If I were to rank the shittiest years of my life, 2007 would be at the top. I was struggling to finish grad school on an almost non-existent income so that I could get a good job in an industry in which good jobs had suddenly ceased to exist. The resumes I submitted went unanswered. The query letters I sent for freelance work were met with rejection emails. The music magazine that I was editing folded. The DJ gigs had all but completely dried up. I was working part time at a law office with the sneaking suspicion that filing paperwork would be the rest of my life. Nothing I could make would even come close to paying off that grad school debt, plus the lingering loans from undergrad. On top of that, my dad spent nearly the entire last month of the year in a hospital bed.
At the dawn of the new year, my dad came home from the hospital and I decided that I needed a change in my life. Up until then, I was strictly a music writer. I interviewed bands. I wrote record reviews. I used the words “burly” and “ethereal” far too often. Music writing was getting to be a bore. The stories I wanted to write– the ones about electronic and experimental artists getting all philosophical with their approach to remix culture– were the ones no one wanted to buy. The ones that were a market success were run-of-the-mill short band profiles that hit when the album or tour did. Sometime during that first week of 2008, I was goofing around online at my day job when I stumbled across an anime convention, Anime Los Angeles, that was taking place in Burbank the following day. It looked interesting and, at the very least, I could probably find those Paranoia Agent DVDs that I wanted there. That Friday, after my office shift was done, I headed over to the Burbank Convention Center in a godawful January storm. I stayed there until late in the evening and was so inspired that I wrote about the experience for a Razorcake Magazine. That was my first convention story.
What sucked me into the world was that it was both completely foreign and completely familiar. I watched a lot of anime, but I didn’t know the ins-and-outs of the fan world. The jargon they dropped, the issues they debated, went over my head. I knew what cosplay was, but had never seen it in person, at the very least, I hadn’t seen a hotel full of cosplayers before that night. And then there was the Anime Music Video (AMV) event. Here was a big screening of those mash-ups that I kept finding on YouTube. It was actually a big deal here. Two of the clips blew my mind. Within a few weeks, I managed to track down the creators. I pitched a story to the music editor at L.A. Weekly and– beyond my wildest dreams– he accepted it. That was my second convention story, which ran in the summer of 2008.
Everything snowballed after that. The AMV story led to the ball-jointed doll story, which lead to the sweet Lolita story, which lead to an Anime Los Angeles story for L.A. Weekly, the first collaborative convention effort between Shannon Cottrell and myself. By the summer, we were schlepping across San Diego County for the first of four Comic-Con adventures. That convention coverage did so well, that I’m pretty sure it’s how landed a full-time gig at the Weekly a few months later. The stories were getting popular. People were starting to recognize us. Mostly that was a good thing. Sometimes, it wasn’t.
The best part, though, was that the people we met repeatedly at the conventions were starting to trust us. They had accepted us, not because we necessarily have the same interests as them, but because they knew that we could tell their stories without judgment. We were pretty up front with people about our intentions. We were new to this scene and we were there to learn, rather than to participate. At least a few people appreciated that and helped us along the way. You know who you are and I am forever grateful for your help.
Convention coverage was amazing. At least for a while. Last year, at Comic-Con, I ended up sulking outside of the Hyatt, watching the crowd of supercool, successful industry types rush in and out of the bar. What was I doing here? I was older now, but still struggling not just to make ends meet, but to get people to read my work. Reporting was changing once again and I didn’t feel like my own vision of convention coverage– which has always been pretty clear to me– was getting across to any audience. So, I slowed down on what I was doing. I started writing more about music and art again. But, after months of doing this, I didn’t feel any better.
Not long ago, I was prepping ideas to pitch editors. July is around the corner and that means Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con. I have a badge for both. I have a hotel room for San Diego. I might as well dive full force into this thing again. The trigger, was basically reading a bunch of “geek”-themed stories that I didn’t like. I won’t mention names, but they were stories that got so caught up in gawking at the so-called weirdos that any point that may have existed was lost. I may not be awesome, but, I can do better than that. Plus, I can do better than what I did before this year. I have a distinct voice as a writer, a mix of genuine curiosity and empathy that, hopefully, comes across in the reporting I’ve done. It might not bring in the biggest pageviews or paychecks, but some people appreciate it.
So, that’s what I’m doing now. It’s not totally going back to my roots, but it’s going back to a subject where I think the stories haven’t all been told.