Here’s an admission: I don’t know much about manga beyond The Last Airbender wherea twelve-year-old boy is fighting to bring about world peace,and Sailor Moon, the story of a young girl who battles evil in a Catholic school uniform. That’s got to be wrong. Teenagers must wear sailor suits to school in Japan? Anyway, at the anime-heavy Kraken Con held on Sunday, April 6 there were a whole lotta Sailor Moons giggling through the halls of the Oakland Convention Center in Oakland, California.
I wound through cosplayers in kimonos with gigantic heads, French maids and would-be Lolitas in order to make my way to a panel featuring Natasha Allegri of Adventure Time, and the creator of Bee and PuppyCat, an animated feature over at CartoonHangover.com. Its bubble-gum pink palette is so sweet it makes your teeth hurt, but don’t let that fool you as Bee and PuppyCat go on dangerously cute adventures.
She amused the 200-plus attendants with an animated reading of her current Bee and PuppyCat storyboard. Bee and the mysterious PuppyCat go on a shopping adventure and end up with a shopping cart containing a “gun, brass knuckles, and vitamins” (don’t ask --- there is also a spiked leather jacket involved). Allegri’s favorite kinds of episodes to draw “contain food and cooking” and guess what? She’s “obsessed with Sailor Moon and Princess Jellyfish.” She really enjoys “slice of life manga” and a couple of her influences are “Rumic World and Garfield’s solid drawing.” Makes sense --- anime and lasagna.
Wandering through the halls again, I came across a few Airbenders, Squid Girl, the Living Ichigo people and some steam punk cosplayers before spotting Gabriel Moore-Topazio of Wrought Comics and his four-volume Asylum, a dystopian fantasy where patients at the a psychiatric hospital have super powers related to their psychosis making them the masters of this universe. The patients really have taken over the asylum.
Time for another panel --- here was a good one, “Cosplay Character Acting” presented by G (yes, the letter). He has five rules for healthy cosplay: 1). Respect people’s boundaries, 2). Have on “off” switch, 3). You’re not the only cosplayer at the con, 4). Being in character is not an excuse for bad behavior, and, my favorite, 5). You’re a dork, enjoy yourself! Yes, please do. I have to admit at Kraken Con I felt like a dork because 1). I had to ask every cosplayer who they were (no Batgirls, Supermen, Arrows or Harley Quinns here) and 2). I could not understand most of the names of the cosplay characters I was given (my fault --- I need to read more manga and watch more anime).
Back out on the floor I made my way to Elle Skinner’s booth of Erstwhile Tales, retellings of Grimm’s Fairy Tales as they were intended, including talking bears, evil dwarfs, and, of course, heroines. Skinner’s contour lines fence realistically colored and shadowed bucolic scenes that never betray “The End.” Skinner is also a fan of Sailor Moon --- she found it more accessible as a young reader.
Finally, I see a familiar face, Joe Weems, DC illustrator and inker and a recent Bay Area transplant as he was working on a commission. He is finishing up his last issue of DC’s World’s Finest before starting on Red Hood and the Outlaws “the no longer teen titans.” Weems grew up watching anime, specifically Robotech and Shogun Warriors and if a Harvey award-nominated inker who has worked in the business for more than 20 years likes manga and anime, that's enough to convince me. I need to watch more anime.
Kraken Con was also a con of cons. Perusing the booths, I never knew there were so many different conventions in northern California from BigWow! Comic Fest (San Jose, CA, May 17-18) and Con-volution Science and Science Fiction 2014 (Burlingame, CA, Sept. 26-28) to Clockwork Alchemy Steam Punk held alongside FanimeCon (San Jose, CA, May 23-26), the numbers just keep growing. There were even warriors, ladies and maidens from the Medieval and fantasy combat contingent known as Amtgard!
Kraken Con is also new to the convention scene. In its second year, this one day convention “features anime, cartoons and comics with a heavy emphasis on whimsy, imagination and the creative process.” They weren’t kidding --- imagination was displayed in force. I think everyone was dressed up, with costumes ranging from the fun and funky homemade to the professionally imagined.
Will I start reading more manga? You bet. One of my all-time favorite books is Me and the Devil Blues: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson by Akira Hiramoto, so I really wanted to check out manga at Kraken Con…and I am glad I did!