Tag Archive for fandom/conventions


Courtesy of The Mary Sue, award-winning genre writer John Scalzi has announced he will not attend conventions that do not have a clear sexual harassment policy.

From my own experience, if stating “hey guys, let’s not grope anyone this weekend” is not a priority, the con doesn’t care about the fans paying to go. I learned that the hard way recently (cough AnimeNEXT cough). But cons that do have a clear sexual harassment policy tend to be really great.

Follow Scalzi’s lead and support cons that care about the well-being and safety of ALL convention attendees.

TooManyGames 2013

TooManyGames is a Pennsylvania-based video game convention and expo. This past weekend, they celebrated their 13th year of bringing together gamers (10th year as a convention) and I was fortunate enough to attend the last day.

toomanygamesprogram TooManyGames 2013When I applied for the convention, I didn’t realize that the schedule for the camp I teach theater at was set for back to back training weekends. I thought there was a gap in between. I was wrong.

That meant trying to fit as much of TooManyGames as I could into one day. It was a challenge that was so worth it. TooManyGames was so organized and laid out so well that I could literally go down the line in one section of the convention and meet with half of the indie game developers back to back. I could turn the corner and hit a stretch of used game dealers and dig through my childhood memories playing the NES and Genesis. There wasn’t any wasted space in the design of the convention and that’s a lot rarer than you might think.

I arrived shortly after the doors opened at 10AM and introduced myself. I e-mailed them earlier in the week to confirm I could still grab the press pass on Sunday and was told there wouldn’t be a problem. Not only was there not a problem, as soon as I asked where to go for the pass, the person I e-mailed flagged me down and sent me on my way real quick.

toomanygamesmap TooManyGames 2013

The layout was very intuitive, but the 8bit map was very much appreciated

Walking into TooManyGames was an overwhelming experience, as any good convention always is. There’s so much to see right away that your eyes take a moment to adjust to the right path for you. I swung through the outer perimeter, checking out the various districts of the convention: a concert hall for chiptunes performances, a huge series of gaming stations with comfortable chairs for tournaments and casual play, plenty of tables for tabletop gaming and demos, long stretches of indie video and tabletop game developers, a large collection of retro and music arcade consoles set for free play, and a huge expanse of dealers and artists peddling their wares.

I wound up making a lot of loops around the show floor in the six hours I was there. At a convention like TooManyGames, there is absolutely no reason to wait on line for something. If someone is playing the Centipede machine you wanted to try out, step on over to Frogger and set the highscore (and then beat it twice throughout the day). If the demo for the soon to be Kickstarted throwback RPG is being played, swing by the developers with multiple iOS and Nintendo eShop titles to try out. There’s so much to do that, even when the convention hit its peak traffic in the early afternoon, you could easily walk by and find a new activity to occupy your time.

It’s hard to even keep track of what happened during the day. I’m so used to panel hopping as a substitute for interactive events or poorly planned convention floors that I really did lose track of time just hanging out with the vendors, developers, staff, and attendees at TooManyGames.

The whole event was just so fluid in the best way possible. You would actively have to set out to not have a good time as a gamer at this convention. At one point, I heard some really cool sounding chiptunes and followed the speakers to the concert hall. The music I thought was a recording was actually live DJs, chiptune performers, and bands performing for most of the day.

At another point, a table with three artists stopped me to compliment me on my shirt. We got to talking about all the different badge classifications at the convention because I was clearly press–laden with cameras, bags, and notebooks–but had a generic guest pass. One thing led to another and we exchanged information for some possible work revamping my web presence with new custom art.

toomanygamescontest TooManyGames 2013

The soft squishy ufo hat was not meant to be mine

Then there was the point where I wound up entering a video game contest just by walking past a booth at the right time. I’m an avid gamer but not a great one and throwback Asteroids-styled shooters are not my forte. Still, the opportunity came up and I had a good time. I narrowly avoided coming in last place and saw my best score of two rounds more than quintupled by the winner (who just won a tournament at the booth next door). To give myself a little credit, I did play better than I expected to. I just got caught up with some minor latency issues being worked on for the Apple OS version of the game still in development.

It always feels great to go to a convention like TooManyGames. There was no way to get lost. The staff were very helpful. There was a huge variety of content to satisfy any gaming fan. For me, it really was too much to try to fit into a day. I focused on the indie developers and had to forego tabletop gameplay, console gaming tournaments, and the panels on arcade and online gaming culture.

If you’re in the greater Philadelphia area and you like games, you should definitely try to make it to TooManyGames in 2014.

Here’s a gallery of the show. Keep checking back this week as I have posts coming up dedicated to the indie games hitting stores near you and some really cool vendors you’ll want to support.

AnimeNEXT: The Worst Convention I’ve Ever Been To: Fighting for Fun Against All Odds

What happens when you go to a convention and it seems nothing is set up to allow the attendees to have fun? You make your own fun.

AnimeNEXT 2013 had a lot of things go wrong. I’m not even talking about the torrential downpours on Friday that flooded the covered walkway between the convention center and the adjacent hotels where the panels and contests were held. You can’t control the weather. I’m talking man-made errors that put a damper on the weekend.

I was really excited to attend AnimeNEXT this year. They’re the same group that put together the wonderful MangaNEXT convention that I raved about last year. I assumed they would, once again, put the focus on the fans who pay to show up and have a good time. They didn’t.

When I arrived on Friday morning, it was chaos. The rain couldn’t be avoided but the inconsistent directions from volunteers/staff and lack of signs could have been. When one person says to get out of the building through the front door (straight into the rainy parking lot), another says to head into the convention hotel, and another says to go to the show floor immediately, you kind of freeze up. You can’t split in three to follow all the directions. It doesn’t help that there were security workers trying to get people to leave the information booth because too many people were confused about what to do.

But that’s first day registration chaos. Maybe you could write that off as a simple series of misunderstandings.

animenext1crowdsmall AnimeNEXT: The Worst Convention Ive Ever Been To: Fighting for Fun Against All OddsI walked into the convention hotel and got all my gear ready to go to my first panel. I just needed to find where it was. I looked at the schedule and it said to go to room 2. I decided to locate all the panel rooms listed on the map so I would know where to go all weekend. 1, 2, and 3 were found without issue. 5 and 6 were a bit more problematic; there was no room 6. Room 5 was switched to 4 and Room 6 was switched to 5. All I heard when going to panels that day was confused people trying to find the mysterious Room 4 that wasn’t on the convention map. There were also unlabeled workshop rooms and the decision not to distinguish between Main Events A and Main Events B on the schedule.

Typos happen. It couldn’t be that big a deal, right?

The first panel I went to started 15 minutes late. It would have been 10 minutes late, but the convention staff decided to browbeat the panelists for showing up late for five minutes. Their excuse? The roads were starting to flood and the drive in took longer than expected. They ran a great panel on samurai stereotypes in anime and manga but they were clearly flustered for most of it.

Maybe there was something in the contract about the lesser-known panelists being penalized if they showed up late. It could just have sounded worse to the line wrapped around the corner than it actually was.

I showed up to the second panel and got my notes set up. I recognized the panelist from MangaNEXT the year before; she ran a great manga drawing workshop. Then she informed the room that her Japanese language and culture workshop had been moved to this room at this time slot and she had no idea where the panel on gender tropes in josei manga and anime was. She repeated this over and over until she started her workshop.

The staff at the door had no idea why the schedule at the door wasn’t changed or where the other panel was. They did nothing to help the panelist answer questions or restore order. The workshop itself was great and I’m now far less intimidated to learn Japanese. I did have an article planned that was going to contrast the samurai panel with the gender trope panel for a broader look at gender identity in anime and manga; that’s not happening now, obviously. I tried to find out if the other panel was cancelled or rescheduled, but no one I asked could give me a straight answer.

This is where I began to think that the people running the convention weren’t really focused on the fans at all. The panels were high quality. The guest list and main events looked impressive. The organization left a lot to be desired.

animenext7logo AnimeNEXT: The Worst Convention Ive Ever Been To: Fighting for Fun Against All OddsMy next big event was the Opening Ceremony. I looked up some videos from previous years and was excited to get some photos and film the event. I had a huge video planned that was going to represent fan culture at AnimeNEXT 2013 with clips from the big events, photos, and interviews with cosplayers and attendees. I knew that wasn’t going to happen before the hour-long Opening Ceremony was finished.

Press were instructed to check in with one of two staff members 10 minutes before the Main Events started. We would be seated at that time in a special press section. Two minutes before the Opening Ceremony started, the three lingering press badge holders walked in and set up. One took a seat in the front and kept his tripod really low; another crouched on the floor between the front and back half of the auditorium; I went to the back of the room where no one was sitting and set up.

I expected to have my badge checked since no one guided me to press seating and I did; I did not expect to see an aggressive security guard doing laps between the three press people in the room, talking directly into the shotgun mics on the cameras so the footage was routinely ruined. New rules were made up on the fly about who we could or could not video or photograph that could have been explained if the press policies were actually followed at the event. When I packed up and left for another panel, I heard the convention staff complaining about how the press just walked in and did whatever they wanted and how it couldn’t happen again.

That was when I knew that video shoots and main events weren’t happening for me at AnimeNEXT. If they can’t even stick to the rules we all agreed to, I wasn’t even going to try to push it. I’d do my standard con write-ups of individual panels and cosplay and write it off.

Keep reading.

Convention Survival Tips

I’m in a love/hate relationship with the convention I’m at because some big things just aren’t right.

Here’s a quick rundown of things you have to do to not torture everyone else at a convention.

#1: Shower

No, seriously. Shower. You are packed on the floor like sardines and you’re going to subject everyone else to your aroma? Not cool. A shower everyday plus deodorant goes a long way.

#2: Follow the Rules

Another one that should be obvious yet never is for some reason. No, you cannot cut the line at a panel even with a press pass unless the convention has reserved seating for you. No, being told no heavy metal on the floor does not mean you can use an actual wrench or cast iron skillet as a cosplay prop. I’m at the point that I’ll report you immediately just to see you play stupid and try to wriggle out of the rules.

#3: Use Your References

You got your badge and you were handed a map and a program guide. Use them. It’s not my job to tell you where the panel room is or when so and so is signing. I’m nice enough to look it up for you because you’re bothering everyone else by asking really dumb questions. Reading is fundamental at a convention.

#4: Be Reasonable

This one is more for convention staff, chairs, and volunteers. If you book a venue that has no seating, don’t make up a rule the day of the convention that people can’t sit on the floor against the wall in a dead area of the convention center. That’s just cruel. I’m pretty sure the rule they were told to follow today was no blocking the paths by sitting down, but half the volunteers were telling everybody to stand up no matter what.

#5: Show Up For Your Panel

This is another no-brainer. If you book a panel at a convention and you’re in the building, show up. Emergencies are one thing; flaking out is another. Traffic is not an excuse, either. You should always give yourself a buffer when you have to perform for people.

#5A: Actually Announce Changes

The first corollary to #5 is for con staff. If a panel is cancelled, delayed, moved, shifted, flipped, whatever, you have to let the attendees know. It is not fair to tell the person running a panel to let everyone who walks in know that the panel they showed up for isn’t happening when the schedule says. You have paper and masking tape. Make a sign with the changes. Have the changes at the information booth. It’s not rocket science.

#5B: Don’t Fight Over It

Attendees, wake up. This one’s for you. I would think people going to a convention wouldn’t start a shouting match or get physical with the volunteers if a panel room shifts around, but it happens. Keep your cool. Find out where the panel you want to go to is and head on your merry way. Do you really want to be ejected because you couldn’t adapt to scheduling changes?

#6: Don’t Be A Cosplay Barnacle

A booth barnacle is someone who just won’t leave a booth, asking a million questions or just standing there. A cosplay barnacle bogarts the cosplayer’s time under the guise of asking a question or taking a picture. This also applies to press who turn every quick candid into a five minute photo shoot. It’s not fair to the cosplayer or anyone else who wants to compliment them or ask for a photo.

It really comes down to using common sense and soap. For the love of everything you hold dear, please use soap every day. Please?

No Quarter 2013

Last Friday night, I took the train into New York City to experience the Fourth Annual No Quarter event. This is an indie game showcase run by NYU’s Game Center. They commissioned four new indie games and five new art posters, set it all up at one of the Tisch school buildings, and opened the doors for anyone to come in and play some games.

noquarters11crowd 300x169 No Quarter 2013I feel fortunate that I got to the event right when it opened at 7PM. By 7:30, you couldn’t walk around anymore. No Quarter drew a huge crowd of enthusiastic gamers and writers with the promise of free games and free refreshments. What more do you need at a one night only arcade?

The four featured games were radically different from each other. The first one I played was There Shall Be Lancing developed by Sophie Houldon (Swift*Stitch). This was a two player game controlled with the two sticks on an Xbox controller. The left stick attacked and the right stick blocked. You and your opponent were floating in a battle sphere. When you attacked, you followed the circumference of the sphere to your opponent. The first to three take-downs won the game.

noquarters02thereshallbelancing 300x169 No Quarter 2013

There Shall Be Lancing

For a game with so few controls, There Shall Be Lancing was quite addictive. I lost my first time playing to someone who already played a few rounds. Then, I started to pick up on the strategy of the game. It varied from opponent to opponent. It wasn’t just a two button game; it was a battle of wits with the player standing next to me.

The second game I played was insane. Bennett Foddy’s Speed Chess, developed by Bennett Foddy (QWOP), was a 16 player competitive chess game. Using an NES controller, you waited for the clock to count down and then raced to be the pawn to capture the opponent’s king. Each round took less than 10 seconds to complete. Some buttons spun the pieces while others actually allowed you to move. The controllers might have even had random programming sequences or different sequences depending on which player you were.

noquarters03bennettfoddysspeedchess 300x168 No Quarter 2013

Bennett Foddy’s Speed Chess

I failed miserably at the game. I could never get my piece to move fast enough to capture another pawn and advance to the second half of the board. If you ran straight into another pawn, you were both stuck, hoping against hope that some other piece would claim your opponent; they never did. The competition was fast and furious and some of my fellow players took to playing multiple controllers at once for strategic purposes. I can’t see how the game could ever translate beyond a gallery setting but it was sure was a whole lot of fun to experience.

The third game I played was Killer Queen by Joshua DeBonis and Nikita Mikros (they collaborate on live action games). The game is actually based on a live action game they developed for 20 players in 2011. The arcade version cuts the field in half, with two teams of five on opposing cabinets competing in real time platforming war. You jump, you run, you collect berries, you ride snails, and you battle flying queens to try to claim victory.

noquarters04killerqueenconsole 300x168 No Quarter 2013

Killer Queen Arcade Cabinet

Killer Queen was the most popular game of the night by far. It was also the game I did the best at. What can I say? I was practically teethed on platformers. I had so much fun running around the screen, collecting berries, and jumping into iron maiden-like teleportation/transformation units that I didn’t even pick up on all the victory conditions. I did notice that if you rode the snail from the center of the screen to your team’s side, you won. I was in it for the jumping and collecting.

The fourth game I played probably appealed to my sensibilities the most. Tile Tree by Matthew LoPresti (Glow Artisan) was a collaborative world building game. It played like a free-form Tetris. You had to rotate different shapes made out of squares to connect to pieces on the screen.

noquarters08tiletreeplayers 169x300 No Quarter 2013

Tile Tree

The big catch, the real draw of the game, was the collaborative element. You shared one Xbox controller with another player. You controlled pieces coming in from opposite sides of the screen with half a controller each. In every round I saw and played, the pairs started playing independently, then had to begin collaborating to actually connect all the disparate pieces. The teamwork always produced a better result than the individual efforts. It was just a fascinating game to experience, a great concept executed brilliantly.

After a quick look at the game art display, I had to leave No Quarter. It was just way too crowded for me. I hope that the people running the show are able to find a larger space for next year. The event has outgrown two rooms and a hallway. It was a cool experience with a great atmosphere; there just wasn’t any room to move or breathe.

Check out my gallery of the 4th Annual No Quarter event on the next page.

The Philosophy of Pokemon (Quinni-Con 2013)

It’s very telling that the first panel I knew I absolutely had to see at Quinni-Con 2013 was called The Philosophy of Pokemon. If you’ve read my work for any period of time, you’ve realized by now that I like a deep analysis of pop culture. I think going that route really opens up the text of the entertainment artifact for a wider audience. It also allows me to make the case for the merits of lesser known or previously dismissed works.

Pokemon clearly doesn’t need any defending at this point. The manga and anime franchise so strange and popular that South Park jokingly accused it of being a political indoctrination program by the Japanese government is more popular than ever. There are spin-off video games, tabletop games, clothes, accessories, films, and even magazines devoted to the franchise. Yet all the popularity and game-based analysis in the world doesn’t do much to open up a deeper meaning.

Enter Quinni-Con 2013. The room for The Philosophy of Pokemon filled quickly. Pokemon panels always draw a crowd at conventions. This one was different. These people were here to dig deep into the world of Pokemon.

The hour long panel covered three major areas: the age of the trainers, the mythology of Pokemon within the world of Pokemon, and the ethics of battling Pokemon.

philosophyofpokemontrainers The Philosophy of Pokemon (Quinni Con 2013)

Children as young as 10 are sent out to catch and train Pokemon

The host of the panel laid out a strong case for Pokemon having parallels to Plato’s city in The Republic. In Plato’s work, the children are raised by the city. Everyone is invested in rearing the children to make the best society possible. Everyone aims to be the best people they can and working together on the next generation helps guarantee more of the best people.

In Pokemon, children as young as 10 years old travel throughout the country to become the best trainer they can be. Along the way, they are offered lodging, food, and advice from adults in every city, town, forest, countryside, etc. they pass through. The ethos of teaching young children to succeed at Pokemon training is ingrained in the core of world philosophy. You learn to best you can be in the world. Then you shape the world to be what you want it to be.

This world elevates the champion of the Pokemon League to celebrity status. They’re also a de facto leader. Since the only way to become champion, whether in a city gym or the whole world, is to beat the current champion, that champion gets to set the rules. If they believe rock Pokemon are the best, they will force you to fight and train against rock Pokemon until you prove your worth against them.

Not every child who sets out to become a Pokemon master succeeds. Yet everyone who goes on this fantastic journey benefits from the collective wisdom of a society that takes responsible for raising the next generation the right way.

philosophyofpokemonpokedex The Philosophy of Pokemon (Quinni Con 2013)

The Pokedex contains everything you need to know about Pokemon

From there, the conversation shifted to Pokemon mythology inside the Pokemon universe. The Pokedex is our introduction to most of the creatures Ash/Red encounter on their journeys. It provide quantifiable statistics–height, weight, gender–and more abstract knowledge–origin stories, myths, and fables.

Though the subject wasn’t debated, The Philosophy of Pokemon panel hinged on the assumption that the people in the series accept these stories as myth. These are the tales told to children to get them excited about the Pokemon in the wild and all the adventures they’ll have when they leave home at 10.

It’s an interesting angle on the story that doesn’t necessarily hold up. For every encounter with a wild Pokemon that doesn’t demonstrate the myth, there’s another encounter in the manga or anime that confirms it. Jigglypuffs do sing at the moon. Muks do drop down from cave walls and sewers. Magnemites do evolve by connecting to another Magnemite’s charge. Klinx do become injured if they stop spinning.

Here it would be important to note that there is a semantic distinction with these myths. Some of them talk about actual traits. Farfetch’d has his leek in the Pokedex entry because he’s known to have a leek in the wild. However, there’s no way to prove that you can wish upon a Ho-oh. Pokemon sometimes teeters on the line between myth and fairy tale but usually has a realistic basis for these Pokedex myths and facts.

The big argument for these stories just being fairy tales was the ghost Pokemon. These are creatures sometimes rumored to be spiritual forms of other Pokemon or even people. There is nothing to suggest that the ghost Pokemon ever lived, let alone died to become ghost Pokemon.

philosophyofpokemonhaunter The Philosophy of Pokemon (Quinni Con 2013)

Haunters gonna haunt and ghosts gonna ghost

What they do show is the separation between the physical and spiritual worlds of Pokemon. A lot of the religious figures in Pokemon are given more benign designations in the English translation. Suffice to say that if a character is in traditional Japanese robes, particularly purple robes, and wearing or carrying large wooden beads, they’re religious figures and they’re usually battling with ghosts or monk-like psychic/fighting Pokemon. The belief in another plane of existence is ingrained in Pokemon even before you look at the function of the ghost Pokemon.

The ghost Pokemon aren’t fully physical beings. They are immune to purely physical attacks in a battle. They pass through walls and disappear at will in the anime and manga. They reside in temples, cemeteries, graveyards, and abandoned buildings. Their lack of a physical body is tangible proof that every character in Pokemon has a spiritual side.

Take a look at pokeballs. Somehow, a small metal/plastic container the size of a fist opens up, sucks the physical Pokemon inside, and imprisons it. There is a flash of light and then the Pokemon is in or out of the ball. The actual physical being of the Pokemon can be regenerated at will with technology.

Keep reading

How Anime is Dubbed (Quinni-Con 2013)

At Quinni-Con 2013, voice actor/director Chris Cason ran a lot of panel about how anime is dubbed and released in the US. He works full time for Funimation, one of my favorite distributors. The panel I was able to catch was all about voice acting from casting to syncing and it was pretty eye-opening.

dubbinganimefunimation How Anime is Dubbed (Quinni Con 2013)When Funimation secures a license for a new show, they put together their in-house creative team. As many as seven separate shows are being worked on in different studios at a time with an regular work schedule of 10AM to 6PM. The director is given the translated scripts, character descriptions, and images from the show. However, they’re in charge of researching the show and influences to figure out the crux of the series. They plan for as long as the production schedule allows them so they can figure out the right tone and approach for the translated program.

After research is complete, casting begins. Notebooks are prepared with the title of the show, a description of the show, character descriptions with images, and auditions sides. About 150 people are called in to audition in a mix of scheduled audition slots and cattle calls. The scheduled auditions go off every 15 minutes for three days for a single show.

The voice actors arrive and are instructed to choose three characters they believe they can do the best on the show. They perform the sides and are given direction to see how well they can work with the director. This is a standard tactic in any performance situation. It always freaks my students out when they prepare for an audition and we ask them, on the fly, to go in a different direction. If the director has worked with you before, they probably don’t need to do this part. It’s meant to gauge what the working relationship will be like when the show goes into production.

dubbinganimechriscason How Anime is Dubbed (Quinni Con 2013)

Chris Cason

The casting process is hard. It’s not because of a lack of talent. Chris Cason estimates about 5% of voice actors nail everything they’re asked to do in a given audition; an even smaller percentage fail. The rest all do well enough to potentially be cast in the show in some way. It comes down to the blend of the voices. You hopefully get to choose your leads out of the 5% and then fill in the rest with complimentary actors who also gave fine auditions.

Once the cast is set and the contracts are signed, it’s time to actually record the show. It’s a much slower process than you would think. Cason says, working one on one with a voice actor, they usually get through 30 scripted lines and 35 reactions–screams, laughs, cries, grunts, etc.–each hour. The sessions with an individual actor usually last three to four hours. It takes about a week to record each episode in an anime series.

Actually directing the show is a challenge. Because of the tight time constraints, the actors are usually working cold. They’re given the script and have to go with it on the day of the recording session.

Once in the booth, the voice actors have to contend with two screens. The script for the show is on the left. The video of the scenes is on the right. We’re not talking about fan parodies on YouTube (that’s another post); the lip flaps have to match for licensed dubbed anime to work. Chris Cason equated it to acting with math. You have to sound good and sync up with a limited amount of time.

dubbinganimebooth How Anime is Dubbed (Quinni Con 2013)

Two screens at once for anime dubbing

The trick with actually directing anime is the style. Anime tends to be a pretty melodramatic form. With the exaggerated psychology that has evolved from manga art, the reactions by the actors have to be large enough to match the action onscreen. You can’t just whimper and sniffle when a character has seemingly unhinged their jaw and began gushing gallons of tears out of their eyes. The same applies to body-shifting anger and fear. If you go really realistic on an anime dub, it’s probably not going to turn out well. There’s a reason the young protagonists in a shonen series tend to scream all the time; they’re drawn that way.

Once a series has wrapped and the voices are ready to be mixed, it will be months before the cast and creative team can talk about the new show. They sign weighty NDAs threatening bad things if they talk about what they were working on before they’re allowed to. It’s a timing issue with the actual anime license and the distribution deal with the TV network. What it means is that, by the time a new anime dub airs on TV, the cast and creative team have probably recorded another series already that they can’t talk about. It’s a long road from license to release and one that is far more challenging than you might have imagined.

Thoughts on the anime dubbing practice in America? Sound off below.

Abridged Series Creation: Anything for a Laugh (Quinni-Con 2013)

At Quinni-Con 2013, there was a variety of panels about the process of creating anime. From drawing the art to casting voice actors for the US dub, the traditional aspects of the popular medium were well-covered.

creatingabridgedseries Abridged Series Creation: Anything for a Laugh (Quinni Con 2013)

Sometimes, the jokes right themselves

Quinni-Con also hosted a lot of events related to a less-explored aspect of the world of anime fan culture: abridged series. Abridged series are online parodies of popular anime properties. The creative team edits down the 22 minute episodes to a shorter length, usually about 5-8 minutes, redubs all the voices, and send-ups the ridiculous aspects of the series. Popular subjects are the melodramatic Death Note (see image), 4Kidz’ complete and total butchering of the much darker than it appeared in the US Yugioh, and the unbelievable adventures of a 10 year old traveling around the world to battle wild animals in Pokemon.

Sadly, very few of these abridged series are ever completed. It’s certainly not for lack of interest. An abridged series is just a huge undertaking. It’s surprisingly hard to get all the details to line-up for a full series run.

The abridged series panels at Quinni-Con 2013 were hosted by collaborators Nowacking and 1KidsEntertainment. The pair work on Pokemon: The ‘Bridged Series. They opened up about a lot of details people might overlook when they decide to criticize the release schedule of an abridged series or dive in and create their own.

abridgedseriescreationpokemonbridged Abridged Series Creation: Anything for a Laugh (Quinni Con 2013)

Pokemon: The ‘Bridged Series

The biggest thing you need to create an abridged series is time. You have to be extremely well-versed in the anime you’re manipulating. Nowacking and 1KidsEntertainment explained that you have to watch each episode enough times to know the material you can work with. Since you’re not creating a series from scratch, you need to work off of the footage available in the episode. You can have a gag about a severely depressed character if she’s grinning the entire episode. The only way around that constriction is to edit the art or splice in footage from other shows, which only adds onto the lengthy production schedule.

Once you know what you have to work with, you have to sit down and write the new abridged episode. The episode has to match the tone you already established for the abridged series and remain faithful to the footage in the actual anime. You have to realistically consider the talent you have and determine what you absolutely need to tell the story you want to tell.

The only real time-saver on an abridged series is that, since it’s parody, you don’t have to match mouth movements. The dialogue just needs to time out with the footage available, not necessarily look organic or natural.

The syncing is a minor advantage. You still need to record all the voice actors. The levels have to be right or else the audio is unusable. The characters have to be distinct enough so the viewer knows who is who even when it’s voice-over without the characters present. The tone of the voice and speaking style has to be consistent with the animation and character you’re trying to create.

From there, the actual raw footage has to be edited down to match the script. This is where you can insert footage from other series, manipulate the order of the episode, or alter the speed or direction of the footage for comedic effect. It’s a lot of things to consider for such a short medium.

Then, once the abridged series is actually uploaded, you have to make sure it stays on your video server of choice. Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and subsequent legal action, YouTube had to install safeguards to protect copyright holders. Many anime distributors upload episodes of their series in private mode and have Google scan all the available videos on YouTube for possible infringement. If your video is flagged, it’s taken down. That means lost views, lost viewers, and frustration.

Fortunately, the DMCA is a two-way street. The copyright holders get much-needed assistance protecting their properties online and the alleged infringers get to defend themselves. YouTube has a form built into the site that lets you explain why you believe your video should not be taken down. The answer is simple for abridged series: parodies are allowed under US copyright law. No one will view an episode of Pokemon: The ‘Bridged Series and think they’re watching the actual anime so there’s no actual damage to the copyright. It’s a pain, but you just plead your case and wait for YouTube to put your video back up.

The next time you’re watching an abridged series and find out that the updates only come every few weeks or months, take a moment to remember how much effort it takes to make an abridged series. These are fans who decided to rewrite a series for everyone’s enjoyment. They’re working other jobs or going to school full time because monetizing an abridged series is just going to get it flagged on a regular basis. Be supportive if you like the show, hold off on mentioning the real name of the actual series (it might impact the scans for automatic take downs), and have fun.

Thoughts on abridged series? Have any favorites? Share them in the comments below.

Read: Letters to an Absent Father

letterstoanabsentfathercryogonal Read: Letters to an Absent Father

Rare Candy Treatment deals in absurdity.

There are a lot of Pokemon webcomics out there. Rare Candy Treatment examines the odd quirks of the Pokemon universe. Super Effective is a slapstick reimagining of the manga, complete with black and white tones. Nuzlocke’s Hard Mode brings an alternate rule set–namely when a Pokemon faints, it’s actually dead and you must release it from your collection–to life with a lot of unexpected feelings. Everything from Cyanide and Happiness to Penny Arcade has done at least a one-off Pokemon comic.

Yet one short form webcomic still stands above the rest in concept and execution. Originally released in 2011, Letters to an Absent Father reimagines Ash’s journey from Pallet Town to Pokemon Champion as a series of letters to his father. Ash’s father is only ever referenced once in the manga and anime as a trainer who went on his own journey. Ash does not get to benefit from his years of experience as other 10 year old trainers do on their first journeys.

letterstoanabsentfatherpokemon Read: Letters to an Absent Father

If you recognize these characters, you’re ready to read Letters to an Absent Father

Artist Maré Odomo employs a simplistic art style for the comic. She relies on the reader recognizing basic attributes of major Pokemon characters–Ash has spiky hair and a red cap, Misty has a bright orange pony tail, Pikachu is a yellow and black mouse, etc.–to establish the context of the series. Then she flips the script and turns it into a brand new experience.

Ash’s only desire in the Pokemon series is to become the Pokemon Champion. He has to collect all the different species for the Professor’s research and evolve his team to beat gym leaders, but everything is done for the singular goal of being the best. His inner desires are left unspoken as he will sacrifice anything to achieve his lifelong goal.

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Letters to an Absent Father 1 (click for full) Read More

Odomo wisely starts Letters to an Absent Father with the first emotional chapter in Pokemon history. The first wild Pokemon ash catches is a Caterpie. He raises his Caterpie from a small insecure little bug into a beautiful and powerful Butterfree. While traveling by the coast, his Butterfree falls in love with a wild female Butterfree. All the Butterfrees are partnering up and Ash knows the best thing for his Butterfree is freedom. Ash gives up the first Pokemon he ever caught so that it can be happier than it ever imagined. Odomo stacks that emotional story with a knock-out final line in the first comic, “Do you ever miss Mom? Love, Ash.”

From there, Letters to an Absent Father covers everything from first love to loneliness to self-actualization. It’s a whirlwind of emotional comics that never betrays the basic concept of Pokemon. Ash is expressing his feelings in private as they relate to his very public life as a Pokemon trainer. It’s a beautiful meditation on a popular series and an excellent piece of art.

The only slight downside is the need to know the basics of Pokemon to understand all the references. Even removed from that, it would still be a strong project. The story is universal enough that the fantastic elements you don’t recognize do not overshadow the heart and goal of the project.

You can read the complete Letters to an Absent Father at Maré Odomo’s website.

Thoughts on Letters to an Absent Father? Share them below.

Cosplay Candidate at Quinni-Con 2013

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A Count Named Slick-Brass served as moderator and commentator

At Quinni-Con 2013, 11 costumed contestants took to the stage to compete in a send-up of the US electoral system called Cosplay Candidate. The host, A Count Named Slick-Brass, was serious from the start, eliminating one candidate before she even had a chance to share her platform. This was a raw and unpredictable exploration of the US electoral process through the lens of anime and video game characters running for fantasy office in a slipstream world.

The participants in the contest had great knowledge of their characters but didn’t necessarily understand all of the political issues at play. There is an inherent absurdity when Link from The Legend of Zelda series, Liechtenstein from Hetalia: Axis Powers, and Internet cryptozoological creation Slender Man, represented by one of his future victims, answer questions about abortion as it pertains to artificial intelligence and staving off nuclear war with Lex Luthor.

The cosplayers were encouraged to answer as their characters would. Liechtenstein insisted on neutrality at every juncture like her savior Switzerland would want her to. Kanaya from Homestuck advocated for over the top slapstick policy. Salamander Man stuck to primitive growls and grunts to the delight of the crowd.

The entire conceit of the game was that the personality traits of the characters would become the campaign platform for each candidate. Obviously, this meant that not ever cosplayer could adequately answer each question. The overall effect was strong. The large audience began to root for or against various candidates as their platforms were defined and then refined on the fly. The cosplayers even began to pander to certain demographics if answering a particular way garnered audience approval. The talking points began to overtake the substance of the arguments as the debate reached its final round.

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The final round of Cosplay Candidate

The top 3 candidates from each primary became the six potential nominees. A shorter round of debate began before the moderator declared, quite correctly, that alliances had formed. These pairs became running mates who coordinated together on the final two questions. Once again, the people decided who would be the ultimate victor.

When asked to choose between Kanaya/Kaito (Vocaloid), Slender Man/Salamander Man, and Link/Liechtenstein, the audience voted for the Kanaya/Kaito ticket. The convention had a huge turn out of Homestuck fans and they were not afraid to cheer on their own. The sizable Hetalia: Axis Powers fans brought Link/Liechtenstein to the cusp of victory but ultimate fell short.

The concept of Cosplay Candidate is a strong one that will hopefully be continued at other conventions in the future. With a more contained space so every answer can be clearly heard, the contest could easily become a convention mainstay.

Check out the full gallery below.

Thoughts on Cosplay Candidate? Share them below.

Quinni-Con 2013 Cosplay Contest Gallery

Quinni-Con 2013 had a lot of cosplay. These are the 23 cosplayers who dared to enter the cosplay contest.

Honorable mentions went to the Feferi/Eridan Homestuck duo and the TARDIS from Doctor Who. Third place went to The Ice Queen from Adventure Time. Second place went to Lucy Heartfelia from Fairy Tail. And first place with a prize of an all-expense paid trip to Camp Anime went to Robin from Young Justice.

Click on any picture to get the full size version.

Quinni-Con 2013: Now That’s a Fan Convention

I had a hole in my schedule over the weekend and that was supposed to be filled with convention coverage. That’s when I did a quick search online and found out about Quinni-Con. This is a Japanese culture and entertainment convention run by the Quinnipiac University Anime Club in Connecticut. I wasn’t sure what to expect other than a free convention within reasonable driving difference. It turned out to be so much more.

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(click to enlarge all photos)

I firmly believe that you can tell a lot about the people running a convention by how well it turns out. If they’re only concerned with turning a profit and their bottom line, you usually wind up with an over-crowded expo show where you can’t even enter the dealer room without being hit by 20 people at the doorway. If they are focused on star power alone, you’ll have a signing room with great guests and a pretty tepid schedule of panels and outside events. However, if they focus on the needs of the fans attending the convention, you wind up with a really smooth and relaxed environment with a ton of diverse content and easy access to food, seating, and open spaces for photos and meet-ups.

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hashtags galore

Quinni-Con 2013 is one the best small conventions I’ve been to. This was only their second year putting on the event and it far exceeded my expectations. The entire convention was confined to the student center and they made the most of the space. Registration, Dealer’s Alley, food, seating, the main stage, and the Maid Cafe were all on the bottom floor. The two panel rooms, a video game room, a roleplaying room, raffles, and a screening room were all on the second floor. Even with the Quinnipiac students coming and going to the cafeteria and gym all day long, Quinni-Con never felt crowded or overwhelming.

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The Asterplace drove the crowd wild with great cover songs

I spent my time at the convention panel and event hopping like I always do. It was hard to choose what events to go to. I could have spent most of my day at the main stage, taking photos and videos of the copslay contest, Anime Jeopardy, and even a concert from The Asterplace (a NYC-based Tokyo rock/anime cover band that always puts on a great show). But that would mean skipping panels on creating abridged parody series, how voice acting works at Funimation, bizarre fan theories about Adventure Time, the basics of anime-style art, and the philosophy of Pokemon. And if you just hop from panel to panel, you have to skip out on video game contests (how I wish I could have taken on all challengers in Super Smash Bros. Melee where Jigglypuff is still a viable contender), anime screenings, improv games, the Maid Cafe, and just hanging out with other fans.

I did catch a lot of diverse content that I’ll be covering more in depth throughout the week. Here’s a run-down of what I did at Quinni-Con 2013.

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45 points for me

I arrived a few minutes past 9AM, so I missed the opening ceremony. I took a good amount of time to go through the program, familiarize myself with the layout, and plan out my day. This was where I first noticed the total fan-focus of the convention. One page in the program turned Quinni-Con into an interactive event. You earned points for spotting cosplay (5 points for Luffy), participating or attending main stage events (20 points), and even points for total fanboying (20 points to challenge a Pokemon cosplayer to a battle). I spent a few minutes chatting up vendors before heading up to a panel on abridged series run by the creators of Pokemon Bridged.

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Misa from Death Note cosplay

When I tried to get back to the main stage for Cosplay Candidate, a fantasy-tinged political debate between various attendees playing their cosplay characters, I realized how big Quinni-Con actually was. The place was packed. The tables were all filled, so I quietly made my way to the back of the room to set up for coverage. The crowd was constantly interacting and the host, Steam-Funk Studios’ A Count Named Slick Brass, was eating it up. The sizable base of Homestuck and Hetalia: Axis Powers fans cheered their own right into the finals.

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The Ice Queen ran a panel and placed in the cosplay contest

After a quick break to refuel and talk to the staff, I spent a lot of time with fans at the con. One panel, Theory Time with Ice Queen and Gunter, was a big interactive moment of Adventure Time fans debating everything from the history of the Mushroom Wars to the true identity of Princess Bubblegum. The cosplay contest saw the fans continue their domination of the day with a wild response to every participant.

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Liechtenstein from Hetalia cosplay

From there, we hit full on Sketchy Details territory with panels on Funimation’s production process hosted by voice actor/director Chris Cason, voice acting on the Internet, the art of anime, and the philosophy of Pokemon. Even in the more structured panels, the fans attending the convention wanted their voices heard. The beauty of a smaller convention is that you will get a chance to interact if you choose to. Each of the panel hosts took on all questions, joked around with the audience, and encouraged debate. This is what fan culture is all about.

With a 90 minute drive down my choice of poorly-lit highways ahead of me, I ducked out of Quinni-Con at 7PM. Had I had more time to plan, I would have a way to stay later and return for day two, as well. Maybe next year.

I cannot say enough nice things about Quinni-Con 2013. I had a few minutes to talk with convention chair Amaris Mujica about how everything was going. She was clearly excited. The staff did not anticipate such a large turnout. She was open about the problems with the convention, but, honestly, it was so well run that the minor issues–running out of programs, having very limited space for the artists and dealers–didn’t hurt the experience at all.

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The line was out the door to register for Quinnicon by 9:30AM

If every con was run with as much passion for the fans and organization as Quinni-Con, writers wouldn’t need to write long screeds explaining what went wrong after every major convention. We wouldn’t walk away opting not to cover greedy conventions with rude staff and not enough events for the ticket price. And we certainly wouldn’t need to worry about whether or not we’d have to walk 10 blocks away to buy a reasonably priced sandwich and bottle of water to make it through the day.

If you’re in the greater Connecticut area and like anime, I strongly encourage you to seek out Quinni-Con next year This is a convention to watch out for in the future. A lot of people are posting about their Quinni-Con 2013 experience at the 2013 Facebook event page. They even started a Facebook group to keep in touch as they plan for next year.

Thoughts on Quinni-Con 2013? Share them below.

Who Counts as a Geek, Anyway?

Tony Harris, the award-winning comic book artist of Ex-Machina, Starman, and many DC/Marvel series, has taken a passionate stance on the subject of cosplay at conventions. Harris posted a long rant on his Facebook page admonishing women who he believes cosplay just to get attention at conventions. He accuses them of not really being fans, choosing costumes just to show off their bodies, and ignoring the actual target audience outside of conventions.

Obviously, this has set off a wave of equally passionate reactions to the comments. People seem to fall into two clear camps: those who agree with Harris’ sweeping cosplay assessment, and those who feel his comments are misogynistic or hateful.

Because of the criticism, Harris has doubled down on his position, going so far as to posit that people who want to boycott him because of misogyny never read his work anyway and are exactly who he said they are.

I’d like to filter Harris’ comments through my own experience.

I’ve been to a lot of conventions in my life. I’ve done Comic Cons and Weekends of Horror, grabbag Otaku conventions and single series merch fests. The thing that connects all of these events is that they survive on the fans.

Larger events, like the Comic Cons, has taken a broader approach to gathering an audience. Popular film and television panels fill up hours before the event while the writers and comic artists who originally created the material speak to half-filled annex rooms in the basement. It is possible to be a fan of a series without knowing everything about it. It would be better if the original creators were met with equal fanfare, but that’s, unfortunately, not how our world works at this time.

However, in the world of this nerd girl/who can really cosplay debate, no one ever stops to question the credentials of someone like me. People just assume because I’m a young overweight male that I obviously read all the comics, play all the games, and know everything about such and such cult TV series. It’s not true, but no one is trying to take away my cosplay permission slip and put me in time out.

If you go back to my NYCC cosplay experiment post, you’ll see I chose perhaps less common–arguably less relevant–characters to go as. I’m a big Shaun of the Dead fan, but I honestly haven’t watched the film in years. I pulled up some reference images, watched a few clips on YouTube, and went to sewing and designing the costume.

Same with Fry from Futurama. I know the original run very well because of Adult Swim. I know who the voice actors are and have a strong grasp of the mythology. But I don’t watch the new seasons loyally. I don’t like the tone and think the show has more than run its course. I haven’t played the video games, don’t own the action figures, only have the season one DVD (and the first movie), and laugh at the idea of a Futurama comic. People shouted lines at me from the newest episodes and I had no clue what they were talking about until I looked them up afterwards.

I chose to dress as characters from less popular series for a number of reasons. One, the costumes could be altered enough to fit me and not look ridiculous. Two, I like the characters, even if I don’t know everything about them. Three, I was targeting a specific audience reaction for that post and a few other projects I’m working on.

How come no one is questioning my nerd credentials before I’m allowed on a showroom floor? Where’s the passionate rant about people who look like comic book geeks but know more about the Golden Age of Broadway than the origins of Marvel and DC? Is the intrusion of attractive women so offensive to the fan world that we have to start defining who does or does not qualify as a fan?

And what about those lady cosplayers who spend weeks designing their costumes? Do you really think they arbitrarily choose the skimpiest costume they can find and go to work? Any cosplayer worth their weight knows that you need to adapt the costume to fit a real human body and work with a character you can actually sell in a believable way on the floor. Is it that much of a stretch to think a real Batman fan might dress as Poison Ivy because she likes the character, is confident in her legs, but wants the freedom to mask parts of her upper bodies with the vines and flowers for comfort and confidence?

Let’s swing back around to the instigator of the social media blow-up. Do I think Tony Harris is a misogynist? No. He is genuinely one of the few male comic book creators who actually covers up his female characters and avoids the broken anatomy of an Escher Girls‘ post. I think he’s very passionate about the issue and didn’t choose his words as well as he could have. He’s frustrated because people are projecting the image of the T&A comic book industry onto his work because of a post on female cosplay.

There is a kernel of truth in his rant and it falls into the same category as the booth babes argument. They’re a slim minority, but there are models and actresses hired by various companies to cosplay at conventions to promote a new product or service. They walk around the show floor like normal fans and then whip out a business card or say canned ad-speak when you talk to them. Most of the cosplayers are not these people, but it only takes a few bad encounters with the more aggressive hired guns to make you question why someone is really dressed a certain way.

There are attention seekers in all walks of life. Reality TV has made celebrities out of people who did nothing but act stupid in front of a camera. They turned their foibles into enterprises and now every Phoebe Price in the world will do anything to get attention in crowded public spaces. They’re another minority, but perhaps a more insidious one at a fan event.

Do I agree with Harris’ argument? Absolutely not.

I want conventions to be all inclusive. I’ve met some of the smartest and kindest people I know at conventions just by having an open mind and accepting them for who they are. This includes cosplayers who struggle to walk into a panel without getting catcalls from fans who think they’re entitled to behave however they want at a convention.

I’ve yet to be at a convention that says it’s ok to grope, grab, hoot at, and photograph everyone you want to, yet a certain minority of fans will become very aggressive if you decline a photo-op on the way to the bathroom.

What I’m getting at is this. Does anyone really want the job of creating a fan purity test to say who can and cannot engage with a convention in a certain way? If you show your fandom by literally wearing it, go right ahead. This kind of argument does nothing but divide the culture and make fools of people online who jump to conclusions without thinking.

What do you think of Tony Harris’ comments? Or the focus on cosplay at conventions and geek culture in general? Sound off below.

The How and Why of Oddities

When I first saw an episode of Science Channel’s Oddities, I just couldn’t imagine the show lasting very long. It was not a matter of quality but content. It’s a show all about buying and selling unusual collectibles and antiques, like antique medical equipment, taxidermy, skeletons/bone matter, and preserved conjoined animal specimens. That’s dark territory for a reality show no matter how you slice it.

Yet here were are, over two years later, with four filmed seasons (fourth debuting soon), a second series (Oddities: San Francisco), and a spinoff (Odd Folks at Home, profiles of the lives and collections of the customers). A panel with the main cast members filled a large room at NYCC with a long queue that started long before the event. Oddities clearly found and audiences and acclaim. It’s just a question of why.

Actually watching store owners Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson, as well as store buyer Ryan Matthew in person helped bring the show’s success into focus. These are three charming, intelligent people with a vast knowledge of their business. They share a similar offbeat sense of humor and a passion for their work.

odditiespost The How and Why of Oddities

Everyone involved in the panel made it clear during the Q&A session that they did not go out seeking reality TV fame. Someone involved in Science Channel came up with the idea of doing a show about an oddities shop and contacted Obscura in NYC. They contacted a good number of shops all across the country. Evan and Michael just assumed they would never be selected and barely heard anything for a few months after their initial interviews. Out of nowhere, a producer contacted them with a shooting date and contracts to star in Oddities.

Because the cast didn’t seek out the fame, their interactions on camera are real and natural. They’re being themselves. The business needs to be run with or without TV cameras and the only change to their behavior is making sure they don’t turn their backs to camera. When you’re dealing with reality TV personalities who admit to having to reshoot dialogue because they forget about the cameras, you know you’re dealing with genuine people.

The main cast alone doesn’t explain how the show works so well. The real focus of the show is always the customers of Obscura. Every interaction starts with the customer’s interpretation of the object in question. The show cuts to a talking head interview giving you background on the customer before Evan, Michael, or Ryan get to weigh in on the transaction.

In other words, Oddities wisely puts the focus on the people, not the objects. You’ll learn more than you might care to know about how far medicine has advanced. That doesn’t happen until you get to know the young woman buying an anniversary gift for her husband or the performance artist looking for just the right object to incorporate into a performance. The excitement and authenticity of everyone on camera makes even the more morbid and grotesque items feel accessible.

Thoughts on Oddities? I just marathoned the first two seasons on Netflix this weekend while waiting for paint to dry and fell in love with the show again. How about you?