Dispatches from Kumoricon 2009 – Day 1

Well, I just got back from Kumoricon 2009. My reports and thoughts on day 1 of the Con, and what I said, saw, and did, below the break.

We (my sister, who is helping me cover the con) and I woke up early, at bout 5:30, so we could leave for Kumoricon and have enough time not only to get there, but to get lost while going through Downtown Portland and still have time to check in before Opening Ceremonies, and my sister’s first panel. Not surprisingly, we did get lost. 3 times. We first missed our exit and wandered through Portland a bit until we found our parking garage. Once we parked, we got lost again, while trying to find our way back to the Portland Hilton. We then got lost a third time once we got to the hotel, trying to find our way to the Con office so we could pick up our press badges. Just for good measure, I got lost a fourth time when heading over to the Hilton Enterprise Tower (which was were some of the panels were held), as it wasn’t made too clear that the panels I wanted to go to were on the Ballroom level, nor was it clear how to get there. However, I suspect that it may have been Con Staff’s intention to put signs up directing people to the relevant areas, but either I got there before the signs were put up or, in the case of the Hilton Enterprise Tower, the hotel staff wouldn’t let them put the signs up. I’ll get into this more later.

Anyway, Opening ceremonies were enjoyable, though there were a few difficulties with the hanging mikes they’d meant to have on stage so people wouldn’t have to carry around wired mikes on stage. Fortunately, they did have wired mikes handy. There also was a pretty funny video demonstrating the con rules by Cosplay and comedy group The Anime Hunters. If they put the video up on Youtube after the con or during the con, I’ll post a link.

There was a bit of disorganization with first panel I went to – “The Secret History of Manga” with Jason Thompson (author of Manga: The Complete Guide), mainly related to the fact that the panel was almost immediately after the end of opening ceremonies, and the fact that they hadn’t gotten  the AV equipment in there yet. Otherwise the panel went well. Basically, it covered the history of Manga in the United States, and the localization, translation, and retail sales thereof. I found the panel very informative and educational, and I learned a lot about the history of Manga in the US.

I’ll give just a few tidbits as examples. The first actual manga to get western attention was an manga based on Man From UNCLE, which caught the attention of Fred Patten, who would later go on to start the first Anime Club in North America, and would later start a business importing untranslated manga and foreign comics to the US. Oh, and the manga that started all this was written by Takao Saito, who would later write Golgo 13. Barefoot Gen was the first Manga to be relesed in English. There had been “Astro Boy” comics that were published in the US, however, they had all been re-drawn by different artists, using adaptations and modifications of Osamu Tezuka’s original stories.

However, after this, very little Manga was released in the US, though artists like Monkey Punch (Lupin III), Tezuka, and Shinobu Kaze, who didn’t do much long running work that I could find, but did contribute to Heavy Metal and Marvel’s own version of that magazine, Epic Illustrated. This changed when Frank Miller helped get Lone Wolf & Cub brought over to the US. The comic had cover art done by Miller, and in it’s translation, not only was the comic flipped, but it was published in 32 (plus-or-minus) page comic books, rather than the Manga tankobons that we see today in the manga section of most Borders and Barnes & Nobles. The history goes on from there, with Dark Horse getting involved with the manga version of Naussica and Appleseed, and Marvel getting involved with fully translated (dialog, sound effects, and IIRC graffiti), flipped, and fully colorized version of Akira, and so forth and so on. Mixx Magazine comes out and starts publishing Manga Magazines in the style of Shonen Jump – the company later changes it’s name to TokyoPop. Viz starts publishing manga in the original right-to-left after Akira Toryama would not let them flip it, and after it sells well, manga published in the original style starts spreading, etc.

Thompson goes a bit more in-depth on this (in certain degrees) in his book, so I’m not going to give away the store in this regard.

The next panel I went to was the Q & A panel for Cynthia Martinez, a voice acress who did the dub for such series as Kalido Star, Slayers The Motion Picture (but not the TV series), and Elfen Laid. Oh, and she was in the English Dub for Voices of a Distant Star. She’s very energetic, and jokes often that she’s got ADD, and she gets caught on tangents often, though she did do a good job of pulling herself back to the question. The Q & A session wasn’t very crowded, and very informal, but  it was fun, and everyone there had fun. There were a few fun stories – particularly related to the fact that in ADV’s Texas recording studios, basically, they turn most of the lights off at night, even if there are people there recording, plus they have, basically, a dark red paint job for the place. Oh, and it’s essentially one big long, hallway. So, as she puts it, having to go to the bathroom during a long recording session involves walking down a long, dark, quiet hallway that’s blood red. Unnerving much.

Her favorite role thus far is Poemy from Puni Puni Poemy (which I haven’t seen yet), which is a show that can best be described as being on crack (and, is banned in New Zealand for our Kiwi readers). She also noted that the con has dramatically more security than any other con she’s attended (I’ll get to this in a later), but she loves the fandom culture, in that it’s a group of people drawn togeather not by their common career, or an ambition, but by their mutual love of something. I totally agree – I love going to cons for the same reason.

Since I’m going to cover the stuff I liked – the panels, before I cover the stuff I didn’t like, I’m going to continue to Kirk Thornton’s panel (there was the Anime Hunters panel between these, but that was basically showing a couple episodes and doing comedy, so there’s not too much to tell other than it was really funny). He’s also previously worked dubs, particularly on both sides, as a director and an actor, having worked hundreds of roles, the first being Wowzer for Saban. He enjoys working quirky roles, particularly ones that give him an opportunity to overact, as opposed to roles where he had to be subdued, like Jin in Samurai Champloo. We also got and interesting description of the the process of how an anime dub is produced, going from the direct translated script to the final version that you hear when you listen to the English track, as well as going into how it’s different for Video Games (particularly the fact that you have more room to work with the performance in a dub.) He does feel though that online streaming is killing the dub industry – he particularly mentions YouTube, though I suspect that Hulu (with streaming, subtitled episodes of Bleach, Naruto, and other series) isn’t helping.

After that I went to see Anime Jeopardy. It was Jeopardy, but with anime questions. I suspect I could have done very well, but as a member of the press I’m not sure if I could have participated (you needed a badge number, and press badges don’t get badge numbers). Finally, the best panel I went to was the Girl Genius Dating Game, hosted by Phil & Kaja Foglio, with various actors playing the parts of Agatha Heterodine, Gilgamesh Wolfenbach, Tarvek Stormhalten, Zeetha, and, of course, the Three Jagers. It was glorious… and they recorded it, and it looks like the mikes and video were going to a recording board, so – hopefully – this will end up on YouTube or something, and I can link to it. If it goes up, I will put a link, because this is too good not to share.

Now for the minus. There is one major problem with this con – the hotel. The previous Kumoricon I attended, as a fan not a member of the press, was across the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA. It was a longer drive for me, and the hotel was smaller, but it had it’s advantages. For starters, usually, on Labor Day Weekend, the weather is still pretty sunny, and the site had a park across the street. Thus, when people were between panels, and wanted to do photo shoots, they’d go across the street, and do cos-play photo shoots outside. This allowed for more composition for shots (for example, getting all the Soul Reapers from Bleach to pose). Here, the nearest park is 2 blocks over, which isn’t very conductive to such photo shoots.

Further, while the venue is bigger, because of the layout there are more choke points, and less places to sit down and rest your feet between going to panels. This is most notable when going down to the ballroom level, which is where the AMV competition was (and I didn’t get to go to), and the video game rooms were. The way down was a single person wide escalator, and the way up was a similar escalator. Further, the primary entrance to the Dealers Room (originally) was in a side exit off the escalator. This made getting in and out of the ballroom level a chore.

However, the biggest problem I observed is with Hotel Security. At the Vancouver venue, Kumoricon handled it’s own security. The hotel had people on staff, but they were generally out of the way, and if they were involved, they were helping the Kumoricon people, and calling problems to their attention. However, everywhere I encountered Hilton Hotel Security, they were large, in charge, and not particularly fond of all these people wandering around their lobby wearing, not only street clothes, but worse – costumes! They were, on occasion, hostile to con goers, but worse, they shut down the ballroom level and the access to the Dealers Room, and without giving staff notice – and forcing con staff to scramble so people could get down to the dealers room another way – by taking the planned egress, straight through the parking garage (1 lane), with the ingress, again, coming through the landing), and making it go both ways, and I wasn’t the only one noticing security being significantly more obtrusive and hostile, which was made worse by the attendees being universally friendly, helpful, appreciative, and cooperative, making the hostility entirely unnecessary

During Opening ceremonies, they mentioned that they’d already booked this building for next year. To be frank, if we have the same problems with Hotel Security’s attitude tomorrow, particularly the hostility problems, and there are no signs of improving, and if Hotel management doesn’t acknowledge the problem if con staff brings this up to them, I’d recommend that Kumoricon find a different venue for 2010 now, and cancel their plans with Hilton. From my accounts I’ve heard from long time Otakon staffers, the hotel that Otakon’s currently using has been extremely cooperative with staff, welcoming to the con, and even was able to expand the hotel because of Otakon’s regular business. This makes sticking with a hostile hotel unreasonable, and I feel that the Kumoricon board has every right to vote with their dollars and go someplace else if the Hotel’s staff’s conduct fails to improve.

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