'Art of Akira' exhibit blows anime fans’ minds around the world

Joe Peacock probably owns more singular pieces of art from "Akira" – including production cels and layout sketches – than any other person on the planet.

His collection includes more than 15,000 of the ballpark 300,000 pieces of art that comprised Katsuhiro Otomo's 1988 film. And lucky for you, he's not hording them for his solitary viewing pleasure. Peacock organized his collection into the "Art of Akira" exhibit, and this weekend he has set up shop at Dragon*Con.

Peacock has crisscrossed the globe with his exhibit, learning firsthand how the movie that influenced him (not only does he collect Akira cels, he chooses to tattoo the art of Akira on his own body) has influenced people everywhere.

"Art of Akira" features roughly 120 pieces, 30 of which are debuting at Dragon*Con. Peacock's devotion to the film has made him into an expert on the topic: He's also on the "Western invasion of Anime!" panel and is hosting a screening and commentary of "Akira," both happening Saturday evening.

As excited as this makes Peacock, it’s a big deal for people who come to see the show as well.

“By far, the most common comment we get is "Thank you for bringing this here!" Peacock said.

“The people who come to the exhibit fall into one of three categories: Passers-by who are curious about all this brightly-colored paint on clear film, the artistic community, and hardcore Akira / animation fans and artists. The artists are of course completely enthralled with the art - it's truly a technical marvel of artistic ability.”

“Akira fans, almost invariably, come to our information table and begin talking in gleeful tones about how wonderful it was to see the original art from their favorite scenes from the movie, along with "I had no idea how much work went into making that!"

So many people leave his exhibit asking where they can buy a copy of “Akira” that he’s even considered carrying copies of the DVD to shows so people can leave with the movie in their hands, he said.

That feeling seems to go both ways. Often fans of “Akira” bring Peacock gifts.

Fans have brought figurines (gachopan) and toys to the exhibit in a show of mutual admiration. Peacock has received folders full of “Akira” cels from other fans’ personal collections. He said that rather than eBay them, fans send him their cels because they know he archive and care for them.

“The comics and animation world have been so generous,” Peacock said. “I’ve received illustrations that I can sell as prints to raise funds from a good number of artists, including Mark Brooks, Cat Staggs, Tariq Hassan, Tom Feister and John Tyler Christopher, and there are more lined up for Dragon*Con and beyond.”

But the gifts that truly humble Peacock are the donations he gets to keep the show going.

“This whole endeavor comes out of my pocket, and we operate at a loss each and every show,” Peacock said. “So the donations really help offset that loss. People are so sweet and give out of the passion they have for the film and the art.”

Peacock calls “Akira” a, “once-in-a-lifetime achievement.” He doesn’t see any current anime franchises as being the heir-apparent to Otomo’s masterpiece.

“No other animated feature film has even come close to the 24 frames of original hand-painted animation per second, with such attention paid to lip syncing, technical detail in architecture and mechanical elements, color palette. The list goes on. It's truly a unique film,” he said.

That opinion is reflected in the different fans he meets through the exhibit. “Older anime fans who come to the exhibit and talk to us about the state of animation today tend to disparage today's anime culture, while young adults or teens who are into 'Akira' tend to also be into modern animation as well,” he said.

“I liken it to music - in the 90's, you had adults poo-pooing Nirvana and claiming nothing could beat Zeppelin or Floyd, while the teens just loved both bands equally. I think it's that way with every generation. We're born ready to accept and appreciate that what we know, see and love now was built upon some foundation, and we can, in some way, appreciate that foundation - Provided someone shows us! But as we age we tend to become locked into the art and culture we grew up with,” he said.

This year, aside from the new range of cels on display at “Art of Akira,” fans can also see the ongoing refinement of Peacock’s personal canvas.

“The great (tattoo artist) Todo has retouched the colors and textures from my elbow to my wrist, getting us closer to the finished piece. So far, 65 hours have been put into the sleeve, and we estimate we have another 20 or so to go to finalize everything above the elbow,” Peacock said.

And he dropped a bonus for anime fans: “There is a new “Ghost in the Shell” Major Kusanagi piece on my right bicep, illustrated by the amazing Stephanie Buscema,” he said.