Manga and anime enthusiasts turn out to show their appreciation for unique comics, animation

Japanese art draws a crowd


Morgan Johnson called her mother frantically on her cell phone -- she had left the giant boomerang at home.

The 5-foot-long boomerang, which dwarfed the petite 13-year-old, was essential to Morgan's costume, Sango the Demon Hunter. Morgan had cut the shape from foam, wrapped it in duct tape and painted it tan and brown.

Luckily, her mother rushed in with the boomerang just as the costume contest at Saturday's anime and manga convention at the Brooklyn Park library in northern Anne Arundel County began. As Morgan slung the boomerang over her back, Tessa Fowler, 12, unsheathed her plastic sword and Shawna Phelps, 15, stapled clouds of red fabric to a black cape.

The three girls joined more than 30 other teens for a drawing lesson, costume-making workshop, movie and swap meet celebrating Japanese animation and comic books. Brooklyn Park librarian Don Sakers, who organized the convention with Beth Chandler of the Mountain Road library branch, said that teen manga fans are voracious readers. "They check out big armloads of books," Sakers said.

Interest in Japanese animated movies, known as anime, and comics, called manga, has exploded in recent years, said Sarah Martinez of Twilite Zone Comics in Glen Burnie, who taught the teens how to draw the stylized faces that characterize manga.

"Anime started as an underground cult thing 30 years ago," Martinez said. "Now it's OK to be kind of geeky."

The Anne Arundel County library system holds more than 450 English translations of manga titles, said Sakers. Brooklyn Park designates 10 shelves to manga aimed at young adults and one shelf for manga with adult themes.

Some manga tackles romance and friendships, and is written with girls in mind. "Oh, my goodness! He turned into a fuzzy animal -- how will he get a date to the prom?" said Martinez, describing a typical plot line.

Other manga, which appeals to boys and girls, describes the adventures of ninjas, samurais, robots and magical animals, Sakers said.

Coby Stankiewicz, 13, dressed as a Crimson Knight, as did several other boys. The metal leaf emblem on the blue bandanna that he wore around his head symbolized the passage to adulthood, Coby said.

Anime is very popular at Glen Burnie High School, said student Izzy Britton, 16. "One of my teachers will dress up in anime costumes every other day," she said.

The darker side of manga -- demons and vampires -- appeals to Izzy, who said that she wears black every day and identifies with the Goth subculture.

Lauren Ramsay agreed.

The 14-year-old wound black satin around her wrists and shook her hands to "send out poison waves."

But Lauren also appreciates the more realistic aspects of manga. "Some of the stuff you can relate to real life, like the stuff with boys," she said. Convention participants said their interest in anime began in childhood -- in other words, about five years ago.

"A long time ago, my friend from church got me into it," said Taylor Garris, 12, who watches on-demand anime on cable television.

TV shows such as Sailor Moon and Speed Racer sparked Stephanie Kellum's interest in anime as a child. Stephanie wore black fishnet sleeves and wound pink ribbons around her ankles to represent a character from the popular anime series Fruits Basket.

Jenise Littlejohn, 12, pointed to manga as an important part of her development as an artist and author. The souvenir booklet that Sakers and Chandler compiled from teen submissions included a three-page romance story by Jenise, as well as several of her drawings.

Jenise and Ashley Dawson, 14, said that they shared their interest in anime with their parents. Ashley's mother accompanies her to conventions and watches Saturday morning anime cartoons with her.

"When I was growing up, we dressed like Cinderella and Snow White," said Marie Cluster, 64, who attended the event with two of her grandchildren. Cluster said she picked up some sewing tips and new uses for foam at the costume workshop.

Other participants liked the fact that their parents were unfamiliar with anime. "You have to read the books from right to left," said Ramsay. "My parents think it's weird."

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