HobbyCon is a big event for hobbyists in Sabah. It’s the 7th year it is being held. Who is behind this event and how it gets started? Find out more in the latest features by Team ILoveSabah.
What is your name and your role in HobbyCon? How it all started?
My name is Johan Julian Lee. I am one of the founder, president of the event Hobbycon, the organizer.
Hobbycon was started in 2007. At that time I was working with Sabah Tourism. There was a forum called Click Start Play, a Sabahan forum to imitate Lowyat forum for buying and selling things online. But not much buying and selling happens. People used the forum to talk about their hobbies. I myself played a lot of card games: Magic The Gathering, Warhammer; and a bit of computer games. I also liked manga, cartoon, and comics. In the forum, we saw cosplay coming up, then console gamers, and high tech computer games. We even had manga drawing artists in the forum. We had so many hobbies out there in Kota Kinabalu, but everybody don’t dare to show up. People would say you are crazy when you dress up in cosplay. I realized that we actually understand each other even though we don’t have the same hobby. We appreciate each other. Therefore I contacted the forum owner and said why don’t we host this event together. We used Asia City for the first HobbyCon. That was the first time everybody came together. We had a small group, maybe like 100 to 200. It was how it started.
In 2008 we did it again.
Then in 2009 me and the original co-founder from the forum had a bit of disagreement, so we went our own ways. I took the event together with my wife. The 2 of us started the 3rd HobbyCon at City Mall. We basically revamped the entire system. We introduced the cosplay competition for solo and group. We also introduced booth system for people to have a proper way to display themselves.
This went on to the 5th year at Suria Sabah where we met other people from similar events like the KYAN!ME from Sarawak Kuching. We made a network with them. We also made our own effort to go to events like the Malaysian Toy, Games & Comic Convention(MTGCC), Anime Festival Asia(AFA), Comic Fiesta(CF). These are the big ones in Malaysia and around. We met a lot of Japanese ambassadors and other hobbyists on Yoyo, GUNPLA(Gundam Plastic Model). We bring them to HobbyCon. Whatever systems we learnt that we think useful, we would incorporate it to Sabah HobbyCon. We had the first guest Japanese Seiyuu (voice actor) came to perform and play card games with the crowd. It’s the first time this happened in KK.
In 2012, we ran the 6th HobbyCon back at City Mall.
Now we are doing a 7th year at the Likas Sports Complex. One of the criteria for us as organizer is: it must be better than previous one. Though we don’t have a Japanese Seiyuu this year, the other parts of the event have to be better though. We need funding and money, so this year we are incorporating a ticketing system. We have more activities, better LED screens as backdrop, guests coming from Philippines and Singapore. We are also gathering the entire Malaysian 501st Starwars group. Even the Brunei branch is coming. We will have one of the biggest 501 assembly, 14 of them. They will be around on the first day of HobbyCon for the All-Star March In. On the second day they will be there to take pictures with fans. We try to do HobbyCon to be not too anime-related, because Starwars is more like a western pop culture. As HobbyCon means convention of any lifestyle hobby that you like, we try not to host it specifically for anime and manga related hobbies; but also gaming, dancing, Yoyo and pop cultures.
We do this partly to re-educate the public that some of these things are not wrong. They are just misunderstood. People who like to do this have certain skills. Back in the first year in HobbyCon we had someone who joined us and later became an animator in Kuala Lumpur. We also have one lady who is quite popular now, cosplaying for Hong Kong Tourism AFA cosplay event. Our local girl Joanna, another cosplayer from Sabah, is now famous even in Europe and America. When doing these, they learn tailor-ship. They learn how to use crafting arts and Papier Mâché for armours costumes. It is related to movie industry, because props need these things. Slowly when people get good with their crafts and when you allow them to expose and do it, they actually get better. They could make a career out of it. We want to tell the public there is nothing wrong with it. We are providing an output and a platform for these people to grow their hobbies. We see the potential of them becoming industry and professions, which is happening slowly. It just needs to have a proper guide to it.
What kind of tricks or mentality that you used to get the generally shy and passive Sabahan into joining HobbyCon?
Surprisingly it is not that difficult because Sabahan in general are much more acceptable of things. ACG (anime, comic, games) cultures are harder to gain parents and ministry support in the West Malaysia. But in Sabah, when we did the 3rd HobbyCon in 2009, we brought this lifestyle to the ministry first, and they accepted it. The ministry supported, endorsed and sponsored us. We have supports from the Ministry Of Community Development & Consumer Affairs, the Ministry of Youth & Sports, the Ministry of Resource Development & IT(KPSKTM), and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture & Environment(KePKAS). We are a little bit more lucky, because Sabah people are more supportive in this. How i decided to make HobbyCon different is that, I wanted the ministry and government to support this event. In West Malaysia the same events are mostly private funded by big companies. No doubt they are trying to do the same event. But I feel that with ministry supports, it is opening up different things to the community, and a very different way of growing it. Those are some of the differences that how we in HobbyCon trying to make it acceptable among the public.
Tell us more about yourself.
Currently I am a graphic design lecturer at Jesselton College in City Mall, in the morning. In the afternoon and evening, I do private training or teach kickboxing at my gym at Kinabalu Fighters. I still organize events for example: the Redbull B-Boys Championship, the Redbull Race, the Borneo Fighting Championship. I like to get myself involved in events that are youth related and youth lifestyles. I guess I like to work with young people. How I translate is that: whatever things in hobby or passion that I like, I make it into an event, because I am quite sure that there are people who like the same thing. That is what I usually do.
What was your first hobby and the first HobbyCon-like event that you went to?
My first obscured hobby I got into was Magic The Gathering card games during form 3. Or one could say it was Doraemon comic that I read in primary school. During form 4 or 5, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer 40k table-top games. I don’t play those anymore but I still like to keep in touch with people who play these to make them grow.
Was it your ambition to host something like HobbyCon since young?
I never thought of hosting it. I was just thinking: how come Sabah don’t have? I really love to go to one.
Does that make you organize HobbyCon?
Half and half. When I was in the Click Start Play forum, I figured that people would host local events for themselves. I thought why not we give it a try to get all these people together. It was not planned, but just something that made sense to do it. So it’s half of “Why not?” and half of “How come we don’t have this?” combined. It’s like if something is not there, you just make it there, loh.
Any advice for young people who are passionate about something or wanted to start an event about their hobby?
In regards to young people about their passion, I think a balance is very important. As much as you want to be very into your passion, you cannot forget the reality. If you are studying, you need to finish your study. You need to finish your SPM or your college work. During your free time, engage in your hobby. When you are in your hobby, you need to be passionate about it. There is no doubt a lot of people are going to give you a lot of negative things. I know for fact that, a lot of people who just entered into a lot of hobbies, whether in cosplay or drawing or whatever, other people will always try to demotivate them. The parents will try to say something to them, maybe their friends, even the competitors of the same hobby. Don’t listen to them. You have to be able to put your focus into what is important. When we host our hobbies, you are going to get a lot of rumors. You are going to get a lot of people who don’t like you. Not just your hobbies, but just you for being you. So don’t bother with that. You have to put your time into things that really matters. They will say “this hobby is disgusting” or “this event is going fail”. Don’t bother, lah. Just do what you think is necessary to get things done. Stick to a team of positive people that will get things done, not those who just talk a lot. Sometimes you might have friends or team member that is a bit annoying. But if they are sincere and want to get things done, please stick with them. Remember, whether it’s a hobby or whether you are running an event, you need to get a good team, a very good support system.
What do you love about Sabah?
I love Sabah for its diversity. 36 different races all with almost different cultures, but can stay together in one same roof. Whatever different culture, belief, religion or skin colors we have, we are still one. I hope we stay that way.