By Erin Bassler
When someone thinks “fan convention,” most picture an enormous room filled with nerds, all dressed to the nines in too-tight tutu-dresses, unnaturally colored wigs, and plastic wings strapped to their backpacks. People of all shapes, sizes, and ages coming together to shout catch phrases at random strangers, taking photos in increasingly ridiculous poses, and spending a good chunk of their lifesavings on giant pillow life-partners, cat ears, and a frightening amount of DVDs and comic books.
They’re not wrong — cons have all that and more, but that’s just the Dealer’s Room.
What “Regular People” don’t get is just how much time, money, and effort the average attendee spends preparing for a convention. They can be found across the globe, but most are lucky if they get to attend one a year.
Anime Boston, the sixth largest convention in North America, is dedicated to celebrating Japanese animation, music and culture — hosted March 25-27, 2016, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, MA where all walks of fiction (and life) are welcome.
“They have a lot to offer. It’s not just anime, it’s video games and Disney. It’s really diverse and it grows bigger every year,” Anna Morticelli describes after nine years of con experience. For 2016, she and her friend are reaching outside their comfort-zone to create a straightforward team cosplay of the Pokémon, Plusle and Minun.
The math doesn’t lie — in 2015, over 26,400 people registered for and attended Anime Boston. Every year, thousands of colorful characters fill the streets, the Shops at Prudential Center, and the Sheraton and Marriott hotels.
“Anime Boston is my home con. It was my first convention, and it will probably be my last,” says Brooke Lyons, also a nine-year Anime Boston goer, who will be decked out in a gorgeous original interpretation of a previously successful cosplay, “Crystal Queen” Annie Leonhardt from Attack on Titan.
Despite the clamor and the glamour, the way to a successful con experience can be a pricey and perilous road. There’s more to it than just showing up at the golden gates on a Friday morning.
Jared Hanley, with eight years of Anime Boston under his belt, walks us through the creation of his costume for the character Sans from the PC game, Undertale.
“My outfit just requires a bit of sewing and fabric painting to make the outfit, but more importantly the mask to properly capture the character’s iconic smile, something I couldn’t accomplish with facepaint,” he said. “This requires building a cardboard helm and covering it with ‘Great Stuff’ expanding insulation foam. Once cured, I carve it into the shape I want, then seal and paint it. Sounds simple, but it is time consuming.”
Time, money, location, lodgings, transportation — necessary evils for a good time.
In the end, a lot of newcomers feel the heat long before the three-day event even takes place. They’re terrified by horror stories that tell of cleaned-out wallets and holier-than-thou cosplay fashionistas lying in wait. Plus there’s always the threat of burning out before even setting eyes on a Pikachu plushie.
Luckily, there are some tips of the trade to help prepare for Con-ageddon.
1) Plan ahead.
Time flies faster than you think, so take time off work, preorder that weekend pass, book that hotel room three months in advance, and acquire your preferred mode of transportation. Have everything packed and ready by the door like you’re taking a three-day trip oversees.
Cash and ID? Check. Costume, wig, and props? Check. Event schedule and pass? Check. Don’t leave things until the last minute or you will experience a level of stress no soul should endure.
“Soon you’ll be sitting in a room full of friends, each of you neck deep in fabric scraps, thread, foam shavings, loose wig hair, each of you asking, ‘Why didn’t I start this sooner!’” Lyons bemoans.
2) Learn as you go and sew.
If you’re looking to dress up, then you’ve got plenty of options to choose from —buy what you need off Amazon or make it yourself.
For clothing, stores like Joann’s Fabric and Michaels are ideal for starting from scratch, but never underestimate the contents of your local Savers or Salvation Army, or even your very own attic if you prefer the patchwork approach.
For everything else, there are Internet tutorials — trial and error is a cosplayer’s bread and butter.
“Seeing your costume come to life, and knowing you’re the one who built it is one of the most rewarding experiences the cosplay culture has to offer,” Hanley says.
3) Don’t feel like you have to “go big or go home” with your costume.
Not everyone you meet this weekend is going to look like they just stepped off the anime walkway. Costume-making is new to some, and completely foreign to others — there are plenty of folks who prefer jeans and a hoodie to a bedazzled mech suit.
What matters is having a good time. If you’re not gunning for first place in the Cosplay Contest, don’t let it bother you if one sleeve is slightly shorter than the other, or your sailor skirt is more indigo than violet.
Or just don a pair of furry cat ears, a T-shirt that says “Glomp me,” and join the fun!
4) Budget your spending for before and during.
You pay for your ticket first and foremost — all the passion and glitter in the world won’t get you through the doors without that telltale lanyard around the neck. Next, be aware of how much you’re willing to spend for costume and living expenses. If distance is an issue, you might consider getting a hotel room, but if it’s not, then there’s no shame in taking the T.
“After that, it’s budgeting for costume supplies and funds for the con itself,” Hanley advises. “I could buy all the pretty PVC dolls and manga the con has to offer, but I need to eat at least twice a day.”
The second you step into the Dealers Room and Artist Alley, you will be overcome with the urge to buy, buy, buy. Set limits, bring a set amount of cash, and keep the credit card locked away. Anime Boston may only come once a year, but remember — things are forever and so is the Internet.
5) Remember to EAT.
“Budget money for food. Always budget money for food. And avoid Panda Express, that’s where Con Flu starts,” Mike Simmons warns, a seven-year patron of Anime Boston who will be tromping around in a specially ordered Megazord suit from Power Rangers.
Remember that regardless whether you’re dressed as a magical girl, an alien, or a ninja-pirate-wizard-grim reaper, you’re human under all the face paint and hair gel.
Pack a snack, or two or three, and keep a water bottle handy, so you won’t find yourself collapsed against a pillar a mere five fours in — you’re better than that.
Plan accordingly and be free to enjoy Anime Boston for the organized madness that it is.
Lyons goes to Anime Boston to experience that homeward-bound feeling over and over: “There isn’t one particular event or anything. I just can’t wait to be back in familiar territory, surrounded by likeminded people, having an amazing time.”
Hanley is looking forward to meeting up with an old friend: “Having him show up at my house every day for two weeks before the con, so we can rush to finish our costumes in time, really brings back memories of our first few conventions.”
Simmons loves the karaoke competition and attending panels: “They’re having a panel on Japanese special effect shows, so I’ll go to that, but not the maid café because there’s never a maid café, just a panel about maid cafés.”
Morticelli sees Anime Boston as a personalized Stop & Shop: “I’m one of those people that go to cons because I like to buy things. I’ve got friends that are like, ‘Oh my God, we have to go to this program!’ and I’m just, ‘Going to the Dealer Room!’”
There’s a method to the madness, but no matter how much you prepare, every fan goes to bed Thursday night equal parts jubilant and terrified. Plan accordingly, though, and you will walk out of Anime Boston next week sleepy, satisfied, and proud to have served — a veteran.
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