Interview with Tom Croom: Wasabi Anime/Green Mustard Entertainment

Hello again my fellow readers!  Forgive me for being gone so long, but I come baring gifts! (And by gifts I mean interview XD ) 

We had the chance to interview Tom Croom who is with Wasabi Anime and Green Mustard Entertainment.  I got to meet him for the first time this year at Dragon*Con and then again at AWA and loved his sense of humor!  So, naturally, I had to exploit it XD

I’m really proud of how this turned out and I hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did!

BBAMAJAM: So Tom can you give us a general introduction about yourself and what you do?

Tom: My name is Tom Croom.  I love Japanese cartoons, giant robots that turn into impersonations of non-organic objects, travelling the world, long walks on the beach and I’m a whore for a good cup of joe.  I’m known in fan convention circles and an opinionated blogger of many things “geek” (www.tomcroom.com) and the founder of the popular event production team Wasabi Anime (www.wasabianime.com). 

BBAMAJAM: How do you explain what you do to people that don’t know you or anything about Anime?
 
Tom: Usually using short simple words and lot of gesticulation.
 
Seriously, though, it IS hard to convey the reality of anime fandom to someone who only sees cartoons as “kid stuff.”   When I explain it to non-geeks/non-nerds/normals, I try to keep it basic and relate it to something they are familiar with.  EVERYONE knows what a Star Trek convention is (thanks to Saturday Night Live and other mainstream media) so I explain that Japanese popular culture has evolved into the same sort of fandom in the U.S.  Then I mention “The Transformers” and they act like they know what I’m talking about.
 
BBAMAJAM: What do you consider to be the “basics” of convention or event planning?
Tom: The most important thing that people forget when running an event or convention is that it takes two important things above all else: time and money.  Since Wasabi Anime started doing this in 2001, there have been many sleepless nights spent doing the oddest things to our events happen: making laminates, editing video, sewing costumes, printing flyers, writing website content, etc.  The list goes on.
 
A good number of our events started on shoestring budgets.  We operated Wasabi Anime in what I have affectionately referred as “the Kevin Smith model.”  Kevin Smith made his first movie (Clerks) by maxing out his personal credit cards and selling his comic book collection.  It took long hours and a lot of labor but he eventually became a pretty successful (as long as you pretend that you’ve never heard of Jersey Girl.)  Eventually we become known, sold some t-shirts, made some money, got paid to design events and (before we knew it) our little club morphed into a small business.
 
So back to the “basics” – event planning will always take more time that you plan for and definitely more money than you think.
BBAMAJAM: If money were no object, describe your dream convention.  Who would be there and what events would you have?
 
Tom: That’s a tough one… my team and I talk all the time about our “wish list” of conventions. InvaderCON (www.invadercon.com) is one of the projects that we thought was just something to talk about.  None of us ever believed that we could never make it real, yet the Invader ZIM fans are buying tickets for it like hotcakes.  Hop in a Delorean, hit eighty eight miles an hour, and find me three years ago.  Ask me if I thought Wasabi Anime would have actually created an Invader ZIM convention I would probably laugh at you and tell you that you have the brain worms.  Who knew?
 
Even now we’re talking about follow up niche convention ideas involving things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even Voltron.  We’re even toying with a Pin Up girl event.
 
The show I’d want an event for ME personally that has too small of a fan base to EVER justify having its own convention would be The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.  If you’ve never seen or heard of it, it’s a one season TV series from the early nineties starting Bruce Campbell that was steampunk before steampunk was cool.  I’d book Bruce and the remaining cast (a couple of them have passed away) and build events around a zany wild west time travelling theme.  Think about it: a country ho-down dance instead of the standard anime convention rave… it would be EPIC.
 
A boy can dream. 
BBAMAJAM: Who or what do you look to for inspiration when planning your events/panels/etc?
 
Tom: Monty Python.
 
I’m serious.
 
Have you ever heard the phrase “and now for something completely different”?  We go to so many conventions and sit through so many panels that we are constantly trying to come up with events that fits two distinct criteria:
1.       DIFFERENT
2.       FUN
 
Take DARE! The Transformers Panel Ultimate.  We’ve seen dozens of Transformers and Giant Robot panels at various conventions.  They all follow the same format: Transformers are cool; here’s the latest toy rumors; here’s the latest cartoon rumors; here’s the latest movie rumors.  Well, the problem with that format is that 90% of what you hear in those panels you already (most likely) know from the Internet.  Joey Snackpants, Tentacle Chris and I realized that panels are SHOWS and they should keep people entertained AND educated.  Thus we evolve the panel to involve something new and different each year and always keep it from a “fanboy” point of view.  Sure, it’s fun to have an open discussion about the pros and cons of a show – but it’s MORE fun to have a solid opinion and get reaction (such as our “BEAST WARS SUCKS” battle cry.)  People love to hate that we hate Transformers: Beast Wars and it turns the crowd into an active participant.  Throw in the occasional guest star to our panel (like Stan Bush or Gregg Berger) plus a touch of audience activities (Transformers toy time trials and sound effect impersonations) and suddenly you’re not listening to a panel… you’re part of the experience.
  
BBAMAJAM: In your opinion what is the hardest part of event planning?
 
Tom: Coming up with something new.  So much has been done out there that it’s hard to be original. When we came up with the Wasabi Animusical (www.animusical.com) – NO ONE had ever done something to that scale at an anime convention before.  Now every Cosplay contest has someone enter using the format and a number of conventions have tried similar shows.  There’s MONTHS of work that go into something like that, though, and people don’t tend to realize it until they try.
 
Keeping it fresh is a challenge, but we do our best.
BBAMAJAM: What advice could you give to those wanting to do what you do?
 
Tom: At the risk of sounding like a Nike commercial: JUST DO IT.  The more you start creating and hosting events, the better you get at it.  The better you get at it, the more people will enjoy your work.  The more people enjoy your work, the more people will come to it.  The more people that come – the more conventions will invite you to produce for them.
 
Don’t be afraid to try something different, even if it turns out to be terrible.  For every amazing event we’ve created, there are at least two really crappy ones we’d like to forget about.  That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t.
 
BBAMAJAM: What is the most elaborate event you have ever planned or helped plan?
 
Tom: Hands down: The Wasabi Animusical.  Each show in the trilogy was designed to be a tightly budgeted Broadway style stage show impersonation of a Cosplay enhanced live action music video.
 
(I’ll let you re-read that last sentence for effect.  It’s descriptively correct.)
 
Taking a team of thirty talented people and writing stories around them, approving choreography, overseeing costume construction, building sets, working with JACON management for material approval… it was a giant complicated mass of awesomeness.  The payoff (standing ovations and followers on YouTube) made it completely worth it.  We’re working with a new convention in Michigan called Shuto-Con (www.shutocon.com) to try and revitalize the concept using our branding.  Myself and the team are pretty excited as the prospect.
BBAMAJAM: Who or what got you interested in Anime and Japanese culture?
 
Tom: Indirectly: Transformers, Voltron and Star Blazers.
 
Directly: Akira, Ghost in the Shell and (later on) Sailor Moon.
 
People tend to think that anime crept into popular American culture in the past fifteen years or so, but so many of them forget that’s been here much longer than that.  I remember watching Speed Racer when I was growing up and remember The Flying House?  You know – that Bible show?  That’s right: anime.
 
Thus the roots of my interest were born in watching cartoons while growing up.  My more focused interest came about via meeting my girlfriend (now wife) almost eleven years ago and going to one of the earliest anime conventions in Florida with her.  At that point, I got to watch the anime niche culture go mainstream and eventually go back to the level it’s at today.
BBAMAJAM: What are some of your favorite Anime/Manga?
 
Tom: I’m not big into manga, but I am a major fan of quality anime.  It can’t just “look pretty” – I need a good story to keep me going.  I can watch almost any Miyazaki film and rave about its originality, but the top three that come to mind are Castle of Calgiostro, My Neighbor Totoro and (of course) Spirited Away.
 
Regardless of how overplayed it has become, Neon Genesis Evangelion is still one of the greats in my book.
 
I can watch Cowboy Bebop a dozen times and never get bored with it.
 
People also tend to overlook the seriousness in the writing of Sailor Moon.  The series has some pretty epic moments.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched the last few episodes for the dramatic effect.
BBAMAJAM: If you were stuck on a desert island what would you hope to have with you already?
 
Tom: An electronic thumb, my towel, a pan-galactic gargle blaster, a don’t panic t-shirt and a very particular electronic book.
 
BBAMAJAM: Existential question of the day:  What would you want people to remember you for in the future?
 
Tom: That thing I did that, according to the government, can’t be made public until after my death.  ‘Nuff said. 
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