Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly from Power Morphicon
Last Tuesday, I asked artists about their experiences with conventions. There have been a lot of interesting responses, as well as some advice. Please read the comment thread when you have a chance. The comments made me think about the impact conventions have had on Shannon Cottrell and I as journalists.
I had asked Shannon about this and she mentioned, "for that weekend or day it is just a free world to inspire each other."
On Saturday, Shannon and I covered Power Morphicon, a Power Rangers convention, for Style Council. As I wrote in the blog post, this was different from most of our con adventures in that neither one of us can say that we're Power Ranger fans. When we go to cons, we're typically there as both journalists and fans. This time, we were just journalists, but after watching the fans, and talking to some of them, we left ready to give Power Rangers another try. Their passion prompted us to reconsider a show that neither one of us had probably seen since the 1990s. It was certainly one of the more inspiring events we've attended this year.
There's often a sort of stigma to admitting you're a huge fan of something. You can tell in the tone of voice people will use when dropping terms like "nerd," "geek," and, particularly, "fanboy" or "fangirl." It's okay to like a movie or a comic or a video game, but once you start to appear passionate about the subject, it can be considered off-putting. When you go to a convention, though, all those unspoken rules about how much you can express your enthusiasm about something disappear. Whether you want to dress up as Zelda, bring your favorite ball-jointed dolls to a meet-up or debate the merits of moe anime for hours on end, it's okay. Everybody is a fan of something and those influences help shape who we become later in life. Having a place where we can physically interact with people and not hear something like, "okay, can you stop talking about cartoons already?" helps foster creativity.
Cons have had a profound impact on Shannon and I both personally and professionally and I'm happy to have had the chance to tell you a bit about what we do and who we've met. Thanks to Xeni for asking me to guestblog for Boing Boing for the past three weeks and thanks to everyone who kept reading. It's been a lot of fun. I'll be back to blogging daily for LA Weekly's Style Council today and hope to share more with you there.
Power Morphicon (photo gallery)"Power Rangers Fans and Stars Gather for Power Morphicon" (blog post)
Edgar Wright recently posted this mash-up of Scott Pilgrim and Avatar: The Last Airbender on his blog. It's a great video and, as Wright points out in his post:
Fun Fact:Mae Whitman appears in both Scott Pilgrim as Roxy Richter and in The Last Airbender (animation) as the voice of Katara; one a nemesis and the other a friend.
Even better, Wright has a small exchange with the mash-up artist in the comment section. I can't help but think that must be a pretty amazing fan moment.
Earlier this week, Wright posted about The Matrix/Scott Pilgrim mash-up. There's been a lot of interesting fan art related to Scott Pilgrim this summer (I blogged about a Scott Pilgrim/The Venture Bros. mash-up over at LA Weekly last week) and it's nice to see Wright sharing some of the output.
I wrote about Kon's sole TV creation, the short, but brilliant series Paranoia Agent, for LA Weekly's Style Council. Twitter has been abuzz regarding the sad news. There have been some lovely tributes to Kon across the social media network. Here are a few:
"Satoshi Kon has passed away at age 47. He created Paranoia Agent and Paprika. He was the Fellini of Anime." —@TheHeartSleeves
"It's not that anime will never be the same with Satoshi Kon gone. It's now much more likely that anime will always be the same."—@jbetteridge
"You shall be missed, Satoshi Kon, but more than that, you shall be remembered."—@tehnominator
" RIP Satoshi Kon. One of the greatest anime directors of all time. A man who had an infinite amount to say, and no time at all to say it."—@ Zhirzzh
"RIP Satoshi Kon. The maker of films we aspire to make."—@AWFstudio
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly, Alex Pardee painting at San Diego Comic-Con 2010
One of the reasons Shannon Cottrell and I love covering fandom conventions is because the events provide a space for artists at all stages of their careers.
Our first convention report focused on the young and talented artists we met at Anime LA 2009. Since then, we've come into contact with many more people who have brought their work to conventions. Sometimes we spotlight something we saw in the exhibit hall, like animator Michelle Reese's student film "Paper Animals." Other times, we ask questions about the con experience. Recently, comic creator Chandra Freedescribed her first Comic-Con panel for us, while Meredith Yayanos and Zoetica Ebb of Coilhouse talked a little about finding inspiration at the Con.
As we've gone to more conventions, I've become more curious as to how the events affect artists. Do they have an effect on the creative process, in addition to being a good way to promote one's work? If you have any insight, please share in the comments.
A few days ago, Japanator posted this fun tribute to K-On!!, where a group of musicians recreate the opening and closing theme of the anime with household items. It looks like the video stems from Nico Nico Douga.
K-On!! is the second season popular anime about a group of high school girls who form a band (the first season is known as K-On!). The show has been getting a good amount of buzz in within the U.S. anime fandom for a while now and, at this year's Otakon, Bandai announced that it would be releasing an English dub of the first season.
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly from "Red Zebra @ Crocker Club"
Shannon Cottrell and I saw this outfit at a fashion show from L.A.-based Beauty is Pain held at a party called Red Zebra a few weeks ago. I'm not sure if it's conducive to sitting, but it seems like an interesting use of records that are broken or scratched to the point where they are no longer playable.
Red Zebra @ Crocker Club (Photos)Beauty is Pain on Twitter
I've been on a Soft Cell kick lately, which might not be that strange considering the band is a favorite of mine. Yesterday, while combing YouTube for more Soft Cell goodness, I ended up watching (and tweeting) this live cover of Suicide's song "Ghost Rider." It dates back to 1983. Another, lower quality video indicates that it's from the BBC.
The guest vocalist on this track is Clint Ruin, aka J.G. Thirlwell. He's perhaps best known for his work as Foetus, but, more recently, he scored The Venture Bros. (just one of the reasons I love the show).
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly from "Hello Kitty's Bats and Cats Masquerade @ Royal/T"The Wandering Marionettes are a performance troupe based in Los Angeles who have become an important part of the city's nightlife. They appear frequently at clubs and other events (like Labyrinth of Jareth) across L.A. dressed in black and white and wearing sleek masks, using music and dance to tell a story of mysterious dolls.
I wrote about The Wandering Marionettes when they put together their own party, Kabinet Theatre, in Hollywood last year. (They've hosted Kabinet Theatre nights since then, as well, but moved it downtown.) I like The Wandering Marionettes for a reason similar to The League of S.T.E.A.M.: both emphasize audience interaction in their work.
Typically, The Wandering Marionettes will do a few dance numbers on stage, but that's only part of what they do. The members of the troupe are in character all night and much of their performance revolves around their interaction with the crowd. They might be on the dance floor or hanging around the bar with everyone else, but they don't speak and how you react to them more or less prompts what happens next. Check out the video below to see The Wandering Marionettes on stage.
The Wandering Marionettes
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly from "An Evening with the Unfamiliar"
You've probably seen The League of S.T.E.A.M. on Boing Boing before, as both Cory and Xeni have posted their videos. In addition to videos, they do interactive live performances at parties across L.A.
The basic premise is that they hunt supernatural creatures with steampunk-inspired gear. If you see them at an event, they usually have a few display tables set up where the League will demonstrate how their props work. They'll also take partygoers on ghost hunts or chase after vampires throughout the venue. I've seen the League perform a handful of times over the past year and it's always a good time. They've appeared at nightclubs and Comic-Con parties as well as their own events. For those who will be at Dragon*Con this year, the League has a short in the convention's film festival.
League of S.T.E.A.M. "An Evening with the Unfamiliar" (Photos)
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly, Durarara!! cosplayers from Anime Expo 2010
In our time covering conventions and other fandom events for LA Weekly, cosplayers have both directly and indirectly influenced the work that photographer Shannon Cottrell and I produce.
Neither one of us has ever cosplayed, but we appreciate it as an art form. We try to look at cosplay culture from a variety of angles. One of our questions, on occasion, is about creating the cosplay. Cosplayers often spend months on their work and the process of becoming someone else for a day requires a lot of trial and error in costume design, prop creation, make-up, etc. We're genuinely curious about this.
Other times, though, we look at cosplay to help us gain insight into what's making an impact within the fandom. This is most important when we're at anime conventions. Cosplay is, from our experience, far more common at an anime con than at any other sort of event. When you regularly go to anime cons, you'll notice that cosplays tend to reflect the newest anime and manga series. Thanks to cosplayers, we've become aware of many titles over the years, like Ouran High School Host Club, Black Butler, K-On! and, most recently, Durarara!!, which ran in the U.S. online via Crunchyroll alongside the Japanese broadcast, but won't be out on DVD for a few more months.
Cosplayers are in some ways evangelists for specific anime and manga series. Because of their dedication to the craft, they help spread the word about new titles. This stands in contrast to the studio-driven hype at cons that I mentioned in a post on Friday. As an observer, seeing 100 people cosplaying a certain series on their own (something you can usually tell by the varying degree of quality in the outfits) can mean a lot more than advertising for fans.
Anime Expo 2010 Day 1 (Photos)Anime Expo Day 2 (Photos)Anime Expo Day 3 (Photos)
I guess the concept of fighting the ex-boyfriends, and the structure of this story, one of the things that inspired this was the book, Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga (by Koji Aihara and Kentaro Takekuma). Me and Chris (Butcher, manager of The Beguiling), we both LOVED that book. I was just getting started as a cartoonist. I read the chapter about shonen manga in that book, and thought, 'Wow, this is great.'
It wasn't like I had read a whole lot of shonen manga before then. (Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga) described the structure of shonen manga plots kind of like it's a shish-kebab, where there's meatball, meatball, meatball on a stick, with each meatball representing a fight; that's how it explained what shonen manga really is. (laughs) So that just kind of stuck in my head. "
I like that O'Malley took something that's a parody of the conventions of a genre and turned it into a distinct work. Friday night, I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and wondered if it would pick up on the shonen manga/anime elements. It did.
I'm not going to say anything that might spoil the film, just pay careful attention to the battle scenes, then watch a few of the big action-oriented animes, like Bleach or Dragon Ball Z, and you'll notice the similarities. What I noticed is that even the way the actors project their voices during the evil ex battles is similar to the voiceovers in English-language dubs.
Link: Interview with Bryan Lee O'Malley
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly from Comic-Con 2010
There's a lot of hype surrounding conventions. If you've been to one of the larger events, you know cons are often the place where big studios make big announcements. They can also be the place where companies choose to flex their marketing muscle with street team campaigns, can't-miss booths, swag, and exclusive merchandise. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, they're just taking their products directly to the customer. But often, what you hear or read about after the con focuses on this—and not the fans who make the con happen.
After Comic-Con, I wrote about trying to find "authenticity" at such a massive, hype-crazy event. It's definitely there, but it's sometimes buried under the advertising and glut of announcements.
The fan moments are always the best part of the convention, whether it's a massive gathering of cosplayers paying tribute to the same characters, or a simple conversation at a tweet-up where you don't feel socially awkward after dropping an obscure pop culture reference among strangers.
There might not much flashiness surrounding those moments, but that's when we see the real community within the cons.
Link: "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Conned?" (LA Weekly)
Photo: Josh "CuriousJosh" Reiss/LA Weekly, Labyrinth of Jareth 2010Labyrinth of Jareth is an annual two-day masquerade ball in Los Angeles. The theme revolves around faeries and goblins. Costumes, or formalwear and a mask, are required. I wrote about Shawn Strider, who organizes LOJ, for LA Weekly's LA People issue, and have blogged about the event on Style Council a few times (most recently, today).
LOJ has a massive cast and crew. All throughout the night, there is a DJ spinning on the dance floor, stage shows and interactive performances throughout the venue. There's a storyline that links everything together, but if you're going as an attendee you won't know exactly what's happening. If, however, you're following LOJ on Twitter throughout the event, you might get some clues.
This year I went to LOJ on the first night of the masquerade, called Goblin Clockworks, with photographer CuriousJosh.There were a lot of people who stood out at the party, but the stilt walker in the above photo—dressed in what looks like a steampunk giant robot costume—sticks in my mind.
• Labyrinth of Jareth
• LA Weekly's Labyrinth of Jareth 2010 Slideshow
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly, Anime L.A. 2010
Earlier this year, I wrote about a cosplay spotted at Anime LA known as Shogun Vader. It's probably my favorite cosplay. I like that Alexander Lam, the guy behind the Vader mask, reinterpreted the costume by highlighting some of the early influences on the film series.
The idea of remixing seems to be integral to the culture surrounding fandom conventions. Anime cons typically have AMV contests, where people re-edit animes to fit a particular piece of music. Then there's fan art, fiction, films and other activities that revolve around reworking characters and stories you love into something new.
The one aspect of fan culture where we don't see as much remixing is cosplay. More often, it seems like the goal is to recreate the character with as much attention to the source design as possible. However, when you see someone who uses a character as a launchpad to create an alternate version that is both well-researched and quite detailed, cosplay becomes even more exciting.
Link: Shogun Vader (LA Weekly)
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly, Ejen Chuang and friends at Cosplay in America Release partyCosplay in America is a gorgeous tribute to the people who attend anime conventions. Photographer Ejen Chuang spent a year traveling to cons shooting cosplayers. He published the coffee table-style book on his own and is now traveling again, this time set up in the artist alley at various conventions with his labor of love.
I had a chance to look through the book at the Cosplay in America release party in Los Angeles a few months ago. The layout is slick and the photos are lovely. Chuang did what I hope more people will do in the future, portrayed cosplay as art.
Here's a wonderful video interview Chuang conducted with a Porco Rosso cosplayer.
• Cosplay in America website
• Cosplay in America: Amazon
• Cosplay in America Release Party
Photo: Shannon Cottrell/LA Weekly, Voltaire at Comic-Con, 2010
Before I ever went to a convention, I went to lots of music festivals. The two aren't that different. By Sunday, both kinds of events are filled with thousands of people who aren't sure if they just want to go home, or if they never want the weekend to end. While you probably won't find a lot of comic book signings at a music festival, you will find music at conventions.
You can tell a lot about a convention by the artists they bring in to play live. Pacific Media Expo, the Asian pop culture convention that takes place in LA every November, is small, but has a cool party vibe to it. They'll feature up-and-comers and people from the Tokyo club scene, like fashion designer/DJ Takuya Angel. Anime Expo is massive and has national appeal. They'll book artists that are extremely popular within the fandom, like AKB48 and Morning Musume. Comic-Con doesn't offer music as part of its programming (a shame, as the only things that might get me to spend all day in the Hall H line would be the prospects of seeing Orbital and Matt Smith perform the Dr. Who theme and a William Shatner concert), but there are Con-related shows and parties held offsite. We caught Voltaire playing a steampunk party this year.
Shannon and I met about two years ago, when we were paired together for the same assignment. Then, at one point I said something to her like, "Hey, want to go to Anime LA with me? There will be lots of cosplayers. You'll get cool photographs."
I'm admittedly an anime nerd, so I had been to Anime LA before, and to a few other cons. Shannon had been to Comic-Con, but hadn't attended any anime events. I'm not sure if either of us knew what was going to happen that weekend. But by the end of it, we had become reporting partners and developed a serious con addiction. Our mission, henceforth, was to scout out every convention, plus fan gatherings in between conventions, and cover them. That summer, we scored our geek fantasy assignments—Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con International—and the obsession grew worse.