Location: New York
When did you discover anime? I had my first brush with anime (other than whatever was on Saturday morning TV) in the 7th grade. It was about 2002 and I was a bit of an outsider at my school for standing out too much. (Partially because I was too smart for my own good and partially because I didn’t belong to the predominant demographic of students.) As a result, I often got in to fights with people and was bullied.
That eventually lead me to a small group of seemingly neutral people (since every day was a “battle”) who were really chill. Somehow we became friends and I found out they were into this thing called “anime” and the girls of the group really liked something called “yaoi“. Eventually they tried to indoctrinate me with Ranma 1/2 but I was a little weirded out. To be fair though, I was literally 12 and my reaction was “what is this?” Eventually we become pretty good friends and they managed to get me interested in anime with Yu Yu Hakusho.
What was the predominant demographic that you didn’t fit into? And does that mean that where you’re from, anime was for outsiders? My school was in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where most people were from the same country. If I wanted to fit in, I either had to have that shared cultural / national identity or get really in to sports. Unfortunately neither option was feasible so I encountered quite a bit of friction. I’m only half-Hispanic (but not from that country in particular) and was the first mixed-race person most of those kids had ever met. On top of that, I’ve never been interested in sports and used to be fairly clumsy. As the saying goes, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”.
I wouldn’t say anime was for outsiders. At the time anime wasn’t really taken in to account in the social pecking order.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? At first I was actually a bit put off because my first exposure was at the hands of die-hard fujoshi. (As the second guy in their group… the look in their eyes signaled they had dark plans.) But over time as I was exposed to different genres and different stories I started to become enamored with how exciting the plots and fights could be. Also it was so different from the cartoons I was used to seeing on TV.
Do you still know any of those fans? Do you still hang out with fans who have a sub-interest, the way fujoshi do? I lost touch with that group after I graduated middle school unfortunately. Right now I hang out with fans of all sorts and most people have a number of interests. The most common ones I see are magical girls, sports and yuri though.
What would you say was the most popular anime at the time? It might have been YuGiOh! I remember a lot of the kids would duel each other after school around that time.
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? I wasn’t really a part of the fandom then, I wound up getting in to it two or three years down the line. But at the time it was really really niche. Even the term “anime” wasn’t something most of my classmates were familiar with. And since I only had a group of three people to judge the fandom from at the time, I found it a bit jarring.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? It might have been but I was too young to know. I mean… I was still getting AOL dial-up CDs in the mail.
What was your first anime purchase? My first purchase was the premium edition of Toradora Vol 2 on DVD. (I wanted to buy both volumes as a reward for getting my first real professional job but Vol 1 was sold out at the time.)
Do you remember your first convention? My first convention was New York Anime Fest (NYAF) 2009, in my freshman year of college. A friend had scored some free one-day tickets and so we went as a group for a few of hours.
It was probably one of the most significant events in my anime fandom (career?). Before then it hadn’t dawned on me the how massive the breadth and scope of anime truly was, not to mention just how many fandoms overlapped, intersected and fell under the umbrella of the anime fandom. It was also my first exposure to cosplay, stage events and convention centers in general.
It was a loud and fast blur but exhilarating. Seeing so many different people come together and be excited about the same thing while simultaneously expressing that excitement in so many different ways left me with a feeling I can’t forget. The icing on the cake though was that thing everyone was so excited about, anime, was something that I could relate to for a change. Before that the only similar unified enthusiasm I had seen for something was about sports, but I never could get in to that.
NYAF would wind up changing my destiny. It was the event that made me realize that conventions were something I wanted to be a part of some how.
Change your destiny? I wasn’t really sure how to get involved with conventions at that point. I just knew that I wanted to go to more of them. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that there were people who made conventions run, but as chance would have it, schoolwork would steer me towards convention staffing.
My final project for one of the classes I was taking that year was to build a website from scratch. I decided to build a blog about anime, music and games called leetNEET. On a whim I decided to actually host it online where one of my closest friends used to keep finding new ways to break the site. We’d go back and forth between me adding new features and him breaking things. Eventually the site became pretty decent in terms of functionality but lacking any content.
The following fall, I attended NYAF again having more time to look around and talk to people. It dawned on me that there were people who blogged about anime and conventions walking around with press badges. Since I was already a a broke college student by this point, I decided that if I wanted to go to more conventions I could try and do the same thing. (Similar to how Destructoid was originally founded so that they could get in to E3.)
I gathered a bunch of my friends from high school and some my new friends from college to take a stab at it. Somehow that actually worked out… I received my first press pass in 2010! Meanwhile, as I met more and more people at my school I fell in with the anime club crowd. There I learned that they had been running a small anime convention every year during spring break. I started both attending and covering that convention for my blog. Knowing a lot of the people on staff gave me the freedom I needed to get great coverage but as a result I’d also get dragged in to help resolve convention issues as they arose. By the next year I was a de facto volunteer and also writing their press releases for them
Then one day, I happened to be bumming around campus when one of the anime club’s members (who also was writing for my site at the time) passed by on his way to a con planning meeting. He told me to tag along and by the end of that meeting I was appointed to be a department head. It was then that I really got my first taste of what makes conventions tick and I was hooked.
Unfortunately, as of 2013 and 2015 respectively, both leetNEET and that convention no longer exist. I’d return to staffing conventions again eventually but in the interim I formed a panel group (Hen Tie Cake) with some of my convention friends and now we host panels and game shows at several conventions a year.
I’m still involved in staffing cons today. I’m currently on staff at both AnimeNEXT and Otakon.
For you, what’s the biggest difference between your anime fandom then and now? The biggest difference between when I first got in to anime and now is that before I used to be a passive consumer of both anime and fandom. Now, I’m in the thick of it. I attend way too many conventions. I talk to strangers about anime in real life as a panelist and online via twitter. On very rare occasions I’ll even still write about anime. I’m definitely way more involved and engaged now.
Greg can be reached on Twitter.