Ed attended the New York Anime Festival (NYAF) earlier this month. This is part one of three describing his experiences there, covering Wednesday, October 12, through Friday, October 14.
This year I arrived in New York City a day earlier so I would have time to visit two exhibitions Johanna had mentioned to me. The first was Jim Henson’s Fantastic World. This is a traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institute; it is ending its run at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.
The exhibit is a retrospective of Jim Henson’s life. There are pictures he drew as a child, posters he did for his college’s theater department, storyboards from various shows, and original Muppets. I didn’t know Henson’s biography, so a lot of the exhibit was new to me.
Three short films were shown. The first was an experimental piece that Henson did called Time Piece. One film was an abbreviated version of A&E’s Biography of Henson. The final film looked at the legacy of Jim Henson and the Muppets.
Some of the muppets on display were the Kermit used in the 1970s, the Ernie from the same period, the Burt from the 1980s, Rowlf from The Muppet Show, and Miss Piggy. This is the real reason I went to the exhibit. It was quite awe-inducing to see icons from my childhood on display. It’s a shame you couldn’t take pictures. You can see some of the earliest commercials and muppet sketches Henson did on YouTube.
The Museum of the Moving Image is an amazing place in itself. It celebrates all forms of moving images, including movies, cartoons, and video games. There is a history of the movies starting with the earliest zoetrope and going to modern CG animation. Anyone living in or visiting New York needs to make the trek out to this museum. It’s definitely worth the time and effort.
The other exhibit was Comics Stripped at the Museum of Sex. This was a retrospective of nudity and sex in comics and cartoons. The exhibit starts with Tijuana Bibles and American comics, then ends with a brief section on adult comics in other countries. Unfortunately, the Japanese examples are a tentacle porn anime and the Bondage Fairies manga, which only serve to reinforce stereotypes about Japan. I wish a copy of Manga Sutra had been included. Otherwise, it was a good exhibit overall.
The rest of the museum didn’t really hold much appeal to me. I understand this is a private museum, but I felt the admission fee of $19.50 was too steep. Even if they hold further comic and cartoon exhibits, I doubt I’ll be back.
In the morning, I went by to pick up my convention badge. There were some panels in the morning, but most didn’t interest me, so I decided to do some sightseeing instead. The convention show floor opened at 4:00 PM for press, professionals, and people who bought a four-day pass. I went there to purchase an advance copy of Princess Knight, meet the folks running the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) booth, and meet up with fellow manga bloggers. I was successful on all three accounts.
The best part of Thursday was a chance to wander the showroom before the big crowds hit. The small crowd meant you had room to walk around and exhibitors had time to talk to you. Of course, the bigger booths, like Marvel, DC, and Funimation, were still swamped with people trying to meet artists and get a jump start on the freebies.
I went to visit this year’s version of the anime ghetto and discovered that the Anime Artist Alley was closed and wouldn’t open until Friday. That was a little disappointing.
The crowd was noticeably larger on Friday. I’d say the showroom felt about as crowded as it did during the peak last year, which made me worried about trying to walk around on Saturday.
My first panel of the convention was It Gets Better (With Comics!) at 11:00 AM. The moderator was Chris Shoemaker, with Prism Comics. The speakers were Charles “Zan” Christiansen from Northwest Press; Daniel Ketchum, an associate editor at Marvel Comics; Ivan Velez, Jr., author of the seminal Tales of the Closet, and Rica Takashima, author of Rica ‘tte Kanji!?.
The panel was packed, and there were people standing up along the walls to attend. I’m not sure why the room had tables in it. They were nice for taking notes, but they used up space better served by bringing in more chairs. Also, this was held in one of the smallest panel rooms.
The discussion started with Shoemaker pointing out that comics (he seemed to mean mostly superhero comics) have gained more popularity in the general culture, but there is still a lack of significant LGBT characters. The panelists pointed out there have been some LGBT characters in comics, and there is a more open atmosphere toward LGBT characters in superhero comics. The problem is that most creators are still white, heterosexual males. They don’t feel comfortable using LGBT characters for fear of offending people. Christiansen pointed out there are many creative restrictions when working with a shared universe, and so writers will have to work harder to introduce new LGBT characters. Velez stated that you need to start off creating a character that is interesting as a human first, otherwise the LGBT aspects of the character come off as a crutch for attracting an audience. Velez also recommended training in LGBT sensitivity for Marvel and DC writers to help them be more comfortable using LGBT characters in their stories.
Takashima talked about how when she began creating her manga there was nothing for lesbian women. The only comics to feature lesbians were porn for men. She was the first to write about real issues for lesbians in their lives and relationships. She has seen the field of lesbian manga grow up and develop its own fanbase during the course of her career.
Ketchum pointed out that while there may not be that many LGBT characters in superhero comics, there are certainly themes in some comics that LGBT readers can identify with. He grew up reading Marvel comics and felt many of the stories spoke to him as a young gay man, especially the themes found in X-Men comics about mutants who feel they are outsiders to ‘normal’ society and how they try to find ways to fit in and be accepted.
Next, they moved on to talk about how to balance advocacy, outreach, and support in the comics you write. Velez said he has lots of training as a counselor and so that informs his writing. If you make the characters authentic, then it’s easy to talk about real issues. Christiansen said the worst thing is to tell lies. The stories have to be honest. Velez said the danger is accepting stereotypes; that’s the sign of a hack. Takashima agreed that creators have to be intentional in the characters and stories they create. We can’t just accept anything.
The panel discussed the need to get their comics into libraries and the hands of teens. The problem is lack of library budgets, so they can’t have as diverse a collection of comics as they would like. Also, LGBT comics get stolen by people too scared to openly check them out. Libraries need help in getting new copies of the books they do stock. Velez and Takashima are putting their comics on the web for free to help reach a wider audience. Christiansen said that Prism will gladly send free books to libraries, churches, or schools.
This was an excellent panel and helped me see a new dimension to comics and comic readers. All the panelists were passionate and articulate about the potential for comics to reach out and inform readers about LGBT people and the issues they confront in life. Hopefully, there will be a panel like this every year at NYCC and in a much bigger room.
After the It Gets Better (With Comics!) panel, I headed over to help out at the CBLDF booth. There was some miscommunication, and the booth that the CBLDF was supposed to have in Anime Artist Alley wasn’t ready, so I helped out at the booth in the main showroom. The crowd was more interested in the books for sale and not the mission of the CBLDF. I got to talk to a few people during the two hours I was standing there, but I felt a little frustrated connecting to the anime and manga attendees. Thankfully, later in the afternoon, the CBLDF was able to set up a booth in Anime Artist Alley.