Con Report: AggieCon 42

So AggieCon was pretty awesome.

After all the crazy drama that was Anime Matsuri, everything about AggieCon was incredibly refreshing. The staff was fantastic. The hotel was fantastic. The other artists and dealers were fantastic. The con-goers were fantastic. As my first sci-fi/fantasy convention, I didn’t know what to expect at all, but I don’t think things could have gone better. I even ended up doing (slightly) better at AggieCon than I did at Matsuri, which is pretty hilarious considering the difference in attendance and target demographics. A lot of it was luck and chance for sure, but man, I would love to go back next year.

On the road to Aggieland~

This report is probably super boring compared to the last because I have so few complaints, but somehow, it still manages to be ~3800 words long? My bad.

AggieCon doesn’t have a separate Artist Alley and instead lumps vendors of all types into the Dealer’s Room. There is a separate Art Show, but I still have yet to do an Art Show and again decided to skip. (Really, this is mostly because I’m too lazy to get my stuff matted and framed.) I don’t mind this set-up, but it did drive in the fact that AggieCon is a pretty small con. I couldn’t find any numbers online, but considering the convention’s age, I was expecting somewhere in the vicinity of at least 1500-2000 attendees…

A week before the con, Jennifer, the Dealer’s Room head, emailed everyone with general information and reminders. Standard procedure for most, but in particular, I really appreciated that Jennifer gave her cell number to vendors and welcomed us to call her or text her, even at absurd hours of morning, if things came up, if we had issues, or if we needed help. Coming right in the middle of all that frustration with Anime Matsuri’s lack of communication, the reassurance that AggieCon would not be the same was the most welcomed thing in the world.

THURSDAY

I worked at the office Thursday and left early to drive straight to College Station… but it wasn’t early enough to avoid rush hour traffic, so getting out of downtown Houston was the biggest pain in the ass ever! It took an hour and a half to drive the first 20 miles. The second 20 miles were gone in about ten minutes. Once I was out of the city, the scenery en route to Aggieland was surprisingly pretty in that stereotypical farmland and pasture sort of way. I’ve never been to College Station before, but with the onset of spring, the grass was green, the sky was blue, and there were rolling hills with little red barns sitting on top or tucked into the light smattering of trees. It was nice.

I would have taken more pictures, but I’d left the memory card for my camera at home and could only save to internal memory, which was very limited. So… there aren’t nearly as many photos for this weekend. Sorry!

Blue and green and neat little fences.

I was bumming with fellow SCAD grad Kara Leopard for the weekend (and her roommates Callie and Billy; her (also SCAD grad) twin Whitney was in Japan for a few weeks). Finding the apartment complex was easy. Finding the individual apartment took circling around for ten minutes. But hey, then I got to meet Kara’s kitty (Marbles) and the most awesome and comfortable couch ever! I should have gotten a picture of that couch. There were like twenty pillows on it. I think there were more pillows on that couch than there are in my whole house. Couch surfing ain’t bad when you have couches like this.

Kara, Callie, and I had dinner at Fuddruckers and stopped at OfficeMax to pick up some stuff before driving to the hotel to pick up our badges and check everything out. The hotel was about a five minute drive, and the Dealer’s Room was just a short ways from the Hilton’s lobby, very easy to find. The room wasn’t too big or too small, but surprisingly comfortable, especially considering the weird mish mash of huge gridwalls and lonely, undecorated tables. Oh, did I mention that Kara was also going to be tabling at AggieCon? We had separate tables, but it was great staying with someone who was actually going to be working the convention too. (Not that my non-con artist couch providers aren’t awesome too.)

Staff was nice and we found our tables without an issue. Another cool thing about AggieCon? Dealer tables came with two badges automatically, which meant that between us, neither of Kara’s roommates would need to buy badges to help out for the weekend. :P Originally, we had planned to set up Thursday night, but we were all feeling lazy and decided to just grab our badges and set up in the morning.

Then we went to Kroger to buy delicious snacks before returning to the apartment, where I played Pokemon until it was time to sleep! Exciting, I know.

FRIDAY

Vendor set-up technically started at 9am, but I think we arrived earlier and they let us come in anyway. Unfortunately, Kara still had to work Friday, so she left as soon as she was done setting up. Callie and Billy would be manning her table until she got off in the afternoon. My table was in the middle aisle leading in from the entrance. I didn’t realize how awesome this placement was Thursday night, but in addition to being in the direct path of everyone coming in, to my immediate right was Chris (? I’m so sorry if I’m remembering this wrong!), the only dealer of anime goods in the whole room, and to my immediate left was Katy (MetalEgo), a maker of steampunk googles and another regular of anime cons. The three of us had all gone to Anime Matsuri the previous weekend and kind of had a good time bitching about it, lol.

There never seems to be enough room on this table.

Banner was super crooked, but I couldn’t be bothered. Prior to Matsuri, I bought 40 feet of new PVC and replaced the old set because it had gotten increasingly harder to pull those pieces apart because of the black paint, which was also chipping everywhere and looking kind of gross. The new set will remain unpainted, and I cut it into a lot more pieces so I have a lot more options as to how I can set it up. I’m looking into getting a new banner that’s a bit thinner so it’ll only take up 12-14 inches at the top of the stand rather than its current ~20 inches. I don’t want to get rid of the banner completely since it’s such an easy-to-recognize element, but I’ve been trying to get more things to display vertically since the horizontal space on the table is crammed full.

So now I have a second set of PVC reaching across horizontally under the banner, which lets me hang more things, like the button board (freed up half a binder worth of space!). Once the banner shrinks, I might try for three bars going across — one to hang the banner from, one to hang prints from (so they aren’t taped ghettoly from the back of the banner), and one to hang everything else from. I wish there were PVC connectors that had an additional perpendicular connector on the standard T-shaped connector — that would let me combine a pipe bar going across and a short pipe sticking forward that I can hang posters on. I’m going to try to add more poster-sized offerings, so that would be helpful, but I guess we’ll see.

I will stop rambling about my table set-up now. :O

Since the Dealer’s Room wasn’t open to the public until 11am, set-up went pretty leisurely. I chatted a lot with Chris and Katy and also wandered around to check out everyone else’s stuff. Airship Isabella has been a guest at most Texas conventions I’ve been to and was set up nearby. With my button hat more or less full, I spent a good portion of the weekend debating purchasing one of Isabella’s nifty steampunky hats, but… well, a nice, fancy hat obviously wasn’t appropriate for continued button hoarding and I didn’t really want to start what would inevitably spiral into buying pieces for a full steampunky outfit. Not that that wouldn’t be awesome.

It was pretty interesting how varied the vendors in the Dealer’s Room were though. Those with the biggest gridwalls were similar to the dealers I’m familiar with at anime cons, but they were dealing in sci-fi, fantasy, tabletop, and other, decidedly Western, collectable goods. There were also a lot of jewelers with Renaissance Festival and Etsy-type goods. Directly across the aisle from me was Uniique (dude, I don’t think I ever got your actual name? :c), maker of awesome T-shirts and whom I recognized immediately as a frequent contributor to Shirt.Woot. Next to him were some cool people selling candles, among other scented things. Further down were various authors of various sci-fi/fantasy novels. Behind me were also some authors!

Kara's table!

Kara is selling T-shirts and minicomics~.

There was one table with handmade, crocheted plushies (I later realized that this was Chelsea’s table!) and one fine artist with detailed ink drawings against one of the side walls. Kara’s table was facing one of the side walls, which was pretty unfortunate, but it was clear that we were the only anime-style artists in the room and among a small handful selling minicomics. Hmmm.

Predictably, traffic was pretty slow on Friday. In the early afternoon, I was alerted to the fact that AggieCon was only expecting about ~500 attendees, making it one of the smallest cons I’ve attended. The number really surprised me, considering they were in their forty-second year. I had known that moving off-campus had hurt them, but I don’t know what their numbers were like prior to the move, so I can’t guess exactly how much their attendance figures dropped. I’m also not familiar with average numbers for SFF conventions compared to anime, or even  comic, conventions, so I don’t know how good/bad ~500 is in comparison to other SFF cons of similar age or reputation. Conversations with various attendees also brought up the fact that this year’s Dealer’s Room was vastly improved from the previous year, when “going through the Dealer’s Room wasn’t very different from not going through the Dealer’s Room.”

Obviously, these facts had me pretty concerned, especially with AggieCon not being my usual crowd, but what can ya do. At the very least, the overhead costs of being at AggieCon were pretty low for me.

It's Cubone!

If the average anime con attendee is 16, then the average SFF con attendee was probably 35. It’s definitely true that while a lot of anime fans are also SFF fans, the reverse is a bit rarer. Nevertheless, everyone was really, really nice, often complimenting my work even if they had idea who the character was. My paintings were also getting a lot more attention, though this wasn’t surprising.

There weren’t a lot of current A&M students Friday since classes were in session, but midway through the afternoon, a familiar sort of group came through the doors and collectively squeed upon reaching Chris’s table. It was a group of high school anime club students from a school in Laredo, along with their club teacher. And it was their first convention. Curious that they should choose a small SFF as their first convention, but whatever! Progressing past Chris’s stock of adorable anime plush, they came to my table and squeed there too. Ah, I love con virgins. ;3

Despite low numbers and slow traffic, my Friday numbers were resoundingly average, which was pretty encouraging. I didn’t manage to get much work done at the table aside from a color sketch card commission, but the day was filled with plenty of good conversation. I talked with Chris a lot, and it was interesting hearing things from a regular dealer’s point of voice, rather than another artist’s — their overhead is much higher, so getting an idea of the numbers Chris needed to do “okay” for the weekend was informative. Doing AggieCon was a relatively risky venture for him as well, not selling to his usual crowd. I also got into some neat discussions with the Uniique guy about the one-a-day T-shirt business on sites like Woot, Teefury, etc. It’s one of those things I keep putting off.

Colored sketch card of a commissioner's OC.

The Dealer’s Room closed at 7pm, but Jennifer had been around to tell everyone that there would be a small reception (with food!) for all dealers in the Art Show room directly afterwards. Sweet!

The Art Show room was around the corner and a little ways down from the Dealer’s Room. In addition to having various panels full of hanging art up for bid and a few tables with art for straight sale, there was one artist (Laura) tabling there. It was a pretty crowded set-up though, and I’m not sure I liked it — all the art seemed pretty squished together and it bothered me that there wasn’t anything separating adult art from general art. I mean, the art itself didn’t bother me, but since the crowd at AggieCon was older, there were a lot of people with kids running around, I would have expected there to be something blocking the naughty stuff from view.

Kara and I made a quick round of the room before finding the food at the far end — delicious cookies and salady finger-food! Baby carrots! Pickled okra! AggieCon, you’ve won me over with pickled okra. We hung out for a little and, since her work was primarily animal and anthro-related, I chatted with Laura a bit about FWA, which had been the previous weekend.

Then we left, passed some podcasters recording in a corner of the hallway, and went back to the apartment… where I think we watched like half a season’s worth of How I Met Your Mother. Yup.

SATURDAY

I woke up on Saturday to Callie’s cat, Boy, eating my hair.

We arrived at the hotel pretty early, so after straightening things on our tables, Kara and I set off to find the con suite! I’d seen people coming back from the room all Friday with plates of food, but I thought that the room was only open to VIP badge holders since that’s how it is at a lot of other cons. Not so! The con suite was on the second floor and had lots of coffee, tea, cereal, fruits, and freshly-made waffles for free~! It was pretty awesome. And when I got back to the table, Katy and her table assistants, Geneviere and Sam, had a giant box of doughnuts they were sharing. AggieCon: a convention at which I would not go hungry holding down the fort. And that was good since Saturday was much busier.

Sorry for the crappy photo, but man, I love that parasol.

The whisperings of staff throughout the day confirmed that there were definitely more people than they were expecting, but I still don’t have any solid numbers. There were still chunks of downtime, sure, but for the most part, traffic came steadily throughout the day, making the hours pass quickly. The guy that commissioned me on Friday came back to ask for another one of the same character in chibi form, but unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of that one. The girls from the Laredo high school group came back on multiple occasions to commission a variety of sketch cards of a variety of characters (none of which I got pictures of, derp).

Honestly, when it came down to the product tallies, the AggieCon crowd bought a lot of the same things as the anime con crowd — buttons, bookmarks, an odd smattering of prints, and then the occasional other thing. I had more people talk to me about my other stuff, but few purchases really surprised me. I didn’t sell as many comics as I had hoped, but…

One of the biggest highlights of my Saturday was John Mørke, writer for various White Wolf properties, namely Exalted, and one of the guests, stopping by my table. Truthfully, I had no idea who he was initially. He flipped through my paintings, expressed interest in buying one of them, and asked whether I was familiar with the White Wolf RPGs. I am, but I’ve never played. We talked some about tabletop RPGs and I mentioned running an online, forum-based RPG (‘Souls, if you didn’t know). He replied that he used to write on forum-based RPGs as well and suggested that he might check it out. :O And at some point, I think I asked whether he was from the area, and he replied that he lived in Florida, but AggieCon flew him up as a guest, and he showed me his guest badge. Mentally, I went “!!!!!!!!!”

It was pretty awesome.

A commissioner and his sketch!

I think I was the only person in the room doing on-site commissions, which was definitely to my advantage. The Laredo anime club girls commissioning me for random things prompted other people to notice and commission me as well. I got busier as the day progressed. I still don’t have an Internet plan on my phone, but more and more other people do, which means that the problem of not having references is becoming less of a problem these days. I do think I need to make it more obvious that I can do caricature sketches of people though — a lot of people seem to want these and I like doing them, but few people ask. But when they do ask, others nearby will notice and ask for a similar thing. Hmm.

And… I don’t remember much else about Saturday. I guess this is what happens when I wait a whole week to write a con report. I guess this is also what happens when there aren’t a dozen bad things to complain about and record.

After the Dealer’s Room closed, Kara and I met Callie at Chili’s for dinner before going back to the apartment to watch the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because that’s what the con’s theme was and because I’d never seen it. (I’ve read only a few chapters of the book, but sadly could not be motivated to read more. I love Douglas Adams’s writing style, but the president of the universe stuff bored me. Maybe another time.) The movie was okay. I think I had a negative bias towards the actor for Arthur Dent because he’s Watson from the new Sherlock series, but none of the other characters really felt engaging either. The best thing about the whole movie was just the narration, which isn’t surprising at all since its Adams’s matter-of-fact narrative voice that makes the whole series so entertaining in the first place.

This is a random guy with a babelfish in his ear.

SUNDAY

Sundays are peculiarly inconsistent. Sometimes they are so slow it isn’t really even worth being there, and sometimes they pass in a blurred, hurried rush. In the lazy morning before the doors opened to the public, I made another round of the other tables in the room and made a few small purchases. Madam Nina of a nearby table also commissioned me for a con badge of herself.

As soon as the doors opened to attendees though, the Laredo anime club girls returned with a flurry of commissions. One girl commissioned me for four con badges of her various Pokemon gijinka characters. It was pretty nutty since the group was set to leave in the early afternoon and I thus had only two or three hours to finish everything. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t done before, but because it was a large group, and because multiple members of the group wanted things, there was a bit more pressure. :O

And naturally, in the rush, I neglected to get any pictures.

I did get a picture of Madam Nina's badge though!

After the girls and the rest of their club left, things relaxed considerably. Chris said that a significant percentage of his sales went to the kids in that group, and it was the same for me. It was definitely a huge stroke of luck for the both of us as (primarily) anime vendors at a non-anime show, but while I absolutely appreciate their patronage, I’m comforted knowing that I would have done okay without it. So for me, at least, AggieCon would be worth attending in the future. For everyone else, things seemed to be a mix bag — some people reported doing really well, while others, particularly the jewelers, reported a slow weekend all around.

I don’t know how long AggieCon plans to stay at the Hilton — they had to move off-campus because their traditional host is undergoing renovation. I really liked the venue and the hotel staff was awesome, but even though attendance was reportedly higher this year, I’m sure that being back on campus would boost those numbers even more.

Near the end of the day, I adopted a white Mokona plush from Chris because her gem had fallen off somewhere and he couldn’t sell her like that. Yay! I like bringing along plush companions to hang out with me at conventions, but I am always hesitant about bringing plush from my personal collections because well, they’re in collections and I’m a collector and I don’t want to risk getting them dirty! But Mokona is already damaged goods from a collecting standpoint, so she is a rugged traveler, an adventurer! For the while, I have passed her onto Katy to dress and make awesome, but I look forward to having her sit with me at my table at future conventions. >:3

A good weekend.

So yeah, AggieCon was pretty awesome.

And I have to say, they have some of the nicest damned staff people ever. Jennifer and her minions were in and around the Dealer’s Room all weekend, stopping at all the tables intermittently to check on vendors. We didn’t get programs when we picked up badges, but when I asked about them, Jennifer went and got me (and every other vendor) a copy. She passed out surveys for quick, convenient feedback. As Sunday drew to a close, she came around again to ask if anyone would need help breaking down or hauling stuff outside as she and the rest of the DR staff were available to do so.

AggieCon being pretty small probably helps a lot as far as paying extra attention to vendors go, but the bottom line is still that they don’t have to, but they do, and I appreciated it. I don’t know if it will be convenient for me to attend again next year, but if it is, I’ll definitely be there.

2 Comments

  1. lots of fun having you over! we should def do more cons together haha

  2. Hello Kiriska, found your page through Comicpalooza as they posted a preliminary list of dealers and artist alley. I like what I see and I will stop by your booth and definitely pick up a copy of your comic book.

    Also, I read all your current con events, the good and the awful ones you had recently (no need to name the exact cons as you already know it). Hopefully Comicpalooza will bring you more mainstream American comic fans to check out your work.

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