Saturday, November 26, 2011

Building a Better Anime Con

Okay, after so many months of waiting and anticipation, I am finally publishing my promised article about building a better anime convention for El Paso.

I wish I could tell you all that the reason I took so long to write this was because I was busy with other projects, or I was swamped down with articles I had to do with other websites, or even that I was occupied with my schoolwork or the general management of the blog. However, that’s not the reason I’ve put off writing this. I admit I’ve been apprehensive about writing this article. For a long time I was apprehensive because I thought nobody would support my opinion. After all, I’m just this guy who manages a modest little blog, and my word is nothing compared to that of a dozen people who’ve really gotten their hands dirty putting on these events every year, or even the loyal fans who yearly patronize the area’s three major conventions, Las Cruces Anime Days, Wintercon, and Fal-Con.

But then, something miraculous happened. I was driving home from EPCON 2011 with a car full of friends, and as we were chatting, the conversation turned towards the anime conventions. Now, my friends know this is a sensitive subject for me, so I opted to stay out of it. But, even though I didn’t say a word, my friends all volunteered ideas that were incredibly similar to mine.

Without me saying a word they said that they wished there wasn’t so much animosity between the three groups who facilitate the conventions in the area. Without me breathing a single ounce of dissent, they mentioned they wished the anime groups in the area would do better promotion, have better guests and, to my great surprise, someone even mentioned having similar ideas to mine when it came to who should be the manager of the convention. In that moment I was re-assured that my opinions about the anime convention scene were not just my own: people besides me are at least aware of these problems with the anime cons, and I should ultimately write this article to respect these opinions.

Let me re-iterate the point one more time that these are the opinions of someone who has pretty limited experience at running a convention. I admit I’ve done very little of this, and what I have to say may not at all times reflect the reality of managing such a large event. These are just observations I’ve made.

To start with, the founder of the convention needs to be an individual who has run a successful organization or business. The reason for that is these events require large amounts of organization with a wide variety of people, some of these people can be well known to the founder, but some of these people can’t, some of these people will really be associating with the convention head for the first time ever. Real, working management skills are key in a position like this because, even more important than the role the manager plays in booking guests, rallying local organizations and shop owners, the founder also has to be able to handle money. In the end, after the venue owner, the sponsors, and everyone to whom compensation is due gets paid, the convention has to turn a profit, if only so that there’s money left over to throw the convention next year and not have it be a financial loss for the group that’s running it.

I’ve made this argument to people before and I’ve had quite a few people counter me, saying “But Mike, anime conventions were originally founded by fans. How can you say they now have to be run by business owners?” The reason I say that is that once upon a time, anime conventions HAD to be founded by fans because not enough people actually knew what anime was. It was necessary to start conventions in a grassroots manner when certain conventions were founded. This is no longer the case. Anime is a mainstream media. It airs on Television all the time, and there are corporations in America like Funimation that manage the rights of the industry here in the United States. Anime is a business, so when it comes to conventions, the people involved with the conventions have to know how the business works, just so they can stay competitive with other conventions.

This brings me neatly to my next point: guests. All conventions need guests. It shouldn’t be treated like an accessory. It shouldn’t be an afterthought; it shouldn’t be a commodity that is too rich for the convention to afford. Guests. YOU need THEM. The reason for that is that guests are the main draw of any convention. That’s what brings people to your convention, and by that I mean even people who weren’t originally intending to go to the convention. There’s even the possibility that you can use guests to attract people with only a fringe interest in anime and a bigger interest in other aspects of a convention like gaming or American comics. Or you could possibly use a guest to actually draw NEW people who have never been to a convention before.

When it comes to Anime, it’s a bit tougher than a comic book or film convention to get the right kind of guest. The guests at anime conventions don’t often have the star power to pique the interest of people who aren’t already anime fans. However, the possibility for having a guest as a draw is still a possibility. While I was discussing anime conventions with an associate of the blog, he had mentioned that at one point he was in contact with a PR group that was promoting guests for various conventions in honor of a Robotech anniversary. Now, mind you Robotech isn’t something the mainstream anime fans are appreciative of. Naturally they’re gonna whine that “This part of the series came from Macross, and this part of the series came from some Tatsunoko production…” But that’s not the reason that those guests are there. Those guests are there to support longtime fans of anime who are still interested in Robotech. The guests are not there to support people who are honestly gonna be at the con anyway. The guests are there to help attract new people to the convention. After all, there’s a reason video game voice actors David Hayter and Nolan North keep getting invited to Anime Expo.

So you’ve got your businesses working and the guests booked. What about the convention itself? How do you pick a model for a convention that is successful, guaranteed to draw a crowd and assure your return in investment? The answer to that is simple: you research. This is probably going to be the most controversial thing I say in the article, but it really shouldn’t be. At this point there’s dozens of successful anime conventions all over the country. Do what they’re doing EXACTLY. At least for a start. Then you can figure out what you can do to make your own convention unique and special. You gotta know how to bake a pie before you can take a slice out of it and dump the cool whip on top.

A little warning here: this is where it’s gonna get really scary for a current anime convention staff-member or founder, so if you’re reading up to this point, I will once again make the point that this is NOT an expert opinion, it’s just my opinion as an observer, okay? Take a deep breath, pull your pants further up your waist and brace yourself. This one ain’t pretty. Here goes.

Here in El Paso, unlike the period of time when LCAD and Wintercon was first founded, there are now two very successful conventions run locally: EPCON and Frank N’ Con. In the past both of the founders of these events have reached out to the current founders of anime conventions for possible aid and partnerships, and they’ve been either put aside or rejected. Without naming names I am aware that one founder even intended to loan money to a convention, but was turned away. The reason for that is he had asked the anime convention founder for a return of investment. For giving them this amount of money, he expected more back, and the anime founder rejected the offer because they couldn’t afford it. This idea of making MORE money off of a small initial investment was an alien idea to them. Without getting into the sticky personal elements of this business exchance, which I honestly shouldn’t because I don’t have a full idea about went on, the convention founder who was turned away didn’t expect that he would have been turned away, because that’s the way he always did business with people when he was running his own convention. Which, I may add, is a successful one.

I’m aware this may potentially hurt my reputation among anime groups for years, potentially forever, by my saying this but it needs to be said; more than anything else I have to say in this article. You need the help of people like this. These are people who started up conventions within two years and made them the most successful conventions in the area so far. Hell, when it comes to Frank N’ Con, they had a successful turn out in their first year, mainly due to the long list of celebrity guests they had there, so I’m not speaking entirely out of experience when I say you want their opinions and their advice. Associate with them, network with them. Make sure they play a role in helping bring your convention to the next level.

The definition of a convention, according to the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary, is “an assembly of persons met for a common purpose.” What’s most important about a convention of any subject is that as many different people are involved from as many different disciplines. You got some people who work in the industry? Great! Some people who run a local shop? Awesome! Some guys…who know how tor run a live action roleplay? Sweet! Some people who….write a local blog? Impressive! Do you have people who are there to help even though they may potentially be direct competitors? Well…if they want to help. That’s what a convention should be about. All of us. Together. To celebrate a common goal. That goal being a mutual love and respect for this art form from the east.

But there’s still one more issue when it comes to accomplishing that in this particular anime fandom. One distinct obstacle towards us having what could potentially be the creates anime convention here or anywhere.

I’ll discuss that in my next article.

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