Many years ago, my friend and fellow BVCer Sarah Zettel and I decided to day-trip Youmacon to see what it was all about. Youmacon is a Michigan anime convention. At the time, it was held at a hotel in Dearborn. Both Sarah and I were exploring the idea of writing manga and wanted to see what Youmacon was like.
The place was a packed madhouse of costumes, teens, and twentysomethings. Sarah and I, in our forties, were the oldest people there. Our jaws dropped at the massive press of people. This was where all the SF and F people were hanging out!
Now, years later, I had sons who loved anime, but what with one thing and another I was never able to take them to Youmacon. This year, I decided, would be the year. Both Aran and Maksim were excited about the trip and talked about it quite a lot in the weeks leading up.
Friday after Maksim and I got home from school, we all packed up and dashed off Detroit.
Yioumacon has rather expanded since Sarah and I visited in Dearborn. The convention now takes over the entire Detroit Rennaisance Center =and= Cobo Hall in central Detroit. The Hyatt Regency at the Ren Cen is always booked solid with con-goers. More than 10,000 attend now, making the Dearborn crowd all those years ago look puny in comparison.
When we arrived, we saw a steady stream of costumed people moving up the sidewalk between the Ren Cen and Cobo. Made it easy to find the hotel! The boys got more excited–they both know nearly all the popular anime characters and were pointing them out as we went.
We checked into the hotel and as we were getting into our room, we discovered that Sarah, her husband Tim, and her son Alexander had the room next door! There was a coincidence!
The boys wanted to run right out and explore the convention, so we trooped over to Cobo for registration. All along the way, we found costumes, costumes, and more costumes. Aran’s encyclopedic knowledge of anime turned him into kind of a native guide, with Maksim as a backup. Aran happily gave shout-outs to cosplayers he liked:
“Hey, Mario! How’s Donkey Kong doing?”
“I love your Harley costume!”
“Blue Link! You’re awesome!”
It made him a popular among the cosplayers.
Because this was our first Youmacon, I told the boys to take it easy, to look around, figure out how the convention worked, and not work too hard at trying to see everything. In coming years, they’d see more, when they knew their way around better.
Aran ignored me and immersed himself in con culture. For an autist who’d never been to a con before, he adapted FAST. I showed him how to use the con book to find panels and make a list of what he wanted to attend, and off he went! Aran is a long-standing member of the Brony community (look it up) and spent a great deal of time exploring the My Little Pony culture, in fact. He tried to get on stage for the Disney karaoke, but there were too many people. Lastly, he made an actual friend (!). Another MLP fan, an artist, was enchanted by his open admiration of the show and the characters. She drew him an MLP sketch on canvas and gave him a figurine as well. Aran was thrilled.
Maksim was a little shyer. He’s old enough to go off on his own for convention events, but he wasn’t certain of himself, so he stuck with me. We attended some panels and checked out the gaming room, where we ran into Aran and played a game of giant Jenga. Aran won.
Maksim and I went through artists alley and the dealers area. Both were huge–acres and acres. You had to wait in line to get in, though it moved quickly. Maksim liked artists alley and even bought a FULL METAL ALCHEMIST print for his room. I bought a graphic novel I found interesting, and it came with an autographed print by the author, which was cool. I also did some Christmas shopping. Maksim wasn’t all that thrilled with following me around for the shopping part, but I pointed out that lots of the vendors sold videos, including rare ones. He was looking for a BLACK BLOOD BROTHERS set of DVDs, which he couldn’t find anywhere. The first two vendors said they didn’t have it–too rare. The third one produced a full set. I was expecting the price to be $70 or $80, but it was only $25. Cool! Maksim was more enthusiastic about the shopping after that.
As a weird side note, it took forever to find a place to eat for breakfast on Saturday. We walked all over, following directions from Siri, searching for breakfast on a chilly November morning. We finally found an upscale diner that made upscale versions of regular breakfast. Instead of sausage hash, they served roasted goat shoulder. Instead of eggs benedict, they served duck compote. You get the idea. The only other customers was a set of Gryffindor cosplayers. Just after we ordered, I looked out the window in time to see Sarah and Company trooping by! I popped outside to shout at them. They were having similar bad luck with breakfast, and they joined us at a giant table. It was great fun!
Saturday evening we took the Detroit People Mover to Greektown for supper at a barbecue place. The People Mover is the world’s smaller eleveated train system–two sets of two cars that drive in an endless circle around the downtown area. Because of the convention, it was crowded with con-goers and cosplayers. The non-congoers were alternately startled and fascinated. And the trains were crammed full! There was often a wait until the next, or the next-next, train came along.
Youmacon, I have to point out, is the direction of science fiction and fantasy. It’s utterly different from WorldCon and World Fantasy. First, it’s much, much, MUCH bigger. When people complain that science fiction and fantasy are shrinking, I point to Youmacon. It’s ALL SF&F.
Second, Youmacon is much more diverse. Go to nearly any SF convention, including WorldCon, and almost everyone is white. That includes conventions held in the Detroit area. Where is the African-American crowd? The Middle-Eastern crowd? Detroit has enormous populations of both, but they don’t go to traditional SF cons in Michigan. But they go to Youmacon. BIG African-American attendance. BIG Middle-Eastern attendance. I didn’t see many Asian people there, though, which I did find ironic.
At Youmacon, the “be yourself” idea goes flat out, full speed. No one questions who you say you are (as long as you have a convention badge) or what you want to wear or why you want to wear it. If you’re a five-foot woman who wants to dress as Thundarr the Barbarian, you’re in the right place! If you’re a six-foot black man who wants to wear a silver wig and a fox tail, you’ll get applause. If you want to spend weeks of careful work on your costume, great! If you threw yours together at the last minute in the dealer room, fantastic! Wear it proudly, and no one will question you.
On Sunday, we got up early–thank you, time change!–and beat the crowd to check-out. We hauled all our stuff downstairs and drove home. It had been a fun weekend of male bonding at Youmacon.
–Steven Harper Piziks