I like going to conventions. I really do. And that was why I scheduled my crazy cross-country move for the weekend after IKKiCON (December 30-January 2; Austin, TX). I didn’t want to miss the show, dammit! But that was also why I was scatterbrained and distracted all weekend — impending cross-country moves do that? And that is also why I’m writing a con report three weeks after the fact. Let’s see if I’m still ridiculously verbose…

Possibly the most awkward and amazing photo I took all weekend. An accurate portrayal of conventions everywhere.

…Yup. Still am. 3569 words. I’M NOT SORRY.

THURSDAY

There was no particular rush to leave early Thursday since Artist Alley setup went well into the night, but I packed up the car a little past three, picked up a poster order at the printer, and picked up Chuck in Sealy on the way to Austin. It was an easy drive, especially since IKKiCON moved from the Hilton to the AT&T Convention Center, which, sitting on MLK between University and Whitis, is right on the edge of the University of Texas campus. How terribly nostalgic. :> I could have walked straight up Whitis to my old dorm.

That said, I didn’t actually ever drive when I attended UT, so the secrets of cheap parking eluded me. I knew going in that parking at the convention center’s garage was going to be ridiculous, but I wasn’t familiar with the rates at Dobie Theatre’s garage across the street and had no idea if they allowed overnight parking, etc. It wasn’t something I felt like figuring out when I got there though, so I just parked at the con garage. At least I got a really convenient spot close to the elevator, even if I parked about three inches from a pillar on the driver’s side (I’ll deal with it on Sunday??).

Chuck and I wandered upstairs and found Artist Alley on the third floor outside the Dealer’s Room before going back to unload. Somewhere in there I suddenly realize that I’d left one bag at home — the bag with all of my posters, my button display board, my bookmark stand, all of my signage, and all of my plastic sleeves for posters/prints. Maaaaan.

Fake Lemonade Stand @ IKKiCON 6 (picture taken Friday).

Check-in was pretty painless. Find your name on a list, go find your assigned table. They didn’t have badges ready for us, but promised we’d get them Friday morning. No one checked for tax permits.

Yume was setting up when we arrived and graciously lent me a spare piece of grid cube and some felt with which to make a new button board. I converted my new bookmark storage unit into a display… thingy, and I redid a majority of my signs. But you see how awfully bare the vertical space at my table is without the posters? ;_; I only had the Pokemon one because that’s what I picked up from the printer on the way out of Houston.

There were other concerns too though, like how dark it was in that hallway. The ceiling lights were meager, and it was obvious that the hallway was meant to be a hallway and not a market. I could only hope that this was because Thursday was just setup. Surely they’d be brighter on the actual  nights of the convention…? The tables were also pretty crowded — there was hardly any space behind the tables (though it wasn’t nearly as bad as Anime Matsuri), and there were very few gaps in the lineup, making it hard to go back and forth from the front and back of most tables. Also, all of the tables were 6’x2′ but had an extra six inches width-wise that was folded down and locked. I would have liked those extra six inches!

I think there was some minor drama involving table placement (spaces were pre-assigned based on requests) further down the hall, as well as some drama regarding table displays, but I don’t really think those are my stories to tell. :x Either way, I did hear that staff worked pretty hard to be accommodating and flexible, so there’s that. I got the spot I wanted next to the people I wanted, so all was well for me.

IKKiCON 6 Artist Alley Map

Most of the tables around me were artists selling unrelated wares, which is excellent, even if it meant most of my friends, as print artists, were elsewhere in the alley. Table #3 was Awesome Badges, and #5 was my awesome friends and repeat customers, Kawaii Ribbons (they don’t have an online store and only sell at conventions). #1 and #2 were La De Da’s, the wig vendors, who also had tables in the DR. #6 was a girl selling leather masks, and there was actually another table between 6 and 7, Little Blob of Green and his custom metalstuffs. Chuck was #33, and my hotelmates Yume, Kiiyame (White Oblivion), and StarHettix were #37 and #36. Kevin (Yanimator), Jinny (Nayuki-chan), and Tod (Uniique) were also in attendance, along with a handful of other Texas regulars I don’t know too well. Sadly, a lot of artists did poorly at IKKiCON last year, so many of them didn’t come back. :c

We got into Austin a bit past seven, I think, but I didn’t head up to the hotel room until past nine. There were three different pizza places within walking distance, but my hotelmates and I were lazy and just ordered delivery from Domino’s around ten. And then I doodled some in my sketchbook. And then we talked forever about nothing, and then we went to sleep!?

FRIDAY

According to the IKKiCON website, Artist Alley was to open Friday at 10 am. Like a crazy person, I was up at 7:30 am. I don’t even get up that early on days I need to be at the client’s office by 9:30 after a one hour commute. :| But hey, it was an unsecure Alley as far as I knew, which meant attendees could start walking by at any time, so earlier is always better, right? Besides, I still had some signs to remake.

I also passed the time drawing new badges for characters from new, esoteric series that no one else is watching. :>

The best table neighbors ever, Stacy and Michael of Kawaii Ribbons, showed up a little after eight, but I don’t think there were really any attendees until after nine. It was a pretty slow morning in general, probably because I had giant windows behind me ( they looked over the courtyard between the convention center and the hotel) and the glare from the sun was awwwwwful until around noon when the sun moved on — things picked up significantly in the afternoon and stayed steady through sundown. That’s why the above photo is so washed out. Too much light and at such awkward angles! You can also see how harsh the lighting was below:

My hotelmate Star as Taichi on Friday!

Merchandise sales were pretty typical, though I did a lot more badge commissions than usual on Friday. Thankfully, I had replenished my supply of badge holders and clips since San Japan, though near the end of the day I was running dangerously low on pre-cut bristol… In between commissions, I did random sketches and made more sketch card examples since all of those had been left at home as well. And man, with all the bronies running around, I was really missing my Panty and Stocking pony posters. :c Did these badges though!

Generally, I can’t do commissions of characters I’m unfamiliar with, or don’t know well enough from memory. This is lame because a majority of con-goers don’t think to carry around references. You’ll have a handful of prolific commissioners that have entire binders of printed references and character descriptions, but those are pretty rare. I’m so used to turning people down when they can’t provide a ref or don’t have a smartphone to look things up on. But halfway through Friday, Stacey and Michael let me use their iPad to look up various references. It was the Best Thing Ever. o_o Even for characters I did know, like the ponies, it was really, really nice to be able to double-check details. Aaaa. They also shared pizza with me later. Best neighbors ever or best neighbors ever??

It was the least I could do to not charge them for this commission. <3

The sun started to set around five, and it became clear pretty fast that the lighting was once again godawful. Indoor lighting? For hallways? Hahahaha! By the time the sun was completely gone, there wasn’t enough light to do commissions by. Pencil sketches were nearly invisible, and it was too hard to guess what the true color of anything in the dark. It was also more or less impossible to see behind and under my table, even with the light of a cell phone. There didn’t seem to be a lot of staff milling around, but the one I did manage to grab said they would call a higher up to see if anything could be done about the light. They never got back to me and the lights never changed. :\ Attendee traffic dropped off visibly after the Dealer’s Room closed. It was just too dark to browse, and the Alley was dead by eight. Tragic, considering we were supposed to be open to midnight.

Not that anyone seemed to know we were supposed to be open to midnight. A lot of the artists had left by then (no doubt because of the lighting issue), but staff started telling attendees that the AA was closed and cutting them off at the top of the stairs at 8:30 pm. Um, what? No? La De Da’s complained about this… after which staff started telling people that AA was closed at the first junction of tables (between #7 and #34 on the map), instead of at the top of the stairwell. This meant that the AA was closed except for the first little ring of tables. :\ Not that it really mattered. When you tell attendees that “Artist Alley is closed,” then they will wander off and tell their friends that “Artist Alley is closed” and then it doesn’t matter at all that technically the first ring of tables is “open.”

But here is a Matt and Sora to go with the Tai. :3

Considering the terrible lighting, it didn’t make much of a difference that they closed us prematurely, but I was still pretty irritated about the whole thing anyway. Clearly the staff needed to be better informed and more communicative. And man, the lighting better not suck for Saturday, too. I went back to the hotel room and passed the few hours before bedtime with sketches, including some doodles of Avatar: The Last Airbender characters that Kiiyame managed to grossly mis-guess while her glasses were off (that is Katara, not Iroh, omg. ;__; I don’t even remember who you mistook Sokka for).

SATURDAY

According to the IKKiCON website that apparently no one else checks, hours for Artist Alley on Saturday were from 9 am to midnight. No hours were included in the con program. I was downstairs by 8am or so, and Stacey and Michael had brought me 1) coffee, and 2) a lamp. I don’t even. Just. Aaaaaaaa. They are the best. ;A; I also managed to use one of their extra displays to pin up my spare table cloth thing against the window so there wasn’t as much sun glaring over my shoulder in those awkward morning hours.

Such an awesome Master Roshi.

Saturday was actually oddly slow in terms of merchandise sales. It was definitely slower than Friday, but this was balanced out by endless commissions. I bet Michael and Stacey regretted letting me use their iPad because I kept needing it. (They bring it to watch anime (and to play Plants VS Zombies??) during slow hours behind the table.) Once I knew I could look up reference, I accepted All The Commissions. By my haphazard records, I did over 45 individual commissions Saturday. If there’s any miscount, then my count is lower than it should be. o_o

Not much else to say about Saturday, honestly. It was one of those “sit at a table for fifteen or so hours and draw!” convention days. Saw a lot of familiar faces though! Lots of repeat customers from other conventions, which is always awesome, even if it makes me sad to leave. <3

When the sun started to set, I plugged in the lamp Michael brought me and lo! My table was lighted just enough for people to see by and just enough for me to continue working on commissions well into the darkness hours. Have I mentioned yet how awesome my neighbors are? All around the Alley you could see other artists with impromptu light setups though. People had Christmas lights and random little lamps and tea lights. It was kind of neat how resourceful people were. All the same, I found it frustrating that none of the staff had directly addressed the obvious lighting issue with any of the artists.

When 8:30 pm rolled around, volunteers/staff again started telling both attendees and artists that the Alley would be closing at nine. What. :\ This time, I complained about it, and the volunteers backed off to the extent of “sorry, we’ll let the staff/people in charge know.” In the end, the same “compromise” was reached as on Friday. The Alley was closed except for the first ring of tables, which included mine. And I guess I didn’t really care to fuss more than that because again, there was no one around anyway, and I mostly just wanted to stay at my table to finish commissions. Meanwhile, most everyone else was off counting down to midnight. Oh, right, it’s New Years. Whoops. Completely forgot!

ARGH I only saw these guys (Ty Lee, Azula, Zuko, Mai; ATLA) from the window. They never came upstairs. ;____; Bawwing forever.

I finished all my commissions around eleven, went back up to the room, doodled, then went to sleep right after midnight. Staying up all night partying? Nope! Roomies and I were all boring and just went to bed.

SUNDAY

Stacey and Michael brought me coffee again Sunday morning. I wish they had a site I could plug or something, seriously, but they don’t really even hit that many cons, just the ones in Austin and San Antonio? But next time you see them, you should go buy things from them and tell them they’re awesome, ’cause they are. ;__;

Stacey and her matching friend whose name I FORGOT AGAIN even after asking. ;__; I also can't believe I forgot to actually take photos of their costumes... :|

Sunday… I did more commissions. It wasn’t nearly as many as Saturday, but it was still more than Sunday. Lots of last-minute purchases. Yup.

At some point I made a quick run into the Dealer’s Room, but I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and didn’t stay too long because then I’d have ended up buying something random. I wish dealers would carry a larger variety of doujinshi, but I realize that’s probably a huge gamble for them. Doujin is one of the few things I think are cheaper to buy in person than online, but I’ve also gotten really picky regarding figures and plush because I don’t have much room for them. It’s harder to be picky about doujin when 1) there are so few scanlations, so it’s rare you’ll recognize any single release, 2) all of them are shrinkwrapped, regardless of rating.

I feel like this report is missing a lot of happenings, but my memory is bad (this is part of why I like writing such detailed reports), and I don’t think anything super important is missing… :c

BUT. HEY.If you commissioned me Saturday evening for an inked sketch card of your OC Basil and never picked it up. Here he is! I can email you a proper scan or mail out the original at your expense. Just let me know!

Inked sketch card -- this was never picked up by the commissioner! Please contact me if this was for you!

The Alley closed down around 4 pm. I broke down my table and packed the car, then helped Yume break down while waiting for Chuck. Yume ended up backing my van out for me since I’d parked so stupidly close to the pillar, and then the three of us went to Chili’s for dinner. (It’s tradition now; Chili’s after cons.) And then we all went home!

Color sketch card of Cave Story characters/cosplayers. :3

OVERALL

I mentioned before that IKKiCON was my first con ever, right? Not as an artist, but yeah. I think it, along with MomoCon, will always be pretty special to me because of that. This year went a lot better than last year in a lot of ways, though there are certainly things that will need to be worked, especially if they’re planning on staying at the AT&T Convention Center.

Pros:

  • Having Artist Alley in the hallway outside the DR was, decidedly, better than having it inside the DR. Even though it was a bit cramped, I think the general setup and placement of the Alley was really nice. DR, AA, and the Art Show were the only things happening on the third floor, so it was one-stop shopping. Plus, attendees needed to walk through the front part of AA to get to the entrance to the Dealer’s Room, and then walk through the entire AA to get back to the stairs and elevators after exiting the DR.
  • Longer AA hours (compared to last year, and compared to the DR) were good, though obviously it would have been better if everyone had actually been aware of this.
  • The new convention location was something I personally liked, though I hear that the space was rather cramped for attendees. While I liked it, I don’t think it’s actually much of an improvement over the Hilton since IKKiCON doesn’t take place while UT is in session, negating the benefit of being on campus, and Artist Alley can easily be placed in the hallway outside the Dealer’s at the Hilton as well, right?

Cons:

  • The lighting. There were basically only ~5 good hours of light each day, between noon and 5 pm. It wasn’t as much of a problem for people not against the windows, but the morning sunshine was blinding and made it hard for attendees to see. And after sunset, the hall lighting was completely inadequate. It’s ridiculous for artists to need to bring their own lighting. :\ The frustration is compounded by the fact that the lights could have been brighter, but disorganization prevented staff from properly getting in touch with the hotel about it. At least, that’s what I’ve gathered.
  • No definitive hours. Seriously, why were there hours on for AA on the website, but not in the program? Why were none of the staff or volunteers aware of the hours?
  • There needs to be more space behind the tables against the walls. I had like two feet of space and it was a pain digging myself out of space every time I needed to leave the table. I crawled under a neighboring table to get out 75% percent of the time because it was just SO inconvenient to climb over everyone and their stuff to get to the nearest table gap. I also want the extra 6 inches of depth that was folded down on all the tables. If this means fewer overall tables because the hall space would be too narrow with 6’x2’6″ tables, then fine.
  • Staff communication. Because lighting and hours wouldn’t have been a problem if there had been more of this. :x It seems clear that IKKiCON is a show run by a small number of people and a lot of volunteers that aren’t always kept in the loop. Expanding the number of people that have definitive authority over specific things would spread the load around better, but I suppose this is easier said than done.

I had a good weekend though. I think the con was a lovely way to end and start the year. It was nice hanging out with folks for one last hurrah before moving out of the state, but you know what, I realized over the weekend that I could probably go back to IKKiCON if it stays close to New Years. I’ll be visiting family in Houston for Christmas anyway. And what’s an extra week anywhere for a freelancer? May as well stay for IKKiCON, right? Right? :3

Hilariously, the only other cons I’m definitely planning for right now for 2012 are both in Texas: I’ll be gunning for A-kon for sure, and if I get into A-kon, I’ll do Comicpalooza as well since they’re back-to-back weekends. MIGHT AS WELL. I didn’t manage to get a table at Sakura-Con and most other Seattle-area conventions seem to be in the fall and are pretty small, so I won’t look much into them until they’re closer. I’ll proooobably show up at Sakura-Con as an attendee for at least a day to say hello to Kiiyame, who will be there. And I might go to Emerald City Comic Con as an attendee as well? Man. What will I even do at conventions if I don’t have a table to sit behind. o_o

It feels weird to not really know when my next con will be, but registration for A-kon’s AA won’t be for another month at the earliest… Anyway, thanks for reading! Here’s the full photo gallery: