Go-Go-Gaijin: Tokyo Comic Fest Comitia

Here in Tokyo we just celebrated a nationally-recognized three-day consecutive holiday known as Golden Week, “golden” because it is a prime opportunity for travel-based businesses to rake in the yen. Without using any precious vacation days, adults can relax and take a trip to the local onsen, or hot springs, go to Hawaii, or just relax at home with their kids and a prime time television special. Or, if you are a geek, you will likely spend your time at the holy land of geekdom: Tokyo Big Sight.

Upside-down pyramids... a big sight indeed.

Here the super geeks gathered together, their pockets loaded, to participate in the comic-lovers event Comitia. It’s an event that happens four times a year, and while it doesn’t have the financial backing that the more infamous, bi-annual Comiket gets, it still brought in impressive numbers. To get in you were required to purchase a thick catalog showcasing preview art of the various booths comic artists had setup, hoping to sell their art, independent comics, and photographs of potted plants (I don’t really know why that guy was there) to the otaku masses. There were several versions– I bought the 1,000 yen version (about $12 US) because I’m completely broke, but there were also 3,000 yen and even 5,000 yen versions on sale for the serious indies comic nerd. After paying for the booklet, I took a deep breath and entered the first East Hall at the Big Sight Convention Center, ready to experience my very first Japanese comic con.

Thy pilgrims seeketh the loli spooge.

Yes, it was my first time. Up until then I’d only experienced three in my homeland America. I got my Japanese convention cherry popped on 4 May, on Greenery Day, and it was… interesting. First of all, it wasn’t quite the spectacle I was anticipating. Guys with long, greasy ponytails? Check. Girls who think ponchos and taxi driver hats are fashionable? Check. SMELLY PEOPLE!? Oh, yes, check. It had the stereotypical geeks you’d find at a Stateside anime convention, but somehow there was still something missing. To my utter delight, I realized nobody was cosplaying– not a single hairy guy dressed as a sailor scout, no girls dressed as dog demon boys, and best of all no obese people in tiger bikinis. Unlike Comiket, Comitia has a strict “no cosplay” policy, which suited me just fine. I don’t hate cosplay, but I wasn’t here to screw around, I was here on business.

I thought the girls on the far left were my friends, too, but they apparently were total strangers and vehemently ignored me.

The seemingly infinite rows of tables for the artists and their “circles” (comic groups) were pretty hard to navigate, but I was able to find a fellow Deviant from DeviantArt and her friend’s table, where I was met with some awkward stuttering and introductions before they suggested I look around at the other tables for a while. Maybe this is just my own personal opinion, but after graduating from a sequential art school in Tokyo and working around professional artists here in Japan, I’ve come to the conclusion that anime and manga geeks here are unbelievably shy. I never had any trouble befriending music lovers or people at random parties, and in America I had geek friends aplenty, but most of the time I am met with panicked eyes and subtle inching backward by people in the anime/manga industry here. Really, maybe I’m just offensively ugly, I don’t know, but while they avoided eye contact by counting the tiles on the flooring, I decided to make my way to the other side of the hall, where the editors awaited my portfolio.

Truly, the beautiful thing about Comitia was the availability of the editors tables, where hopeful future storytellers have a chance to show their stuff. I have been to editors before by calling publishers and arranging for interviews, and those people usually don’t want to waste time. They don’t want to see your sketchbook, they don’t want to see your color illustrations, they just want the finished comic so they can say “You’re worthless” and have you on your way. These editors, though, come to these conventions looking for new talent but pretty much expect to only see crap. I’m sure if I’d shown them my doodles on lined notebook paper, they would have smiled and generously flipped through because they have nowhere else they need to be. They are stuck at their tables until the event is over, reviewing comics, illustrations, and light novels, and were probably instructed not to make any of the precious convention-goers cry. It’s awesome. I walked in, plopped myself down in front of a nice lady editor and watched as she politely went through my portfolio. I got the typical glares that come with being a foreigner in Japan wanting to be a manga artist, but the last laugh would be mine because I left with the editor’s business card. SCORE!

Will my dreams come true? Probably not, but there’s always the next Comitia!

I wanted to post a Wikipedia article describing what exactly Comitia was, but instead I got something completely different. If you can speak Japanese, here’s the official website.