Interview with Mike Meade, Founder and Chairman of Saikoucon!

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Posted August 16, 2017 by Marshall Bruno in Nerdy Bits

Saikoucon is a local anime convention in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. It’s one of numerous local cons popping up across America over the last few years as nerd culture is hitting the mainstream. Over the last five years, Saikoucon has become a welcome addition to the anime conventions across the nation. Bringing in some of the most active Voice Artists working in anime dubbing today, Saikoucon is an awesome destination for fans of Japanese Culture. As we found, Saikoucon is trying to move ever so slightly from the anime-centric con into a Japanese Culture convention. While many smaller cons that began as anime-centric are reforming into general fandom, Saikoucon is holding steady with their. This year Saikoucon is bringing in, once again, some awesome guests including Leah Clark, Greg Houser, R Bruce Elliot, and actress Gigi Edgley!

Mike Meade, the founder and chairman of Saikoucon took time out of his extremely busy pre-con schedule to tell us about how it has grow.

WTN: Thanks for being here today with us. Why don’t you tell everyone a little bit about yourself to start off. 

Mike Meade: Well, I am Michael Meade. I am the chairman for Saikoucon Anime Convention, I’m also the CEO of Nerdy Rock ‘n Roller Productions, which is the backbone behind Tastes Like Rock magazine, which I am also the editor and publisher of, and Anime Ate My Brain Magazine – which is actually how Saikoucon came to be. The convention actually put the magazine [Anime Ate My Brain] on hiatus because I was spread too thin between all three, and Tastes Like Rock was much better established.

WTN: So you say the con actually spun off from Anime Ate My Brain?

MM: Saikoucon was really just started as a publicity stunt to build readership for Anime Ate My Brain. I really loved doing that magazine. We can laugh at this, I think I had it going for the grand and glorious, oh, ten months before I decided to start Saikoucon to try to build readership. Anime At My Brain was fun, but it wasn’t taking off like Tastes Like Rock had a few years previous. Yeah, it was just a publicity stunt; I actually didn’t think it would take off past the first year. I knew I could get the first year, I didn’t know if it would be a long term thing, end up more like a party that the magazine threw every year? — And then it took off and I just did not have time to do both. Anime Ate My Brain kept suffering more and more, I was ending up having less and less time to write for it as Tastes Like Rock was going and Saikoucon was getting bigger from the first year forward. So I just put it on hiatus. I had planned to relaunch it right before Saikoucon this summer, but with difficulties I’ve been having with my web hosting and getting the domain back into my control, that didn’t happen. So Anime Ate My Brain will probably relaunch sometime this winter, either right before the holidays or right after. Tastes Like Rock is actually going to have it’s big relaunch in probably… I wanted to do it for the 9th anniversary back in March, but with the same difficulties with the webhost, that didn’t happen, but Tastes Like Rock should be back at full strength by the end of September, maybe early October. The goal is to get it back to where it was in 2010, which was it’s busiest year. We were pumping out one or two CD reviews a day, we were doing concert coverage, two big concerts a month in the summer.

WTN: This is the fifth year of Saikoucon. Can you tell us how the convention has grown and changed since year one to this fifth anniversary?

MM: We nicknamed year five Saikoucon Resurgence because we’re really getting back to basics. The first year, well to be honest, the first year I had no idea what I was doing, but we still pulled it off. The first year, like I said, it grew… it started out slow like every convention does. At the last minute, we started a new guerrilla marketing campaign and then the name started getting out there, the Lehigh Valley started getting excited… Yeah that first year was fun. One of our first Guests of Honor, Terri Doty nicknamed me The Blur, and it really did stick that year. We had no volunteers the first year. People who said they were going to help had to bail at the last minute, so yeah, I really was The Blur that year. Everything the talent needed, everything attendees needed, I was running back and forth constantly between the registration tables and the panel rooms, which at the first venue was fun because they were separated two per floor over three stories.

*Laughs*

Year two we were back in that Holiday Inn. We had volunteers the second year but attendees had actually jumped significantly. The number had gone up much more than I was expecting. The first year was beyond my expectations. I don’t blame the hotel for this, but the first year we had a lot of lobby-conning. So this is not the actually the accurate number of ticket holders, but we had grand total warm bodies about 950 people that first year, and approximately 830 of which were paid ticket holders. That was pretty unheard of for something that was more publicity stunt than anything else. And then the second year, like I said, was just as hectic and chaotic but a little more organized. I corrected a lot of the mistakes I made the first year, and I did have help the second year, but we jumped to exactly 1,150 attendees and with merchants, it was exactly 1,250 and then with the lobby conning, it was probably about 1,500 grand total. So not too for a second year. Year three was the crazy year. There were venue difficulties that year, but technically speaking our best year to date. That was the real record breaker. We had no idea that we were going to hit 3,200 attendees that year. Preregistration sales gave us no inkling that was going to happen. We had about 660 advance sales, so I was expecting to double it, so I figured we’d match the second year with about 1,200 people, but no, the door really blew up and we hit 3,200 each day.

Last year we had a bit of a fall in attendance, but not by much. Saikoucon 2016, it’s public record some of the criticism we received, but you know it was an experimental year. It was the one and only year that we moved out of the Lehigh Valley; after the numbers we had in 2015 we couldn’t find a venue in the Lehigh valley that would accommodate us. We had gone some negotiation rounds with the Sands [Casino], and they kept them going for quite some time before telling us that like most casinos in Pennsylvania… it’s not exactly a law but a lot of them do not allow costuming of any kind, even around Halloween. They said, “Yeah we can bring you in, but you’re going to have to ban cosplaying,” and that just wasn’t an option.

WTN: Yeah that wouldn’t fly.

MM: No, not at all. 95% of our attendees of our attendees are in cosplay. If we banned cosplay we’d have maybe ten, twenty people show up. But I digress, there was a bit of a falloff in attendance last year. But that was mostly, as I found out through a lot of the feedback, it was mostly due to how late in August we were. I couldn’t get dates earlier than the final weekend, and August was a five week month, so school had already started. College, junior high, high school, they had all started. It wasn’t too bad, though. Our final numbers were exactly 2,700, so it wasn’t too bad a falloff from 2015, but just enough that it was noticeable.

This year we are back in the Lehigh Valley… and a lot of people have given feedback that they are extremely happy [about being back in Lehigh Valley]. Presales are up again this year. We are looking to match the presale registrations we had for 2015.

WTN: Are you back in the same hotel from years one and two?

MM: Oh no, it is a Holiday Inn again, but it is not the first one we were in for 2013 and 2014. I do miss that Holiday Inn Conference Center, the staff was great to work with there and even though it was a lot to be running between three floors, I do miss their layout and I do miss the staff there. We just pull in too many people to fit there comfortably. Our friends New Years Party Con are there now and the space works beautifully for them. But now we’re in the Holiday Inn in Center City Allentown.

WTN: You’ve have a concert every year at the show, and Cosplay Burlesque has joined you as well a few times. That is something that a lot of cons do, having a concert after the days activities, so I was wondering how you have found the bands for your show.

MM: All of the bands that we have this year are returning artists, they all requested to come back every year, so that is really awesome. I like to think that it’s because I’ve been acting as editor and reporter and a music critic, as much as I dislike calling myself a critic, I do the reviews for Tastes Like Rock, so that’s what I am. I know how to take care of the bands. I’m not knocking any other convention, but unless their entertainment organizer has been in a band or worked in journalism in the music world, they don’t necessarily know how to organize a concert or how to take certain considerations into account that need to be taken into account when it comes to your equipment, to your soundboard runner, etc. So now for the fourth year The Adarna is acting as our headline band. They are a four piece band out of Seattle Washington who have branded their own genre of music they call Jet City Rock. This is REAKT’s second time as Saikoucon, last year was his first time with us. He’s a Japanese EDM and Hip-hop artist, originally from Tokyo, he’s living in Manhattan now. He’s actually performing three times over the course of Saikoucon this year. On Friday night he’s doing a dance party-rave with one of our other musical guests, DJ ONZO. Then REAKT is going to be one of the acts for our big Cosplay Concert on Saturday night which will also feature The Adarna again as the headliner and Deprived, which is a local Lehigh Valley punk rock band that do some metal too. They were with us last year for our experimental Saikou-punk rock show, which was the first time we tried age-restricting a concert. It was 18+ so that the bands didn’t have to essentially radio-friendly edits of their original stuff. Back to REAKT, his third performance will be Sunday during our Charity Auction. For the first time this year, our charity auction is going to be part auction and park concert. We’re going to do the auction part like a ticketed silent thing, like they do in a lot of community centers, so people will be able to buy tickets and drop them in buckets to be drawn like a raffle for the prizes that they want. All proceeds from that are going to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

WTN: That’s very cool. I have personally attended Saikoucon a couple of times and it has been interested to see the same faces popping up year after year, in volunteers, guests and the cosplayers, so I’d love to know how your relationships with those people and people in the nerdy community have grown and changed since then.

MM: With Saikoucon, we get tons of new faces, new names ever year but when it comes to attendees we have a very strong and loyal core of attendees that have been here since year one. In fact last year was the first time I had a bunch of emails from people saying, “we’re gonna miss you, but we can’t come this year!” A lot of that was due to school, like we spoke about earlier… Now like I said, we have a very loyal group of attendees that purchase their badges as soon as registration opens. There are kids that – well, I’m in my thirties now so everyone younger than me is a kid – but, there are kids now that have been coming all five years of the show. I met them when they were like, finishing junior high and going into high school, and now some of them are graduating high school and going to college! I’ve literally gotten to see these kids grow up! I have made a lot of varied and different friends that hopefully are for life, honestly.

Even guests and some of the talent have become friends. Greg Houser! Greg’s done pretty much everything at Saikoucon; he’s been a guest of honor for year one and year two… last year he actually staffed for us, he acted as a handler for guest of honor Dino Andrade, and of course he did a panel of his own, and he’s back this year as a guest of honor. Jessie Pridemore, RuffleButt Cosplay, she’s going more by her real name now again as she gets back into screen acting, and she’s had a couple of roles over the course of this year, but [Jessie and I] were actually friends before Saikoucon, but Saikoucon has kind of… having her as a guest in years one through four have really cemented that friendship. This year due to some schedule conflicts with acting gigs and The Labyrinth of Jareth in LA, where she not only designs costumes but she’s also part of their elven choir, it was tough for her to take the time to join us but I’m sure she’ll be back next year or the year after. We’re definitely bummed and will miss her this year. Really though, friendships and relationships solidify through Saikoucon. Saikoucon really is a little family. Same with merchants… I guess there was a bit of fervor on Facebook last year. All around we have lasting friendships and lasting relationships. Saikoucon, once you become part of it, if you enjoy it we really become a little tight knit family and I’m so happy to have it that way.

WTN: I personally noticed that some of your attendees over the years have become volunteers. You say a little tight knit family, people growing up together, you know that’s very clear from the posts leading up to and especially after the con each year. People like, Uncle Iroh, a gentleman who cosplays as Uncle Iroh every year, there are actually people posting their excitement to see him again each year. It’s just really nice to see that your convention has such a close group that are really getting to know each other every year.

MM: Definitely. It’s great. Iroh was here since the beginning. He came the first year in cosplay, after that a volunteer, and every year you can find Uncle Iroh in the morning hours of pre-registration badge pickup and at the door registrations.

WTN: Wizard World is a pretty well known convention that goes around the country. There is also, SDCC, NYCC, and Otakon, these are ones that people travel across the country for. Saikoucon, for better or worse is a very local con, so do you see yourself as benefiting from this or is Saikoucon something that you would like to grow to the point of being known as one of the best anime cons in the nation?

MM: Localization definitely helps. Right now, we’re the only completely anime and Japanese pop culture focused con [in this area]. In fact starting next year we’re going to have a little more of a shift into Japanese pop culture. We will still be almost 100% anime, but we’ll start delving into more aspects of Japanese pop culture. Particularly sentai stuff, superhero stuff, kaiju… oh what is the term for stuff like Kamen Rider….

WTN: Tokusatsu! 

MM: Thank you! Yeah, we’ll be doing more of that. But localization has helped us because we are dedicated. There are many other cons in Pennsylvania, and they are all great, but even the ones that have started as anime cons are starting to shift to be general fandom. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and I’m all for that, but I want to keep Saikoucon strictly Japanese-culture.

With travel, we are kind of expanding. Some of the pre-reg attendees are actually travelling across country and internationally. Last year was the first time we had international attendees and we continue that trend this year. Pre-reg lets us see where people are coming from and we get a lot of support from the Lehigh Valley, from the Philadelphia area, all along the main line… even as far out as Pittsburgh. They have their own large show, Tekko too. We’re seeing people come from California. Actually a couple of vendors last year were from California. We have people visiting this year from Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, as well as international this year. We have people who purchased tickets and they are coming in on family vacation from Saudi Arabia, and they wanted to take in all three days of the convention as part of their vacation. I am perpetually amazed by the distances that people travel to us. There are of course, a lot of people coming from New Jersey and New York. I do try to be a Lehigh Valley convention, but we are certainly becoming a tri-state convention.

WTN: Now is it also true that you are thinking about a horror convention?

MM: Yeah! Dark Dimensions Horror Con has been in the works since the conclusion of Saikoucon 2014. Having a horror exclusive con is something I really want to do. The closest one I know of is Monster Mania in Jersey. I wanted to do something a little more local. There are a ton of local horror fans that have to drive and travel. There was one that was paranormal convention, that was more just general. It wasn’t so much horror movies or horror literature and comics, it was just everything. There was actual paranormal investigations, which I want to incorporate a bit into Dark Dimensions. It’s still on the books, it’s still going to happen it’s just honestly, I have not been able to find a venue willing to host it yet. It’s take me three years. The Holiday Inn that we are having Saikoucon at this year is open to it, but they want to see how Saikoucon goes for them first. It’s their first fan convention. They’re used to doing corporate stuff, weddings, and home shows are very popular around this area of Pennsylvania. They seem open to it but they want to see how it goes with Saikoucon, but they may be open to having it this fall. Dark Dimensions, if I get my way for what time of year I want to have it… I would like one not in October…. I thought about that for a while, but the people who want to have booths at it, have given a lot of feedback that there are a lot of haunted houses, there are a lot of haunted yards, haunted hikes, just haunted locations like old factories and so forth, and those performers would like to be at Dark Dimensions, but if I did it in October when their businesses are open to locals who want to come in for the tours, they couldn’t come into the convention. After getting that feedback, I would like to move the horror con after I can get it completely off the ground, I’m thinking mid-September to late September. That way Dark Dimensions would be the kickoff to all of those haunted attractions in the area. The artists and performers that I want to be guests of the convention can advertise their other projects. I think it would be a much more synergistic event then.

Where Saikoucon, I want to have during summer vacation for high schoolers and college age, I’m not so much worried about that with the horror convention. The horror convention is actually going to be… I’m going to do what I call “pulling a dragon con.” Dragon Con is one of the biggest conventions in the United States down in Georgia, and they are 18+ all the time. I want to make Dark Dimensions 17+, just like a rated-R horror movie. I won’t have to worry about program as carefully, I won’t have to age restrict. I don’t mean to cut out younger fans, but I really want to be able to do up the horror convention. We’re gonna have panels, we’re gonna have screenings and activities. Because of my ties to music and the music industry, we’ll have concerts like we do at Saikoucon, but all horror themed. I want to do Dark Dimensions up as gigantically as I can.

 

Saikoucon 2017 takes place August 18th through the 20th at the Holiday Inn Center City Allentown featuring guests such as Gigi Edgley best known in the US as Chiana on Farscape and it’s sequel films Farscape: Peacekeeper Wars Parts 1 & 2.


About the Author

Marshall Bruno

Nostalgia obsessed nerd with poetic tendencies.