This week's identity essay come courtesy of Ani-gamers contributor, loud music enthusiast and fellow wine-o, Ink...What I can I say about Ink. Alongside folks like Ed Sizemore, Evan Minto, and Daryl Surat, Ink is one of those guys who has had a profound impact on who I am, and what I do. I've met a lot of people during the course of blogging and field research, and become friends with a lot of them. Ink is one of those people. Be it thoughtful criticism, rumination or humorous observation, Ink has an opinion for everything. And those opinions tend to facilitate more discussion afterwards. You can check out his ramblings via Anigamers, where he is the resident "Drunken Otaku" reviewer and commentator.
In this essay, Ink touches upon a subject near and dear to me: conventions and developing a place in the community. His story, like those of many others, is one of self-discovery, and also of growth, both as a fan, and as a commentator of fandom.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If anything, memory is fickle. And since the memories that can be recalled with the greatest of ease are generally akin to the most extreme instances of blunt trauma, I have no choice but to name my first excursion to Otakon as my gateway to fandom. I had previously sat around watching Dragon Ball Z on VHS with friends and the [adult swim] block as habit-forming sleep aid, but acts such as those were merely ingestion. There was no deeper discussion, exploration, or involvement other than what was at my fingertips, and then I dug in.
As traumatizing as it was, I cannot recall the year of my first Otakon. I can, however, clearly recall the sensation of being a fish out of water. After catching sight of the costumes, after eavesdropping on conversations heard in passing betwixt fellow attendees, after being humbled as one amidst a crowd of many who related to the medium on a level way more so than myself, I remember distinctly turning to the friend who dragged me to the con and, flabbergasted, saying, “I kinda feel out of place not being in costume!”
At that time, fandom to me meant consumerism. This was in large part due to my friend’s approach to fandom, which consisted of endlessly circling the dealer’s room. Amidst the aisles and aisles of goods that couldn’t be found in most mall stores where either of us habituated, lived the essence of what we sought: more of the familiar as defined by a loose aesthetic combined with tie-ins to the unfamiliar. But the trek through the dealer’s room was a slow one, seeing as fandom for my friend also meant, as previously alluded to, cosplay.
My friend loved to cosplay, albeit in the aesthetic of a fandom which was outside the focus of the convention. He’d get stopped every few feet – he bore a striking resemblance to his chosen character and had a keen sense for costume design, thus equating in my mind an identification with character as proportion of fandom. The next Otakon I attended, as well as the Otakon thereafter and other subsequent cons, I cosplayed as well (both in line with themes and not).
The turning point in my fandom identity, however, can be associated with my attendance at a relatively small, local con – CPAC in Hoboken, NJ – for a few reasons. It was the first con I attended solo. There was zero friend influence; whatever was there that was capable of holding my attention is what would appeal to me. CPAC was also the first small con I’d ever attended. As such, the dealer’s room was comparatively abysmal, and I was forced to seek alternate avenues of entertainment. Programming suddenly became important.
I’d paid the entry fee, so there was no going home. Instead, I found myself in video screening rooms. As I was relatively new to the fandom, everything that was being shown was fresh to me and consequently a new discovery. This factors in later, when I become the media library for friends whom I help indoctrinate into and explore the fandom. But in those early years, not much of what the video rooms had to offer excited me. So I checked out the panel rooms.
In these rooms, I found fans engaging with fans on a level of fandom that was way over my head, and yet I was able to shrink back in a chair and observe without feeling pressed upon. It was in those rooms I first felt the raw energy of the fans on a wavelength I could comprehend, absorb, and thereby be enlightened and entertained. Be it trivia, academia, or thematic, the panels at CPAC and subsequent cons drew me deeper and deeper into the folds of fandom. And once upon a time, I actually ventured to interact with someone in the room.
This scraggly kid sat directly in front of me in an otaku game show panel, after which he handed out business cards in an attempt to recruit writers for his anime- and gaming-themed blog. I was looking to justify my love for this medium, and writing (academically oriented) – already a love of mine – seemed like a great opportunity to do so. It took me some months before I got back to him, but eventually that casual interaction upped my fandom ante. I became an aniblogger.
Blogging, as I was already well aware, requires constant content. In my own mind, providing that content meant stepping up my game in terms of exposure, con attendance, and education. I did all three. I watched more anime, I expanded my anime con attendance to include all conventions within my tri-state area, and I made attending panels at those cons my primary focus (which was easy given that they were what I ended up enjoying the most). But blogging didn’t stop at words on pages. Oh no, deeper down the rabbit hole I fell. After all, panels at cons have to be given by someone, right?
The editor for the blog to which I was recruited to contribute asked me about a panel on criticism and what he deemed “active viewing.” After looking over his questions for said panel, I suggested a few more of my own. Thus began the Ani-Gamers “Fandom & Criticism” panel (attend it whenever it appears at your local con), and my foray into speaking in addition to listening at cons. This venture was furthered by acquaintances who have been kind enough to ask me to be on their panels despite my previous lack of involvement within the community, and now I’m even debating the proposal of a few panels of my own imagining to broaden the offerings of the cons I’ve grown to know and love so well. Cons are one thing, but that is not where my fandom ends.
As a blogger, a writer, and an opinionated S.O.B. in general, reviews and the like are right up my alley. I’d been lucky in finding an accommodating avenue for my diatribes, academic and otherwise, pertaining to the cartoons I love, and that path has expanded the breadth of opportunity for my contributions to fandom. A content syndication contract via the blog for which I edit and contribute content and a reference to an esteemed print magazine – all courtesy of my editor, have thrust me into a greater limelight than I ever thought possible. Although I still think it an undeserving position, this is where I currently lay: a contributor to print and online media outlets, an editor for the latter, con attendee and reporter, panelist, and media connoisseur...and I wouldn’t have it any other way.