From around 2001 to 2005 I had an extraordinary friend called Ian Plant. We met entirely by chance and found we had an insane amount in common and weirder still he had lived around the corner and just down the street from my house for a couple of years without either of us ever running into each other!
Ian loved anime and manga as much as me, perhaps even more so. Once when he stayed at my house and he was on leave from work I left the house at 7:30 in the morning and he was sitting in my living room watching Dragon Ball.…. he was still there watching something like his 13th episode that day when I got home at teatime.
He loved the same music as me and we shared a lot of favourite films and videogames as well but the niche appeal of anime and manga (and the fact we had no-one else to talk to about our love for it) was what cemented our friendship more than anything else.
These were the pre-streaming days and so it was great to have a friend to share your obsession with so that you could lend stuff to each other. We introduced each other to new anime shows and manga and a glorious give and take relationship began.
I’d lend a series to him and when he wasn’t at work he’d get through the whole show in two or three days maximum. I seem to remember he got through Neon Genesis Evangelion and The Vision of Escaflowne in what I called “record time”.
We became extremely close in a very short period of time and I could tell that guy anything (and frequently did); things I could never discuss with anyone else at the time. He also shared some BIG things with me. In the very short time we were friends he made some pretty huge life altering decisions that were not easy and I was one of the only people he had to support him through them; many of his old friends and his family not exactly being that close to hand at the time.
In around 2003 we were sitting around watching something one day (Rurouni Kenshin I think, that was one of Ian’s favourites) and he turned to me and said “Wouldn’t it be great if we set up our own convention?” I smiled and agreed that it would. However an event like that would take a lot of organising and it’d likely cost a fortune. “Yeah……I suppose you’re right” he sighed sounding a bit defeated. A little later while viewing that same episode he chimed in with “What if we just had a kind of faux convention at one of our houses…..that would be fun right?”
I agreed that it would be fun, the only problem was I only really knew about one other person that would want to come as hardly anyone I knew was a fan of anime and manga. The idea got brought up a few times and we often talked about going to real conventions together.
One day I remember he called me up early on a weekday morning about an hour before I was due to go to work and asked if I wanted to go to a convention somewhere pretty far away (Manchester If I recall correctly). I said I had work and that I couldn’t really get the time off. He suggested feigning sickness and getting on the train with him to go to this con anyway. To be fair the con sounded incredible but I was a bit of a chicken and afraid I’d be seen by someone I worked with on the way to the train station (although it was highly unlikely). I could tell from his voice he was a little disappointed, I think part of him was always trying to dare me to do things like this because he always felt like I could do with having a bit more fun. In hindsight he was probably right.
About two years after that phone call Ian was dead, we never did go to a con together and despite not being the sort of person who could easily “throw a sickie” like that I regretted not taking that opportunity……because it was one I would never have again.
His death hit me like a train. No-one saw it coming. He hadn’t been the happiest in the past year of his life but no-one expected him to kill himself. Less than a year before he died he had become friends with a larger circle of my friends, many of whom I’d known since childhood. One of them rang me to tell me what had happened.
For days I couldn’t quite take it in. At one point I think something happened to me that looking back…..I think was a panic attack. At that moment something within my mind just shattered and I had trouble breathing for what seemed like a few minutes but was probably less. I think the enormity of what I had lost had finally sunk in. I had lost a friend, a comrade and one of the only people I knew who I could truly rely on. All of those conversations we had about life, relationships and otakudom echoed in my mind and I instantly started to think about all of the conversations and laughs we would never have.
My mind brought up a line I had read in a Stephen King book called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. “She realised that the world had teeth……and that it could bite you anytime it wanted”. Everything that line inferred filled me with dread.
I tell you as a long-time reader of his work that line haunted me much more than any of King’s monsters and madmen ever did.
Though it was a difficult time I eventually came to terms with the hole he left in my life but he was always in my thoughts and even after his death his love for our favourite medium continued to inspire me.
In addition to the con idea, another Idea Ian had regarding his favourite fandom was that he’d like to open a comic shop or a market stall, he particularly spoke of going into business (the two of us) as a specialist manga and anime retailer (those weren’t very common at all in Britain at the time, not even online).
So about a year after Ian died I decided I was going to give his idea a try. I opened a market stall in Durham City that I called “Absolute Anime” I bought some merchandise including T-shirts, record bags, DVDs, soundtrack CDs, plushies and manga volumes and sold them in Durham CIty marketplace. Because it was quite niche I didn’t sell a ton of stuff but I built up a loyal customer base who kept coming back every Saturday to buy something. Once a customer called Andrew (who is now a very close friend of mine) came and spent all of his birthday money. Another guy came and spent about £200 in a single afternoon.
At the end of my first year I turned a profit, not a great deal of profit (such big spends as the ones above weren’t regular occurrences- just two notable examples of the fact that the small group of people who loved the stall REALLY loved it).
When I’d been running the stall for a couple of months I had made some really good friends particularly Andrew who I mentioned, a friend of his also called Ian and another mutual friend of theirs called Matt and his sister Jessica. Before the end of that first year a few of the guys had been to my house and we started hanging out outside of the stall. We all liked nothing better than chilling out and watching anime and playing videogames together. One weekend I was away at a wedding in Scotland and Andrew texted me saying we should get together when I got back and asking when the stall was back on. I texted him back and got in the bath and I got thinking about how great an idea the stall had been because it had created so many new wonderful friendships. As I soaked in the tub this in turn got me thinking about my old pal Ian who was no longer with us and how it would’ve been great if he could have met these new friends of mine, likely they would’ve all gotten along really well. My thoughts then turned to what Ian said about hosting our own convention. I texted Andrew with the idea “how about a get together at my house?, kinda like a convention except no entry fee and in my living room- but all the stuff you’d get at a convention. We’ll call it HOUSECON!”
I got a very enthusiastic text back.
So that December in 2006 we held the very first HOUSECON. An event that has now become legendary (well in my very small circle of friends anyway). It was my way of both thanking a small group of my friends who were also my customers for their support and also a way of paying tribute to Ian, who I missed terribly.
We watched anime such as Ranma 1/2, Kyo Kara Maoh, Gatchaman and many more. Those who managed to stay up late were treated to the mind boggling madness of Fooly Cooly (FLCL) though some of those people probably thought they were dreaming anyway 🙂
The way we watched Gatchaman was pretty unconventional. The DVD had a “Karaoke” feature where you could watch the first episode without the dialogue in order to produce your own dub by doing all the speaking parts. The results were hilarious (and in places just plain WRONG).
We had a quiz with prizes from my stall, a fighting game tournament (the first year it was Soul Calibur 2 I think) and I even judged the cosplay of those who made an effort to come in costume and there were some small prizes for that. It was a celebration of everything geeky and particularly of embracing the Otaku within.
After two years the small business of my market stall “Absolute Anime” was no more however we still held Housecon as we all kept in touch and it was great fun.
Between 2006 and 2014 nine Housecon events were held. People became very fond of them and the planning tended to begin ridiculously early for who would bring what anime or games over and people even started to do their own quiz and bring their own prizes.
In 2010 there was some incredibly fierce snow here in North East England in the first weekend of December (traditionally when Housecon was held) so instead of having it then (a few people needed to travel in icy conditions making it less than safe) it was held in January 2011 and then again that December making it go down in history as “the year of two Housecons”.
Housecon was always an incredibly fun event however sometimes it could be stressful too. I put so much effort into making sure everyone else had fun that sometimes I felt like tearing my hair out in later years (particularly when people made a bit of a mess in my house or couldn’t keep the volume below sensible levels…..good job my neighbours were understanding). There were also some years when someone did something a little insensitive and kind of invited someone I didn’t know without really asking me first.
The whole point of Housecon had been a celebration of our fandom and our friendship and I liked hanging out with everyone as I was a busy person who didn’t always have the time to catch up with people. Often I didn’t see everyone more than a few times a year. Having someone else thrown into the mix kind of made me feel like it wasn’t the little small and personal event I wanted it to be.
In the end I felt Housecon had gotten a little out of control. It had gotten too big and not at all like what I (Or Ian for that matter) had envisaged. We’d just wanted to have a small and personal get together and enthuse about the stuff we loved. One year as a result of an aforementioned last minute invite there was a clash between two friends who didn’t know each other and some unpleasant conflict ensued that led to a little bit of drama. Of course I came out the bad guy in all of it despite it not really being my fault.
it really “poisoned the well” for me. What was once a fun little get together with friends had now become a major headache and I felt people were taking advantage of my good nature. My patience eventually reached its limit and I decided Housecon was no more.
I’m still friends with all of Housecon’s regulars and though we live quite far apart we still keep in touch and they come over whenever they can.
Ian’s legacy lives on through the Housecon gang and his dream of a wider circle of friends who all appreciate Japanese culture, particularly anime and manga has now been realised. If only he had been here to see how things changed in that regard. He also wouldn’t believe how far anime fandom has come. His mind would have been blown by streaming services, simulcasts and the current huge presence of anime in UK cinemas.
In addition to Ian Plant and the housecon gang I now have found great otaku friends within the Twitter community.
I can honestly say after twenty four years of fandom that I have never been quite as enthused as I am today and it’s all down to the wonderful group of fans I know in person and those who I have yet to meet. Even if you aren’t mentioned here you all know who you are.
To anyone who may be reading this who is struggling with dark thoughts and depression remember there are people who care about you, it may not feel like it at this moment in time but please don’t suffer through this alone. Speak to someone about it, it doesn’t matter who they are. I certainly wish Ian had.