There are some weekends when there is really too much going on in and around Los Angeles. Take this past one as an example.
Pacific Media Expo, an Asian pop culture convention, brought music, fashion and animation to the LAX Hilton over the course of three days. DesignerCon packed loads of up-and-coming and established artists into the Pasadena Convention Center. Meanwhile, Bent-Con celebrated LGBT comics and entertainment in Burbank.
I only had one free day, Saturday, to attend any conventions and couldn't decided which one I wanted to attend. In the end, I decided to spend roughly 2-3 hours at each event. It seemed like a daunting challenge, since the venues are nowhere near each other. With some careful planning, though, the Three Cons, One Day challenge became a reality.
Convention: Pacific Media Expo
Location: LAX Hilton
At 9:30 on a Saturday morning, Pacific Media Expo (PMX) was still rubbing the sleep from its eyes. Vendors were setting up their booths inside the exhibit hall and artist alley. The fashion boutiques and Maid Cafe had yet to open. The panel rooms were empty. Inside the hotel lobby, small groups of people were already decked out in costume. The younger ones, the ones still filled with lots of teenage energy, ran up and down the staircase. The older ones, hung around the seating area.
There were different cosplay “zones” inside the hotel that dictate what is and isn't appropriate to wear. In the Red Zone, which included the lobby, “partial nudity” was prohibited, as were masks. There were also plenty of reminders to keep those big, expertly crafted, prop weapons inside the convention. “It's just common sense,” someone inside the registration room told me. Because of the conventions proximity to LAX, the props were a bigger concern this year. Prior to the con, PMX had advised con-goers to keep those props out of sight when heading to and from the event.
I attended a panel called “Get to Know Your Creepers/Trolls 101.” It was about harassment, currently a hot topic on the convention scene. There were about 25 people in the room excluding the four panelists. That's a pretty good number for the first panel of the day in this room.
A young woman named Tomoyo-Chan appeared to be the leader of the session. She was wearing a half-pink/half-lavender wig with long pigtails and a big hair bow. It's a look that's become quite popular with female anime convention attendees in recent years.
She talked about the unwanted attention she's received from others in the community at conventions and at the cosplay meet-ups that she helps organize. She reminded the crowd, “Speaking up can help them back away.”
Kris Zoleta, PMX's photographer, mentioned that people who use a camera as a means of harassing patrons creates a “sense of mistrust between cosplayer and photographer.” Right now, he indicated, that makes it more difficult for cosplayers to trust legit photographers.
They moved into discussing the “psychology of a creeper.” How do we know the difference between “intentional” and “unintentional creepers,” people who are socially awkward and those whose intents are malicious?
By 10:30 a.m., the crowd inside the venue had grown immensely. Through the hallways and downstairs in the lobby, there were people dressed as anime characters past and present. There were also a lot of folks — mostly female — dressed in Japanese fashion styles like Lolita.
PMX is well-known for its fashion programming and has spent years bringing popular designers to the United States. This time, the fashion Guest of Honor was Mari Nakamura, whose exquisite designs appear under the brand name Juliette et Justine. This is a brand that's become quite popular with Lolita fashionistas in the U.S. Juliette et Justine dresses are valued in part for their sublime prints, many of which are based on age-old paintings.
Overall, there were three boutiques stocked with a variety of brands that could be hard to find in the U.S. Lolita labels were the most common. There were some more conventional looks, like those from Japan's Liz Lisa, available as well. This year, steampunk gained a foothold at PMX. Burbank's Clockwork Couture had a pop-up shop at the convention. The sci-fi genre-turned-subculture infiltrated panel programming this year as well. I checked out a discussion on steampunk in Japan right before leaving for the next convention.
Location: Pasadena Convention Center
DesignerCon isn't a fan convention so much as it is a giant art fair with an emphasis on pop surrealism, designer toys and graphically interesting odds and ends. It's a two-day event marked by artist signings, live painting sessions and lots of shopping. It would be unwise to come to DesignerCon without cash to spend. There's a lot to see here and the bulk of it is for sale.
On Saturday afternoon, the small exhibit hall at the Pasadena Convention Center was full. There were occasional moments of gridlock as crowds swelled around certain booths, but it was fairly easy to navigate. In roughly two hours, I made several journeys up and down the aisles of the show floor, stopping at booths and chatting up artists. Chet Zar, hot off the heels of his “Egodeath” show at Copro Gallery, was here. So was Jon Schnepp, who is well known in the animation world for his work directing Metalocalypse and The Venture Bros. He was at Designer Con with his Super Robot Challenge Man toys. Giant Robot, the Westside boutique and art gallery, brought their wares to the convention, as did a host of other well-known locals.
DesignerCon is sensory overload. From Ion Tallman's customized Blythe doll to Kiyoshi Nakazawa's collage made with vintage stamps to the group exhibit “99 Deaths of Jar Jar,” there was no shortage of sights to see here. There was, however, a shortage of time. I had to head to Burbank for the third event of the day.
Location: Los Angeles Burbank Marriott Convention Center
Daniel W. Kelly is a horror writer who moderated a panel called “Qweirdos! LGBTQ Voices for a Generation of Gay Geeks and Freaks.” At the beginning of the session, he explained why he coined the term “qweirdos.” Ultimately, he said it was more “inclusive” in describing the folks who don't fall into that straight fanboy stereotype. Inclusivity is important at Bent-Con, an event that began as a way of bringing together LGBT artists and fans.
Inside the exhibit hall, writers pitched their stories to passersby like myself. Genre fiction was popular, frequently involving characters who don't identify as straight. There were comic book artists as well, lots of them. Robert Paul, a local comics creator, brought Little Rainbow Comics with him. It's a slice-of-life comic about three young kids who are gay and trying to understand the world around them.
See also: When Gay Meets Geek”
Bent-Con is similar in structure to other comic book, sci-fi and anime conventions. There were a lot of vendors here, artists and artisans showing off everything from papier-mâché figures to handmade notebooks to beautifully crafted leather accessories. Like most conventions, there's a Saturday night masquerade. Bent-Con's event was hosted by Kit Quinn, a well-known local cosplayer, who was getting folks to enter the competition at her booth early in the evening.
The cosplay crowd wasn't massive, but it was impressive. San Diego-based cosplayer Jimmy Sherfy, who I followed around Anime Expo over the summer, was dressed as a character from the famed comic Elfquest. Wendy Pini, who co-created the comic, was one of this year's Bent-Con guests.
With four shows under its belt, Bent-Con is shaping up to be one of the notable L.A. fan conventions. I could have stayed here all night. Indeed, they had programming going on until 2 a.m. However, after putting in at least 10 hours roaming across the L.A. area, I called it quits before the masquerade. It is possible to hit up three conventions in one day, but it's also exhausting.