Manga Planet interviewed Andreas Degen, one of the two CEOs of AkibaDreams GmbH and Chairman of DoKomi, one of the biggest and most popular Japanese content conventions in Germany. In this interview, Mr. Degen gives us his thoughts on anime, manga and the evolution of the event DoKomi, how it came to be what it is today.
First, can you please give me more details about yourself?
Andreas: My name is Andreas Degen, I’m now 32 years old. I live in Bonn, in the western part of Germany, which is close to Cologne and Dusseldorf. I’m now the Chairman of DoKomi, one of the two CEOs. My colleague and friend, Benjamin Schulte and I are part of the founding team and are the only ones left of the founding team. We have been running the event for now over 10 years and would like to continue to do so. Career-wise, Benjamin was in the IT sector; he’s a software developer and I was in the economic sector but we both changed from our main jobs to work for DoKomi full time.
Oh, so you’re working full time for DoKomi?
Andreas: We had to decide one day what we should do because it was too much work to do both our day jobs and DoKomi so we decided to work full time for DoKomi.
When did you start working full time for DoKomi?
Andreas: Since 2016. It’s not too long ago actually. We started mostly as volunteers and up to this date are very volunteer-based in our organization, we currently have more than 60 helper volunteers at the event.
When did you get interested in Japanese culture, anime, and manga?
Andreas: In 2001, the Pokémon hype came in and it was the first anime that I saw. It was in 2001, too, (I was 14 at the time) that I discovered Neon Genesis Evangelion and it was the first non-child-oriented anime that I saw. Before that, I only knew Pokémon and Digimon. It was then I discovered that this was a genre of its own, that this was what anime is and I liked it.
Did you watch it in German? In English?
Andreas: In German actually, Neon Genesis Evangelion was aired on cable TV back then.
I see. How about manga? What was the manga title you read for the first time or the most memorable manga for you?
Andreas: The first manga I have ever bought was Volume 1 of D.N. Angel, by Yukiru Sugisaki, back in 2001. As for my favorite manga, that’s very difficult for me to decide since I read more manga than watching anime.
Really? That’s nice. How about a manga that has impacted your life?
Andreas: Impacted my life? I have to admit I read a lot from the boys’ love genre but I also like Kuroshitsuji and Shingeki no Kyojin. I also read Tennis no Oujisama. I try to stay updated nowadays but it’s really difficult because only the first few volumes of Tennis no Oujisama are published in Germany.
How did you read D.N.Angel? In print in German language or English?
Andreas: Yes, in print in German.
I see that they have German manga available in normal bookstores in your country.
Andreas: Yes, well they’re mostly available in comic book stores nowadays but also in normal [laughs], in other bookstores. More general bookstores.
Besides manga and anime, what other kinds of Japanese content did you consume?
Andreas: There’s Japanese music of course. Both Benny and I are big fans of Japanese fashion. So when we go to Japan, we go and shop for fashion stuff and cute stuff.
Oh! That’s why you had Putumayo in your convention?
Andreas: Yes, we are very happy to have worked and collaborated with Putumayo a couple of years ago and I’m very sad that the brand is no longer around.
Is there a manga title that you’re into right now? Like a manga title that you can’t stop reading? For example, there’s a worldwide boom in interest for the Kimetsu no Yaiba manga right now.
Andreas: I haven’t seen it yet but I have heard a lot of good stuff about it. There’s one manga which I found cute. I think it was first published in German but it was illustrated and written by a Japanese mangaka. It was published by TokyoPop back then. It’s called Grimms Manga Tales by Kei Ishiyama, an adaptation of the Grimm’s fairy tales in manga format. It’s extremely cute and I loved the character designs and I even cosplayed one of the characters. When I think of a manga title that is special to me, this one comes to mind.
The next question is about your event. So you’ve mentioned Japan’s Comiket before and I would like to ask how did you start DoKomi?
Andreas: Actually, back then we just went and said: “Let’s start a convention” [laughs]. Like we were six friends together in a park, and we had different ideas of what we would like to see at a convention. For example, back then there weren’t any maid cafes in conventions, which is one of the reasons why our mascots are maids and hosts because we are the first ones in Germany to create a maid cafe in a convention.
But were there conventions already before you started DoKomi?
Andreas: Yes, there were other events before but we just had to try something new and bring innovation to the convention scene. So we said we wanted to do something and we just did, kind of. We started knowing nothing about it and ended up learning a lot in the process. Although during the first time the planning was a bit of a challenge and it turned out better than we expected. It is interesting to note that we initially planned for 300 people during the first event, but 1,800 people came! It was a challenge for us since we had to change the date and the location during the first year so that we could accommodate the number of guests. That was a huge challenge and was very problematic but it still turned out well. People liked the event and wanted to come again and we ended up getting overwhelmed because more and more visitors were coming. We just wanted to have enough space for the incoming people that’s why we had to change venues.
How many people were the founding members of DoKomi?
Andreas: The founding members were about six but it came quickly down to 2-3, which includes Benny and me, within two years.
How many main staff members do you currently have?
Andreas: Right now, we have around 600 volunteer staff at the event. Of those, there are like 40 or 45 organizers who handle each of the departments. By now, there is a small office team of around 7-8 people, including Benny and me.
Are they doing this full time as well?
Andreas: Actually, only Benny and me can do this full time right now. We have staff members who come in once to thrice a week to do certain tasks that need to be taken care of.
I think you’re covering a lot of content but which part of your event grew the largest over the years?
Andreas: The Artist Alley I would say. We grew from 10 booths to 700 and back then charging a euro for an illustration was something that was frowned upon. Now it’s a legitimate business for many artists. The maid cafe also got very popular; we now have 40 maids at the event cafe. It’s now a challenge for attendees to get in because there is just not enough space for everyone. The third one would be the Cosplay Ball, which is a form of dress ball that’s extremely popular. For example, for next year’s event, we sold the tickets in October and the Cosplay Ball was sold out in one minute.
Wow! How many people is that?
Andreas: 1,500 people. It’s extremely popular. We focus on many different aspects but those three are some of the biggest.
What’s the current manga trend in Germany?
Andreas: I think one of the major interest groups would be BL (Boys’ Love). Because there’s a largely female audience for that one. The second place would be action manga that is a little bit ecchi but is focused more on the action. Also, Goblin Slayer seems to be rather popular in Germany.
Have you noticed any differences between Japanese manga fans and German manga fans?
Andreas: In Germany, we have more female fans, it used to be 60-40 or 70-30 but now the gap is pretty much even, with 50-50 for both males and females, but leaning towards more females. In Japan, it seems to me that there are way more male fans of anime and manga than there are females. I think that is one of the key differences.
Can you talk more about your event? When was your event held this year?
Andreas: On the 7th and 8th of June, this year.
How was your event? How many people visited?
Andreas: We grew a lot. We expected that there will be 50,000 visitors for 2 days. We got around 55,000 which is 10% more than we expected. It was very well received. We have been nominated and won the most popular convention in the country three times in a row. We hope that we can achieve it a fourth time.
I think you’ve mentioned that you have invited manga artists before. How was the reception of Japanese manga artists at the event?
Andreas: Very well. Manga artists are one of the most popular guests our audiences want to invite. People loved it when we invited Japanese manga artists and even some American ones! We also invite Japanese music artists like fhána, Shiena Nishizawa and Yasutaka Nakata. The idol group named MeseMoa., who originated from the Twitter community, also came again. We have also invited a lot of popular cosplayers throughout the years.
Given the size of your events, how do you promote manga at your events?
Andreas: There’s mainly the manga publishers, Carlsen and Egmont, also TokyoPop, at the event.
There are booths in the event for these publishers? How about industry panels?
Andreas: Mainly booths at the moment but we are working on the industry panel part. We have not had these panels due to time and space constraints in the past.
So what’s your future plans for your events?
Andreas: We want to bring more Japanese content to DoKomi. We want to improve the quality of the content of the expo, and of course, we want our audience to grow but naturally, quality comes first before quantity. We need to grow organically and create a great experience for everyone attending.
Thank you so much for sharing that. Can you give us your thoughts on the services Manga Planet and futekiya?
Andreas: I think they are very interesting and these are legal alternatives to being able to read manga which might not have been published in Germany and might not be able to be published in Germany due to the large volume of manga being published in Japan every year. That’s a lot. So this is a service which gives a legal alternative and is a way of bringing more Japanese content to Germany as well.
Thank you for that. Lastly, what is “manga” for you?
Andreas: It’s kind of a lifestyle because if you like anime, manga and Japanese music, there’s a whole community behind it, a huge community and it always feels like a family. I’ve grown up with it. We socialize through this channel through our mutual love of Japanese content, whatever that may be. It has grown like a big family for me. This family is more than just about consumption, it’s a backbone for an awesome new culture that gets a very sympathetic and likable community. It is a way to express themselves and it is very valuable. It’s a very different culture to understand from the outside but if anyone who is a manga fan, who has been one for a long time, knows what I’m talking about.
That concludes our interview. Thank you for your time, Andreas!
If you’re interested in reading more of Manga Planet’s interviews, be sure to read our exclusive interviews with former Production I.G. scriptwriter Yasunori Kasuga, The Golden Age of Decadence artist Yutsuki Inumura, After School! artist Umiharu, Kou Oushirou of MANGA.CLUB, and the RAYZ OF LIGHT Rōdoku Geki Cast.
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