Monday, May 1st, 2017
Fan Fun at Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON) Each May
Lorraine Wilde

Bellingham Anime Convention BA-CON Cosplay
Now in its eighth year, what first began in 2010 as a casual Saturday with 25 students at the Bellingham Public Library (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.

BA-CON History

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 Night was so popular from the beginning that an off-shoot group began at BPL, called Toshokan Cosplay (which means ‘library’ in Japanese). Students take turns watching YouTube videos, taking photos, dancing, and socializing.

Bellingham Anime Convention BA-CON Cosplay

These cosplayers attended BA-CON 2016. More than 1000 enthusiasts are expected to attend this year. Photo courtesy: BA-CON.

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. “I knew about Seattle’s 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,” 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-CON 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.

Bellingham Anime Convention BA-CON Cosplay

The 2016 BA-CON Cosplay Competition at Whatcom Community College was well attended. Photo courtesy: BA-CON.

In 2014, the teens in her BPL programs told Lovchik about an Animation Club at Whatcom Community College (WCC). That’s 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.

“When I joined, it was with the condition that we make it a ‘real convention,’ with guest speakers, workshops and that it become more representative of the kinds of conventions you’d find in other larger cities,” remembers Martin. “Since then we’ve 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.” Last year, the event was attended by many locals, but also by vendors and enthusiasts from Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, and Oregon.

Bellingham Anime Convention BA-CON Artists Alley

BA-CON Artists Alley will expand from 20 in 2016 to more than 50 local and Pacific Northwest artists and vendors this year. Photo courtesy: BA-CON.

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.

Jennifer Lovchik with BA-CON Steering Committee

BA-CON Steering Committee Members attend Anime Night at BPL, some in cosplay. Left to Right: Anya Mueller, Kambria Mcdonald (Super Pochaco), Jennifer Lovchik, Ben Bernard (Dandy Universe) and Kai Imani (Asnort).

“It’s not just anime either,” adds Lovchik. “It’s all fandoms. We’re inviting and inclusive. Most people feel it’s a warm and happy event where people love what they’re doing.” 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 year’s event will also feature industry professionals, three musical performances, and more than 70 hours of content during the 12-hour event. They’ll bring big name guest speakers in the anime world including Raj Ramayya, a California-based Indo-Canadian singer, composer and lyricist. 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.

Bellingham Anime Convention BA-CON CosplayAlso, Matthew Erickson, a Canadian voice actor based in Vancouver, B.C. will speak about his experiences in his anime roles that include “Trunks” in Dragonball GT, “Van Flyheight” in Zoids: Chaotic Century, “Harvey” in Sabrina, Secrets of a Teenage Witch.

BA-CON’s website, Facebook page and podcasts have loads of details about past and upcoming events.

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.

Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON)

May 13, 2017

www.bellinghamanimecon.com

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About the Author:

Lorraine Wilde has immersed herself in so many of Whatcom County’s vibrant communities over the past 25 years. Owner and Marketing Strategist for Wilde World Communications, Lorraine has connected with locals as a writer, actor, scientist, teacher, filmmaker, singer, and mom. Lorraine has performed improv and staged works in several of Whatcom County’s theatres and she is active in the Bellingham Film community. She is also a big supporter of the local music community. When she has a spare second, its spent with her children outside on a sailboat, a trail, or exploring a new adventure.