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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Animated Events: Women in Animation "the Game Show" panel

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak to a room of sixteen girls and eight guys about the history of women working in the field of animation.

Every year, I attend Shuto Con, the anime and Japanese culture convention here in Lansing, Michigan. Usually when I'm not spending money in the dealer room, I drift from lecture to lecture learning new tips and tricks about digital art, exploring some facet of Japanese culture, trying out new anime shows, or just having a good time photographing any ingenious cosplayers that catch my eye.

However, as I had been encouraged to speak at previous cons by the owner, this year I decided to toss my hat into the ring with a topic that I've been researching for several years: the history of women working in the field of animation.

I'm very fortunate that the con organizers are flexible regarding what seminar topics they allow people to speak on. They don't stick to a strict 'Japan only' philosophy as the resulting variety helps distinguish them from the other anime cons--both large and small--that are here in Michigan.

Shortly after the seminar topic was proposed to and accepted by the convention, I put out some feelers on their Facebook page to get a sense of how well an event like this would be received. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of girls (and guys) who responded positively. Two short months later found me standing in front of a group of people eager to learn.

In order to liven up what could have been a very dry lecture, I decided to go with a game show format. The audience was asked three questions about a woman animator (both historical and contemporary), her career, and/or elements of work she was involved in that made it into popular culture. At the end of each animator's section, I'd recite two or three quick sentences about the animator that expounded upon the information presented in the questions.

In order to encourage audience participation, I relied upon advice from my mother when she said: 'chocolate is the great motivator!' People who answered questions correctly received a snack-sized Hershey bar as their prize. And people who answered questions incorrectly received a fireball jawbreaker. In reality, I just wanted to remove the stigma of being wrong and encourage everyone to participate and take a chance on answering a question even if they weren't sure that it was the correct answer.

The awesome people who showed up to learn about women in animation!

When asked about the projected attendance numbers for this event, I gave a very optimistic 'twenty to thirty' people, figuring that I'd probably only have ten or twelve people showing up, including my four friends who would be there just to support me. I was very pleasantly surprised when an additional twenty people showed up and I received messages from a couple girls who said they wanted to attend but couldn't due to scheduling issues.

The seminar only lasted forty-five minutes (not including five minutes for Q&A), but I was able to cover twenty-five animators and touch on some notable elements of their careers and background. And when the lecture was over, eighteen of the attendees stuck around to watch a screening of animated short films that were either produced by women animators or had women animators working on the films--like Lillian Friedman Astor, the first woman to work as an animator for an East Coast studio or Lynn Dana Wilton's cut-out animation "(re)Cycle".

This being my first time presenting this lecture, it went over far better than I had hoped. And as I have been gathering copious amounts of information on women animators, you can be sure that I'll be shuffling the line-up and proposing this panel for next year's con.

Oh, and for those who attended, the following are the questions that were raised in the panel for which I did not have immediate answers for:

1. Will Vinton, spells his name with two letter l's not one (source: http://willvinton.net/).

2. Magic Boy (Japanese title: Shônen Sarutobi Sasuke) was produced in 1959 by Tōei Dōga (not Mushi Pro) and released in Japan. It was re-released in 1961 by MGM in the United States (source: http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/early-anime-features-1958-1960).

3. The longest running television animation series in history is Sazae-san ("Mrs. Sazae"). Sazae-san has been running continuously for over 43 years. According to animation historian Fred Patten, this translates into "more than 2,300 half-hour shows (shows are split into three segments so there are over 6800 shorts made)." (source: http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/the-longest-running-tv-cartoon-ever/).