Kawaii Kountdown: A learning opportunity

April 28th, 2011

Jason’s note: Anyone who’s ever tried to delve into the Star-Bulletin archive between September 2008 and the final day before the merger in early June 2010 may have noticed that things are a bit … messy … in there. A few stories here and there have gone missing, as have all the pictures (making any attempts to find, say, archived copies of the Sunday comic strips by Jon Murakami and Dave Thorne sadly impossible).

Among the articles that have seemingly vanished from the Internet: two Kawaii Kon preview profiles that ran in our weekend section, one from 2009 about the state librarians and Roy Chang’s art advice booth, the other from 2010 about musical guests Alt/Air and Eleven Staples. Since they’re still quite relevant, I’ve gone into our in-house archives and resurrected them for reposting here, adding some new pictures here and there and taking out a few things that applied when these articles first ran but no longer do.

Enjoy the 2009 article, which originally ran with the headline “Teaching with a Kawaii twist”; I’ll be back later today with the 2010 article.


Starting Friday, hundreds of fans of anime and manga — that’s Japanese animation and comics, for those not in the know — will descend on the Hawaii Convention Center for the fifth annual edition of Kawaii Kon.

Calling it a weekend playground for these fans would be appropriate. Many attendees walk around either dressed as characters from their favorite series or adorned with something new that they picked up from the dealers’ room or Artist Alley: headbands from the popular ninja series “Naruto,” custom-made badges, floppy-eared caps of the plush pup stars of the “nemu*nemu” Web comic. Industry insiders and professional artists sign autographs and share stories about what goes on behind the scenes. Several rooms offer nonstop screenings. Two others give attendees a chance to get their game on with the latest video games, card games and board games.

But for some people with exhibits at this year’s convention, Kawaii Kon represents more than an entertainment oasis. It’s a chance for them to expand attendees’ practical knowledge beyond anime and manga fandom.

Take the state public library system. Since 2007, several librarians have set up shop among the amateur artists and crafters in Artist Alley, offering small prizes to attendees who present their library cards and, more important, getting the word out about various library services. A lot of people are receiving that message: The librarians estimate 600 people visited their table last year, which would be nearly 20 percent of the 3,500 in attendance.

Hillary Chang, young adult librarian and acting branch manager at the McCully-Moiliili Public Library, sees the libraries’ anime and manga collections as a gateway for fans and nonfans alike. With local culture being heavily influenced by Japanese and other Asian cultures, she said, graphic novels are more accepted as conventional reading material here than in the rest of the United States. As a result, not only are those reading manga moving on to explore other literature, the reverse is happening as well: Readers of more customary prose are exploring manga. The library table is a means of encouraging that exploration.

“Our main purpose … is reaching out to young adults and teens, to let them know what public libraries have to offer them, be it anime DVDs, homework help, Internet terminals or our Summer Reading Program,” Chang said. “Being at the Kon shows them that their public libraries understand them, that we’re into what they’re into.”

(Note from 2011: Artist Alley hours this year are from 10 a.m. to  10 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.)

ALSO ENCOURAGING PEOPLE’S anime habits — or at least highlighting its artistic facet — is Roy Chang. MidWeek readers know him best for his editorial cartoons in that publication. But he’s also an art teacher at Aiea Intermediate School, and last year at Kawaii Kon, Chang wore a different hat — a beret like the one donned by the late artist Osamu Tezuka, revered as the “God of Manga” and the creative mastermind behind “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion.”

Chang’s cosplay as Tezuka was a conversation starter and his way of encouraging visitors to his table, where he offered one-on-one critiques of people’s artwork. At the end of each session, aspiring artists left Chang’s table with sketch notes for future reference.

“My hope in doing the table was to reach those who draw — usually in private, as in sketchbooks — but never had the opportunity for feedback and help with common problems like hands or proportions,” Chang said. “Anyone can ‘copy’ the manga-type face, but the standard skills of rendering are missed.”

One artist in particular captured Chang’s attention last year. As this artist, a Navy serviceman, explained to Chang, he had a long, epic story but felt he had no time to draw it. Chang had him sit down and draw out a scene as storyboards on a panel page.

“He sat and worked like a boy held after school to make up a test,” Chang said. “In the end, he inked and visually narrated a scene so he could see on paper the story transfer from his mind to something visual to work with. It was like pulling teeth getting his imagination to paper, but it was very impressive.”

This year, Chang’s theme will center on the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, responsible for such hits as the Academy Award-winning “Spirited Away,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Howl’s Moving Castle” and this summer’s “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.” He’ll even have a sculpture of Baron, one of the main characters from “The Cat Returns.”

But his message will remain largely the same.

“Some say art is either unconscious plagiarism or a revolution,” Chang said. “I tell my students and Kon guests to go start a revolution.”

(Note from 2011: Chang will be offering his art critiques this year from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.)

3 Responses to “Kawaii Kountdown: A learning opportunity”

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