The following is a brief email interview we did with Jim Vowles, Con Chair of Otakon 2006, as a prelude to our forthcoming live interview on the show. Jim is an awesome dude, and we hope to complete that interview as soon as we're able.
Very briefly, what is Otakon?
Otakon is, technically, the annual meeting of Otakorp, Inc., an educational nonprofit with
the goal of teaching people about East Asian culture. We do that primarily by sponsoring an
annual celebration of East Asian popular culture and the fandom that has embraced it.
One of our founders describes the convention as a party where everyone brings something --
some people brought content, some people brought food, some people offered a place to have
the party, some people organized things, and some people just contributed a few bucks. It's
a model that perhaps was more reflective of the heady days of do-it-yourself fandom in the
mid 1990s, and of the small-scale con we once were, but it still holds true. A core group of
fans (including many of the founding members) remains actively involved in the organization
and running of the convention, while the vast majority of attendees contribute money.
It means many different things to many different people -- for some it's little more than a
place to hang out with friends, for some it's an opportunity to get autographs or see musical
acts, for others it's a weekend party.
The attendance cap last year was 22k. This year, you've upped it to 25, along with procuring the First Mariner Arena. Do you think the con will sell out again? Will it ever outgrow Baltimore? Is it true that almost all of the hotels are sold out?
Yes, I think we'll sell out again. The current total may look low, but this time last year we
had just opened up pre-reg. Once we kick out some more guest announcements, we'll see things
The 1st Mariner Arena gives our biggest event room to breath, allows us to satisfy the need
for more rooms that hold about a thousand people, and buys us back our 35mm room (which had
been used for simulcast of the Masquerade) for its primary purpose of showing films.
But we're also going to be using another surprise venue this year -- you'll hear more about
Will we outgrow Baltimore? In some ways we already have, but there just aren't very many
options available to us that would actually work. Philly's set up all wrong for us. Half our
staff wouldn't make the trek to Pittsburgh. That leaves us with DC -- an option that's still
on the table. However there are a lot of challenges with DC, the most critical of which is
cost. Baltimore at this point is motivated to keep us, and they're putting their money where
their mouth is, so to speak. This year we've seen a noted increase in city support for the
event. And frankly, we know pretty much exactly how to use Baltimore's space, and we know
all the local players, from hotels to venues to vendors.
What of the coming expansions to the hotel and convention space in Baltimore?
They look very promising. Basically they're adding another ballroom's worth of space, which
would be a huge help to us. And 600 more hotel rooms, plus parking spaces? That's a big
plus. Unfortunately they're not slated to be done until 2008. With luck, they'll be ready