Con Report: KuroNekoCon 2013

So KuroNekoCon was a small, two-day anime convention in Spokane, WA, July 20-21.

Tori had mentioned it to me once or twice before, as she’d attended last year and would be returning this year, but I hadn’t planned on going because I’d need to take a bus there. I’ve never traveled by bus with all my con gear before, but it seemed like a huge hassle and an unnecessary expense, especially since the con is pretty teeny (sub-1000 attendance range). I like checking out new shows, but just didn’t seem worth it to make the trip out, especially since Tori’s testimonial was a bit mixed.

But then I found out that Xib was interested in going! And Xib has a car. :D

Fake Lemonade Stand @ KuroNekoCon 2013!

Fake Lemonade Stand @ KuroNekoCon 2013!

This report is 4,283 words long.

Pre-Con

I actually really like small anime cons, especially small, college-run ones. It feels like forever since I’ve been to one, but with one exception (Delta H Con), I’ve always done well at them (MomoCon, Nashi-Con, Kami-Con, AggieCon). I haven’t done many small shows since moving to Seattle — Washington doesn’t have nearly as many cons in a short radius as Texas does, and not having a car here makes travel out of the city pretty annoying anyway. I was super excited to finally make an Artist Alley friend locally that I could carpool with, but even if Xib didn’t have a car, just having someone in the same city to do cons with is really, really nice!

We both applied to and were waitlisted for Artist Alley in late April, but Tori pointed out that they still had Dealer spaces available… KNC’s website was really confusing on the matter, but after some back and forth with the AA and DR coordinators, both of whom responded pretty promptly to emails, I got that their Dealer’s Room and Artist Alley are in the same room and are given identical accommodations (8′ table, one badge, two chairs). The only difference is that Dealers are allowed to have licensed/reseller goods, and so the difference in cost for a DR table and an AA table was only $10.

So Xib and I both just signed up for Dealer’s Room! A month later, I actually got off the AA waitlist, but the AA coordinator said it was fine and not a big deal for me to swap back to AA and forfeit the DR table, so that’s what I did! I would be refunded the $10 difference at the convention itself.

FRIDAY

I hadn’t intended to make anything new for KNC, but the con came right as my new Attack on Titan fan-high was starting to get out of hand, and I spent Thursday night Friday morning last-minuting some chibis for buttons because I really, really wanted to have something from the series. I got Eren, Levi, and Hanji done, but gave up around 3am and didn’t get to do Mikasa, Armin, and Erwin like I wanted. Since I still don’t own my own button press (or a printer, for that matter), I sent the files off to Tori so she could print and make them Friday morning… You can tell I REALLY wanted to have something from Attack on Titan because Tori’s button press is for 1.5″ buttons and all of my other buttons are 1.25″, which means these DON’T MATCH UGH.

Attack on Titan buttons

I’m actually not happy with how these turned out…I might redo them all when I get around to finishing out the sets…

On the bright side, since Friday wasn’t a con day and there was no real rush, Xib and I didn’t leave Seattle until 1pm and I got a fair bit of sleep in. And the five hour drive was actually pretty fun because the scenery changed a lot!?

Right out of the city, we hit the mountains, which went on for about an hour…then suddenly, it was the desert?? The mountains flattened out really quickly, and it was a hot and mercilessly cloudless day. It kind of shocked me how much Midwestern Washington reminded me of Texas… What happened to that wonderfully gloomy weather I moved up here for, eh?

The desert got rockier and eventually turned into a lot of impressive cliffs and gorges with the occasional body of water and river. The windmills that cropped up were pretty neat. There are a lot fewer exits and pit stops areas compared to Texas, but that wasn’t surprising since Washington is much less populous, even taking into consideration it’s a geographically smaller state. Even if it was gross and hot, the drive was still a lot more interesting than any drive I’ve made through Texas (but maybe I’m just saying that because I don’t like Texas…). We got off the exit for Spokane around 6pm — right on schedule!

On the road to the middle of no where!

On the road to the middle of no where!

Since it was just the two of us (Tori was staying with friends in town), we hadn’t wanted to spring for the con hotel (the Doubletree) and were staying at the cheaper Hotel Ruby, which was right in the middle of downtown.

When we checked in, the receptionist asked us what we were in town for and was surprised when we told him “an anime con.” Apparently he hadn’t heard of KuroNekoCon at all and kind of wanted to go? He hadn’t seen any recent series, so Xib and I chatted with him a bit, gave a rousing recommendation of Attack on Titan, and specific instructions to check it out on Crunchyroll, haha.

After settling briefly in our room, we walked a few blocks over to Pita Pit to meet @koromir — the staff photographer for KNC whom I’d met briefly at Sakura-Con — for dinner. I’m pretty sure we spent the whole time fangasming over Attack on Titan. Koromir was the main reason I made sure to finish the Hanji button, as Levi/Hanji is her main ship. :P

After dinner, we got an impromptu tour of the surrounding area, which is basically all Spokane has to offer, I think?? It really did seem like everything interesting about the town was packed into a ten block radius downtown. XD We went through the nearby park, stopped by the convention center and con hotel to figured out where the loading dock and parking was, then swung over to see the falls before parting ways with Koromir.

Spokane Falls?? Spokane's weather reminded me disturbingly of Houston's, but at least Spokane is prettier, I guess.

Spokane’s weather reminded me disturbingly of Houston’s, but at least Spokane is prettier, I guess.

Since Xib had brought his laptop along for the weekend, I had him catch up with the prior week’s Attack on Titan episode once we got back to the hotel. …Then I made him watch all of ~the swimming anime~ that was out at the time. Nevermind that at that point, I’d already seen the most recent swimming anime episode three times… Attack on Titan was definitely my fandom for the weekend, but it was already pretty obvious then that Free! Iwatobi Swim Club was making its way up the ladder… <__<

But you know, it’s really nice being able to watch anime while at an anime con. Yeah, as artists, we’re there to work; we’re there to sell; we’re there to promote ourselves. But I think I’d stop the minute I stop being a fan of this stuff. Thankfully, I really don’t see that happening any time…ever. Current obsession levels for Attack on Titan and Free! are proof enough of this, and if anything, I feel like I fantard over things much more intensely than I did ten years ago because I have a lot more people to fantard with now.

The only Attack on Titan cosplayer I saw all weekend. ; 3 ;

The only Attack on Titan cosplayer I saw all weekend. ; 3 ;

SATURDAY

We were up around 6:30am, giving us plenty of time to have a relaxing complimentary breakfast at the hotel. Coffee and waffles, yay! And guess what? The receptionist totally went and started watching Attack on Titan!

It was great talking to him about the show and trying to come up with more recommendations for series he might enjoy. It is, in general, a great feeling when you successfully get someone into something that you’re really into. But considering so many people fell off the anime train after most networks stopped airing new shows (obvious from the number of people unable to name any series that aired post-2006), it feels like an especially awesome accomplishment to get someone back into anime with a new series!

Ho-oh and Lugia

Ho-oh and Lugia

Setup at the convention started at 8am and the Dealer’s Room/Artist Alley was to open to the public at 11am. Three hours is plenty of time, which is why we hadn’t even inquired about the possibility of Friday set-up and didn’t feel especially rushed Saturday morning. It technically wasn’t too bad of a walk from our hotel to the convention center…but that’s without 170 lbs of con stuff between the two of us and the blazing summer sun. :P

We pulled into the loading dock around 8:30am and were greeted by a genderbent Briefs cosplayer. Neither she, nor the other cosplayer with her, introduced themselves as staff, but we kind of just assumed they were since they seemed to know what they were talking about. There wasn’t any more available parking, but they assured us we’d be fine pulling alongside the chain linked fence to unload. Xib did so and I unloaded while he went to retrieve one of the huuuge carts provided by the convention center.

From the loading area, we went through several hallways to get to the DR/AA through a kind of back entryway. The hallways were obviously intended for convention center staff only as they were filled with various event supplies like stacks of chairs, folded tables, water machines, drinking glasses, and other things. It was my first time being in that kind of area and it was kind of cool?

Xib setting up in Artist Alley.

Xib setting up in Artist Alley.

Artist Alley was comprised of fourteen tables at the front of the hall while Dealer’s Room took up the remaining space at the back of the hall (twenty-four additional tables). I had an Artist table and Xib had a Dealer’s, and our assigned spots on the map was supposed to be this. But when we got there, I was kind of unhappy with how little space there was between the front of my table and the table across the aisle from me. Because my display is fairly tall, I prefer people have space to stand back from my table and look up. The aisle in front of Xib’s table was much roomier, and since Xib’s display wasn’t as tall, he agreed to swap with me before running back out to move the car to an actual parking area. <3

There were lots of staff milling around the AA/DR, but it took me a while to realize this as most of them were in cosplay. While they did have staff badges for the most part, they weren’t super obvious at first glance, and I wouldn’t realize that they were staff until they came up to me offering to help. There were also one or two really young staffers (10-13 years old?) that were probably the younger siblings or kids of older staffers…I think they weirded me out a bit since I didn’t really feel like I could ask them for anything I’d normally ask staff about? Still, KNC had a staff table set up in the AA/DR (to sell con shirts and other merch), so they were pretty accessible to me all weekend.

KuroNekoCon's con table in the Dealer's Room area.

KuroNekoCon’s con table in the Dealer’s Room area.

After setting up, I finally went over to registration to get my badge. The main line — I’m not sure if it was for on-site reg or pre-reg — was very long, but thankfully, the vendor check-in was separate, and I was able to get my badge very quickly. The convention center’s food vendors were also close to registration, but as is generally the case with food vendors with exclusive contracts, everything was insanely expensive~.

I had a fair bit of time to kill prior to the doors opening to the attendees, especially since the opening time got pushed back from 11am to noon…apparently, because of registration delays. I actually didn’t hear about that until way after the fact. Staff didn’t mention it, but Tori said that they told her and asked her to pass it down to the rest of the artists/dealers. No idea why a general announcement wasn’t made. After all, the AA/DR was very small; it would have been easy to whistle and get everyone’s attention for an announcement.

In any case, after making a quick circuit around the room to see everyone’s goods, I passed the time by drawing a lot of Levi. <_< Will Levi be my new Loki? Still hard to say, but it seems I like a lot of arrogant asshole characters with names that begin with ‘L’. (Lelouch being the most notable other.)

ACEO of Levi~.

ACEO of Levi~.

Part of the reason I didn’t realize we opened an hour later than originally scheduled was because traffic was slow in the first few hours and I didn’t notice an significant increase when we officially opened. Vendors always browse other vendors in the time before opening — it’s the only time we get to do that — but I didn’t notice the difference between that before-hours vendor browsing and actual active-hour attendee browsing? I’m not actually sure if this means that all the vendors browsed a lot (all two dozen of us??) or that there weren’t a lot of attendees browsing?

Traffic was a little sparse through the afternoon and never quite surpassed “light and casual,” but neither did it ever dip into the “dead” range either.

The main events hall was right next door to the AA/DR and we shared a relatively thin wall. I think it’s one of those walls that can be removed if an event calls for the larger space. In the morning, during set-up, there were some taiko drummers practicing or something, so I was a bit concerned about the noise level. But while I always had a good idea of what was going on next door and could hear every word the singers for the concerts sang, the noise level during the day was, thankfully, not enough to disrupt business.

Gatomon!

Gatomon!

Even with Xib to split costs with, travel and lodging for KuroNekoCon were a higher than I what I’d normally spend for a con this size. Then again, the cons I’ve attended that were most similar to KNC I did while I was still in college. My budget was much tighter then, but I also had a lot more people to split costs with. Those were the days of stuffing eleven people into a double, hahaha. I was still pretty green on the con scene then too, so expectations for returns were much lower.

These days, with con friends scattered across the country, it’s lucky if I find even one person to travel with. Shared lodging is easier, especially for larger conventions where I know a lot of others attending, but I think we’re all a bit too weary to do the eleven-to-a-room thing anymore. But five years doing cons also means I have a lot more experience and a lot more stuff, so I’m lucky enough to have achieved higher returns to compensate the higher costs.

So Saturday at KuroNekoCon went about as well as I could hope, especially considering how few hours we were actually active — we closed at 6pm, so it was just six hours of selling. Sales weren’t amazing, but they were solid. I didn’t get a ton of commissions, but one of the ones I did get was for my most expensive option (I’ve started offering full-page color commissions again!), so that kind of balanced things out. :o And I was saved from boredom between sales and commissions by my own compulsions to draw Levi over and over, so hurray for that??

I drew a Mikasa too. One Mikasa in the sea of Levis.

I drew a Mikasa too. One Mikasa in the sea of Levis.

After closing shop for the day, I joined Tori, her tablemate Mika (Tetsumiro), and a huge group of the other alley artists for dinner at Suki Yaki Inn, which was just a block down from the convention center. Xib had agreed to get a drink with the dealer across the aisle from him (actually, the dealer, Buki of Anime Haus, was across from me too, since she occupied the entire island of tables there!) and was supposed to join us afterwards, but that never happened, haha. It was just as well though because we had a full table of twelve or thirteen people and getting settled at the restaurant was a bit of an ordeal.

I don’t think I’ve ever gone to dinner with such a huge group at a con before, and I probably could have been a lot more social, but it ended up that one half of the table was pretty lively and talkative and the other half of the table — my half — was quiet with some combination of awkwardness and tiredness, haha. Mika and I chatted a bit about SCAD since she’s currently a SEQA student there, though she’s at the Atlanta campus, whereas I was in Savannah. The artist between us at the end of the table worked on a page of her webcomic while we all waiting for food. Sadly, I don’t think I ever got her name or the name of the comic?

I doodled at dinner too.

I doodled at dinner too.

I went back to the hotel after dinner and took a shower and a nap while waiting for Xib to get back. …The newest Attack on Titan episode had aired that afternoon and I was pretty set on watching it, lol. XD Also, as San Diego Comic-Con was the same weekend as KuroNeko, I got news from Twitter about Tom Hiddleston’s Loki’s unexpected appearance in Hall H, so of course we had to look up a video of that before bed, too. ʘ‿ʘ

SUNDAY

Setup started at 9am and the room opened to the public at 10am. We were up at 7am and got breakfast again before checking out of the hotel. The receptionist wasn’t able to make it out to the con that weekend and seemed kinda bummed that we were leaving. He sat with us briefly while we ate and we talked more about cartoons. I hope he’ll be able to go to the con next year? Or maybe hit up Sakura-Con in the spring?

The doors to the AA/DR were closed, but not locked, when we got to the convention center around 8am. There was no one outside, but there were a few artists (and staff?) inside. Later though, when I left to buy overpriced coffee, there was security guy positioned outside. Since I didn’t have much resetting to do at the table, I wandered the room quite a few times that morning, browsing and chatting with other vendors.

Catwoman.

Catwoman.

The layout of the room was actually a bit awkward because of the two pseudo-rows that deadended into a wall, with tables adjacent to and perpendicular to the walls. The vendors at those tables agreed that the placement made for difficult traffic, since people had only one way in/out of the area, but it also seemed like the consensus for business on Saturday was mostly just “okay” on the high end and “kind of meh” on the lower end. No one seemed to be doing terribly though, so there’s that.

The crowd was younger and less varied than at larger conventions, and there didn’t seem to be too many parents in the mixture, so I think small budgets was the main issue. Notably, my Square reader didn’t get as much use here as it had at other cons. The young’uns don’t have credit cards, after all! It was especially noticeable on the heels of Everfree NW, where 75% of the crowd was over 21, and there were no unaccompanied minors.

Super fun full page color commission of Stocking~.

Super fun full page color commission of Stocking~.

Sunday opened similarly to Saturday — light, casual traffic. I got more commissions Sunday than Saturday, but merch sales were down. In the early afternoon, around 1pm, the AA/DR was completely empty for minutes at a time, which was actually a bit weird since I don’t think there was that much else going on at the convention then. Traffic came in weird surges for the rest of the day with lots of dead periods interrupted by small bursts of people, presumably between main events.

We closed up again at 6pm, after which staff swarmed the room helping everyone break down and haul stuff out to the loading dock. I had a short, but nice, chat with one of the older staff (actually, I think she was the parent of one of the actual staff?) wherein I gave some quick feedback and suggestions. There had actually been short surveys/feedback sheets waiting for us at the tables when we got there Saturday, but I forgot about it and never got to fill it out before leaving. It’s always encouraging to see a convention be proactive and actually solicit feedback though.

I didn't have a lot of Attack on Titan stuff at KNC, but Koromir bought all of it. (Photo is hers.)

I didn’t have a lot of Attack on Titan stuff at KNC, but Koromir bought all of it. (Photo is hers.)

After packing up, Xib and I met up with Buki (of Anime Haus, the dealer with the biggest island) at the Chili’s also conveniently across the street from the convention center. Since it was happy hour, we ordered too many appetizers and ate too much food and had a grand ol’ time talking shop. The drive back to Seattle seemed to take longer than the drive to Spokane, but probably because we were tired and food-comaing. And nothing’s really scenic in the dark. In fact, driving through the mountains at night is kind of creepy.

OVERALL

KuroNekoCon went well.

Staff, while difficult to recognize at times, was plentiful and accessible: there were always at least two staff members within shouting distance, and the AA coordinator came around at least once a day to check up on me; the $10 refund on my DR->AA table was delivered promptly to me Saturday morning (though I gave it to Xib since we ended up swapping places, which staff wasn’t fussed about, which was also nice). Buki had been working the Anime Haus island all by herself for the weekend, so set-up and tear-down were especially rough, but staff definitely made a point to give her a hand, since it was clear she really needed and appreciated it.

Artist Alley/Dealer's Room

Artist Alley/Dealer’s Room

I think a majority of anime cons start off as small shows run by college anime clubs. As they get larger, they eventually graduate into larger organizations, whether non-profits or businesses, but while they’re still college-run, I always get this nice impression of earnestness. Maybe it just means I’m old now, but I think it’s really cute? A vast majority of the staff at KNC is younger than me, and they all appeared eager to learn and improve. The sincerity gives me more confidence that my feedback will be taken into consideration.

Since I wasn’t able to submit written feedback to the AA coordinator before leaving Sunday, I sent her an email Monday with 1,400 words of AA-specific and general con feedback. (Brevity is the twin I killed in the womb.) Her response was short, but thoughtful, and again rang with an earnestness that made me feel I was being listened to. Most of the problems I had were small and could be easily fixed or avoided, so hopefully they’ll be easy to for KNC to address. Being a small con with a small staff means it’s less likely for the feedback to get lost in a tangled web of budding bureaucracy, right?

The Spokane Convention Center is a great venue, and there’s plenty of room for the con to grow. I’m actually pretty excited to see where KNC goes from here.

221B Baker St.! (I saw her when I didn't have my phone, so I couldn't get a picture, but the Internet came to the rescue. This photo is by itachidorii@Tumblr.)

221B Baker St.! I saw her when I didn’t have my phone, so I couldn’t get a picture, but the Internet came to the rescue. This photo is by itachidorii@Tumblr.

So yeah, I had a good weekend. The con was relaxing — since we opened an hour late Saturday, vendors had just 14 work hours over two days. This, compared to the cons where I work 14 hours a day for three days? Yeah, definitely relaxing. It can be a fine line, the space between “relaxing” and “not [financially] worth it/BORING,” but for a show with a still-modest attendance — KuroNekoCon 2013 had “over 850 attendees,” so presumably fewer than 900 — I did pretty well in the end.

I grossed about twice what I made at Anime Overload 2, which was the most similarly-sized at 800 attendees. I guess doubling my power level in three years is reasonable?? The figure is also almost twice what I grossed at Aki-Con, which had ~3500 attendees (or so I’ve heard; I’ve still not been able to find official figures), which further emphasizes that Aki-Con was a terribly-run show.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what I was expecting from KNC, but it was definitely a good weekend. It was great hanging out with Xib, watching cartoons, and fantarding about Attack on Titan with basically everyone I met. Good times all around. Will definitely be back next year.

5 Comments

  1. Woo! Con was really fun, I think we should totally go to another together sometime. Report was a fun read! I’m a little bummed I didn’t get to really buy any prints at the con… though my wallet is probably better off for it.

    Now I’m all fired up to draw more fanart for the next con! Aww yes, Free! and Attack on Titan, here I come!

  2. This was actually very helpful and informative! Thank you! :D
    I’m moving to Spokane from the San Francisco, CA area soon and I was wondering, “What’s the convention scene like up there?”
    And I found this!

    I’ve sold in the AA at Fanimecon in San Jose, CA for the last 5 years which has upwards of 20,000 attendees every year, so the fact that KNC has <1000 is both off-putting and fascinating at the same time.

    What's the market like at smaller cons and KNC? What were the badge/reg rates?

    Fanime is insane. Just the sheer amount of bodies milling through the area…
    A small con actually sounds very refreshing!

    I mourn the loss of Brevity.

    • Yay! Always to hear that these long reports are helpful to people! ^^

      But wow, San Fran to Spokane is quite a jump. I did pretty well at KNC, but it’s still a bit hard for me to gauge the con overall since this year was my first time attending and this was also their first year in a convention center. I’m feeling optimistic about their future growth though. Spokane also has SpoCon, which is a sci-fi/fantasy con, which might be worth checking out if you’ll be local.

      AA tables at KNC this year were $70 and Dealers were $80. Both included a badge. The demographic was definitely on the younger side of anime cons, and as I mentioned, I think that was the primary reason for small budgets. I don’t think there’s another local chainmaile artist though, so you’d have that going for you!

      If you’re up for the five hour drive, Sakura-Con in Seattle is pretty similar to Fanime’s attendance bracket though (22k this year, I believe), though with the HUGE convention center, it isn’t thaaaat overwhelming, in my opinion, haha. My report from this year is here. There are a few other smaller Seattle-area conventions too, including SteamCon, though I haven’t been to it yet.

      Anyway, hope that helps! Good luck with your move!

  3. I did find SpoCon. Looks interesting, but I’ll have to look more into what it takes/means to be an dealer there. It doesn’t look like they have an AA.

    The KNC prices are exciting (even if they go up next year) because fanime is $65 for a weekend badge, and artist alley was an additional $85 for a 6×2 table and a couple chairs (which is apparently not very expensive for cons of that size). The 10×10 spots in the dealers hall were upwards of $800-900 depending on when you applied for a spot.

    Thanks for your help!
    -Glen

    • Yeah, $150 total for table and badge is about par for the course for a con Fanime’s size. The other cons in Fanime’s attendance bracket include Sakura-Con ($100 table + $40-50 badge), A-Kon ($150 table + badge), and Anime Boston ($120 for 2×6 table + $55-65 badge).

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