Check out our complete coverage of San Diego Comic-Con and Anime Expo. Read Liz Ohanesian's story "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Conned? The Search for Authenticity at Comic-Con 2010."
For us Southern California geeks, there is no shortage of fan conventions at our disposal. Our two biggies, though, are Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con International. Both draw over 100,000 attendees and feature a heavy industry presence, making them the events to hear breaking news regarding your fandom of choice.
Anime Expo takes place annually every Fourth of July weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center and is a genre-specific event, focusing on anime and manga with some Japanese fashion and popular music added to the mix. Comic-Con is a multimedia, multi-genre extravaganza held at the San Diego Convention Center in late July. They're very different conventions, but because of both the size and the timing, they consume us every July. Here's our comparison.
Comic-Con's exhibit hall is at least twice the size of the one an Anime Expo. It's also at least twice as crowded. The trick to getting around the Con exhibit hall is to avoid the center entrances. This is essentially the greatest hits section, where you'll find the bulk of the major media booths. Whether you're here on Preview Night or Sunday, it will be packed.
Anime Expo's exhibit hall seems to be friendlier to non-established artists. The artist alley is fairly large. You'll see a lot of artists working with different media, but the subject matter is frequently the same, with a heavy focus on fan art, occasional slash pairings and Lolita-friendly accessories.
Our pick: Comic-Con
Comic-Con has an amazing offering of panels. The problem, though, is that it can be very difficult to get into one. Comic-Con doesn't clear the room before each panel, so people frequently spend hours, if not an entire day, sitting through one panel after the next to see what they want. Nicole Campos wrote about the Hall H experience, which you should read for some background.
For a lot of fans, this situation is problematic. With so many of our favorite comics, series and movies in the same large convention center, it's only normal that we would be racing from panel room to exhibit hall to another panel room. Clearing out the room is a simple way to create a better fan experience. (And, in case you're wondering, we did get stuck in one line for so long that we almost didn't make it inside the room. We talked them into letting us in about fifteen minutes before the panel ended.)
At AX, rooms are cleared after the panels. If you want to see two panels in a row in the same space, you have to leave with enough time to line up again. The lines at AX can be very long, but they move quickly and the rooms are large enough where most, if not everyone, in line will get in much of the time.
Our pick: Anime Expo
There's more to a convention than panels and exhibit booths. Ideally, you want to have the chance to meet with your friends and make some new ones over the weekend. That's why meet-ups, tweet-ups and parties are crucial to convention culture.
At AX, most of the meet-ups revolve around cosplay. Fans of specific shows will designate a time and meeting place, usually somewhere between the convention and Staples Center, and gather for photos. In the evening, there are official con dances, an all-ages one and an 18+ event, that are kind of like a cross between a high school dance and a rave. Occasionally, there are other get-togethers. This year, we attended an anime blogger gathering, but missed special guest Danny Choo's meet-up. For the past two years, J-pop/J-rock club Tune in Tokyo has thrown an offsite event on the Fourth of July. The problem with AX, though, is the crowd is largely young, as in under-21 young, and downtown Los Angeles is a predominantly over-21 area at night. This makes the nighttime street scene surrounding AX kind of, well, boring.
With an older crowd and a lot of people in town on business, much of the action takes place in and around the bars of the Gaslamp Quarter. We hit The Wired Lounge, took in a superhero luncheon and attended parties hosted by Munky King and Geek Girls. We traveled far offsite to see Voltaire play live at the League of Temporal Adventures' Society Gala. We met new people at The Venture Bros. Blog tweet-up and hung out with our friends from Topless Robot at their parties.
Our pick: Comic-Con, as long as you're at least 21.
During our interview with Voltaire, the musician/artist described AX's ratio of non-cosplayers to cosplayers as "one to a thousand." Cosplay is incredibly important at AX. It's more than a creative outlet, it's an instant conversation starter. While every anime con we've attended has been cosplay-heavy, the range and quality of cosplay at AX cannot be beat. The crowd here is also on the forefront of the anime scene, cosplaying shows that are still in their "simulcast" streaming phase in the States (i.e., they haven't been dubbed and released on DVD yet). We actually found out about shows like Hetalia and Durarara!! because of cosplayers.
Consider us cosplay snobs who don't actually cosplay (it takes us enough time just to put together a Halloween costume), but we had a hard time trying to feel anything but ambivalence in this regard at Comic-Con. Comparatively speaking, there aren't as many people dressed as their favorite characters. There are also way too many "cosplayers" who are actually street teaming for companies. Despite this, we should give a special shout-out to the duo who showed up as the Doctor and Amy from Doctor Who. I had a geek attack at the Topless Robot tweet-up when I saw them and shouted over the music, "Shannon! Eleventh Doctor and Amy! We need a photo!"
Our pick: Anime Expo
If you go to the panels at Anime Expo, there will oftentimes be some really cool prizes. I have to admit feeling a twinge of jealousy when I saw the Nana goodies at Viz's panel this year. But, if free stuff is your thing, then Comic-Con is the place to be. It's entirely possible to fill the nearly floor-length Comic-Con bags with swag, particularly posters that will inevitably wrinkle by the time you get back to your hotel room.
Our pick: Comic-Con
Liz's Pick: Despite my criticism of the Hollywood blockbuster aspect of Comic-Con, it's still my favorite convention. There's a lot going on at the Con, so much that I feel like we only saw 1% of it over the course of five days. There are a lot of drawbacks, mostly the lines and the crowds, but it's the more diverse convention. Even when you're openly an anime nerd, there's only so much anime a girl can watch before longing for something else. I have other admittedly geeky interests and can satiate those needs at Comic-Con.
AX is definitely the more fan-friendly convention, but there's a social aspect to Comic-Con that I really like. The Con draws people from across the country, so this was our chance to meet-up with friends we have in other cities and people we only knew before through Twitter conversations. (Plus, I kept running into my hometown friends that I rarely get to see in L.A.) While that happens at AX as well, it's not to the same extent.
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Shannon's pick: In many ways AX give me a sense of exclusivity and shelter that I don't feel when being herded though the only crosswalk available or standing in line for almost two hours at Comic-Con. However, as much as I adore the countless megabytes of colorful images I take home from AX, I can't get past the joy of traveling by train to another city and enjoying a True Blood cocktail at the Merlotte's pop up bar in the Wired Café.
As I was leaving this year I noticed alongside the Tron lamppost banners the tagline for Comic-Con read, "Celebrating the popular arts" and that's exactly what it has become. I heard a lot of people complain about how "Comic-con isn't even about comics anymore" and "it's too mainstream and Hollywood," but at the end of the day I feel that Comic-Con knows what it has become and it is embracing fandom in any way it can. My pick is Comic-Con simply because it's the convention in which I feel like the biggest geek who is not alone.
For more unabashed geekiness, follow @lizohanesian and @ShannonCottrell on Twitter.