Convention Tales #13: Con No Baka

This coming 26 November marks 15 years since Con No Baka, a short-lived anime convention that operated out of Toronto, kicked the bucket. It is to this city what Dashcon, an infamously ill-fated convention for Tumblr users, is to Chicago, and is a prime example of everything that could go wrong with starting a first-time convention. It’s also a minor influence as to why I personally made the decision not to attend smaller conventions any longer. Now, I don’t usually write posts about conventions as seen from a third-person point of view; however, the history behind Con No Baka was so interesting when I first heard about it, that I began to perform some research to others’ experience of it and to learn more about the truth behind this affair. Given how obscure this event’s story is to those outside of Toronto, I felt that the story of the convention’s demise would be an interesting piece to share for this blog.

Note: As this is not a convention that I have pictures of, all photos listed in this post are not my property, but I give full credit to the original owners. The cover photo is from Twitter user @zeekay_art, originally sourced at https://twitter.com/zeekayart/status/1036027797037309952

CON NO BAKA: THE HISTORY

Con No Baka, which translates to English as “Idiot’s Con”, was the brainchild of one Aaron Yorgenson, a staff member at Anime North, and was originally slated to take place on 25-27 November of 2005, on the cusp of the First Sunday of Advent. Interestingly, the venue of the convention was the same hotel overlooking the Toronto Congress Centre, home to Anime North which had just happened a mere six months prior: the Doubletree International Plaza Hotel (now known as the Delta Hotels by Toronto Airport). Like most small anime conventions, it offered a wide variety of events such as the usual panels / discussion boards, video gaming rooms, game shows and contests, a Dealers’ Room hosted in a room over 10,000 square feet, and late-night hotel room parties. However, the cosplay masquerade session, which involved cosplayers walking onstage to show off their latest creation, was replaced with an “Anime LARP” session where participants could perform skits up to 30 minutes long, in full cosplay; as opposed to typical masquerades which capped the performances’ duration at 1min or less. Guests included Derwin Mak, a professional cosplayer, members from the comedy troupe The 404’s (a regular staple at Anime North), and amateur voice actor Mandy St. Jean. From here on, it seems like nothing too out of the ordinary. Come convention time, however, things would begin to get shifty as the date rolled around.

THE MISADVENTURE BEGINS

Dealers’ Room at Con No Baka. (Original picture courtesy of StygianInquirer at https://cosplay.com/album/3dz6de2)

There are plenty of stories from various attendees as to what exactly transpired during the convention, but the most common trope seems to be the sense of “Where do I go for X?” floating around the air. In contrast to most conventions which had plenty of booklets to provide so people could know where and when things were starting, one person, a designated “Game Master”, described her following experience as thus:

After a lot of running around, going back to the York room and being directed somewhere (but I got confused, everybody was talking at once in there). I seemed to find the room Aaron directed me to, but I wasn’t sure it was the right place, as there were a bunch of RPG games, etc. being played in there. So, a guy in there directed me to the info desk.

The info desk, ironically, had no information about where things were.

Anyway, they directed me upstairs, where I found the dealers’ room/ artists’ alley and a video game event. I walked down the hall, but found mainly empty rooms; none of them labelled with anything but Con No Baka… I took off my coat and stuff … and went back down to the info desk. I told them how the rooms were labelled. Dave, from ANJ was also there — but he didn’t seem to know anything about where the ANJ events were supposed to be heldHe didn’t know where they were. And it seemed like he’d never heard of them.

Lanistar’s account of Con No Baka (https://lanisatu.livejournal.com/131783.html)

The above poster would eventually go on to describe how her game event was not given any attention, and eventually she would join another group of players.

The general lack of transparency from convention directors regarding events would lead to a wave of poorly-attended panels, some of which didn’t even have a panelist because of how disorganized everything was. To further exacerbate problems, there weren’t enough programming leaflets to pass around, which meant that events and their locations could only be determined by word of mouth – keep in mind, smartphones weren’t a thing yet and Facebook/Twitter were publicly nonexistent at that time. Rooms which were scheduled to show anime tapes were not clearly marked – which meant whenever someone new walked in, they would be wild-carded as to what show they were watching. Vendors at the Dealers’ Room became increasingly frustrated at the lack of sales made, and at some point in the evening, the hotel’s ATM machine was reported to have ran out of money. Equipment failures for showing anime and printing out booklets went kaput during the weekend, and the much-touted room parties were an immediate bust. Amidst all the disaster unfolding, one vendor made a financial killing that day by selling 70 pins, each reading “I hate Con No Baka“, in the first five minutes they came out – truly a testament to the muck-fest that transpired.

What the Gaming Room looked like at Con No Baka. (Original picture courtesy of StygianInquirer at https://cosplay.com/album/3dz6de2)

Things were so bad that it led Derwin Mak, one of the guests, to actually resign from his position as a guest on Friday evening, and proceeded to post a lengthy rant about the disastrous state of the convention’s Cosplay Contest:

I resigned as Costuming Guest of Honour at Con No Baka because the convention’s organizers did not provide any of the resources or awards (i.e., ribbons) promised to the cosplayers, and therefore, I could no fulfil my duties. In addition, the convention’s organizers absolved themselves of any responsibility for cosplay events and issues so that I, not they, would be blamed for cosplay problems.

There was supposed to have been a “professional photo area” set up. There was none… I had been promised hall costume ribbons to hand out to people. I told the photographer that if I could hand these out, I could still make the cosplayers feel good and appreciated. But I found out that the hall costume ribbons were merely plain strips of ribbon, bought at a fabric shop, with a strange symbol handwritten in gold glitter ink on them (symbol resembled a “6”)… What was especially awful, though, was that the website and the program book were updated in recent weeks to say that I was responsible for organizing all costuming events. Nobody told me that I was suddenly chief of all costuming events, and it was never anything discussed between me and the convention chair. Indeed, he had told me that I would be like a Guest, that I would judge costumes and do panels, but he never mentioned I would have to set up a photo area…

Derwin Mak’s testimony at Con No Baka (https://cosplay.com/archive/thread/5888g2/con-no-baka-why-i-left-early?page=1)
cnb05-223.jpg
The Cosplay Photoshoot section at Con No Baka. Original photo courtesy of AnimeLondon (http://www.animelondon.ca/cosplay/conbaka/gallery.php?Qwd=./gallery/part02&Qif=cnb05-223.jpg&Qiv=thumbs&Qis=M)

Finally, at 7pm on Saturday, November 26, a hotel employee promptly ordered all those involved with the convention to pack their stuff, and go home: the convention was over. Aaron Yorgenson’s dream convention would sadly, never live up beyond his wildest expectations. Disappointed vendors began to pack their stuff and head back to their places, some of them having come from far out in the hopes of making sales; and while many expressed disappointment at the way things were handled by organizers, some still managed to find a way to enjoy the time with their friends there (and that’s the beauty of conventions). The sun rose and set on 27 November, and the Doubletree Hotel remained silent and deserted, with no convention happening that day and many confused newcomers (including one group from Niagara Falls) at the scene.

About a week after the convention flopped, organizers released an apology statement written by Aaron on their website, criticizing their poor judgment and management skills as to the reason for their downfall.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

After reading all the testimonies from both guests and attendees, I was able to source out three major factors that escalated this convention’s demise.

#1: POOR TIMING

Con No Baka was scheduled in late November, which is the point when winter is about to kick in. Most conventions took place in the summer months (May – September) because of warm weather, easier vacation availabilities, and therefore one can expect people to be more outgoing around this time, instead of grumpy and reluctant due to the cold. Since this convention was targeted at regular attendees of Anime North, which included mostly a mix of high schoolers, university students and working professionals, the timing proved to be a huge disadvantage for most of these people, since they were busy with their own academic or business errands – therefore a smaller convention would not be in the top of their priority list. Doesn’t help too that the location was far out from downtown Toronto, and thus from convenient transit. Many of them decided to play it smart and, rather than spend time at a convention with a 50/50 chance of not flopping in its first year, wait until things got lighter on their end and prepare for Anime North 2006 which was coming up. I don’t blame them considering that Anime North, as from my experience, is pretty lit.

A snapshot of Con No Baka’s website as of 24 November 2005, as retrieved from The Wayback Machine. Plenty of things went wrong with both the con pricing / programming and content, I see.

#2: LACK OF HIGH PROFILE NAMES

A look at Con No Baka‘s webpage showed just exactly the kind of guests they got to their convention – most of them weren’t necessarily big-shots like Vic Mignogna, Monica Rial or Gary Ayres. No Japanese guest was present at the list – I guess it makes sense, since let’s be honest, who would want to come to a convention that literally translates to “Idiots’ Convention”? That would be like Bill Nye getting invited to speak at a conference of flat earthers or the Pope talking in a room of sedevacantists. How did Con No Baka explain this? According to their website:

In accordance with our concept of not being your average anime convention, Con No Baka will be taking a different approach to guests. As we noted in our About Us page, our guests will be those you might  not typically meet at other anime conventions. Our guests won’t be big names, but they will offer you a different perspective on anime, gaming and related media and industries.

Text from the “Guests” section of the Con No Baka website (https://web.archive.org/web/20050313061037/http://connobaka.com/Guests.htm)

Let me translate that to those who aren’t so qualified in corporate speak: “We don’t have anyone noteworthy to invite to this convention. Sorry to burst your bubble!”

#3: DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR

From a statistical point of view, only about 300-500 people were reportedly present the whole weekend – a vast underestimation of the organizers’ 1000+ persons benchmark. To put that into perspective, that’s less than one tenth of how many people came to Anime North that year. Ticket prices for the weekend reached upwards of $45 at the door – which, for a first year convention, is quite expensive. The lack of interest and attendance, it is slated, was one of the biggest factors which led to the convention’s downfall on Saturday night. Unable to break even with how much they owed hotel managers, and faced with the prospect of exorbitant costs of renting facility and equipment on their plate, the inevitability of their convention getting canned was looming over the horizon. Online as well, from the moment the convention was announced in January of 2005, many people expressed hesitation at the thought of another convention within the Toronto area, with some feeling that the market for such was oversaturated. Others were telling Aaron and the rest of his staff to scale back the convention from 3 days to a single day event, to make things more affordable and casual. Because of the uncertainty surrounding this event, many wisely deciding to save their money, watch the fiasco unfold from the bleachers, and make the decision from there. In spite of the feedback, Con No Baka was left unfazed by them, and decided to march onwards to their doom.

EPILOGUE

Alternate shot of the Dealers’ Room at Con No Baka. (Original picture courtesy of StygianInquirer at https://cosplay.com/album/3dz6de2)

Following Con No Baka‘s shutdown, HobbyStar Marketing, the company that runs Fan Expo Canada, went as far as to offer free admission to those who had a pass for the former event:

Dear Anime Fans,

We at Hobby Star Marketing Inc. were very disappointed to hear about the fiasco that went on this past weekend and sympathize with the fans and exhibitors. As a token of appreciation to the Anime community for your support of our events over the years, we will honour all used or unused Con No Baka tickets at this Sunday’s Toronto AnimeCon on December 4 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Simply bring your Con No Baka badge to the admission table for the Toronto AnimeCon and we will admit you to our event at no charge.

HobbyStar makes it up to Con No Baka attendees with free admission to their anime event (https://animecons.com/news/post/211/hobby-star-to-honor-con-no-baka-passes-at-toronto-animecon)

To this date, Con No Baka has not attempted a revival as of 2020, and it’s highly doubtful that they’ll ever come back. Given how massively successful Anime North, Fan Expo and Toronto Comic Con have become in the past 15 years, as well as the rise of alternative conventions such as KimiKon, International Fan Festival, Anime Shogatsu, Yeticon and ConBravo, it’s safe to say that there’s just not much room for another small convention, in my opinion, within the confines of Toronto.

Although this convention has long been consigned to the dustbin of Canadian convention history, one thing’s for sure: the ghosts of it will never be forgotten in the hotel. Sometimes, when I walk down the empty halls of the Doubletree Hotel after work on a Friday, I’ll close my eyes and try to imagine what it would have been like cosplaying as Toronto’s former Cardinal Archbishop, James McGuigan, in a full-length cappa magna – with an empty hallway staring back at me, dead with the silence of Con No Baka.

7 thoughts on “Convention Tales #13: Con No Baka

  1. Sounds rough. I have a friend who years ago organized and launched a con down in Florida, only to see it undercut by supposed friends in the anime community. Some of those “friends” of hers were (and remain) involved in another con, so I guess they were trying to stifle any competition. . .

    Liked by 3 people

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