Dramacon 6: Finale

But it doesn’t end there.

After being assaulted by Derek, Christie wisely runs away from her drunk, violent ex-boyfriend to Matt’s hotel room. He’s sharing it with his friend, Greta, and Sandra, his sister. Everyone’s surprised to see Christie turn up at their door, crying and with her shirt torn open. When they find out what happened, Matt is furious and wants to fight Derek. Sandra stops him, saying that getting arrested won’t fix anything.

All of this is moot, though, because Matt beats the crap out of Derek anyway. The only reason I bring it up at all is because the characters acknowledge that reporting assault to the police is something they could do, but only in the context of Derek calling the cops on Matt. No one ever suggests that Christie report Derek for assault, which is what started the whole mess.

Ah, well. I already talked about that enough in the last post. Let’s move on to the morning after.

We need to talk about a couple panels starring Greta, a character who’s so forgettable her face has no features. 20190304_1112408281691373915480480.jpg

I’ve always been baffled by Greta’s response. “I’m glad”? What does that even mean?! She’s glad that Christie’s traumatic experience feels surreal? Like they can pretend the night before just didn’t happen? Because they do for the rest of the series.

But as the con ends, so does the manga. Christie meets back up with the group she came with, and says goodbye to Matt.

She leaves, reflecting on her con experience. Her heart is broken, and she’s been through a really scary event. But she has Matt’s phone number, and the book ends on a hopeful note. Christie looks forward to going back to the con again, which I take to mean that the good outweighed the bad.

And I want to talk about how the attempted rape hung a pall over the rest of the series, but…well, the final page left me smiling, too. In my chapter notes, I even wrote about how cute the series is as a whole. Except…

The attempted rape scene is so much darker than the rest of the series. I thought it was unnecessary and poorly handled in later books. And yet I’m still left with warm, fuzzy feelings at the end.

There are few works of fiction that I’m 100% satisfied with. That this blog exists is proof enough of that. So the question remains: was there enough that Dramacon did right, that it outweighs the things it did wrong?

Surprisingly, my mom helped me figure out the answer to this question. I moved out from my parents’ house around three years ago, leaving my mess behind. Now retired, my mom’s taking on the daunting task of hauling my old bedroom out. It’s almost like a new branch of archaeology: digging through layers of dust and old clothes to find any treasures worth keeping. Which is why I get texts every so often with pictures of various objects, most notably books. One of these pictures was of a cupboard that housed a considerable amount of manga. “What do you want me to do with these?” She asked.

“You can get rid of most of it,” I told her. “But keep Dragon Knights and Dramacon.”


I will be taking a break starting today, and will return with a brand spankin’ new reading and writing project on April 8! Thanks for reading along with me!

Dramacon 4: Meeting Your Heroes

I’ll admit it: reading this makes me miss anime conventions. I loved the energy, the camaradiere, the panels, and meeting people as dorky as I was. I stopped going in part because they’re so expensive, but mainly because I lost interest in anime over time. But I have plenty of good memories at Anime Boston and Anime North when I was still in college.

During my second year at Anime North, I met Dramacon‘s creator, Svetlana Chmakova. It was my second year at Anime North, and she’d just put out a new series, Night School. I bought a print for her to sign, entitled, “The Writing Process (as Explained by a Kitten in a Box)”. It was as cute as it sounds. I still have it hanging above my desk.

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When I met her, I wanted to say how much I enjoyed her work. I also wanted to tell her that when she referred to herself as a writer in the bonus pages, she made me feel like one day I could create comics too.

I was so nervous waiting in that line, and when it was finally my turn to meet her, I was too starstruck to say anything. I smiled and she greeted me and signed my print. I thanked her and walked away, feeling shaky, but elated.

Since then, I’ve had opportunities to meet one of my favorite actors and a personal hero. I learned from my inability to say anything meaningful to Ms. Chmakova. I decided on what I wanted to tell those people that I admired days in advance, and practiced it. When I finally met them, even if I was shaking or so overwhelmed I cried, my God, I said it.

I mention this now because in this chapter, Christie has the chance to meet Lida Zeff, her favorite manga creator. Unlike me, though, she didn’t totally blow it. I know firsthand how scary and exciting it is to meet someone you look up to. For most of the book, Christie is pretty meek and let Derek walk all over her. I would have thought she’d be like me, too nervous to say anything to her hero.

Instead, she embraces the chance to meet Lida Zeff. Who, as luck would have it, read Christie’s comic and wants to talk with the author about it. Christie’s pretty surprised by this. The day before, Derek had shown Lida the comic at a panel for a critique. According to him, Lida had said the comic was trash and that they needed to go back to school.

When Christie meets Lida, the manga artist clarifies the situation. She gave him an honest critique of his work, saying that he has promise, but would need art school to work at a professional level. Derek doesn’t know how to take a critique, and focused on the most negative aspects of it. But to be honest, I understand his perspective. I think it takes time to learn how to take a critique and not be totally wounded from it. Derek’s probably eighteen, and this con is his comic’s big debut. Until the con, the only feedback he may have gotten on it was from his friends, who are pretty biased.  It’s one of the few times in the manga where I have some understanding of why he’s being such a jerkass.

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Christie takes her chance to ask Lida for an honest critique of her writing. It’s a brave thing to do, and it shows a level of maturity that her boyfriend doesn’t have. Come to think of it, there’s plenty of creators – from amateurs to seasoned professionals – who don’t want to be critiqued at all. That willingness to learn, even if it hurts, puts her a head above other young writers. If you don’t take any critiques, if you don’t learn anything new, you’re going to be stuck in the same place as an artist. Or, as sci-fi and fantasy author Holly Lisle put it:

“If you assume that the words that flow from your fingertips were dictated to you by God and are thus sacred and immune from revision, only you and God are ever going to read them.”

Dramacon 3: Big Eyes, Big Mouth

In the last post,I talked about how Christie grows as a character throughout the series. At first she’s a shy girl who lets everyone walk all over her. By the final volume, she’s a self-confident young woman taking steps towards a writing career.

She’s not there, yet, though. When she and Matt go for a coffee, she shows more of the “real” Christie. She’s witty and teases Matt, and it’s totally out of character of what we know of her. So much so that Matt calls Christie out on it.20190204_1128112218555465877020755.jpg

It’s kind of a jarring shift that gets hand-waved off. I interpreted it as Christie acting like her true self, a side of personality that gets subdued when Derek’s around.

We also get more information about Christie and Matt’s life outside the con. He’s a freshman in college, she’s a barely legal high school junior. I’m glad that the manga makes a point about Christie’s age. Otherwise, I’d just be too weirded out by the age difference to enjoy the story. Christie’s age also works well in terms of her character. It offers an explanation for her naivety, and reflects in her relationship with Derek. She’s in an unhappy, floundering relationship, but is still trying to make it work. She holds on to Derek too long because when you’re young and in love, you think you’re going to be that way forever.

We learn more about Matt, too, but not the full story yet. He wears sunglasses at all times, which Christie finds disconcerting. When she takes them off, she apologizes after seeing what he’s hiding. The audience doesn’t know exactly what she saw, but it’s enough to make her understand why he’s always wearing his trademarked sunglasses. Their banter and flirting come to an abrupt stop when Derek returns to the hotel and catches them in the act. He’s not happy with her, but she finally stands up to him. For a minute. 20190204_1130395556471477410251673.jpg

But when Derek says that he came back to the hotel to check on her – the bare minimum of what a good boyfriend should be doing – she instantly caves. It’s fair, I guess. I can’t get mad at Christie for not having a total change of character in a span of only a few pages.

Derek’s real motivation for returning to the hotel was to sleep with Christie while they had the room to themselves. It’s established earlier in the book that Christie lost her virginity to Derek, which is one of the reasons she’s holding on to him longer than she should. But she’s also expressed discomfort about sex throughout the book so far, to the point where she can barely say the word “sex”. Her blush when Derek pulls her close and general hesitation about sex  lead me to believe that she was pressured into sleeping with him for the first time.20190204_1133072403960851287740108.jpg

One of the things that’s disappointing to me reading this now is that Derek is just flat, flat, flat. He’s a bad boyfriend, and at no point is he given a shot at redemption. He’s manipulative and an all around antagonist. I would have liked to see more nuance from him, other than, “he’s a jerk.”

Well, I think Matt is right about this one.

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Dramacon 2: Tentacles~

First of all, I apologize for the late post. Two big life events over the last week left me with not enough time, energy, or focus to work on this blog. I got engaged last week (yay!), which was shortly followed by my brand spankin’ new fiancé having knee surgery. His recovery is going well, but it also means I’ve had to step up a lot more around our home. Fortunately, things are settling down, so I’m going to try to keep a regular schedule again. Just don’t be alarmed if, instead of a normal post, you see a long, confused rant about color palettes and guest lists.

But we’re not here to talk about how planning my wedding scares me shitless. Instead, we’re here to talk about Dramacon, and pick apart a fictional character’s romantic relationships.

You see, Christie has a type. Unfortunately, her type is “snarky jerks”. She’s found an ally in the mysterious cosplayer Matt, but he’s also a total heel to her, too. He and Christie have chemistry, though, and he has a single advantage over Derek. Matt actually listens to Christie and wants to hear about her problems. Derek’s a pretty flat character, and he doesn’t get much development throughout the book. Matt at least has more facets to his personality, even if they’re hiding under mean one-liners.

I think there’s another reason that Dramacon appealed to me when I first read it at age eighteen. Apart from fantasizing about a con romance, Christie and I are similar in less than ideal ways. She’s a writer who creates comics, which is still an aspiration of mine. But she’s also a pushover who doesn’t always communicate her desires well. Like Christie, I’ve held on to relationships for too long, and put myself in uncomfortable positions to make a guy like me more. I’m glad to say that I’ve learned from those mistakes and I’m happier for it. Christie has a voice and a mind of her own, but right now, she’s holding herself back from speaking out.

Dramacon isn’t just a series about a girl falling in love at a con. As the series progresses, Christie finds her confidence and learns to advocate for herself. But she has to go through a lot of pain to gain that confidence and say what she really needs to. As someone who had a hard time with this for years – and still struggles on occasion – I think seeing Christie grow and change was something that really drew me to Dramacon.

To my credit, though, I at least knew what hentai was.

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To be fair, that’s how I feel about hentai, too.

Girl, I know you’re supposed to be an innocent character, but you’re at an anime convention. How do you not know what hentai is?!

The rest of her friends are going to the hentai screening, but Christie’s not into it. Instead of just saying she doesn’t want to go, she lies about having a headache. She goes back to the hotel, and runs into Matt in the elevator.

And Christie totally has a crush on him, even as she reminds herself she has a boyfriend. But it’s so cute! She and Matt don’t end up together by the end of this book, and that’s probably for the best. Apart from both characters’ need to mature, sometimes a romantic fling is as much about the setting as it is the person.

I developed a couple crushes at cons myself, one I even tried to follow up on by trying to friend the guy on Facebook. I knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, with him living in Canada and us only having known each other for a few hours. He never responded to my friend request, and I went on with my life. No pining or lovesick sighs. When I did send that (ignored) friend request, I was trying to capture that moment. I wanted to extend the time we spent together, re-live the thrill of clicking with someone I’d never met before. It was all the potential of a relationship – romantic or otherwise – that would never become anything.

Christie’s crush is just that. A chance meeting and a bit of chemistry with someone who’s marginally nicer to her than her boyfriend. They become friends over the course of this book, but as of right now, their attraction is based purely on those fleeting moments.

Dramacon 1: Welcome to the Jungle

From the amount of manga reviews on this blog, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I was an otaku when I was growing up. When I got to college, I started losing interest in anime, partly because I was cut off from my steady stream of Adult Swim and weekly allowance to buy manga. There were still some series I liked and followed, though, and Dramacon was one of them. I read this series for the first time only a month before my first anime convention. I was so excited to go, and ended up using it a template of what a con would be like.

It wasn’t exactly like Dramacon, though. I waited in line for six hours for registration, and by the time we were let into the con, all the panels were over and the merchants’ room was closed. We got to see the masquerade show and visit the artists’ alley. It was a fun and tiring time, and I really hoped that my next con would go a little smoother.

That’s the kind of memory that stirs up when I start Dramacon now. The excitement and anticipation of going to my first con, not really knowing what to expect, and at times being overwhelmed with it all.

I like the way the manga starts as well. Christie, her boyfriend Derek, and two friends are going to an anime convention. She and Derek have a booth at in the artist alley to sell a comic that they’ve created together. It’s the first day of the con, and she’s already having a hard time. Along with her friends accompanying them to the con driving her crazy, Derek is blatantly flirting with girls right in front of her. This all gets covered in the first couple pages. There’s not a lot of build-up and background, because it’s not needed.

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  Read from left to right!

The art’s not as good as I remember, and something about the way the artist Svetlana Chamakova draws mouths bothers me. I’m not entirely sure what it is, and complaining that they look “cartoonish” seems silly when I’m talking about a comic. They’re overexaggerated, which is okay for humorous scenes, but the first few pages are all done in this style. It makes Christie’s dilemma look funny, which makes it harder for me to take her seriously when she’s mad at Derek.

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That’s right. She’s mad at him, but she’s the one apologizing.

And rightly so. Derek is a tool, but Christie also lets him walk all over her. Throughout the course of the series, Chriss gets more confident and learns to stick up for herself, but that doesn’t happen here. Frustrated with her boyfriend, she runs off into the crowd, where she meets Matt.

I think this was the real appeal of the story to me: that serendipitous meeting with a handsome stranger at a con. Of course I secretly fantasized about meeting someone at a con and having a runaway 72-hour romance with them. I did meet some cool people, and developed a short-lived crush on one of them, but nothing ever came of it. I didn’t keep in touch with the people I met, and never got kissed by a cute cosplayer.

Christie’s story is the one my teenage heart always wanted to have, but following it would come with some serious drawbacks. Other than having a jerk boyfriend, Christie is also dumb in the way she approached the con as a whole. For instance: she didn’t know her favorite manga artist and writer would be there. At the last con I went to, I went specifically for a chance to meet an actor I loved. Christie also didn’t know that there was a program detailing the different panels and events going on. How did she miss this? I’ve never been to a con where there wasn’t a program right at the entrance or registration booths.

If I really wanted to get into the nitty gritty, I guess this could be read as Derek trying to gaslight his girlfriend,  but to be totally honest, I just don’t think he’s that smart. He’s an asshole, though, but Christie is a wet blanket. Until Chriss stands up to him, he’s going to get away with everything.