Wednesday, July 26, 2023

On a panel at Avcon + met Hiroshi Nagahama!

So Avcon 2023 was super awesome for a few reasons! One of the guests was Hiroshi Nagahama, known for being the director of Mushishi. Just the mention of Mushishi takes me back to days spent in my room as a teen absorbing every anime I could get my hands on, always through early 2000s YouTube.

Its Saturday around 1:30pm. Nagahama-san is doing his first talk, creating a live drawing of Spiderman versus Venom and is aided by an interpreter. He obviously has ample respect for Western comics and culture, evidenced by his praise for American cartoons. I found it hard to relax and enjoy the moment, for I was scheduled to be on the panel directly after this legend!

We were instructed to be next to the stage 15 minutes beforehand for our "Women in Gaming" panel at 2:30. Before walking up on stage, the nerves hadn't really began to take effect of me just yet. A man in a blue Avcon volunteers tee then approached us. 

"Mics are on, you can go up there now."  

I teeter out as the second in line and took my seat. When the time came around to say my name into my mic, my hands began to shake despite my best attempts to stop them.

"Hi...I'm Vela."

The entire time, I found it hard to lift my head up and look at the audience, as honestly I was very awkward but hey......that ties into what I said on the panel.

(Photo credit: Rhomenka Vallance, Team Avcon)

The only things I felt like I was proud of mumbling was; my hopes that the industry can begin to accept the stories of people on the autism spectrum and/or with mental health conditions. Stories of neurodivergent people matter as they are usually quite vulnerable, and I'd love to see more characters and stories based directly off of these lived experiences. Basically, fresh outta' the mouths of people who've actually lived such things.

Also, I got a mention of Touhou Project in, which was fun to say. I'm certain I was zoning out staring at an Alley stall in the distance as I said everything in my strange American accent which seems to disarm everyone. After I stepped down from the platform, my friend hugs me.

"You we're amazing!"

I'm certain he was just being nice, as he always is. We scurried away and tried not to loiter, out of my sheer awkwardness. I was thrilled but also extremely anxious I might have said something wrong or held the mic the wrong way. When I get home that Saturday my dad immediately asks me:

"What? You need to get the anime director guys signature! Give him your business card!"
"There's a guest signing tomorrow afternoon! I don't think I should be handing him my business card..."

That night, I didn't sleep a wink. Over and over in my mind I thought, oh my god, I mentioned that company that flopped and maybe someone in the audience thinks I'm being a bitch. I didn't make eye contact when that girl in the audience who asked what our fave games were! Oh my god! I can't go an hour without being doofy and wrong!

Its 3pm Sunday the next day at the "Friends of Avcon" booth and Hiroshi Nagahama is there half an hour early. There is a non-existent line to get a signature from him, I can't believe it! I wait for the two people in front of me to get a custom drawing, the longest 10 minutes ever. He explains to the four or so people in line that one Sharpie was gifted to him by the late Stan Lee, so it is a precious Sharpie he must bring with him to conventions, or something along those lines. I prepared by muttering to myself the formal Japanese introduction I was told to say. Now its my turn, I swiftly bow and say:


He mimics me but looks confused, maybe I said or timed it wrong. He readies his pen and gestures to the paper in front of him. I confess, I had just Googled the characters name, since it must have been decades since I first watched it. 
"Eehto...Ginko onegaishimasu.(Um, Ginko please)"
My friend nudges me to open my sketchbook so I do quickly. I brace myself and take the plunge.
"Watashi wa, sutoriboodo aetisuto desu.(Im a storyboard artist)"
He says so in typical exaggerated Japanese fashion. I flip through the pages of my drawings.
"What? It me?"
The other interpreter calls the Japanese interpreter over and they point to the lady in my sketches.
"Look it's you Hanako!*"
*I don't remember what the interpreter's name is but I'm 55% sure I overheard something similar. 
He turns back to me.
"Donna Sutoribodo desuka? (What sort of storyboards?)"
"Eeto...nettofurikkus (Um, Netflix)" 
"Honto!!!? Sugoi.(Really, awesome!)"
He then asked me what stuff on Netflix. I said in English: How to Train Your Dragon since I worked on a spinoff in series. The other guest, Lisle Wilkerson, who is bilingual, translated for him. His reaction was as expected, the equivalent of 'holy shit' in Japanese. I let them hold my sketchbook, of course. He points at the gesture I did of the crouching photographer.
"Umai desune...(Super good)"
He buckles down and starts drawing Ginko from Mushishi. The voice actress Lisle Wilkerson is sitting nearly right next to him so I show her the silly caricatured drawing I did of her. I wasn't expecting I'd ever be showing it to her!
"Sorry, sometimes I can't get peoples' faces right the first time."
She smiles coyly. 
"No problem, I'm a woman of a hundred faces."
She also seems to have a wealth of expertise so I ask her...
"What do you recommend for someone studying Japanese, other than just living there?"
"Hm. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Lots of Japanese people are really afraid, that's why they rarely leave Japan. You gotta' goof up a bit to learn!"
Nagahama now has finished the drawing by now, and signs it in English. 
"Sutori-aitisto ni Storiboardo-teki na e wo kaita. (For the story artist, I've drawn a storyboard-like picture"."
"Subarashi tomoimasu. arigatougozaimasu.(I think it's wonderful, thanks so much.)" 
"(Don't mention it)."

I leave the convention right after getting the drawing, since I had a family dinner that night. With my mind whirling and an original Sharpie drawing in my little clear bag, I slouch down into my well deserved train seat.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, that is what that confident bilingual voice actress said, huh. Whether its through speaking Japanese to one man, or speaking English to an entire convention hall, I feel like I've started to conquer my fear of goofing up. What an awesome Avcon. Over and out~

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