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Kon or Die Trying

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No RWOG adventure seems to go off smoothly, and Zenkaikon was no exception. Don’t get me wrong, we actually started off on time, which itself should have been an indication that things would not go well.

The parking structure attached to the hotel was full, so we grabbed a spot on the street and paid the fee at the parking kiosk. Press were offered parking vouchers, so we were not concerned. As we circled the block, we saw other people with Crayola colored hair and we new were heading in the right direction.

Entering the air-conditioned Vine street entrance was a much needed relief. I don’t do heat. Stepping up to pre-registration we found out that Vanri and Thia were still on the list as Crymson’s press associates, but it was no problem for them to switch in Aiks and myself. First obstacle conquered.

It was here we also learned that the people with the vouchers would be back later, and that vouchers did not cover street parking. “Sorry…” I quickly asked Aiks to look into finding a parking structure that would get us reimbursed, but Crymson had already marched off into the crowd.

As we stood to the side of the crowd to test our equipment, we found the shotgun microphone for our camera was dead. Thus began, after much frustration, the quest for a mic that worked. Back into the heat of early afternoon Lancaster we went. As we left the area we spotted an open parking structure and all of us made a mental note to come back to that one.

Best Buy was our first stop. A helpful associate riding a mobility device with a Nintendo flag lead us to an empty display peg. Unfortunately, they were sold out. Cursing her luck, Crymson thanked the clerk for her help and we rushed out to the car to try another location.

Wal-Mart. My hopes were not high, and as we left empty handed again, I took in the sight our regal leader: red dress, black corset, blue hair, and gold crown festooned with gems. Crymson was a people-of-Wal-mart. I suppressed a chuckle as Aiks drove us to one last store.

Radio Shack is going out of business, and with most everything still in stock bearing an 80% off sticker…we were desperate. Sadly no shotgun mics were to be had. Dejected, we headed back to the convention.

Our fearless leader swallowed her frustration and mustered on, working with what we had. The interview with Ellen McClain and her spouse John Patrick Lowrie was incredible, and did boost the morale of our trio. Crymson was ecstatic and took to the tasks ahead of us with a renewed vigor.

Zenkaikon had begun.

Uncle Yo

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Stand Up Zenkaikon

I’ve known of Uncle Yo for several years now. He’s been at nearly every convention I’ve been to and the first time I sat in on one of his shows, I was newish to anime and I didn’t understand every reference made and that was fine, I laughed at the ones I understood and sometimes just laughed with everyone else. It was infectious. A crowd of people sat around me, laughing till they cried, huge fans of the man on stage. At that time, he was just a comedian at a convention (my first ever) and a fun part of a hugely overwhelming experience that I was terrified to dip my toe into. Never did I realize I would later do a cannonball screaming like a lunatic later, into that very same nerd pool.

At Too Many Games 2016, I made a new friend and was talking excitedly about my first press pass. How scary it was, how exciting it was but deep down I was so self conscious about what I was doing, who was I talking to. Hell, Doug Walker was there and I’m a big fan of the Nostalgia Critic, I was even too nervous to show that man how much his work meant to me. Instead, I made a stalking joke (like I do). He laughed genuinely and went on his way.

Anyway, I had seen Uncle Yo the night before, like I had many times by now (even watching him online) and my new friend Sean says, “You should interview him! Let’s go find him!” I’m not sure I even agreed to this but off we were to find Uncle Yo, who was playing some retro game in the game room. Sean interrupts his play and says I want to interview him, he says of course and off we go.

Now I’m in full blown panic, I’ve not prepped for an interview… I’ve only done one, ONE IN MY WHOLE LIFE and THAT I was only mostly prepared for. One quiet(ish) room later and I’m sitting there giving the most awkward interview of, I assume, both our lives. My questions are random, not connected and I’m swallowing that panic attack like a champ. After the interview, I must have apologized a dozen times (I even apologized later in the evening) but he never said a negative thing. ‘NOOOO, it was fine!’ I can still hear it in his voice. I sucked it up, put the article up there and moved on.

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Cosplay Masquerade Ball, Zenkaikon 2017

Can you imagine my shock when we became friends on various social platforms? I don’t just mean through Real Women of Gaming, he has seen pictures of my life and I his, we’ve commented back and forth, I’ve seen/read much. He gets married, goes on a honeymoon to make anyone jealous, he creates new characters, goes to many more cons, meets many new people, brings more people to tears of laughter and joy. I’ve even started watching My Little Pony, on his suggestion, with my daughter and we both love it.

Zenkaikon 2017 comes up and we are asked who we want to interview. Of course, I mark down that I want to talk to him again among many other guests that are attending. HA HA, this time I will be prepared. One tweet however, keeps crossing the back of my mind and it’s one I know I will have to ask. I dive into his tweets, google search him and yet on the screen where I am typing up questions to ask, it’s still blank and it stayed blank. I only had one planned question.

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Karl & his wife Catherine

I see him at the opening ceremonies and he gives a loving pinky swear that makes me a bit emotional and he recognizes me as he’s leaving the room, a hug and a few happy words and he is off again to his next thing. I saw him running around throughout the weekend, he did so much you’d swear there was more than one of him running around. Saturday morning, I had a chance to sit down and interview him. This time a bit more properly, but unfortunately somber.  He explains that this is his last year in the convention circuit and this is his last Zenkaikon. He speaks so passionately about Zenkaikon, the community, his fans… it spills out of each laugh, every smile and all of his words. Our interview finishes, I thank him, give him a hug and he is on his way.

I see the second half of his show and at the end he tells everyone that this will be his last Zenkaikon. He expresses his emotions about it and even breaks a little at the end, sending me into waves of tears. However, he said something important that could have been easily missed. He tells people to take his absence in running panels and run their own. Step forward, be all that you are, show it to the whole community. I saw him at least once more before the convention ended. It won’t be the last time I see him, however.

I have to thank Karl ‘Uncle Yo’ Custer. He will always mean a great deal to me.

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Stand Up, Zenkaikon 2017

I, like many others, suffer from a great deal of things, disabilities, disorders, diagnoses, whatever you want to call them. The positive push he gave me after out first interview was everything to me. It helped me not be as hard on myself. Every time I’ve talked to him he always comes across as genuinely interested in anything I have to say and anything I want to ask. He’s caring and helpful. He’s proud of people he doesn’t even know for stepping out of their comfort zone. He believes they can do it and he doesn’t care what size you are. I’ve watched him tell entire rooms of people that it’s okay to be themselves and do it for themselves.

From kids to adults, sometimes we just need to hear that from someone else. I see faces light up when they see him, even if only because he makes them laugh or because he gets it. Karl is a treasure and I am so happy that I was lucky enough to cross paths with him. I hope to take his encouragement with me and I pray I can pass it on to other people.

Most of all, I hope people take all he has given them and pay it forward. I hope they step out of their comfort zone, host a panel, do that cosplay no matter your size. Embrace that new person at their first con and show them how awesome it really can be.

As for Karl, thank you so much. Now, you go get a drink and we will continue this conversation later. We will be right here.

Uncle Yo’s Convention Schedule: AnimeNEXT, ConnectiCON, DekuCon in Denver, Derpycon and AnimeNYC.

Zenkaikon 2017: Impressions

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Hi gang! I’m no stranger to anime. In high school, in the mid ‘80s, my friend had quite the talent for drawing and introduced me to BattleTech, The Macross Saga, and Project A-ko, to drop a few names. When Crymson asked me to assist her in covering the convention, I had no problem saying yes, though taking time off from work to attend was a different matter

I felt vastly out of my element, though. I don’t really know current anime. There were a few exceptions to everything being anime, however. There are plenty of Poison Ivys, Harley Quinns, the occasional Deadpool, Halo warriors, and the rather stifling looking fur-suiter or two as well. When I’d spot one of them, my isolation would fade a teensy bit.

I am confused with the liberal use of white face on the anime cosplayers. Why? Is it an integral part of the character to be ghostly white, or artistic license using contrast to make your colors “pop”? It didn’t seem to fit within the context of the costume, I just don’t get it.

The convention center has some curious points of interest. First, down by registration, behind glass windows sits an archaeological dig. This water cistern seems to have been converted to house runaway slaves. In 2011, the residence, law offices, and Kleiss Tavern of Thaddeus Stevens were named as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site by the National Park Service.

From there, the hall rises in several tiers of stairs, escalators, and elevators as the side streets are uphill. The second curiosity is the historical site about midway through the tiers: Montgomery House. This renovated mansion dates back to 1804 and is currently used for catering and special events, having been surrounded by the convention center itself and preserved. It was in these rooms that we had the pleasure of hosting our interviews.

My most comfortable moments, both physically and socially, were when I sat in the upper lounge near Marriott entrance. The “Café” was a string of kiosks one might see exiting a big box store full of hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn and other convenient food. This is where I parked myself to take notes and jot down my impressions before I forgot them. Several tables and a multitude of chairs allow for relaxed people watching. As Moon sailors mingled with monsters, X-men, and Ricks (sans Morty), I found myself identifying with the forgotten odd parent or two. Yes, here waited the guardians of the non-adult cos-players with pretzel and soda in hand, probably thinking the same thing I did.

I am so out of place.

Zenkaikon 2017, A Wild Ride

It’s a beautiful Monday in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I sit here listening to birds chirping, Vel playing video games and the pounding of the keys between sips of coffee and I can’t help but feel an empty little spot in my soul, a spot known to well as Post Convention Blues.

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Cosplay Masquerade

We spent three days at Zenkaikon, held at the Lancaster Convention Center in Lancaster, PA. With a star-studded guest line-up, a full schedule of panels and some amazing places to eat nearby, we were excited to go… and a bit nervous, as this was our very first Zenkaikon.

The convention is celebrating its 11th year, which is no small achievement for a growing convention with a highly dedicated fan base (for years, my friends have been screaming at me to go) that will fold you in like family as soon as they realize you’re a newbie. Over the course of those three days, we were so positively overwhelmed that it was exhilarating. Even the local restaurants were happy to see the flood of cosplayers, some embracing the event by giving discounts to con-goers and holding cosplay contests.

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Noodle King

Before I go into more about the convention itself, I want to point out that central Lancaster, surrounding the convention center, is beautiful. Even on the outskirts, I loved the area. It had the center city feel without the center city issues. There were some traffic pattern issues to deal with, of course, the convention was in town and there was a race on Saturday, so some streets were closed. However, I never felt the need to rush back to the car, the walk to the car (there was more than one parking garage within a two block radius) was refreshing and the weather this weekend made it more of a stroll than a rush. Not to mention the diversity in food and food pricing was an added bonus. From The Rabbit and The Dragonfly, a coffee bar with a great theme and amazing food, to The Noodle King, a treasure of Pho that we found thanks to our good friend Paul and even the smoothie shop across the street. We were not disappointed by our eats and the walk to each location was worth it.

Now, Zenkaikon…

I’m not even sure where to start. The lines for registration moved quickly and the staff at the front was not only knowledgeable and friendly, but also confident to tell me when they didn’t know the answer to a question I had. This wasn’t just a theme for the front, but for all of the staff I encountered that weekend. They were friendly, willing to walk with me if I was confused, and quick to go find an answer (if they were in a position in which they could leave their post) or tell me who to speak to. What I appreciated most, besides the friendliness of staff (so many pleases and thank yous), was the admittance of lack of knowledge on a particular subject. I’d rather get an “I don’t know” than several different answers from several different staff. I loved how they handled lines (Cosplay Burlesque’s line spanned two floors) and how, even come Sunday, they were still pleasant in making sure everyone was having fun. I want to thank the whole staff for a wonderful experience.

On to the guests! Charles Dunbar (Author), Cosplay Burlesque (Preforming Arts), Cosplay

The Slants

The Slants

Pro Wrestling (Preforming Arts), Ellen McLain (Actress), Greg ‘Greggo’ Wicker (Game Show Host), John Patrick Lowery (Actor), Karl ‘Uncle Yo’ Custer (Comedian), Keith DeCandido (Author), Kuniko Kanawa (Cultural Presenter), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Actress), Sonny Strait (Actor) who had to cancel last minute due to illness, Steve Blum (Actor), The Slants (Musical Guests). So many guests and so little time. We had the pleasure of speaking with Cosplay Burlesque, Ellen McLain, John Patrick Lowery, Uncle Yo, Keith DeCandido and The Slants (EPIC CONCERT!). Every one of them was an absolute delight to speak with and I will treasure those experiences forever. Those interviews and insights will come up in other articles as soon as possible.

The chosen theme for the year was ‘Under the Sea,’ so of course we started our Opening Ceremonies with Uncle Yo in… what I can only explain as an octopus corset (complete with tentacles) and swimming goggles being the amazing MC that he is, introducing guests, throwing candy and making jokes with the wonderful Maddy from Staff, who had a squid on her head. They spoke of cosplay contests, LARPing, game rooms, video rooms, events big and small, also panels, 18+, Con Safety from the lovely Princess Kiwi all before Uncle Yo lead us in a beautiful promise pinkie swear to leave the rest at home, be at the con for us, to have fun and make new friends.

Videos included Black Butler, Assassination Classroom, One Punch Man, RWBY, Yuri!!! On Ice, Baka and Test and many, many more. It’s a wonderful time to catch that first episode to see if you are really interested and want to dive in. I now have Yuri!!! On Ice on my list along with Erased, Steins Gate and a few other wonderful recommendations from other con-goers.

18157271_1071751016303094_6028366417503715593_nOf course, gaming was well represented and I don’t just mean THE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF OVERWATCH COSPLAYERS (I loved them all) who all looked amazing. Aside from LARPing and a room full of people playing board games was Artemis (which I forgot all about and am so mad at myself), Pokemon Sun and Moon, Mario Kart 8, Rocket League, Smash Brothers U and more. I was impressed by the steady stream of gaming through out the con and a Magic: The Gathering Tournament. I’m sorry I didn’t get to play some video games while I was there, but, alas, I was there as press and not to play games. However, I’m getting a game in next year.

Also, a congratulations to the winners of the Cosplay Contests, Cosplay Masquerade, AMVs and Karaoke. We had the pleasure of seeing thousands of cosplays, witnessing all the entries to the Masquerade and seeing the winning AMVs. Everyone did and incredible job. Even if you cosplayed just a little (such as I did) or a lot, everyone looked wonderful. I was even sandwiched between two doctors in my closet TARDIS cosplay. Most of all, I’m so proud of every one of you. It takes such heart, courage and bravery to step out in the first place, even if it is just presenting the AMVs you’ve worked so hard on, getting up on stage in front of hundreds to preform a skit with your friends or by yourself, or buying a cosplay or making it. I’m so proud and was so honored to be among you. You made the convention and kept it going. It’s your work, your ideas, your dedication, and your patronage that keeps Zenkaikon going each year and makes it so special. I love your love!

The Fan and Guest panels where filled with diversity, fun and interest. From Steven

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Uncle Yo

Universe to Doctor who, Retro Gaming to The K-Pop Dance Challenge, Dungeons and Dragons to Mermaids, virtually no fandom stone was left unturned. There were food panels, game design, make up, paper-craft, Miyazaki (honestly it’s not an anime convention without a Miyazaki panel), Fan Fiction, Orphan Black, Kimono Dressing, Star Trek… the list goes on. One I will note is that as much as Zenkaikon looks like an Anime convention it is so much more than that. It is evolving into an all-out nerd fest and I love it. There are still heavy anime elements, but there was literally something for everyone. From Vendors, Guests and Panels you didn’t have to be Anime savvy (cause I’m certainly not) to have the best time. If you are reading this and ever thought that Zenkaikon isn’t for you, I’m telling you that you are so wrong, just go. If you don’t have a blast, I’ll owe you a milkshake, but it’s an incredible melting pot of the nerd culture and you deserve it as much as it deserves you.

Bring the kids! I saw much more children there than I’m used to seeing at a convention. They were in cosplay and loving life. The con is full of family friendly content! However, if you are a bit twisted like I am, there was plenty of 18+ panels to wet your whistle. I saw my first ever Burlesque show and I got so excited, I accidentally slapped a friend in the face (I promise to tell the story in another article). From Mature Anime to What Did I Just Watch? to Guests Against Humanity (I MISSED IT), there is enough warped to go around and plenty of people who will happily welcome you!

If I haven’t convinced you to go by now, there is no hope for you. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this convention. I honestly can’t. I only wish there were clones of me and my staff so we could have literally been everywhere and seen everything. We are already making game plans for things we should do differently next year, plans to make to be better organized, equipment upgrades and gaming ideas.

To all the friends I’ve made, the friends I found, the people I’ve hung out with and the amazing guests and staff of the convention… thank you for giving me a weekend I will never forget. Thank you, thank you, thank you… and see you next year!

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Real Women of Gaming & CommonGeek.tv