Anime Overload in Austin, TX, marks one year of me working the Texas convention circuit. It isn’t exactly a year since the con moved up a month from last year, but man, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been back here that long.
Now that I think about it, there aren’t actually a lot of cons I’ve hit more than once — just MomoCon and AWA, both of which I attended twice as an artist, and both of which were pretty inconsistent when I compare them year-to-year. AO this year was similarly bizarre. It was hosted at the same weird venue, the North Austin Events Center, but despite a bigger effort on the advertising front this year, attendance felt very, very down. Mel (Mistyibuki), the Artist Alley coordinator, said that 2010’s numbers were supposedly around 1,000. This year… well, maybe they hit 1,000, but it really didn’t seem like it. And when the whole con’s in one room, it’s pretty easy to tell if there are people around or not.
This report is 4459 words long, but surely you’re used to this by now?
Thursday morning and afternoon was a hectic mess. I had to stop by the office in Bellaire first thing, then drive way out to Pasadena for a meeting that lasted way too long because the client was chatty (very nice, but chatty), then go all the way back home to load up the car. Houston is too damn big. That is a lot of driving already and I haven’t even left for Austin yet. ;_; I stopped by Kinko’s to pick up prints, but of course, the only time I’m in a hurry when I’m there, they manage to mess a bunch of stuff up, including printing a portrait print in landscape so the top and bottom got cut off, and printing two prints in a batch of ten on cardstock about 50 lbs lighter — what, like I wasn’t gonna notice? :\ They fixed all of this, but at 5pm, I was already running late.
Thankfully, my carpool party for the weekend, fellow con artist Chuck and friend and co-worker Stephanie, both live on the way to Austin, so I didn’t really need to make any detours to pick them up. Chuck was tabling in AO too, of course, but Stephanie and Rusty (who was driving up separately) were attending a Pixar Masterclass seminar hosted by VanArts — conveniently that same weekend.
AO being as small as it is, we weren’t planning on setting up Thursday night and weren’t in a huge hurry or anything, but the three hour drive went by pretty quickly anyway. Chuck had been at Anime Expo the weekend prior, so we talked about that and various other conventions most of the way. (Sorry for leaving you out, Stephanie!) At 8:30pm, as we circled the freeway looking for the hotel, we magically found Rusty on the road also driving towards the hotel and just followed him there! Then we went to Chili’s and pigged out (or maybe only I pigged out) before going back to sleep before midnight. Exciting.
Stephanie and Rusty left for their Pixar thing early. Chuck and I had a pretty lazy morning since I was expecting Friday to be rather dead. The hotel had a huge continental breakfast. Their orange juice was kind of gross, and their coffee was weak, but the food itself was good! At 9:15am, we found our way to the venue. There were maybe a half dozen attendees lined up outside. Circling around the back, there was a larger gathering of artists and dealers. We parked, unloaded, and just as we joined them, Mel arrived to vouch for our access through the back.
By the way, I realized at some point Thursday that I’d left my camera at home (plugged into the wall, charging, arghh), so almost all of these pictures were taken with Chuck’s camera, and that’s why I don’t have as many. Sorry!
I think there were about the same number of dealers this year as last, but there were many, many more artists — I don’t think there were more than ten of us last year, but this year we had two islands of fourteen each. The tables weren’t assigned, so Chuck and I set up shop at #12 and #13 below on the map. As it turned out, Kawaii Ribbons (no website to link, but remember them?) set up on the other side of Chuck at #14, and later on, Katy (MetalEgo/Winged Cat Machine) nabbed #11 on the other side of me. Amelie was behind Chuck at #1. Our corner was the corner of awesome. Wooters Diana Sprinkle, Shawnna Bass (Bass Animation), and Tod K. (Uniique) were also in attendance, as was Glen of Azarkarde Productions, in the gaming corner.
Last year, I walked into that building knowing no one. One year on the con circuit? You meet a lot of people. The fact that Texas seems to have a convention every month with three in March makes a difference too.
As predicted, Friday was incredibly, incredibly slow. But even slower than I thought. It was basically dead all morning and most of the afternoon, picking up slightly in the evening when general business hours were over. Traffic was noticeably down from last year, which was bizarre. I don’t actually know how strong AO’s advertising was for the year previous, but since the show is run by the same folks that run IKKiCON (and LousiANIME, apparently), I had seen a lot of advertising in the past year for AO alongside advertising for IKKiCON, which is a significantly larger convention. Hell, since the postcard ads for IKKiCON were doubled-sided and featured AO on the back, Chuck reported that AO was even advertised at AX the weekend prior, way out in Los Angeles.
So why was attendance down? I don’t really feel that being the weekend after AX had much to do with anything since probably 90% of attendees were Austin locals and skewed younger — most of them wouldn’t have been able to attend AX anyway. A-kon was a month ago, sure, but Dallas is a long way from Austin too (Texas is too damn big), and again, I don’t think that most of them would have been able to attend. Austin’s most recent anime con, as far as I know, was Ushicon in February, which was an 18+ affair, and before that, IKKiCON over New Years. So even though Texas has a billion conventions, I don’t think that AO was really competing directly with anything.
Some artists suggested that not being in a hotel might have hurt AO. I agree that being in a hotel or convention center is beneficial because you’ll often get a fair amount of “accidental” con-goers — people who had no idea it was happening, but ended up being curious — but AO was in the same venue last year, and Friday was definitely busier.
Glen wandered over at some point (because he was bored out of his mind, probably) to regal me with his tale of how terrible Delta H Con was this year. I had attended last year, but while I did okay, I declined to return this year because man, I know I had just been lucky, and Delta H is a sad, sad excuse for a con. It would seem that I was right to skip.
The con had been the weekend prior, so the same weekend as AX, though that’s only worth noting for the fact that many Texas-area artists and dealers that had been considering Delta H went to AX instead, including Chuck. Hilariously, the artist/dealer numbers were exactly the same as they’d been last year — seven artists, three dealers. This year though, Glen said that the dealers had all jumped ship by Saturday afternoon and the artists had apparently been confined to the basement, far removed from the rest of the con. And there were no signs because signs weren’t allowed? Robert Axelrod (voice of Lord Zedd) was again Delta H’s only guest, though I kind of imagine he only keeps coming out of niceness… or pity or something. Recall that last year, the poor guy was giving a panel Sunday morning to an audience of two staff members.
But Glen’s favorite mishap at Delta H was the fact that they misspelled their own name on the con program — they were Detla H Con. Also, a few pages in, auto-correct got the best of them for “Mighty Morphine Power Rangers.” Wow.
Katy showed up in the early afternoon, and suddenly, our deep mutual adoration of Animorphs came to light. I still owed her art for modding Nomako, and didn’t have any commissions to work on at the time, so much awesome fanart ensued… not all of which I got pictures of, including two steampunk’d Andalites. I’ll be bugging her for scans though, so hopefully those will show up in my deviantART scraps eventually.
So most of Friday was socializing with fellow con artists and drawing things for Katy, but otherwise twiddling my thumbs. Last year, I passed the time by drawing a ton of ACEOs, but this year… I dunno. Just wasn’t feelin’ it. It was kind of depressing looking across the ways and seeing how bored the other artists looked too, especially that LARP guy. Bored, bored, bored.
Being bored made me acutely aware of the rest of the going-ons of the convention. The video room being just to the left meant I could hear everything they were screening the whole day — and everything was dubbed, furthering my awareness of it. Their screening of Ouran High School Host Club was especially tempting. In the evening, karaoke in the J-Pop/K-Pop room by the Dealers was tempting, especially when I could hear them playing songs I liked. It was slow enough that I did run over and check things out a bit, but they seemed a little disorganized, and I was too anxious about leaving the table to stick around.
The concert started up a little past eight, so we packed up. It was a pretty muted end to the day. Mel had mentioned at some point that less than 30% of the pre-registration badges had been picked up on Friday, so there would surely be a bigger turnout on Saturday… don’t think I was very reassured by this though. Stephanie and Rusty were off partying and so weren’t there when we got back to the hotel. Chuck and I watched maybe half of The Matrix Revolutions, which I actually hadn’t seen before, but I passed out exhausted near the end, so I don’t think that counts.
On Saturday, the hotel breakfast was infested with kids on some group trip, so we took our food to eat outside. Texas weather is gross. We got to the convention venue just after nine, I think, giving me about an hour to wander around to look at other artists and make a few purchases. It was not very obvious when the con opened to the public at ten, and I only returned to my table when I saw some obviously-not-vendors-or-staff people wandering about. But Saturday started off very much like Friday, and I got bored again pretty fast sitting at my table. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fidgety being at my table.
Things did pick up at little as we approached noon, at least in the way of conversation. One of the maids from the Maid Cafe came by to chat a while because it was slow at the cafe too, and later on, one of the hosts/butlers did as well. The host had seen me at previous cons and is probably one of my devWatchers, but because I’m awesomely absent-minded, I still don’t know his name. Hopefully I’ll be quicker to remember him by face when I do seem again though. It takes me two or three cons to remember people. <_< Sorry!
I had an odd smattering of commissions here and there. I didn’t bother getting pictures of most of the sketch ones since I didn’t like stealing away Chuck’s camera so often, but I think I remembered to get most of the color ones? Stacey of Kawaii Ribbons (who has commissioned me every time I’ve seen her ♥) commissioned me in the morning for chibis of herself and her friend/table assistant as they had matching outfits. Later in the afternoon, she commissioned me again for chibis of her husband Michael and herself where I got to make up Michael’s outfit again. Her dress had cherries, her assistant’s had strawberries; I went with oranges for Michael. (Michael said that Stacey had suggested maybe watermelons, but he was sure there was a fat joke in there and didn’t want watermelons, lol.)
Saturday never really picked up to a point where it felt even kind of busy though. Most of the time I was bored. I would have a sanity-saving commission that would keep me occupied for twenty minutes at best, but then I would be bored again. The video room taunted me by screening Soul Eater. Cosplay chess happened at the main stage and drew away… basically the entire convention when it happened. In fact, most of the events at the main stage had a way of luring away all the attendees so the artists and dealers at the back of the one-room con were left staring idly at each other. It was sad because it was obvious.
In the evening, karaoke started up again. The convention floor was dead enough that I didn’t feel too anxious wandering over a few times. But free-for-all karaoke was over, and I wasn’t sure about entering the contest. Then I saw Stacey go over there, and I felt better about it for some reason. I mean, hell, there were probably only about ten people sitting in that karaoke room. Small audience. Marginally less self-consciousness, right? Also, the way the karaoke was run, the staffer pulled up each song on YouTube with lyrics and projected it onto the screen they were using to show K-Pop/J-Pop videos. This is how karaoke is supposed to be done! You’re supposed to have lyrics! There are a lot of songs I like to sing where I only know most of the lyrics, so this was probably what convinced me to just go for it. A con karaoke that provides lyrics! How often does that happen?
I signed up and Stacey signed up to sing after me. One of the volunteers I had been chatting with at my table offered to come get me when it was time for me to go, and Stacey agreed to watch my table while I did just that. I sang “Rhythm Emotion” by TWO-MIX from Gundam Wing. The microphone made my voice terrifyingly loud. o_o But according to one of the audience members who whispered to me during the bridge, I was very soft. This was confusing. I ran away as soon as I was done and relieved Stacey from my table so she could go sing.
I felt a lot better about the con after that, lol. It was a slow-as-snails Saturday, but at least I got to sing.
A concert started up again around 8:00pm or 8:30, and so we packed up once again. Chuck had gotten a ton of commissions later in the day and so actually had work to bring back to the hotel. The influx of commissions made the con much better than expected for him, and I was on track to do about the same I did last year. Kind of weird, I guess, but that had happened before. The weekend was dragging, but I was doing okay. I don’t think some of the other artists around us were as lucky though, so AO on the whole still felt a bit lacking — at least for vendors. And maybe the musical guests. It was kind of sad seeing a small crowd of maybe twenty near the edge of the stage as the music started. The attendees seemed to be enjoying themselves fine though, so there’s that. :o
We went back to the hotel and watched most of the Resident Evil movie with Stephanie and Rusty. I’d never seen it before, but it was pretty all right.
I wandered through the Dealer’s area for the first time Sunday and chatted with a few of the people there. Opinions seemed pretty split — some dealers were doing about what they’d expected: slow, but not bad. Others were dubbing it the Worst Con Ever, including one dealer who told me that he’d never turned a profit at any Austin convention and was probably only attending AO to “complete his triad of suck.” Ouch. I heard similarly split opinions about AO’s management, with some contending that they were all incompetent and others offering appreciation for the fact that the staff was hard-working and relatively responsive. For my own bit, I didn’t really see much of staff over the weekend, but this was probably because didn’t have anything obviously identifying them as staff. Mel stopped by occasionally, and her (presumed) AA assistant did come by to check everyone for their state sales permits, but beyond that, I imagined that most of the rest of staff was busy running events that I wasn’t taking part in.
I don’t really think the lax attendance was anyone’s fault though. I have mixed feelings about the venue because oh god those bathrooms are gross and those chairs are pathetic and it doesn’t have the convenience of a hotel, but for it being what it is, I think AO makes it work pretty well. There being many more artists than last year probably brought sales down for some — one dealer pointed out that he had a ton of competition this year with T-shirts, which were usually his main seller. It’s hard to guess the “right” number of vendors for a con this small… there’s enough room physically for them, but is there enough spending cash to go around?
Sunday traffic was similar to Friday traffic. Slow and sad, for the most part, but with little highlights here and there in the form of conversation. I think I had more good conversations than usual at AO as a direct result of not being busy for most of it, haha. I guess it’s not easy to have both, though I do think I’m pretty good at continuing conversations while working furiously on commissions.
Since I did sing as part of the karaoke contest on Saturday, I wandered over around eleven to ask about the results. I didn’t realize that the karaoke contests for Friday and Saturday were to select finalists for the karaoke contest on Sunday, which was to take place on the main stage. And apparently I made the cut from Saturday. Aw, shit. It’s one thing to sing in a little make-shift room in the corner with an audience of ten. It’s another thing to sing on the stage, even if there didn’t seem to be more than a hundred or so people in the entire convention. I was also very concerned that singing on the stage would mean that I wouldn’t have lyrics to look at.
Stacey also made the cut and was looking up lyrics on her iPad in an attempt to very quickly memorize the song she wanted to sing for the finals. I fretted about it because I had nothing else to do and tried to think of songs I knew all the lyrics to. There are a good number of them, but I was pretty sure that being on stage would mess with my memory.
As the karaoke staff set up at the stage though, it became clear that they would still be providing lyrics. There was a laptop set up on a table on the stage and a screen behind it to also display lyrics and video to the audience. Whew. That just left the whole… being on stage part.
Stephanie and Chely, who had also gone to the Pixar Masterclass, showed up at the con sometime after noon. They both tried to talk me out of my stage fright. Stephanie also commissioned me for a picture of Chi eating lemons, as inspired by my Fake Lemonade Stand. The karaoke finals were supposed to start around one, but I don’t think they really started until maybe two. I don’t know how many total finalists there were, but I was to go fourth, right after Stacey.
The line-up was a little confusing though. I don’t remember who sang first, but it wasn’t bad. Then someone started to sing the Japanese version of “You Raise Me Up” by Lena Park that had been in Romeo x Juliet, but it was just a TV cut and ended rather abruptly. I thought this meant Stacey would be next, but not so? A guy went up to sing a song I didn’t recognize, but I thought it was kind of ballsy for him to choose a slower song because it’s much easier to spot mistakes in a slower song. Being confused about whether I was still fourth or not, I left Stephanie at my table and went to sit in the audience with Chely.
Stacey went up on stage after the guy though, so I think the “You Raise Me Up” entrant was unofficial. She sang the same song she sang when everyone took shots at karaoke at Delta H Con last year. I found this kind of funny since I was also planning to sing what I’d sung at Delta H. I think it must have been a different song than what she’d been trying to hastily memorize earlier since she performed the whole thing without looking at the lyrics at all — in fact, the lyrics that were on the screen while she sang were for a different song entirely. It was intimidating going up after her. ;_;
I sang “Believe” by Nami Tamaki from Gundam SEED. It went a lot better than I expected? I didn’t sound ridiculously loud to myself like I did on Saturday, and I referred to the on-screen lyrics a lot less than I thought I would. I don’t think I murdered too many high notes. Still, it was insanely awkward standing on stage while waiting for the bridge to pass near the end, and I was very, very happy to get off the stage when I was done. <_<
I didn’t recognize any of the other songs by the other contestants, but all of them performed pretty well. I didn’t expect to win anything, especially not competing against Stacey, though Michael joked that I probably would because most as good as she was, Stacey was still “a white girl singing in Japanese.” Nevermind that she probably understood what she was singing about as much as I did. Deceptive Asian, go~.
The convention was winding down after the contest, but naturally, that means last minute commissions!
Chely commissioned me for a colored sketch of Rainbow Dash, but I forgot to get a picture of that pony.
Annnnnd, as it turned out, Stacey got second in karaoke and I got first, so I am halfway convinced that this was only because I’m Asian. XD The prizes were pretty lame — I got some boxset of a thing called “Instant STAR” which looks like a crappy MTV series, but apparently FUNimation distributes it? And Stacey got a Strike Witches wallet (brb, loling forever) and the Rave Master vol. 2 DVD — but it’s whatever. We had fun. :3
Kawaii Ribbons and most of the rest of the artists started breaking down and moving out around 4:00pm, I think. Chuck, Katy, and I were pretty much the last tables standing, though Katy had abandoned her table for most of the day to play a steampunk roleplaying game, and her assistant started breaking down for her around 4:30 or something, lol. There was pretty much no one around but vendors and staff by the time Chuck and I finally packed up and piled things into the car with Stephanie.
Chely had hoped to tail me out of Austin, but we learned very quickly that I am a terrible person to try and follow. :D Especially if I’m blindly following GPS instructions. :D But hey, I got her to the freeway?
Final verdict? Anime Overload was all right. Mel’s got everyone on the interest list for next year, I think, and I’m pretty sure I’ll go if I’m still in the area. (I keep saying I want to get out of the state; when is this actually going to happen?)
To be honest, I don’t really know what they could do to make things better as far as attendance. With their one-room venue, they’re obviously not trying to be a large con, but if there were 1,000 people there over the weekend, then they could stand to aim for 2,000. It wasn’t crowded at all. With so many conventions in Texas, it may well be over-saturated with conventions, but then again, all major Texas cities are three hours apart at best, and maybe six hours at worse (unless we want to count El Paso as a “major city,” in which case, like, ten hours). Most of AO’s attendees were definitely locals. In fact, as far as the anime cons go, probably only A-kon, IKKiCON, Anime Matsuri, and Oni-Con draw a significant percentage of out-of-city attendees, and all of those are now in different cities — Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Galveston respectively.
I dunno. Con trends are weird. But all things said and done, I did about average for sales and had a good time, and that’s good enough.
And now I have a gaping five-month break until my next confirmed con (IKKiCON)… I guess this means I’ll have to start writing something other than con reports!