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Zenkaikon 2018: Empathy

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I had the absolute pleasure of attending Zenkaikon 2018 this year. I will gush about all the fun that was had for hours. However, I want to talk about a very specific moment.

As press, I go there to work. I love going to conventions, but I love them more when I’m working them. I love watching other people have fun, asking guests questions and talking to people. It fills me with absolute delight.

So, as I prepared to interview one of the many amazing guests at Zenkaikon, the unthinkable happened. I was bumped into and our camcorder went flying from my hand. Even the guest attempted to dive for it as it hit the carpet and broke. The flood of emotions that filled me in those seconds is hard to describe. I picked it up and my heart sank, there was nothing I could do, it was broken and the whole weekend of interviews was flying out of my hands.

A couple of things happened all at once. As I breathed through the desire to cry and seeming apathy of the person who bumped me, I heard a couple of voices.

__yhqNo5_400x400Mae & Kyle of Fandom Spotlight jumped up and offered to record it using their camera.

I could have cried. I used their mic (a mic I was NOT used to using, so here is hoping all went well) because it had their name on it and I wanted everyone to know who these amazing people are. They even offered to sync it up and send it to me.

We couldn’t ask to make better friends at a convention. I honestly didn’t expect so much help, but they offered more, even taking the time to give us tips on things we can do differently, things we can do better as beginners. Kyle said that something similar happened to him at another convention: he dropped his camera and it broke. Another press stepped up and helped him out. A little bit of pay-it-forward but mostly, “Hey I’ve been there and it sucks.”

I’m sure you are wondering about the camcorder. Anthony, a member of the Zenkaikon staff in the press department asked to look at the camcorder while we were interviewing. I had already asked if they wouldn’t mind being amazing and allowing us to use their equipment for the rest of the day since we were in all the same interviews; however, during my interview Anthony was able to fix the camcorder. In about 10 minutes, he put everything back together.

We did lose some footage and we are attributing it to the camcorder dropping but Kyle, Mae and Anthony are our superheroes, MVPs, angels for the day. Not only did they save my sanity and our interviews but they also rolled out with that empathy, that desire to help so quickly. I was stunned. I was stunned and my heart was full.

Thank you friends for being so amazing and helping us in our time of need.

Zenkaikon 2018: FOOD

If there’s one thing I’m pretty sure I know well, it’s food. The weekend of Zenkaikon 2018, I was able to try several restaurants in the Lancaster, PA area. From Asian restaurants to cafes to Irish Pubs, we ate very well during Zenkaikon 2018. Here are my thoughts on the food:

1. Issei Noodles

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Miso Ramen from Issei Noodles

Crymson mentioned that there was a ramen place nearby that she didn’t have a chance to try the previous year. Of course that was the first place I wanted to go. We got to the restaurant and had a bit of a wait, though not as long as the ETA they told us when we checked in. Our hostess and our waitress were both absolutely lovely. They explained anything we didn’t understand and were attentive to our needs as patrons. A+ Customer Service.

The food was great! We started off with some fried gyoza, which are basically pork dumplings. They were crispy and well seasoned, though I think they could have used a bit more meat. Next came our ramen. Crymson and I both got the miso ramen, which included miso, pork, fish cakes and leeks in addition to the noodles in a soy/pork broth. The soup was flavorful and not at all like the instant ramen we get at the grocery store. We ended our meal with some matcha and turon. Even though my stomach was threatening to explode at this point (after eating all of my soup and some of Crymson’s), I devoured the semi-sweet desserts we ordered.

I highly recommend Issei Noodles if you’re ever in the Lancaster, PA area.

2. The Rabbit and the Dragonfly

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Cute book corner!

I have never seen a cuter cafe in my entire life. We found ourselves here twice, once for a coffee to keep us awake so we wouldn’t miss Cosplay Burlesque and again the next morning for brunch. While I wasn’t that much of a fan of the chai tea latte or the iced coffee I got, their food was a different story entirely.

I ordered fish and chips, a British classic, and some chili cheese fries, which are a personal favorite dish of mine. The battered and fried cod was mildly flavored and cripsy, just like it should be. The fries were nice and crispy as well, which always make for good fries. They’ve definitely got themselves a quality fryer.

The chili cheese fries were also amazing. The cheese was mild and the chili was chunky, but not spicy. The fries held up nicely under their dressings. The flavors mixed together perfectly. A+ food.

It’s also important to note that the cafe is themed like a bookshop. They pull their inspiration from JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis, two talented authors who created two of the most well-known fantasy worlds out there. The ambiance was calming and warmed my little book-worm heart.

3. Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub

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Irish nachos

Food-wise, Annie Bailey’s was my favorite. Naturally, the Irish pub had Irish inspired food. They had Shephard’s Pie, Bangers & Mash, and even Irish Potato Nachos. The pub had the lighthearted feel that you would expect of an Irish bar and restaurant.

I ordered fried pickles for an appetizer. While I’m used to pickle chips, I was given pickle spears, which was an experience. The consistency was different than what I’m used to, but I didn’t complain as I gobbled them up. They had a bit of a bite to them, which I enjoyed immensely.

My main dish was the Irish Potato Nachos. They took waffle fries (my favorite) and topped them with three different cheeses, tomatos, scallions and a dusting of brisket. This was way more than I could eat in one sitting, but they gave me sour cream AND ranch, so I tried the best I could.

I had a bite of Crymson’s Bangers & Mash and just WOW. The sausage was perfectly cooked and the mashed potatoes were so creamy. I can’t even describe the gravy they used as anything but delectable.

Finally, I had a bite of their dessert Dark Side of the Moon. It was bascially chocolate, topped with chocolate topped with chocolate with some whipped cream. It was the best thing I’d ever tasted. The chocolate cake was cooked with coffee liquer, making it melt on your tongue. Chocolate mousse was the cake filling, making it light and fluffy. Finally, the frosting had chocolate chips in them, giving it a bit of a crunch.

If you ever have a chance to go to Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub in Lancaster, PA, then make sure you get there. You won’t regret it in the slightest.

All of the restaurants we went to had quality food. While these were the three big ones we went to during our days in Lancaster, there were tons of others that we didn’t get a chance to try. If you have any other Zenkaikon food suggestions, let us know in the comments below!

Zenkaikon 2018: An Overview

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My mind is still a buzz from our weekend at Zenkaikon, a convention I will never get tired of talking about, that I absolutely adore, and that I look forward to every year.

This is only my second year at Zenkaikon and it did not disappoint.

I want to point out something extremely important: whilst the panels, guests, vendors, anime, games, etc are all of the utmost importance for a convention, there are two things I look forward to the most:

  1. The Staff
  2. Lancaster, PA

Of all the conventions I have been to, the staff here has never been rude to me or anyone else that I’ve seen. I also walk through those doors with an understanding that these people are not getting paid, they are volunteering. They are doing this for the love of it, for the fun, for the Zenkaikon community. They are trying to tame a convention of people. Every different type of person under the sun and, honestly, I think it would be easier to tame a rave of drunk squirrels then to keep a convention under control.

IMG_2845I also don’t mistake urgency for rudeness. I’ve seen them get loud. I’ve seen hurry people. I’ve seen them say ‘no’ more times than I can count. I’ve never seen them get angry. They have to be loud so you can actually hear them over the general convention noise. They have to hurry you along because you are one of over 5,000 people they have to make sure is safe. I love the Zenkaikon staff.

Lancaster, PA, is also AMAZING. Having grown up in the area, I knew Lancaster for two things: the Amish and the farms. I had no idea there was an actual downtown area until we drove into it last year. Now, thanks to an amazing Zenkaikon guide (MrEvilena1), not only was I able to figure out the convention and have so many questions answered, but he also pointed out delicious food. Granted, this year was a bit crazy, but the food never disappoints. It just get’s better and Vanri is so excited to tell you all about it.

On top of all of that,  I got to meet The Triforce Quartet, Sarah Wiedenheft, Jessica Calvello, Quinton Flynn, Jad SaxtonJonathan Maberry, Corgi Cosplay and the always wonderful Cosplay Burlesque. Of course, every year I am terrified of the guests and every year I realize that they are just a bunch of people. They’re mostly just nerds who love talking to people and being at cons. That makes my heart soar.

If you’ve never been to Zenkaikon, I urge you to go. You don’t know what you’re missing!

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Top 10 Things that happened to me at Zenkaikon 2017

Crymson went to Zenkaikon 2017! Here are some of the things she experienced:

 

 

10) Some utterly amazing cosplays where everywhere!

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9) I was sandwiched between two doctors in my T.A.R.D.I.S dress

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I found Wednesday Adams

8) So many people told me they love my hair!

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Waiting for Cosplay Masquerade

7) I made new friends!

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Our friends at CommonGeek.tv

7) I want hours to talk to Keith DeCandido

5) The Slants concert was AMAZING

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The Slants

4) I got a ‘NOTICE ME SENPAI!’ from a stranger

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Senpai Loves You

3) MY FIRST BURLESQUE SHOW! Not only did I see my first show

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Pre Show (Photography was not allowed)

2) I got to spend some time with Uncle Yo! Much more than an interview, I was able to see him several times, chat with him and give him a few hugs. He made me laugh, he made me cry.

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Crazy Uncle Yo

1) Ellen McClain and John Patrick Lowery Believe in me! Meeting them was definitely the highlight of the convention for me. They are two incredible people that I’d love to sit with for hours and listen to their stories. I cannot say enough positive things and hope to speak with them again.

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John Patrick Lowery & Ellen McClain are too precious for this world

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Noodle King

 

 

 

(Honorable Mention: ALL THE FOOD!)
If you live in the Lancaster Area, please eat at The Rabbit and The Dragonfly & Noodle King

Ellen McLain & John Patrick Lowery (Zenkaikon 2017)

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John Patrick Lowery & Ellen McLain

Ellen (GLaDOS, Portal Series) and John (Sniper, Team Fortress Series) were my very first interview at Zenkaikon 2017. It was my absolute pleasure to be a bumbling nervous fan before them. They strolled in from the elevator and after a moment of asking where they should sit, I smiled and told them how nervous I was to be meeting them.

They both delighted in this fact. John said, ‘Well, let’s make it worse!’ and immediately shook my hand & gave me hugs. John took my hand and looked me in the eye and told me that this was a pivotal moment in my future and began making jokes as if he’d known me for ages.

I had read so many interviews with them that I had nothing to ask! Well, I had a few things. I knew how they met already, how they helped shape video game voice acting as we know it, and that they have also been pushing for video games to be recognized as the art form they truly are. Those were just reiterations of what I already knew about them but they were items that I felt so important that I wanted to hear them out loud and keep that flow of information.

I feel that they are both pivotal to video games as we know it. I loved hearing about the growing understanding and relationship between voice actor and engineer. When we still had a lot of instructional computer programs out there, where you could just spout out lines on paper in pops Voice Acting! and it’s no longer reading lines off a page. You need to understand what the motivation is, what’s happening in the scene, what will be the characters next step, what is their thinking. You need to convey so much to the player. Flat voice acting (I.E. Peter Dinklage in Destiny.. personally I disagree but that isn’t the point) is detrimental to the experience. So many people complained about Destiny that they had the entire script redone with another voice actor. Because it wasn’t contributing to their experience.

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During Interview

To that point, John Patrick Lowery has been a part of my life, my story, for a very long time. Let me explain. John voice acted in a little known game called Betrayal at Krondor. It was in the era of adventure games and the original Kings Quest. My father bought the game for us to play; we loved adventure games and RPGs and the like. Now this was in 1997; I was 16 and loved video games.

Voice acting was not typical in games then. These games made such an impact on me that I started writing my own stories, even to the point where I used Krondor as the last name of one of my many fantasy characters. These were also very special moments that I spent with my father, we both loved video games and the stories they told. I often wonder at how he would react to the changes that have been made in the 15 years he’s been gone. So for a small thing that John did 20 years ago it had a positive influence on me, on my life, and on my relationship with my father. Maybe after I read one of John’s wonderful books, he will read one of my mediocre short stories.

With all that being said, Ellen and John are too precious for this world. I wanted to pick them up and put them in my pocket, however impossible that is. I wanted to listen to every story they had to tell me and I am sure there are so many. I wish I could even convey to you the feeling of sitting there listening them. It was one of the only times I wanted to talk as little as possible and just be present.

They were incredible. I adored them and I pray this isn’t the only time I get the pleasure of speaking with them. The highlight of my convention!

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.