Paducah, KY – People mill around the Julian Carroll Convention Center in Paducah, KY, laughing, talking and barely looking human. Some of them have dyed their hair blue or painted intricate designs on their torsos and limbs. Some carry other-worldly weapons fashioned from cardboard and foam, and one girl shuffles up the stairs in a white kimono with what seems to be blood spilled down the front. This is OMGcon. Daniel Dodd and a group of his friends began the convention four years ago as a local outlet for Japanese animation and video game enthusiasts.
"I just really wanted to see something in this community area to gain awareness about it. Also, I'm a big video game player, and there's a lot of people who love to play video games and never actually have a chance to get together and play against other players except though online.
Named for the online abbreviation of "Oh My God," OMGcon offers participants anime cartoon screenings, video game tournaments and panel discussions with anime actors and artists. For the large percentage of fans who enjoy "cosplaying," or dressing up as their favorite characters, the convention also hosts a cosplay contest. Chelsea Summerville of Murray sports a child-like pink dress with a hoop-skirt and an over-sized bow, which she had made herself.
"I am wearing a Chii cosplay from the anime, Chobits.' The dress itself probably took me around 10 hours overall, and then the wig probably took another five hours. I styled it myself."
Dodd says when OMGcon began, it attracted a modest 280 attendees and occupied little more than the first floor of the convention center. This year, the event covered three-fourths of the center and registered approximately 900 to 1000 participants. Many of them are young high school and middle school students who picked up their cartoon affinities from their friends or from local anime clubs. 17 year-old Charis Gurrola's friends took her to a club meeting in middle school, and she was hooked from the first cartoon.
"It was amazing because we saw Princess Mononoke,' and it was a completely different experience because it wasn't a childish plotline. It was serious, and there was blood. I just really enjoy the style of the art, and the stories are so much more personal than American cartoons and that sort of thing.
Guest speaker Robert DeJesus says the artform's popularity has exploded over the past few years, partly because of its versatility. Dejesus has worked in the industry for years as an artist and says mangas, or Japanese comic books, cover almost any subject fans can dream up, which allows for a constant and evolving stream of material.
"They always come up with new ideas and new stories, and it's this constant rotation of bringing new fan base into the market. Whereas, here, we're still pushing the Spiderman, we're still pushing the Superman, and those stories were created decades ago. Let's bring new blood to this industry."
As for Dodd, anime's explosion means a flourishing OMGcon. Every bit of money collected from registration goes back into the event, and the convention president hopes this year's success will mean a slicker operation next year.
"We're hoping that, you know, it continues to grow. We're hoping to use a little more of the convention center. We're hoping to bring in different types of guests - expand the game room - maybe get a little bit nicer equipment for people to sit and enjoy."
As anime draws more fans, only time can tell how big the convention will grow and how intricate participant's costumes will get. It's variety of video games, anime merchandise and cartoon screenings provide a level of intrigue so high that one staff member drove two hours from Indiana to help. Outsiders might not get the jokes or understand the characters, but, for fans, the convention provides a chance to meet others who share their passion and obsession. For them, the weekend can only be described as "OMG."