Monday May 7, 2012

PITTSFIELD - Perhaps the first indication that this weekend convention wasn't your average corporate get-together was the sign on the front door of the Crown Plaza Hotel.

"No Real Weapons Allowed Inside!"

This wasn't because BAM Con 2012 was expected to be violent. But over the past three days, a host of people dressed as elves, Ninja, assassins, wizards and other assorted heroes passed into the Crown Plaza lobby to the second floor convention area. And "live steel" as real swords and spears are called by fantasy conventioneers, is frowned upon.

BAM Con is billed as the "first" Berkshire Anime and Manga Convention, although organizer Jon Wynn admitted that there was an earlier one-day Manga convention in the city a few years ago. But this convention, Wynn clarified, is certainly the first three-day affair.

Manga are comics created originally in Japan, conforming to a style actually developed there in the 19th century. Since the 1950s, manga has become a large part of the Japanese publishing industry. In the United States alone, the manga market is estimated at more than $250 million a year. Anime is the abbreviated version of "animation" and refers to a particular style of animation characterized by colorful graphics and often featuring themes aimed at a more adult audience.

"I think the difference between manga and American comics is that there is more focus on how the pictures and the story flows," said Christine Chong, an animator and storyboard artist from New Jersey. Chong had a table in the convention's art room, selling her latest book, "Two Masters."

"In manga, illustration is second to the story line," said Chong.

In addition to manga and anime, the weekend convention also showcased American comics, science fiction and gaming, according to Jon Wynn, one of the promoters.

Wynn, a Pittsfield native, in the head of MediaCrash.com, a small media studio that, according to its website, specializes in music/audio production and engineering. Media-Crash was one of the major sponsors of the event. Wynn, Amelia Ritter of Pittsfield and Crystal Howcroft of Adams are members of the Berkshire Anime and Manga Club, a club devoted to studying, reading and watching Japanese comics and animation.This weekend's convention was largely planned by the three.

In addition, there were gaming tournaments sponsored by the comic shop Fantasy Realms, a longtime host for gaming events in the area.

Wynn explained that manga conventions have popped up all over the country. There are, for example, conventions in Connecticut, the capital region in New York and Boston.

"There just seemed to be a gap, and we wanted to fill it," he said.

The event featured anime and manga celebrities such as Rob " Lord Zedd" Axlerod, who starred in the television series "Star Trek Voyager" and "The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."

There were, throughout the weekend, a host of individuals dressed as various manga, anime, gaming and comic book characters. Laura, a gaming fan from central New York state, was dressed as the elfinlike "Link", the protagonist of Nintendo's "Legend of Zelda" series, first created in 1986.

Laura, a young woman in her late 20s, explained that she visits several manga conventions every year, dressed as her favorite character.

"It's a way to network with people who enjoy anime," she said. "And it gives you a chance to check out new anime and games."

As for coming to the shows in costume, she explained that "some people come to enter contests. I just do it for fun."