Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pre-Anime Festival with Otaku USA

Remember that guy at the Otaku USA magazine booth from New York Anime Festival 2007 taking care of applications and photographing for their cosplay contest? Guess what? He is back to do another cosplay contest and working hard on the Otaku USA booth for New York Anime Festival 2008. Welcome back Julian Gnam!!!

Before we get to the Pre-Anime Festival interview of 2008 with Julian, let me give you some background information on him. His main task is to maintain the Otaku USA website, such as uploading articles and creating graphics. Why? So the site can look good and be up to date for you, the fans. Other than his duties as a maintainer of the website and booth duties, sometimes he takes care of the ads for the magazine by taking them from a CD sent by the advertisers and inserting them into the magazine for proper placement. Not only that, he also does scanning, photo editing, and runs around getting coffee for people. Caffeine man, caffeine.

Ok enough of me talking. Let him tell you what his duties are and what Otaku USA has for the fans this time. On with the interview! Enjoy!

From the last time we spoke you were the Photography guy for Otaku Magazine. Are you still in that position and have your duties changed? If not, what are your duties and position this time?
Well, I still shoot photos at the cons, but we don’t do cons that often. My primary job has been maintaining Otaku USA website. The work load on that spiked quite high this summer as we ended up completely rebuilding the website with a new content management system. Our art director did the actual graphic design work, and another company did a lot of the technical stuff, but I still had to spend a lot of time doing tedious stuff like transferring articles over from the old site, hunting down errors, working out revisions, and working with outside staff to make sure things got done the way we wanted.

I also have been assigned an increasing amount of graphics and production-related activities lately. Our company is starting another new magazine this year (related to organic cosmetics, not anime at all) and I’m the only new staff member in our editorial office so my boss (who is also my dad) has been dumping as much work as possible onto me so he has more time to handle work with the new magazine. Starting this issue I’m supposed to be in charge of acquiring and converting virtually all of the imagery for Otaku, as well as processing the ads for all of our magazines once they come in from the advertisers.

Lastly, I have actually been contributing a bit as a writer for the web site here and there. I used to run a blog on videogames which was pretty popular in its peak and for a while I was considering trying to write professionally in that industry. So before I actually started working for Otaku USA as a production assistant, I’d talked to my dad about writing some stuff for Otaku, but for whatever reason it never really panned out. Eventually I decided to concentrate my career efforts elsewhere, but now that I’m involved in the magazine and the website doing other stuff anyway, every so often our web editor mails me some DVD’s he doesn’t have time to review and I watch ‘em and write something up. Since the contributing staff for the website has been pretty limited up till recently, we could always use all the articles we could get, and those in charge seem to find my writing up to scratch, so it’s worked out. At this point, I don’t think I’d quite my day job as a production assistant and write instead, but it’s fun to flex my writing muscle every now and then and get some free anime out of it.

For your duties at NYAF, what do you expect yourself to be doing for those three exciting days of NYAF?
Mostly the same stuff as last time; running the cosplay photo contest as well as ringing up purchases for magazines and subscriptions at our booth. Our staff has been cut down a bit since Anime Expo and the last NYAF, so there’s been talk of making me a speaker at our panel – something normally just done by the important guys like editors and writers….which makes me nervous. I don’t know what I’d have to say since I’m far from an expert on anime and manga like the other guys are.

Who else will be attending this event or man handling the booth?
Man handling!? I assure you we treat the booth politely like perfect gentlemen!!

My main ally in the booth will be Ben Boyles from our ad sales department. He’s better at chatting up the visitors and running the credit card clacker than I am, so it’s good to have him around. Joseph Luster, who is our games/web editor and writes a ton of stuff for both the magazine and website will be attending this time, which is cool cause we trade emails constantly working on the site but I’ve never met him. Jeff Kight, who is our veteran ad sales guy, will be in and out of the booth as he meets and greets with other industry people. Last but not least, we will again be sharing our booth with Austel from Tenbu Productions, who manages Japanese talents like Unicorn Table and Yunmao Ayakawa (who writes our Cosplay Café column) in the US, as well writing and drawing his own manga.

What can fans expect from this year’s Otaku booth? Are there any big surprises for the fans out there?
No big surprises, it’s pretty much the same thing we’ve done at the past two conventions (Anime Expo 2008 and NYAF 2007). We’re making a new banner for this one, to replace the typo-ridden and now well-worn Issue 4 banner from last year. We’ve now got baseball caps in addition to t-shirts and you can buy them even if you’re not subscribing. That’s about it.

How did you decide what to do for this year’s attendance? Is everything ready? If not, why?
Actually, we tend to do everything for the cons last minute. We already have travel reservations and such made, but there are still some details which will have to be wrapped up in the next couple weeks. Fortunately, we have been able to reuse some stuff, like signage, from our last convention.

Anything you guys wanted to bring to the convention that is unable to? What prevented it from happening?
Well we always tend to wish we had a bigger booth with flashier, more high tech displays like many of the big companies always have, but the truth is, it’s not really cost effective for a small company publishing magazines. We’re not selling tons of merchandise or lots of DVD’s and books, we’re just selling subscriptions and issues of a single publication, so the profit for the convention is not that big. We’re mainly at the cons to make our presence known in the industry, not sell millions of plush toys, which is why people like us and Anime Insider always tend to have small booths with just a few people selling magazines. As much as we’d like to have a 40,000” LCD screen booming while tossing buckets of free stuff into the crowd, it would basically just be throwing money in the drain without a lot of product to sell.

Did you bring up any ideas for the Otaku attendance? What are they and why?
Well, now that we’ve done a few cons, there lots of little things we’ve learned which make things go more smoothly, but they’re mostly pretty minor. For example, it seems kind of a dumb thing to miss, but pretty quickly we realized we had to put price stickers on everything that was for sale, otherwise people would just assume the stuff was free and try to walk off with it.

We’ve also learned to emphasize the words “cosplay photo contest” when asking people if they’d like to enter, rather than just “cosplay contest” because otherwise they get confused and assume it’s some big production where they have to sign waver forms then go up on stage and put on an act.

It’s little things like that we’ve had to go back after a con’s over and say “this is what we need to do next time”, but it’s mostly common sense. However, you can never really know all the little things that might throw off or confuse attendees until you’ve gotten a chance to make the mistake, notice the confusion, and think of a way to solve it.

Anything you want to add to this interview? Anything you want to tell the fans?
Come to our website!!! Aside from being the primary thing I work on at Otaku USA, it’s also been improving a lot in recent months. I think we made a bad impression internet-wise when Otaku USA first hit; people were swarming to the site, as evidenced by the bustling activity on our forums, but the site we had up was very slapdash in design and was barely ever updated. Once people started to see that nothing was going on there, they stopped coming and our traffic dwindled. Eventually the site was revised a second time, but at that point with only one person contributing a few new articles here and there, and another just posting old stuff recycled from the magazine, I don’t think people were very impressed.

Since then we have revised the site a 3rd time, and it actually looks like a modern website now! The interface is a lot more functional, and there more stuff to do, like comment on the articles and buy back issues. We’ve also stepped up the contributing staff; in addition to Joseph Luster’s regular contributions, we’ve now got Daryl Surat, Darius Washington, Ed Chavez, and Emily Balistrieri lined up to start contributing original material weekly. We’ve also started a thing where every issue of the magazine, there’s a group of stories which hit the website related to hot topics in the magazine. So the site is really starting to grow at an exponential rate, and while a few details are still in the process of coming together, we think it’s going to be turn out to be a really awesome site to visit quite soon.

So, we ask that fans please forget their first impressions of our dumpy websites from last year…our new site is pretty cool and it’s going to continue to get even cooler, so please give us a second chance and keep an eye on it from now on!!!!


I like this man's honesty and humor.
Photograph of the Otaku USA NYAF 2007 Booth by Linda Thai.
© 2008 Linda Thai

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