Looking to the Stars – A-KON Convention



A-Kon! The biggest regular con of any kind in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One of the most famous cons of its’ kind anywhere, bringing fans from around the world. Arguably, the best con for Anime, Manga and Japanese culture enthusiasts in America.

What the hell am I doing here?

Seriously. The number of manga I read on a regular basis can be counted on one hand. Most of the Anime I’ve seen was viewed on Adult Swim. I haven’t played a Final Fantasy game since the Super Nintendo was high-tech. I don’t listen to any Japanese rock bands. I have no great abiding interest in putting together a perfect Lupin the 3rd costume and showing myself off before the masses. I am, in short, the last person in the world who should be covering a convention like A-Kon.

So why am I?

Is it because my devotion to the journalistic craft is such that I felt compelled to cover an event that didn’t thrill me so that I may relate it to you readers who WOULD be interested? Partly.

Is it because until this year I’ve never had a job that allowed me time off on the weekends to attend A-Kon (or any conventions for that matter) for a reasonable length of time? Maybe.

Was it curiosity and a desire to see how the other half lives? Possibly.

Was it because I just realized that being a respected member of the geek press, I could sneak into places like this for free? Definitely.

Honestly, it was a mix of all four of these things. Plus, as a comics reader whose personal sphere of interest begins and ends with American comics, I wanted to see what a Con like A-KON would have to offer someone like me. A-KON has a reputation for being very diverse despite its’ major area of focus and I wanted to put that reputation to the test.

With that in mind, I present you with this, an insider’s look at being a press agent at a convention as well as an outsider to the Otaku lifestyle. What follows is my itinerary for the day as compiled by the various notes I made as I ran about the convention on Friday, June 9th, 2006.

12:00 AM -Double check final preparations. Pack backpack with D&D books for pick-up RPG games, dice, pencils, digital camera and can of Arizona Green Tea. Leave plenty of room for swag should I see cheap swag worth buying. Check wallet for $40 for lunch expenses, parking expenses and business cards. Check pocket for reporter’s notepad and pen.

12:05 AM – Settle down for good night’s sleep early, planning to get up at 6 am. (NOTE: Bare in mind I usually go to sleep around 3 am and only sleep for 6 hours)

3:15 AM – Wake up. Try to get back to sleep.

4:00 AM – Give up on getting back to sleep.

4:05 AM – Begin to shower and shave.

4:20 AM – Watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 tape to kill time as I let my hair dry. It is Santa Claus – not the Martian one, the one made in Mexico where he fights The Devil.

5:55 AM – Movie ends. Hop in car and go for early breakfast.

6:03 AM – Stop at Shell Station to get gas. Enjoy hearty breakfast of Arizona tea and a Ham and Cheese Lunchable.

6:08 AM – Get on the I-30 freeway heading east, which will go straight to downtown Dallas and the luxurious Adams Mark Hotel where A-Kon is held.

6:16 AM – Realize I forgot to program into my cel-phone the phone numbers of the two people at A-Kon I know who will be there. Decide not to turn around and go back home and figure I’ll just trust to luck to find them.

6:24 AM – Note that either Dallas was severely underrated in this years “Most Unsafe Cities To Drive In” list or there are a large number of SUVs and pick-ups that no longer come equipped with turn signals as standard equipment.

6:33 AM – Arrive in downtown Dallas proper. Find an all-day parking lot a block away from the hotel that is only $4 and looks relatively safe and easy to get out of.

6:36 AM – Follow guy dressed like Vash the Stampede from Trigun around the block into what turns out to be the hotel convention center Begin searching for the press room, which I was told was in The South Tower on the third floor.

6:40 AM – Stopped by the crack security team trying to get to the third floor. I explain that I am an important reporter and that I am supposed to be getting my press kit somewhere on the third floor.

6:41 AM – Get armed escort to the third floor as they puzzle this out. We figure out eventually that the South Tower we are referring to is actually in the hotel proper. The helpful volunteer gives me directions across the sky bridge and tells me how to get there, he thinks.

6:51 AM – Move across sky bridge. Note how many fans are already here an hour before the official opening of the gates.

6:55 AM – See a skinny white fellow in black leather with a cheesy white wig whom I believe is supposed to be Separoth (sp?) from Final Fantasy VII. Tell him it with tongue firmly in cheek that his is the worst Storm costume I have ever seen. He doesn’t laugh, though a crowd of fangirls does.

7:00 AM – Find the press room. Make small talk with a gent for some on-line video game magazine that was playing on a PSP for most of the conversation. Trade business cards, although I lost his. Also make small talk with various random volunteers who walk past.

7:30 AM – Volunteer comes to unlock the room across from the press room. Seems this is the guests lounge. She tells us the press wrangler is at breakfast with a lot of the other officials and that she won’t be there until 8 am. I do get a schedule of the day’s events printed out for my trouble, though.

8:10 AM – Press room is opened 10 minutes late. Am told the official press agent will not be there until 1 pm and that they can’t hand out anything until 10 AM, even though things got started 10 minutes ago.

8:11 AM – Make small talk with one of the con staff, who it turns out is one of the moderators for one of the Web Comic seminars I was thinking of attending while scanning the events list. During this time, the photographers working with the video game journalist shows up and one of them is dressed, rather unconvincingly, as Captain Jack Sparrow.

8:34 AM – Am presented with my press kit and am told to read the rules about interviews and taking photos and using photos in my publication. These prove so restrictive I decide not to risk take any pictures, figuring I can borrow much better ones from off the official website.

8:35 AM – Make sure that I can borrow much better ones from the official website.

8:54 AM – Despite what I was told earlier, I am allowed to sign in and get my official press pass – a yellow wristband that miraculously is fixed so that it won’t be glued to my arm hair. An hour wasted, I decide to ditch the events schedule and just see what I can find after I find the one thing I know I’ll be interested in.

8:59 AM – As I am crossing the sky bridge, I run into one of my old customers from Lone Star Comics. Old, old customer as he was from my days at the Central Arlington store – way before I got put in charge of the South Arlington store. We caught up and discussed some of the gaming events that were being held. To my sadness, there was a Serenity RPG game planned, but it was on Saturday.

9:05 AM – Stop by info desk. Ask where I might find the preview of Neverwinter Nights 2; a D&D video game I received a notice about the day before, which said it would be previewed at A-Kon. The info desk staff were clueless and suggested checking the main presentation floor.

9:10 AM – Check the main presentation floor. Don’t see it. Decide to check other floors.

9:15 AM – See nothing on the second floor. Moving on up.

9:20 AM – Find a D&D room. Decide to continue the theme of doing things I have never done before at a Con and sign up. Spend the next half our going over official RPGA rules and making a rough 1st level approximation of my famous Dwarven thief, Abuk.

10:10 AM – Spend next two hours and a bit being the one sneaksy/searchy type in a group full of crazed barbarian teenagers and a father trying to teach his six year old how to play a wizard. Manage to have fun despite being obviously stuck at the newbie table.

12:33 PM – Do not get killed in the D&D adventure. I am awarded 450 xp, more gold than I can honestly spend and an invitation to join an adventure starting at 2 pm. Decide to get back to work, tempting as it is to spend the whole day gaming. Besides, there’s still one more floor to check.

12:43 PM – Check the Video Game room. Turns out it is devoted to two TVs used for playing video games, not previewing new ones. Officially give up on finding Neverwinter Nights 2.

12:51 PM – Man, there are a lot of guys dressed as Link from Legend of Zelda here! Lot of girls too, for that matter.

12:53 PM – Get to the dealers’ floor, which is now in full swing. Begin to make the rounds and look for notable swag.

1:02 PM – Find a gaming supply store. Have a number of books for $5 each and all the D&D material is 20% off. Begin to calculate how much money I have left on the “emergency” credit card and ponder under what circumstances the new Tome of Magic would count as an emergency.

1:04 PM – Walk past the world’s most flamingly homosexual samurai. I had no idea they made such robes in pink.

1:06 PM – Realize I shouldn’t worry about being underdressed. Even in my Starman t-shirt, wide-brimmed fedora (with spiffy business card in the hatband) and simple black jeans, I am still not as lame to the cos-players as the twit who is wearing an obvious JC Penny’s bathrobe with a plastic sword.

1:10 PM – Stop for quick lunch at hotel café. Get 3 dollar gourmet pizza slice that tastes like a 1 dollar card board box covered with 50 cents worth of mozzarella.

1:12 PM – Break down and finally look at program as I eat. Note with some astonishment that one of the guests is Caitlin Glass, a woman I knew back during my college acting days. Indeed, she was president of the actor’s frat and has apparently, since I graduated, gone on to become a director and voice artist with Funimation, who do most of the dubbing for most of the Anime in the USA. Check her schedule to see when I can meet her. Make a 3:00 appointment for the autograph area.

1:20 PM – With lunch consumed, I begin wandering around at random, taking in the sights of the dealers’ room and looking for my friends; Marc, who is working as security all weekend and Katie, who is no doubt having screaming fangasms over everything she sees here.

1:43 PM – Another frightening observation about the costumes here. I see tons of girls dressed as the boy from Full Metal Alchemist and a few boys dressed in school girl outfits. I am both confused and horrified by this.

1:50 PM – Wandering over all the floors of the convention hall twice, I marvel at how today, I could not find any of my friends at random and yet I kept seeing the same morbidly obese fellow in a home-made Darth Vader costume over and over and over and over.

1:51 PM – True to dramatic form, Katie spots me as I am going down the escalator and she is going up. She grabs me and I am now less horrified and scared as I have someone who sort of knows her way around. She drags me to the dealers’ floor again along with her bodyguard for the day, whose name escapes me for the moment. We spend the next hour wandering around together.

2:06 PM – Note that Katie quite literally knows damn near everyone here and everyone she doesn’t know, she’s likely to run up and hug and talk to anyway. Too bad for me I’m involved as she confesses to me that this much cool stuff is a big aphrodisiac for her.

2:10 PM – Am reminded of my girlfriend yet again as a I find a costume store selling a pink chainmail bikini. For the record, this is because her favorite color is pink and her favorite comic heroine is Red Sonja. Wish she was with me and not for the first nor last time that day and not just because I want to see said outfit filled out.

2:18 PM- Another costume observation – the ninja mystique is pretty much killed when you are wearing clearly glasses under your mask.

2:20 PM – Katie stops at a button store. She buys me a little number that reads “I’m Famous on the Internet”. I think perhaps there should be one that says “I’m Infamous on the Internet”, given my reputation amongst some comic creators.

2:25 PM – Begin asking Katie if we can stop two minutes for a restroom break. She says sure and then just keeps on going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny on crack, but much less subdued. I repeat the request several times over the next ten minutes.

2:38 PM – Give up on penetrating fangirl haze. Leave to go to the restroom myself.

2:40 PM – Emerge from restroom after putting out a fire. Not surprisingly, Katie is out of view.

2:45 PM – Katie spots me again. Wander around the artist floor briefly before I part ways, insisting I have to go see my long-lost acting buddy who has apparently made quite good.

3:00 PM – arrive at the autograph area. Am amazed there is no line.

3:01 PM – have it pointed out to me that the line is in fact that small number of people who are slouching against the wall down the opposite hallway.

3:02 PM – I get in line and spend the better part of the next hour entertaining the two women in front of me. I am declared the most entertaining thing they’ve seen at the convention so far.

3:10 PM – The line moves for the first time.

3:40 PM – I meet Caitlin. To my surprise she not only remembers me but asks how my younger brother is doing. We catch up briefly and I give her my card.

3:45 PM – Go back to the game store and hem and haw about buying a book as a momento. Call my friend Christine to see if there’s any Babylon 5 game books she doesn’t have that are in the $5 box of this convention. Forget that she is likely still at work and can’t answer her phone.

3:50 PM – Decide against buying anything. Decide to drive to my friend Keith’s place, where we are having our weekly D&D game.

4:00 PM – Get out of downtown Dallas with surprisingly little trouble and get back on the freeway.

4:10 PM – Get off the freeway and try to cut through the burbs.

4:20 PM – Get turned around, go over the other freeway I meant to turn onto and begin trying to turn around.

4:23 PM – Am ticketed for making an illegal right turn. Am suddenly very thankful I decided not to spend anything on the emergency credit card. Note that there are three other people pulled over in the same area. Determine that it must be time to raise funds for the Policeman’s Balls.

4:45 PM – Arrive at Keith’s. Spend the rest of the night goofing off, eating pizza and generally recovering from the day.

In conclusion, it’s still possible to have fun at AKON even if it is not quite your thing. And if it is your thing, you could not ask for more in a Con.

Overall, even with the massive ticket I am now facing, I still consider it a good day. I had fun, which is more than I had at the last convention I was at. Because fandom is fandom and no matter where you go, people are pretty much the same. And a fat guy in drag is still disturbing be he in a Wonder Woman costume or a Sailor Scout uniform. Still, all the staff I spoke to were friendly, if confused about where some things were located. But with a con this big that is to be expected.

So maybe I’ll come back next year, even if I don’t come for free.

SPECIAL THANKS TO:

All the attendees of A-Kon 17.

All the staff and volunteers of A-Kon 17.

The staff of the Adams Mark Hotel of Dallas.

Christine, for loaning me her Internet connection to post this column.

Katie, for guiding me around the badlands.

Marc, who I didn’t see, but I’m sure was a good security guard.

Caitlin Tiffany Glass, for remembering.

Keith, Christine and Patrick for making sure I didn’t go insane Friday night.

Anyone who cares to donate to the Free Starman Matt fund (e-mail me for PayPal information)

The fine men and women of Police Departments everywhere, who are stuck in boring positions manning speed traps when they wanted to drive around fast and pistol-whip people like Sipowitz.

NO THANKS AT ALL TO:

My cable company, whose poorly trained and incompetent staff were responsible for you not getting a column last week and my not having Internet service at home for what is now going on week three.

The fat guy in the Sailor Scout costume.

The fat guy in the Sailor Scout costume’s mother or whoever let him leave the house like that.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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