Con Report: Otakon 2012

Otakon, which was July 27-29 this year in Baltimore, MD, is the biggest anime convention on the east coast, and the second biggest in the United States. I always figured I’d go to Otakon some day, but there was never an urgent desire to do so, and I’ve been generally content to put it off year after year. As of 2011, Otakon’s Artist Alley tables are distributed via lottery (to many artists’ frustration), and I entered this year’s lottery on a complete whim. So of course, I get in, and then I just had to go.

But despite my initial indifference, the decision to go was a pretty big deal. There was a lot of risk in the venture because Otakon would easily be my most costly convention ever — even before figuring in the plane ticket and hotel, the combined price of the badge and table is nearly double that of A-kon. But it’s the second biggest con in the country! And I haven’t done an East coast show in ages! And a lot of the SCAD friends I did conventions with in college also got in, and various other East cost people I never get to see are attending, so it would be a good chance to go and hang out with everyone again! All good reasons. It’ll be fun, right?

Shock blanket Sherlock here is going to be your opening picture for this report because why not.

I procrastinated writing this report for forever because I dreaded how long it needed to be… but here. Here it is in its entire 8,635 word glory! (I’m sorry.)

Jump to: Pre-Con, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Overall.

PRE-CON ISSUES

Otakon was the most stressful convention I’ve ever dealt with. A lot of this was my fault and stemmed from a general lack of familiarity with the con and how it’s run, but for such a large and long-running show, it seems to me that many of the issues that were on Otakon’s end were pretty rookie mistakes. One of the first red flags for me was the complete lack of tax information on Otakon’s website. There is literally nothing in either the Artist Alley rules or FAQ about Maryland sales tax, and for a very brief while, since I’ve never done a show in Maryland, I was actually under the impression that the state did not have a sales tax. When I learned that this wasn’t the case (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon are the only states without sales tax), I emailed the AA staff about it and was told promptly that “this type of information will be released closer to the con.”

…Oh…kay? Why? Isn’t it kind of critical that artists be aware of needing to pay sales tax before even signing up for the lottery? Maybe I’ve just gotten used to how serious most Texas cons take their tax stuff, but this seems like a Very Important Thing to me. :\ In the end, I had to get information and assurance from artists that have attended Otakon in the past: apparently Otakon provides all of the tax forms on-site and files single-event registration information to the Maryland Comptroller’s office on artists’ behalf. This is actually pretty awesome of them, but I wish I hadn’t had to run all over the Internet freaking out about it before getting answers because staff never responded to me again after their initial reply. Oh, I don’t have to do anything extra or special regarding tax? That’s great! Why can’t you just tell me that?? o_o

Here’s a picture of Artist Alley setup to break up my tl;dr.

I was also really confused about Otakon’s Art Show procedures because there wasn’t any sort of pre-registration process for artists intending to attend the convention, but there was for mail-in artists? This didn’t make a lot of sense to me. If they have the means to pre-reg mail-ins, why not on-site artists too? Can you tell that I’m a big fan of getting everything taken care of as early as possible so I don’t have to worry about it later? I wondered if I was misunderstanding something, but once again, staff gave me the run-around on this: when I emailed them, they told me to use the website’s support ticket system to get an answer. I did so and was systematically ignored. When I whined about this on Twitter, the @Otakon account told me they’d let properly tag the question to the Art Show guys so they could answer it. But then I still never got an answer. Thanks anyway, @Otakon. :(

Later, I read somewhere (on the Otakon forums?) that AA and Art Show staff don’t even have access to that ticket system, which just brings up further questions of Otakon’s internal organization or lack thereof.

Speaking of the Otakon forums, I find it really, really frustrating that I was completely unaware that a majority of the actually useful sections of the board are hidden from the public. There is zero indication of this anywhere. I did not register on the forums for the longest time because I saw no Artist Alley subforum. Its absence flabbergasted me, but I didn’t bother looking into it. A week prior to the con, I ended up registering to check out some other stuff, and that’s the only reason ever figured it out. It apparently doesn’t matter much anyway, as AA staff response on the forums clearly isn’t much better than it is via email or any other venue, but at least I would have been able to communicate with more attending artists outside of those I already knew personally.

This was the first Loki cosplayer I saw at Otakon. When I first spotted her, she was outside in the pre-reg line wearing her fur cloak in 95 degree weather. I dunno how you cosplayers do it, man. Respect.

Two weeks before the convention, Otakon finally sends out an email about Artist Alley, but honestly, it provided more questions than answers. Set-up times and hours had been on the website since even before the lottery took place, so that was nothing new. The table assignments had also been up for a few weeks at that point (and everyone found out through the grapevine), so that was also old news. The first bit of new information for me in the email is the assertion that the air condition units at the Baltimore Convention Center are “quite impressive” and that there is a “good possibility that [your display] may get pushed over by the AC system overnight” if it’s a “giant sail.” Cue panicking.

Most print artists’ displays that use PVC instead of metal cube grids could probably be described as “giant sails,” and mine is no exception. I couldn’t find anyone to testify on just how crazy these AC units were though, and I couldn’t find any sort of map that would indicate where they were, so in the end, I just freaked out a lot but didn’t change anything regarding my setup. :\ Two weeks before the show is really way too little notice to change anything anyway, display-wise.

And that promised tax information? That section of the email opened with “Concerning the exhibitor affidavit…” as if they’d made some mention of this mysterious document before. This email was literally the first and only thing the AA staff sent out to artists aside from table and payment confirmations (which was in March for first-wave lotto winners). Again, there is nothing on their website about permits and taxes and everything I learned about that came from another artist, but even knowing all that I did by the time I got the email, the way things are worded kind of confused me all over again. Suggesting that artists contact the Baltimore Comptroller’s office two weeks before the show is also pretty damn inconsiderate if you ask me, especially since apparently all the procedures for permit and tax stuff would be just “like last year.”

If everything is the same as it was before, then why, WHY could the information only be “released closer to the con” ??

Rocket grunts!

Most of the rest of the pre-con stress just stemmed from costs ballooning outside of what I’d predicted. It’s the furthest I’ve ever traveled for a convention, and it was my first time flying from one coast to the other. I was a little shocked at the initial ticket prices, so I kept putting off booking a flight… until it was literally ten days before I needed to fly out, and then of course the price was markedly worse! This was especially aggravating because I had a fair bit of flexibility with dates as I was planning on staying with my friend Miyu for a few days before and/or after the convention. I even had flexibility with airports since Miyu lives equidistant from the Baltimore and DC airports! But nope. These things didn’t help and my flight from Seattle to Baltimore was the most I’ve ever spent on a planet ticket that did not take me over the Pacific Ocean. :|

And that isn’t even including additional fees for luggage. I think getting all my con gear into suitcases and keeping it under the 50lb check-in weight limit is pretty much impossible? This was the case even though I had a ton of stuff shipped to Miyu’s apartment directly. D; Calamity and woe.

My hotelmates and I also had a few last-minute drops from our room, upping the individual cost for the rest of us. I’d registered on the Otakon forums in a last-ditch effort to find replacement hotelmates, but that didn’t work out. We also found out pretty last-minute that we apparently booked at the wrong Sheraton because there are two of them within blocks of each other in downtown Baltimore, but only one of them is connected to the convention center, which is what we wanted. So we were paying way more than we originally planned for a room that wasn’t even where I thought it was. Otakon’s off to a great start! <__<

All right, Otakon. BRING IT.

THURSDAY

I flew into Baltimore late Monday and spent a lovely three days hanging out with Miyu, her husband, and their dogs. We did pretty much nothing except watch way too many movies and shows and eat ice cream and occasionally sleep. It was a pretty glorious way to zen the hell out before diving into was obviously going to be a stressful weekend.

On Thursday, we drove to a train station, took the light rail into the city, and got dropped off right across the street from the Baltimore Convention Center. We’d left later than planned and so arrived at the BCC around 6:30pm. The pre-reg line wrapped around the block (of course) and it looked like they were letting in batches of 30-40 people at a time into the actual building from the Pratt St. entrance. There were two doors and each one was manned by a single con staff member with a police officer between them. The officer could answer no questions, and so both poor staff members were being bombarded by various confused and concerned attendees. I felt sorry for the staff guys, but it still aggravated me that I had to stand there ten minutes to wait my turn at question/answer (“Where’s Artist Alley reg?”). A simple sign could have circumvented the whole thing. But Otakon, you know you’re gigantic. You know you have a giant huge lines every year. What’s your excuse for not having more people managing said lines and fielding concerns?

Pre-reg lines look deceptively short on the inside…

All of the registration booths were up one floor from the ground level entrance. Pre-reg and on-site registration were straight ahead while Artist Alley and other special registration services (like press and disability) was to the right. Since they were letting people in from the outside in small batches, the lines upstairs looked deceptively short. The Artist Alley line was also deceptively short. There were only about six people ahead of me when I got in line, but it took me roughly 45 minutes to get to the front. Miyu and her husband made it through pre-reg faster than it took for me to move up one space in line (granted, since they’d already come in the building with me, they technically cut in front of everyone that was still outside, but still, there were definitely more people in the pre-reg line upstairs than there were artists).

What was frustrating was that there were actually a ton of staff members sitting around at the registration booths doing nothing? There were only two people handling the artist check-ins and I could not for the life of me understand why it took so long to process each person. There was the exhibitor’s affidavit to fill out (artists could have printed this out beforehand, but I would be more annoyed at artists for not doing so if I didn’t know that the information had been stupidly hard to get a hold of), but the affidavit is literally one page with like six things to fill in. There was also an Artist Alley contract we had to sign, which was not something I’d known existed until then. It was a very short and painless document, but even so, maybe Otakon should let us know there’s a contract before we hand over that nonrefundable and nontransferable table fee? It would have been something else we could have printed out beforehand too.

But really, filling in these two one-page documents, forking over some ID, and choosing a badge design was all check-in was. Why did it take 45 minutes to process six people? It is a mystery.

I didn’t take a lot of cosplay photos at Otakon, but when I did 50% of them were Loki. (I’m not even exaggerating.)

On the bright side, Otakon might be the first convention I’ve attended where they actually give artists a swag bag and program like everyone else! Whoa! (It is really sad that this is amazing to me, but seriously, cons never give artists programs for some reason!) I also really liked being able to pick which design I wanted for my badge — it was a choice between five different anime licensed by various sponsors and Otakon’s crab mascot. I went with the crab because it was cute and because the badge featuring Madoka didn’t have a Kyuubey. U_U

Instead of having different designs for different badge types, special statuses like Artist Alley, Panelist, Event Judge, Guest, Press, etc., were designated by additional ribbons that you stick to the badge holder separately. This also made it easy for me to have Miyu and her husband set as my official table assistants without giving staff their info beforehand — all AA tables came with three ribbons by default, so it wasn’t like they had to make more of a specific type of badge or anything, especially since none of the badges had names pre-printed. This also meant that some attendees got multiple ribbons to stack under each other, which amused me for no reason. But yeah, really nice system, that.

Some Maderpas.

The Artist Alley was in the basement of the convention center and was physically right next to the Dealer’s Room, but it was weird because there were actually two entrances to the Alley, both accommodating two-way traffic. The Pratt St. entrance to the Alley, which we always used, was right next to the Dealer’s Room’s one-way exit. I still, to this day, have no idea where the Dealer’s Room entrance was, but to be fair, I never looked. (I did hear that it was really hard to find though? It was on the other side of the building, I think, and most of the artists I knew that went there at some point reported that it was impossible to get to without asking directions at least twice.)

One of the folks stationed at the AA entrance had a map, but I already knew my table assignment. …Too bad none of the islands or tables were actually labeled. Seriously now, how does a convention as big as Otakon fail to label tables in its Artist Alley? There are two hundred eighty-four tables at Otakon. It is kind of important that they be labeled. I’ve been to conventions with like, ten tables, and they would be labeled, even when they didn’t have assigned seating! And you cannot convince me that it was a lack of staff because there were like twelve people in staff shirts hanging out behind the Art Show area doing nothing but chatting with each other. Art Show and Artist Alley are different things? Okay, fine, but then why didn’t you assign staff accordingly so there wasn’t a surplus over there and a shortage over here?

Lucky for me, I am a crazy person and had actually memorized enough of the map that I could find my table without labels. I knew my island was next to the Art Show, knew the position of the table in the island, and knew who my across-the-aisle neighbor even though we’d never met. And Sarah (Sailor Sakky of SenshiStock) was setting up when I arrived, thus serving as a nice, final assurance that I was in the right place.

I officially have way more stuff than I can reasonably display. (Okay, so this was probably official a year ago.)

By then it was already 8pm or so, and we only had until 9pm before we were supposed to be kicked out. All my hotelmates, save one, had arrived at the BCC ahead of me and so were already done setting up. I had a boatload of new stuff for Otakon, mostly prints, so it was pretty sad news that for all my careful packing, I was missing one 1′ length of PVC. :| Otakon specifies a height limit of 5′. I had extra pieces of PVC varying from 1.5′ to 2.5′, but with the one 1′ piece missing, I could either build to 4′ or 6′. One foot over or one foot under. I went with 4′, which screwed up all my careful planning, but that’s how it goes!

Otakon also has a 50/50 original/fanart display rule, but they don’t specify number of items VS display surface area. Of course I went with the interpretation that was to my favor because I have a ton of small items. It looks like I’m toeing the line in the above photo if you cut the table directly in half, but there are original items mixed in with the giant rack of bookmarks and buttons to make up for the Creepy Kyuubey and Amaterasu prints being on the “original” half of the table. I felt like I put too much thought and effort into figuring out that display though, honestly. When I did a quick walk around the Alley after setting up, most print artists did not seem to be following the rule…

I moved that commission sign later, haha. It didn’t hold up well there.

Without getting into a debate about fanart in general, a rule is a rule. I am okay with rules as long as they are evenly enforced. The most frustrating thing about following a rule everyone knows is created to limit sales is, after putting effort into following it, finding that no one else is and that none of the staff seem to care? Fanart restrictions at convention alleys is always going to be a contentious topic, but if a convention is going to decide to have restrictions, it really needs to be ready to enforce it. It is really aggravating seeing rules that you know no one will or can actually enforce because all it does is punish those that bother.

Anime Weekend Atlanta faced terrible backlash a few years ago (in 2009, I believe?) when it first introduced its 50/50 fanart restriction. Most did not follow it. And no one was really punished for not following it. And so everyone who did was pissed off. Then AWA restricted it even more to 80/20 for a year or two before going back down to 50/50 because of poor table sales and artist complaints? I stopped going to AWA after I graduated in 2010, so I’m not too sure on the details there, but honestly, it seems like AWA now has one of the most noxious and drama-ridden Artist Alleys. :( The only other convention I know that similarly restricts fanart to a percentage is MTAC, which I’ve never attended.

The sad thing is that Otakon’s 50/50 fanart display restriction is not the only fanart restriction in its rules. It was the only one even halfway enforceable though. Also in the rules: “[y]ou may only have up to 10 copies of a single piece of fan art” and “[t]he total number of pieces of fan art sold will not exceed 200.” …Right. Go ahead and kick out everyone selling buttons then. It’s easy enough to guess the reasoning behind the rule, but it doesn’t seem to take into account a lot of factors. But even discounting that — how can anyone hope to enforce rules like that? Are you going to go up to all 285 tables and force the artists to count their stock out for you? And if not, why bother?

Loki loki loki

After helping me set up, Miyu and her husband went back home for the night. It was a little past 9pm at that point, but it didn’t seem like they were forcing people out yet. And anyway, the Art Show was supposed to be taking walk-in/on-site registrations until midnight and it was in the same room as the AA, just roped off to the side. I shoved my extraneous materials under the table, threw a sheet over the top, then went to stand in line at the Art Show reg where I got annoyed at wait times again. :(

There were three people in front of me, none of whom purchased more than one “lot” (instead of selling Art Show space by panel, Otakon sells space in lots of five pieces, regardless of the size of the pieces). There were, seriously, a dozen staffers standing around, mostly chatting with each other. There were four or five computers set up, but only two of them were manned, and of those two, only one was checking people in. I could have probably said something, but I didn’t. And I mean, when I did finally did check in (at least ten minutes later, but it always seems longer when you’re waiting), the process was simple, and the one staff person was very nice. Just very slow.

Anyway, I put five pieces in the show. All of them were small 4″x6″ pieces matted to 8″x10″ because there was no way I could have fit the bigger pieces in my luggage, and I was shipping out enough stuff separately!

Super blurry art show pieces.

After that, I met up with Seana and we walked from the convention center to the hotel down the street. It really wasn’t that bad of a walk, but it was damn hot outside even at 9:30-10pm, and as always, being in the host hotel or the hotel directly attached to the convention center is best. At the Sheraton, we joined the rest of our hotelmates: Billie (Dragonbeak), Esther (Mukki), and Lauren (Evui). Ah, my SCAD crew~. <3 You might remember some of them from forever ago? Chewi should have also been there. But Chewi missed her flight and would be arriving Friday morning instead. <_<

It started pouring down rain not too long after we all settled in at the hotel. On another night, we heard a really loud crash somewhere down on the street and sirens immediately afterwards, but we didn’t actually see anything. Downtown Baltimore, man. o_o

Let’s start Friday off with ponies!

FRIDAY

The Artist Alley didn’t open to the public until 1pm Friday, but it was open to artists at 9pm, and even though I did get most of my setting up done Thursday, I was up by 8:45am and at the convention center by 9:30 anyway. And the best thing about staying at the Sheraton is the complementary packets of Starbucks coffee in the rooms, because while there is a Starbucks on the second floor of the BCC, there were about 30 people in line there when I arrived. The first panels on Friday started around 10am, so I guess the crowd wasn’t that surprising, but maaaan. Why do people even keep queuing up after there are 15 people in line? o_o

In the long hours we had before AA opened officially, I went over my setup a few times, meticulously straightening things while chatting with Sarah across the aisle. I’d gotten nice new collapsible plywood bookmark and book stands (Shirly told me about them!) to replace the hilariously terrible cardboard and tape ones I’d made and been using for the last few years, and Sarah ended up buying my old ones off me! :O The new stands nearly perfect, too; I’d been looking for something like them for forever — the collapsible part was the hardest criteria to fulfill, but I’ve got enough junk to cart back and forth to cons without awkward-shaped bookmark stands to add to it. The one downside is that they are pretty heavy. <_< Stupid luggage weight limits.

I spent the rest of the time before 1pm making rounds around the Alley, but very few other artists had showed up early to set up. I don’t know how it happens, but it really seems like everyone just magically appears five minutes before opening?? First of all, how do you do that?? And second of all, why?? D: I’m never gonna stop angsting over how amazingly difficult it is for me to buy things from fellow artists. :| I got to pick up a pair of Loki buttons from Emily Hu and awkwardly say hello to a few other people whose talent I am jealous of, but that was about it for Friday morning!

This is Chewi and Esther’s table. (Oh yeah, Chewi got there eventually. She did not miss her second flight! (Or else Esther might have killed her upon arrival.))

And so the masses are let in at 1pm, and… it’s a shockingly slow day.

Of course, it’s the common expectation for Fridays to be slow. Everyone is browsing and checking out all the goods available before making purchasing decisions. This makes sense, but at the same time, I had a lot of expectations for Otakon on the whole. Second biggest convention in the States and all that, y’know?

Traffic in the AA was very casual throughout the day. Relatively spacious aisles always has the effect of making things seem not-so-busy, but there weren’t many noticeable waves and the gaps between groups browsing was sometimes a little painful. Slow sales aside, it just gets boring behind the table when there isn’t someone in front of you to talk to. And I guess I wasn’t in much of a doodling mood Friday either.

I was surprised at the lack of commissions, too, but maybe I shouldn’t have been? Since new prints had taken over my display, I had a hard time figuring out where to put my commission sign and shuffled it around a lot on Friday. This is an ongoing issue for me though: I just have so many things that frequently individual things are overlooked. Signs, especially, I can’t really fault anyone for not seeing. There’s just too much else to look at. :( I had also upped prices on most offerings while increasing the types of offerings and upgrading the paper I use for sketch cards. Previously, I took full page (8.5″x11″) commissions in pencil only, but now I’ll do them in ink too. Still no color though… unless you’re commissioning me for ponies. I will do full page, full color ponies because 1) they’re simple, and 2) I love drawing ponies. <3

The best Uncle Iroh, omg.

Otakon’s official attendance this year came in at 32,574 people. Compare that to this year’s A-kon, whose official attendance was 21,982 people, but take into consideration that Otakon has 285 Artist Alley tables to A-kon’s 135. Do some math and A-kon has almost 50 more attendees per table than Otakon, despite being the smaller convention. It’s easy to enough to conclude that Otakon probably has too many AA tables, but it’s worth noting that A-kon also just has an amazingly high attendee/artist quotient for a convention its size. All the other cons I’ve attended with higher quotients than A-kon have been mid-sized, MomoCon and San Japan among them, but there are also a number of mid-sized and smaller conventions that have a smaller quotient than Otakon, including Comicpalooza, so certainly there are other factors to consider.

Like cutthroat competition maybe? Otakon being a big show means it’s a big deal to a lot of other artists too, and lottery or not, half of Tumblr seemed to be there. There is definitely something to be said for smaller shows where you’re the biggest fish in the pond!

It also didn’t help that I wasn’t able to make use of my brand new Square reader all Friday — it didn’t hurt because I’ve never had it before, but it definitely didn’t help. I forgot the password to my account (isn’t that always the case when you try hard to be secure?) and was unable to reset it all day because it was impossible to hold a signal long enough for me to get through the entire resetting process. 8| Yay! I got a fancy new smart phone! Now I can look up references on the Internet and be fancy with a credit card reader! …NOPE. No wireless networks for you and even G4 doesn’t give you reliable access! Figures.


“Half of Tumblr was there” doesn’t just apply to artists.
There was a special joy in identifying fandom-joke versions of Tom Hiddleston/Loki.

I’d like to say that things picked up a bit in the late afternoon and early evening, which is usually the case, but I honestly don’t remember. The Dealer’s Room closed at 8pm on Friday, but I only know this because I looked it up just now — there definitely wasn’t a noticeable surge in traffic in the three hours between DR closing and AA shutting down at 11pm. I stayed a bit to mingle with friends. I think the general consensus was that it was a pretty slow day, which was simultaneously reassuring and not at all reassuring.

There were more than a few people irritated about lack of enforcement regarding the 50/50 rule, as there were many tables that seemed to be in clear violation. At the same time, there also might have been a few people who felt very singled out regarding the 50/50 rule — a few things have been crawling around on the grapevine since the end of Friday, but I still haven’t heard the story from the source, so I can’t really say much on the matter. Well, it looks like one benefit of procrastinating forever on this report is that in the weeks after the con, things are finally coming to light. (Missy and Finni‘s story is ongoing — follow them for continuing developments.) While many artists in clear violation of the 50/50 rule were ignored, those that tried hard to comply were singled out, harassed, and intimidated.

Enforcement of rules is good (and expected), but this isn’t enforcement (you can’t enforce what you refuse to clarify). This is just being a bully. :\ Abuse of power by the Otakon AA staff and defensiveness regarding their own lack of clarity in rules seems to be the general pattern, and not just for this year either. Aside from confusion over the 50/50 rule, Otakon’s policies regarding groups and studios registered under one name, or artists that register two tables, have been screwing people over for ages. I don’t know why it’s so hard for Otakon to own up and admit to mistakes, but unfortunately, artists don’t have much leverage in these situations. What’s it to Otakon if we don’t come back? (They wouldn’t threaten artists with bans if they cared.) There will always be others. Those of us that have done the circuit a while talk to each other and share our experiences, and maybe a few of us will decide never to return to a con, but there will always be newer and younger artists who won’t know any better.

There aren’t (m)any well-known or well-maintained resources for alley artists, and most artists don’t have the time or desire to document and speak out, so if you’re new to Artist Alley, how are you supposed to know anything unless you just happen to follow the few vocal artists out there? Otakon, and other conventions with souring AA reputations, have this to their advantage. Since Missy and Finni’s story went public yesterday, there’s been a lot of public backlash against Otakorp (Otakon’s parent company); we can only hope this spurs some changes to happen, but all the same, I wouldn’t be very surprised if nothing came of it.

This seems like an appropriate photo to insert here. (Photo by Billie.)

Nearing midnight, I walked back to the hotel with Chewi. The rest of our party had apparently decided to try and actually attend some panels or something? What? Do convention stuff at a convention?? Unheard of! Unfortunately, our key cards to the room decided not to work and we had to awkwardly get them reset in the lobby despite neither of us being the one the room is booked under, and I also didn’t have my ID (it was in the room). The front desk didn’t question us though, which was nice and convenient at the time but questionable in retrospect? I dunno, Sheraton. How do you even know we were supposed to be in that room? <_< Hmmm…

Then I got onto one of the hotel computers to reset my stupid Square password!

The highlight of the day was meeting a former ‘Soulster, Rachel, which was a lovely surprise, but otherwise, Friday left me pretty damn worried for the rest of the weekend.

Rachel commissioned me for this Mr. Freeze~.

SATURDAY

10am was the opening time for the AA on Saturday, with artists allowed in at 9am. I tried to do a coffee run for some friends, but the Starbucks line was again about 30 people long, and it was just a lost cause. So then I, once again, tried to do some shopping and was, once again, trumped by the fact that no one else was there. :| I did get to say hi to and talk a while with Kara (whose couch I bummed on for AggieCon that one time), but Shazzbaa, who was her neighbor, was not there for me to throw money at in exchange for the third Today Nothing Happened book. Artists, stop mass Apparating into the Alley five minutes before we open. It’s driving me nuts. 8| (Later, Shazz did visit me at my table later though, and Seana ran over at some point to buy the book for me. ♥)

The first several hours after the doors opened were not so different from Friday, which was pretty terrifying, but things finally, finally picked up in the mid-afternoon. Traffic still kind of failed to meet my expectations for Otakon (and things definitely never got to A-kon or San Japan levels of busyness), but they weren’t alarmingly slow anymore at least! And I made use of my Square reader! It was a good thing a majority of customers with credit cards are now quite familiar with the device and the related delays though, because the G4 in the BCC remained nothing short of awful and it took a whole ten minutes for my slowest order to process. I was very grateful that people were oh so patient. <3

ZABUZA PONY was more fun than it should have been.

At some point, a woman stopped by my table and bought some stuff, and I got to do that thing where I suddenly read the name on her badge and it’s someone from Interrobang Studios, OH HI! :O (I think it was Sarah, but I’m not actually sure? It could have been one of the other ladies of the studio; I never did get her name. :x) They had a table in the Dealer’s Room, and I lamented about the fact that there was an ACEO I wanted to buy from Kevin, but I didn’t think I’d be able to go to the Dealer’s Room ever. So then she lets me pay her and gets the card for me. Yesssss. <3

And Saturday, I was commissioned for another large herd of ponies. I already said my piece about bronies in my A-kon report, but man, I freakin’ love the My Little Pony fandom. ;__; Everyone is awesome, and ponies are fun to draw, and so having people asking me to draw ponies for them is basically the second best thing ever? (The best thing ever, for the time being, is getting asked to draw Loki, but you probably guessed that, huh?) Crossover ponies were especially fun — Weeping Angel Pony? You want me to combine two things I think are awesome? Yesssss. <3


Different people commissioned these, haha. Plenty of Who love goin’ around in addition to the pony love!

I always feel a lot better about everything once I have commissions to keep me busy, haha.

What might just be more awesome than fandom commissions from fandoms I like and am a part of though, is tattoo commissions. *____* Most of the tattoo commissions I’ve done over the years have been online, outside of conventions, where there aren’t time constraints and a sense of general hecticness. I’ve definitely had convention clients tell me they’ll get their commissions inked before, but I generally don’t expect people to actually go through with it because hey, that thing is going to be on your body forever. I’m not offended if you wanna think over that a bit more. So no one has actually gone through with getting a con commission tattooed that I’m aware of… until now!

I was commissioned to do a full page ink drawing of this alien slug tentacle monster thing breathing out a mist attack of sorts (it was from something, but I don’t remember what). It was a fun challenge — not my usually fuzzy animal-type monsters, but not something I disliked by a long shot. The guy mentioned that he wanted to get it tattooed, but I didn’t think much on it. I mostly forgot about it after the con, but a few days ago he sends me a photo of the finished tattoo, and man, it looks awesome!? The tattoo artists did a fantastic job~.


My art is permanently etched to that leg, man. *____*

Going back to talk about Otakon staff… one thing I noticed was that despite the fact that there were people in Otakon staff shirts everywhere, I never had a single Artist Alley staff person come check up on me about anything. That I noticed, anyway. And actually, it was really hard to tell how many of the people in staff shirts were actually active staff because there was enough variety in the shirts that I think some of them were just former staff. Or off-duty staff? I didn’t know how to distinguish them. Sure, I don’t generally need help watching the table or getting water or anything, but the gesture is always noticed and appreciated. Even without that though, no one checked that my exhibitor’s affidavit was, as required, being visibly displayed, among other rules. With the apparent abuse that Missy and Finni endured, I really had to wonder how they went about picking who to harass. :\ I knew the Artist Alley ops table was in the island adjacent to me, but since I personally never needed anything or had a problem, I never visited it.

I also never visited the Art Show. I really wanted to, but its hours resided wholly within AA hours, making it impossible. Too bad, because the Otakon Art Show was gigantic. It was probably bigger than the Sakura-Con and A-kon shows combined, doubled, and then some. Selling space by the piece instead of by the panel probably allowed them to fit even more artists too; at other shows, there were almost always panels that were only half-filled because the artist didn’t have enough pieces to fill the space. And it seemed like larger pieces were more common at Otakon (direct result of not needing to worry about fitting them on panels?), whereas A-kon had many, many 8.5″x11″ pieces and smaller. I can’t be too sure of the exact percentages of larger VS smaller pieces though, since I only ever got to see anything from a distance.

Yet Another Loki (and a Hawkeye!)

Saturday was a very long day, and at the end of it, I actually had commission homework! This was a first.:O

At A-kon this year, I rolled over the last one or two commissions of the day to finish the next morning, but those were small sketch card commissions that I was confident I could finish in the time between artist set-up and the AA opening to the public. But since I expanded my commissions back to including full page inks (and colored ponies), I had more work on my plate for the night. Plus, Otakon’s AA was only open for four hours Sunday, and I had no idea how busy it would be. So, since I always finish all my commissions at the convention, I wanted to get the work done that night.

As it turns out, Chewi, Esther, and Lauren all had a lot of commission homework too. Therefore: WORK PARTY~. Awwyeah. (Though first, we had to reset the keys to our room again?! Come on, Shertaon, what’s up with that?)

Seana and Billie were boring and went to sleep at some decent hour while the rest of us trucked through the night throwing erasers at one another and derailing conversation into territory that made less and less sense. Varying amounts of commission work meant that we didn’t all turn in at the same time though, and poor Chewi had (unsurprisingly) overloaded herself with so much work that she got about one hour of sleep between 7am and 8am before it was time to start getting ready to go again. Between the four of us, we might have gotten eight hours of sleep? Maybe between the six of us… 8D

The BEST commission homework.

SUNDAY

Sunday morning, I finally got to chat with a few of the people I kept missing throughout the weekend, including Meg (Daunt), who gave me pocky and did a coffee run, omg ♥♥♥; Wayah, whom I hadn’t seen since probably MomoCon 2010 (and who still owes me a Heine button, cough); and Kaysha (Eldanis) — whom I hadn’t seen since NashiCon 2010. Kaysha and I might have spent a good ten minutes blathering about Loki and our various issues with the movie Thor before trading our respective Loki-related goods (hers, mine). :3 I did merch trades with a few other artists and bought the most gorgeous pair of Pokemon prints from an artist selling on behalf of GoldCucco.

After the gates opened, a few of the anibloggers I follow on Twitter came to visit me, including @TheBigN, @calaggie, and @EmperorJ. I knew there were a ton of other anibloggers in attendance, but presumably they were off doing aniblogger things in that Great Space Outside of the Artist Alley — ahh, the mysterious areas outside the BCC basement that I totally never saw. 8D Seriously, the only parts of Otakon I saw were the registration lines and the inside of the AA. Dealer’s Room? Never knew where the entrance was. Panel rooms? No idea. Concert area? Pfffff.

This is Kaysha’s table assistant and the best Stuttgard!Loki I’ve seen. <3

It really surprised me that we were only open for four hours Sunday. 2pm seemed a really early closing time for a convention Otakon’s size, but despite the short hours, it wasn’t very busy. Indeed, Sunday somehow ended up being slower than Friday… Maybe everyone was busy at the Art Show auction?

The auction essentially had the same hours as the AA. I don’t know how many bids pieces needed to get to go to auction, but the sheer number of total pieces in the show meant that regardless of the criteria, there would undoubtedly be a ton of them that went to auction, and so the auction lasted for hours. It was a bit awkward, I think, since the auction wasn’t in a separate room, just roped off away from the rest of the room, but even sitting in an island right next to it, I couldn’t hear much of what was going on. I saw a lot of folks walking away from the auction area with their hard-won art though, and my general impression was that most things went pretty high. I overheard one person complaining that while he knew it was great for the artist that the pieces went as high as they did, he wished that one particular bidder had left some for the rest of them. :O

Worth mentioning: at some point on Sunday, I noticed a man staring pointedly at my table and typing something into his phone. His badge had a ribbon that read “Otakon Lawyer.” He didn’t say anything to me, but moved on another a while to stare at the next artist’s table while still typing things into his phone. Wonder what that was about? Presumably the guy was there checking out fanart percentages, but I wonder, if Otakon’s lawyers aren’t completely up to speed with fandoms and such, how in the world do they figure out what’s fanart and what isn’t? Lawyer guy didn’t have anyone accompanying him to help identify things. Hmm.

Adorable lolita Loki. AND SLEIPNIRRRRR.

The auction ran over the 2pm closing time by a bit, but closing was haphazard and inelegant anyway. Attendees were still milling around as artists broke down, and there weren’t a lot (or any??) staff around to help get people out. Miyu and her husband returned to help me pack up and watched my stuff while I went to pick up my unsold pieces from the art show.

Turns out that was everything except the Ninetales, which sold for little more than the minimum bid. In hindsight, I kind of wish I’d gone ahead and shipped out the bigger pieces I’d put in previous art shows. I think they would have done better, but I also think it was impossible to predict what kind of auction environment and crowd Otakon had compared to A-kon and Sakura-Con, which were both very different in themselves. I’m still really new at doing art shows, so I’m not really torn up about unimpressive returns. As it was though, for Otakon, after the cost of entry, 10% commission, and Maryland sales tax, I made exactly twenty cents in the art show. XD Or it’d run in the red if you count the worth of the one piece I did sell and the cost of matting. :P Oh well.

It’s a good thing I nabbed a bunch of photos off Billie because I bet you’re sick of the Lokis by now. ;3

Seana had taken off pretty early to catch her flight back to Connecticut, but Miyu, her husband, and I stuck around a bit to help Chewi, Esther, Billie, and Lauren pack up. We talked about some dinner plans, but it was only 3pm, and the car situation was pretty awkward, so in the end, we split up and I went back to Miyu’s place… where we stayed up all afternoon and night eating like six people’s worth of Chinese takeout and watching TV until what, 5am, when I had to go to the airport and then spend nine hours getting back to the opposite coast. I guess that’s as good a way as any to wrap up the weekend. U_U

OVERALL

Otakon was… an experience.

I’ve heard plenty of less-than-positive things about the convention over the years in regards to Artist Alley, and more than once, I considered that it probably wouldn’t be worth the stress and anxiety. But it remained on the bucket list all the same, and in spite of everything, I had relatively high expectations going into it. And maybe it was because of that that I came away disappointed. On the social side, I was really happy for the opportunity to see my East coast friends again after so long, and I think getting to sit on Miyu’s couch for three days indulging in fandom crap probably made the trip worth it all on its own. As always, I had a good time talking with attendees, and it was nice being able to connect with new artists, however briefly those meetings sometimes were.

On the business side of things though, Otakon really came up short. No one likes to reveal and talk numbers, but here are some vague sort of figures for you. It cost me twice as much to attend Otakon than A-kon (and both are out-of-state for me now, so I’d say costs should be comparable), but I made roughly the same amount at both conventions, which means that A-kon is the more profitable show by a fair margin. And Otakon just felt so slow. Maybe it was because commissions were down by 15%, or because Saturday made up a higher percentage of sales than usual (56% VS an average of 46%). Payments processed through the Square reader made up 11% of the total, which meant if I didn’t have the reader, the numbers would have been even more disappointing.

Ladyvengers! Photo by Billie.

Otakon is still technically a more lucrative show than most of the mid-sized and small cons I attend, but if you start considering things like amount of preparation and degree of stress, then it really starts to sink in rankings. I’m pretty sure the only show where I’ve been more frustrated at management-wise is Anime Matsuri, and the funny thing is that neither Otakon or AM staff wronged me personally. But both have this toxic aura around them that makes you feel really lucky to have made it out without specific issue, and that’s really not something I should feel lucky about.

I got back to Seattle with really mixed feelings about the whole thing, and even now, a month later, I still can’t decide if I’ll bother going back. It’s always nice seeing people I haven’t in a while, but let’s be honest, “hanging out” at a convention amounts to five to ten minute conversations stolen in between working thirteen-hour days (assuming you don’t have commissions to finish well into the night) and maybe, if we’re lucky, a quick dinner together when everything’s over. Invariably, I talk to most of my con artist friends much more online than I ever do in person. So while social time with friends is a always a lovely bonus, I’m sorry, guys, but I wouldn’t come back just for you. And what else is there? Money, I guess? But if that were the most important thing to me, I wouldn’t do conventions at all, because I’d probably make more money not taking all these days off from that Day Job thing.

So, I dunno, Otakon. You don’t have much going for you aside from your status as the second biggest anime convention in the United States. I’m glad I can say I went at least once, but we’ll see how I feel about a next time next year when the lottery opens again, I guess.

LOOT. Minus some ACEOs I forgot to include.

…As always, thanks for reading my teal deer. Here are the rest of the pictures. <3


11 Comments

  1. Glad you liked the display!

    Kaysha’s table assistant is Velvedere.deviantart.com . she’s a writer and fellow creative sort.

    Regarding AWA – the drama really is just the forums and always before/after the convention itself. (Not at the convention.) AWA has averaged around 150-200 tables over the years which represents at least that many, if not more artists. Therefore what people see on the forums really represents only a small part of the alley.

    It’s been a bit quieter there but only because I think the forums have been largely abandoned by the con-going population. Most of the activity now appears to be on Facebook.

    • Ahh, thanks for Kaysha’s assistant’s dA! I think I had it before and then just forgot. x_x

      I guess I always got the impression that AWA was really dramatic because I did spend a lot of time on the forums when I used to attend, but dang, AWA also does not need to have 150-200 tables. That is ridiculous.

  2. Okay, so that tentacle commission turned tattoo has GOT to be a Malboro monster from Final Fantasy. It was my immediate first impression, especially when I saw it colored green, but you didn’t mention it was from a fandom so I thought it was coincidence. xD

    Love all the photos!! And I’m glad you had fun on our couch, tee hee~ I really hope you do come back, maybe this time purchase tickets early so the cost isn’t so hard to offset? <3

  3. Pretty the same sentiments here. Friday for me was actually pretty good and got my hopes up. Sat was just crappy.

    Same as you, I made the same at a local con in miami that cost me a lot less time and money then Otakon did and I was facing the very back wall (at supercon). I wasn’t in a good location either at Otakon but I didn’t see much merch in people’s hands and you were in what I’d consider a better location but guess that didn’t help much.

    I don’t really sell fan art, but before the doors to the AA open I knew that I wouldn’t come back to this con unless I sold out of stock (which obviously didn’t happen). I had ordered a lot of stock and had to fly with most of them (luckily I sell my over stock to the school store). I was already frustrated with this con before I came into baltimore and just wanted this con to be over. I’m glad I booked an early flight out. Like you, I heard about the bad things of Otakon but it was still on my to do list of my younger fan girl years (all that is left is getting my work featured on a con cover). I regret not going to Akon over Ota but glad that I’ll be at NYCC.

    • I think the sheer size of Otakon’s AA is probably the main reason sales were pretty slow — you’re definitely right that I didn’t see as many people walking around with purchased art as I usually do. I’m not sure how much location played into things since the room was so big and there were two entrances, but it probably didn’t help that it was really hard for people to find you even if they were looking for you because of the lack of labeling.

      But yeah, because of the various pre-con issues, I was pretty ready to be done before the show even started.

      Good luck at NYCC! They’re combining the formerly separate NYCC and NYAF AAs this year, right? Should be interesting.

  4. Thanks for posting all this! 2012 was my first visit to Otakon and I really, really want a table next year. You’ve given me a lot to think about, some good and some bad. XD

  5. this is by far the most helpful thing i have ever read about artist alley. I myself have never been to otakon despite living about 15 min away. My sister has been but she’s not exactly a wealth of info. I want to have a table at AA @ otakon, i’ve been trying for 4 years now. I do find the complete lack of information very frustrating. I also question whether or not my stuff is suitable for artist alley.

    • I don’t really understand why Otakon deems it necessary to remove its AA/Art Show info from the menu every year before announcing the new times for sign-ups. The pages are still online, they just aren’t in the menu. x_x It’s annoying.

      I think your stuff is probably fine for AA. Your knit goods are pretty unique! Last year the lottery date was announced in February or March, so I’d just keep an eye out on the site and their social media feeds. The lotto was up for about 48 hours, so that’s plenty of time to actually put your name in, and after that it’s just luck, I suppose. So good luck!

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