Countdown to Senshi Con

This weekend fans of anime, comics and gaming will descend on downtown Anchorage for Senshi Con, the largest anime convention in the state.

Fans meet with Jessica Nigiri, a well-known cosplayer, and several other guests at Senshi Con’s 2016 convention at the Egan Center. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

People like Emily Johnson of UAA’s Anime Club look forward to checking out everything the convention has to offer from the booths and vendors to the panels and featured guests.

While Johnson wants to see what Senshi Con does for its first time at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, she’s excited for the cosplay. She loves to sew and dressing up as her favorite characters is a chance to take a break from the doldrums.

“You can be yourself or you can be whoever you want and it’s just like the joy of going from boring normal life to a colorful life,” Johnson said.

Between work and school, she can spend upwards of three months working on a costume, but for her, it’s worth the effort and makes her want to get better. She’ll go on Facebook groups like Cosplay Alaska for help, ideas or just to connect with other cosplayers.

The best compliment, Johnson said, is when she’s made her own costume and someone asks for a photo.

Senshi Con is the big payoff for cosplayers in Alaska and, if the Facebook group is any indication, there are a lot out there. The group has over 1,900 members.

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John Weddleton, owner of Bosco’s comics, remembers when he got his first dose of costumed fans.

“It was totally weird to see those few brave cosplayers a decade ago,” he said in an email. “Now, the streets downtown are full of cosplayers during Senshi Con. Not only then but at other events throughout the year. It’s fun and creative. We need more of that in the world.”

For attendees like Johnson and creators like local comic book artist Lucas Elliot, events like Senshi Con are about community.

Elliot has had a booth at Senshi Con for the last four years. Going to conventions like Rose City and Emerald City Comic Cons in Portland and Seattle are a part of the job, but they’re also a way to make connections and build relationships.

Elliot wants to help the comic book community in Alaska grow and work together to make something worthwhile. Aspiring comic book artists assume they have to leave the state to find greener pastures, but Elliot wants people to understand they can build something here.

“We might be small, but we have a lot of heart,” Elliot said.

That’s why he, along with comic artists Tadd Galusha and Lee Post, will be holding a panel moderated by podcaster David Harper on Sunday, Oct. 1 at Senshi Con to share their stories and maybe help or inspire the next generation of artists.

“Each one of us [panelists] has a different path and if that can help somebody kind of gain some insight on where they want to take their career — fantastic. Building a local Alaskan community is very important,” Elliot said.

Super-fans of things like comics and anime have gotten a bad rap historically, but the geeks, nerds and weirdos are having the last laugh in the end. Geek culture is mainstream and nerd isn’t the four-letter word it used to be.

Johnson said when she was in high school her group of friends who liked anime were seen as outcasts, but having their support helped give her more confidence, even when the group drew negative attention from other kids.

“They would walk by us and stare at us and you could hear them making whispering comments about how, like, weird we were,” Johnson said. “While that, I’d say, could frighten someone of being looked down upon, I’d say it definitely opened me up as a person to show who I am.”

Weddleton remembers when Bosco’s moved from one side of Spenard to the other in ‘87. The old location’s windows were covered in faded posters, but he wanted people to be able to see inside the new shop. On the first day of opening, an adult customer came into the new location and asked when they’d be covering up the windows.

“Why? He was afraid people would see him in a comic shop,” Weddleton said. “That’s not a problem anymore. We carry our comics proudly.”

The organizers of Senshi Con know what it’s like to be looked down on for their interests, event director Braxton Bundick said. That’s why he wants Senshi Con to be a safe haven for people to express their fandom.

It’s the 12th year for the convention and it’s come a long way since the first at West High School. It moved to UAA for the next seven years and then to the Egan Center.

“I’m so humbled that we still have people coming back for all these years,” Bundick said.

The event has grown again this year, using all three floors of the Dena’ina Center.

Bundick said new features of Senshi Con include fast passes for things like autograph singings, more featured guests and free entry for kids 12 and under.

There will also be a masquerade ball Friday night prior to the convention opening on Saturday.

With the extra space, Bundick wants people to feel like the have too many options of what to do. He hopes Senshi Con will feel like Disneyland without the rides, but where the Disney princess just happens to be hanging out with Deadpool.

Senshi Con goes from Friday, Sept. 29 to Sunday, Oct. 1.

For more information about the event, or Senshi Con, go to senshicon.org.