Sep 14, 2010

Dragoncon - The Panels

One of the best things about Dragoncon are the discussion panels.

There are panels about almost everything, covering almost any subject someone might be interested in. There are panels with celebrities talking about TV shows and movies (Stargate, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Mythbusters, etc), panels about specific genres such as manga, The Lord Of The Rings, superheroes, mythology...the list goes on. Then there are educational panels, run by panelists who talk about a certain area of expertise: photographing models in costume, making money as an artist, building better dioramas, storytelling, costume design and creation, prop making, writing for graphic novels, self get the idea.

Because I am expanding my business to include art and photography, I avoided the celebrity panels (which typically had huge lines, see the picture on the left). I wanted to learn, so I went to the art business panels, and I took notes. Lots of notes. It was a very educational weekend. 

Left: people waiting for a celebrity panel. The line starts down the sidewalk, up the stairs, through the courtyard and into the hotel

I thought I'd share some of what I learned from these panels with you. If you are not interested in reading my notes from the panels, jump down the page to check out the artists and pictures. If you are, read on!

The panels covered in this blog post include:
  1. Develop A Story In An Hour
  2. Anime For Parents

Develop A Story In An Hour

This one was kind of interesting, a discussion about ways to kick-start your creative processes to come up with an original idea for a story. To write a good story you need to have one of two things (or both):
  1. A really cool idea
  2. An interesting character
The discussion panelists asked the audience for a suggestion on how to start, with one saying that Ray Bradbury would often think of a place or environment, then think of something that didn't belong, to make it interesting. That would be the beginning of a thought process that would lead to a great story. So the audience tossed out a bunch of words, and the panelists settled on one:


Yes, bagel. 

How do you plan a story around a bagel, you ask? Well, think about this bagel. Do some brainstorming. Some of the ideas tossed out by the audience as to what was happening to/with this bagel. The bagel:
  1. is burning over a fire
  2. has a dead body beside it
  3. is lost in Rome
  4. is covered in sentient (self-aware) mold
  5. is rolling down a steep city street
The panelists selected #2; the bagel has a dead body beside it. Okay, is the body a man, woman? Who was this person? A burglar? A scientist? An average joe? 

The dead man lying beside the bagel was a scientist, the panelists decided. How was he killed? The bagel was part of his science experiment. It was treated with a highly toxic, experimental mold, and an assassin who infiltrated his lab to steal details of his secret experiments saw the bagel, and took a bite, not knowing what it was. Before staggering off, he killed the scientist who discovered the intrusion. Now the assassin has been infected with a deadly mold, and the only person who knows what this mold is is dead. 

Do you see how this process works now? Start with a simple idea and let your mind wander. Start brainstorming and throwing out ideas, to see which ones work and which ones don't.

Anime For Parents

I'm not a big fan of anime. I have nothing against it; it's just not an art form that I care for. That doesn't make it any less a legitimate art form, however, and my drawing students love anime. Anime has had a profound influence on American comic books and graphic novels, which is why it's pretty sad that I know next to nothing about it. This was my chance to change that.

This panel was designed for parents, to have a crash-course in anime, so they can keep tabs on what their kids are reading and watching (always a good thing). Some anime is created for kids, some for adolescents, and some for adults only. This was a very informative panel conducted by a graphic novelist and life-long anime lover. This blog post was supplemented by research on Wikipedia.

The Terms

Anime is a word that refers to any animation originating from Japan (although ironically, a lot of anime is outsourced to South Korea because it's cheaper, even though Japanese and South Korean are two different languages). The characteristic style of anime that is most recognized today began in the 1960s. There are a lot of different genres of anime, all dealing with different subject matter, and targeting different ages, genders and interests. (Wikipedia link)

Okatu - Fans of anime in the United States. In Japan it is a derogatory term for anime-obsessed fans with no life and usually no job.

Manga - Japanese comic books, or comic books drawn in that style (wikipedia link)

Doujinshi - Anime and manga made by fans (wikipedia link)

Mecha - Anime focused on giant fighting robots

Bishounen - literally "beautiful youth", stories involving androgynous men geared to female readers. "Bishi" is a slang term for this genre. One of the appeals of this genre is the breakdown of traditionally strong male roles (athlete, warrior, martial arts expert, etc).

Shonen - Literally "a few years"; manga that targets the 10-18 year old reader. A popular genre, it is generally about action/fighting, but often contains a sense of humor and strong growing friendship-bonds between the characters.

Shonen-ai - Stories about beautiful, effeminate boys in love with other beautiful, effeminate boys, usually targeted to female readers. Shonen-ai does not contain sexually explicit love scenes, but has implied love scenes as part of the storylines.

Shojo - Literally "young girl", manga targeted to the 10-18 year old female reader

Shojo-ai - Shojo-ai is the American term, Yuri is the Japanese term, and refers to romance love stories between girls, targeted to female readers, with one girl having more masculine qualities than the other. Yuri can focus either on the sexual, the spiritual, or the emotional aspects of the relationship, the latter two sometimes being called shōjo-ai by western fans of manga.

Fanservice - Unnecessary elements to a storyline, usually sexual in nature, to please a core group of fans of a series

Ecchi - Anime or manga that has borderline pornographic or sexual content (skimpy clothing, partial or full nudity). Derived from a Japanese word meaning "erotic", "lewd", "sexy", or "lascivious"

Seinen - A word meaning "young man", manga targeted at older males, usually between 18-30 years old.  It has a wide variety of art styles and more variation in subject matter, ranging from the avant-garde to the pornographic. Seinen manga is distinguished from shounen, or boy's manga by having a stronger emphasis on realism and also by having a more well developed storyline.

Josei - The female equivalent of Seinen 

Yaoi - Also known as boys' love, this is manga of a homosexual nature, created by women for female readers, with more sexual overtones to the storylines. (wikipedia link)

Hentai - Sexually explicit anime pornography. The word hentai has a negative connotation to the Japanese and is commonly used to mean sexually perverted.

Shotacon - A slang word that refers to romantic or sexual attraction to young boys, or a person who has such an attraction. It refers to a genre of manga and anime wherein pre-pubescent or pubescent male characters are depicted in a suggestive or erotic manner, leading critics to charge that this genre encourages the sexual abuse of children.  Understandably, shotacon is very controversial. Given the extreme sensitivity of this type of material, possession of it can lead to arrest and conviction.

Unique Sub-Genres of Anime

Magical Girl - girls with superhuman powers who fight evil and protect the world

Meccha Anime - vehicles, pilots and/or machine operators as the principle themes

Gag Anime - Anima that has no plot, but a series of jokes, strange situations and over-the-top reactions by characters. Some of the gags can seem downright surreal and alien to western readers

Harem Anime - stories involving a protagonist of either gender surrounded by multiple characters of the opposite gender, and the situations that arise from it (a male surrounded by women, a woman surrounded by men). This genre is usually risque and has sexual themes

Is Anime Appropriate For Children?

The short answer is yes, but be careful of the following:
  • Nudity (either sexual or just characters unclothed)
  • Sexual humor or situations
  • Permanent character deaths - in some storylines, a main character may be killed off, sometimes brutally, without warning and early in the storyline. These characters are not revived to make a happy ending. Such plot points could be upsetting
  • Dark or gray areas of morality - Unlike western stories, where main characters are generally either good or evil, some anime have characters that do good deeds but also have less-than-honorable motives as well. A character may help people for a fee, for example, but allow a town of innocent people to get slaughtered because his fee was not paid

How To Tell If Anime Is Appropriate
  • Watch it. Most anime can be found on-line
  • Check the back of the DVD case for the age-based rating
  • Read reviews of the anime in question
  • Ask around, ant anime-based conventions, clubs, on-line forums, comic book stores 



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