The group behind the anime convention AnimeNEXT is planning to start a new convention devoted towards manga called MangaNEXT. Isaac of ComiPress takes a look at this new development by talking with Convention Chairman David Christopher Asher (Former Vice Chairman of Otakon 1994, Convention Chairman of Otakon 1995 & 1996) and Staff Liaison Eugene Cheng (Former Co-Convention Chairman for AnimeNEXT 2002-2004).
How did the idea for this manga-focused convention come about?
EC: David once told me a while back when Otakon was first considering an attendance cap that he felt Otakorp, the organization responsible for Otakon, should look at running smaller events throughout the year. I concurrently had been pitching the idea of a second event to Universal Animation, the organization behind AnimeNEXT, in order to diversify ourselves a bit.
I had always been more interested in manga than anime, and AnimeNEXT in 2002 was the first convention in North America to introduce a Manga Library, so it seemed natural to have our secondary event be focused on manga. The idea had actually been approved by our board of directors back in 2005, but Gregg Turek, the person we had tabbed to chair the event wound up as the chairman of AnimeNEXT 2006 and we had to put the project on hold while we searched for a chairman. I somehow convinced David to do it a few months ago, we got the budget approved and a contract signed with the hotel, and here we are.
DCA: Eugene pretty much covered it.
Who's involved with this project (Staff composition)?
EC: Initially, we intended for the event to be used to give our more junior staffers a chance to gain valuable convention experience at a smaller event. Given our shortened planning phase, we've had to change our strategy a bit. The core planning staff currently consists of our more seasoned vets, many of whom been chairmen of other events. Erica Friedman (Yuricon) is running our Programming department, and Bill Johnston (Otakon) and Mitch Hagmaier (Otakon) are running the Operations department. Doug Lu (AnimeNEXT) is handling our Dealers department.
DCA: Since MangaNEXT is an offshoot of AnimeNEXT, many of the same pool of people are involved. We are still putting together our staff, and our goal is to run the event with 40 people. As Eugene said, our core staff is very experienced (we have six current/former con chairs of various events on staff) which is why we are comfortable planning the event in such a short time frame.
Why do this type of convention? What makes it unique compared to related anime or comic conventions?
EC: Anime and comic conventions are very broad in focus. Manga tends to fade into the background at these events. We intend to put manga back in the spotlight where we feel it belongs. We'll be introducing some interesting and new things at the event, and we'll be borrowing a bit from Comiket, and a bit from comic conventions. Most events tend to branch out as they get larger. We want MangaNEXT to become more focused on manga with each passing year.
DCA: Another key difference is in the subject material itself. Most non-children's anime that gets produced in Japan is based on Shonen manga, US manga releases are also biased toward shounen. For every Fruits Basket or Paradise Kiss or Kenji's Spring that gets released here, there are two dozen shows like Naruto, Full Metal Alchemist, or One Piece. US manga releases are also biased in that direction, though not so severely, and Japanese manga releases not at all.
The pool of translated manga, either done professionally or by fans, contains a much wider breadth of genres, and much greater depth within each. Yaoi, yuri, shoujo, and josei manga are all readily available, compared to the relatively scarce anime offerings in those genres.
What are the goals?
DCA: Our goal is to create an environment for fans of manga to socialize, to talk about the things they like, maybe learn something, and above all to have fun. We would like to bring manga fans and manga companies closer together and provide a chance for dialogue.
EC: Our main goal is to provide our members with a second event in the area to enjoy. The New York / New Jersey market is very large, and we feel it can sustain several events. Our main financial goal is to break even this year and get the event established and in position to grow in future years. We've instituted an attendance cap (registration is open, by the way) and chose to run MangaNEXT in a hotel because we want to give the event a different feel than AnimeNEXT.
What will be the convention programming for the first year?
EC: I'll let David field this question.
DCA: We will feature the manga library of course, as well as a dealer's room and artist alley. Panel Programming will play a large part of the convention, and our programming staff is developing a wide array of ideas. We plan to run a hall costuming contest, a video game room to pass the time between scheduled program items, and one or two dance/rave events. We may run some video, but we would probably limit it to stuff like Comic Party, Genshiken, or fan-produced stuff like AMVs or parodies. We're tossing a few other ideas back and forth, and we'll see which ones make the cut soon.
What type of guests do you hope to attend this year and the future (Japanese, Korean, Canadian, American, UK, etc....)?
DCA: As a first-year event, with extremely limited resources, we will probably be very guest-light. Depending on the circumstances, we would like to get a manga artist, but it is highly unlikely. We do hope to get some interesting speakers and panelists from many circles-academic, industry, and fandom.
EC: We're running this year on a very tight budget, so guests will mainly be domestic. In future years, we'd like to bring in manga-ka from Japan.
What type of industry involvement do you wish to have? Will you have just local companies participating or the entire industry?
DCA: We welcome involvement from all the US manga publishers. However, we recognize that we are a first-year event, relatively small, and running on a short lead time, so we may not get as much participation as we would like this year. We are currently speaking with several publishers about the event.
EC: One of the reasons our location is perfect for this type of event is we're a stone's throw away from many major publishers in NYC. We've got CMX, Media Blasters, and Del Rey just across the river, not to mention some of the larger Japanese Bookstores like Kinokuniya and Asahiya. We could also go another direction with the convention and make it completely oriented towards fan-made and small-press along the lines of Comiket.
Since it's a literature type of convention, will there be more of a focus on the Exhibitors Hall and Artist Alley/Small Press than other programming? You mentioned wanting to follow aspects of comic conventions and Comiket where this area is more the heart of the event while other programming is secondary.
DCA: We are not looking to copy Comiket's model, but by removing anime as focus, many 'traditional' anime convention program elements become less relevant. There is a much-reduced need for video theaters, and the guest pool is narrowed by excluding voice actors, musicians, and production guests. By removing these parts of a standard convention, we will naturally focus on what remains, and the dealer's room, artist alley, and hall cosplay are things we feel are priorities for our attendees. We would also like to promote discussion, hence our expanded
DCA: Comiket can get away with running just a dealers/artists room, and hall cosplay, simply because of the size of the event. The sheer number of participants makes it possible to spend the entire time browsing the booths and maybe taking a few photos, without ever seeing the same thing twice. I also think most US anime/manga/related conventions are based more on a combination of the literary sci-fi and media convention model, than a trade show, which Comiket resembles. The manga focus may cause MangaNEXT to change, but that change will be evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Do you plan to host a manga library at the convention? What's the general size of the library at this time?
EC: Absolutely, we intend to scale up the Manga Library to make it a bigger part of the event. I think we allocated about 1000 square feet to it at AnimeNEXT, and we're hoping to at least double that space for MangaNEXT.
DCA: I think Eugene covered that one.
What do you want attendees to walk away from the convention with?
DCA: A smile on their face, a bag full of goodies, and a firm intention of coming back the following year.
EC: Good manga and good memories.
How do you plan to promote the event (TV, radio, podcast, website, newsletter, etc....)?
EC: Our publicity budget is tiny in comparison to AnimeNEXT's, so we'll be limiting ourselves to word-of-mouth and leaflets at local stores.
DCA: We're going old-school on this one. Flyers, which we handed out to everyone attending AnimeNEXT in June, and will distribute at regional anime cons until our event. We will also have a table in the OTAKON dealer's room to talk with attendees and promote our event. And of course, there is our web site at www.manganext.org, which has the most up-to-date information on the convention.
Interview by Isaac Alexander