Intern James Bright was surprised by what he found during his lunch break Friday. I’ll just let him tell (and show) you all about it.
I’m pretty routine when it comes to lunchtime.Â A burger, or a few slices of pizza, are my most common choices for a midday meal.Â Friday, I trotted down to the Plaza of the Americas to buy myself a fresh Persian-made burger. There was something different about the plaza though. Usually it’s sparsely populated in the early afternoon. There are a few businessmen taking a late lunch, but that’s about it. That wasn’t quite the case Friday. Hundreds of people dressed like demons, comic book characters, and movie villains filled the seating area around the ice skating rink. A teenager dressed as Neo from The Matrix stood in line next to me for a burger–I guess he took the blue pill this time. I casually asked him about the getup, and he responded with a giddiness matched only by five-year-olds on Christmas, “It’s A-Kon!”
For more photos from the event, click here. For a video, and a heart-stopping blow-by-blow account of what I found there, take the jump.
For the last 22 years, Dallas has been home to A-Kon, a convention honoring Japanese animation, video games, and comic books. The three-day festival has grown since its inception and this year it couldn’t be contained to one hotel. Vendors selling trinkets such as action figures, clothing accessories, and even swords were all over the conference rooms of the Sheraton hotel. At the Marriott, a flock of video game programmers and avid gamers spent hours in a dark room locked in war on the battlefield of some of today’s most popular games. Their intensity rivaled that of the Mavericks as they clinched their first NBA championship.
Although the ability to buy and trade items and art is a major attraction of A-Kon, the freedom to dress as virtually anything draws an equally large crowd. Costume play–Cosplay for short–is a growing trend where fans will dress up as their favorite characters from Japanese animation, movies, video games, or comic books. Although this movement started with the specific focus of Japanese animation, over the past few years, some Cosplayers have moved away from the traditional. Science fiction and horror have become genres that have almost equal representation in this movement. The only thing that still remains uniform is the price. Most costumes cost hundreds of dollars, so the majority who partake in the fun only own one costume. Given the price and delicacy of these outfits, the only way to clean them is professional laundering. This factor does not bode well in the Texas heat. With a three-day convention and temperatures nearing the 100-degree mark, sweat and the stench of body odor filled the corridors of the hotels traveled by the Cosplayers.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, most were not dissuaded from wearing their outfits. Dallas native Matthew Hamm dressed as a Power Ranger. Hamm goes to many conventions like A-Kon and feels that you never see enough of the classic heroes in the Cosplay world. “It’s either not done very well, or old school,” he says when it comes to other Power Rangers’ costumes. “We like to branch out and do things that people remember vaguely, or are completely unaware of.”
In complete contrast to the heroic Power Rangers is a Missouri man’s take on the classic monster Frankenstein. Dustin–who withheld his last name–says he comes to A-Kon to let loose and spend time with “nerds like him.” For the past five years, Dustin has attended A-Kon receiving positive feedback on his outfit each time.
Dustin’s size and the chains hanging from his outfit make him quite the sight. The overall appearance is fairly gruesome, and frankly, I think the 10-year-old version of myself would be a bit nervous if I ran into him, but that’s the exact opposite of what Dustin says he deals with. “Everyone loves Frankenstein and little kids aren’t afraid of it.”
Vendors such as online comic strip author Jennie Breedan says it’s the kinship that keeps her returning to A-Kon year after year. I witnessed this kindness first hand. A large man dressed as what I guess was a Ghostbuster, stepped on the trench coat of another attendee twice. I’ve seen bar fights start for much less. Neither of these gentlemen sought blood though. They actually laughed at the mistake and continued on with their days.
Initially, Breedan was surprised that a convention of this sort was held in Texas, but over the years it has become a staple in her life. A frequenter of A-Kon conventions, Breeden says a lot of her ideas for comics come from what she hears and sees at the events. Financially Breedan actually does better in Texas than in Florida. The live and let live mentality she has witnessed on the streets is refreshing, and that coupled with the lucrativeness of the Dallas convention, keeps her coming back. Â “In Atlanta, people couldn’t step foot on to the street with out fear of being harassed, but here they can walk around the city and no one bothers them,” she says.
Artist and writer Rod Espinosa attends A-Kon to sell some of his work, but loves the diversity and feeling surrounding the convention. Despite the insanity of more than 18,000 people scurrying from one room to the next, Espinosa sits at his stand and draws with a slight smirk on his face. He says this is where people come together to talk about and enjoy different works of art from lesser-known sources of creativity.
It’s not just artists that sell their goods at the convention. Handmade soap and natural cosmetics distributer Lush was on hand with employee Dorian Day selling merchandise while dressed as Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although she has known about it for years, this was Day’s first time att,ending A-Kon. She says when she was offered the opportunity to work at the function she couldn’t resist. “It brings so many interesting and colorful people to the area,” she says. “It’s really diverse and I think that’s a lot of fun.”
Although all ages are represented at A-Kon, it’s those in their early 20s who make up the majority of attendees. As is with any faction of this age group, there are a lot of smokers and one of the more interesting sights for those driving down Olive Street this weekend was the wide array of costumed characters puffing on tobacco in front of the Sheraton.
One such smoker was Irving resident Tyler Rowten. Dressed as Eric Draven from the cult classic The Crow, he said A-Kon’s importance was rooted in its ability to bring Dallas closer to another country. “It expands the Dallas culture with all that’s being brought in,” Rowten says.
The three-day affair was quite a sight. There are conventions almost every week in Dallas, and it’s nice to see something not related to business embraced by the city. I have to admit, when I go for my pizza, or burger this week, it’s going to be a little boring sitting next the ice-skating rink absent the company of Neo.–James Bright