I went to a ton of conventions before organizing my own. I think one year I went to a record of 22 different conventions in one year – a couple of them were even on the same weekend and 5 hours drive apart! That means that I had a convention almost every other weekend. Between the years of 2006 and 2010 I had attended probably 50+ different conventions.
These are some of the program guides for various conventions that I attended over the years in order to better understand what to do at my conventions. I like to imagine this is like a restaurant owner sampling lots of other restaurants to know what customers expect, how to ensure quality food and service, and how to make your restaurant as amazing as possible.
These program guides were not only used to understand what to do at my conventions, but also to gather ideas for how to improve and innovate the convention experience for attendees. As an avid convention-goer, I was able to see first-hand what worked and what didn’t, and what made some conventions stand out above the rest. It was important for me to take note of these observations and apply them to my own conventions in order to create an exceptional experience for our attendees.
I initially started going to anime conventions just for fun and to make friends. I was drawn to the idea of being surrounded by people who shared my love for anime and Japanese culture. However, as I attended more conventions and became more involved in the community, I began to see the bigger picture.
Anime conventions are more than just a place to have fun and meet new people. They are a space where people can come together to celebrate their shared interests and passions, and to connect with others who share those interests. They are a place where people can feel like they belong, and where they can be themselves without fear of judgment.
As an organizer, it became my mission to create an environment that not only celebrated anime and Japanese culture, but also promoted inclusivity, diversity, and a sense of community. By incorporating feedback from attendees and implementing new ideas and features, we were able to create a convention experience that went beyond just having fun, but also provided a space for people to feel seen and heard.
For me, the sense of community and belonging that I found at anime conventions was priceless. It not only provided a safe space to express my love for anime and Japanese culture but also helped me to feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin. Attending conventions gave me the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who shared my passions and interests.
In order to give back to this community that had given me so much, I started volunteering for conventions. I took on simple tasks such as carrying boxes or checking badges at the door. Although these tasks were easy, they were essential in making the conventions run smoothly, and it felt good to contribute to the success of these events.
I actually founded AnimeCon.org quite by accident. I had been working with some folks on planning a little convention in Iowa and we were going to another small little anime convention and pass out flyers for this one-time event we were planning. But that convention was canceled and a few friends and I decided, spur of the moment, to host our own mini con in its place. That con became Anime-ZAP!, now the second longest running anime convention in Illinois!
After having fun running Anime-ZAP! and then the first Anime-zing!, we thought it would be fun to start some bigger conventions. The biggest cities near me were in Minneapolis and Chicago, so I reached out to some venues in those areas and before you know it AniMinneapolis and Anime Midwest were born!
These conventions were destined to be bigger and better than anything we had done before, with a wider variety of guests, activities, and panels. We wanted to create an experience that would truly immerse attendees in the anime and convention culture.
Some of the people from our early two events are even still involved today. Our head of vendors was at our very first meeting talking about starting a little con in Eastern Iowa. And our Vice-President Erica was one of the cosplayers and entertainers at that first Anime-ZAP! You may see her in a lot of our Japan videos!
Quite a few of our team have been with us for decades. Our head of guests I met in Nebraska before we ever started doing our own cons, and we’ve since been to the other side of the globe hanging out in Tokyo together. And our head of ConSweet was at that very first Anime Midwest.
Speaking of the ConSweet, that’s another thing I love to talk about. We were inspired by some local cons that had these little rooms filled with snacks for people to enjoy throughout the weekend. Out of almost 50+ different conventions I’ve attended, only 3 or 4 of them had ConSweets. And I thought it was just the coolest idea.
At the ConSweet attendees could grab some instant ramen or maybe a PB&J and snack between panels and events. For me this was great because I didn’t have a lot of money. In fact, I met many friends in the ConSweet who were just like me – we couldn’t afford the $10 hotel burgers (at the time). For many attendees, the ConSweet is a lifesaver. Convention food can be expensive, and for those on a budget, the ConSweet provides a much-needed respite from the high prices of hotel and convention center food. In fact, for many attendees, the ConSweet is a place to make new friends and connect with others who are also on a budget.
So that’s a bit of our story – I went to tons of anime conventions to get inspired and we eventually started our own taking the best of what we learned and applying it to make some great events like Meta Con and AniMinneapolis. I hope to see you at one of our next conventions!