However, even THAT re-assurance was not enough to finally get me writing that article. As I’d mentioned I received that encouragement driving away from EPCON, which was in September. I still spent the whole month of October not writing this article. There was a reason for that too, and the reason I continued to procrastinate also speaks very clearly to the problem of anime conventions in the area.
I was afraid of the fallout.
The anime community in this area has a nasty habit of ostracizing people who have differing opinions. That’s the simple truth of it. Don’t believe me? Well, let me tell you how I come to this conclusion.
I first experienced this phenomenon the very moment I got involved with the community through UTEP’s Anime Appreciation Society of El Paso, who at the time was having a feud with the Anime Society at the University. The whole time I was there, I was scratching my head and wondering why these two groups didn’t get along for the benefit of one another. The response to my incredulity was answered simply to me by the then-president: Those guys were ‘just jerks.’
I was upset by this, but I let it slide since it seemed to be just an incident between these two clubs. Then a third club, The Videogame and Anime Committee, sprung up a year later. The founders were close friends of mine who had long since been suspended from the ASU, who at the time were having problems with their own officers. I stayed with that club for about two years while still maintaining a relationship with AASEP.
Around this time we got our first convention, the El Paso Anime Con, which took place at the UTEP Union East building in the summer of 2007. The event was put on by some officers of the ASU who had left the club to prioritize the founding of the event. The general opinion of EPAC was that it was mediocre. It was highly limited by some restrictions that UTEP generally puts on people who run events in general, the largest of which was that they did not allow outside vendors. People reacted to the “meh” that was EPAC in different ways. Lots of people still supported the event for its remaining two years. Others left it in hopes that something else would come along, but the remaining minority did something terrible: something that would shape the climate of local anime conventions for the worse for the years leading to today.
They formed a convention of their own.
Now, I can’t be counted on as a reliable resource when it comes to the reasons why the officers who eventually formed Wintercon, broke away from the founders of EPAC. I simply don’t know anything about it except that the lack of ability EPAC had in providing vendors had something to do with their decision. I also know that in some ways it was personal, as I’d attended a couple of developmental meetings for Wintercon and some of the founders mentioned the foundation of Wintercon as “sticking it to” the founders of EPAC. I rolled my eyes at that, relating it directly to the problems I had with the UTEP based clubs.
So Wintercon happened. It was a good event, not great. In fact I dare say it was pretty mediocre. Very few of the vendors or staff was shared between Wintercon and EPAC, even though they had some of the same artists. Now there seemed to be two large entities responsible for anime in the area. No big deal. It could still work.
Wintercon had moderate success, and the founders of EPAC found themselves a new niche by moving their convention to the NMSU campus and changing their name to “Las Cruces Anime Days.” EPAC was unceremoniously dropped without even an announcement, leaving many local fans to wonder whether it’d come back for about a year before realizing it was gone for good. We were all aware that the two parties were not associated with one another and were competitors. Any dialogue between the two of them was….unpleasant to hear, but at least things appeared to be stable.
Around this time was about when Ruben Rascon and I started working together on “The Captain_M Show.” We were both aware of the rivalries between both conventions and for a while we wondered which ‘side’ we’d take. We ultimately decided to do an unbiased evaluation of both conventions.
During our attempts to build the show Ruben and I had a falling out with one anime group for personal reasons and we simply stopped attending AASEP because we were so busy with our videography that we let a lot of our extra-circulars fall by the wayside.
We began our coverage of the company with the first LCAD, which took place in January of 2010. I had already purchased table space as I’d intended to attend as an artist. Ruben and I filmed our first on location video there where we limited ourselves to talking behind the table to fans. It wasn’t anything too fancy, but it was a start.
Immediately after LCAD, however, we struck our first major coverage deal with EPCON 2010. We rode the EPCON wagon, securing interviews with supporters both old and new and came up with our first full set of videos, essentially learning how to put together our humble little online show as we went along. It was a terrific experience, even as we got to the convention proper.
After the better part of the year was over, though, the anime convention season was coming around again, and we were eager to get back in with the crowd that we believed helped us start it all. To make a long story short the contrast between working with EPCON and working with LCAD and Wintercon was obvious from the start. Working with EPCON we entered into a mutually beneficial partnership which yielded us interviews with a large part of the conventions artists and participants with full support from the staff, who also participated in the interviews. Working with the staffs of the anime conventions was a lot more difficult. We were met by a lot of suspicion, and at times were outright ignored because we weren’t part of anyone’s staffing inner-circle, and we were often told we wouldn’t have the same level of access we would at EPCON because we “weren’t trusted.” Now, I say “weren’t trusted” as a way of keeping the civility of the argument. A few times we were met with responses that were a lot harsher than that.
Despite the cold reception though, I was positive that given enough time and exposure, Ruben and I could eventually get passed the initial impressions set about us and still become a working part of the community. However, not soon after I made that decree did something happen to me personally that permanently cemented my attitudes towards the local anime con scene as negative ones.
As a communication minor, I eventually found my way into UTEP’s online journalism course, and as a result of that, I became an editor for Borderzine, which is UTEP’s online magazine. Borderzine is a blog, much like the one I was already developing, but it is also an extremely well read blog that is often used as a new resource for other big name news blogs. I needed something to write about as my first story, and I was already dedicated to going to Las Cruces Anime Days that weekend, so I decided to write my story about that. While I was at the convention I interviewed writers, cosplayers, and club presidents, but I had also made several attempts to contact LCAD founder Andy Castellanos for a comment. Andy, possibly assuming that I was working on a personal project, though I told him several times it was actually for Borderzine, ignored my every attempt to get a comment were it via e-mail, phone, or even face-to-face contact, leading up to a moment where I discussed the wide scope of Borderzine’s influence to him while picking up my badge for the event, and he dismissed the importance of my school assignment by saying “It [LCAD] is only a small convention.”
Though I spent my two days at the Las Cruces event talking to anyone who was actually kind enough to give me an interview, I had taken Andy Castellanos’ comment to heart: It was only a small convention. I realized with that statement how I looked to them. I was a meaningless little student of journalism making a bigger deal about the wonder that is local fan coverage which, compared to the opinion of the founder was really not a big deal at all. I went on and finished the article for Borderzine using whatever comments I managed to get from attendees, but once the curtain was drawn on that event, I felt my admiration for the anime community fade to black as well.
In the following summer, I eventually negated a major criticism often put upon me by becoming a staff member at FAL-Con, another convention involving individuals who split from another anime convention due to personal disagreements. Unlike other conventions, FAL-Con founder Zach Chenowith, showed right away he wanted to have a working relationship with the blog and all of the members of the blog pitched in where they could to make it a meaningful event. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that of all the people attending the event, there were very few people on staff from other conventions. I had written about the overall effectiveness of FAL-Con in another article, so I won’t go into it again, but as I staffed the event it generally saddened me that once an individual as inclusive as Zach got an opportunity to throw his own convention, very few of the community at large even went to see it.
Not long after FAL-Con, I took a decision I made on the floor of LCAD and I made it into my own personal law. Up until this writing I’ve followed it to a tee, but I’ve never made a public declaration of it, until now.
I, Mike Cervantes, promise never to set foot in another El Paso-based anime convention or event ever again.
Now, this is not to say that Augmented Reality may never be at an event again. In fact as I’ve been writing this Ruben had already been to Wintercon 2011 and he’d taken some wonderful video of it, and we’ve also got some fine video on the way from our good friends at Sexy Taco Productions. I, however, did not attend Wintercon and I do not intend to go visit this year’s LCAD in January either.
This isn’t a boycott. This isn’t a protest. The only reason I’m staying away from those conventions is that I’m personally very tired. I’m tired of the infighting. I’m tired of the elitist attitudes shown by members of this particular section of the fandom, but most importantly, I’m tired of being looked down on when my only real crime is having enough interest in these conventions to write about them. The attitude put towards me is one of both disdain and concern. Disdain because I am not close personal friends or obviously aligned with any particular group, and concern because as a result of that, nobody knows what my intentions are. Well, now that I will never go back, the heads of the individual anime communities in this city, don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Before I’ve put it to writing, people have heard about this resolve of mine, and they’ve responded negatively towards it. They make the same claim that I once did, that I should ignore what peoples individual attitudes are towards me and just enjoy the convention for the pure and simple fact that it’s an anime convention and it should be fun. I agree with those people. I SHOULD simply be able to enjoy the conventions because they’re fun. The problem is in all honesty, I can’t. I’ve dealt with this dimensionality on some level or another since I joined my first anime club way back in 2004, and as far back as I go into my mind, I can’t take away from it that pure and sparkling gem that was my meager enjoyment of these events, and I’ve decided I’d just be happier staying away.
I know in leaving the conventions I’m leaving behind a few friends. I’m making it so I won’t see one or two people who really did make my early excursions in El Paso anime truly worth doing. People like Jorge Santiago, Yamel Beltran, Michelle Morris, Edgar Morales, Stephanie Mendez, Shonen Neko Takaya, Zach Chenowith, and many other truly great participants of these events. All I can say to those people now is to keep the faith. Someday if you continue to stick with these events something truly special will be there for you, but as for me, I just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Someday, all that has gone wrong will be in the past. I will be waiting until then.