See more photos in Shannon Cottrell's gallery, “Pacific Media Expo 2011.”
Sunday afternoon at Pacific Media Expo, a small room on the second floor of the LAX Hilton was filled with a handful of people armed with their gorgeous, often strangely human looking, ball-jointed dolls. The customizable, collectible and pricey dolls, typically sculpted from resin, come from a variety of Asian companies.
Volks, from Japan but with an outpost in Torrance as well, is probably the best known of the Asian ball-jointed doll (ABJD) companies. They're responsible for Dollfie, Super Dollfie and Dollfie Dream. The latter of these models, which are made from vinyl instead of resin, recently swelled in popularity after being features on Danny Choo's website, Culture Japan. Brands like Korea's Luts and China's Dollzone are also popular.
Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, ABJDs gained a large following in the United States (I first wrote about them for L.A. Weekly, focusing on Korean brand Efldoll, in 2008). Collectors get together on web forums like invite-only site Den of Angels to share tips on buying an customizing dolls. They share photos on Flickr and often meet up in person at events across the country.
Anime conventions are a common spot for meet-ups, as there is some crossover between the ABJD community, anime fandom and the Lolita fashion community. While some conventions feature a panel or two on collecting ABJDs, Pacific Media Expo upped the ante this year by building a programming track around the hobby.
Diem Pascarella, who ran this year's ABJD programming, says that while this fan community has long had a presence at PMX, the convention hopes to expand on this. For the 2011 show, ABJD programming was limited to one day, although, there was a meet-up on Saturday, and it featured six panels, including a costume contest.
I don't have an ABJD (though, I do have a dream of someday owning an army of ball-jointed David Bowies), but found the few panels I attended really interesting. The day started with a 101-style session, where collectors ran down the frequently asked questions about the dolls, including pricing. ABJDs are pretty expensive. You can safely expect to spend a few hundred dollars on one, plus clothing and shoes can cost as much as their human-sized counterparts. The panelists did point out, though, that ABJDs often cost much more on the resale market. This is because many of the dolls are limited edition and they do sell out fast.
Later in the day, ABJD aficionado Colleen Kao held a demonstration panel on faceups. Ball-jointed dolls frequently come with blank faces, so faceups have become a common way of customizing the dolls. Artists like Kao, who are often hired for commission work by other doll owners, use pastels and other materials to alter facial features or just create natural and made-up looks.
The inclusion of ABJD programming is a really smart move for Pacific Media Expo. As Pascarella says, PMX is about “culture, pop culture and underground culture.”
Though PMX is frequently included as part of the anime convention circuit, bringing in largely the same crowd that attends events like Anime Los Angeles and Anime Expo, it has a distinct identity. There is anime-related programming, but it's not the focus of the show. Instead, PMX strives to bring a wide variety of Asian and Asian-American entertainment to Los Angeles over the course of three-days. Music and fashion are integral of the event. This year's big guests were Japanese visual kei band D and popular Lolita fashion brand Atelier-Pierrot. The video screening rooms featured a mix of both animated and live action TV series and films. Martial arts tournaments took place over the course of the weekend. That ABJDs are now officially a part of this great mix of programming is certainly good news for fans of the dolls.