Whelp, back from my first full-fledged comic convention, (STAPLE! was too indie to count), and it was pretty all right.
For having a super long guest list comprised almost entirely of people I’ve never heard of, Comicpalooza didn’t actually feel all that different from an anime convention to me. There were many more comic-, sci-fi-, and game-related cosplayers, and the crowd skewed older, but I didn’t feel nearly as out of place as I did at STAPLE! Things were pretty run-of-the-mill, really — maybe this is because Comicpalooza is officially a cross-genre convention encompassing comics, sci-fi, and pop culture, and included anime-related programming for the first time in 2011?
Traffic throughout the weekend left a bit to be desired though, with a majority of artists reporting lower-than-average sales. The layout of Artist Alley probably had a lot to do with it, and post-con murmurs have further pointed out that Dallas Comic Con being the weekend prior probably didn’t help either. I also agree with the crowd that says downtown Houston probably isn’t the best place for a convention in general…
Today, my essay-length con report-writing skills clock in at 3835 words. I hope I’ve included enough pictures to break up the monotony!
Being in downtown Houston has many great disadvantages, the first of which is parking. The entire downtown center is basically comprised of hotels, stadiums, big corporate businesses, and commercial parking lots. Since the George R. Brown Convention Center doesn’t have a dedicated lot, there was no discount for parking in a specific place — even the Hilton, which could be considered the “con hotel” as it’s attached to the GRB via skybridge, provided no discount from its standard $18/day rate for parking in their garage. I opted not to set up Thursday evening because I didn’t want to pay for an extra day’s parking.
Arriving downtown around 9am Friday morning, parking ended up not being as nightmarish as I’d feared — we found $7/day parking in a relatively empty lot right across the street from the convention center. Since my Artist Alley table came with two badges, my brother, Eric, was joining me for the weekend. Hurray for not having to cart all of my gear in one trip from the car to the alley by myself!
It was pretty quiet when we got upstairs. There was a small crowd at what was presumably the pre-registration badge pick-up table. We waited around there for a bit while staffers rummaged through badges/printed lists looking for my name, but eventually, it was clarified that Artist Alley badge pick-up was, in fact, in the Artist Alley. Pah! There were some security dudes at the entrance to the two main ballrooms. They asked us for badges. I found this weird, seeing as badge pick-up was in the Alley? They let us pass when we explained. We walked through an area where they were apparently setting up for wrestling and Quidditch to get to the Alley, where it wasn’t immediately obvious where we were supposed to sign in.
Asking around got us directed to the Dealer’s Room for badge pick-up. Dealer’s Room separated from the rest of the ballroom by a ring of temporary walls, but it still wasn’t obvious where we were supposed to be. Guess where AA/DR badge pick-up was? At the loading dock behind the DR. I was kind of annoyed at how roundabout and counter-intuitive this was. Most dealers needed to go through the loading dock — yes, fine, this makes sense — but most artists don’t. There were one guy handling badges for dealers and one guy handling badges for artists, so I’m not sure why they couldn’t move the AA guy to the front of AA. This would be a more minor complaint if we hadn’t had to drag around my annoyingly cumbersome luggage while looking for badge pick-up, but we did, and if I hadn’t had my brother with me this time to share the load, I would have been even more peeved.
I also still wish more conventions would give us the dang con programs/schedules with our badges — just because artists and dealers are going to be manning their tables/booths all weekend doesn’t mean we don’t want to know what’s going on elsewhere! On the plus side, Comicpalooza did provide lanyards — color-coded ones, even? All the artists had aqua blue ones!
Also on the plus side: the tables at Comicpalooza were eight feet long instead of the more-standard six feet. So much room! I didn’t have to lay my two binders on top of each other! I had room to hang my new posters and to utilize all the nifty plastic book stands I bought off the local Borders that was closing! Such luxury!
I ordered a new “Fake Lemonade Stand” banner that’s about half a foot shorter than this old one, which will allow me to put the second horizontal bar up higher and give me more hanging space. It also has a new URL on it — fakelemonade.com — but I haven’t had a chance to set up that website yet. I’m intending to set up a storefront there and maybe move my comics over, I’m not totally sure how the organization is going to work since I’m not really planning to abandon kiriska.com. I don’t think I’ll be able to sort it out before A-kon in two weeks, but I may use the new banner there anyway just for space-saving reasons…? We’ll see, I guess.
In the time between setting up and the doors opening to the public, I wandered through the Alley a little to say hello to Katy/MetalEgo (my delightful neighbor at AggieCon), Chuck, random people I recognized from the A-kon AA forums, and Jason of Robbie and Bobby, who started following me on Twitter one day. It was nice having my brother around to help me set up and to watch the table while I wandered, but there’s really no one that can sell my stuff but me (except maybe Cat? I miss tabling with her for this reason, lol…), so I returned to the table as soon as people started coming in and let Eric go off to check out con events.
But Friday was slow, even for a Friday. I spent a lot of time drawing random commission examples and sketching the people tabling around me because traffic was so pathetic. Jason and his table buddy, Austin, were just across the ways, with the Land of the Rats guy to their left and Robert James Leudke to their right… I was actually really, really awful about getting around to scoping out everyone’s tables and got most of their names from their various banners, signs, and displays, hahahaha. :x The unfinished sketch was of Phil Hester, I think, but there was enough distance between him and I that my view was blocked most of the time, even in low traffic. So much for creeper sketching!
The Alley was laid out so attendees wandered through a snaking path — this looked great on paper, but the winding made it easy for people to skip tables when they rounded corners. With one entrance and one exit, it was hard for people to make multiple passes through the Alley, even with plenty of room for two-way traffic. The concession stands and bathrooms being situated at the end of the Alley also meant lots of people dashed past all the tables to get to the food. There were also wayyyyy too many artist tables and a lot of no-shows. Empty tables made the place look more deserted, which possibly dissuaded people from going through at all.
There was also supposed to be laser tag or something in between the Artist Alley and the Dealer’s Room, which might have forced people to go through AA to get to the DR, but the space mapped out for laser tag was pretty much empty all weekend, so people had a lot more options as far as getting from point A (the entrance to the ballroom) to point B (the Dealer’s Room).
I hadn’t been able to find attendance numbers for Comicpalooza prior to the con. Someone (Katy?) told me that they were expecting upwards of 17,000 attendees this year? The number of guests they had might suggest a number like this, but you didn’t have to be a genius to figure out that this was hardly the case. I have no idea where that number came from — apparently, 2010’s numbers were around 3,000. But I’ve been to smaller cons with busier Fridays.
Another disadvantage of a convention being hosted in downtown Houston? The city basically shuts down when the businessfolk go home for the day. There are no restaurants within walking distance of the GRB. This, combined with expensive parking, meant that attendees who left to go find dinner rarely came back. It didn’t help that even the over-priced convention concessions packed up shortly after 5pm — I really don’t understand why they did, but only food vendors on contract with the GRB were allowed to vend, as far as I know, so this probably limited options.
I also forgot my camera on Friday, so despite many awesome cosplayers wandering around, I have depressingly few photos of them. (The photos thus far are actually from Saturday, shh.) Friday was so dead after dinnertime that I packed up a little after sunset at 8pm, which felt ridiculously early. What can ya do but hope for a busy Saturday though?
For some reason, I thought that the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley opened again at noon on Saturday. I should have known better because my brother was going to the con’s Magic tournament around 10:30am or something, and why would there be big con events going on before the DR was even open? But because of my misreading of the schedule, we got to the convention center right at 10am… which was apparently when the DR/AA actually opened. I panicked slightly when I realized there were already attendees milling around when I got to the Alley, but I think I managed to set up again quickly enough…
Saturday was indeed much busier than Friday, and I basically spent the entire day doing commissions. It’s been a while since my wrist has burned this way, but hey, I’m not complaining. A couple of people kept coming back for more too! It was really flattering, and I really enjoyed working on all of them. Here are a few of the lot!
Along with the endless stream of commissions, Saturday had various other highlights. One of which was (the voice of) Professor Utonium (Tom Kane) making announcements intermittently over the loudspeaker. I don’t remember what any of those announcements were, but there is just something really, really awesome when such a familiar and amiable voice is talking to you over the loudspeaker, lol.
Another highlight: seeing university Quidditch players wander around in uniform and often with their broomsticks. I should have snapped some photos since I couldn’t attend any of the actual games, but I did get to live vicariously through my brother’s retelling of Friday’s match between Texas Tech and SHSU (apparently SHSU got slaughtered). It was also hilarious to me that the con schedule blocked out a whole two hours for the Quidditch matches, but most of them seemed to last 30 minutes or less. Variable game times due to evasion skills of Snitches! Hahahaha!
Another highlight: I was surprised by the number of people that expressed interest in and bought my two new posters — the My Little Ponies/Panty and Stocking mashup because I wasn’t expecting a lot of people to know what Panty and Stocking was, and the other one because it’s kind of random/weird? There were a lot of hilarious comments on the MLP parody from little kids though: “Teehee, that pony has underwear as its cutie mark!” “What’s anarchy?”
Another fun highlight? Comicpalooza was sponsored by this company named SOYJOY, maker of gluten-free, fruity soy bars. They had some big booths set up by registration and were handing out a bunch of bags/shirts branded with the SOYJOY name along with a metric ton of free bars. A guy came through the Alley at least twice every day handing out two to four bars of SOYJOY goodness to every artist that wanted one. As someone that rarely packs food for the day and rarely leaves to find sustenance, SOYJOY basically kept me fed all weekend. o_o And I never felt hungry! The different flavors of bars had varying degrees of tastiness and a lot of attendees didn’t seem to like them, but maaaaan, I think they’re awesome just for being edible and relatively filling! Eventually, I think on Sunday, the SOYJOY guy just handed me a whole bag full of them. I will be saving them for A-kon, lol. :D Maybe they’ll even last me to Anime Overload in July?
Josh, a friend of Stephanie’s, and a brief co-worker last year, stopped by a few times that afternoon. He draws some pretty sweet comics himself, and I hope we convinced him to get his own table next year. :P Stephanie and her brother showed up around 2pm and also stopped by a few times throughout the afternoon, donating me their SOYJOY bars, which they apparently enjoyed way less than I!
The commissions slowed as the afternoon waned into evening, and in spite of all the afternoon’s excitement, I was moving a lot less physical merchandise than usual. Chuck reported a similar phenomenon, so it wasn’t just me. I didn’t get to visit the Dealer’s Room all weekend, so I’m not sure how the situation was for them, but neither of my neighbors seemed to be doing very well either. If a lot of the same crowd also went to Dallas Comic Con the weekend before (which apparently boasted ~100,000 attendees this year?? Hot damn, but Wikipedia’s missing a citation for that figure…), then it would make sense that spending would be down — they bought prints and commissions last week, probably from a lot of the same guest artists, so certainly they’d be more conservative this week. It’s a much smaller show. Perhaps attendees were underwhelmed?
Dallas Comic Con. Comicpalooza is basically like a Houston Comic Con, right? San Antonio Comic Con in June. Austin Comic Con in November. That’s basically every major city in the state, with a majority of them clustered together in May/June. I haven’t been in the con circuit here long, but I’m guessing this is new because Comicpalooza and San Antonio Comic Con are both relatively new… it’ll probably be in their best interests to move to other months in subsequent years. January, August, and December are the empty months for conventions in my experience, though January and December are probably sparse for a good reason.
Sometime around 8pm, these two awesome guys stopped by to rummage through my folder of old, random things I just wanna get rid of, and both really took to the original lineart for some promo art I did for MomoCon a year ago. They each got the miniprint of the colored version and had me sign ridiculously huge on all of them, along with their programs. The two of them were really animated and fun to talk to, and one of them came back Sunday morning with a burned CD of all the photos they’d taken Saturday to share. :o They had a big bag of them, so I think they handed a CD to basically every artist in the alley — really sweet of them since it let me see a bunch of cosplayers and other stuff that never passed by!
Things really died down as night fell, and I got up a lot to half-wander while keeping my table in sight since my brother was off watching movies they were screening as part of the film festival. I watched a few people play CON!, a pretty hilarious card came being peddled by Glen of Azarkarde Productions, a table diagonally across from me. Anything that plays off stereotypical con-goers is hilarious when done right, and CON! was pretty great at it. I chatted with Glen a little later about sales and traffic; it was more of the same. I hope he does better at A-kon (just over a week from now, ahh!).
And then I wandered over to see Chuck and Katy again, and Katy presented me with:
Recap! At AggieCon, the dealer guy next to me gave me a Mokona plush for free because its jewel had fallen off somewhere and he couldn’t sell her that way. Damaged goods! I asked Katy if she would mod her for me with steampunky goodness and then let her take her home. And here is the fabulous result! I am still hoping to procure a gold or brown bowtie for her (because bowties are cool), but yeah. :3
And I spent way too much time coming up with her name. Nomako is an anagram of Mokona, obviously enough. “Noma” is for “nomad,” which is pretty much what she’s gonna be: my conbuddy~! Joining me for shows everywhere! And then your standard Japanese “-ko” suffix for girl names. Yup. In return for Nomako’s mods, Katy asked me to just draw her some of my original characters. Such a generous request… ;_;
I packed up a little past 10pm Saturday night? This life-sized, fully-functional-minus-the-lasers Dalek waved us off. Why can’t day-to-day life have things as awesome as this?
Managed to remember AA/DR hours for Sunday and arrived pretty early around 9am. This gave me a good amount of time to actually wander the Alley, though it seems like every time I wander, a majority of everyone else isn’t set up yet! A picked up a few new buttons here and there, though I still haven’t gotten a new hat to put them on, and also commissioned Jamie Kinosian for an ACEO of an OC.
Shortly after I sat down at my table again, a bald fellow from the Comicpalooza staff came by to ask Jonathan, the neighbor to [my] left, and I how sales had been this weekend. My response was pretty mild — in spite of a pretty dead Friday and a Saturday wholly dependent on commissions, I was doing pretty okay. Jonathan had been doing a lot worse though, and launched into a pretty in-depth discussion with the staff person about points of failure as far as Artist Alley layout, design, promotion, and other factors. The staff guy acknowledged that there were many flaws in the layout and mistakes made on his part, repeating many times that he knew that “sorry” wasn’t good enough.
It was clear that he felt terrible about the whole ordeal, and I think Jonathan and I both kinda felt bad that the guy felt the need to take responsibility for everything. I mean, hey, Comicpalooza is new; these things happen. Poor sales or not, it’s pretty hard to vehemently blame the con for things that oftentimes can’t be helped — like the fact that the laser tag thing didn’t work out and left a gaping hole in the layout of the room, diverting attention away from the Alley. With the willingness of the staff to be receptive to our concerns and suggestions to improve, I feel reasonably confident that the situation for Comicpalooza 2012 will be much better.
Sunday morning was pretty similar to Saturday morning with a good handful of commissions coming in. One family in particular — I think they commissioned me at least once on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They were the best! ♥♥♥ The father had a huge piece of Bristol that had been divided into a few dozen little squares that he had gotten a ton of artists to draw in. It was clear that these were pro commissioners, possibly with art by hundreds of different artists at home, hahaha. It was an honor to draw for them, really.
Things slowed a ton around lunchtime though. A lot of attendees were taking off for good to travel back to wherever they came from. The afternoon dragged like on like Friday and I don’t think anything else really exciting happened…? Sean Maher — that guy that played Simon Tam in Firefly — wandered pretty close to my table at some point, but never stopped to look. :c Also, someone came by with a box of free Justice League and Green Lantern comics, but that’s just dealers gettin’ rid of promo stuff I guess. My brother participated in a “Name That (Anime) Tune” contest with a randomly selected team and won first place, nabbing a boxset of Azumanga Diaoh and the first volume of Needless (lol). Wish I could have played, but it’s the second best thing to have someone tell you about such adventures, I suppose.
Dealer’s Room shut down at 6pm, and while the announcer was kind of vague about Artist Alley, I think the schedule had us closing at 6pm as well, and by that point, there was no one around anymore anyway.
Comicpalooza was a fun show. Met some cool people, drew some cool pictures. I did juuuust below average for numbers, but it wasn’t too bad. I feel like the programming offered to attendees was pretty good — there was a lot of stuff going on and it effectively covered all advertised genres and niches, so I think it was successful as a multi-genre convention. My brother played in the Magic tournament, watched a lot of indie horror films, and went to some anime-related panels and games — that’s a pretty well-rounded offering, yeah?
I think the convention is still growing into the space offered by the venue, and the organization for many things can be improved on (more signage, more open Artist Alley, etc), but for a show that’s essentially in it’s second year, I think they did a pretty fine job. Many artists likely came out of the weekend a little wary because of sales figures, but I wouldn’t shy away from attending again in the future.
Next week, I’ll be in Dallas for the oldest anime convention in the States. :o In the meantime, here’s a picture gallery.