during his signing while we were there, and that was really the only really enjoyable part of my day as the man chatted with me for a few and signed a print for me to perk me up. ( I'm a well known Kubert-holic but I hadn't brought anything for signings that day...first con and all. )
I remembered the con with some bitterness, so I wasn't too thrilled when I attended my first sci-fi/Fantasy con a couple years later. Those turned into huge parties. I had no idea what a panel was, or anything of the sort. They were an excuse to hang with some friends and get out of my parent's house for some fun with friends where we could be geeks and not worry about it. But even then, we were pretty low key unless behind the doors of our hotel room. The con itself was a place to play games, chat with friends, and just kick back for the weekend.
Three years later, I was asked to help out the company I was illustrating the TFOS books for at GAMA, the game manufacturer's trade association trade show in Las Vegas. I was turning 21 that weekend...duh, do you think I agreed? But even that show had a very different feel to it, and working definitely took the glitz and glamour mentality I had tucked away in the back of my mind and tossed it out the window. I had fun, and that was really the first time I noticed a feeling of something amongst the anime fandom I would grow to cherish. Community.
The next year, the same company asked me if I would help out staffing at Anime Central, since the writer of the books was running the table top gaming rooms. I figured, sure. Why not? How scary could it be? I'd been to comic cons, industry trade shows for two years, and was an old hand at the sci-fi scene.
Acen scared the BEJESUS out of me.
I remember leaving and looking at my husband with wide eyes, and saying "you know, I thought sci-fi people were scary. THOSE people are scary." He laughed at me and nodded, and we talked a long time about all of the differences, and I started asking about the furry people...hence the frightened comments. But after a year or two, and starting my own studio which required me to attend numerous conventions on my own, I realized something. Those people? They weren't scary. They were enthused. I had been scared because they were so unbelievably happy to be there, to be enjoying what they loved in a place where they wouldn't receive ridicule for it. They didn't run down the halls like morons and scream, they didn't act like jerks to everyone else. No, they were happy to be there. Truly genuinely happy, and they just wanted to talk to you about it. That was a new concept to me at the time.
People nowadays take for granted that twenty years ago...hell, even TEN years ago in some places...anime wasn't something you could easily get your hands on yet. We are spoiled nowadays with wonderful DVD releases, theatrical premiers of Miyazaki films, regular issues of manga coming out, magazines and newspaper articles dedicated to anime, hell even manga published in the paper. We've grown accustomed to seeing it everywhere, and therefore the new generation of fans is somewhat spoiled. I'm not saying this to be mean at all, so don't assume that I am! But I remember being 16 and having to beg my local comic shop owner, Mark, to special order me the Jupiter fan guide from Japan. It cost me $40 after shipping, and another $30 for the episode guide companion that went with the same series. Now think about that; I was 16! That was 12 years ago. A lot has changed in 12 years. Heh, sorry for the "when I was your age" moment...
Once I got into the swing of Acen though, that was when the realizations started to sink in, and I discovered something that both warmed my heart and eased my nerves. Every anime con I went to, every table I set up, every maze of logistical hell I went through to get things set up the way I liked, every conversation I had with a casual fan or die hard otaku, they all made me realize something. The anime fandom as a whole was a community, and one that loved to band together. There were genuinely intelligent topics discussed at cons. People would come up to my table and wait patiently, chat and make nice conversation. The folks at these cons were like extended family that I only got to see once a year, and I forged some of the deepest friendships of my life during that time.
What I am about to say is not a bashing of a whole generation, so do not take it as such. But when so many people act in a ridiculous fashion at once, it tends to overshadow the people who do act in a respectful, kind manner. So take it with a grain of salt. I know that idiots are always ten times easier to spot than intelligent human beings, and sometimes the worst impression is the one people remember, which is a shame.
Then over the years, and I'm not sure when, things started to change. A new generation came into anime and manga who were somewhat used to having it around all the time. Gone was the respect for the industry and the appreciation shown by previous generations who had not been so lucky. They were used to it being here all the time, so they took advantage and ignored the niceties and the respect for legalities. But what really ticked me off was the outright rudeness of this new generation of fans.
People would outright walk through an Artist's Alley and take pictures of people's work to distribute it freely on the internet, so they wouldn't have to pay for it. Nevermind that some of the artists had slaved away for hours and were trying to feed their families with that artwork. Folks would run through the hallways, sometimes injuring people with their props or those stupid paddles that they were swinging around, and not even take a look back to see what they had done. High pitched squealing and glomping started to become commonplace, but to a point where a glomp actually almost threw my back out for a couple of days when an overzealous fan actually sprinted across a parking lot and all but tackled me into a car. Seriously, it hurt. I ached for days.
Now, I could deal with a lot of this. Many of the attendees to the cons were teens, and there does come a certain level of maturity with age. I'm not knocking teenagers, so don't even go there. I teach teenagers for gods sake, and I adore every one of them who has ever sat through a class of mine. The Schaumburg Anime Club was my project for almost 3 years, and it was a teen-only club. I've talked to all of them about this too, and most of them agree. Most...
What really saddened me after thinking about all of it was the fact that the convention scene has lost what made it so immensely awesome from the get go: a feeling of community and respect. I understand that many younger attendees feel that an anime convention is the only place they can really be themselves. And that's awesome if you've discovered that, but in being yourself, you have to show a little common sense. Don't go screaming down a hallway to try and interrupt a guest while they're on their way to the bathroom. It's like some attendees think that at a con, they can act like rabid four year olds and no one will care. People don't think before they act, and there is a definite lack of kindness at cons. Last year, I heard more negative nasty commentary walking down the hallways, and I wondered silently to myself, when the hell did anime cons start feeling like high school? I almost turned around and actually almost called security on a few attendees for practically destroying hotel property, but they got caught and I walked away.
I suppose what I'm getting at is that as the generations turn and change, so do the conventions. I miss what one of my livejournal friends calls the 'cereal days' of anime conventions, when people truly appreciated the guests no matter how big or small they were in the industry. I miss the camaraderie and the laid back feeling of a con instead of the chaotic overly-loud whirlwind most of them have become. I miss people having respect for one another and paying attention to what they do and say instead of hurting someone in the hall for their own amusement, be it vocally or physically.
I miss that feeling of community and kinship. And I kind of want it back.
The industry is going through some serious changes, everyone knows that. The fansubbing is truly killing off some of the companies out there, and it breaks my heart. Chris Ayres is a friend of ours, and not only does he voice act, but he does other work at ADV that is very integral to the titles getting released. It's one thing to hear people bitch and moan about the fansub debate. It's another to know that these people's actions could affect a friend's job. I don't want to get into the fansub discussion right now, maybe in a future post. But people have to acknowledge that changes need to be made, on both sides. And they are coming.
I don't think it will all die out. There are too many people who do put their money where their mouths are for it to die out. But I do think it will suffer the same rollercoaster that the American comics industry suffers from. Up for a while, down for a while, lather rinse repeat. And I'm actually almost welcoming the down trend for a time, not because of the pain it will cause. That sucks, but it's unavoidable. No, I'm hoping it tones down things a little bit so that the people that remain are the ones who truly appreciate everything for what it is. I want people to have respect for one another, and for the industry, at cons again, I want the drama to stop and the loud rambunctious behavior to end. I want it to feel like a warm gathering of fans and friends, like it used to.
I'm 28 years old, and I know I'm not that old. But it makes me think back on when I got my start, and how much I miss those days.
Today's lesson? Don't be an asshat at a convention. 'Nuff said.