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A Personal Reflection: AX, Comic-Con, and What We’re Here For

I wrote this on the train home from San Diego, at the conclusion of Comic-Con 2009. For me, this is the end of the con season; I don’t anticipate going to New York Anime Festival this year and it’s up in the air if I will return to Pacific Media Expo. Before I flood y’all with videos, I’d like to take stock of what the last month or so has been like for me as editor of Anime Diet, and as an avid con-going fan of anime.

To put it briefly: Anime Expo 2009 was more about work, and Comic Con was more about fun.

Note: this is not really a review of the conventions as conventions, of which there is plenty to talk about out separately. You can find out more about that in the forthcoming videos. This is more about what the cons felt like subjectively.

AX 2009: Responsibility

As any of you following this blog for the past few months was aware, we had huge plans for Anime Expo this year. Such great heights, such great plans–a fanzine, a giant panel in conjunction with good blogger friends, the standard video coverage. The fact is, of course, that all these things take work and effort to do, and for me this year’s AX was a great and mighty effort to accomplish things above everything else.

Of course, I did not do all the work. Our podcast co-host Jeremy was in charge of most things concerning the zine, for which he has my eternal gratitude–especially considering all the stress that its production caused. All of us collaborated on the panel work, with Dancing Queen and her brother in particular leading the charge for the videos. Everything we did was a team effort, from first to last, and I’m grateful to all of them for making everything we’ve done a success. Were there things we could have done better? Certainly. Things could have been planned a bit more ahead of time; drama might have been avoided in some cases; the exhaustion and stress that followed was not inevitable. But the result was that people bought magazines and people enjoyed our panel, and that’s why we exist, right?

The thing is, though…I was just so tired at the end of it. Tired of doing things; tired of dealing with the stress; tired of feeling obligated. That’s why I couldn’t upload the videos on the day of or a few days after their shooting. That’s why I ended up not attending almost any panels at AX. That’s why sometimes, all I could do was just sit there in the food court, fiddling with a friend’s borrowed video camera, shooting B-roll and conducting no interviews, just waiting for the roaring waves in my mind to subside.

Did I do too much? Probably. Did we all do too much? Maybe; procrastinating probably made it much worse than it could have been. The thing is, though, cons are supposed to be fun. Cons are supposed to be, as I wrote about Comic Con last year, sort of like a retreat, a place to take a break from “the real world” and live in the suspended reality where fandom is the norm and perfect strangers become conversation partners through that common bond. For a whole host of reasons, many of them my own fault, something of that got lost for me at this year’s AX. From the press junket onward it was like a pressure cooker in my head to do things, to settle conflicts, to be on top of everything, with only Thursday being like a “normal” con day filled with panels, footage, and relatively relaxed circumstances. Every other day was either prepping, or recovering, from the panel. I shot relatively little footage as a result.

It made me think at the end of it that it was time for some rethinking about our values and our vision, actually, a process that’s still ongoing. But it also made me long for a vacation–a place to throw off most of my “duties” as editor and as a participant in various planned events. That place, it turned out, was San Diego Comic Con 2009.

Comic Con: Relaxation

I didn’t take any time off from my regular part-time work during AX. That may have been a contributing factor to why AX didn’t exactly help me relax, but this time, I did take time off for San Diego Comic Con. Of course, as a member of an anime website, I wanted to go to see living legend Hayao Miyazaki, and I was determined from the start to see and shoot footage of him.

But more than that, I wanted to actually have the experience of simply attending a con again. To not have to be part of a panel, to not have to manage people or things; to really, with a little press magic sprinkled on top, be more or less an ordinary participant again, much like I was at AX 2007 when I started doing the Anime Diet video diaries.

Some of you might be laughing at this point. Did I really want to wait in long lines again? Pay for tickets? Well, of course, I did, since Comic Con doesn’t have special press lines. But what I craved really was freedom, to be on one level just a guy wielding a camera–albeit a much improved camera than last time (HD/shotgun mike/telephoto lens equipped), to talk to fans as we sit in line for hours and shoot the breeze. I did that, with Dancing Queen on the morning of the Miyazaki panel, and also as we waited in the futile lines for the Family Guy and Iron Man 2 panels that we never got into. Disappointing? Sure, a little. But the important thing was that I got to talk to friends both old and new, and even squeeze a few interviews here and then too. Just like the old days when we waited in futile lines for SOS Brigade autographs.

I took the attitude of “I’m not going to stuff my schedule.” The only thing I “made” myself do was get up early for Miyazaki, and to line up early for the Ponyo premiere, both which got me great seats for both events. (I also got a boatload of celebrity footage in the preceding WB panel–watch for the exclusive celebrity reel video coming soon.) I wandered the convention of my own free will all other times. I met up with friends and ate with them. I weaved and bobbed between the crowds in the dealer hall and collected as much free swag as I could–I got the most to date so far. There were serendipitous finds for friends and many, many free t-shirts to be had. With this I rediscovered what is perhaps the best thing about large conventions–there’s always something interesting and novel going on everywhere, and that it’s most fun when you stumble upon it randomly. For any of the major events at Comic Con, you had to plan far in advance and place yourself in line hours and hours beforehand. I kept that to a minimum and saved myself enormous amounts of stress.

So, instead of watching Robert Downey Jr. present Iron Man 2 or Kevin Smith talking about that franchise that ruined Comic-Con, I spent my last hour at the con on Saturday simply sitting on a stone bench behind the convention center, watching the yachts parked at the Embaracadero and the relatively few cosplaying fans walk by. It was far from the bustle of the dealer room and the heat of the Hall H line. Part of me wondered–maybe I should edit some video, or the overdue podcast, or something other productive. Then I thought: Nahhh. I kicked back, talked to a friend on the phone, and just chilled until it was time to go to dinner.

Lessons Learned?

The lesson isn’t that it’s not worth doing big and important things at cons because they cause such stress and storm. I confess that I felt that way for a few days after AX, but after further thought and discussion, I knew it wasn’t true. Big and important things like panels, zines, and other events take a lot of work by their very nature; anything worth doing will take a lot of hard work. We certainly learned a lot of lessons about how we would approach it next time, and I’m quite sure there will be a next time, hopefully without so much stress.

The real lesson, I think, is that it’s important never to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing and what your roots are. It took a personal sojourn to Comic Con to recapture for me what that was all about. Anime Diet began as a way for Ray and I to do something together as friends, and that has never been lost as this site has grown far beyond a little personal side project. The video diaries and the press access that followed was done as a way to document my personal thoughts about AX 2007, nothing more. Podcasting, con coverage, blogging, watching shows: this is all pointless if it’s not for fun and it’s not giving joy and pleasure to our fans and ourselves.

It’s like steering up a steep mountain as we climb toward higher and higher elevations: the air may get thinner and colder, but as long as we support one another and keep going, remembering the goal at the top and remembering the path we took on the way, we can all make it to the peak. Then, at last, we can enjoy the view from the summit, tired and worn out but at last able to say as we survey the heights: This was all worth it.

Thanks for listening to my rambling. From today, I’m going to be slowly but regularly releasing the videos from the past month, including Moritheil’s videos from Otakon–there’s such a rich trove of material to go through. It’ll be interspersed with reviews from the current season, of course, since at the end of the day, this is still an anime blog, not just a con reporting journal 🙂 Stay tuned to this channel: we’re not done yet, my friends.

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