From one huge convention to another: two weeks after Toronto and Anime North, I was in Dallas for A-Kon 22, a convention on the same epic scale and with an even longer history. Starting out in 1990 with just 380 attendees, A-Kon 21 had 17,596 congoers, and this year’s event felt significantly busier.
Imagine a small town where the entire population decides to go to the mall (or high street) at the same time, and you’ll get some idea of what it’s like to be at A-Kon.
Oddly enough, the extra numbers didn’t make things unpleasant or even much less convenient. The queues, corridors and elevators were well managed, keeping crushes and delays to a minimum. It just felt big, partly because there were so many people in every part of the enormous hotel and convention centre, and partly because at any given moment there were 15 different programme streams to choose from. (And that’s without taking account of the gaming off in the Marriott Hotel and DollAKon and the manga library and maid/butler cafe, and without setting foot in the Komik Market or Dealers’ Room.) Just in case you get bored, or don’t fancy going to the Japanese band concerts, taiko drumming sessions, fight demos and Masquerade, A-Kon runs its own TV channel in the main hotel from Thursday to Sunday.
My part in all this frantic activity was to give talks and panels, hold my first-ever haiku open mic workshop, and act as auctioneer for the charity auction. The auction is one of my favourite bits of A-Kon. Organised for years by the amazing Skippy-chan, it was taken over on his retirement by Chris , and he organised an excellent auction. The dealers and guests donated some superb items, my lovely assistants Marc, Rae and Jasmine worked their socks off, Matt did a wonderful job keeping track of the money, and in a thrill-packed 90 minutes we shamelessly fleeced, bullied and cajoled a generous crowd, raising over $2,300 for disaster relief in Dallas’s International Friendship City, Sendai.
The haiku workshop was done in collaboration with fellow-poet and A-Kon staffer Jason Holder Bennett. Haiku aren’t every anime fan’s interest so I was pleased that attendance got into double figures, and even more pleased with some of the poetry that came out of it – funny, clever, thought-provoking and moving. I hope we can repeat this at a future A-Kon, with more poets ready to read their own haiku or make new ones.
The A-Kon writers’ track is always popular, and although more people attending the panels want to write fiction than non-fiction, there’s a healthy interest in both and in all aspects of the business, as well as the art, of writing. Getting the chance to pick the brains of a group of working, regularly published writers is useful to anyone interested in the craft of writing, fan, pro or aspiring newcomer. This year we missed A-Kon regular Jana Oliver, who is getting busier and busier as her Demon Trappers series sells in the USA and UK, but with Peter S. Beagle, Lee Martindale, Laura J. Underwood, Lynn Abbey, Melanie Fletcher, Gloria Oliver, Esther Friesner, Elizabeth Moon, Terrance Griep and more around, the whole spectrum of writing for fun & profit was covered. Many of us were at A-Kon’s first ever book launch, a 38th-floor party to celebrate HarpHaven Press’s new SF/fantasy anthology The Ladies of Trade Town. Edited by Lee Martindale, it’s themed around the Galaxy’s (allegedly) oldest profession and US readers can buy a copy here.
I’ve been coming to A-Kon since 2002, and it’s a tribute to the con committee and staff that it stays fresh and interesting for me a decade on. I meet old friends and make new ones every year. Some of the staff this year were kids tagging along with their parents at my first A-Kon; some probably came to their first A-Kon in utero. Even though the anime and manga industry is going through one of its periodical contractions, A-Kon, like Anime North, is growing at an amazing rate. In another ten years, it may even be too big for Dallas.