I think Anime USA was best summed up for me when, on Sunday morning, I was running across the dealer’s room to go through artist’s alley one last time. I was diverted by a crowd of onlookers marveling at the doodads and doohickeys for sale at the myriad of dealers, and thus was taking a route I had not taken before. Lo and behold, what should I find in a corner of the dealers’ room but a small display of the convention’s twenty-year history. There, laid out for enterprising onlookers to see, were the cast and crew, the teams and entertainers, who made the convention possible in years passed.
Winding all the way back into the tail end of the last millennium, we see program guides and lists from the first Anime USA. The convention that would become a cornerstone of the Virginia con scene, that would grow into the mid-fall highlight that it is, started modestly. It hasn’t yet grown too large but it has prospered and thrived, like an independent store that continues to do admirable business even sandwiched between monolithic giants.
That discovery was Anime USA. That discovery captures, in one glimpse, a moment of magic and amazement and stunning realization of how much greater the world is than the cynical and mundane it first appears to be. That was Anime USA. That glimpse of something special, something important, and then the dawning realization of what you have discovered.
I rolled into Anime USA in the heart of Washington DC round about 2:30pm. I was whisked away to Opening Ceremonies where I got the honor and pleasure to go onstage with Boston’s best librarian, Sarah Hodge-Wetherbe. This was after a backstage discussion that included a few handshakes with Crispin Freeman, whom I honestly didn’t even recognize until we were halfway through chatting about the Virginia traffic.
Downstairs at the table, RocKaiju started to fly like it was nobody’s business. I was afraid from mid-afternoon Friday that I was going to sell out of copies of my kaiju adventure but people quickly grew interested in other tales too. I’d especially like to thank the fans that came by, asking about Crossworld 4 and when it was going to be released. I’ll you what I told them: I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but the tale of the VGM is not done yet.
Late-night panels and me don’t usually get along well. I’m an old man at the ancient age of 37, so doing a panel at 11pm was a strain. Still, I managed to make it to the Education panel rooms and presented Zombae. Originally developed for the Museum of Science Fiction’s event, Escape Velocity, I was glad to rework it for a bit more of an anime crowd. In this panel, I discuss how the modern zombie as envisioned by pop culture came to be, how it has evolved, and what it means today. I ended the discussion by debunking survival myths of the zombiepocalypse but also some words of reassurance that should the dead ever rise from the grave, what you need most to survive the ordeal is probably the last things you’d expect.
Saturday morning, I found myself sitting across from recognized television actor John Ratzenberger famed voice actor Jim Cummings. Their tables were pretty swamped but I at least got the chance to shake their hands and, in John Ratzenberger’s case, I got to chat about some classic movies for a hot moment.
With the afternoon came my panel Ten Best American Anime series. It’s been a while since I’d done that panel so there was quite a bit of updating that went into it. I was pleased that, despite what many an attendee said, nobody argued the notion of American Anime. Without getting too deep into the discussion, I like to compare anime to rock ‘n roll. Both are beautiful artforms that are inherently connected to their countries of origin, but for whom have spread beyond. In much the same way that I think few people would argue that the Beatles or Led Zepplin are rock ‘n roll, I am glad more and more people aren’t automatically asserting ‘American Anime is an oxymoron’. Art, any form of art, doesn’t deserve to be pigeonholed like that.
Anyway, the panel went very well and aside from some arguing about the order (which was arbitrary anyway), it was well received. After that, it was back to the dealers’ room to sell more books and eat a metric ton of cookies because Saturday is Cheat Day and Cheat Day is life.
Saturday concluded with my final panel of the weekend, Lost 80s Gems. As a storyteller, this panel matters to me because in it, I talk about cartoons and series out of the 1980s cartoon boom that haven’t survived into the modern era despite being better than people remember. It’s true that many 1980s cartoons age like sour milk, but more than a few stand the test of time, even with some dated special effects and/or animation. Many of these works failed for one single reason in an age that required a chain of support (you needed not just a good cartoon, but also a good toy line, good supporting merchandise, and good secondary entertainment like comic books or video games). In the panel, I discussed titles like Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, Visionaries, and the like.
This panel is important to me because I feel like it helps discuss shows that, in the traditional, capitalistic sense, were flops or failures. But often they failed due to one key issue (the toy line was bad, or sometimes not even that; the toy line was good but the distribution of the toy line was bad). No work of imagination should fall to the wayside because of some pedantic struggle beyond the control of the artists.
Sunday was a bizarre scramble of work, specifically the final event of the convention. On Sunday, I hosted my first solo writing workshop. I’ve been part of writing workshops in the past, but never have I done one completely solo. It was an experience. I worked with about five aspiring writers and I tried to be honest, but encouraging. We did some troubleshooting on their manuscripts or, for those who lacked work-in-progress, we addressed their writing habits to get started and/or the ideas they were juggling.
In my career, I’ve been fortunate to see several careers take off in some connection to my own. While I’d be lying if I said I don’t hope for my own success and work to maximize it, I don’t consider success some sort of zero-sum game. If and when I can help anyone, I hope to, even if that means they might become more successful than me. Especially if they might become more successful than me.
I headed back down to the dealers’ room to finish out the day and enjoy a few hours before the convention closed. And it was then that I discovered the display that would so captivate me. I saw the staff and crew lists from twenty years of the convention history. From twenty years of Convention History. So many names. Onizumi. Applegeeks. Chris Malone. Steve Bennett. And so many years ago, Robert V Aldrich.
It was a strangely proud moment, to realize I had been a part of this convention scene. I don’t know what to liken it to, except maybe seeing a student you once taught now living as a successful professional. But here I was, seeing the ghosts of cons past, play out like warm memories. I cried with delight as I remembered each year, in equal and in summation.
Sunday closed and it was back on the road. Anime USA was behind me. The table was a success, the con was hopping, the panels were fun, and the guests were appropriately inebriated. All was well, all was good.
Here’s to the next twenty years, Anime USA.
I go quiet for the holidays, and then it’s MAGFest. The first weekend of January, MAGFest is the biggest convention of the year for me. I’ll have a new book (more on that as it develops) and plenty of copies of everything else. The panels have yet to be confirmed, so more on that as it comes. In the meantime, make your plans now! And I hope to see you there!
In just fourteen days, we have Election Day here in the United States. Don’t forget leave out an axe and a cherry tree and maybe George Washington will visit us in the night and bring us some of that sweet, sweet democracy.
Don’t wait for democracy, make democracy. You’ve got fourteen days. Do some research, study up on the events and candidates in your district and vote. Vote for senators and representatives, vote for school board, and dog catcher. Cast an informed vote in every race you can, every chance you get.
Vote smart, vote informed, vote always.
See you at the polls!