A man in a billowing black cloak approached me.
“Where were you yesterday? You would’ve been a shoe in at the masquerade!”
By my robotic side, my diminutive companion, resplendent in her Pokémon gear giggled. It was Sunday morning at Hazard Con.
In all fairness, I’m really not much more than a tourist when it comes to anime. However, my daughter just turned 13 and is slowly finding herself more and more ensconced n the genre – and she anticipates Anime conventions now with equal or greater interest than comic book conventions. While I had previously been content to include one every year, I get the impression we’re going to be hitting more of these as time goes on.
I had recently become aware of Hazard Con, though I never attended it before. It’s been about a decade since I need to drive into Erie Pennsylvania (is Erie Horror Fest even still a thing anymore?). It’s about two hours from Cleveland, but it’s not a hard drive – you basically drive in a straight line on a single freeway for the entire trip, the convention center being attached to a hotel that sits right by the exit.
We had chosen to come on Sunday for a couple of reasons. Hazard con does not offer single day passes for Friday or Saturday, you either by the weekend pass for $40 or simply go on Sunday when the admission is reduced to $15. Because it’s Sunday, hours are little shorter as well, with things closing up around 5 o’clock. That’s fine, I wasn’t even certain that Maddie would make it all the way to 5 o’clock. Besides, this seemed like a nice low key opprutunity to try out the newly repaired Voltron costume and see how the changes held up. Maddie for her part, was looking forward to bringing out her Serena outfit again.
In addition to a vendor‘s room, Hazard Con also sports a flea market – held for half a day in one of the panel rooms. If you think the dealers room is eclectic, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Movies and toys in bits and bobs littered the tables, and we resolved to come back and check it out a little bit later – that ended up being a mistake since we misjudged how long the market would last and by the time we returned, they were all packing up.
As we pressed further into the convention center, we passed the movie room, then rounded the corner and found ourselves face-to-face with a giant robot. I don’t just mean someone in a costume like a Voltron outfit I was wearing. No, there was an actual eight or 9 foot replica of one of the giant robots from Pacific Rim. Next to it was a small one person land speeder and they were both gorgeous! We took photos by the props before hassling into Kyle Herbert’s panel. Kyle is a voice actor – and an incredibly prolific one. He was a regular at the late and lamented Shinbokou Con. It was good to hear his casual and self-deprecating humor as he hosted a very informal panel – more of a talk with those of us in the crowd and the sort of easy back-and-forth that Herbert excels at.
Once his panel concluded, we proceeded to explore further – the vendor‘s room was in an adjacent wing. It seemed bigger than the ones I’ve seen at Woo-Con or Zipcon, but perhaps it was just the floor plan. Being set up in the atrium, the bright mid-day sun poured down on the room creating a warm and positive atmosphere – it was a remarkable effect. Inside, Maddie spotted a No-Face – one of the characters from Spirited Away. I prodded her and encouraged her to go and ask for a photo. The cosplayer happily greeted her. The No-Face’s arms slowly emerged from the inky blackness of it’s costume, and you could see a gold coin offered up in the black hand. No-Face had come bearing gold, just as it had in it’s movie. They were chocolate coins, and Maddie happily accepted them.
“Come pet our table!” One vendor shouted out. We wandered over to her table and noted half of it was covered in color changing spangles, and the other half was covered in soft fur. Among the curious wares were little stuffed dumpings. Each came with an adoption certificate and back story. Maddie had already dumped her con allowance into a pokeball with a small Pokemon and candy inside. I decided to grab a dumpling to take home to Lydia. It was by far the cutest thing I found in that dealer’s room. I grabbed a “Bag of Cheap” for myself and was excited to discover the blind bag contained Tenchi and Cyber City Odeo DVDs! I was hoping for Japanese candy – some of the more interesting Kit Kats or something, but didn’t find anything that really interested me. Nevertheless, I grabbed some more deals on a Cap figure and some Cash movies, topped off with a couple of buttons for my con bag.
We briefly checked out the tabletop room but they were between Pokémon tournament, and gaming is never really been a big thing for either of us. Around the corner and down in a separate hall we discovered the arcade. This game room flat-out puts to shame every convention video game room I’ve ever seen.Sure there were the tables with old systems set up for retrogaming just as you would expect, but what really drew your eyes as you entered was the room packed full of Japanese arcade machines – over a dozen games the US has never seen. There are familiar games like Dance Dance Revolution and some 2D fighters, but they were outnumbered by rhythm games and flashing light and spectacle. Maddie’s favorite was a rhythm game that involves two gigantic drums. Two players standing side-by-side would try and keep the rhythm with the graphics on the screen. I enjoyed seeing the Genesis set up again and the other retro games, in fact I probably could’ve spent all day in this room alone, but anime was calling our names!
We broke for lunch briefly and then hit the Anime room for three episodes of Seven Seeds. The second episode is really scary with some monsters on board and I wondered how Maddie was going to react – this stuff is more serious then a lot of the light-hearted magical girl things she watches, but she was entranced – and when they finally ended this run to break for the next panel, she was already insisting that we need to find more of this. It’s on Netflix by the way, it’s some good post apocalyptic stuff which probably appeals to Maddie‘s Hunger Games and Walking Dead sensibilities. Next up was the Studio Ghibli panel. Even I’m familiar with Miyazaki, indeed Spirited Away was the first film out of his studio that I ever saw (coincidently that was at Lake Effect Comic Con). It was interesting to hear a little more about the history of the studio and the idiosyncrasies of its creators. We headed back to the Anime room, but somebody had turned the air-conditioning way up to uncomfortable levels. Perhaps they were just trying to save us from having to watch the terrible Godzilla animation. We made one last pass at the game room and decided to call it a day. I was correct, Maddie didn’t last all the way until five, though she may have if that Anime room had frozen us out. We made our way out to the car around 4:15 to start the long trip home. This is one of those cons that is the exact right size for me, not too big not too small – I just wish it was closer to home. Nevertheless it looks like this might be one we come back to next year,and I’ll be interested in seeing what the guest list looks like then.
This was one of those weekends where there was too much going on to choose. Over in Eastlake, my buddy Ed was heading out to Weplcon, while I noticed Mark and Brandi hitting Grossfest in Pittsburg. Maddie had already bailed on Geekfest in Akron (which I was planning on skipping anyhow – great show, but it’s always EXACTLY the same thing every year) and I figured I would just take the weekend off.
Then a notification popped up in my feed from Craig, a friend from Panels : The Comic Club. Pekar Park Comic fest was also happening this weekend up in Cleveland Heights. I haven’t been out to Coventry since Big Fun moved out. The heights district just seemed to lose some of it’s soul when the shop shot down. Still, this is an event that’s been around for a long time, a celebration of indie comic artist Harvy Pekar and as such, very focused on that style of comic book. When I say “Indie” by the way, I don’t mean Image and Dark horse. I mean R Crumb, American Splender, underground comix and the ‘Zine scene. I noticed that Urban Otaku was also involved, taking a good 1/3 – 1/2 of the activities, infusing the event with a significant anime influence. It’s a show that I’ve always meant to get out to, but keep forgetting about. That and the screening of My Friend Dahmer, complete with a Q and A afterwards was enough to get me moving.
While screenings and panels are held in the library, normally the vendors and most of the events set up outside, but this weekend Cleveland was in the middle of a record heat wave and the decision had been made to move as much as possible indoors. Vendors were split between the Library and the Grog Shop across the street. A tent popped up to give shade to the chalk art section and the cosplay fashion show had been moved to the Grog shop.
I settled into the screening room at the Library around noon for the anime shorts. Some confusion with the laptop led to us watching One Small Step three times. Still, Control Bear and Out of Sight were charming. On Your Mark and Poulette’s Chair were beautifully done and Cat’s Run was lighthearted and fun – almost loony toons meets Anime.
I ran out into the artist alley while Urban Otaku set up for their panel, grabbing stickers for the girls, a flyer here, a zine there, and a couple of indie graphic novels I’ve never heard of before. I was back in time for Pocky at the Anime panel where we discussed the history, themes and diverse art styles in Anime. Just over a dozen people filled out the back room and we each went around sharing names and our favorite anime. The moderators kept conversation flowing, tossing candy and pocky to anyone who answered questions and participated in the discussion.
Afterwards, I decided to head over to the Grog shop and check out what was going on over there. An entire second set of artists and vendors were set up inside the club, but I never made it across the street. Between the Library and the shop, I ran into the chalk art contest. As I was looking around I noticed a few empty squares. A quick watch check showed me I had well over an hour before the next panel that I was interested in, so I grabbed a square near some pastels and pulled up a reference picture of Stitch on my phone before rendering him on the sidewalk.
Before I knew it, an hour had passed and I realized I needed to move my car from one of the three hour parking spots to a different one. My phone was dead so I sat and charged it for about ten minuets (enough to be able to take more pictures) while I read one of my new comics.
Recharged and ready to go, I popped into Mac’s Back bookstore for a moment (Used book shops are becoming an increaing rarity in northeast Ohio and I hate to miss an opportunity to browse one) then moved on to the Grog Shop for the other vendors. Scott (Formerly of Comics are Go, and writer of the book by the same name) caught me near the entrance and we talked about NEO comic con coming up in two weeks. The summer is flying by. A little further down, one of the Urban Otaku guys was there and pointed out my Excel Saga shirt.
“Much respect for the old school anime,” he told me. We chatted a while about the different eras in the genre and reminisced about the late and lamented Retropolis – an anime store hidden near the border of Lakewood. It was a closet. A hole in the wall that you could only find if you actually knew about it. This sort of lace could only exist back in the days when the only way to get certain anime was to pirate it – THEN transfer it to VHS. Funny, most of my Anime collection is STILL on VHS.
I realized I had missed the last two panels but made it back to the Library in time for the film screening. My Friend Dahmer is a graphic novel as infamous in Cleveland as it’s subject matter. Told from the perspective of a high school friend, it chronicles serial killer Jeffery Dahmer’s adolescence and was only recently made into a film. As the end credits rolled, the author of the book wandered in.
“Hi, I’m Derf,” he said in a friendly, casual tone. Derf took up a spot in the corner and proceeded to field questions about the graphic novel and how the movie may have altered certain parts to fit the narrative. The director had done a great deal of research to expand the story beyond Derf’s work, detailing events that hadn’t been a part of his experience. I sat, fascinated.
Afterwards, as the library was kicking us out so they could close, derf signed an autograph for one person and took a photo with a young lady who had mentioned they were studying his work in her college class.
“Do you get extra credit for getting a photo with me?”
You know, I had come out to the comic fest on a whim, mostly out of curiosity. I wasn’t sure I’d stay that long, but they managed to keep me engaged and entertained all day. It was well past seven before I made the walk down the block to my car. I had a good time here. A REALLY good time, and I wish I’d made it out sooner.
Woo-Con is a nice little Anime Convention put on by the College of Wooster – about halfway between Cleveland and Columbus. When I say that it’s a nice little convention, we really need to put the emphasis on the word “little”. It may actually be the smallest show that I’ve ever been to… And I thought the dealers room at Zipcon on was tiny!
Despite being small they try extremely hard… There was one panel room located always passed the dealer area and then upstairs there is another room dedicated to Anime screenings – and open for video games when there is no anime playing.
Lots of panels going on all day, as well as inviting the Confused Greenies this year to do some improv comedy. They were one of the better parts of the show actually, where they mashed up Doctor Who and anime themes like Sailor Moon and Pokémon which they performed live. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen to Pokémon trainers try and capture a Dalek.
The Costume contest was in a charming little area in the centre of the student union – A pit area near a large fireplace. It gave the entire affair and more intimate and homey feel. Contestants were seated on the steps around the pitand would jump up when their name is called, presenting themselves to the judges. I generally avoid the costume contest at Anime Conventions because they take so long, but this one was more like a comicon and may have lasted 45 minutes. Participants were judged based categories such as video game, movies and TV or anime. Even in a small environment like this, an Anime con brings out the best in cosplayers and there were some gorgeous outfits that walked through the door, not to mention panels based on it.
All in all, they did a great job at the programming and kept us entertained all day – no small feat for a little con like this but that’s what I love about these college run shows. They tend to be very earnest affairs put on by people who genuinely love the genre. I usually come away learning something new or catching a show that I’ve never seen before. My daughter Maddie accompanied me to this particular con and had a fabulous time as well… A great experience for first time out- and you can see her review here!
The only drawback is the distance… it’s an awfully long drive for such a short small show… Yeah I’m intrigued by how much effort went into this show and would really like to see them grow. I’m not sure, but it’s just possible that I may be back. And if you live anywhere nearby, I highly recommend it.
Kicked con season off with a new show this year- new to me anyhow. ZipCon is an Anime Convention put on by the University of Akron’s Animation Association . usually, I like to check out a show before I take the kids, make sure it’s appropriate and that there is enough action. However an Anime convention is something entirely new to them anyhow. Lydia had asked me recently when the next comic book convention was, and at the time I didn’t have any scheduled. It also just turns out that Maddie had a sleepover and birthday party schedule this weekend so she wouldn’t be home. This was a perfect opportunity for Olivia and me to do a quick daddy daughter day.
I like the fact that this convention was being put on by a college Anime club. This sort of thing tells me that their heart is in the right place, and that they’re not just out to make a quick buck like so many other conventions around. Passion driven conventions always end up being more fun than profit driven ones (not that there’s anything inherantly wrong with proifit driven ones but they have a greater tendancy to devolve into pop culture cash grabs. I’m looking directly at you Wizard World). Still, I should’ve checked it out. I thoroughly underestimated how big a show this was . I could see a respectable amount of programming, and Anime conventions always bring out the cosplayers. Nevertheless, I didn’t expect the kind of crowds we saw. Lydia and I arrived about three hours after the show had begun, Lydia has dancing she’s not going to mess that just for an Anime con. Upon arrival, we found a line that stretched out the doors and took at least 15 minutes for us to make it inside the building to attend registration. It was a fairly rigorous one at that, complete with rules about masks and greasepaint and a release form stating our permission for people to take photos of us (And man, I’m glad we had our forms filled out and in hand already, we skipped ahead in the line a bit because of it). I suppose I understand heightened security, the college has a greater deal more liability then I Convention Centre. I noticed they did a remarkably smart thing with little Lydias admission wristband, they wrote my phone number on it. I like this kind of detail, it’s a really clever way of keeping kids safe. Despite the long wait, I had a good feeling about this place and I wasn’t wrong .
The University of Akron student union is also where the very first Akron Comecon was held, but that show actually seemed to have a lower attendance than what we encountered at ZipCon. This place was packed wall-to-wall, with everybody wearing costumes and excitement and hustle and bustle were all around. We hit the dealers room first- it’s a good way to get Lydia into the con spirit. there were a few photos along the way, including a great photo up with a quite friendly mega man . Why do I always get into battles with video game characters at these things?
The dealers room for this particular show was quite small, understandable for a second year and a small school run convention. Still, I think they need to get the word out. There is plenty of foot traffic to support easily twice the number of vendors they had.
The vendors and artisans they had were quality, I found a marvelous minions and Doctor Who mash-up shirt in one booth, and all sorts of handmade crafts and art . Over at the booth for vendor Kopes Kreations, they had a plushie Pinkie Pie that was dressed like Deadpool . Pinky Pool may be my new favorite thing, although it’s a close tie with the plushy bacon that squeaks and smells just like real bacon!
Retrocade Erie had a marvelous video game booth full of vintage systems and cartridges was fascinating to look through . I saw people leaving with a bunch of Super NES cartridges as we were coming into the con, so I hope he was doing good business . I found a Starfleet Academy game that I never even knew was ported for the Genesis, granted with the 32X attachment but still… I was certain that had only ever come out for super nes!
Lydia found a knit panda plushie and dropped her entire con allowance on that along with some help from me. She named it Pandora. I’m such a proud father.
We hit the make up a panel where the resident artist worked on transforming his willing victim into the Dark Knight Heath Ledger Joker. Lydia sat down in the middle of the aisle in the middle of the room, and he was so nice paying attention to her. He’d come up and show her the materials he was using, scar wax, liquid latex… and trust me, Lydia knows liquid latex already!
I think Lydia’s favourite part of the show may have been the video game room. As soon as we arrived in it, she sat down in front of a classic NES and dove into a game of Metroid. there were turning into going on, but plenty of free play all around. They had made maximum use of this room with probably 20 systems up and running, set up and supplied by Retrocade Erie . In the back of the room, people played Super Smash Bros on a gigantic projected screen . This game in particular fascinated my little Pikachu Lydia and she sat, captivated by the spectacle for ages . I managed to get in a little bit of Shadow the Hedgehog, but the real fun ways playing Batman and Robin with Lydia on a Sega Genesis. The other real treat about checking out the video game room, was the chance to see a PC engine up close and personal. Lydia pick up the controller and started playing a Castlevania clone, and I realized what system it was playing on as she went through the levels . I had a TurboGrafx when I was a teenager, and I loved it . it’s a criminally under rated system that didn’t get the kind of support in the US that it did back in Japan . In Japan it was this tan brown monstrosity we call the PC engine. I read about them but never seen one of close . the controller is pretty much the same as the German graphics other then the colour in the gameplay is real similar.
As we wandered around the convention, we happened upon the tabletop gaming room . Now usually I will pass right by this, because it’s kind of creepy for me to watch over somebody’s shoulder is the play . I’m frequently alone at cons and board games are just not what I’m there for. But Lydia was interested and immediately found a Pokémon version of Sorry! We sat down and played through the board game . It must’ve been quite the sight, to see the little Pikachu playing a Pokémon game with the giant robot . It’s such a Lydia thing to do though, I think it may have been my favourite part of the day .
I insisted on us getting downstairs to catch at last part of the bands set. music at the conventions generally tend to be fun. I find it especially fun at shows like this where J-pop and techno and music in general are part of the genre that is being celebrated . after a great performance from Pete Mako and The Boogiemen we were getting a bit wiped and ready to go. The convention goes on for quite a while after our departure time, but I had a film to get to and Lydia had managed to squeeze in a birthday party at the end of the day. Still, I’m really glad we made it out to Zipcon. It’s on my radar now and may well become one of my regular stops on the convention circuit . We took lots of pictures (and also stole a ton from facebook), more than usual in fact. cosplay is a big deal at Anime conventions and even all these photos barely scratched the surface. Take a look below to see for yourself how much fun this show is!