More than three years after his first dōjin convention experience, Diego darkens the halls of Tōkyō Big Sight a second time in search of art to appreciate. (Or heap quiet mental scorn upon.)
Here’s his account of COMITIA 107.
First of all, a brief note for anyone who might have noticed that the pictures here contain two different tags, one for this blog and another that reads “withinstrikingdistance.wordpress.com”. I didn’t steal those from someone else’s site – the other address is, in fact, my personal travel blog, where I’m currently documenting my latest trip to Japan and where some of these pictures will also make an appearance.
Right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get going.
The date: 02 February 2014. The place: Tōkyō Big Sight. (A very appropriate name, I might add, for a convention centre that happens to be in Tōkyō, happens to be very big, and happens to be quite a sight.)
This sprawling venue hosts a large number of activities all year round, including the (in)famous twice-yearly Comiket dōjinshi convention that welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each time it opens its doors. Compared to that monster of an event, today’s convention may seem like small fry, but with three decades of history behind it and armies of dedicated dōjin circles eager to participate in its four annual iterations, COMITIA is certainly no bit player. And – as we’ll see shortly – even this comparatively smaller get-together pulls in more than its fair share of visitors, many of whom (myself included) are probably drawn by its emphasis on original (rather than derivative) works.
Oh, and cosplay is prohibited here. Not just discouraged – it’s completely outlawed. (Read it and weep, unless you’re not a cosplay fan in which case read it and rejoice.) Those in search of Nagato Yuki clones might be better off checking out Comiket.
The focus on original matter also leads to a great diversity of output. You’ve got “conventional” manga-style dōjinshi in spades, but “dōjin” is clearly taken in its broadest sense here, with circles peddling anything from jewellery to paintings to photography to travel guides to self-published monographs on narrow fields of interest (like trains) to . . . well, you get the idea.
(For more on the differences between Comiket and COMITIA, check out Daniel Lau’s thoughts on the matter. He’s been to both and clearly prefers the latter.)
Just like last time, anyone wishing to participate in COMITIA had to purchase a copy of the convention catalogue, which was sold for 1,000 yen apiece and also served as the admission ticket.
What wasn’t just like last time were the queues. I don’t know if it reflects a massive growth in the popularity of the event, or simply my later arrival at the venue, but the lines seemed so much longer this time around.
This being Japan, the large crowds were mustered and controlled with perfect precision. Staff members organised us into three queues, one right next to the other, and divided the queues into more manageable blocks that were then ordered to move from one point to another, with each movement coming closer and closer to the halls where the event was being held. It was quite a sight to behold, almost like watching generals marshalling their legions, and the highly disciplined behaviour of the people waiting in line only added to the regimented atmosphere. There was remarkably little chatter for a crowd of this size, with most of us seemingly content to browse through our catalogues in silence. Each time the order came to move, everyone in the block would turn or march forward almost in sync. Each time we were asked to stop, the people in the block would come to a sudden halt. An image came to mind of robots being controlled from a master switch, their power supplies turned on and off as the need arose.
Yes, quite a sight to behold. And, on some level, perhaps just a touch unnerving.
In this manner, the countless blocks into which the waiting hordes had been divided were transported through the long hallways of the vast convention centre. A few minutes past the scheduled start time of 11:00 AM, the block I was a part of finally made it to the doors of the halls booked for the event. Following the instructions of the staff manning the doors, we held our catalogues aloft – making it easy for them to confirm that we’d paid the price of admission – and stepped inside.
I don’t know if photography was actively discouraged (didn’t notice any signs or hear any announcements about it), though I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case, with so many original works on display and the consequent copyright issues involved. In any case, I don’t recall seeing even a single person taking photographs of the venue: everyone seemed more concerned about browsing around or rushing for their preferred circles. With this sort of atmosphere and my own determination to fully enjoy the experience, I didn’t put much effort into visually documenting my surroundings, but here are a couple of low-res shots (quietly snapped from the sidelines with my iPad) just to give you an idea of how things looked.
Okay, time to pull out the catalogue. Most of it serves as an illustrated directory, setting out the names and locations of the thousands of groups involved. Each participating circle is allotted an entry containing their space/table number, their name, and a small frame containing sample art or some other element with which they could make themselves known.
Another page (which I personally found more useful than the illustrated directory) contains a floor plan of the venue.
What makes this such a valuable tool for visitors are the markings and labels identifying the areas of the hall each genre or product type had been assigned to. For example, if (like me) you’d like to focus on illustrations, the tables near the entrance in hall 6 are the ones to head for. If you’re after sci-fi/fantasy dōjinshi, spend more time in the part of hall 5 near the sample corner.
Experienced participants will probably have had some kind of organised search-and-destroy system in place for seeking out the items they desired, and may have also identified (far in advance) specific circles worth prioritising. For my part, I’m just a casual browser who appreciates good art when he sees it, and doesn’t really know enough about the participants to favour one group over another. I therefore decided on a simple course of sweeping across the hall from one row to another, covering most tables (except the adult section of course) in an effort to view as many works as possible. Of course, with illustrations being my particular area of interest, I went back to that section more than once to make sure that I didn’t miss anything worth my attention.
One part of the venue that visitors with limited time or energy will find useful is the shaded grey area in the middle, between halls 5 and 6. Samples of dōjinshi from participating circles are spread out on tables in this section, allowing participants to quickly pick out items they’re interested in and head directly for the relevant table.
Now for a sample of art from today’s haul. Out of respect for the artists who might have concerns about high-res images of their work being circulated online, I’ve deliberately kept these at a small size and, in some cases, arranged them so that parts of the images are not fully visible. Please don’t ask for high-quality scans or shots of anything I bought at the convention – I’m afraid I can’t and won’t oblige (at least, not without the express written permission of the creators concerned).
Needless to say, because of the deliberate reduction in image quality, these pictures don’t really do justice to the art. The colours are far richer, the details more striking when these works are examined at close quarters.
All things considered, my second COMITIA experience was just as great as the first, if not better. I certainly look forward to attending another one in the not-too-distant future.