Now in its eighth year, what first began in 2010 as a casual Saturday withÂ 25 students at the Bellingham Public LibraryÂ (BPL) has matured into a full-fledged convention expected to serve more than 1000 visitors from around the Pacific Northwest. Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON) has grown steadily, building on each year’s success, to offer art, games, merchandise, cosplay, music, guest panelists, and more honoring fandom of all kinds. I first attended with my tween boys in 2016.
To keep teens connected and engaged in their public library, BPL offers a number of programs for adolescents. Anime Night was first established in 2007 on the second Monday of each month and its still going strong, serving more than 40 kids each month. My sons have been attending for over a year now. Students share their mutual appreciation for Japanese animation, graphic novels, and cosplay (dressing up as a character from a film or book). My kids enjoy the social time with kids who share their interests and they especially enjoy the group’s mentor, Teen Services Librarian Jennifer Lovchik. She has worked for BPL for 20 years and managed teen programs since 2001.
Anime NightÂ was so popular from the beginning that an off-shoot group began at BPL, called Toshokan Cosplay (which means âlibraryâ in Japanese). Students take turns watching YouTube videos, taking photos, dancing, and socializing.
By 2010, enough students were interested to warrant an all-day mini anime convention at BPL that Lovchik organized with the students, then called ADA-CON. About 20 kids attended. âI knew about Seattle’sÂ Sakura-Con and other fan conventions, and I figured we needed something for young people who couldn’t get to Seattle so they could dress up and hang out with friends at a dedicated event. So I started one,â explains Lovchik.
The following year the name was officially changed to Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON for short) and it drew more than 90 area enthusiasts. BA-CONÂ continued to grow each year thereafter until it reached BPL’s capacity of 250 people in 2013 and 2014. A larger venue was needed to address the increasing interest.
In 2014, the teens in her BPL programs told LovchikÂ about an Animation Club at Whatcom Community College (WCC). Thatâs where she found Jarrett Martin. As a WCC student, Martin had started the popular club. Martin was brought on as Director of Programming in 2014 and BA-CON moved to WCC in 2015. Martin is currently the Convention Director and according to Lovchik, he is the main reason BA-CON is and will continue to grow.
âWhen I joined, it was with the condition that we make it a âreal convention,â with guest speakers, workshops and that it become more representative of the kinds of conventions youâd find in other larger cities,â remembers Martin. âSince then weâve obtained 501(c)3 nonprofit status and taken the event from six to twelve hours, growing to the more than 1000 we expect to attend this year.â Last year, the event was attended by many locals, but also by vendors and enthusiasts from Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, and Oregon.
In prior years, the event was free for vendors and attendees and funded solely by BPL and donations. In 2016, they began charging a small fee in order to support guest speakers, advertising, and to pay for overhead costs associated with the ever-expanding event.
My first year to attend was 2016. The event occupied an entire building on the WCC campus. I was impressed with the quality of the art and the distance people had traveled to attend. My kids and I were among the few people who were not dressed in cosplay. But that didn’t seem to matter because everyone was welcoming and eager to discuss their favorite characters and genres.
What to Expect for 2017
This year, the event will triple in size, expanding from one to three buildings on the WCC campus. Artists Alley and Vendor Hall will occupy an entire gymnasium, growing from about 20 to more than 50 local and Pacific Northwest artists and vendors, taking on more of an expo feel. Creations of both emerging and seasoned artists will be on display.
âItâs not just anime either,â adds Lovchik. âItâs all fandoms. Weâre inviting and inclusive. Most people feel itâs a warm and happy event where people love what theyâre doing.â Many of the teens that have participated in BPL programs have become members of the BA-CON Steering Committee, helping make decisions and learning new leadership and social skills along the way.
This yearâs event will also feature industry professionals, three musical performances, and more than 70 hours of content during the 12-hour event. Theyâll bring big name guest speakers in the anime world including Raj Ramayya, a California-based Indo-Canadian singer, composer and lyricist.Â His anime fame is in his musical collaborations with famed Japanese composer Yoko Kanno as a member of The Seatbelts. Ramayya sang wrote the lyrics for songs from the fan favorite feature film Cowboy Bebop: the Movie.
Also, Matthew Erickson, a Canadian voice actor based in Vancouver, B.C. will speak about his experiences in his anime roles that include âTrunksâ in Dragonball GT, âVan Flyheightâ in Zoids: Chaotic Century, âHarveyâ in Sabrina, Secrets of a Teenage Witch.
I’ll be attending again this year with my kids. I haven’t decided if I’ll dress in cosplay, or if so which character I’ll choose. Maybe Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games, Trinity from The Matrix or good old-fashioned Wonder Woman from DC Comics. In any case, I’ll look forward to the talent and creativity of the art and costumes of the like-minded fans.
May 13, 2017