After two conventions of not having a table, I was back behind one for Comicpalooza this past Memorial Day weekend in Houston. And it was so good to be back! Behind a table, anyway. Sorry, Houston, I still hate your traffic and weather.
It was a mixed bag at Comicpalooza last year, but I still had a good time overall. I was optimistic about this year because the staff seemed very aware of 2011′s various issues and I got the impression they were doing everything they could to fix them for 2012. It being back-to-back with A-kon (which starts tomorrow!) also made it convenient for me… if insanely hectic.
The brevity of this report may be testament to that — I gotta get this done before I leave for A-kon (in two hours!?) so everything doesn’t get muddled in my head. This is only 2,687 words!
Back for its fifth year, Comicpalooza was again in the downtown George R. Brown Convention Center, but it had moved from being scattered about the third floor to three adjacent halls on the first floor. For some reason, I didn’t realize this when I was studying the map and so when I got there around 9am Friday morning, I ended up dragging my 100 lbs of gear up and down and all around the GRB before finally being directed to the proper place, which was on the opposite end of the convention center from where I parked. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to actually get to and use the loading dock like a real vendor — especially since parking is now $10/day (up from $7/day last year).
Thankfully, the show didn’t actually start until noon, so I had plenty of time to get settled, and more importantly, to cool down from the Texas heat. Check-in was simple and easy; I got my badge and found my table without a hitch. One of the biggest issues last year was that the Artist Alley was set up like a maze with the intention of funneling attendees through all the tables, but that backfired horribly. This year, the Artist Alley was set up in normal rows — or giant islands, I suppose — a much more standard sort of layout. It was again right next to the Dealers, but there were no longer curtains or anything separating the two classes of vendors, so we all shared the same hours. The hall felt a lot more cohesive in that one-stop shopping sort of way, and the main entrance led right to us, too. Attendees no longer had to snake between light sabers, roller derby, and Quidditch to find the vendors! Imagine that!
You know what else is awesome? Eight foot tables. Comicpalooza had them last year too, but man, I will never not appreciate eight foot tables. They spoil me. There’s so much room! I always manage to make it look cramped, but setting up at a six foot table at A-kon tonight is going to be twice as hard now. I apparently have a lot of new stuff? (It’s been five months since IKKiCON, after all.) I never feel like this is the case, because I never feel quite as prepared as I think I should be, but yeah. 100 lbs of luggage.
I wandered around the Alley a bit after setting up, but didn’t browse as thoroughly as I could have. I found and chatted a while with Matt Frank, college buddy and amazing Godzilla and Transformers artist. It’s always great catching up with folks you haven’t seen in a while — I think I last saw Matt at IKKiCON 5? Though he was only there as an attendee. There hasn’t been a show we were both tabling at until now since our forte genres are pretty different. I actually still feel a little awkward at comic conventions, even if Comicpalooza is officially multi-genre; meanwhile, Matt was there as an esteemed guest. :P
And then the doors opened to the public and Friday was… relaxed. Casual.
It was markedly busier than Friday last year — Comicpalooza did see an impressive increase in attendance, but the traffic didn’t feel like it matched those numbers. I think this was largely because, like the Washington State Convention Center, the GRB is enormous. There is tons and tons of space between tables and it just didn’t look or feel crowded. I didn’t get to ponder on this too long though, because I was hit with a huge commission order pretty fast: pencil sketches of all eleven Doctors. Go!
All right, so actually, the commissioner wanted all the Doctors minus Ten because apparently I’d drawn Ten for him last year, but I misunderstood and thought he wanted all the Doctors minus Eleven. So once corrected, I drew Eleven, rounding out a full set of Doctors:
It’s just as well he didn’t ask for Ten because I think that one is the worst of the lot; David Tennant why are you so hard to draw. ;_; The commissioner ended up getting a bunch of other things too (you’re the best, dude!) and had reference for everything (thank you!). And though I didn’t ask for it, he let me keep the reference he provided for the eleven Doctors. This is important later. :O
Actually, I had a ton of repeat commissioners throughout the weekend. It was really fun and kept me in a drawing mood — so much that I spent virtually all my time drawing and didn’t take many pictures of the rest of the convention at all. o_o That’s half of why I only managed pictures of four cosplayers the whole weekend? Like ECCC, the ratio of cosplayers to normally-dressed people at Comicpalooza was much lower compared to your typical anime convention, but I think part of it was also that there were significantly fewer characters running around from fandoms I’m personally invested in. I mean, I still haven’t seen any incarnation of any installment of Star Wars and saw Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring for the first time two weeks ago. :D So Stormtroopers, while cool looking, don’t mean much to me.
Chrislea came to hang out at my table in the early afternoon while waiting to do her panel on chibi art. One of my table neighbors was (author, martial artist, and probable ninja) Jon of Pyndus Books, but the other adjacent table was empty. It was supposed to go to SinisterKitten, a friend of Chrislea’s, but she had to cancel last minute… After her panel, Chrislea stopped by again and said she was clear to claim the empty table. Yay! It’s unfortunate that Kitten had to cancel, but no one likes empty tables!
Chuck (Warhound) wasn’t tabling, but also stopped by in the afternoon to chat. Chelsea (Radtastical), Tod (Uniique), and Kalo, all of whom were tabling, all stopped by at some point as well. I’m really glad I know so many cool people on the con circuit now; sure, we’re always tired and stressed out and busy when we see each other, but the camaraderie can’t be beaten.
Since Artist Alley shared hours with the Dealer’s Room, we shut down at 7pm. Normally, I’d say that seven is way too early for AA to close (the sun is still up!), but I was pretty grateful for it this time since I also had freelance assignments with approaching deadlines I needed to work on. Besides, it wasn’t very busy anyway and I didn’t feel that extended hours would have made much of a difference. Friday’s endgame ended up being what I expected: relatively modest, but still a big step up from last year.
The Exhibitor’s Hall opened to the public at 10am Saturday, so I got there again around nine, along with my brother, who was tagging along for the day. The morning was pretty uneventful. I had a few commissions to pass the time, but the show floor was still pretty relaxed and casual. It was busier on the Dealers’ side, but while Bro reported that some booths had some twenty people at a time digging through longboxes, there probably wasn’t anything like the feeding frenzy that was at the Half-Priced Books booth at Sakura-Con.
At noon, I left the table for a whole half hour to attend a portfolio review with Weldon Adams of Ape Entertainment. This was the only time I ever saw the rest of the convention, and I felt like things were more haphazardly put together compared to the Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley. There wasn’t a clear path to get around the various going-ons of Hall B, which included the roller derby, light sabering, boxing, and Quidditch, and there weren’t any actual panel rooms for panels in Hall C — the hall was divided into various spaces by curtains, similar to Anime Overload. This meant that there was a lot of noise pollution. Waiting in the portfolio review area for my turn, I could hear the speakers from every adjacent “room.” From what I understand, panels were in actual rooms last year, so I’m not sure what happened.
The portfolio review itself went all right? I forwent an actual portfolio and just brought most of my minicomics. Mr. Adams appeared to enjoy them and did not offer much in the way of critique, but my styles aren’t in line with what Ape is looking for, it seems. I think I was probably really awkward and overly quiet throughout the whole thing. It’s been a while, I guess, but I’ve never been good at talking about my work, and it might have also been obvious that I’m not terribly invested in getting published through a traditional publisher anymore. I’m not really sure how I feel about the encounter, honestly, but Mr. Adams was a nice guy, and it’s good to get professional feedback regardless.
I got back to the table just as things were picking up in the early afternoon. Attendees came in bursts and waves, but there were more than a few times when I was very grateful my brother was actually hanging around the table to help out. It’s always hard multitasking at the table, but it’s especially hard handling transactions and marking down sales when you’re also doing a live portrait commission.
On the other hand, my brother spending so much time at the table compared to last year was a clear indication that there wasn’t as much going on. There weren’t really any panels he wanted to attend, there wasn’t a mini indie film festival screening a bunch of movies for him to watch, and he isn’t the sort to fuss over celebrity guests. It’s good that all the events of the convention were right next to each over instead of scattered all over the place, but I think that added to the feeling that there wasn’t as much going on. There seemed to be less anime-related programming on the schedule this year too, so while my brother tends to be more familiar with classic sci-fi and general pop culture than me, we’re both pretty weeaboo and naturally gravitate towards those things.
As far as business in the Artist Alley goes though, Saturday ended up being a very solid day. We closed up at seven again and went home to reward a days’ hard work with a re-watch of Iron-Man 2.
We opened again at 10am for the last day, but Sunday morning was surprisingly slow. I had commissions here and there, but had enough downtime that I ended up drawing an entire set of ACEOs to keep myself occupied. Maybe things just seemed extra sluggish because I actually had coffee that morning? (There’s apparently a Starbucks on the second floor of the GRB and it’s every table-lackey’s rite of passage to do a ~*coffee run*~, right?)
Not surprisingly though, things picked up as the afternoon set in and everyone suddenly realized it was the last day and their last chance to commission stuff. And man, Sunday brought about some of the most damn fun commissions I could hope for.
A girl!Tony Stark cosplayer bought the commission examples of chibi Tony and Black Widow I had, and then commissioned the above. There was a wave of people wanting portraits of themselves, and then somehow John Baird (head of Create-a-Comic, staff at various Texas cons, including Comicpalooza, and awesome repeat patron) convinced me to draw a huge single piece with all eleven Doctors having shawarma.
John actually threw a lot of ideas at me with characters from a variety of fandoms, but he didn’t have any references, and I’m never very confident drawing characters I’m not intimately familiar with without reference. Even if I know the character/series and like them, if I haven’t already drawn them a few dozen times, it’s hard for me to draw them from memory. So when he suggested the Doctors, I was all, “AHHA. I HAVE REFERENCE.”
It was good luck that that other commissioner left me reference for the full cast of Doctors, but honestly… I think it was the shawarma that sealed the deal. It might be more than a little obvious that I’m on a ridiculous
Loki Avengers obsession kick at the moment. U_U
It was undoubtedly the most challenging commission I’ve done at a convention, but it was hilarious and fun, and I’m reasonably pleased with how it turned out. In addition to these two full sets of Doctors, I had separate commission for Eleven and did a commission example featuring Eleven as well, so altogether, I drew twenty-four Doctors over the weekend. That’s some kind of record, right.
An hour to closing, girl!Tony came back! With friends! And they took turns commissioning me for even more awesome things while we all geeked out about the Avengers. I think we ran a bit over the 6pm closing, but it wasn’t like anyone was kicking people out right on the hour. It would have been worth it, anyway. I can’t think of a better way to end the weekend than getting asked to draw this:
Despite being such a young convention (this was their fifth year), Comicpalooza is one of the most organized and professional I’ve had the pleasure of attending. They weren’t shy about soliciting feedback between this year and last, they maintained good communication with their vendors in the weeks leading up to the show, and volunteers were clearly visible and accessible during the show itself. I think a majority, if not all, of the staff are veterans at what they do, having staffed at dozens of other Texas conventions, and the collective experience is obvious. It’s very refreshing.
For artists, at least, I think Comicpalooza this year was a huge improvement over last year. The layout probably contributed to this the most, and I hope they keep a similar setup for 2013. I think dealers probably also benefited from the new setup, especially in that they weren’t losing business to artists by having shorter hours, but I can’t really say. And I can say even less about how the show was for attendees, but from my side of the table, it did seem like there was less going on. Who knows?
I had a good weekend, and I really hope they’re back-to-back with A-kon again for 2013. I insist that it’s convenient for me, no matter how frazzled and out of it I seem the next three days because I’ve slept so little these four days in between. See you in Dallas!