Tales Of The Industry Trapped at a Convention
by Justin Sevakis,
Welcome to “Tales of the Industry,” a column where we will share stories from real working professionals in the anime business. Some weeks will have anonymous tales contributed by current and former members of the industry, with details changed/removed to protect their jobs. Other weeks, they will be stories from the author's personal history. They're the things that the pros wish they could tell you.
Are you a current or former member of the anime business or convention staff? Do you have a story you've been dying to tell, but just can't tell it the normal way? Get in touch with Justin Sevakis through any social media you like. His Twitter account is @WorldOfCrap, if you aren't acquainted.
One of the unexpected perks of my gig at Central Park Media was getting to work conventions. As long as the production department could spare me for a Friday (and possibly a Thursday), I was free to volunteer to help the sales team out by going to one (usually a local one) and working the booth. Not having gotten to attend many shows during my earlier days, I was pretty excited -- I finally got to see the big shows like Otakon and Anime Expo, and quite a few smaller East Coast shows like Animazement and I-Con. CPM paid for my transportation, hotel and food. In exchange, the sales team got a guy who actually watched the shows we were selling, and could make recommendations to customers. It worked out well for all of us.
It was during these shows that I would meet some of my lifelong friends (and current coworkers and colleagues). I got to feel like a big shot as I hung out with other industry folks, and occasionally host a panel. Mind you, I had to also work the booth for 6-8 hours a day, but having once worked at an EB Games, I certainly didn't mind. I actually kind of enjoyed the fast pace and forced cheerfulness of a retail transaction.
Running the convention booth for CPM was a barebones affair. We had a small stand-up display, to which we affixed a few posters. We had a bunch of tables, and we had boxes of stuff to sell. That was pretty much it. The booth functioned primarily as CPM's garage sale: we were sitting on hundreds of thousands of units of VHS tapes, and with the DVD era beckoning, they were starting to become worth less and less to retailers across the country. We'd start off selling them at $10-15 per tape, but as the convention dragged on, we'd cut our prices to the point we were nearly giving them away. We also had a stockpile of old soundtrack CDs, Windows 3.1-era screensavers (comprised entirely of low-resolution QuickTime movie clips), and piles of posters. The goal was to ship nothing back to the warehouse.
This was an era in which other companies were investing huge amounts of money into booths that were fancy looking, but didn't actually achieve much. ADV's was easily the most excessive, complete with elevated platform, from which they would bang a drum, and wait for the entire showroom to descend upon their booth, whereupon they would toss out some T-shirts and other free swag. (This pretty much brought all other business in the room to a complete halt, and other vendors complained until the conventions eventually made ADV stop.) I can't say I didn't look up at their booth with a little bit of envy, but then someone older and smarter than me would inevitably mutter an estimate of how much money they were spending, and I felt pretty good about the fact that we were walking away from the convention having actually MADE money.
Talking directly to fans and helping them pick out shows that they might like was incredibly fun and rewarding. Inevitably, after a few conventions, I found my niche. I would stand at the table where we had our box of hentai, and I would shout the most ludicrous marketing slogans for them I could think up. "Hentai anime! Get it while it's still warm!" would eventually turn into lines like, "Get yet hentai on DVD! They're easier to clean!"
This attracted a lot of chuckles and attention, and actually did inspire sales, and yet seemed to offend no one. The one time I worried I'd gone too far was at Animazement in Durham, NC, where a middle aged man who looked like a deacon at his local church walked slowly over to the hentai, peered down at it, carefully flipping through the discs. But then he looked up at me and said in a thick Southern accent, "people ask me what kind of pornography I like. I like the anthropomorphic pornography." And with that, he walked away.
But out of all the conventions I worked, there's one that stands out to me as particularly weird: a smaller, female-oriented con that took place at a hotel in the suburb of New Brunswick, NJ known as ShojoCon. I can find only the most scant evidence of this show's existence today, but the convention itself had some bizarre iconography going for it: the boyfriend of one of the chairwomen was declared the official con mascot, presumably because he was a scrawny guy that they referred to as a "bishounen." He was immortalized in artwork on every sign for the show, as well as the website and program guide, and every portrayal was of him in a spiked dog collar and mesh T-shirt, being led around on a leash by his cackling girlfriend. I'm sure things like this happen at smaller conventions to this day, but those generally aren't the shows that professionals attend. Even though I was the same age as most of these people, it kind of felt like revisiting high school.
CPM didn't really have THAT much shojo anime, so the sales team had me list the shows for them that could conceivably be considered shojo, and they put in the order with the warehouse. When we arrived to the show, we got to the dealers' room (in the small hotel ballroom), expecting to find a few pallattes of boxes containing our product. However, there was nothing there. Marvin, one of our sales guys, made some calls. Something had gotten screwed up, and not only was none of our product here, but none would be coming, either. Overjoyed with the prospect of having a weekend to themselves again, he and the rest of the sales guys quickly got the hell out of there.
But I didn't really have anywhere to go. I was where I wanted to be, at an anime convention, and dammit if I wasn't going to have fun that weekend. The hotel room was already paid for. I was alone, and free to do whatever I wanted.
Small conventions, however, are not much fun alone. After exhausting the small dealer's room, the one or two panels, and the video rooms that were playing stuff I'd already seen, I was bored out of my mind. I went to eat, I spent some time in the deserted hotel pool. After seeing the convention chairwoman and her scrawny boy-on-a-leash pass me in the hall for the fifth time, I decided to try to make some new friends. I wandered around until I heard some friendly conversation about a show I knew something about.
"There's only one Saber Marionette, and that's the one with Megumi Hayashibara in it," someone said.
Trying to sound friendly, I stopped and interjected as politely as I could. "Uh, well, there's two TV series, J and J to X, and two OAVs too. They both have Megumi Hayashibara." Correcting each other on obscure pop-culture minutiae, after all, is the most celebrated nerd bonding ritual there is.
The guy I spoke to stopped, and faced me with a bored look on his face. "ACTUALLY I was referring only to R, which was the original canon from the original radio drama," the guy said. He clearly knew way, way more about Saber Marionette than I did -- I didn't even like the show that much. But I nodded politely, and he seemed happy to continue. "Then after that OAV was the J radio drama, and then that gave birth to the TV series J and its sequels..."
While he was speaking, and while he was making eye contact with me, he raised his hand up to his face. Without breaking sentence cadence or tone of voice, his index finger penetrated a nostril. And in, it plunged. Deeper. Deeper. He twisted it, finding a target, and then -- after what seemed like hours -- retreating back out bearing a large and particularly wet looking payload.
I froze, unable to comprehend what I just witnessed. He was still talking, but he broke eye contact to look around. He spotted an upholstered couch near to where we were standing, and -- his recitation of Saber Marionette-related facts uninterrupted -- he smeared his substantial nasal ejaculate onto the fabric.
I stood there, temporarily unable to move or form words. Finally, fight-or-flight instinct kicked in. Still aiming for politeness, I managed to say, "I'm sorry -- I can't talk to you anymore." And I ran. Oh, god, how I ran.
Weirdly, that weekend at the same hotel, was a convention for water-cooled Volkswagon enthusiasts. The attendees were, to a fault, athletic, WASPy young upper-middle class males, flanked by their gorgeous and well-dressed girlfriends. This led to some bizarre interactions.
One such car-jock girlfriend was waiting in the hotel lobby as her boyfriend dragged a suitcase to the front desk. She then noticed that a gaunt, oddly-costumed young man was clumsily peering at her from behind a pillar. He wasn't trying to stay hidden, but chuckled to himself as if he were a comic relief cartoon villain. Confused, she asked, "what are you doing?"
"Heh heh, I'm schtalking youuu!"
"Oh. My. GOD." the woman replied, more appalled than upset. After witnessing that interaction, I decided I had to leave before things got any more horrifying. There was a shuttle bus that was running back into New York City. I packed my bag and leapt onto it and never looked back.
There was never another Shojocon. I'd heard rumors that internal politics did it in. Nothing I experienced that weekend was particularly the con's fault, or anybody's fault, really -- I learned since that sometimes you just don't have a good time at a convention. But I'll always remember that particular incident as the first chink in the armor, the first time that I was surrounded by otaku, and yet had nothing in common with any of them. I felt like an adult male at a boy band concert: simply not the intended crowd.
It was a small realization, but an important one. When you're working with anime day in and day out, needing to be consumed with details like getting a show's copyright line correct, or following the instructions of a particularly strict licensor, that the normal chatter of fans loses some of its appeal. I needed a life outside of anime, because having the world of otaku as both my daily life and my entire social circle just wasn't cutting it anymore.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the expressing party and do not necessarily reflect those of Anime News Network, it's staff, or it's owners. While Anime News Network will never knowingly publish a false or inaccurate story, please remember that there are two (or more) sides to every story.
If you are a current or former anime industry professional and have a story to share (we can keep everyone anonymous), get in touch with Justin Sevakis via social media.
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