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Growth of anime convention expected to continue

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    Erika Flanagan dressed as Yukimura Sanada from the video game Sengoku Basara.

    Dan Reiland

Hundreds of gamers, comic book fans, science-fiction enthusiasts and Japanese animation lovers will flock to Eau Claire this weekend for the 10th annual No Brand Con.

The three-day convention starts at noon Friday at the Plaza Hotel & Suites Convention Center and will run non-stop until 5 p.m. Sunday. The event features screenings of anime movies and TV series, gaming areas and a costume contest in which participants dress up like their favorite video game, anime or comic book characters.

"It's a wide variety of stuff," said Stephen Gernaey, the convention's director.

Gernaey said he expects 1,400 to 1,500 people to attend the event.

"There's a really strong niche out there that enjoys this stuff," he said.

The Eau Claire Area Visitors and Convention Bureau predicts this year's No Brand Con will generate $277,000 for the local economy.

Not bad for an event that started from pretty humble means.

Eleven years ago, while Trae Dorn, who now lives in Indiana, was a student at UW-Eau Claire, he and some friends started an unofficial anime appreciation club.

"At the time, in 2000, the closest anime conventions to Eau Claire were in Chicago and Iowa," Dorn said, adding the group decided hosting their own event was cheaper than driving elsewhere to attend one.

The friends subsequently made their club an official university organization, solicited donations and scraped together all the cash they could.

"We pretty much begged, borrowed and stole our way to run a convention," Dorn said. "We did it on a budget of $1,300, which is nothing for a con."

The first No Brand Con was in the Davies Center, at UW-Eau Claire. In the coming years the convention grew, and in 2005 it moved off campus, although the event continues to rely on area college students to staff its ranks.

Meanwhile, the event's budget has grown to $40,000, Gernaey said. And while about 30 people put on the first No Brand Con, this year's convention will take 85 to 90 people to set up and run.

Not in Dorn's "wildest dreams" did he expect No Brand Con would grow to its current size, he said. What has stayed the same, however, is the event's inclusiveness, Dorn said.

"We tried to create a communal attitude, where we accept everyone who comes in the door," Dorn said.

Lots of costumes

Gernaey said one of the convention's biggest draws is the attendees' costumes.

That's true for Erika Flanagan, a junior at UW-Eau Claire, who has attended No Brand Con since 2006 and is also a staff member. Flanagan said she enjoys designing and sewing her own costumes.

"It's a great way to pose a tribute to your favorite video game or show," Flanagan said. You don't have to be as dedicated as her to go. However, she said, "You can have just a passing interest and stop by and check it out."

Swedien can be reached at 715-833-9214, 800-236-7077 or jon.swedien@ecpc.com.

If You Go

What: No Brand Con, a convention for gamers, comic book lovers, science fiction fans and admirers of Japanese animation.

When: Noon Friday, running nonstop until 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: The Plaza Hotel & Suites, 1202 W. Clairemont Ave.

Cost: Weekend pass, $35; Friday, $15; Saturday, $20; Sunday, $15.

Information: For a detailed schedule of convention events, visit nobrandcon.com.


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