Though she arrived on our shores only four short years ago from her home in Japan’s Yamaguchi prefecture, singing and dancing dynamo Reni Mimura has already made quite a name for herself in the Big Apple. She has performed all over town, on NY8 TV, and as a featured act at Asian Power! Summer Festival in Queens.
Reni-Reni, as she nicknames herself on her website, blends the related anime subcultures of J-Pop (vocals performing hits from Japan’s world-famous, Anime-crazed entertainment industry) and Cosplay, a related trend in which otherwise ordinary folk transform themselves into whatever animated, video game or comics character they are obsessed with through the magic of hand-crafted costumes.
Reni’s performance and event schedule at shows and comic conventions nationwide tends to be packed, but I managed to get her to sit still for an email interview recently to explain just how she managed to break into New York’s tough music scene.
beejmckay: Hi Reni! Thanks for responding. So, where are you from?
Reni Mimura: Reni came from the future!!\(>w<)/. 13 hours ahead of the United States, from a place called Japan!
What exactly do you do as a J-Pop singer, for people who might not know?
People say Reni is a “J-pop singer,” or Japanese Pop singer.
J-pop coexists with Anime, Japanese Animation, games and the internet. These days, there are more and more followers of Japanese Anime and games in the U.S. I think that’s the main reason why my activities are getting a lot of attention.
My music is 100% POSITIVE Electro music. One of my events that I organize is a famous Japanese “Maid” cafe style event where everybody can enjoy being an idol of their own imagination by wearing costumes and participating in the show! This, in Japanese term, we call “COSPLAY”.
If you go to any of Anime conventions which you can find anywhere in the U.S., you will know what I am talking about. In my events, people enjoy being in virtual reality – a fantasy world, away from reality for a while. I think it’s a very futuristic concept!!
How do you incorporate dance into your show?
Reni has a strength in dancing because I’ve been formally trained since I was seven years old. Singing and dancing together with costumes is my artistic style. I change my costume often. By doing that I transform from one persona to the other.
Reni, being Japanese, would like to introduce this whole new concept to people in the U.S. I like to have fun with it and share love and joy. (^w^)v
Who are your fans in New York City?
Reni calls my fans Angels. I have about 20,000 Angels worldwide. And since I started a event called Japanese “Maid” Cafe and Show in New York in 2009, a lot of angels are in and around NYC. I have an average of 70 to 100 people coming to my show every month in NY now.
I am glad people find my concept interesting. After my activities were spread by word of mouth, I started to be invited to Anime conventions across the U.S. I have been to Boston, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, and so on.
Also, I was featured in a Japanese fashion TV program, so many people who are into Japanese fashion became my Angels. Since it’s hard for me to physically go everywhere my Angels live, I interact them on my website, www.ReniReni.com and Facebook.
What are your costumes based on (Anime characters, comics characters?)
I have established my own character, a “Maid” outfit with bunny ears. Maids represents cures and healing, but I added bunny ears because I think it’s simply cute!
Why do you think Cosplay has become so popular?
The Internet generation is very shy. Actually, I am also shy as a person. By dressing in costume, you can be whatever character you want.
Have you ever experienced this? If you wear something different, people treat you differently. You also feel different and act differently. For example, if you wear a hero costume, you’ll be strong instantly. Can you believe Reni?
I hope that the fashion industry adapts more of Cosplay culture.(^^)
Who are your favorite characters to dress up as?
My favorite character is Sailor Moon. I used to wear this costume in my acting classes while I was in Japan. I made the costume by myself(^^)
Sailor Moon is cute but strong, and I like the tension between the two.
What do people not understand about J-Pop and Cosplay?
Cosplay culture in Japan tells you that no matter how old you are, you can be as unreal and fantastic as you want. It’s so hard to do in this society, but please, do not forget about the innocent mind in you.
Since you are leaving behind your original persona for a while, you are also leaving behind whatever you are taught is “important” in reality – like competing against other people. You just simply imagine what you want to be, and you become that one. Just know who you are (^w^)
Who was your craziest fan and why?
My Angels all have good manners! But taking pictures of all the moves that Reni makes on stage might be strange to general people in the U.S. (^w^)v
My Angels protect me all the time. I’m soooo lucky to have met them(*w*) I believe in my Angels, who support Reni all the way. \(>w<)/
What have been your favorite places to sing in New York City?
Even though I have performed in some very famous clubs and live music halls in New York – like Arlene’s Grocery, Living Room, Sullivan Hall, and so on – I love to perform in unique places, like art spaces/galleries, cafes, and even museums. I think it goes well with my style. (^0^)/
What was your favorite show in New York?
That’s very easy! Reni’s Maid Cafe and Show!! I enjoy being in a fantasy world and interacting with my Angels.
When you enter the cafe in the West Village, the Maids will greet you by saying, “Welcome home my Master and Princess.” (*w*)v. And you will always be treated as “Masters” and “Princesses” by the Maids.
Now I’ve added a Reni’s Maid Cafe & Show in Boston and D.C. every month, so if you are around those areas, please COME BY…!
Thank you for support!!(^0^)/
Reni is looking forward to seeing you!
Thank you Reni!
(In addition to her semi-regular Maid Cafe & Shows at the Amber Village in Manhattan, Reni can be seen on her very own UStream show every other Tuesday here, and she’ll be performing at the upcoming 52nd Annual Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 14th.)
Long Way from El Dorado: A Profile of Journalist Elisabeth Butler Cordova
by Benjamin J Spencer
Crain’s New York Business senior Web news producer Elisabeth Cordova seems to regret few things about leaving El Dorado.
She would, however, have liked to take advantage of the “El Dorado Promise” – a college scholarship fund for residents set up by Murphy Oil, the major employer of the small city in the far southeast of Arkansas, where she grew up in a trailer park. Her father was a beat cop and the DARE officer of the town, her mother worked long hours at the hospital admitting room, and she had a half-brother and two younger sisters to boot, so she could have used a little financial help. But the program didn’t start until 1997, a year after she had graduated from tiny Parker’s Chapel High School (graduating class: 46 students).
Cordova got to college anyway, five hours away in Fayetteville. “I went as far north in the state as I could without leaving,” she says.
At first, she says, she had no clue what she wanted to do. Luckily, the University of Arkansas’s Fayetteville campus happened to have a great journalism program, and by the time senior year rolled around Cordova, who had done mostly creative writing up until college, knew that it was for her. She immediately sent in her first internship application to the offices of Southern Living in Birmingham, Alabama.
“I just assumed I’d be working in magazines, right? Because that’s what you do,” she laughs.
Southern Living rejected her application. Cordova hadn’t known that the internship was for another trade publication owned by the magazine’s publisher, and it specialized in a topic that at the time, she knew little about: cooking.
Bummed, she relied on the advice of her advisor Patsy Watkins – the first in a series of important figures who would help shape her future – and took a job with Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, a small publication with a newsroom stuffed full of former sports writers. This turned out to be fortuitous.
“Sports reporters make good business writers,” says Cordova, “because they can turn boring statistics into a human story.”
The clubhouse atmosphere must have made an impression as well, because she stayed until the editors gave her a small business column of her own. After two years she’d made Associate Editor. But then, a long-term relationship crumbled and she knew the time had come to say goodbye to the Gem State.
“I got my heart broken in Arkansas,” she says ruefully. “I had to leave. I just could not stand to see my old life driving around in my old truck.”
Rootless for the first time in her life and not caring much where she settled, Cordova consulted the AABP list and picked 10 different cities throughout the U.S. with well-regarded independent business journals. Then she blasted a volley of applications to all four corners of the country – “even Hawaii,” she says. She got a response from City Business in New Orleans and moved immediately.
But covering business in New Orleans proved slightly more challenging than in northern Arkansas.
“I was in way over my head in New Orleans,” Cordova recalls. “I almost left and went back to Fayetteville.”
Her old job still awaited. All she’d need to do was say the word and she’d be hailed as a returning hero (partly, she says, because she had done the work of three people at the NABJ, commandeering graphics, editing and reporting).
But that didn’t happen. Instead, the second of her big helpers came through – her City Business managing editor, Keith Brannon, who convinced her to stay and tough it out. “He helped me become a better business writer,” she says of Brannon.
So Cordova rallied. She went on to a two-year stint at City Business, eventually helping the journal establish its first Web department. And again, fate intervened. She had a falling-out with a “terrible” editor, “the worst boss I have ever worked for”, she says.
This time she had a plan.
Cordova had friends who had moved to New York, including a former colleague, Keith Pandolfi, and somehow they were making it. And she was well aware of the reputation of Crain’s New York Business: at the New Orleans and Fayetteville journals, she says, the journal “had always been held up as a standard” for clear, in-depth reporting and graphic presentation.
“I wrote [then Crain’s editor] Greg David an absolutely glowing letter,” she says.
David contacted her shortly and told her to give him a call when she got into town. Elated, Cordova moved – and ended up selling soap in Herald Square for three months. The journal had no openings. She could have gone into public relations, as many struggling writers did. But then she thought better of it.
“I know a lot of good journalists who’ve gone into P.R.,” she says. “And you just can’t come back from it. Once someone has paid you to write what they want you to say, it’s hard to look credible as a journalist anymore.”
“They do pay better, though,” she laughs.
Finally, luck was on her side, and she landed a six-week freelance gig filling in for a health care reporter on a leave of absence. When the reporter unexpectedly returned a week early, she says, “it was a bit awkward.”
“All of my stuff was at her desk. I was kind of like, ‘Hi, I’ve been filling in for you!” she laughs. But she was determined not to leave just yet. “I just sort of moved everything to a different desk nearby,” she says, and waited to hear from David. And when the journal’s fashion reporter left unexpectedly, she was there to take over.
She stayed on the fashion desk for the next three and a half years. The beat culminated in one of the best scoops of her reporting career, when she anticipated in a story that fashion icon Liz Claiborne would be completely reorganizing her empire. And it was during this time, in 2005, that she met her husband, John Cordova, with whom she now has a one-year-old daughter, Olivia. The two are expecting their second child in October.
She and her husband never would never have met, she says, if her friend Keith Pandolfi had been a bit less hung-over. She, Pandolfi and two other New Orleans friends were scheduled to meet for a brunch at Prune in the Lower East Side. Pandolfi cancelled, and one spot at their table unexpectedly opened up. “John was there by himself,” she says, and the place was packed.
“I just thought, ‘that guy’s never going to get to eat,” she remembers. So she invited him to dine with she and her friends.
Her altruism paid off. It turned out they were a perfect match. John was a line cook at Le Bernardin, the famous fish spot, and an aspiring chef. Cordova loved to try new restaurants and occasionally cooked for her friends. A year and a half later, they were married and living in Brooklyn, where they are on their fourth apartment. The two recently returned to Prune for the fifth anniversary of their meeting.
Spending the last four years helping create and edit news, video and graphics for the Web – she was just promoted to senior news editor last January – Cordova has learned a few things about what makes good business news.
“I was really intimidated by business journalism at first. I knew nothing about business,” she says.
But she’ll always remember a lesson she learned as a rookie reporter covering small, local companies, years ago, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“The best business reporters,” she says, “get at the people behind the numbers.”
Aaron Shapiro’s work life is not simply paperless; it’s downright nomadic. The chief executive of HUGE, a digital marketing and design agency, doesn’t even have an office in the firm’s Brooklyn headquarters.
“I just have my laptop. That’s all I need, right?” he said from the company’s expansive Web design floor.
Mr. Shapiro’s overriding management directive: “Make something you love.”
His approach wins major clients. HUGE redesigned websites for CNN and Reuters and spearheaded the Web design of Pepsi’s novel Refresh campaign, which reallocated $20 million in funds intended for Super Bowl advertising to fund community initiatives.
Mr. Shapiro sold HUGE for close to $40 million to The Interpublic Group of Cos., a global network of marketing agencies, in 2008. The corporate backing allowed the married father of two to raise $10 million for a major international expansion, which started last year.
Adding to the string of achievements, Online Media, Marketing and Advertising magazine dubbed HUGE the social media agency of 2010. And Advertising Age recently named Mr. Shapiro’s firm to its A-List of hot agencies to watch, for the second straight year.
“Aaron’s incredibly driven and very, very relentless,” said Philippe Krakowsky, head of talent and strategy at Interpublic. “He’s always projecting himself to the next place.”
Indeed. HUGE had nine employees when Mr. Shapiro joined in 2005 as a business and strategy partner. By the time he became CEO last year, the firm boasted 300 employees and had offices in London and Brazil. Profits jumped by 50% in each of the past three years, topping $60 million in 2010. HUGE e-commerce platforms such as Target.com and JetBlue.com help generate some $12 billion in revenue for clients worldwide.
Usually it’s not a great thing when your memory of the first time you met someone person is inseparable from a terrible, gag-inducing stink. But with Mitch Waxman, it comes with the territory.
A lifelong New York City resident, Waxman is an indie comic-book artist, photographer, advertising retoucher, prolific blogger and self-taught expert on Newtown Creek. In recent years, he has taken upon himself the task of giving curious visitors to the fetid, horribly polluted East River tributary a uniquely grand ecologic-historic tour. The experience is eye-opening – and often nose-wrinkling.
“You smell it?” Waxman asks as we approach a major combined sewer outfall at Maspeth Creek. He turns his face toward my friend Steven and me, his dark beard peppered with gray. I can only nod and try to keep from breathing in. “Come here in the summer, brother. Holy God!” he says, cackling.
“The funny thing is, this is actually what I do for exercise,” he says later as we hoof it past the Maspeth Creek tributary. “A lot of people run through parks. I walk through toxic waste dumps.”
Despite that less-than-glowing appraisal of the Environmental Protection Agency’s newest Superfund remediation site, Waxman’s infectious love of this area shines through. Pointing out the sights as he strides along – sidestepping refuse and muck, black trench coat flapping, digital SLR camera ever at the ready – he gleefully delves into the kind of gasp-inducing history that most communities would rather paper over.
One complication for future EPA dredgers, Waxman says, could be the tendency in the past century for waterfront gangs and organized crime to use Newtown as a dumping area for their – um – internal problems.
“You know,” says Waxman. “I have a bunch of friends who are on the job, and they say they’re gonna be pulling bodies out of this. This is gonna solve like half of New York’s murders.” (“On the job” means police officers.)
Of all the landmarks in New York City to develop a fascination – bordering on obsession – with, Newtown Creek might seem an odd choice. But Waxman has a fierce interest in all things neglected, misunderstood, or conveniently forgotten by the powers-that-be.
“It’s the kind of place which strains your sense of the real,” Waxman says of the creek. “The history of the watershed is so tremendous. So over the top. It’s just a magnetic, terrible, beautiful place which is largely unknown. And right in the dead- bang center of New York City.”
Waxman knows a lot about New York City, most of which he can recite from memory with the same casual ease as one might read from a newspaper. Though he now lives in Astoria, Queens, Waxman grew up in Canarsie and Flatbush in Brooklyn, the grandson of Jewish-Russian immigrants who fled persecution in Europe in the early part of the past century.
“My uncles fought in World War I, my dad in Korea, my cousins in Vietnam,” he says. His grandfather, he says, fought in France during WWI as well – though, as it turns out, he didn’t quite join up out of the usual swell of patriotism.
“Funny story,” Waxman says. “My grandfather got off the boat at Ellis Island. And a guy in a very nice set of clothes with a really nice haircut says to him, ‘Son, you wanna be an American?’ My grandfather goes, “Yes. I want to be an American.” So the guy says, ‘Sign here’. My grandfather signed. The guy says, ‘Welcome to the United States Army!’ And he didn’t even get to go into New York. They put him on a boat, they sent him back. He did basic (training) on the boat.”
Waxman pauses. “You know, all Jewish humor comes down to bein’ a schmuck. And that’s a classic schmuck story.”
Waxman himself narrowly avoided death, though perhaps not in quite such a dramatic fashion. After a very close call with his health seven years ago (chronicled by Waxman himself on the comics website, www.weirdass.net), Waxman started walking around the neighborhood for exercise.
“I found the creek,” remembers Waxman. “I started looking into it, you know, started researching it – and Holy God, it’s the classic puddle, you know. You go to touch it and you go in up to your shoulder.”
Mitch Waxman likes to take the curious on tours of Newtown Creek. Photo by Steven McCann c/o Shearwater Films
That love of mysterious history informs his non-creek work, as well.
When I suggest, on the evidence of his blog posts and comic-book artwork, that he might have a minor obsession with the early 20th century cult writer H.P. Lovecraft, he scoffs.
“Minor? You haven’t been reading carefully enough. The guy was a genius who ‘saw’ the 20th Century and did very, very careful research. There’s a million little things he opined about that modern science is just proving.”
True to Lovecraftian form, Waxman’s comics, drawn mainly between the late 1980s and 2008, are replete with monsters, sci-fi mash-ups of history and mythology, and fedora-wearing gumshoe heroes. In his first major series, “Plasma Baby,” a four-issue black and white that he created while studying under comic visionaries such as Will Eisner at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, he explored his fascination with the ancient Aztecs.
“They were clipped out of history just as they were attaining their apex,” he says of the Aztecs. “The analogy I always use is, imagine if Caligula’s Rome just disappeared one day, an entire culture at the apogee of their civilization, just gone.”
All very academic – but of course, this being Waxman’s “baby”, as it were, there is a twist. In this version of history, after 400 years of exile the Aztecs seek revenge on the world that deposed them by calling up a monster-sized infant formed of pure plasma to wreak havoc. The series’ subtitle is “Vengeance of the Aztecs.”
Another of Waxman’s projects was “The Starry Ones,” a long-running 3-D online comic written by Ancram Hudson, illustrated by Waxman and serialized on the pair’s website, www.weirdass.net). Remarkably, Waxman and Hudson created an original, wildly colorful multi-panel entry nearly every week for 173 weeks (2000-2003), detailing an original universe of warring alien empires and mystical gods – complete with esoteric references to real ancient cultures and technologies.
For over 20 years Waxman has been involved in just about every aspect of comics – production, publishing, writing and drawing. But he says as he grew older, the long hours, low pay and sedentary nature of the work became more and more oppressive. As he puts it, the comics industry “eats its young and isn’t interested in its old.” And after he became, as he says, “fat and sick” seven years ago, he realized that the rigors of comic art had taken a dangerous toll on his mental and physical health.
“Comics is a really insular life,” he explains. “You stay home and you draw fuckin’ Spiderman for 18 hours a day.”
At the same time, he says, the work is so sedentary that “your muscle tone turns to jelly. And it’s one of those things – you’re alone all the time, you’re sitting in front of the board. It makes you crazy.”
So, the last few panels Waxman drew in 2008 for weirdass.net might be his “swan song” in comics – at least for now.
But it is simply not in Waxman’s nature to sit on his laurels. He immediately relaunched himself in photography, freelance advertising, walking tours, and regular activities with the non-profit Newtown Creek Alliance, where, he jokes on his blog, he fulfills a role not unlike that of “Gleek the supermonkey” from the 1970’s cartoon show “Superfriends” – “often used as comic relief”. He started several blogs, the most renowned of which is the Newtown Pentacle www.newtownpentacle.com). The site is a showcase both of Waxman’s peculiarly compelling urban landscape photography, and of his exhaustive historical research into New York City’s most sordid characters and events – along with stream-of-consciousness direct from his own fertile (okay, morbid) inner mind.
Waxman recently published a photo and history book chronicling the Newtown Creek area (“Newtown Creek for the Morbidly Curious) and a compendium of the first six months of his and Hudson’s “The Starry Ones” comics saga. As if all this weren’t enough, Waxman and his Newtown Creek Alliance cohort, Bernard Ente, lead frequent boat tours up the creek, and are slated to head up a Centennial celebration walk over the Hunter’s Point Avenue Bridge on Dec. 11.
“This is all part of our ‘getting away with murder’ thing me and him do,” says Waxman of his and Ente’s exploits. He laughs. “We were parade marshals twice last year!”
All in all, it hasn’t been a bad recovery for Mitch Waxman.
“You know something?” he says. “I’m lucky. In midstream, I actually found something new I’m very interested in, and it’s led to a whole new group of people that I never thought I’d be meeting. So, you know. It’s cool.”