Anime Punch: Con Chair Interview

The sixth annual Anime Punch convention is on tap in Columbus this weekend. I’m not going but here’s my full interview with Michael Beuerlein, the convention’s chair. (I wrote about Anime Punch in the April issue of Ohio Magazine.)  

How did you get into anime? What keeps you interested in it?

When I was in middle school, Robotech was on TV and I got sucked into it. My mother had watched Starblazers when she was in college, and said the style reminded her of that, so we rented the box set from Blockbuster. Somewhere between the two I got hooked. What really draws me in is the long-format story arcs. In most western media, we only get a two-hour movie or a ton of unrelated episodes. Having 13, 26, or even 52 episodes, all telling one start-to-finish story really allows for a lot of development in all areas, much like a book. Even now I tend to only really get into the stories that are really plot intensive. Now plot-driven shows (like “24”) are becoming popular, but I still prefer a lot of what anime has to offer. Even within anime, I am fairly picky though, which isn’t to say I don’t like a lot of crap all the same.

Squee!: Why do you think anime conventions are so popular in the United States?

This question is probably more complex than you intended!  First and foremost, I think it’s always a lot of fun to get to meet new people who already share an interest. Much like going to a concert or a lecture, you get an easy lead-in to conversation. As anime is, by it’s very definition, foreign, it’s nice to have a place where everyone “speaks the same language,” as it were. There is so much background knowledge inherent to being an anime fan that there is a slight barrier to entry into the fandom, and if it’s your chief interest, there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to skip the 101 shit and get straight to the meat of conversation. I think across all eras and sub fan cultures, this is a universal truth.

Back in the early days of fandom, it was relatively obscure, if not unheard of. Even huge chunks of the sci-fi community were unaware of it, so being able to meet other fans face to face wasn’t just refreshing, it was a once-a-year opportunity. Even as late as the early 2000s, running into someone at the mall with a Ranma 1/2 shirt on or a Kenshin pin was a glorious encounter and regardless of your differing demographics, you said hi to that person and were best friends.  Anime cons back then were both recreation and almost necessity to stay involved in the fandom.

Today, anime is far from underground. Most kids in America grow up with anime shows as their very favorite cartoons (Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, etc.), many teens watch shows late at night (FMA, Death Note), and there is a relative awareness of where the shows come from.  It’s not like before, where anime was that “dark, mysterious” entity that was rumored to be all hack-and-slash pornos.

Even still, there is a tremendous gap between the people who got sucked into a few shows and those who are actually interested in the medium in its own right. In the mid-2000s, that line was really blurred, and there were a lot of “Hot Topic” anime fans at cons who had no real devotion to the art and were mostly there to hang out. Nowadays, conventions almost have gone full circle and returned to a launching point for those who want to expand their horizons. They’re a great place for older fans to share their favorite shows with the newer fans, and in a lot of cases, to get swept into new shows by younger fans to keep their interests from stagnating.

Squee!: I understand your convention caters to older fans, right? How is that experience different from conventions that draw more young fans?

A lot of conventions are blessed/plagued with tons and tons of teenagers hanging out all over the place. They tend to just sit in the halls, ignore the events schedule, and interact in their own goofy ways, which in its own way is pretty cool.  At the same time, for an older fan, it’s hard not to feel like a weirdo  when you are surrounded by half-naked teenagers and you’re the only guy old enough to drink.

At Anime Punch, we really push the programming, so the halls (while still busy) aren’t just full of people holding “hug me” signs. The age range is far more diverse. We still have oodles of kids, but they are really good at rising up to more collegiate level of attitude. This makes interactions between age groups way more natural, puts everyone on the same playing field, and creates an atmosphere where adults are more comfortable. It also allows us to host much more complex panels, avoid any issues of censorship, and talk indiscriminately on any topic without having to dumb things down or gloss over the icky stuff. We also have a more active night life with parties lasting until dawn and some really wild events.

Squee!: Do you think there’s a “tribe” mentality among anime fans? A sense that this is a place where they belonging?

Certainly. There are a ton of “in jokes” in the anime world, and fans do tend to take a lemming approach to things where they will follow trends pretty emphatically. At the same time, fandom can faction as well, which is really tragic. One thing we stress pretty hard at our event is that we are all fans, and we all like a lot of stupid, weird shit. As such, it’s important to respect and like each other for our differences, not to disassociate with people who like different stuff. For better or worse, anime as a medium is very diverse, with all the genres of normal media, plus a few extra ones unique to it.  There are going to be a lot of fans whose interests don’t  intersect with other fans. After all, this is a genre that includes both a kids show like Pokemon and adult animation where girls and filled in every orifice with tentacles. All the same, many fans seem to wave both as banners and icons of their fandom.

Squee!: Do you think there’s a stigma attached to being into anime? Why or why not?

I know in the past a lot of people thought all anime was porn, but that has long been laid to rest by Spirited Away and the like. I’d imagine that in a lot of high schools, the really dorky anime kids who wear fleece bunny ears and punctuate with various Japanese words probably have a stigma attached to them, and probably aren’t doing the rest of us any favors. At the same time the pretentious art-film crowd tends to really respect the anime genre for the really amazing movies and shows that are occasionally produced. I think like most things we’re probably judged by which element of our world the outsider has had the most exposure to.  If they got lassoed into watching Akira or Millennium Actress  they probably think we are pretty neat guys, if but a little out there.  If their only interaction has been with super hyper, socially awkward kids or overweight dudes obsessed with schoolgirls, their opinion is probably less favorable.

Anime Punch! is April 22-24 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus. You can find more info at


Fan Fiction Friday!!!

Happy spring, fellow fangirls! I’ve spent most of the last month reading every new Kakasaku fic I could find (and re-reading all of the good old ones). I’m kind of Kakasaku’d out for the moment. *sad face* But I just had give alifestylechoice some props for her piece, “Heart of Patience.”

I’ve been reading alifestyle’s stories for a while now and I’ve been waiting for her to write a one-shot that I could recommend and not feel like a complete and utter pervert (seriously, “Summer and Secrets”? “The Third Time”? *blinks* Wow). It’s finally here! In “Heart of Patience,” Sakura is working herself to the bone, desperately trying to find a cure for blindness that the Sharingan is causing. Sasuke is already blind as a bat and she doesn’t want the same to happen to Kakashi. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself and having already “let Sasuke down,” she’s frantically trying to keep Kakashi from suffering the same fate.

I enjoyed this story because while on the surface it’s a race against time to solve a very tangible problem, the underneath the underneath is wrapped up in pride and failure and acceptance. And, yes, love. Kakashi and Sakura’s relationship is so comfortable that them falling in love is mostly treated like a byproduct of the friendship they’ve built over time. There are no fireworks, no gazing across a room and wanting to tear each other’s clothes off. They just grow together until they realize they can’t live without one another. And, really, isn’t that the best kind of love? *sigh*

Rated PG. Grade: B.

My Top Five Favorite Anime Intros

I know people who swear that if an anime’s theme song sucks, then the anime itself will suck, too. I don’t prescribed to that thinking (sometimes it does…sometimes it doesn’t), but it is pleasantly surprising when a song matches the feel of a show. So I give you my top five favorite anime intros:

1. Cowboy Bebop, “Tank.” Could there be a more perfect theme song for Cowboy Bebop than “Tank”? The jazzy intro naturally enhances the film noir aspects of the show.

2. Gunslinger Girl, “The Light Before We Land.” There is something so desperate and heart-breaking yet hopeful about Gunslinger Girl and “The Light Before We Land” captures that feeling perfectly.

3. Samurai Champloo, “Battlecry.” Despite its many flaws, I still love some forms of hip-hop and this song works so well for Sam Cham. It’s brash and cocky, just like Mugen and Jin.

4. Naruto Shippuden, “Hero’s Come Back.” The first of (many) Shippuden intros, “Hero’s Come Back” sets the tone for the title character’s return. He’s back and finally ready to prove his worth to the village he’s sworn to protect.

5. Paranoia Agent, “Yume No Shima Shinen Kouen.” Who else but Satoshi Kon would want his characters laughing to an upbeat song as the world falls apart around them? Creepy. But then again, he did make Perfect Blue and Paprika, so it fits.

What are your favorites?

Graphic Novel Marvel: Jeff Suess

Jeff Suess is a superhero of sorts – he’s a tireless crusader for the literary power of the graphic novel. By day, Suess, 34, is a mild-mannered news librarian at The Cincinnati Enquirer. But on the second Saturday of every month, he morphs into the leader of the graphic novel discussion group at The Mercantile Library, able to leap complex storylines and amazing illustrations in a single bound. Squee! caught up with Suess to talk about his group, his favorite books and giving graphic novels the props they deserve.

Squee!: How did you get into graphic novels?

Suess: I started reading comics when I was ten, just after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns came out. There weren’t many graphic novels then. The market was still for single issues. So most graphic novels were really collections of completed stories. That’s how I read Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns because the back issues were too expensive.

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman was the first series that I wanted the collections, even though I have most of the original issues. But it was when libraries started carrying graphic novels that I really expanded my reading—European artists, independents, manga—beyond what I might purchase on my own.

Squee!: What’s the first novel you remember reading?

Suess: The first collected edition was Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, which I read in 1987 or 1988. The first original graphic novels were probably Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, and Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean.

Squee!: In your opinion, what’s the best graphic novel ever written?

Suess: Watchmen. No question. Alan Moore is to comics what Shakespeare is to drama. He breaks the molds and redefines the medium. Watchmen has a great story with intriguing, complex characters, and it is the most influential book out there. It deconstructs superhero comics, it popularized the violent anti-hero, it brought social and political aspects to mainstream comics. It did all that, yes. But there are a lot of books that are well written—The Sandman is a better, more complex story, I think—but Watchmen goes beyond that and pushes against the perceived constraints of the medium to explore new territory.

Alan Moore uses images and text to reflect each other, or juxtapose, or complement. And the art is terrific. Dave Gibbons is not the most celebrated artist, but he brought everything he had to this book. He designed an entire alternate world, with incredible detail. He designed the city, so every shot has the correct buildings in the correct places. He created a reality that the reader can buy into. Alan Moore is known for his insanely elaborate scripts, laying out the placement of every little detail, so there’s incredible depth, and a few neat tricks. He uses repeated motifs, like the smiling face pin.
The “Fearful Symmetry” issue is done as a complete reflection. Panel 1, page 1 is reflected in the last panel of the last page. When Rorschach climbs the stairs in a building near the beginning, near the end, he descends those stairs. Panel by panel, it’s all a reflection. This is just a brilliant work. No one has ever utilized the medium to this great of an effect. I could go on for hours about Watchmen.

I’ll also mention The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It’s a literary masterpiece that covers the entirety of time and story yet feels intimate. Gaiman is the best storyteller who works in comics. Alan Moore is the best storyteller using comics.

Squee!: How did the graphic novel discussion get started at the Merc?
Suess: Edmund Osterman founded the group and led it for the first two years, though I have been part of the group since the beginning. The first meeting was in October 2007, discussing Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Squee!: How did it come about?

Suess: Edmund is an English teacher and wanted to use his love of comics as a teaching tool. I think he was a member of the Mercantile and he works on some comics of his own. I also write comics and have been reading them for a long time, so I was very active in discussions. Edmund asked me to take over in November 2009 when his schedule made it difficult to make it each month.

Squee!: The Merc isn’t the most likely place for a discussion on graphic novels. I love the place but it isn’t what I think of when I think “graphic novels.” Was this deliberate? Did you want to show people that graphic novels can be just as literary as other kinds of novels?

Suess: I think that was part of Edmund’s intention and I try to continue that. One thing that most people don’t realize is that graphic novels are a medium, not a genre. That’s not merely quibbling over words. Western is a genre, mystery is a genre. There are certain conventions that all westerns must have to be westerns. Film is a medium, the novel is a medium. There is a huge difference between, say, Citizen Kane and Saw 3-D. But people are stuck on the idea that comics equal superheroes. Comics are for kids. That’s like saying all novels are romances.

Like with any medium there is a wide range of quality of graphic novels. There is some important literature, like Art Spiegelman’s Maus. And there is stuff that never pretended to be anything other than entertainment. But graphic novels are a relatively new medium. They started appearing in the 1970s, but it has only been in the last fifteen years or so that more artists have started to tap their potential. Libraries are a huge reason for the popularity of graphic novels. Acceptance by librarians really legitimizes graphic novels as a medium, and this discussion group at the Mercantile is a part of that. Several of our readers had never read a comic or graphic novel before, and they first have to learn how to read a graphic novel, how to pay attention to the image as well as the words. But they come back, so this seems to be working.

Squee!: How do you choose the novels you’ll discuss each month?

Suess: The one stipulation is that there are enough copies available at the public library because graphic novels are not cheap. I don’t want people turned off of the group because they don’t want to buy the book. I’d rather have more people read and discuss, but that excludes some great books because there aren’t enough copies. I’d like to do more manga but there are only one or two copies of the good stuff, like Osamu Tezuka’s works. Many of the books I didn’t read before we selected them, so it’s not always the quality that attracts us. I check the new arrivals lists at the library to see what sparks some interest.

I also try to vary the selections. The discussion started out with a popular literary graphic novel, Persepolis, and then we all bring in our recommendations, what we’re interested in reading. We run the gamut: the established greats, Will Eisner, Ghost World, Jimmy Corrigan; ones with adult themes; international books like Aya and Exit Wounds; ones for children, like Owly and Tintin. I aim for a complete story, but some graphic novels are too large to cover in an hour—like Jeff Smith’s Bone, where we read the first volume.

Some people treat graphic novels as synonymous with independent comics, but there is some quality mainstream books. We have done superheroes and romance and war stories and biographies and weird books that are hard to categorize, like Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. In December, we did our first comic strip, the ancestor to graphic novels, with a volume of Charles Schulz’s Complete Peanuts. I am also trying to bring an education of the history of the medium and its potential. That includes comic strips and old comics and the big superheroes, even children’s books. If you think about it, picture books are sequential illustrations that help tell the story.

Squee!: Which novel created the mostly lively discussion?

Suess: Some books have more meat than others. There is a lot going on in Sandman and Maus. But some pleasant surprises that got great responses were The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan and Percy Gloom by Cathy Malkasian. There were several layers of complexity in Percy Gloom, and it really stuck with us. One reader who missed the discussion meeting e-mailed me to discuss that book.

Squee!: If you were recommending graphic novels to newbies, what would you start them off with?

Suess: That depends on who they are, what they are interested in. If it’s a kid: Jeff Smith’s Bone. Women: Sandman or Fables or Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise. Guys: Probably The Walking Dead. For more literary readers, like Mercantile members, Maus. Or start with the best: Watchmen. It’s a gateway book. Some new readers take a bit to get used to how to read comic, that the art is an essential part of the story, so maybe the works of Norwegian cartoonist Jason, which are mostly wordless. Incredible storytelling, though. Or Shaun Tan’s The Arrival—wordless but with photorealistic art. It’s all about finding something that the reader will like and that will also show the potential of graphic novels.

Squee!: Why would you recommend The Walking Dead for guys but not for women? What kind of stories do you think draw more attention from women?

Suess: I’m sure there are women who enjoy The Walking Dead. I’d make recommendations based on the person’s interests. It’s about getting them hooked on reading graphic novels. So you start with something that would appeal to the reader. I have a female friend who thought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had too much Pride and Prejudice and not enough zombies. She might like The Walking Dead. But typically—and these are generalizations—guys like things that are “cool.” Zombies are cool. Men are attracted to visuals. They often buy a comic because they like an artist. Women are drawn more to the story.

Women have typically not been into comics. They are turned off by muscle-bound heroes and scantily clad women with impossible anatomies that are everywhere in mainstream comics. Women are interested in more realistic characters. Those can be fantasy characters, like vampires or aliens—I mean that they have realistic emotions. They are more rounded characters. Women are also drawn to strong female characters. Sandman was one of the first graphic novels to attract a female audience. Neil Gaiman even alternated the focus of his story arcs, one more female-oriented, one more male- oriented. I think women are attracted to a story or characters that they can be invested in, while guys go for “That looks awesome!” and stick around for a good story.

Squee!: What do you say to people who think because a novel is illustrated, it’s for children?

Suess: Unless I happen to have a graphic novel handy, I have to speak to them in terms they understand. Most people know movies, and if you tell them that Road to Perdition and A History of Violence and Sin City and 300 were all graphic novels, they are usually surprised. There have been a slew of movies based on comics—Ghost World, Kick-Ass, V for Vendetta, which are all adult. Even The Dark Knight showed that movies based on superheroes aren’t just for children. But the real way to get them to understand is to show them, to get them reading.

In the 1980s, when comics started to “grow up,” there came the refrain that “comics aren’t just for kids anymore.” I’ve even used that phrase myself. But it dismisses some great comics that are for kids. It all goes back to comics and graphic novels as a medium. Are cartoons only for kids? Watch South Park. Or even the Pixar movies. There seems to be a prejudice that if it’s for children, it has no value. That’s just not true at all.

Squee!: Do you think older people who read graphic novels are stereotyped because of that interest?

Suess: Unfortunately, yes. Even I am self-conscious about reading a graphic novel at lunch or riding the elevator. And I often have to defend it. It helps that I can send them to the graphic novel discussion group at The Mercantile—that sounds all sophisticated. But we’re slowly making inroads. The way it is happening, as it usually does, is with money. The Dark Knight makes $500 million. A-list Hollywood celebrities attend Comic-Con. That people notice. The fact that we’re even discussing this, that the Mercantile Library has a graphic novel group, it means attitudes are changing.

Squee!: Anything else you’d like to address?

Suess: Scott McCloud has done a terrific job analyzing the art form of comics in Understanding Comics. It’s a sort of text book for comics and graphic novels—and it’s a graphic novel itself.

Also, I’ll plug the discussion group. We meet the second Saturday of every month at 1 p.m. at The Mercantile Library, at 414 Walnut Street, 11th floor, downtown Cincinnati. E-mail me to get on the mailing list.

Fan Fiction Friday!!!

OK, so I have a boyfriend. A good one. He cooks, he cleans, he enjoys anime and graphic novels, he talks about his feelings, and best of all? He adores me. He thinks the fact that I can debate him on why Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight is neither better nor worse than Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the original Batman movie makes me the bee’s knees. All of this is fine and good (it’s pretty awesome, actually), but it seems to be changing the type of fan fiction I’m reading. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the angsty stuff. However, I’m finding myself hunting for stories that are bit on the fluffy side, which is why I’m loving SilverShine’s “The Girl from Whirlpool” right now.

“Whirlpool” is the story of Minato Namikaze and Kushina Ukimake, and how they came to be a couple. I have to admit that I never really thought about Minato and Kushina in any way other than them being Naruto’s parents. But when you think about it, their backstory is so sad and tragic that the only way to get through it is to give yourself a little shot of fluff. As usual, SilverShine’s writing is superb. Her descriptions of battles are full of action and detail (her explanation of how Minato developed his Flying Thunder God technique is especially good), but of course, it’s the budding romance between the two main characters that takes center stage. Kushina is temperamental and mouthy, but it’s all a cover for the pain she’s had to endure. And Minato. Oh, Minato. SilverShine makes him so sweet and awkward yet thoughtful and strong. You can easily see how their traits and quirks make Naruto who he is. This story is a work in progress so who knows when she’ll actually finish it, but it doesn’t matter. After reading chapter 504 of Naruto Shippuden, you’ll need “The Girl from Whirlpool” to balance the angst.

p.s.: SilverShine gets an extra large glomp for her ability to make all of the side storylines mesh perfectly with Minato and Kushina’s story. Be on the lookout for Orochimaru, Kakashi and Sakumo, and even a little bit of Obito.

The Girl from Whirlpool. Rated T. Grade A.

My MatsuriCon Story!

My story on MatsuriCon for Columbus Monthly magazine has finally been posted to its website. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the way it turned out but whatever…it’s too late to complain now. It’s difficult to write about anime for an audience that’s thoroughly unfamiliar with it, but it was good clean fun.

Fan Fiction Friday!!!

I think I’ve mentioned multiple times that I like the idea of Shikamaru/Kurenai and not so much Shikamaru/Temari or Shikamaru/Ino, but Bob5’s Every Cloud has all three and it works.

The Shika-centric fic revolves around his inability to understand any of the women in his life. If you think about it, his relationships with Kurenai, Ino, and Temari make sense; any of them could end up moving toward romance. He wants to help Kurenai take care of her baby after Asuma’s death and spending so much time with her could lead to feelings he can’t control (no matter how much he tried). He’s closest with Ino, whom he’s known since he was a child and a friendship like that might be a decent foundation for a relationship (if Ino wasn’t, you know, Ino). And Temari? His relationship with her is nearly canon for the sheer fact that almost every time she appears in the manga or anime, he’s somewhere nearby; I could see him attracted to Temari’s pragmatism, but finding her competitive nature “troublesome.”

“Every Cloud” easily analyzes and categorizes Shikamaru’s three relationships, but this paragraph clearly shows that he’d trade all of them to have Asuma back:

“Shikamaru still dreams of a simple life. He dreams of a wife who is quiet and kind and children who are clever and well behaved. He dreams of Asuma. These are the dreams he relishes the most. He tells Asuma all his problems over cigarettes and a game of Go (strangely, in the dream, Asuma always wins) and his sensei laughs and slaps him on the back with a large, powerful hand and says, “The one thing you need to know about women is…” and it is here that Shikamaru always wakes up with a pain in his shoulder and an ache in his chest.”

Oh, Shikamaru. You and your women and your absolutely clumsiness when it comes them, despite the fact that you’re a genius. My heart goes out to you.

Every Cloud. Rated T. Grade: B+