DragonCon 2017 Report (Including Interview with Jai Nitz)!

Before I saw Suicide Squad, I knew nothing about Chato Santana, who is the alter ego of El Diablo, the pyrokinetic gangbanger from East LA. After seeing the movie, he quickly became my favorite comic book character and one of my all time favorite characters in any medium. The reason I personally enjoy him is because he’s relatable. Everyone has their own regrets and every person wishes they could redeem themselves for something they’ve done in their past. Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Harley Quinn all seem to revel in their villainy, while Chato seems reluctant to even talk about it. He thinks of himself as a monster and attempts to control himself which is a direct contrast to, say, Harley’s defense of stealing from a department store: “We’re bad guys, it’s what we do.”

So, I was stoked when I realized that Jai Nitz, the creator of my anti-hero, would be at the very convention I was reporting on. This was my second year at DragonCon, and any of my loyal readers (thanks mom and dad!) would remember that last year I accidentally interviewed Nolan North, the voice of Deadpool and Desmond Miles from Assassin’s Creed. This year, however, I got an agreed interview that wasn’t illegal! Jai Nitz is what anyone would imagine the creator of a Latino Robin Hood would be… badass, intelligent, willing to sell all his stuff for $100. (These are all jokes, please don’t sue me). Reader beware, spoilers and ruined headcanons await!

How did you come up with the idea of Chato?

Chato is not a real name, it actually means butch, thick, beefy. The idea is that he would have had a real name at some point, it would have been Jaime or Guadalupe or something. He was always a big guy, so everyone would call him Chato. That was after my dad. They called my dad butch because there were seven kids in his grade with the same name as him. Everyone was called a nickname instead of just “Jerry.” That was kind of a nod to my dad, and the idea of who Chato was came from my cousin, Jaime. He’s my age, growing up close to the border in a culture that is 95% Hispanic. Drugs and human trafficking are not a thing on the news, they are a way of life. There are people who are dealing drugs and moving humans. They are not villains, they are Robin Hoods. They are sticking it to the man, instead of doing this nefarious, horrible crime to be on television, that’s not who they are. Not that my cousin is doing that, but I saw him in a situation where he was dealing with a lot of different stuff than I did. What would I have been if I had been in the same situation? In East Los Angeles where Chato was from, it is very much the same thing. There are neighborhoods that are closed off to the police because in 1992 only 10% of the Los Angeles police force was Latino. Today it’s 60%. Then, no one spoke Spanish. No one knew what to do if you got stuck in a Spanish speaking neighborhood. David Ayer, the director of Suicide Squad, his movie, End of Watch, is about a lot of that. It’s a lot about dealing with a culture that is alien to your own, and in the original El Diablo series, he was a gang lord. He was the Robin Hood of his neighborhood. He was the guy you would go to if you had a local problem that the police wouldn’t help you with. It was trying to show that just because you commit crimes doesn’t make you a bad guy, and just because you do bad stuff doesn’t make you a villain, and just because you save people doesn’t make you a hero. It was very much blurring the lines and I don’t think anybody was ready for that when I wrote it.

I think I fell in love with him when I first saw him.

If you meet Jay [Hernandez, actor for Chato in Suicide Squad] in real life, you will fall in love again because he is stupid good-looking.

How did you get your start in comics?

I got my start by self-publishing right out of college. As a new writer, the best way to make it in comics was to make your own comics. So I wrote my own comics and I found artists to work with. That was on the creative side, then you had to put on your business hat and you had to learn to make the files available to a printer, how to send them to be scanned by a scanning place because you didn’t have a scanner big enough, how to get those books printed and distributed, how to take them to conventions and sell them. Then that was my business card. I handed that out and said “please hire me.” It’s much easier for an editor to read a comic book than it is to read an idea on a piece of paper. Then once they trust you, they will read your ideas, but not until they believe in you as a writer. The best way to make them believe in you as a writer is to show something that you’ve written. If you want to write a comic book then write a comic book to hand out. So that’s what I did and I did it every couple of years until I finally started getting regular work. After about eleven years of trying, self-publishing, doing independant stuff, I got enough work at big publishers to go full-time freelance.

Did El Diablo actually die at the end of the movie?

He can’t die. HE CAN’T DIE! His powers dictate that the devil that possesses him. This is explained in the first series, and in the new series it is explained that, every time he dies, the devil just brings him back and takes more of his soul, so he gets more evil each time he dies. I was explaining this to David Ayer at the premiere of the movie. We were walking out of the movie, and he said, “How do we bring him back?” and I said, “You don’t have to. He can’t die. Every time he dies, the devil takes more of his soul and brings him back, so he comes back more evil, so if people like him in this movie, the next time he comes back, he’ll be worse, and the next time he comes back, he’ll be even worse. In your movie continuity, he says, ‘I was born with the devil’s gift,’ and the idea is that he was stillborn and the devil took him then, and every time he has died since then, the devil has taken more of his soul as he has brought him back every time.’”

If he drinks alcohol, will he just explode?

Not at all. His powers are magical in nature, which is the other reason you can just bring him back, because there is no science in how he throws fire, just as there is no science in how [Captain Boomerang] throws a boomerang, there is no science in how [Slipknot] uses ropes to climb stuff, there is no science in how [Deadshot] is the best shot in the world. He is made of demonic magical fire.

The reason I ask is because there is a deleted scene in the bar where Harley asks everyone what they want, he says, “Water,” and she says, “That’s a good idea, honey.”

That was definitely a great character moment. That was that character recognizing, “Me losing control is not good for anybody.” Because he knows what’s inside him, even though no one else does. The other thing is, it’s not really in the movie universe, but it would be the kind of thing I would explore. Nobody really believes him. Nobody really believes that there is a devil inside him. There are people who can fly, there are people who dress up like bats, there are people with magic power rings, but nobody believes he is possessed, and then you see it, and it’s a different animal.

I like how, in the movie, the other characters are afraid of him.

There’s a lot of really good subtle storytelling in the film that gets lost. They had re-shoots, and they had to change this, and they had to move scenes around, and stuff like that, to where there is some stuff that makes no sense. I’ve seen the movie so many times it isn’t funny. But then there is some stuff that is subtle like that, where even Deadshot realizes, this guy could kill us aaaaaaall. And nobody pays attention until it comes to that.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a book called Suicide Squad Black that has El Diablo as the leader of a Suicide Squad team. It was supposed to come out last month, but it’s been delayed, so hopefully it will come out in 2018.

 

Going into this interview, I was expecting just to talk about comics, not to get a lecture on race relations and the social economics of East Los Angeles. But I’m glad Jai discussed those topics. I admire how he puts his background in his work. It helps him maintain his passion, which was evident when I talked to him.

And I’m definitely buying Suicide Squad Black when it comes out. Who’s with me?

 

Jai with a really cool El Diablo cosplayer

 

Cover of El Diablo #1 (2008)

DragonCon 2016 Con Report (Including a Sort-of Interview with Nolan North)!

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Cinderella, Wonder Woman, and an assassin walked into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. Actually, it was the first day of DragonCon 2016.

DragonCon is one of the largest conventions in the Southeast. This was my third year, but my first as a journalist. Even as a veteran convention goer, you really never know what to expect, especially for a place such as this. With over 75,000 attendees, it’s hard to find the same cosplayer twice, and it’s easy to lose your companions, like the Doctor loses Rose in every episode.

This is especially true of the Saturday morning parade. Several streets in downtown Atlanta are blocked off, and the sidewalks are covered in Disney Princesses, Deadpools, and Batmans (Batmen?) all converging together. It’s one of the few places you can see the Punisher pull Bullseye out of the street to prevent him from being run over by Doc Brown’s DeLorean. Until recently, people could register to be in the parade up until the day before. It has grown so popular, however, that last year registration for the 3,200 slots closed in August. This year, registration closed on March 1st. Also, for the first time, the parade was broadcasted on the CW Network. One of the best things about this parade is the fact that they have a specific place for just the Deadpools to roam, and it’s certainly one of the most popular cosplays done in any convention I have been to.

And then of course, due to the new movie that came out recently, Suicide Squad, my colleague, Anthony Aycock, and I were curious to see just how many Harley Quinns and Jokers there were, but only from that movie. We counted a total of ninety-one Margot Robbie Harley Quinns and nineteen Jared Leto Jokers. Most of the Harleys were in her usual outfit, complete with the shirt that says “Daddy’s Lil’ Monster,” but we noticed some variations. One Harley was wearing the prison uniform from the beginning of the movie, a few were wearing the “stripper” Harley outfit, and then there were a couple that had dressed as Harleen Quinzel, the pre-Harley Quinn – long white lab coat, no nonsense blond bun, and leading a prisoner Joker with a makeshift leash. I also saw one Charlie Quinn, a male Harley with “Mommy’s Lil’ Monster” scrawled on his pecs. I suppose one reason that there were more Harleys than Jokers is because most people seemed to have had a distaste for Leto’s portrayal of him. It might be because I was a fan of 30 Seconds to Mars far before the movie was even thought of, but I actually quite enjoyed it. One criticism I have though is that we didn’t see much into the abusive relationship, and now most couples who are unfamiliar with the characters are thinking “OMG hashtag relationship goals!”

One of the most popular areas of DragonCon is the Walk of Fame, which is overflowing with beloved actors of the traditional and voice kind. A few of my favorites were Carlos Valdes (Cisco from the CW TV show The Flash), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy, Commander Zhao, and Captain Hook), Nolan North (voice of Deadpool in the Deadpool video game, Nathan Drake from Uncharted, and Desmond Miles from the Assassin’s Creed series), and of course William Shatner (you already know who this is).

We stood in line for Nolan North (who was tardy to the party), and ended up talking to his agent for a while. She told us that voice actors usually make around $900 per four hours of work plus residuals (i.e., they get paid each time the episode they were in is broadcast). Anime voice actors make a lot less, roughly $65 per hour. Most conventions guarantee their celebrities a certain amount of money. For example Lana Parrilla of Once Upon a Time gets $10,000 per convention. If her autograph sales fall short of that, the convention makes up the difference. DragonCon, however, does not make guarantees like that. Not even for ol’ Bill Shatner. I found this fascinating, especially how undervalued anime voice actors are. I expect that to change, however, as anime becomes more mainstream.

Finally, Nolan arrived, and I managed to speak to him as he was signing a Deadpool Pop figure for me (I am not a nerd, I swear). Interviews are not allowed in the Walk of Fame, but I wanted to ask him a couple of questions out of my own curiosity. He was so friendly and engaging that it might as well have been an interview.

My first question was what he thought of Ryan Reynolds stealing the spotlight for Deadpool. He said, “There is no spotlight. Ryan does a terrific job, but I do have an idea for a cameo for the next movie. Deadpool is chasing someone, fires a gun, blows a hole in the wall, and behind the wall, I’m standing there wearing headphones, recording Deadpool’s voice for a video game. And Ryan looks at me and says, ‘You sound nothing like me’ and shoots me.” Nolan went on to say how funny Ryan is on Twitter, and I second that since I stalk him too.

My second question was how Nolan felt about the Assassin’s Creed movie coming out in December. He replied, “I’m a big fan of Michael Fassbender [co-producer and star of the movie]. What I like about it is that it will be an original take on the story. It won’t just be the game translated into the movie. The game is the inspiration for a unique movie.”

I stood there with Nolan so long that his agent started clearing her throat—thank goodness I didn’t have a third question—but it was interesting getting his perspective. As a fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I was a bit tentative to see the movie, but after hearing Mister Desmond Miles himself praise it, I have a bit more hope for how it will turn out. Oh, and when I got his autograph on Friday, it was only $20, but two days later, he was charging $40. Way to up your game, North.

Are you thinking about going to DragonCon? Here are five morsels of advice:

  1. Bring all the money you have plus what you can bum from your parents and what you can earn by selling a kidney. I’m not saying stuff is overpriced; you’ll just want to buy it all.
  2. Prepare to stand in line for an hour and a half, feet tired, arms dragging the floor, just to be told to come back later after the actor’s friggin’ panel (I’m looking at you, Carlos Valdes).
  3. The hotels in downtown Atlanta fill up fast, but don’t worry: you can stay outside the city and just take the MARTA in. It’s quick and cheap. But don’t let the homeless guys take your money—you need it for the autographs and the plushies and the posters and . . . you get the idea.
  4. Prepare to walk. I know a lot of you like to wear heels everywhere. Don’t. You will not be able to feel anything beyond the blisters that will begin to appear after just the first day.
  5. Have fun, but not so much it’ll land you in Erewhon.

Now have a look at these pix from DragonCon 2016 . . .

Alucard will deal with this photo bomber later.

Alucard will deal with this photo bomber later.

You should see my sonic screwdriver . . .

You should see my sonic screwdriver . . .

He may be deaf, but he can hear the crowd cheering.

He may be deaf, but he can hear the crowd cheering.

When Deadpool meets Deadpool meets Deadpool meets Deadpool . . .

When Deadpool meets Deadpool meets Deadpool meets Deadpool . . .

DragonCon . . . where memes come to life.

DragonCon . . . where memes come to life.

This guy is Dumbledorable!

This guy is Dumbledorable!

Don't PokemonGO. Just go.

Don’t PokemonGO. Just go.

I found out where Nightcrawler has been hiding.

I found out where Nightcrawler has been hiding.

Screw the Joker. It's Ivy time!

Screw the Joker. It’s Ivy time!

To get this picture, I had to chase her down like Kinnosuke Kuzuhara. Except I actually succeeded.

To get this picture, I had to chase her down like Kinnosuke Kuzuhara. Except I actually succeeded.

And here we see . . . the typical Facebook user.

And here we see . . . the typical Facebook user.

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today . . .

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today . . .

When in doubt, follow a Sailor Scout.

When in doubt, follow a Sailor Scout.

The game . . . it's following me.

The game . . . it’s following me.

Walk toward the light!

Walk toward the light!

Me too, Deadpool. Me too.

Me too, Deadpool. Me too.

Is anime real?

Is anime real?

So this guy came up to me and just said "Shhhhh if anyone asks, Spiderman did it." And then sprayed silly string on my phone.

So this guy came up to me and just said “Shhhhh if anyone asks, Spiderman did it.” And then sprayed silly string on my phone.

"It's not a phase, Mom!"

“It’s not a phase, Mom!”

Anime Fan Fest 2016 Report (Including an Interview with Aaron Dismuke!)

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I mentioned in my last article that a girl drove all the way down from New Jersey to North Carolina to Ichibancon meet Vic Mignogna, the star of Fullmetal Alchemist (he voices the main character, Edward Elric). This time, Anthony Aycock and I went to New Jersey from North Carolina to meet Aaron Dismuke, where Vic was also present. Aaron voices Edward Elric’s iron giant little brother, Alphonse. Aaron doesn’t do many conventions–mainly due to not being invited, he said–so I thought I would see him while I had the chance.

It was called Anime Fan Fest. With both Vic and Aaron as guests, plus other actors from Fullmetal Alchemist, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh, I expected it to be pretty big. However, it never seemed terribly crowded, even on Saturday afternoon. Then one of the dealers told me that this was the convention’s first year. I was immediately impressed.

The convention was held in one massive room at the Garden State Exhibition Center. Dealers (about 30), artist alley (about 10), cosplay registration, autograph sessions, and panels all took place in that one room. This layout had pros and cons. Everything was easy to find, but not everything was easy to hear. During Aaron’s Q&A, noise from the dealer area kept hitting me like Izumi Curtis’s fists.

I did hear a couple of things, though. One was Aaron talking about how his voice cracked during filming of the movie Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa. He asked to do the scene again, but director Mike McFarland told him, “No, we’ll keep that one. It shows the emotion of the character”–probably while stifling a laugh. I also heard Aaron talk about being recognized in public. Once was by a cashier at Kroger, who took a selfie with Aaron and his groceries. Another was someone who kept calling for Aaron at his parents’ house (he says he now lives off the grid). Still another was the guy in college who waited at a men’s room for Aaron to emerge and shake his hand. “You know my hands are wet,” Aaron said he told the guy. “You watched me wash them.” (Not creepy at all.)

After the Q&A, we had the pleasure of getting an interview with Aaron..

I have heard Vic talk about you falling in the booth a few times during Fullmetal Alchemist. Can you tell the story in your perspective?

Yeah, sure. Okay I was eleven whenever I started and so I was very absent minded and kind of

ADD acting, like I actually had been diagnosed. So I would like move around a lot, I had a stool and so I’d be in the booth, leaning back and picking at the walls because there’s soft soundproofing material. I destroyed those walls honestly. Like who am I kidding? It was bad. I might have even written on them at one point.

“Aaron was here”?

Yeah, I think that’s exactly what I wrote, honestly! Anyway, so yeah I was a little turd. And so I was leaning back and what I got into was this mode where I’d be leaning back and I would hear the beeps. You have three beeps and on the fourth imaginary beep is when you’d start recording your line. I was leaning back, and Mike said [Mike McFarland, director of Fullmetal Alchemist], “Alright let’s do this line.” It would go beep beep beep, and I’d go up real fast and I’d be like “Brother.” ‘Kay. And so this time I was leaning back and beep beep and I tried to lean forward but the stool like gives out. It goes the wrong way. It goes forward instead of backwards and I go backwards and it pushes me against the wall and the stool props up in the front of the booth. And so like I just end up with my legs sandwiched against my chest. And the stool like pinning me there. And the only way for me to get out myself would have been to like twist out and fall straight to the ground. And so I didn’t want to do that but I also didn’t want to admit what had happened and they had heard the sound of the stool and all the crash. That’s recorded somewhere. And so there’s this pause where Mike says “Aaron?” He looks up trying to see me but he can’t because I’m too far down. And I was just like – all I could think of – I finally realized I was going to need help. So I asked for it. A little “Help me.” He had to pull me out.

And they’ve never let you live it down.

Never.

You have mentioned before that you got into voice acting because you were related to someone who was a voice actor. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Yeah, okay. Justin Cook is currently a director of production at Funimation, but at the time he was acting and directing a bit and he basically got the impression that I was a good reader because I was reading Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t really understanding it all, but I was reading it. And you know, I was like in third grade, I was like nine. So I was a bit above my reading level, and as a result he decided, “Why don’t I try using an actual boy who I know who I have a rapport with so he won’t be nervous for this little part of a little boy instead of using a woman. It’ll sound more authentic.” And so he did, and it ended up turning out pretty good. I felt pretty good about it. And he felt pretty good about it and so he had me do a larger part from the same show and then ultimately I started auditioning for other stuff and Alphonse was the first or second character I landed actually. And I think part of the reason they gave me that part was because there were no flaps [mouth movements for animated characters] so I didn’t have to focus too much on the mouth movements and they were able to do what they needed to to adjust. So I just had to do the acting. And I think that’s a big part of what allowed me to do that at such a young age. It wasn’t as hard as what all the other actors were having to do. So it was nice. It was like having training wheels on for my first part.

What sort of shows do you like that aren’t anime?

I like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. I read Game of Thrones before the series came out so I was super excited about it. I’m a big fan of Peaky Blinders, it’s a British crime show. It’s on Netflix right now. I also like westerns: Bonanza. I’m also a big fan of M*A*S*H which is so good. It has some of the best comedy ever. I have almost every episode memorized, I’ve watched it so many times. That’s what I grew up on.

Which actors would you actually ‘fangirl’ over?

Alan Alda. He plays Hawkeye [in M*A*S*H]. I forget her name, but I recently started watching Jessica Jones, and that actress is fantastic.

I love Jessica Jones. I’ve actually met David Tennant.

Oh cool, yeah! He plays Kilgrave [in Jessica Jones]. That guy’s awesome.

You said you did some directing for Funimation. What sort of skillset do you need to be a successful director?

I think that the acting and writing are both important because there comes a point where you have to know whether an actor could give you the read for a certain line or whether between the way the line was written and the flaps and their personal cadence, whether they’re capable of doing that line or whether or not it needs to be rewritten. And once you know it needs to be rewritten, it needs to be able to. So you need the writing skill to alter the line if need be. And you also need the acting experience and also the ability to describe how you need a certain read. So I found I was able to mostly harness my acting experience and be able to like use – and also my acting experience with like hearing the different directors and the way that they would direct me. So you can either give someone the read you want and see how they respond to that and you can say “No, say it like this” and then say it. Like I was a good parrot when I was an early actor. As Al I could easily say something back exactly how you had said it to me. That was a good training wheels thing. And then slowly I was able to predict what it was they were going to want and do it in the first round. Other than that, sometimes I use like little analogies. I’d say something like “Could you say that as more of a languid predator? You know, a leopard stalking its prey?” Or “Make it sound more like you dipped your hand in what you thought was a crate of berries, but instead it was acid.” Things like that. Colorful things. That sort of idea that they were pretending that happened and then get a little more of the nuance of what the line is than from just hearing where the character is coming from.

What do you do if the actor just can’t get the line right?

You either settle for what they can do or you say “Okay good, thanks,” and then you get someone else to do it. I have never had to do that. But I’ve also never had the authority to do that even on the show that I was directing. That was always Tyler’s call. He was my producer. He did the casting for me because it was my first show. So he took care of the hard parts.

How did you get started on doing conventions?

My first convention was before – okay so Anizona, which was a first year con, had me and the entire cast of – It was me, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Vic Mignogna, I think Caitlin Glass – everybody was there. It was a tiny con, maybe like eight hundred people. That was my first real con. I don’t know if it’s even going anymore but I did it and I was super nervous and I was like “What am I supposed to say?” Because we were going through opening ceremonies and we were going through and everyone was like  “Hey! I’m really glad to be here! My name is Travis Willingham and I play Roy Mustang.” And I didn’t even know what to say. They were all popping jokes and they were all like “What, you’re nervous?” And I was like “Yeah I’m nervous!” “Just tell them you’re nervous.” So I was like “Hey I’m Aaron, I play Al and I’m really nervous and there was a chorus of “Awwww” and uproarious applause. And I was like “That’s weird.”

Okay, one last question. What was your first experience with fangirls?

I ran from the first girl that tried to glomp [to pounce on and hug aggressively, often with a running start] me. I actually ran. She was a titan. She was really tall and she was wearing a Sailor Moon costume and I wasn’t familiar with Sailor Moon. I was only thirteen probably. Fourteen? Her friends met me first, and Vic said, “Do you know who this is? This guy is going to play Al.” And this was before Anizona. I was going to this con to get adjusted to it. It was a con in Fort Worth, my hometown. So I just went there for kicks to check out the scene and Vic happened to be there as a guest and he happened to recognize me and he told some other fans who I was and they were like, “We have to call our friend.” They called their friend and it was the 6’7 Amazon woman in a Sailor Moon outfit. She was like [bellows like a screaming fangirl]. People are like spilling to either side and it was an anime moment. I ran to the bathroom and then I slowly came back and hugged her calmly.

#Beaniebuds

#Beaniebuds

After the interview, Anthony and I went around the dealer room one last time when I noticed something very familiar. I am a yaoi fangirl, so I would recognize fan art from a fandom I am deeply involved in–in this case, Durarara!! What I saw was a wall scroll depicting the show’s most popular characters, Shizuo Heiwajima and Izaya Orihara, as they appeared in high school. They were embracing aggressively. The image was a popular piece of fan art. Someone had ripped it off, altered it slightly, and stuck it on a wall scroll that was now for sale.

13177073_971076796274096_9129634160265424262_n DURARARA!!_600_361262

I spoke to a very close friend, Kawaiikisshu, who is also an artist. This particular image she had seen on Zerochan.net, and I found it in other places such as tumblr. She said there are a lot of these on eBay and it is sad that work gets robbed and turned into merchandise for money. I heard the same sentiment from Irene Y. Lee, who draws the Li’l Deadpool for Marvel Comics. We saw a picture at her booth of Li’l Deadpool looking through a box of comics, which I totally do not have a T-shirt of. No one obtained Irene’s permission to make the shirt, and she receives no payment from it. I wish now I had told some of the staff what I saw because I knew it was illegal. Artists deserve all the credit and the money their art is worth. I know how I would feel if someone copied and pasted this article into their own web site and pretended that they were me. If they were me, they can buy food for my eight cats. (Disclaimer: I am not a crazy cat lady.)

Aside from copyright infringement and the need for more than one room, Anime Fan Fest was a spectacular experience. It was organized, the guests were terrific, and the staff was superb. When I interviewed Vic at Ichibancon, the staff member who was supposed to handle his schedule told me to ask him myself. Aaron’s handler, however, worked with me to create a seamless interview process.

I guess the worst part about Anime Fan Fest was the drive. In North Carolina, it had already been raining for about a week, and it did not stop until we left New Jersey, which, by the way, is the capital of RUDE. In our 24 hours in the state, we were honked at fourteen times. I haven’t been honked at fourteen times in North Carolina in my nineteen years of living.

Just kidding. I HEART New Jersey.

Artist Alley

Artist Alley

Dealers' Room

Dealers’ Room

Even Shinra Kishitani needs his morning coffee.

Even Shinra Kishitani needs his morning coffee.

The wild Aaron Dismuke in his natural habitat.

The wild Aaron Dismuke in his natural habitat.

Got games?

Got games?

I didn't see any Harley Quinns, but I did see Harlequin (King) from The Seven Deadly Sins.

I didn’t see any Harley Quinns, but I did see Harlequin (King) from The Seven Deadly Sins.

Tokyo is so screwed.

Tokyo is so screwed.

Why so serious?

Why so serious?

This cosplayer knows how to get a-head in life.

This cosplayer knows how to get a-head in life.

Is it Huu (Avatar: The Last Airbender), Man-Thing, or my mom's ex boyfriend? You decide!

Is it Huu (Avatar: The Last Airbender), Man-Thing, or my mom’s ex boyfriend? You decide!

I wonder why the celebrities left?

I wonder why the celebrities left?

I'm furry tired.

I’m furry tired.

 

Ichibancon 2016 Convention Report (With Vic Mignogna Interview!)

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A few years ago, when I was still in high school, a person who liked anime was made fun of for it. My school had a manga/book club, and the entire group was often ridiculed by jocks who wouldn’t know good writing if it were mixed in their protein shakes. Despite this, I grew to love the art form, and when I learned that there were whole conventions devoted to it, I begged my dad to take me to one. Surprisingly, he agreed.

Anime conventions were smaller then, including my first, Ichibancon 2012, which was held at a tiny hotel in Charlotte, NC. I originally went with two friends to meet none other than Vic Mignogna, who was–and remains to this day–my favorite voice actor. We stood in his autograph line for about 30 minutes, and when I finally got to his table, I said “Hi” in a talking-to-your-crush-for-the-first-time voice.

Now, five years later, I’m still going to that same convention. It was held this year over New Year’s Day weekend at Embassy Suites Hotel in Concord. Comparing this year’s Ichibancon to the one in 2012 is like comparing the inside of the TARDIS to the inside of my closet. Over 5,000 attendees pre-registered this year, which doesn’t include those who bought a badge on-site. I don’t think 5,000 people even knew about it in in 2012. The cosplayers were awesome. I saw anime, Marvel, and DC characters, plus assorted Pokemon and pop culture figures (the guy dressed as John Cena was meme-tastic). One group of cosplayers was from Undertale, a video game that just came out, which was impressive in its immediacy and quality. Dozens of panels were scheduled on just about any nerdy topic you could imagine, even for Homestuck, the webcomic created in 2009 by Andrew Hussie. The gamers had their own room: dozens of PlayStations and Nintendos (and I don’t mean Nintendogs) projected onto the walls. There was even a TARDIS bouncy house for all the children. I didn’t see the cosplay contest, but I’m sure it was fabulous, especially since, for the first year, a $500 prize was available for first place (this would probably cover the cost of half an automail leg).

Speaking of automail, I got a chance to talk to my five-years-ago idol, Vic Mignogna. Vic is the Johnny Depp of anime. Other voice actors were there, including several members of the cast of Durarara!! (Saki Mikajima, Kasuka Heiwajima, Seiji Yagiri, and Saburo Togusa), whom you don’t see often. But Vic was clearly the biggest draw: one girl came all the way from New Jersey to meet him.

After seeing him a dozen or more times over the years, I felt more relaxed than that initial time. Here is what we discussed.

Me: As Edward Elric, you’re very emotional and over the top. Then you recently switched to playing Kasuka on Durarara!! who is emotionless with a very emotional brother. What was that like?

Vic: You know, I have to tell you, I’m kind of naturally emotional and expressive with my voice. Then, when I was doing Durarara!!, started, and they asked me, can you take the emotion out of it? Can you make it flatter? I’m thinking, it’s pretty flat already. So, yeah, that was a big change.

Me: How long have you been doing conventions?

Vic: Wow. Honestly, maybe a total of thirteen years.

Me: How did you get started?

Vic: Well, I got started in voice acting sixteen or seventeen years ago, and I didn’t know anything about conventions. In fact, there weren’t any at the time. Then, a few years into my career, I saw Monica Rial, and she said to me, “Hey, do you want to go to an anime convention?” I was like, “A what? They have conventions?” I went to Star Trek conventions when I was a little boy, but I had never been to an anime convention. So I went as a guest to one in Ohio, in Columbus, and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that there were these wall scrolls with my characters on it and pencil boards and plushies. I had no idea this stuff existed. That was the first one I went to, and of course it ramped up since then.

Me: I’ve also seen you at conventions like DragonCon that are not strictly anime conventions. Talk about the difference between those.

Vic: Anime conventions are very special in and of themselves. There is a real strong sense of community because everybody is there because they love this one specific genre of entertainment. Multicultural, pop culture conventions are more of something for everyone. It’s nice to have an anime presence there, but they don’t typically have the same feeling, a sense of family that you get at an anime convention. I suppose it would probably be the same for any convention that pertains to one thing. If you went to a Supernatural convention, it’s a little more focused. But I enjoy pop culture conventions, mostly because I’m a big sci-fi fan myself, so it’s a real pleasure to get to meet other sci-fi actors that I’m a fan of.

Me: Who is your favorite celebrity you’ve ever met?

Vic: Oh, Bill Shatner, of course. I’ve loved Captain Kirk since I was a little boy. [Want to see Vic as a little boy? Click here.] And you know, when I was young, I used to go to Star Trek conventions, and he is the only one of the original cast I never got to meet. Now, to literally be represented by the same manager who represents Bill, we get booked into conventions together, and we’ve gotten to have dinner together and travel a little bit and hang out, so it’s a real privilege.

Me: Have you had to suppress the urge to squeal like a fangirl?

Vic: All the time. All the time. [Laughs.] I want to respect him and not turn into one of those fanboys he’s dealt with for forty years.

Me: I read on your Wikipedia page that you were once a law enforcement officer.

Vic: I was. Right after college, my mom, who lives on the eastern shore of Maryland, was very good friends with the chief of police in the city where she lived. She always used to brag to him about her son who was a moral, ethical, upstanding member of the community. And so he said, well, I’d like to have someone like that on the police force. I didn’t have any plans right after college, so I went back there and went through the police training and became a cop for two years. It was never a career move. I enjoyed it a lot, but it isn’t something I want to do forever.

Me: It takes a special person to do that job.

Vic: It does. And to deal with the darker side of humanity so much of your life, always having to enforce the laws and deal with people breaking the rules can make a person very cynical and depressed.

Me: I have a copy of your Gospel of John CD. What was the genesis [see what I did there?] of that project?

Vic: Actually, it’s kind of interesting. I was at a convention, and a mother came up to me and said, “My daughter loves your work. She could sit and listen to you for hours. She loves your voice. You could read the phone book and she would listen to it.” I thought, what a nice thing to say. Then I thought, maybe not the phone book, but what if I were to record something of more importance and give it away. So I went home and recorded the Gospel of John and used a contemporary translation and played the piano underneath it to make it easy to listen to. I put a lot of money into it myself to get all the discs pressed, and now I give it away at conventions because what better thing to give to fans of my work than something that is very precious to me?

Me: Do you have plans to do more books?

Vic: I would love to, but it takes a lot of time, and to be honest, I don’t know what book I would do. There aren’t a lot of books of the Bible that stand by themselves, that tell the whole story. If you’re gonna get one chance to tell someone the story of Jesus, why he came, what he did, his ministry, his rising again, all of that, it’s all pretty self-contained in the Gospel of John. So I don’t know what book I would do, and it’s very time-consuming. I don’t have a lot of time, especially now with the Star Trek series I’m doing.

Me: So the Star Trek series is still going well?

Vic: Oh yeah. Bigger than ever. We just finished shooting episode six. Popularity is growing, and viewership is growing. At the risk of sounding partial, it’s fantastic. It looks and feels and sounds exactly like the original series. We have managed to continue the original series in every way, so you feel like you’re watching episodes that were never broadcast.

Me: But they’re all original stories.

Vic: Oh yes. From the recreation of the sets to the lighting, costumes, make-up, story, music, editing, characters—everything. No amount of description can prepare you for the quality. And it’s free. Just go to startrekcontinues.com. The first episode is wonderful, and the second is better than the first, and the third is better than the second. They just get better and better

Me: Last question. What is it like dealing with all the fangirls who are much younger than you?

Vic: Well, it’s kind of funny because, if I were half my age, I would be flattered. But I really look at it more like a father looking at younger people and going, Man, if I can give some joy to this person, if I can make them feel special about themselves, because so many of these kids are struggling with who they are and their place in the world and their security and self-esteem. I feel as if I have been given an opportunity to be an encouragement, somebody that they look up to and notices them and compliments them and puts his arms around them and gives them a big hug and engages with them. I think that’s very important. I didn’t used to realize how important that is, and over the years, with all the emails and letters I’ve gotten and interactions I’ve had at conventions, I’ve come to realize that God has put me here for a very specific purpose, and that is to bring encouragement and love and kindness and support to a lot of people who are at a very sensitive crossroads in their lives.

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Of course, everyone has their criticisms no matter how much they enjoy something, and Ichibancon was not without flaws. For one thing, it needs a larger venue. There were lines to get into the dealer room and artist alley, and some of the panels were standing room only. Parking was ridiculous. I squeezed my car in next to a dumpster, and I saw people walking over from car dealerships and other hotels. According to one staff member, however, the only place large enough to expand to is the Charlotte Convention Center, whose surrounding hotels are much more expensive–$240 a night or more. Anime conventions are largely attended by teenagers, who don’t have much money (and spend what they do have on Call of Duty).

It was clear from artist alley and the dealer room that neither of them was “juried.” Some conventions judge vendors’ merchandise ahead of time and then make decisions on who gets a slot. This is done to make sure there is enough variety and quality in the room. Ichibancon, it seems, didn’t do this because there was a lot of repetition in both areas. Merchandise was mostly plushies, posters, and wall scrolls. There was no manga, and I saw only one dealer selling comic-related stuff (usually, there are more).

Even with all these negative things going on in the convention, that is no reason for the muggles to boycott this convention (I saw a picketer in the parking lot). In fact, I believe that this convention is the perfect one for any anime convention newbies.

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This was only part of the line to get into the dealer’s room.

I hope this doesn't mean what I think it means.

I hope this doesn’t mean what I think it means.

Even broken up bands come to conventions.

Even broken up bands come to conventions.

Don't be upsetti, have some spaghetti!

Don’t be upsetti, have some spaghetti!

My dad stole my brand new beanie.

My dad stole my brand new beanie.

Cosplaying is a lot of work!

Cosplaying is a lot of hard work!

A consequence of a growing convention is more rules.

A consequence of a growing convention is more rules.

Some cosplayers really know how to get a-head.

Some cosplayers really know how to get a-head.

Let me tell you about Homestuck.

Let me tell you about Homestuck.

Even wizards need to eat.

Even wizards need to eat.

I don't think these guys are cosplayers.

I don’t think these guys are cosplayers.

The gaming room is always packed.

The gaming room is always packed.

Wow! My TV isn't this big!

Wow! My TV isn’t this big!

Don't take "friendliness pellets" from strangers.

Don’t take “friendliness pellets” from strangers.

Every year, The Chalk Twins have something new for the silent auction.

Every year, The Chalk Twins have something new for the silent auction.

The sign said "pets are not allowed" but an exception was made for these two.

The sign said “pets are not allowed” but an exception was made for these two.

And this is why pets are not allowed.

And this is why pets are not allowed.

Who invited this guy?

Who invited this guy?

Memes. Memes everywhere.

Memes. Memes everywhere.