Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New York Anime Convention

After my positive experience with the comic convention in Philadelphia, I was curious to see what what the anime fans could get up to. I expected the usual trade show with lots of stuff and people dressed up as their favorite characters. I was not prepared to degree and depth they took their hobby. I expected lots of people dressed up, but many of them were traveling to the convention in costume. It was amusing that few of the subway travelers even noticed the outlandish characters.

Arriving at the convention center in New York, I was met with a line that stretched as long as football field. This wasn't the line to get tickets, this was the line to get inside. The place had been open for a couple of hours so I was convinced it was packed full of people. I was pleased to discover that it was not thronged with people, but quite spacious. A lot of young people were sitting on the carpeted floor, in small groups, examining their purchases or preparing their costumes. There were a lot of costumes. Most consisted of simple adornments like cat ears or capes, but I could see some fairly elaborate getups like the traditional Star Wars storm trooper. The New York Jedi club was also there and I spent a few minutes photographing one particularly ominous member.

After a quick tour of the trade exhibition hall, I wandered into the conference room area. There were numerous presentations in session, things like how to draw manga characters, how to write an anime storyboard, etc. A club had set up a mock dueling ring and participants were squaring off. Along the walls, people waited in line for the next session while they planned their day, pouring over the event schedule. A small stage was set up where musical performances and fighting exhibitions took place. What really caught my eye, however, were the people lined up outside a particular door. They were all eloquently dressed in costume.

Judges were determining which individuals or groups had the best outfits. The winners would be flown to Japan to compete as the American representatives.

Some characters were obviously from anime shows or manga comics, but others stood in an altogether separate genre. The Gothic Lolita style draws from Victorian era costume but adds a number of interesting twists. It's typically frilly and lacy but quickly diverges based on the taste of the woman. Black with white trim was very common, and traditional, but there were also white with black trim and pastel colors. The ideas is to dress up, but can also be used to dress down as there were some women who adhered to a punk Lolita style even horror and sadomasochistic inspired outfits.


I spotted an artist I met at the Philadelphia show. There he had made a gigantic chalk drawing of Superman and other DC heroes. This weekend he was hard at work, on elbows and knees, sketching a Japanese comic character. Barriers held back a small crowd watching him sprawled on the floor. When he completed the project, it was suspended for everyone to admire. It stood about ten feet high! He told me he preferred working on the manga characters because they had more depth and subtlety than superheroes.

Wandering the halls was a visual adventure. Around ever corner and leaning against every wall was a character from a Japanese cartoon. Some people put serious effort into their costume even though they were not entering the competition. They just enjoyed dressing up and acting like their favorite characters. I know some people shake their heads in wonder at this odd behavior but think nothing of fans going to a sporting event with faces painted with the colors of their home team.

One group that stood out was a Kabuki theater group putting on a Japanese opera version of King Lear. Their costume was both similar and radically different from the other people in the convention. I'm sure there's a doctoral dissertation awaiting someone who traces the dramatic caricatures of the Kabuki and No theater to modern manga and anime. The application of the makeup was quite interesting.
As expected, there were numerous artists at the convention. There were comic book creators, trinket designers, costume prop makers and folks making poster art of various sorts. Only one or two were doing caricatures. I spotted a kid with a remarkably good drawing and found out who did it. The artist was an MIT student who just started drawing a couple of years ago. Looking at samples of her work, I was convinced she'd been working on her craft since elementary school. For twenty bucks she turned me into a manga character.
You can see more images here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Civil War Reenactment

I hadn't been to the beach all year and I was really looking forward to it. I was driving down the Jersey shore on my way to Cape May. As I drove by the Historic Cold Spring Village, I noticed quite a few cars in the parking lot, but I also smelled something familiar: camp fires. I turned around and pulled in. When I found out where I was and what was going on, I decided to curtail my sunbathing plans and investigate.

The Historic Cold Spring Village consists of several historic (i.e., old) buildings recovered from the area, dismantled and rebuilt in their original form. The buildings are a fascinating step back in time. The village itself is animated by period performers familiar with the daily lives during this "homespun" era.

Traditional basket making.

Several groups of Civil War buffs had organized a battle reenactment in the old village. The rebels were camped on one side, the Union, the other.

The camp is peaceful and quiet.
The degree of authenticity of the performers was astounding. They use tents authentic to the era, complete with wool blankets and tared tarps to keep the rain off.

A game of chess eases the boredom as they wait for battle.
I had the opportunity to visit the two camps and chat with the animators. They do their best to keep the experience authentic. The one exception I saw was the modern design chairs. Although made with wood and canvas, they certainly didn't have them in the eighteen hundreds.

Muskets ready for action.
Like most specialists proud of their work, the participants were pleased to show off their uniforms and weapons. Many had complete back stories for the people they were portraying.

A naval officer grips his sword.
Inspection time.

Ready for battle.
When the battle lines were formed, the non-performing visitors were ushered into protected areas around a couple of buildings. The soldiers arranged themselves on opposite sides of the village and prepared for the attack performance.

From my "secure" location beside the ice cream parlor, I couldn't see all that was going on; which is probably what it was like for the soldiers themselves. In fact, once the fighting began, the air was so full of smoke it was surprisingly difficult to see through the trees.

The battle went back and forth for some time. I'm not exactly sure who won, but there were plenty of bodies lying around after the battle. The two "sides" lined up to clear their weapons then went back to their camps to get cleaned up and cook their supper.
Eventually, I did mange to get to the beach, just in time for sunset.

Sunset overlooking the wreck of a concrete ship.
See all the photos here.