Con Season Begins: Comic Book vs. Anime Conventions

Emerald City ComiCon Ms. MarvelI'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.


  1. Anime conventions are super fun for the old "Is that a guy that you just checked out?" game

  2. The only convention I’ve been to is Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA.  It is neither a comics convention or an anime convention.  It covers many areas of fandom in a general way.  There are generally massive numbers of comics and anime fans there.  I’m planning to attend NYCC this fall, but am not enough of an anime fan to seek out an anime convention.  Interesting article.

  3. Oh and Welcome to iFanboy!

  4. @stuclach, NYCC and the NY Anime Festival are being combined this year, you will get to experiecnce both.

  5. @Meredith – Excellent!  I’m looking forward to it.

  6. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    We need more hotsprings in America. 

  7. Welcome to the site. Thank you, great article

  8. Megacon in Orlando is the only convention I’ve attended.  Yes, I clearly need to get out more. but that show does serve to meet my annual quota of dirty sock smell.  It seems that the percentage of anime (relative to mainstream comics) at this convention has steadliy, and very noticeably, been growing over time.  Definitely the most Sailor Moon costumes I ever imagined seeing in one place.

    I had wondered if this was a country/global convention-wide phenomenon  Many moons ago, I’d thought anime may be a passing fad but that’s obviously not the case.  Anime is not my cup of sencha, but I do have to give credit to the anime/manga fans.  It’s definitely an "exhuberent" fan base who are not at all shy about doing their thing.

    Lastly, what is up with the wandering bands of teenagers wanting to hug people?  Is that also a convention-wide thing?  Is this some sort of "how EMO can you go" contest?  I may need to start arming myself with pepper spray at these shows.

  9. I took my fiance to Wizard World Philly for our second date, at her behest! She had never even read a comic, much less been to a con, and the sock smell didn’t keep her from sticking around. It’s how I knew she was the one.

  10. Good Read, thanks! I had like one spiderman comic that my dad bought me back when they sold comics at pharmacies but that was it. I grew up pretty poor so it never became a regular thing. I actually started with manga. I made a friend out of our mutual love for Sailor Moon, and she started lending me Fishugi Yugi, Inu Yasha, and my all time favorite story Battle Angel Alita. I don’t keep up with manga anymore except of course for Battle Angel Alita which everyone who likes story told through art should read! I always did love all the gender bender stuff(see Basara), but I could never get into the romantic comedy/super-soft core porn stuff which for some reason is widely available and I have even seen it at the library in the kids section, do they even know whats in those books? Its hard to be dedicated to two equally consuming hobbies, I have put aside my love for Metal, anime and manga to focus on Comics. Being a fan ain’t easy but somebody’s got to do it. I just imagined a Metal Head Convention, wow someone needs to do one of those.

  11. That may be the best litmus test for selecting a prospective mate (or the worst)

  12. @PaulMontgomery–Because of your icon, I always read your comments and end them with a wink. This time, I think it worked out, haha.
    @Molly–Good read, look forward to more of your fine writing.

  13. Last year, I went to the New York Anime Con, which was the first anime con I had ever attended. Before that, I went to many comic cons, and expected this one to be like those. However, my experience was a lot like you described, as both the atmosphere and perople were a bit different. Everyone was trying to hug everyone and yell "Free Yaoi!"

    I also noticed something else. At the comic cons, there are sections and vendors who don’t sell comics, but DVDs and different geeky nick-nacks. At the anime con, it seemed to be JUST those vendors, and so the overall floor space was a bit smaller. It was interesting, though, and I’ll definitely check it out again at this years NYCC.

  14. i find it funny that I am a life long comic book fan, and I have a passing interest in anime, but I’ve only been to an anime convention, mostly because as stated in this article a group of my anime friends were going to ACEN and I went with them, and this article really describes my overall impression of the convention. And now its given me hope for when I do make it to a real comic convention.

  15. Also, I very much would like to attend Otacon down in Blatimore. I heard that it is massive.

  16. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    First of all, thanks everyone for the response already! I am blushing.


    @zenman… Yes, the hugging or "glomping" (tackle hugs) is an anime convention wide thing. As I stated in the article, I feel like anime gave me these misguided teenagers a skewed view on how social interaction works, so they think that running and hugging some stranger they want to get to know is a good way of saying "hello". A unique phenomenon to the conventions I have attended in the Pacific Northwest is something that the participants call the "glomp circle". I have never become involved, because it terrifies me, but basically a group of convention attendees stand in a big circle, kick a bottle, and whoever it lands on they have to "glomp". It’s like spin the bottle with dangerous tackle hugs. 

  17. I think a lot of what you said here is right, but I think a LOT of that has to do with the fact that Comic Book fans in general are MUCH OLDER then anime fans. You have a lot more 13-17 year olds running around at an anime con then you do at a comic con.

    NYCC will be interesting this year since it combines both cons together.

  18. I’ve never been to a "true" comic convention. I meet Kirkman at a make shift con in Lexington, KY at a Ramada Inn. It was just him and some local talent and a few vendors.  Me and a friend showed up at the last minute still hungover from the night before.  I had fun and was glad to meet Kirkman.  I also went to a anime convention, Sugioh Con, a few years back in northern KY.  I love anime and manga but I did feel very out of place there.  I felt like the only one not in cosplay or some sort of steam punk gear.

  19. Very interesting article; as somebody who frequents many comic conventions but never an anime one this did a great job of giving me some insight into the other half.  Not to mention it spurred on some interesting comments below.

  20. @Molly – Thanks for clearing up the hugging thing for me.  I know there are much worse things than hugging, but it was a wee bit off-putting.  I really don’t want a Sailor Moon clad teen trying to hug me (not to mention the legal implications).  Perhaps a future article could suggest tactics to evade these roaming hug mobs.

    I might actually however dig the glomping as it sounds a bit like a rugby scrum (or one of my many past mosh pit adventures).  I look forward to the day when I can shake my fist and yell, "Hey you kids, stop glomping on my lawn!"

  21. Those anime Sailor Moon chicks sure are hotter than the American Comics chicks….Those are chicks, right?

  22. I can’t say I’ve ever been to an anime convention. But, I do love going to comic conventions. I particularly like the smaller cons where it’s not so much about the big time creators, but those up and comers and the great artists/writers from the 80’s that never got their due. Plus, in the smaller cons, the 50 cent bins are in rare form!

     An interesting article. It was nice to see a comparison because I do have friends who are Manga/anime fans, but they don’t like comic books. It was nice to see someone who looked at things from both sides.

  23. OMG! I WAS JUST WRITING MY REVIEW on Sakuracon for another site an hour ago. I totally compared it to ECCC and why ECCC was a more successful convention.

  24. @KickAss: After years of attending conventions I have developed an eye for who is who. All of the Sailor Scouts are girls with the questionable exception of Venus and Uranus. I can’t tell if they have an atom’s apple or not. But Uranus looks slightly manlike. It could really go eitherway if you think about it.

  25. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    @KickAss, yes, they are chicks. I took their photograph at Sakura-con this last weekend; they are incredibly good Sailor Moon cosplayers.

    @Mangaman, I would love to read that.

  26. Always wanted to go to a Comic Book convention, never had the disposable income until this year.

  27. I just read this and was amazed at how closely this resembled a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago between a friend and myself. The only diffrence is you said it with more intelligence and refrained from saying "dude" every other sentance, which is unfourtanetly a claim I cant make for the conversation I was involved in. Great read, looking forward to more!

  28. …comic book fans are the most attractive and socially adjusted of the geek subcultures.

     I made this same observation working for my comic shop’s stall at Anime Boston last weekend  ^_^

  29. Wow, this was a really good article. Interesting observation, I think I’m going to check out the anime con in Atlanta one of these days.

  30. Great Article.  It hits on many of the major differences I found between the two conventions myself.  I loved how you brought up organization.  Since It’s the complete disorganization of one of the Anime Cons I went to that I haven’t gone back to one since.  Not that it wasn’t fun, but I had a bad experience to begin with.  I may go check one out again in the future, but not any time soon.  It is also very weird that it’s essentially a three day party.  Although there seems to be a shift in Comic Cons to run events later, which I think comes from the popularity of this at Anime Conventions.  Anime Hell at the convention I went to was in the biggest room and had the most people, running from midnight to 1 AM.

    I also find it really weird that Anime and Comic fans don’t intertwine more often.  I love both and the biggest reason is the art.  You would think it just goes together.

    Welcome to iFanboy Molly! 

  31. Cool article. I’m going to my first con this year and am looking forward to see what kind of people I meet, and what costumes I see. 

    Welcome to Ifanboy 

  32. From my little corner of the English countryside these conventions always seem so totally alien, and yet I’m very envious of such huge gatherings of people with so much in common.  Still, it’s extremely gratifying to learn that, of all the geek subcultures, we are the most well adjusted.  I salute us!

  33. Great article.  My anime loving daughter just went to one.  This article helped me understand it better.

    If measuring a con’s success is in how much fun someone has, whether they make friends, and have a good growth social experience, the Boston Anime convention was a huge success for her. 

    And, if hugging too much is wrong, do you really want to be right?

  34. I stumbled on this article after browsing for information on a licensed, untranslated fighting game (Nanoha A’s for PSP, if you were wondering), and then noticing an article on the same blog about comics conventions versus anime cons.

    It doesn’t appear any commenters have attended video game-centered conventions. I’ll be attending Penny Arcade Expo in the near future. Since I’ve been a video game fan for over twenty years, I’m curious to see if the convention is enjoyable, and I hope I’ll get along well with its attendees.

     I attended Wizard World Chicago in 2008 and 2009. The con’s artist alley was a decent experience, but I wasn’t interested in most of the dealer’s room, and I didn’t have time to attend panels. The fans in attendance were mostly male in 2008, but a more mixed crowd appeared in 2009. In both events, many of the fans seemed to be adults. Overall, it wasn’t a bad experience… but not all that relevant to my interests. I’ll see if C2E2 is any different.

     I have attended Anime Central since 2006, and I’ve occasionally attended Anime Weekend Atlanta and two smaller but similar cons. While I freely admit that anime cons have a large number of annoying teenagers, I didn’t have to go far to find fellow adults. Likewise, I avoided panels that didn’t match my interests. Even though I respect "yaoi-and-Pocky" fans, I chose to find fans whose tastes are similar to mine.

     If you were curious, my interest in comics is fairly limited. Like Scott McCloud, I also have to admit that I didn’t care about mainstream comics when I was young. So until a friend lent me a trade paperback of Elfquest, I didn’t know that there were non-superhero, non-newspaper comic books… and I didn’t know that trade paperbacks existed. Jeff Smith’s Bone is my all time favorite comic. I’m not currently following any series.

     Likewise, if you’re curious, I became an anime fan when a friend lent me a Slayers TV series VHS tape. Yes, I freely admit that Sturgeon’s Law ("ninety percent of everything is crud") applies to anime and related media. And yes, there are a lot of embarrassingly stereotypical series. However, I’ve found a wide number of series which I enjoy. I’m currently reading and liking Fujoshi Rumi, Detroit Metal City, Yotsuba, and Franken Fran. Recently, I’ve watched and liked Pretty Cure, Hikaru no Go, and Castle in the Sky. And in related media, I’ve become a fan of Hanako Games’ independent games, as well as the freeware title RE: Alistair.

  35. @caddyalan if you are attending PAX Prime (Seattle) its a glorious event.  I would say in retrospect to the article, its more inline with a comic and not anime convention.  Though there are cosplayers at PAX, there are many more t-shirt and shorts people walking around.  

    I was re-reading the article and came up with a interesting theory.  

    I think the smelly factor, is in effect do to certain cons, never closing.  Anime (at least SakuraCon), and the variety of Gaming cons that I attend.  ALL have smelly people issues.  This to do to people never leaving the convention floor/panel rooms, staying up for 2 or three days straight, never going to their hotel room.  People don’t want to waste any time at the conventions, since its sometimes their only time of the year to fully geek out.

    Comic conventions, SDCC, EMCC, Wizards (yes i admit to going to one), all have the best idea, closing at night.  Giving you the luxury of the possibility of sleep. Though comics people know how to keep the day going with drinking.  But everyone gets a couple hours of sleep, and showers (well most do).

    I think thats the main factor for smelly or not.  But thats just the Pope’s theory. 

  36. @odare77. i would very much like to see one of these things too. i don’t think we have anything like it here in sydney, tho i went to a star trek convention a couple of times and that wasn’t too bad. all these cons sound fascinating. comic con, anime con, transformers con? and ha, it was all lies, we don’t smell bad at all! hurray us!

  37. @caddyalan: welcome to ifanboy. I too got hooked into comics because of Elfquest, but more importantly it was Elfquest that got me hooked into independent works in 1994 in a Toronto library. It blew my mind so not too long after that I found my very first comic shop and the rest is history.

  38. Oh dear. I don’t even know where to start.

    "There is a tangible feeling of sexual frustration in the air, which is only perpetuated by the fact that most anime is subtly perverse"

    This is clearly different from the spine-shattering poses the half-naked female characters in western comics always take when they aren’t stuffed into fridges. I’m sorry, but anime is tame in comparison. Oh, sure, if you ignore most of it, focus on the fanservice subgenres (which are totally worse than batman scenes by Jim Lee where he lets Vicky vale run around in sexy lingerie for pages upon pages, right? Right? Totally different, right, except that it’s exactly the same thing), and compare it to every western comic ever, it looks different.

    That’s like comparing shoujo manga to the collective work of Greg Land and declaring all western art is therefore done by tracing porn. You cannot compare like that, it’s dishonest and manipulative.
    I understand that you want western comics to look better, but lying to reach that is pretty silly. Especially when western comics objectively…are extremely sexually charged, far more than the average anime.

    For one, not all anime heroines are super models or half naked most of the time. Makes sense, western comics still are largely aimed at younger males (hey, remember Heroes for Hire #13? Nice cover, supports your point perfectly!), while anime is aimed at a much bigger demographic, including women, men, girls, and boys.

    Ignoring this and pretending otherwise is just lying. Nothing else.

    Same as the "The characters (these days) are down to earth with relatable characters and interesting back stories." part. That’s just laughable. Sure, if you only watch teenage-male aimed anime, it’s true. Sadly, there’s far more than that.

    Why are fans of western comics always so insecure and need to pretend that western comics are more mature and even "less perverted", when in reality, that’s just not a feasible argument and can be proved wrong with laughable ease?

    As for smell, comic cons usually are slightly worse, mostly because anime cons have a lot more female attendants, who simply know how to care for their bodies more than the male attendants do (sorry guys, but you know it’s true).
    Anime/manga is generally more friendly for the female audience, after all.
    The bigger problem at anime cons is stuff like younger cosplayers not knowing about etiquette in some cases, like doing hitler salutes in public ( Anime Boston recently had ten fangirls pulling that out of ignorance, for example) or failing utterly at handling flags. That’s pretty bad, really, and what really stinks at some anime cons.

    And yes, I’d argue that Hitler saluting is worse than some guy not knowing how to wash himself.

  39. @ Karren, did you actually read the article?  The points you bring up actually have little to do with the conventions, were are the point of this article. The material in the comics and manga, has little to do with how these conventions are ran.  

    Also, you keep switching back and forth betwen anime and manga, these are too different beasts. 

    And shame on you for bringing up Greg Land and tracing.  Tracing is how Manga is created.  Though there may be one "creator" or "artist" list on the manga, in most cases (meaning anything profitable and brought over to the US) it is a team of artists, tracing and copying poses, previous art etc… to create the manga.

    One word for your your "less perverted" arguement which you technically counter yourself, with the Heros for Hire agrument. HENTAI.  that cover was created by a famous HENTAI artist from Japan.  We had a cover, manga has series.  Big difference.

    I wonder if you come from WOW forums? It only took 2 days to bring Hitler into the conversation.

  40. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    I am not going to address anyone directly here, but for the people who have been discussing this on forums and for some of the comments I have received:


    You need to pay more attention to what I am saying in the article. I CLEARLY state that I very much enjoy anime and manga, I was merely making observations about the fandom in general. I am not trying to tout that Western Comics are better in any way, all I said is that comic conventions just seem to be cleaner and more sophisticated.

    Also, for those who have said that I have "obviously" only been to one or two conventions: I counted, and in the last two years I have been to over 20 conventions. Out of those conventions, only about SEVEN were not anime conventions. 

  41. Alright! Hitler was brought up, so now we’ve got a party.

  42. Interesting article although everything below the Salior moon cosplayers seemed really off-topic. Also I would disagree that comic book fans are the most attractive and socially adjusted of the different fandoms.

    I’m curious why the author started talking about fans of videogames and than just left it alone to focus on anime versus comics. I would say the difference I have seen is the former is generally younger and more social with everyone, while the latter is older and keeps to themselves for the most part unless they are talking to a creator. As for videogame fans I would say they are the most akward and for the most part are just obsessed with playing as much new games that either just came out or are going to come out as they can. This is all of course a generalization.

  43. @Karren

    I read about half a volume of GTO. That was way more perverted than any Western comic that sold any reasonable amount of copies that wasn’t actually classified as porn. 

  44. I only addressed anime/manga and comics because ifanboy is a comic book website <3