You may recall that I said Anime Overload would be my last convention of the season. Well, five days before San Japan, I magically acquired a table. And then I panicked all week about the super last-minute arrangements I needed to make. But everything worked out and it was all worth it because
San Antonio Pinky Pie knows how to throw a convention party.
This report is 5621 words long. Just so you know.
On Sunday, July 31st, Ladre mentioned that he got permission to resell his San Japan table, as he wouldn’t be able to make it for continuing health reasons. I debated for all of fifteen minutes before jumping all over it. I’d heard so many good things about the con that it seemed foolish to pass up on the chance — I could figure out hotel and possible carpool situations later, right? So I paid Ladre, emailed the SJ Artist Alley director to confirm, then set about shooting messages and emails and notes to people inquiring as to whether I could bum in a corner of their hotel room, etc. I already knew the Texas AA community was pretty amazing, but man, I love you guys. <3 I had just about everyone double-checking with all of their hotelmates to make sure one more was okay, not to mention securing a back-up couchsurfing option, courtesy of fellow SCAD grad Jon.
But then it was a waiting game. I hate waiting games. In actuality, all of this was resolved and finalized within 36 hours or so, but 36 hours seems like forever when you’re panicking. But everything worked out. I would be bumming a ride with JohnYume and Chrislea to San Antonio, and I would be crashing with Chrislea, Amanda (Cinnamoron), and Cari (Blix-it) in their hotel room. Awwyiss.
I spent the morning hitting up half a dozen stores looking for 4×3″ badge holders because I knew I didn’t have very many left. No store had them. It was ridiculous. So I went home and did some word sprints for Camp NaNoWriMo, and after a minor delay, Yume and Chrislea arrived around 1:30pm or so. We loaded my stuff into Yume’s gigantic old creeper van, which, if it weren’t for the many windows, would it look like a kidnapper’s van. :D The van had way more room than we actually needed, lol, and Yume’s con things dwarfed Chrislea’s and mine. I hadn’t restocked on anything since A-kon, so I did have less than usual… but my usual still wouldn’t be anything compared to Yume’s huge storage tubs of stuff.
The drive was mostly uneventful, but the last time I went to San Antonio was to evacuate for Hurricane Rita, so I was very pleased that it did not take 10+ hours of sitting on I-10 to get there this time. Things got more complicated once we pulled into city limits, and I’m pretty sure we circled around downtown San Antonio for half an hour before we magically found the hotel entrance — but hey! We passed by some nice sights and the Alamo while we were lost and still got to the hotel right around 5pm.
After Yume checked in, we unloaded the van and left everything with Chrislea and Kiiyame (White Oblivion), who just happened to be hanging out in the lobby when we arrived, and went to go park… In the scary underground garage under the hotel. Which had a 6’6″ clearance height. Yume’s giant van just barely made it under the hanging bar declaring the height, but going into the actual garage was pretty much the most terrifying thing ever since 1) we had to drive down an incline that was at least 40° into the garage entrance, 2) the tunnel was super, super narrow. Even when we made it into the garage, the ceiling was ridiculously low and there was hardly any space to turn, and arghargharghasda. ;_; But we made it! Without scraping anything! For now!
Amanda, Cari, and Jessica (RadiusZero) were at the Rivercenter mall when we arrived, but were at the hotel by the time we finished parking and such, so Chrislea and I could move our stuff to the room. We didn’t linger long before heading down to the Artist Alley around 6:15 or so though because you see, San Japan’s AA table assignments were first come, first serve…
The Artist Alley was situated in the hallway outside the Main Events room, the Dealer’s Room, and between that area and the hotel elevators. The Marriott had some fancy hallway chandeliers that ensured that some areas were very well-lighted while others were in utter darkness. They were still setting the tables up when we got there, but we all met up with Silver no Miko and Alicechan, among others. There was a lot of confusion regarding where/when we were supposed to and allowed to line up. The San Japan website still said artist check-in was at 9pm, but many of us had been told that this had been changed to 8pm and that we were allowed to start lining up at 7pm. However, as the pre-registration badge pick-up line was also nearby, some artists were told different things by staff and volunteers that probably didn’t realize they were artists.
Some minor drama ensued, but a majority of us that ended up near the front of the line were friends, so as we waited, we sort of just worked out who was getting what table amongst ourselves. Hanging around in line for over an hour gave us plenty of time to figure things out as they started numbering the tables. Between the elevators and the hallway containing the entrances to Main Events and Dealer’s Room was a single well-lit area with six tables, three of which were really under the light and the rest of which were just… not dark, I would say. Amanda, Cari, and Jessica got those tables. There were two or three pockets in the main hall that were well-lit, but inexplicably, there were three eight foot tables in one of those pockets while the rest were six feet. Um. Hell yes?
Long story short, Kat (Tsarren), who sells
shiny things jewelry, got one of the eight foot tables. I got the one next to her. Chrislea and her tablemate, Foilguy, got the third one, across from us. Yume and Kiiyame got two tables in a little nook to my left. Alicechan and Silver no Miko were sharing a table to Chrislea’s left. Tod (Uniique) and Kevin (Yanimator) got tables to their right. Katy (MetalEgo/Winged Cat Machine) who got there later, set up in a dark area around the corner from me. Later, I found out that Mossimo had a table in a corner on the other side of Yume and Kiiyame, but I don’t think I knew anyone else in the Alley… and this convention was the first in a good, long while where I really didn’t even have time to make a complete loop around to see everyone. x_x
To illustrate the differences in lighting, here are photos of the main hallway on either side of my table. Notice that the lighted area has fancy chandelier things and that the dark area has crappy little spotlights. The sun was still up when I took these pictures sometime Saturday, but the dark area was waaaaay darker in the evening and night since there’s no extra light coming in the window at the end.
Check-in itself was relatively painless, and I’m always pretty pleased when they actually check for sales/tax permits, but I have mixed feelings about the whole FCFS thing. We wasted a lot of time standing around in line (or, um, lingering without purpose, as we weren’t supposed to line up until 7pm). If tables had been assigned, I could have been doing other things… like eating dinner. However, as San Japan’s AA layout was incredibly polarizing, I’m also super grateful that I lucked out so much in my final table claim. “Good” and “bad” tables were right next to each other. The difference between the dark and light areas was ridiculous. And seriously, what was with those random 8′ tables? Leaving table assignments to chance might have meant actually eating dinner, but I don’t think dinner would have been worth a bad spot.
After checking in, I set up my PVC and banner, but despite being a 24hr Artist Alley, we weren’t allowed to start selling until the next morning. Too bad, really. The pre-registration line was wrapping around the far side of the hallway and there were tons of people just wandering around. I’m positive we could have had a few good hours of selling if we’d been allowed to. Instead, I helped Yume set up her gigantic grid cube system and just hung out in that corner with Kiiyame and Chrislea until we all got tired and went back up to our respective rooms around 11pm or so.
Technically, Artist Alley wasn’t to open until 9am, but I wasn’t really sure if they were gonna hold us to that and wanted to be downstairs and ready as soon as possible, especially since I still needed to print out my inventory sheets… So I was the first one up at 7am. I grabbed an overpriced cheese danish and latte from the Starbucks downstairs, then headed to the third floor to print stuff. The Rivercenter Marriott’s business center is run by UPS, and each computer had a minimum $5 usage charge. This was ridiculous in itself, but the sad thing is that it didn’t take long to hit that minimum charge because computer usage was $0.59/minute and printing $0.50/page. :| I was really irritated about it, considering the (way cheaper) Holiday Inn I stayed at for Anime Overload had a business computer with free usage and free printing. And they also had a nice, complimentary breakfast. Humbug to you, Rivercenter Marriott.
All of the tables came with (pretty damn nice) red tablecloths, but that meant the red tablecloth I normally use did not stand out at all amongst the other tables. :\ So I used my weird, picnicy cover sheet as a tablecloth instead and draped my red cloth over a section of it so the bookmarks on the table weren’t competing against a crazy, patterned background. It wasn’t crazy enough to stress me out while setting up, but there were definitely already attendees milling about in the early hours of Friday, and by 9:30am, or so the convention was more or less full swing.
And Friday was insanely busy. Like, A-kon busy. o_o This was astounding because the final count on attendance for San Japan was just over 6,800 warm bodies. A-kon had nearly three times that amount. It was San Japan’s 4th year. A-kon is the oldest anime convention in the United States. I think the following worked in San Japan’s favor:
- It is San Antonio’s one big anime convention. There were tons of con virgins!
- The entire convention is on the 3rd floor of the hotel, so people only left for food.
- The hallway was super wide, so people didn’t block traffic by stopping at artist tables.
For me personally, things were even better because:
- I was in a clean and well-lighted place. :)
- I had a gigantic 8′ table, fufufufu.
- My immediate neighbor (Kat) wasn’t competing with me at all in terms of merchandise.
- Being across from Main Events instead of Dealer’s Room meant that there was tons of traffic even after DR closed.
- A stairwell opened into a nice empty area between my table and Kiiyame’s, so lots of people hung out there. Small crowds attract other small crowds!
I basically sat and did commissions all day Friday, including seven inked sketch cards for Luke Green (Thrythlind) , proper scans of which are on his dA account. I was pleased that people were finally noticing my tiny sign that said “Yes, I can draw you” which I put up to encourage more caricature requests. I did so many little chibi caricatures~. It was pretty awesome. I was also pleased that Brad Swaile (VA for Light from Death Note, Quatre from Gundam Wing, Amaro from Mobile Suit Gundam, etc.) being one of the guests meant that suddenly everyone noticed the handful of Gundam Wing ACEOs I had, haha. Someone bought the Quatre ACEO and got it signed (sorry for the terrible photo):
Other than commissions, I also sold a ton of buttons and bookmarks — way more than usual — along with a bunch of random things I don’t generally move, like things from my “old crap for sale” folder and comics! I am pretty sure I sold more comics at San Japan than every other convention combined. I didn’t really have that many with me either — don’t think I’ve reprinted any of my minis since March — so I ran out of some comics super fast. Was pretty nuts. o_o
Despite lots of people being around, the hallway was never crowded to the point of absurdity, and the temperature never got uncomfortable because of compacted, sweaty bodies. I think Safety/Security staff, along with a generous number of uniformed SAPD officers, really helped with the general flow of things and kept people from acting too wildly. The hotel staff also hung around a lot, with cleaning staff coming through regularly to empty trash cans and pick up dropped litter. I actually spoke to a few of the hotel staff as they were passing by — they were all very nice, seemed genuinely interested in the con, and one of them even said, “Hey, if you guys weren’t here this weekend, I wouldn’t have any hours, so thank you.”
~*PINKIE PIE*~ showed up sometime in the early evening and was mobbed by throngs of attendees wanting hugs and pictures. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the suiter/cosplayer actually commissioned me for a colored sketch of her Earthbound OC earlier in the day and she sent me a scan after the con! :D
The Dealer’s Room closed at 7pm. The crowds didn’t die down at all. People started lining up for the first of several concerts around 8pm, maybe? The queue was a little awkward since it blocked Tod and Kevin’s tables, but I think staff managed to keep it relatively orderly regardless.
Unfortunately, the first band to play, the Loliholix, was all kinds of terrible (the name isn’t even the half of it). <_< Being right across from the room meant I could hear everything perfectly, and in particular, the vocalist aggravated the hell out of me. For the first song, the band covered “Haruka Kanata” by ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION. In addition to having a very inconsistent volume and sounding whiny, constantly out-of-breath, and awkward with slurred and Anglicized pronunciations of the lyrics, the vocalist managed to noticeably mess up the lyrics. “Haruka Kanata” is not a hard song. The first verse is two stanzas. The second verse is a repeat of the first verse. Vocalist managed to repeat the second stanza twice for the second verse. Good job. After that, they went on to butcher “Ride on Shooting Star” by the pillows, the theme to Inspector Gadget, and a song I (thankfully) didn’t recognize.
Chrislea, who had her back to the Main Events room, wandered over to chat because she couldn’t stand the noise or the vocals. I think we were both very grateful that the Loliholix did not stay for long and were soon replaced by the Descendants of Erdrick, who played both years at Anime Overload, and who are actually pretty damn good. …And I think they were especially awesome at San Japan because they played a Sonic and Knuckles medley. <3
The traffic in the halls had been gradually thinning and was pretty sparse by the time Descendents finished playing. Another band was set to play, but they were taking their time setting up, I guess. I never actually looked into the Main Events room, so everything I know is based off hearing them, lol. A majority of the other artists had already headed up at that point. In fact, I think it was pretty much just me, Foilguy, and some guy sitting around the corner in the dark doing commissions?
While I debated whether to close up for the night, I saw Nabeshin wandering around with his wife (?), her friend, and their San Japan staff person/translator. o_o I actually wasn’t sure if it was him or a cosplayer at first, but the group speaking Japanese amongst themselves gave it away. So I took stalker pictures:
I was bloody exhausted, but in the end, I don’t think I packed up until 11pm or so. I stopped by the karaoke room before heading up, but it looked like they were playing Rock Band instead of doing straight-up karaoke, so I just went back to the room, where I was the last person to go to bed.
And then I was the first one up again. 8D
But I think the prize for most insane artist over the weekend goes to Foilguy, who did not sleep at all the whole time. Seriously. o_o He stayed up all Friday night and all Saturday night, watching over things and cranking out more foil figures to sell. I think he had a few buddies that watched his table at times, but even if he took breaks, I don’t think they were to sleep. The further insanity is just how cheap he sells his figures for. Kiiyame and Chrislea gave him a hard time all weekend about how much he was undercutting himself:
Seriously, look at these things!
In general, Saturday was very similar to Friday. I did a lot of commissions. And then I started to run out of everything. San Japan shall henceforth be known as the convention where I ran out of everything. Yes, yes, a lot of this was because I hadn’t been planning on attending the show and hadn’t had a chance to restock on many things, but still. I sold out of the “When I Was Your Age” Pokemon posters early in the afternoon; “Anarchy is Magic” ran out not long after that. Since I didn’t get to find more 3×4″ vertical badge holders, I started taking badge holders from my premade badges when people commissioned me for them. But soon, I ran out of those too, and had to start drawing badges horizontally because those were the only holders I had left. o_o
I sold out of a few bookmarks and at least one button on Saturday as well. And I ran out of so many comics that I had to take away one of the display racks. For the first time in a very long time, I was actually scrambling to find things to fill in the blank spaces on my table left by sold out items. Having that 8′ table I sat in line an hour for made this even harder, hahahaha. That said, and everyone agrees, running out of stock is a wonderful problem to have. *_* I am very, very grateful for (and bewildered by) all of the support and patronage I received at San Japan.
I actually had one of the AA volunteers run over to the UPS store/business center to inquire about their printing prices for me. If they weren’t outrageous, I would have printed more of the sold out posters, but they were, so oh well. The AA volunteers showed up pretty sporadically, and it was impractical for me to trek over to the AA staff table when/if I needed them for something specific, but they were awesome all the same. Bringing around water and lemonade was especially appreciated, even if my having lemonade at the table invited a lot of mock anger from attendees when I wouldn’t sell it to them. ;D
Unfortunately, there was a further bit of drama Saturday morning when Chrislea and Foilguy’s table was moved unceremonious from their hard-fought spot to several feet away. Chrislea’s account of the incident is as follows:
Saturday morning I had not been at my table more than an hour, and in the middle of a sale when two security thugs came up and told me I HAD to move. Next thing I knew, my table was being lifted up and carried down the hall into a dark area. Another table was dragged into MY location.
Went to AA table and demanded an explanation. AA head was just as surprised as I was to find out [Security was] dragging artists all over the place. She sought out security, and when she asked their lead-dude what was going on, he told her, and I quote, “Well, it’s not our decision, you’ll have to ask the head of the AA.” When she informed him that SHE was the head of AA, he paused for a moment, mumbled something about the fire marshall and being too close to the door, then slunk away. The only thing she could do for me would be to push somebody else out of their spot. That wouldn’t have been right, so I went back to my new spot.
A few minutes later security returned to bark at us that we were too close to the door and we had to move. Pissed by now, we all shot back that security PUT us there, that they had put us closer to the door than we originally had been, and we weren’t moving an inch. And we didn’t. If they had to move the table that replaced us, they could have put it where they put us, and displaced only one table, not two or three.
It had been Tod and Kevin’s tables that were moved into Chrislea/Foilguy’s old spot. Given that their two tables were routinely blocked by lines formed for Main Events on Friday, it made sense that they were moved, but as Chrislea mentioned, it would have been far more courteous to move their table around to where her table ended up instead of scooting her over. It would have been less of a big deal if the tables hadn’t originally been FCFS… and if that several feet move hadn’t made a huge difference in sales. A good question would also be why Tod and Kevin’s tables were ever in a position to be blocked by lines in the first place, but given how smoothly most of the rest of things at San Japan went, I guess they’re allowed a lack of foresight here and there.
The green shirted Security guys did get on my nerves in a different way as Saturday progressed though. As it began to get more crowded — especially as the Cosplay Contest line started to form — there were two or three Security people and one staff girl that kept yelling at attendees to move or to not stand around. Nevermind that they were standing in front of artists, you know, buying things.
But other than that, there is really little else to report about Saturday. I sat and drew for about 18 hours. Really. From 8am to just about 2am, I sat in that hallway and did commissions, and when I wasn’t doing commissions, I was sketching various characters from my Camp NaNoWriMo novel because there was no point in cranking out premade badges or anything because I’d run out of holders. x_x It was madness. This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to do 24hr Artist Alleys. Especially with not Foilguy there to make me feel slightly less insane.
Nabeshin and his entourage showed up again in the afternoon and began doing impromptu signings and photos in the gap between my table and Kiiyame’s. Suddenly, a crowd! It was interesting to see how comfortable he was with his fans and it was clear he was having tons of fun striking retarded poses when having his picture taken. I didn’t have anything relevant for him to sign, so kind wanted him to take a picture with Nomako (the Mokona), but I didn’t want him to think that I thought he had anything to do with Tsubasa Chronicles, lol. In the end, I took a super awkward photo with him in which I look retarded, so I’m not sharing. :D After the fact, I realized it would have been pretty sweet if he had signed one of my fake lemons, but alas.
An artist that wasn’t tabling swung by and we an awesome few minutes of geeking out over the Archie Knuckles comics before she commissioned me for a drawing of Locke and an OC. And then Cari came by and commissioned me for a drawing of Skittlez from her most excellent webcomic, Toilet Genie. That was pretty damn awesome, even though I forgot to get a picture. ;3;
I’m really glad so many other artists came to visit me at my table because I never got to do my usual rounds around the Alley. Chuck, who also wasn’t tabling, but was attending the con for fun, showed up at some point Saturday and was nice enough to watch my table for a few brief spells, not to mention Kat, who watched it diligently 90% of the time I had to take a restroom break, but it was just SO BUSY Saturday that I never felt comfortable staying away for long. Mossimo visited me like every day. So sweet of her. x3
After the Cosplay Contest, the rave/dance thing started up in the Main Events hall. The music was about the same volume as the concerts the previous night, so it wasn’t that bad at all… the people in the hall did start getting a little rowdy though. Glowsticks seem to have this effect on people? A big family group came and commissioned a crapton of colored sketch cards from me at like 1:30am. o_o Why are you guys even awake?! Half the kids in your party are under ten years old! x_x
The crowds didn’t thin like they did on Friday. They just got louder and crazier, and while the time between sales did gradually increase, I only closed up shop because my brain was melting. <_< If I turned my head too quickly, the room would spin! I think that is a sign to close up for the night. 8D
I don’t think I’ve ever gotten as little sleep over a convention as I did at San Japan, but the 24hr Artist Alley just made it far too easy to want to get up as soon as possible and to leave as late as possible. Chuck crashed in our room Saturday night, along with some other person that I totally never met (or even saw!) because they were asleep in the corner when I got in and still asleep when I left. XD
Sunday was a lot more relaxed in terms of merchandise sales, but last minute commissions? Ho boy. Thankfully, I’d learned from my experience at A-kon and did set up a nice system for queuing up non-live commissions (that is, non-caricature commissions) that kept me organized. A few people didn’t want to hang around for me to draw them while they waited, but I dislike working off a camera because 1) that screen is just way too small, 2) my camera’s battery sucks. I don’t really take that long to draw people anyway, though I may need to take off the “any number of characters” stipulation for the full page sketches because so many people were taking advantage of it to cram groups of four or five people in, which was just super stressful. <_<
At some point Sunday, I did run quickly through the part of Artist Alley between the main hall and the elevators, but I ended up mostly visiting friends and didn’t really stop long at unfamiliar tables… except for Fuwa Fuwa, because they had a Kyuubey plushie (not for sale, boo) and some really cute buttons and handmade plush. :3
Things got pretty hectic in the afternoon because some commissioners were leaving earlier than they thought and I had to rush through some badges. The last four hours pretty much disappeared on me and unfortunately, I had to turn down a few very last-minute commissions because there just wouldn’t have been time to finish them. :c Yume was being kicked out of the garage at 5:30pm, so I started tearing down a little before 4:30… but I tore down slowly. If you can still see it, you can still buy it, guys~. XD
We didn’t quite make it out by 5:30, but it was close enough? Getting out the garage was nearly as terrifying as it was going in, especially as we had to make an insane 180° turn to get on the ramp out. Yume ended up scraping the side of the van against one of the walls. :c We had planned to meet up with a few other artists for dinner, but we couldn’t find either of the two restaurants that we knew people had gone to and Yume, Chrislea, and I decided we’d just go find a Chili’s and eat by ourselves. Unfortunately, the GPS took us around in crazy circles all over downtown San Antonio, which is apparently creepy and ghetto as soon as you get out of the area around the hotel… so we ended up giving up on San Antonio, getting on I-10 towards home, and just pulling off at the first actual Chili’s we saw instead of the mysterious Chili’s the GPS was sure existed somewhere.
Adventures, man. Adventures.
San Japan was amazing. o_o
I made 20% and 25% more Friday and Saturday than I did at A-kon. Saturday’s numbers alone were equal to what I made in my third best weekend ever. Sunday’s numbers took a small plunge (down 30% from A-kon) because I didn’t move as much physically and a majority of sales was commissions, but overall for the weekend? 10% better than A-kon. Ridiculous. Absolutely insane, especially since I ran out of so many things. The numbers would have undoubtedly been higher if I’d actually been prepared.
Just about every artist I spoke to had an amazing weekend — not everyone did better than A-kon, but a good number did, so at the very least, it wasn’t just me. I didn’t know many of the artists that ended up tabling in the super dark spots, but I like to think that they did pretty well too. Even with stark differences between the well-lit and poorly-lit areas, going down from “amazing” is still “good,” right?
Unfortunately, a lot of the factors that made San Japan such a successful convention (for artists) may be moot for subsequent years as the convention is moving out of the Rivercenter Marriott to the convention center and Hyatt hotel down the street. Apparently the Artist Alley in the new location will be in the same room as Dealer’s, so it will no longer be a 24hr set-up. I never thought I’d be sad to see an AA change from 24hr to secured room, but it’s hard to deny that AA being open when DR is closed = lots of after-hour sales and lots more time to do commissions.
Still, for a four-year old convention, San Japan has shown an incredible degree of professionalism that has really impressed me. Aside from the mishap with Security/AA Saturday morning, the staff was responsive, organized, and helpful. As usual, I can really only speak for my experiences in Artist Alley, but I did get the impression that most other con events ran pretty smoothly. I didn’t really hear any attendees complain about any aspect of the convention and everyone was having a damn good time.
It can’t be helped that a lot of things will change when San Japan moves to the convention center, but seeing as the con chair hangs out regularly in the AA forums and seems very open to feedback and opinions, I can hope that San Japan continues to be amazing to artists in 2012 and beyond.
As always, thank you for reading my teal deer. 8) Here is a larger-than-usual image gallery, and I think there are a few more pictures on my Facebook page as well.