I’ve been noticing that Southern California seems to be getting a bit crowded this year in terms of pop-culture conventions. My theories on the phenomenon range from people hoping to capture the overflow crowds who couldn’t get into San Diego Comic-Con, to the continuing hype of superhero movies and fantasy/sci-fi TV series, to just plain coincidence… but in some cases there’s a subtle (or not-so-subtle) dark side to the proceedings.
So-called “Con Wars” are nothing new, as you can get a taste of courtesy of this Robot 6 posting… but the most recent big example, the battle of New York, ended before the Big Apple Comic Con and New York Comic Con actually got into the ring.
California has less than a week for someone to back down afore things go further than New York ever did, but I’m not really seeing any Robot 6 coverage of this clusterfuck. Maybe it’s because Wizard isn’t involved, or because only the folks into the Japanese imports would care, but 4th of July weekend is playing host to some fireworks. Beyond the usual, I mean.
I’m talking about Anime Expo vs. AM2. Even if you’re not into the “otaku” scene (as I am not), this is a horribly fascinating chain of events. Anime Expo has been occurring yearly since 1992, and is the largest anime convention in the United States. However, to say the convention has gone through some behind-the-scenes drama in the past few years would be putting it mildly, culminating in the mass resignation of several senior staffers in early 2010. You can read ’til your eyes bleed about all sorts of shenanigans here:
Michael Lattanzio, the gent at the center of this hurricane, left to “pursue other projects” (take that as you will) in September 2010 after barely a year’s tenure as CEO, but the Anime Diet site declared “the drama is likely not over”. They were correct.
Fast forward to 2011, and Anime Expo is slotted for its usual Fourth of July weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I’m barely paying attention, to be honest… Dawn and her friends are a lot more into this stuff than I am. Last year we did toy with the idea of exhibiting, since we were looking into local conventions, but the sequence of decision went something like this:
– Should we get a table, Clint? I don’t know.
– Hm, well… Zombie Ranch isn’t exactly tailored to appeal to fans of japanimation. How much is it?
– (she gives price quote for tiny table)
– Oh, and we have to buy our badges separately.
– Ha ha, that’s funny. Oh wife… you play funny joke, yes?
– No, I’m serious. We don’t get badges with the table.
So after I ran out of words to express my incredulous disbelief (and I think I made up a few on the spot), we decided to pass. It’s probably beside the point, but it does give an idea of the sort of unique and special policies AX has to offer, that people who want to exhibit there had to suck up and take. Apparently in 2010 they also made the fine move of renegotiating the load-in/load-out contract after exhibitors were locked in, costing some of them hundreds more dollars than they were expecting to pay.
So there’s some problems with how things have been run, but at least one friend still went through the hurdles this year because her merchandise tends to sell quite well with the anime crowd. It’s because of her I first heard of AM2. Another convention that will be running the same weekend as AX, with AX in the Los Angeles Convention Center and AM2 in Anaheim. Another anime-themed convention.
Huh. So I do remember one of the many (many, MANY) reasons the Pasadena Rock’n’Comic Con last year failed was that they scheduled it the same weekend as the long-running Phoenix Comic Con, whereby most of the SoCal vendors who might have given Pasadena a chance were already committed over Arizona way. But I honestly believe that was a problem of ignorance, not malice aforethought.
AM2 is a huge, intentional middle finger to Anime Expo. Not only is it running the same weekend, about an hour’s drive away, but they’re offering free admission and hugely discounted exhibitor prices. In case this isn’t enough circumstantial evidence for you, you are welcome to compare the names of the staffers who resigned from AX with the staff that have developed AM2. The list is quite similar.
Now you can argue there’s an upside to this. For years, AX has been the only game in town, and when you’ve got a monopoly, you tend to feel like you can do whateverthefuck and anyone who doesn’t like it can just stay home. So how about this little coincidence announced just last weekend?
AX is trying to spin this new development, which includes free admission to the exhibit hall after 3:30pm, as something done to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Of course it is. It has nothing to do with the sudden competition for your attendee fan base that you’re making every effort not to mention.
Over that same weekend, the AM2 blog page was hacked:
If you’re too lazy to follow the link, this is what got posted as an “official announcement” which left AM2 scrambling for damage control:
Regardless of who is responsible for the hack, well…. wow. This wasn’t even an “We’re AM2 and we like to molest small children!” style hijack, this looks like a coldly calculated move, convenient links included, to sabotage AM2 and get people back to AX. That or a coldly calculated move to get people upset at AX (or their fans) for attempted sabotage. The references involved are way too specific to be the work of someone unfamiliar with the two conventions who was just fucking around.
And before you ask, no, they didn’t make up the name Chase Wang. Chase Wang is the president of the PR firm AX used to have a contract with and who is now working with AM2 instead. I admit, I do have an urge to make follow-up articles on this subject just so I can keep referencing Chase Wang.
See? Told you this would be fascinating.
So as of my writing this, the two conventions are still on a collision course. As for the fans, there’s a good portion of them figuring that with some free admission offerings on the table and not too huge a drive involved, they might just end up checking out both shows. But it’ll be interesting to see who lives or dies out of this and what points, if any, get proven. Even though the AX/AM2 battle is an extreme example, there are no less than 3 major geek cons happening in the L.A. area this Fall, with Wizard World Los Angeles returning at the end of September, followed by the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con at the end of October and the new Comikaze Expo just one week after that. WWLA and Comikaze are going to be held at the L.A. Convention Center barely a month apart.
There’s no real malice here that I know of, certainly not the kind that would be demonstrated by booking the same weekend. But it leaves me wondering just how much geek there is to go around. Every one of these conventions has an entry fee, and several reappearing faces (ours, for example). Can the average fan afford to attend all three, especially during an ongoing recession? Would they want to?
The Greater Los Angeles Area does boast well more than 10 million residents, but geeks are a small fraction of that, and with multiple conventions in so small a timeframe, we may be dividing that paying fan base into fractions of a fraction. Yes, there’s certainly an overflow available of people who couldn’t get to San Diego this year. But is it enough?