An unlikely swarm of costumed characters descends on the Raleigh Convention Center this weekend: video game avatars and anime characters, sci-fi aliens and comic book heroes, horror movie villains and Disney princesses. Catwoman may stop and chat with the brothers from “Fullmetal Alchemist” while Zelda and Link stroll by.
It’s Animazement, after all – Raleigh’s massive annual anime convention – and costumed cosplayers of this variety are simply part of the experience.
But Danny Hirajeta won’t get to see much of it. Hirajeta’s Iron Clown Studios will be set up inside the convention, in Artists Alley, and he’ll be working, producing custom drawings for attendees.
“I have my head down pretty much the entire convention,” Hirajeta says. He’s at his home near Fayetteville as we talk, watering his plants. He expects no such relaxation at Animazement, though he does know it’ll be a good time. “Afterwards, when I am dead tired, I go through all the photos and I say, ‘Oh, man – look at that! I can’t believe I missed that.’”
Hirajeta has been an artist at Animazement for seven years straight – since the convention was in Durham, he says. Like convention attendees, vendors and artists like him look forward to the event, though it’s a different experience. They’re often on their feet all day or spend the fest with their heads down, buried in work. They still love it.
“I love interacting with people,” says Jeremy Tarney, who is dressing as Dr. Frank-N-Furter from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for this year’s Animazement. As far as convention culture, he’s done it all – he’s cosplayed, been a vendor, and even organized conventions (he’s store manager at Ultimate Comics in Chapel Hill, which puts on N.C. Comicon). He says the vendor experience, while exhausting, is rewarding in the same way his everyday job is.
“I love working at the comic shop every day because my favorite thing is when someone walks up to me and says, ‘Hey, I am a huge Spider-Man fan and there is this specific thing I am looking for,’” he says. “That’s something I have in common with them right away, it’s something I can help them with, and it’s something we can experience together.” As a vendor at a convention packed with anime, comic, video game and sci-fi fanatics, this increases a thousandfold.
“There’s room for all of us,” he says.
“Everyone’s usually really good about respecting each other’s personal preferences regarding art and whatever anyone’s into,” Hirajeta says. Though Animazement is largely focused on anime, there are contingents of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Alien” fans. Hirajeta mentions a small, though loyal, “Hellraiser” crowd that reliably shows up, not to mention gaming aficionados who arrive dressed as “Legend of Zelda,” “Dark Souls” or “Skyrim” characters. “Dungeons & Dragons” is even represented.
“Like Halloween – as a kid, it’s fun to dress up as a character you want to be,” Tarney says. “Why grow out of it?”
Tarney cosplays regularly – including a stint with several friends as “Game of Thrones” characters at a recent Durham Bulls game – and Animazement is special to him. He proposed to his wife there; she was dressed as Belle, he as the Beast, and their friends all came as princes and princesses.
“She had no idea – she thought we just were doing a picture set with a bunch of our friends,” Tarney recalls. “And then I sprung it on her with this band and singing. This whole big thing.”
Others have proposed to their spouses at Animazement, and their costumes have been just as elaborate: Hirajeta recalls one couple dressed as human-sized chess pieces.
Quick draw Hirajeta
Hirajeta has to be a versatile artist because people could ask him to draw anything. His own tastes lean toward American comics and graphic novels – Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse Comics – though he has to be prepared to draw anything from Superman or Batman to Japanese characters or even portraits.
What’s especially rewarding, he says, is when people come in who can write but can’t draw and want their original characters brought to life.
“When you do it just right or even better than they think, then that makes the whole thing,” he says.
Still, come this weekend, Hirajeta will try to slip away from the table a time or two to check out the rest of the convention. Though it’s his work – and though Animazement is an important time to make professional connections – he knows there are fantastic experiences he’s missing.
When: 6 p.m.-midnight Thursday; 9 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St.
Cost: Adult at the door: $65 Thursday; $65 Friday; $50 Saturday; $25 Sunday