Recently, I had the chance to attend the debut of East Tennessee State University’s first anime convention ETSUcon. I am an avid video game player and I know much of geek life but aspects of that culture I never really got into were anime and comics. This was a con for both and I had never really been to a con before, I was excited but also a bit hesitant. I wouldn’t know how well I’d fit in and wondered when things were discussed if would I be able to relate or understand.
Upon arriving I helped UPT friend Joe Granski set up his artwork booth, after setup was completed I set off to explore. I saw things in artists alley I expected like people selling comics and collectibles. Cosplayers wandered around dressed like Doctor Who, Catwoman, and Spiderman as well as anime characters I didn’t recognize. What I wasn’t expecting to see was the level of home-made crafts on display. On one table I watched a cosplayer diligently sewing together a TARDIS plushie while another table had young women selling tiny hats. Another group I saw was selling clothing for cosplayers. Decals and mugs etched with illustrations of pop culture characters lined other booths. People squealed with delight at seeing each other’s costumes, their hard work and dedication to their favorite characters were mutually appreciated. It was hard not to share in their excitement, the room was full of great energy.
I got to check out the video game room. The entire Ballroom Left hall was dark with the only light coming from screens reflecting off the faces of the game players deep in concentration. Some players were locked in fierce battle with one another while others played together to finish a mission, everyone was clearly having fun. Off to the side of the hall a projector displayed Starcraft 2 matches being SHOUTcasted. The screen was easily 20 feet tall. A smile crossed my face, I felt at home, everyone was engaged in a battle for the universe surrounded by their friends. These feelings of camaraderie and challenge are the very reasons we play.
I was hungry to see things I wasn’t familiar with. Meeting up with a friend we decided to attend the panel Stage Combat with Bobby Funk in the Forum Room. The panel title sounded interesting and as we entered the room we were immediately greeted with the sounds of swords clashing and fighters grunting as they were locked in a duel. “Oooh,” I muttered as my friend and I took our seats. Two students demonstrated sword fighting techniques while Bobby Funk told us about the weapons and their history. The panel hosts fought with rapiers and switched to broadswords later on in the discussion. As this was stage combat the presenter often pointed out the difference between something looking good and something being for show. The emphasis of the panel was improving a costume with proper weapon handling techniques. I was impressed at the idea of how a little basic knowledge could increase the authenticity of your cosplay by a significant amount.
There was an eclectic mix of panels throughout the convention, rooms with people playing Magic the Gathering and even groups of people dancing to their favorite songs. It was fun to see a segment of culture I wasn’t experienced with. This was the first con of its type in the area and you could feel the excitement of the people involved. It really struck me just how big this culture is. I didn’t expect east Tennessee to harbor people with these interests and yet here they were in great numbers sharing their enthusiasm for what they love. Even though I didn’t know anime and comics firsthand I realized it didn’t matter because we’re the same and that we all have a unique bond through our passions.