I'm writing this amidst a haze of exhaustion that can only be caused by one thing – convention weekend. For those of you who have not experienced this brain numbing sensation, allow me to elaborate: my feet feel like those of a pregnant lady's, my back is destroying me from lugging around heavy cameras, and the colours of the "real world" just don't seem bright enough. People wearing normal clothes seem bizarre, and I'm wondering why I needed to spend my dinner money on that Japanese capsule toy of Rogue.
You see, I attend a decent amount of conventions – and when I say a "decent amount", I mean I don't really remember the last weekend that wasn't spent sleepless with the smell of dirty socks permeating the air. I began my convention "career" as a photographer for a professional cosplay (costume play) group, and from there my involvement began to spiral to the point where conventions are now a constant in my life. Now I wander conventions like the seasoned pro I am, my shiny media badge smacking satisfyingly against my stomach as I stride through the halls like I own the venue. Along with the whole writing thing I do, I'm still a pretty dedicated cosplay photographer, and I somehow find time within my busy schedule of interviewing comic book creators and drinking beer to shoot people who look as if they just stepped off the pages of a comic book.
Hardly one to discriminate, I find myself at the three main sort of conventions – comic book, video game, and anime. And after all this time, I have begun to see the intense differences between these subcultures, most particularly between anime and comic books.
I have always loved comic books – I remember being a little girl and reading X-Men under the covers by flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. But once I hit my preteens I was inevitably attracted to anime and manga, and I went through a brief fit of intense fandom for anything Japanese and big eyed. But the two things have always seemed very separate to me – I had my comic book friends and my anime friends. Very rarely do the two go hand in hand, which is confusing to me as I grow older, as I think that manga has a decent amount to offer to comic book fans.
However there are amazing differences between comic book and anime conventions. These became crystal clear to me this year when I stacked three conventions in one month long period. First I had Emerald City ComiCon here in Seattle, followed shortly by PAX East in Boston (a video game convention), and the con I am currently recovering from: Sakura-Con (also here in Seattle), perhaps the largest anime convention in the Pacific Northwest. With an attendance of about 30,0000 anime and manga fans, it was as if Seattle was invaded by aliens for the weekend. Seeing the difference even on the streets between ECCC and Sakura-Con was rather shocking. At ECCC, the uniform was jeans and a geeky t-shirt. At Sakura-Con, you stuck out like a sore thumb if you weren't cosplaying (I wore bizarre hats to make up for my lack of costume inadequacies).
One of the main observations I have made after countless conventions under my belt is this: comic book fans are the most attractive and socially adjusted of the geek subcultures. Perhaps this is a bold statement, but you should take it as a compliment. Comic book conventions always smell the best of all the cons, people seem to be friendly and quite approachable, and I have never seen a group of geeks that know how to party quite like comic book dorks. Compare this to the attendees of anime conventions, who are awkward, smell like the high school gym room, and feel the need to hug everything within a touching distance. That is not to say that anime fans, or "otaku" (which literally means "one who stays at home" but is a title many anime fans wear proudly) do not have their high points. They are intensely talented at cosplaying, probably know the most obscure things about equally unknown anime, and they have no qualms about talking to strangers.
Comic book conventions mean getting close to artists and writers you admire, and finding that back issue you have been looking for for months in the half off bin. Anime conventions don't have any real schedule, other than the awkward panels put on by attendees. They are basically just giant gathering places for people to show off their elaborate costumes and hang out with friends. The age median of anime conventions seems to be much lower than comic book conventions, so instead of afterparties drowned in booze there are "raves" hosted at the convention. Occasionally there are voice actors, or Japanese bands flown in, but it is much more a social exercise and one giant party.
Another strange thing I have noticed is the difference in sexuality and how it is viewed between these two subcultures. Anime conventions have girls dressed as boys, boys dressed as girls, and cats dressed like people. There is a tangible feeling of sexual frustration in the air, which is only perpetuated by the fact that most anime is subtly perverse. (In anime, there are always big breasted girls being captured by bizarre forest creatures, their unbound bosoms bouncing unrealistically under their lack of armor. The awkward nerdy boy somehow ends up with a harem of supermodel girls, all with various hair colours and belonging to different age groups, and he somehow always ends up pulling their towels off or accidentally going into the girl's hot spring.) You have to keep in mind that when I was a young teenager, I watched a lot of anime. As a result I also had an equally skewed view on sexuality and the way courtship rituals worked. I was painfully awkward until college, mostly because I thought anime was some sort of bizarre parallel of the real world.
Enter comics. The characters (these days) are down to earth with relatable characters and interesting back stories. Sure, they may be coming from fantastic worlds that are not feasible in our own reality, but the relationships and social interactions are still very genuine and real reflections of humanity in general. It is true that some guys may think they are Peter Parker and they can score a supermodel like Mary Jane, but it doesn't seem to encourage the kind of sexually charged and unrealistic view of relationships with fellow human beings like anime does.
Naturally, there are several other differences between these two main convention types, but sexuality, age range, and program schedules seem to be the most prominent. The geek world is not as black and white as outside observers may think – we are our own little society, often best illustrated by conventions. But why take these loose observations from me? You should go experience both comic book and anime conventions, if not just for the dealer's room and the people watching opportunities, which are fantastic.
Molly McIsaac points her camera at everything and enjoys fictional characters with green hair. You can stalk her to your heart's content on Twitter.