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Jamie · Updated Sep 27, 2014 · Spotlight

Spotlight: Hetalia Meetups Chicago

AnimeChicago’s Spotlight interview series highlights local organization leaders, artists and personalities. For our first Spotlight, we’re chatting with Jacqueline, co-organizer of Hetalia Meetup Chicago, about the Hetalia Day cosplay celebration held October 21, 2012.

AC: What inspired you to take the reigns for this year’s Chicago Hetalia Day Celebration?

JTO: Last year, I was very into Hetalia, maybe even more so than I am now. I had been to Anime Central once, but other than that, I had never gone to any cosplay events. I knew people from school that used to go to Hetalia meetups all the time, but I didn’t really know them that well, so I was always on the outside looking in, wishing that I could go to.

Anyway, I had my first cosplay ready and I did my research. I found out about Hetalia Day and went on the main site to go look for a Chicago meeting, but they didn’t have one listed. I was really disappointed, to say the least.

Since then, I’ve gotten more involved with cosplay, mostly via another fandom for a webcomic called Homestuck, where there are more very frequent meetups. However, I still wanted to meet others who still liked Hetalia.

So, this year, I figured I had enough experience from attending and running meetups for the Homestuck fandom and decided that I could take on organizing a Hetalia Day event, since I doubted that someone else would organize one. I didn’t want to be in a similar position as I was last year, so I figured that I should just do it myself instead of waiting for someone else to come along.

AC: Who were you cosplaying? Are you a cosplay maven or novice? Does that matter when running a cosplay event?

JTO: I cosplayed an alternate universe version of Alfred F. Jones, more commonly known as America. I definitely wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered cosplay or anything, but I do put a lot of work into my cosplays and have about a year of cosplay-making experience, including building props, wig styling, and sewing. I guess I would put myself right in the middle of the cosplay spectrum.

When running a cosplay event, especially a large one, I feel like cosplaying is necessary. It’s easier for people to refer to you, as they can call you by your character name instead of having to learn your actual name. I also feel like it sets an example for the people who are just getting into cosplay. Also, for people who are horrible at starting conversations, cosplay is a great way to start. You can talk about how you made this or that, or you can talk about that character in the series. It’s good for striking up a conversation that isn’t all small talk.

However, for smaller events, I feel like casual cosplay is fine. Casual meaning just the wig and something not necessarily canon but still in-character to a point.

Personally, I think that if a person hosts a cosplay meetup, they should cosplay to be an example and be a part of their own meetup. If a host does’t want to cosplay, I think they should make their meetup non-cosplay or cosplay optional.

AC: What tools and connections did you use to reach out to local fans? Did they help event attendance?

JTO: I did a lot of advertising for this event, actually. For meetups in other fandoms, I could post about a meetup on their group or tumblr or whatever it is keeps track of that. For Hetalia, there wasn’t a group like that. I looked around and the best I could find was the Hetalia Day website, which was pretty inactive.

I started out with making a Hetalia meetup group on Facebook, since this system works really well for the Homestuck fandom, which currently has 400+ members in their meetup group. I invited the few people I knew who liked Hetalia, one of which is my good friend, Emmie (Matthew Liu on Facebook), who is incredibly active in the cosplay community. She invited a good handful of people, who in turn invited people they knew.

I knew that there were others, though, who probably didn’t already know cosplayers and who wouldn’t find out through the pass-it-on system we had going. Hetalia is just prone to having younger fans who are new to cosplay and the anime scene. So, I posted about it on the Chicago Hetalia Day website’s forums, multiple times on tumblr, and on a fairly large Hetalia group I run on deviantART. The main Hetalia Day website also puts links to events around the world in their directory. According to the feedback survey that I sent out, most people found out about it through Facebook or by googling it and stumbling upon the main website. The attendance definitely exceeded my expectations, so I’m guessing I did something right.

AC: What was the best moment of the afternoon?

JTO: I know this sounds lame, but my favorite part of the afternoon was in the beginning, when everyone showed up. It’s just an amazing feeling to know that you brought these people together. It was really fun to go around and talk with people, too. It’s unbelievable that you can find so much in common with a person when you’ve only just met them. I rarely ever get to talk about Hetalia with people who actually know what I’m talking about, so it was really nice to be able to discuss fandom-related things with people. I definitely made some friends that day.

AC: Do you plan to lead the event next year? What would you do differently?

JTO: As of right now, I definitely plan on hosting again next year. Hopefully, now that we have a social network going, we’ll have more of a board, if you will, to help plan it out. Next year, I’d love to have more variety of games and activities and maybe things to give away.

One thing we’ll do for sure is have two photoshoot sessions, one at the beginning and one at the end, as a lot of people requested such. I’m also going to spend more time organizing the activities to be more Hetalia-related and creative. But again, I think it will be easier when I know more people in the fandom who will be willing to contribute their ideas.

AC: Do you think Chicago’s anime and cosplay scene will grow in 2013 with niché groups (such as Hetalia Meetups Chicago) planning smaller, more frequent events?

JTO: Over the past couple years, I’ve come to realize Chicago’s anime and cosplay scene is actually really big, at least more than I ever suspected. But I definitely think it will grow, with more teenagers growing up on the internet and finding out about anime. I know that at my school, there’s a large amount of people who watch anime or read comics, who I always try to recruit as cosplayers or at least con-goers. I’m sure others across the Chicago area are doing the same. My hopes for the Hetalia fandom are to see more people join in and for us to have more exposure across the internet. I remember being that kid who felt isolated and that no one else liked the things that I did, that I was relatively alone. It’s kids like that that I want to find and show that there are plenty of us who are just like them out there. That said, I really hope to see the community grow.

AC: Do you have any words of advice for new event organizers?

For first-time organizers and hosts, your first meetup can be hard. The key to a good meetup is planning. You will not be able to execute a good meetup without having the foundation of good preparation. Make a schedule, plan your activities, keep track of the number of people who plan on attending, and make sure people have your phone number or some way to contact you in case of emergency. But, the most important part is to lay down the rules. As a host, you are in charge of the meetup and responsible for what happens. The safety of other attendees is imperative, but behavior and how we affect the outside public is extremely important and oftentimes overlooked. You represent not only yourselves, but also the fandom and the anime and cosplay community in general. There’s no need to get a bad reputation for poor behavior. Make sure that your rules reflect that and make sure that you enforce them. To end on a good note, have fun with it! Don’t let it stress you out too much. Meetups are just for fun. The only way your meetups will be enjoyable to others is to enjoy it yourself. And with that, I bid you all good luck!

Many thanks to Jacqueline for sharing her experience! We hope you’ve enjoyed our first installment of Spotlight. Are you an organizer or know someone who would be interested in sharing with us? Contact us at info@animechicago.com.