After a brief stint last year at the AT&T Convention Center on the edge of the University of Texas campus, IKKiCON returned to the downtown Hilton Austin for the weekend before New Years, December 28-30.

You know, now that I don’t live there anymore,  I can really appreciate that there is basically a Texas convention for every month of the year, which means I can hit up a con (or two) every time I go down to visit. A-kon is the juggernaut that I’d go out of my way for anyway, but it lands nicely in the middle of the year, and IKKiCON is six months after that. How convenient and evenly spaced! Some people worry that IKKiCON being smack between two major holidays hurts attendance, but I’ve never gotten that impression…and I mean, a majority of other conventions are on holiday weekends too?

Fake Lemonade Stand @ IKKiCON 7

Fake Lemonade Stand @ IKKiCON 7

This report is 4,077 words long. I guess that’s about average, right?

THURSDAY

Remember last IKKiCON when I gushed endlessly about how awesome Stacy and Michael of Kawaii Ribbons were and how they are the best table neighbours ever? And how I always lament that I don’t have a website or anything to link for them because they don’t sell online or outside of Austin and San Antonio-area conventions? Well, we’re gonna have some more of that I guess because I stayed with them for the weekend this year. :3 Left Houston around 2pm, crossed into Austin city limits by five, continued north because they live just outside of Austin, and…then proceeded to spend like an hour being lost in suburbia. Dear Austin, why the hell does 183 split in two, one of which is a toll road named 183A, and the other of which is supposed to be called S. Bell Blvd. or something. Except all the signs still say 183A? I don’t think there was a single sign that said S. Bell Blvd. even though Google insists that that’s what it’s called.

I got there eventually. u_u

Kawaii Ribbons @ IKKiCON 7

Kawaii Ribbons @ IKKiCON 7

The original plan, as always, is to go set up Thursday evening, but Stacy still had some ribbons to make and I wasn’t feeling much in a hurry anyway… so we hung out at the house and Stacy put Michael, their friend Random, and me to work pinning and ribbon parts together so she could sew them. And maybe it was just as well, because Kiiyame (White Oblivion) called around 7:30-8pm asking if I was at the hotel and if I knew where the hell Artist Alley check-in was. Apparently, the normal registration folks told her that it was inside the Exhibit Hall, but all the doors to said hall were locked…so, she did not end up getting set up that night. (However, another artist reports that set-up Thursday went smoothly, and I don’t remember having any difficulties checking in Thursday evening the last time we were at the Hilton, so who knows??)

After replenishing Stacy’s ribbon stock, we went to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner before proceeding to Wal-Mart to…buy pony toys. Because we’re adults and we do what we want. <_< Stacy and Michael are total bronies and have a house full of ponies ponies everywhere and it’s pretty freakin’ awesome (I really should have gotten pictures…). Among these pony goods was an awesome tin and I really like tins okay?? So I wanted one for myself. And that’s why we went to Wal-Mart, where I accidentally a bunch of figures too. U_U

The tin came with six trading card boosters and a poster. A few items here and there is okay, but I have zero desire to get into pony collecting (it’s a dangerous thing, collecting), but Michael wants to get a full set of cards, so I gave him all the cards I opened that he didn’t already have. Then we spent a relaxing evening watching random pony episodes, as well as the first episode of Panty & Stocking because I couldn’t believe Stacy and Michael hadn’t seen it yet. It’s totally up their alley, man.

No shame, bronies.

No shame, bronies.

So Thursday wasn’t really con-related for the most part. Honestly, I did pretty much no con prep work for any of my post-Otakon 2012 cons and just coasted through all of them. I plain didn’t have time to work on anything new and had plenty of leftover stock, so whatever? Especially after Aki Con, I was expecting IKKiCON to be a relatively chillaxy, stress-free, drama-free convention anyway. Despite this, I could not sleep at all Thursday night. x_x

FRIDAY

We set out around eight, stopped for gas and then coffee, and managed to get into the hotel’s parking lot before it filled up. Artist Alley check-in was indeed inside the Exhibit Hall, and we got in without an issue.

However…the tables in the Alley were not laid out the way they were supposed to be. Tables at IKKiCON are assigned. We were sent a map a few months prior and got to submit a list of preferences. Everyone has their own idea of what a strategically good location is, and in general I like assigned tables because I like having plans and not having to figure stuff out last minute. So naturally, I get annoyed really fast when plans get planned and then ignored.

To be fair, it seemed the tables were just turned 90 degrees from their original positions so that the rows went perpendicular to the exit wall instead of parallel. And this is actually a really good thing because it meant no one had their backs to the rest of the Exhibit Hall and no one was facing the exit (which is decidedly terrible for sales and one of the reasons some artists did really poorly two years ago). Most people were still roughly in the same spot they were assigned, including me, and while Stacy’s table was not next to mine in the original map, it was now! And Kiiyame, who was rows away from me on the map, was now diagonally behind me.

The original map.

The original map.

Still, the tables were moved because apparently they had been blocking the fire exit (or something?), so I feel like this sort of thing should have been caught way early on… especially since IKKiCON has used the space before. The way the tables ended up should have been the plan all along, instead of a last-minute rearrangement that happened to turn out for the better.

Michael had work that morning, so it was just Stacy and me, but we managed to haul everything out of my van and upstairs in one trip and began setting up around 10am. The hall was to open to VIP badge holders at 11:30am and to general attendees at noon, so it was the perfect amount of time to get set up. Yume was supposed to have the table next to Kiiyame, but she came down sick last minute and had to skip. :( But because of this, Ladre commandeered her table and was directly behind me. It was cool being next to a bunch of my con friends for once! Tracy (Silver no Miko) and Alice were on the opposite end of the Alley and Darien (Geegeet) was across from Ladre. “Shiny Things” Kat was two tables down from me.

To no one's surprise, there were at least two dozen Jack Frosts running around.

To no one’s surprise, there were at least two dozen Jack Frosts running around.

Despite being in the same space, the Exhibit Hall, which includes both Artist Alley and the Dealer’s Room, was smaller than it was for IKKiCON 5. The section of the map that’s blocked off for the “programming room” was also part of the Exhibit Hall then. As such, the area felt oddly cramped and small. It kind of feel there are more AA tables on the map than there actually were, but I never counted while I was there.

Friday was slow in the way typical of Fridays. There was a decent stream of traffic, but they were all browsers. This was fine, but I got bored a lot. I had only a 20oz bag of jelly beans to occupy me. I had chosen to leave my minicomics in Seattle because I wasn’t expecting to sell any of them and it was just extra weight (my checked bag was so close to being overweight and costing me $100 extra, omg). This left one side of my table somewhat empty, but I still had a wall of prints hanging all around me and thus didn’t have a lot of room to sketch. I really need to do something about that printwall…

Tracy passed out some of those obnoxious party blower horns to a bunch of us when we set up that morning, and throughout the day, random people would blow their horns and everyone else could echo a response. It was amusing to me because it was obvious we were all kinda bored, but I’m sure we were annoying the crap out of everyone else in the Alley, haaa. <_<

Please insert an appropriate Amon pun here.

Please insert an appropriate Amon pun here.

One thing that did keep me busy Friday though was the fact that I, for some reason, credit card swiping was not working on my Square reader. I spent a frustrating amount of time trying to troubleshoot the issue. My phone recognized that the reader was plugged in, but it could not detect that I was swiping a card 90% of the time. And in the 10% where it did realize I was swiping, it insisted that I was swiping incorrectly. I swapped out my reader for Kiiyame’s and it still didn’t work. I also tried my reader on Kiiyame’s phone, and it did work. So okay, not the reader’s fault. I guess it’s my phone??

I uninstalled the app, rebooted the phone, then reinstalled the app. Nothing. I did this twice more. ;/ I blew into the audio jack to try to clear out dust. No luck. For once I was at a con with excellent reception and I couldn’t freakin’ get the reader to work. Figures!

PLZ FIX IT, FELIX!

PLEASE FIX IT, FELIX!

When we had the same set up two years ago with dealers and artists sharing the same space, some dealers were annoyed at the hours which, while still on the shorter end of average for artists, were pretty long for dealers. If I recall correctly, IKKiCON 5’s Exhibit Hall hours were 10am-8am both Friday and Saturday, then 10am-4pm on Sunday, for 26 hours total. Dealers like shorter hours because they feel less time to dawdle on decisions leads to more sales. Artists like longer hours because we’re workaholic masochists and because more time for idle browsing leads to more incidental sales? While many con-goers go through dealers with a game plan and specific goods they’re looking for, a vast majority go through AA “just to see what’s there.”

This year, the Exhibit Hall hours were significantly reduced to 12pm-7pm Friday, 11am-6pm Saturday, and 11am-4pm Sunday, for a total of just 19 total hours, so I guess a dealer won a fight somewhere along the way? Last year at the AT&T Center, artists and dealers were separate, and I went into the Dealer’s Room all of once, so I don’t remember what the hours were.

In literally the last fifteen minutes before closing, a group of girls came by and ordered five commissions. They were awesome repeat customers who had commissioned me at previous IKKiCONs, and the best part was that every single one of the commissions were for characters I liked drawing. 8D Come by earlier in the day next time though!

It's Regulus Black, the Slytherin Seeker. :3

Color commission of Regulus Black, Slytherin Seeker. :3

Every con where the Artist Alley closes early, I think “now I can actually check out the rest of the con!” But looking through the program and schedule, neither Stacy nor I could find anything we really wanted to check out. Except the Art Show, which for Friday only, was open an hour later than the Exhibit Hall.

The Art Show was tucked in with the panel rooms in the hallway on the far end of the floor. I didn’t think it was very easy to find, mostly because there’s a set of elevators right before the entrance of the hallway, blocking it from view and making it look like there wasn’t anything back there. And honestly…there really wasn’t. The Art Show was in a small room, but there were only five artists’ works on display for a total of maybe twenty pieces, but most of them were small pieces, and many of them were very similar. The rest of the panels were blank. Maybe more got added later, but man, it was underwhelming.

Ty Lee, Zuko, Azula, Mai.

Ty Lee, Zuko, Azula, Mai.

I don’t know what previous Art Show rates and turnouts were for IKKiCON (or of any other convention the same size), but I imagine the outrageous panel prices have something to do with it… IKKiCON charges $30 for a 4’x4′ panel or $5 for a single entry into the Art Show. Compare this with Sakura-Con’s $15 for a 4’x7′ panel (+$10 for additional), A-kon’s $12 per 4’x4′ panel, and Otakon’s $5 per entry (Otakon doesn’t sell space by panel), keeping in mind that Sakura and A-kon have three times IKKiCON’s attendance and Otakon has four and a half times. IKKiCON doesn’t charge an additional commission on sales while the others all charge 10%, but still. $30 per panel is crazy.

Turnout might have also been low could be because area artists are a bit burned on the convention in general? Two years ago, a lot of artists did poorly because of the way the tables were laid out (parallel to the exit wall), among other reasons. Last year, poor communication and confusion among con and hotel staff lead to a lot of frustration in the alley regarding crappy lighting, unclear hours, and placement drama. I’ve always done pretty all right, but it’s easy enough to note the absence of several artists that appear regularly at other Texas-area conventions. And if artists are already iffy on participating in the Alley, why risk the Art Show, which has even less exposure and promotion?

Stacy and I didn’t stay long after leaving the Art Show. Instead, we drove back to her house, walked the dogs, and ordered pizza. I ate an entire 12″ pizza by myself and it was delicious. U_U And then I stayed up working on my homework commissions. All in all, Friday was pretty uneventful, but that’s okay. Uneventful is better than drama-filled, after all, and I felt reasonably confident that things would pick up Saturday.

I don't care what you say, muchroom and spinich makes for the best pizza.

I don’t care what you say; mushroom and spinach makes for the best pizza.

SATURDAY

Saturday began pretty much the same as Friday, with getting gas and coffee. Since we didn’t have stuff to load, we took Stacy’s car instead of my minivan, and listened to pony music all the way there. The parking garage was full this time though (not surprising), so we parked about two blocks down, which was really fine except for the part where we had to walk past a hobo camp while Stacy was in a pink wig and lolita dress.

It is a freakin' adorable dress though.

It is a freakin’ adorable outfit though.

I didn’t have much to set up at the table when we got there, so I wandered around the dealer’s side of the Exhibit Hall a bit before opening. Browsing the Dealer’s Room is always a mixed experience for me because I’m very rarely looking for anything specific and in the opposite way of most con-goers, I make far more incidental purchases in DR than I do in AA. Everything is neat, but I don’t want it until I walk by it ten times. <_< I did spot a few of the new Banpresto “I ♥ Eevee” promotional line though…including the DX Eevee, which looks really freakin’ amazing and fluffy and soft. >_>

Doors opened to VIP attendees at 10:30am and to everyone else at 11am. Traffic was much brisker Saturday. I got a lot more commissions to keep me busy, and since I still couldn’t get Square to work on my phone, I installed the Square app on Michael’s phone so I could run credit cards again. Michael also did a food run around noon and brought back one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. :O (He was looking for tacos, but wandered lost downtown for an hour instead before he found the burgers.) Best table neighbours ever or best table neighbours ever??

And of course, I got to draw Stacy and Michael again. This is the fourth time?

And of course, I got to draw Stacy and Michael again. This is the fourth time?

There really isn’t all that much else to say about Saturday. It was a solid and satisfying day of work, even if it was really short. 6pm closing time? Ridiculous. I never understand it when DR/AA closes earlier Saturday than Friday, but there you go. A-kon’s (secure) AA was like this the last two years too, and staff always tells me it’s the hotel’s decision, not theirs, but they’ll be moving to a new hotel this year, so we’ll see if that changes.

Michael and Stacy were kind of interested in attending the pony panel on the schedule, but it was at 10pm and no one was interested in hanging around the hotel that long, or in leaving and coming back. So we bailed, went and had Vietnamese for dinner, then raided not one, but two different Targets for My Little Pony trading cards for Michael. 8D After getting back to the house, Michael and I sorted through all his cards and cataloged one of each into a binder (previously they were all sitting in his tin) while Stacy waited impatiently for us to finish so we could catch the new episode. IT WAS A VERY PONYTASTIC WEEKEND IN GENERAL, in case you hadn’t gathered.

Appropriately, my homework commission for the night was a David Bowie pony.

Appropriately, my homework commission for the night was a David Bowie pony.

SUNDAY

Stacy remarked Sunday morning that we took a different route in and out of the city every single day of the convention, but all of the routes took roughly the same time. We parked two blocks down from the hotel again, but this time did not have to walk by the hobos. Stacy, in cat ears and a maid outfit, still got unwanted attention though. But I mean, we were also like a block from 6th street, Austin’s wonderful club and bar street. And it was New Years weekend. Comes with the territory? I would say that this is part of the reason I kinda liked the AT&T Center better, but I don’t really spend enough time outside during a con for it to matter that much.

IkkicNot one, but two Hawkeyes, a Tony, and a Bruce Banner~. (Loki was also next to Bruce, but I couldn't get him in the same shot, and you're all sick of me posting Loki cosplayers anyway, right??)

Not one, but two Hawkeyes, a Tony, and a Bruce Banner~. (Loki was also next to Bruce, but I couldn’t get him in the same shot, and you’re all sick of me posting Loki cosplayers anyway, right??)

On Sunday, I had nearly as many commissioners as I did Saturday, and also the one commissioner I was worried wasn’t coming back came back! Ever since I joined up with the 21st century and got texting on my phone, I’ve asked commissioners to leave their numbers so I could text them when their commission is finished. Every now and then, someone will decline to leave their number. This is fine, and I stress to them that they’ll have to remember to come back and pick up their art… but four out of five times, these people never come back. They pay upfront, so it isn’t like I lose money on them, but it’s really frustrating having finished art that never gets picked up! Like…what do I do with them? D:

One of my few commissioners Friday decided not to leave her number and I worried all Saturday she was gonna become Yet Another No Show, but she finally showed up again Sunday, so yay! All commissions picked up and accounted for!

Vaporeon~

Vaporeon~

Other than commissions though, Sunday was pretty slow and I don’t remember anything notable. The last hour was awkward in that “half of the Exhibit Hall had started to pack up, but we haven’t yet” sort of way. Kiiyame, Ladre, and a few others headed out to Chili’s in our shared post-con tradition, but that group got pretty big pretty fast, so in the end, I decided to skip and hit up IHOP with Stacy and Michael instead. Departed for Houston around seven and miraculously did not crash and die on the way back because I almost fell asleep about a dozen times. <_< Tiiiired.

OVERALL

This was my third year attending IKKiCON as an artist, and looking back, I think the con’s always been a bit of a mixed bag. As my first convention ever (not as an artist), there is sentimental value here for sure, but I’ve done a lot of shows now, and IKKiCON could be better.

For IKKiCON 5, while traffic was pretty abysmal for much of the weekend, I said the convention was one of the most organized I’d been to in a while. On the heels of Anime Overload and Delta H Con 2010, I suppose that was true enough. IKKiCON 6, by contrast, had better traffic but awful staff organization and communication. IKKiCON 7… well, I guess it has improved. I think overall traffic was better than both previous years, but while staff organization wasn’t bad, it still felt like it could stand some improvements.

General shot of Artist Alley.

General shot of Artist Alley.

Not sticking with the AA map annoys me out of principle, though I know the end layout was definitely for the better. I didn’t like the shorter Exhibit Hall hours this year, but I’m not really sure what can be done aside from making Saturday make more sense and closing at least as late as Friday. The AA check-in guys stayed at their table most of the weekend and were nice and reasonably helpful when I went with Kiiyame to bring up an issue she was having with one of her neighbours. Other than that though, I didn’t really see them wander around the Alley until the very end of the weekend, when who I assume is now the Artist Alley head came around to collect names and emails for information to register for next year. I didn’t have as many issues as last year, but I guess the staff felt kind of impersonal to me.

One of the things that bothers me the most I didn’t find out until after the con though, and that’s that IKKiCON apparently technically had a 50% fanart rule…because they copied Otakon’s AA rules verbatim.

I had to have seen the 50% rule when I finished all the paperwork in April, but I guess it completely slipped my mind because IKKiCON has never had a fanart rule and no one mentioned it ever. I feel bad now for not following them, but if IKKiCON just copied Otakon’s rules, are they really IKKiCON’s rules? Especially if even the staff didn’t seem aware of it? Come on, don’t be so lazy and indifferent. How hard can it possibly be to write up your own rules?

I only saw Melissa — who used to head Artist Alley, but who’s now the Executive Director of the con — once and very briefly Saturday morning, so we didn’t get much of a chance to talk. I think IKKiCON (still?) has the problem of too few experienced staff and/or not having enough reliable people to delegate tasks to, and so corner-cutting happens, and copying Otakon’s AA rules is one such instance. I’m sure it happened elsewhere at the con, too.

Stacy and Michael as ponies. ;)

Stacy and Michael as ponies. ;)

I really don’t think IKKiCON’s a bad convention, but there’s definitely room for improvement — especially in the care (don’t just copy/paste other convention’s guidelines!) and awareness (did you even look at how other shows priced their Art Show panels?) departments. This can be said for a lot of conventions. It’s just a matter of our being willing to point out places that need improvement, and staff being willing to listen…

But either way, I had a good weekend, and I’ll probably be back next this year. :>