Katsucon is the Valiant Comics of US conventions.
Not as famous as Comic-Con or Dragon-Con (the Marvel and DC comics of this analogy), Katsucon has and is quietly building the sort of convention brand that is synonymous with excellence. Beginning back in the mid-1990s, Katsu is an anime convention that now resides in Washington DC, living and thriving in the famous Gaylord Hotel (stop giggling) in National Harbor. A three-day event during which anime and Japanese culture in general are celebrated, it has become one of the major cornerstones of not just the anime community but of fandom in general. It is a mainstay of many major headlining celebrities and the famous Katsucon Gazebo even has its own Twitter account. If you’ve never been to Katsucon, it is something to look to remedy. It is an amazing event with some of the best guests, panels, cosplay, and community of any convention today.
As a guest for the Japanese Culture Institute, I found myself in the JCI track most of the weekend (that or at my table). The JCI is a little bit less geekery and a little bit more real-world history and anthropology (which might be why the schedule includes numerous panels by one of the subject’s leading authorities). I arrived in Friday to speak on the Cultural Differences between the American and Japanese Transformers series (hey, even anthropologists love Transformers). That would be followed later with a panel on the Meiji Era of Japan and how it helped to create the modern world (Meiji Era being the 1860s going into World War II). The panel is mostly about how great Jigoro Kano was and how a nation can do the impossible with surprising ease if everybody’s on the same page. The evening concluded with the sadly, tragically, unsettlingly topical discussion of the Japanese-American Internment Camps of World War II. We discussed the racism that played into matters and tried to dispel many of the myths that surround this dark time (and often unmentioned time) in American history).
It was also on Friday that I sold out of RocKaiju! I had brought copies of all five of my books (Rhest, Samifel, RocKaiju, Proton, and the 2017 Anthology), and RocKaiju was the first to sell out. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to the fans who came by the table and bought a copy from me or my fabulous business/sales manager Tina (who now has her own blog and a podcast!).
Come the dawn of Saturday, things got started nice and early with a LONG hike to MacDonalds. National Harbor is many great things but breakfast-friendly is not one of them. Unwilling to get back onto the Interstate to get breakfast, I looked to the only place (that I knew of) that served breakfast for under $178 per person (*side-eyes the in-hotel food options*). The lengths one will go to for an Egg McMuffin. I got back just barely in time for my first panel of the day: Intro to Martial Arts…for Kids!
Nothing like showing toddlers how to do a bear crawl at 10am.
That said, the kids were great and some of the parents got in on the act too. Not to get off on a tangent but I do feel that if you can teach kids, you genuinely know your stuff. Communicating with a person with limited physical (and verbal) vocabulary is quite the challenge. Telling somebody ‘get your hips up’ if they don’t even know what their hip is…yeah.
Immediately afterwards was Intro to Martial Arts (for adults?). That class is always fun because you have people who are curious about martial arts but have never done anything more than cosplay Naruto, coupled invariably with at least a couple wondering black belts. One year, we had a pro fighter who outranked me in my own style! Boy that wasn’t stressful at all. But to date, it’s always been a good class as we go over real, tangible basics and give people an idea of what martial arts practice can and is like.
Then came the long break: lunch and time at the table. Getting lunch in National Harbor is my one complaint at conventions held in the Gaylord: everything is expensive and far away. Still, it was worth it to be able to spend some time at the table. Rhest sold out on Saturday, which was kind of shocking. Of all the books, that’s the one that’s been out the longest. I figured the demand would dip a little, but I was clearly mistaken. Other books sold, autographs, signatures, handshakes, hugs. Katsucon is like one big hangout.
In the evening I had a more uplifting set of panels: Ancient Swords of Japan, followed immediately by A Biography of Miyamoto Musashi. I love the ancient swords panel because, coming from a European background, Japanese myths are delightfully unique. Their emphasis on sword-makers rather than the specific swords themselves is equally fascinating. I especially like to pick on the ‘feud’ between Muramasa and Masamune, and the silly river test.
After that was about the greatest swordsman in Japan and very likely the world. I like to debunk the myths of historical figures like that because the historical facts are always so much more engaging. And weirder. That Musashi likely suffered from eczema rather than refused to bathe is one such myth. And that he was actually kind of a migrant worker for much of his life. Much of the legacy we know of the man is cultural erosion of the truth. Fun as it is, Musashi falls in with greats like Moses and David Crockett; figures who have become myth unto themselves but were in fact deeply flawed which made them in actuality only greater.
Sunday was the big day for me because it was the unveiling of my new panel: Martial Arts Mysteries and Details. This was a catch-all discussion of lots of little facets of the martial arts that many people – especially the seasoned practitioner – just takes for granted. Little things like the difference between Tae Kwon Do and Tae Soo Do, why the samurai wore their swords blade-up, and why you see the numbers 18 and 36 so often repeated in the martial arts. Little things and big things. And it is amazing how much the answer came back to the old-world version of ‘branding’. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But Dim Mak is still crap, y’all. Don’t believe Count Dante.
And then after it was all said and done, it was time to check out. Checking out of the hotel? No problem. A gazillion goodbyes? Heart-rending but still no problem. Getting out of that damn parking deck? Oh sweet mercy. It took over an hour. There was one point where my car literally didn’t move for 20 minutes while I waited. And then to face down Virginia roads? Ugh.
Still, I got home safe with an aching body and a smile on my face. Thank you to everyone at the convention who made it possible. Katsucon is one of the best-run conventions ever and the JCI has continued that tradition of excellence. Thank you to all the people who came out to the panels and came by the table (and picked up a book!). It was wonderful meeting you and getting to chat. Here’s to hoping we meet again next year.
On deck now is some cooling down-period and then we start to move towards the summer cons. I am presenting at RavenCon in April, then at Escape Velocity in May, and then Anime Mid-Atlantic in June. I’m not a hundred percent sure what all we will have in store for each of these conventions, but stay tuned because it will be good. Until then, be good to yourselves!