(Originally published in Anime Chatta issue #2)
Anime Blast Chattanooga is the city’s sole anime convention, and as a regular convention goer, I wanted to talk about it on here. So I reached out to the staff of ABC to answer a few questions about the event. Michael was kind enough to take the time to talk with me about the history of the event, convention culture, and what is in store for next year’s show.
Q: Who are you and what is your role with Anime Blast Chattanooga?
A: My name is Michael Miller, though I’m better known as ‘Zippy’, and I’m one of the 2 convention co-chairs that serves as execs. for Anime Blast Chattanooga.
Q: Tell me a little about the history of the event.
A: Back in 2010 we were notified by Andrea Morgan that JAMPcon, a local anime con that preceded ours in town, would not be returning. So I felt like between myself, the friends I had made thus far through our local con circuit, and especially through the anime club Scenic City Anime & More (then Boogie BAM Anime Jam), that together we had the know-how and willpower to keep a vacuum from forming in our area by creating and running our own anime convention. I may have been a bit wrong on the know-how, as I’ve learned you never know enough at first especially, we certainly powered through and have kept trying to adapt what we continue to learn and what fans want to keep improving Anime Blast Chattanooga every year since.
Q: Anime Blast Chattanooga has seen a rather large up take in attendee in its 3 years running, up from 690 in 2012 to 1,850 this year alone. What can you attribute to the increase in interest?
A: Yeah so that jump in attendees from 2012-2013 was a bit crazy for us, though thankfully all positive crazy. There is a certain point where too large a jump can stretch a con’s resources, i.e. staff and volunteer’s sleep hours especially, but we did well I’d say all considering.
Now as for the why? Well it’s hard to attribute that to any one thing, so maybe if I had to summarize I’d say: Johnny Yong Bosch and his band Eyeshine, our biggest guest yet I’d say, extensive PR campaigning on our part, as I alone went to 10+ cons and other staff members branched out even further, and then just 3rd year cons probably don’t have the same ‘assumed’ uncertainty as 1st year or 2nd year cons do, at least in the mind of fans, vendors, and guests. We of course love 1st year cons, 2nd year cons, and on up, but for people paying money to attend we understand they’re not certain if it’s a ‘for sure bet’ to support a smaller, newer cons. To those doubts though we say every con had a year one, and every con started somewhere smaller than they are now, and without support those cons would’ve stayed tiny instead of growing into the MomoCon’s, the Anime Weekend Atlanta’s, and the Anime Expo’s that we know and love today.
Q: What events do you offer at ABC and what should newcomers to the anime convention scene expect when attending?
A: We try to offer a variety of events at Anime Blast Chattanooga, certainly including familiar ones, but hopefully some new ones too. Sort of the base for any con really is: guests and all the panels they host, as well as their autograph sessions, a cosplay contest and tied in with that would be cosplay panels, both Q&A and workshop panels, evening or late-night panels, that don’t have to implicitly always be just ‘yaoi/yuri/hentai’ for instance though that’s certainly a common theme, concerts when we have musical guests, so every year thus far, and definitely gaming rooms which for us means both digital and table top/analog rooms. Add in a viewing room to that list and I’d say for any new attendees that is certainly the core not just for us I feel but for many anime cons.
While not uncommon as much in the con circuit we have had maid and butler cafes each year, and we try to put our own style into hosting those to make them truly a special experience. Probably our most unique function right now that we have for VIP members is a special reception where our VIPs are able to mingle with our convention guests, in a more subdued environment with some snacks as well. Really we hope that our VIP package as a whole is really unique and one reason why we limit the # of VIPs to about 30 is so we can take the time to really make it a truly memorable experience for the VIPs. I know as we started out, as any con does, with a smaller crowd the distinction between VIP and non-VIP may not have seemed as obvious to the attendees; however, especially when it comes to personal time with the guests as we expand and get more and more attendees it’ll be harder to meet all the guests you might like at our con, and the VIP package will serve as that unique opportunity to again do just that.
Q: Out of personal experience I have noticed smaller cons offering less in terms of programing but ABC has the feel of a large convention featuring everything you’d expect out of a major con (Dealers room, artist alley, screening room, a wide array of fan panels, Voice Actor guests, music, AMV contest and much more.) Was it a conscious decision to offer so much programing from the start or did this blossom out of a more conservative approach?
A: I don’t even think we considered ‘less’ or ‘fewer’ of anything to be an option really, as we ourselves had come to expect a certain level of content at the cons we attended and we assumed that con goers would expect that from us too. So while it was certainly hard year 1 especially, as many of our staffers had to run more panels for instance in addition to their ongoing jobs throughout the weekend, we just felt it was what we had to do. Thankfully though all our awesome attendees have stepped up more and more and decided ‘hey I want to host this panel’, which is great because while panels really are the heart of the con experience for so many people, I think attendees often confuse the con’s panel selection with a menu of options that the con execs. has to choose from. As we’ve grown and grown yes we have more panels submitted and can be more selective, and have had to be with the panel choices, but as we started out certainly we were just happy to have people submitting panels at all. Just remember if you tell a con ‘hey could you guys make [name here] panel to occur’ many times I’m sure they’d love to have such a panel, but if the staff/volunteers don’t have the know-how or the time to host said panel then it really comes down to the attendees to host that. Part of a con’s job I feel is to give people the opportunity to discuss/share their passion through panels, but so much of that is reliant upon the panelist(s) to want to do that in the first place and then prepare said panel for the audience. So we play more of a supporting role in some ways for panelists, though we do our best to support as needed and hopefully that’s something we’ll improve on every year as well.
Q: The one honest complaint I’ve had about the event is the same I’ve had about most other anime conventions, and that is the large presence of non anime or Japanese pop culture related content offered in the programing. Mostly coming out of the panels. What is ABC’s stance on other types of “geek” content at an anime convention?
A: So I’d like to start this response out by saying I don’t see Anime Blast Chattanooga ever taking the direction of MomoCon in terms of their broader focus. We love MomoCon, and are excited to visit in a few weeks actually, but MomoCon has always been sort of that anime con that does so much more than just anime. Now they’ve branded themselves for years as an convention that loves anime, video games and American animation, but many might still say “let’s go to that anime con” MomoCon leaving off the rest of what they do. If that hasn’t already changed yet though this year will be the year, as MomoCon’s bringing such a diverse group of guests that it’ll be hard for people to forget they’re so much broader with their focus.
So that being said while we position ourselves as more of an anime con, collectively none of us just likes one thing I’d say. I love anime certainly, and I love J-Pop/Rock, but K-Pop is now a huge part of my life and while it is a part of Asian culture it might seem a bit odd to con goers to see K-Pop at cons (though likely not anymore).
Probably 2 more clear examples though would be Homestuck and Doctor Who. So many anime fans these days especially have grown up with and on the internet, and if you live in a small town with few other if any anime fans that you know in person then you connect online with other anime fans. That’ll lead you to many more worlds I’m sure, such as WOW, LOL, web comics, and for many the world of Homestuck. Now Homestuck is certainly not anime, but I’d argue that if you made a venn diagram of Homestuck fans and anime fans you’d have a large % of Homestuck fans also identify as anime fans. So we know from a convention perspective that many Homestuck fans will be attending, or want to attend, and while they may want to attend a Naruto panel, or see this voice actor or that voice actor, they may also want an outlet to express their love and appreciation for Homestuck. Is it for everyone? No. But we will not ignore a large percentage of our attendees who want an outlet to share their passion.
Doctor Who has also really caught fire more than ever these past 5+ years, and I know for me personally I have come to also love Doctor Who. So again while I’m happy going to a Bleach panel, a J-Pop concert, or other traditional anime con panels/events, I do love Doctor Who and while it’s a smaller % I’d say there’s crossover certainly between anime fans and Doctor Who fans. So if I can even just for an hour share that passion with friends old and new in a panel than I’d love to do that, and I appreciate convention schedulers who give me that chance.
Q: Where do you see Anime Blast Chattanooga growing in the future?
A: Well we’ve especially wanted to see cosplay flourish at Anime Blast Chattanooga, which may seem like an odd idea as cosplay is so attached to anime cons already, but we want to really be a con that gives you more workshops, more helpful Q&As, more outlets to challenge yourself such a cosplay contests, and more cosplay guests each year to help teach and inspire. So I really hope that we grow in this realm and that our attendees like this push of ours to do so.
My main hope personally, aside from merely being able to grow into the larger rooms at the Chattanooga Convention Center, is to be able to have more main events and then to make the main events we have more and more grand each year. One example of a new main event I’d like to add is a cosplay chess match, so hopefully that’ll be a new addition to our programming soon.
Q: When is Anime Blast Chattanooga 2014 and do you have any big announcements in store for the event?
A: Anime Blast Chattanooga takes place Nov. 7-9, Friday to Sunday, at the Chattanooga Convention Center. We’re excited to welcome back Vedetta Marie, Laugh Out Loud Improv, Greggo’s Game Shows, and then returning as a listed guest this year we have ScatterDOTFashion!
In addition to those awesome guests we can actually make 3 new guest announcements starting with the epic cosplayer Shinrajunkie! We’ll also be welcoming the voice actor Darrel Guilbeau, who is known for such roles as Mikado Ryugamine in Durarara!!, Viewtiful Joe in Marvel vs Capcom 3, Amaimon in Blue Exorcist, and Ren Hakuryu in Magi: the Labyrinth of Magic just to name a few. Lastly we’re excited to welcome Trina Nishimura to Anime Blast Chattanooga, who is the voice of Mikasa Ackerman in Attack on Titan, Lan Fan in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Kurisu Makise in Steins;Gate, and many more awesome characters!
We’ll have their official announcements and bios up on our website in the coming weeks, at http://www.AnimeBlastChattanooga.com, but we figured you’d want to know as soon as possible!
Big thanks to Michael for the interview and especially the announcements. I am personally looking forward to meeting both Darrel Guilbeau and Mikasa Ackerman at this year’s event.