Pop culture collides with the obscure at Tekko

photo courtesy of Tekko marketing and communications department 
A group of cosplayers gathers outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center last year. Thousands of people bring different characters to life from anime to video games by creating costumes.

A crowd of Japanese culture enthusiasts and anime lovers ran across the street away from Pittsburgh’s convention center dressed in full costumes as anime characters, surprising passing pedestrians and drivers last year. They hit the streets because too many cosplayers boarded and subsequently broke an elevator, which got them kicked out of Pittsburgh’s annual anime convention, Tekko.

“Sometimes it gets out of hand like that, but just relax and go with it,” Altin Molnar-Strejcek, junior creative-writing major said in an interview in Lawrence Hall last Thursday, recalling the elevator incident in which he was involved.

Tekko, previously known as Tekkoshocon, is Pittsburgh’s annual convention where thousands of people go to cosplay as anime, video game, comic book, television and film characters for a three day event, including a preview night on Thursday. This event, in its sixteenth year, happens April 7-10.

“It’s really great because this is the only place where people can dress up like this and not be judged, it’s a welcoming environment,” said Jack Varney, director of marketing and communications for Tekko.

This is the second year the con has utilized a volunteer-based marketing board, and Varney said that pre-registration for the event is up 30 percent since last year. “Pre-registration is over 3,000 names this year, and we’re expecting even more,” Varney said.

Varney said that the founding of the marketing department was meant to create a trademark event for Pittsburgh that will draw in large numbers of people, which will then fuel businesses. He said that the board has been advertising in several states, such as New York and Ohio to get national attention to the event, which he thinks is overshadowed by other cons in Pittsburgh. He also said that Tekko has partnered with several restaurants around the city, and the event has already sold out about three local hotels.

“We’ve outgrown Anthrocon and we’re just getting bigger,” Varney said.

Last year, a group of students from the Point Park University’s Anime Club attended together, including Molnar-Strejek and Nick Vercilla, the Vice President and President respectively.

“It’s a chance to act out and get in character, which is really fun but can get intense,” Leanna Brooks, junior forensics and biology double-major, said about the con last year in an interview in Lawrence Hall last Wednesday.

“The amount of creativity shown there is amazing; there are a lot of ‘OMG’ moments when you see the kind of costumes people come up with for this,” Molnar-Strejek said.

The group also competed in the masquerade department of the con, in which they performed a dance skit while dressed as a boy band.

“We actually won first place last year in the novice division,” Brooks said about participating in the masquerade last year.

The team will return this year with a skit based on the visual novel “Uta no Prince-sama,” which the group has been working on since early February, according to both Molnar-Strejek and Brooks.

Although many people at the con dress up as characters, Varney said that plenty of people go casually to watch anime films, buy merchandise, participate in games and activities and attend guest speakers and panels.

“There’s no costume needed; people just show up to have fun and see the action,” Molnar-Strejek said.

“If you go check it out, keep an open mind, and it’ll be a lot of fun,” Brooks said.

“Being known and recognized from past years is a good feeling,” Jeremy Eiben, freshman costume-design major, said in an interview Monday.

Eiben has been attending Tekko for six years, and has been an active member of the action every year, dressing as a different character every day for the past few years. He said he enjoys the process of creating costumes and gaining inspiration from other people’s costumes. He also has his own cosplay facebook page where he posts pictures of him in costume.

The three students said they have been interested in anime and Japanese culture for a long time. Brooks said that she wanted to attend Tekko before putting it off any longer.

“I’ve been into anime since I was ten years old and I thought I’d do it now before I put it off and get old,” Brooks said.

Eiben said he has been into anime and it’s culture since he was nine years-old.

Molnar-Strejek also said he has had a lasting interest, even though there are some misconceptions about the event and the culture of anime-lovers.

“It might look strange, but it can be such a creative outlet to show what you can do and what you can create,” Molnar-Strejek said.

“I think the panels don’t get enough attention, and group attendance is important because the groups represent a lot of the culture.

Students can get tickets at the door or pre-register for general admission on the event website. Premium and ‘Rockstar’ tickets are sold out. General admission registration is $50 and allows for full-weekend access to the event.

photo by Gracey Evans
Jeremy Eiben dressed as Megara from Hercules. Eiben has a Facebook page dedicated to his cosplay costumes and characters called Dreamcatch the Fantasy.