October 21, 2001
Great American Anime Expo convention reportby Patrick Delahanty
Nearly a year ago, I was happy to discover that there was finally going to be an anime convention in the Boston area...Mikkakan! For the first time ever, the large Boston anime community would finally have a convention at which they could all gather that was within an hour's drive. Not long before Mikkakan, I learned that there would be a second convention in the area. This one, known as "Great American Anime Expo" would be held in downtown Boston. Given the great expense of putting on a first-year convention in the heart of a major city, I thought this was a rather bold move. However, Hobbystar had a few conventions under their belt with Canadian National Anime/Comic/Sci-Fi Expo, so I figured maybe they could pull it off.
Time marched on and the 2001 con season continued. As it did and as Hobbystar slowly made updates to their little Great American Anime Expo web site, it became clear that the convention probably wasn't going to be more than just a dealers' room with some guests. ...but I figured I'd still go. It was an anime convention within a 10 minute drive of my house. (1 hour with traffic) That almost obligates me to go!
The Con's Con
The convention is actually three events in one...Great American Comic Book Expo, Great American Science Fiction Expo, and Great American Anime Expo. The convention/expo/whatever, consists of 3 small theaters of anime, a "seminar" panel room, a "workshop" panel room, artists' alley, and autograph areas which all surround a dealers' room. The dealer's room is divided into 50% comic dealers, 25% sci-fi dealers, and 25% anime dealers. That's it. No masquerade, no music videos, no fan panels, no industry panels, no live events, and none of the other great events that you might expect to see at any other anime convention in North America.
To get in, they were charging $29 for all three days or $15 per day. (The web site had a $3 coupon you could use for the one day pass, but which could not be applied to the $29 three-day anime pass.) The convention ran from 4pm to 9pm on Friday, 10am to 6pm on Saturday, and 11am to 6pm on Sunday. Yes, that's 6pm on Saturday. The place shuts down at SIX O'CLOCK! I've never seen another convention end that early on a Saturday.
I arrived at the Hynes Convention Center and went to the registration. No lines, no waiting...and hardly a soul in sight. After forking over the $29, I wandered into the dealers' room. There were plenty of dealers filling the room and a fair amount of attendees browsing the available merchandise. I made a quick spin around the room looking for friends, getting a feel for the layout, and seeing what was there.
The Boredom Hits
Within an hour, I had managed to browse all the tables in the dealers' room that looked interesting. Now what was I supposed to do for the remaining time at this convention? I checked the schedule and started to get pretty annoyed. The anime video rooms weren't showing anything I cared to see, so I wandered around aimlessly for another hour before running into Adam, a friend from the Anime on DVD forums. We chatted a bit and he introduced me to Silver, one of the convention's organizers. I asked if they had done any advertising and was told they advertised in some comic magazines. Apparently there wasn't any advertising done to promote the sci-fi or anime parts of the convention, so that would account for the low attendance...but they expected that Saturday would be bigger.
I talked to a dealer I know who had a table there. He said he was very disappointed with the convention. They paid nearly $1000 for their table and were promised 5000 attendees. Even though it was Friday, it was already clear that the convention wouldn't be able to make good on its promise. I stopped by the Central Park Media booth and introduced myself to Glen (and showed him a picture of CPM's Justin and Frank from the Anime on DVD gathering at Otakon). Glen had been to Hobbystar's Canadian National Anime Expo and told me it was always much bigger than this. He seemed to be quite enthusiastic the first day of the con while he handed out preview DVDs, but every time I walked by the CPM booth after that, he looked more and more bored. I don't blame him at all.
While wandering the room, I noticed that every single dealer who was selling anime/Japanese CDs was selling ones with the "Ever Anime" or "Son May" labels. Bootlegs. Bootlegs are BAD! I didn't buy any and feel proud for restraining myself even though they had copies of the Cowboy Bebop movie soundtrack. What really made me sick were the dealers selling bootleg videotapes for $20 a pop. It's just stuff they've taped off TV (or movie theater screens) onto a crappy $2 VHS tape. Now they're making a 1000% profit by selling them. Selling licensed programs is illegal...and selling copies of fansubbed tapes that are usually available for under $5 is just plain wrong. I wish people would stop supporting scum like them...but every tape you buy keeps one of them employed for at least another two hours.
About half an hour later, I ran into Darcy, Scott, and Jason dressed as DiGi Charat characters. Finally more familiar faces! I rushed over and greeted them. Moments later, other friends from Mikkakan suddenly showed up. Now at least we'd be able to entertain each other if the con couldn't provide the entertainment. (Unfortunately, in all my excitement, I didn't even think to get a picture of the DiGi Charat costumes! I'm such a slacker. Those are three of only four costumes that didn't make it into any of my pictures. The other was a Sailor Mercury I saw walk by in the hall. All the others are online here.)
We all hung out around John Barrett's table in the artists' alley until we were overcome with hunger. I lead the group of hungry people through the Prudential Center mall to the food court. The DiGi Charat costumes got a lot of strange looks, but since it's so close to Halloween, a lot of people probably just figured there was an early party going on somewhere.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat, we went back to the dealers' room to regroup just before the convention closed at 9pm. Jody, Matt, Nikki, and I went back to my place, ordered food, played a round of Chrononauts, a few games of Spy Hunter, and then settled in to get ready for another day in downtown Boston.
The second day's arrival
We woke up at 10am and planned to get going by 11am, but it didn't exactly work out like that. We left the house a bit late, stopped at Dunkin' Donuts for some "Tainted Donuts", and headed out to the Woodland stop on the Green Line. Free parking, but we had to get $2.50 in change and tokens for the trolley. We missed the first two because we were getting tokens. Eventually another came along, but it passed right by. Then a SECOND trolley refused to stop. We were all ready to stand on the tracks if the 5th one didn't stop for us.
We finally got to the con a little past 1pm. As we walked in and got our bags searched by security, we bumped into Scott McNeil. He chatted with Jody, Nikki, and myself for a few minutes before we all headed up to the dealers' room. Entering the room, we ran into Margo browsing through some bootleg CDs. Having seen everything the previous day and with nothing on the video schedule that I had interest in seeing or hadn't already seen, boredom set in rather quickly.
I headed back to the table in artists' alley to see everyone and hang out. John Barrett was dressed as Vampire Hunter D and Michi was dressed as a Delvian priestess. I was playing with The Chibi Project's Chibi Moon figure (or what's left of her) and took a couple pictures of her posed on the table. As I was doing this a news cameraman wandered by and asked me to do it again so he could get a shot. I did it, he thanked me, and wandered off. Of course, I knew there was no chance footage like that would ever get on the news...if they even bothered to run ANY footage from this convention.
I continued to wander around, browse through merchandise for a second time, and take pictures of any costumes I came across. Around 2:30, James Doohan ("Scotty") was giving autographs and I went with Nikki to get her picture with him. $20 for an autograph! Ouch! Nikki got one and when I tried to take a picture, Mr. Doohan's assistant objected and insisted that I pay the $20 too...until I explained that I was with Nikki and wanted a picture of them both.
Since there was nobody else in line for autographs (not even anyone else hanging around), we talked with Mr. Doohan for a bit. He seemed disappointed that there were so few people. I don't blame him. I'm sure at most conventions he attends he can't go anywhere without getting praise and attention from fans. Here there just weren't that many people...and most would just walk by without giving him a second glance. It seemed to be the same for most of the guests, except perhaps Anthony Montgomery ("Ensign Mayweather" from Enterprise), Ray Park ("Darth Maul"), and the gorgeous Hudson Leick ("Callisto" from Xena).
It's hard not to start to repeat myself, but there was really nothing to do! I continued to wander around and take costume photos, browse merchandise again, and talk with people. It's not that I was just sitting around complaining there's nothing to do. They really didn't offer anything in the way of industry or fan panels or other live programming that would have interested me. Sure, there were video rooms, but the appeal of that is limited. Guests had panels, but even some of those were repeated twice...and the popular guests required additional tickets for additional money.
In the late afternoon, I bumped into some fans of The Chibi Project. Meeting fans is always fun. I took their picture posed with what's left of the little Chibi Moon figure.
Eventually, 6pm rolled around and the convention came to a close for the day. Yes, the convention actually closed at 6pm. I suppose that since it's just a dealers' room, that shouldn't be surprising, but it left everyone saying, "Now what?" At least it put an end to the boredom.
Since I lived the closest to the convention, I gave everyone directions back to my place. An hour or so later, there were a dozen of us hanging out, talking, playing video games, eating, watching anime music videos from Otakon, and dressing John Barrett up like a girl. It's unfortunate that the best part of the whole convention was the part we didn't need to buy admission for. Everyone seemed to have a great time and I was happy to host it.
After the party broke up, Jody, Matt, and I played a few rounds of Fluxx while Nikki sketched. When it was time for sleep, Matt's snoring drove Jody and Nikki seeking refuge from the noise on my soft bedroom floor.
Scott McNeil's Q&A
Once again, we slept a bit late and arrived a little before 1pm. Jody and I decided to go to the Scott McNeil Q&A session. After waiting in what turned out to be the wrong line, we waited outside the room for Chris Sabat's panel to end. Paige soon showed up and joined us as we entered the room. The room was pretty small, but it was still more than enough for the dozen or so people who were there to hear from Scott.
Chris Sabat stuck his head in and claimed to be Scott McNeil and joked around with Scott (who was sitting in the audience) for a couple minutes. Jody claimed to have Scott's intestines and pulled out a few long, thin glow sticks and distributed them to a few people around the room, including Scott.
The panel wasn't so much a Q&A as it was an informal discussion. It reminded me a lot of David Kaye's panel at Katsucon 007 (except we weren't sitting on the floor). Scott told us how he left the convention at 4pm yesterday and wandered through the North End until around 1am. (Too bad we weren't with him...we could have showed him some great restaurants and pubs.) He said he had been eating lobster every day.
The discussion continued and touched upon a number of his roles such as He-Man, Gundam Wing, Zoids, Escaflowne, Beast Wars and the confusion of Beast Machines. Paige seemed to know every single cartoon series he mentioned...even the obscure ones I can't remember for this report. I was quite impressed.
Just before the end of the hour, the glow stick broke and started leaking on Scott's hands. (After almost 60 minutes of bending, I'm not surprised.) Scott wiped it off on the table skirt. Moments later, James Doohan was making his way into the room. All I could picture was Scotty getting 15 minutes into his talk and saying, "What's this glowing stuff on my hand!?"
We were pushed out into the hall where Scott shook our hands and said goodbye. "I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow!" I never did get a chance for him to autograph my Beast Wars DVD cover, but that's my own fault for forgetting to bring it until Sunday and then missing Sunday's autograph session. I'm such a slacker. ...but I got his autograph at Botcon '99, so it's no big deal. Besides, I prefer photos to autographs anyway, but having both is always nice.
Now that Scott McNeil's Q&A session was over, I found that the same old convention boredom seemed to quickly be catching up with me. I made yet another trip around the dealers' room, looking through merchandise. I bought a handful little of Cowboy Bebop figures for $3.50 each to entertain me for a while.
I went with Michi to get her picture with Ray Park ("Darth Maul") and was amused by his "BIG FCUK" T-shirt. He was a nice guy and seemed to be enjoying himself.
There was a big line for Hudson Leick ("Callisto") in her faerie costume. While I paused for a photo, I could hear the woman in front of her saying, "You're on Xena! I watch that show."
She replied, "You do?! That's great!" With just a hint of sarcasm as if she were talking to a six year-old. It amused me. Then again, I was so fed up with the convention at this point that just about anything outside the dealers' room could amuse me.
After taking a couple more photos, I sat down in the artists' alley near Nikki and began drawing to show off my lack of skill. For the lack of anything better, I drew a sketch of "Garbitron"...a "Trashformer" that I used to draw back in the mid-80's when Transformers were all the rage and I was in 6th grade. ...and this amateur sketch proved to everyone that I can't draw, but at least it occupied my time for a while.
By the time I started wandering again, I discovered that most dealers were packing up...and there were still supposed to be several hours left in the con. Some of the dealers actually didn't even return for Sunday. From what I heard, quite a few were upset that Hobbystar couldn't deliver on their promises. I wouldn't be surprised if many of those dealers decide not to return next year...if this con even happens next year. (They've announced a date, but there's no telling what might happen.)
I ran across Adam again and walked with him to where he was volunteering in the video rooms. We talked about the con, future cons, past cons, what works, what doesn't, where they went wrong, and other similar topics. Eventually, I figured I should head back to artists' alley to see what everyone's plans were.
Since the place was beginning to clear out, I started to get silly. I took Chris Sabat's autograph sign, turned it around, and wrote my name on it with "The Chibi Project" written underneath. ...and I sat down. My friends and other people around the artists' alley ran over and got in line to pose for a photo. It was pretty funny...
By now it was nearly 6pm and the convention was pretty much over. We packed up and headed out. After Jody, Matt, and Nikki picked up their stuff at my place, we followed Michi up to her house in New Hampshire. (After all that driving, I was sure we'd be crossing the Canadian border at some point.) We hung out watching DiGi Charat fansubs, some music videos, and chatting until the wee hours of the morning. When I finally arrived home, I crashed in my bed and could finally consider the convention over.