I had not planned to table at Geek Girl Con, October 19-20, in downtown Seattle.
I had intended to check it out. I’d intended to check it out last year, too, but had missed out through some combination of being uninformed, lazy, and not wanting to trek out to it. This year, I wouldn’t have had an excuse since I now live walking distance to the venue, and Xib had offered me the extra badge that came with his Artist Alley table.
But then I ended up taking half his table space, too. Whoops. How do I attend a convention just to attend again?
This report is 4,808 words long.
Two weeks ahead of the show, Xib emailed staff about adding another vendor to the table so we could sort out any necessary paperwork. Yes, it was pretty last minute, and “no” would have been an reasonable response, but there was never a response. So we prepared for me to occupy half the table anyway. (Don’t worry, GGC; I have a UBI, and I pay my taxes.)
Badge pick-up for vendors began at 12:30pm Friday afternoon, so I met up with Xib on his lunch break to head over to the Conference Center at the Washington State Convention Center, which is kind of an awkward distinction from the rest of the convention center. We got our badges on the third floor Exhibitor Hall without issue, along with a con program and an area guide for non-locals. No questions were asked, and no IDs were checked. Makes for an easy exchange, which is always nice, but also a security concern? Anyone that knew the registered studio name of any vendor could have walked off with their badges, and most vendors are listed on the GGC website. This laxness is pretty commonplace though… :(
We stopped by the Artist Alley on the second floor on our way out. The tables were eight feet long, which was great, except… except that Xib’s table was not eight feet long. It was four feet long, and it wasn’t the only one in the Alley that size.
The half-sized tables were actually reflected on the AA map (above), which I’d seen prior to showing up Friday (since I like maps), but it never occurred to me that it meant half-sized tables — I’ve never even seen 4′ tables before! I just thought that the smaller squares were normal-sized tables (6′ or 8′) and that the larger ones were studios with doubled up tables (so two tables stacked together). We were baffled by this, but while we fretted away the rest of Xib’s lunch break wondering how we were going to fit two people behind a 4′ table, we didn’t take it up with staff because we weren’t sure that we weren’t the ones who’d made a mistake.
I went home and poured over the AA application and contract that Xib had forwarded to me when we first decided to share the table. It read that “[e]ach Artist Alley table is 8’x30″ and comes with 2 chairs and 2 badges.” Exhibitor tables were also “8’x30″ and comes with 2 chairs and 2 badges,” though “[t]he area available for each booth is approximately 8’x10′.” There is no mention of half-sized tables.
We agreed to talk to staff about the table in the morning, and to also ask other artists with 4′ tables about whether they’d known they were getting half-sized tables. Xib had, apparently, already corrected a GGC staff mistake prior to this: when table assignments went out, he was told that his table came with just one badge, and he had to point out that the contract said otherwise. That issue had been quickly resolved, but I was skeptical that we’d be able to get our 4′ table corrected to an 8′ one. Everything was already set up. Would there even be room to double the size of our table? Would it be an issue that I wasn’t technically supposed to be tabling?
Despite the tiny space and the fact neither of us were especially hopeful about the situation, Xib insisted that it was still okay we share the table.
I had no idea how we were going to set up the space to accommodate both of us though. A 4′ table is not room enough for two people to sit without bumping elbows, much less enough space to fit binders full of art or grid cubes or whatever else. I can easily occupy an 8′ space by myself, and though I ended up packing a fair bit less than usual (just one suitcase instead of two!), I still had no idea how it was going to work…
Vendor setup began at 7am Saturday morning, and everything was open to the public at 9am. Xib, who was a genius and decided to stay up all night last-minuting things for the con, ran really late picking me up though, and we didn’t arrive at the convention center until past 8am. I could have gone to the convention earlier, but since I wasn’t the one that had purchased the table, I would have felt really, really awkward setting up and/or confronting staff without him (even though it’s unlikely to have mattered). Also, Rainfurrest taught me that dragging my luggage up hills gives me terrible callouses. <_< Even together though, we still felt really awkward about the whole thing, and despite already having very little time to set up by that point, we continued to put off talking to staff while trying to figure out how to set up.
Eventually, Xib asked one of our neighbours, Jak of Woohoo!, about their table situation. Jak said that she was sharing two 8′ tables between three artists, but confirmed that there had been nothing anywhere about 4′ tables and the contract had definitely said that all tables were 8′ tables. This was enough to reassure Xib and me that we weren’t crazy, and so we went up to one of the people in GGC “agent” shirts hanging around the entrance of the Artist Alley and asked about table sizes. This person couldn’t say one way or another whether our table was the wrong size though, so someone was sent to find the Exhibits head.
In the meantime, Xib started building up his grid cubes and I started putting together PVC to build a 6′ wide display that would reach the floor. The original idea was to have the 4′ table sit between the PVC and then a short tower of cubes on either side, maybe, to extend our space to at least 6′. In practice, this was really, really awkward. I ended up scooting the 6′ wide PVC structure so it was flush against one side of the table and overshot the other side of the table by 2′. From the 2′ of space, I hung prints from top to bottom. Xib’s cube tower became five cubes tall and it was kind of propped against the other side of the table to stabilize the PVC. I’ve never built PVC to the floor before and was actually kind of surprised at how well things stood up, but there was still the tabletop space to figure out.
Eventually, the Exhibits head arrived and confirmed that we were, in fact, supposed to have a full 8′ table, and that she had no idea what happened. ._. It was not immediately clear what our options were though. The Exhibits head left, but other staff was dispatched to talk to the venue staff about getting another 8′ table down to Artist Alley. We continued setting up for the table we had. Some time later, we were told we could either wait for an 8′ table to be brought down or that we could take a half-refund on the table. Xib deferred to me, and I took the 8′ table because it was pretty obvious the 4′ one wasn’t working out at all.
Thankfully, it did not take too long after that for the 8′ table to get delivered. By then it was already 9am, but while Artist Alley was technically open, there weren’t many attendees milling through yet. After the 4′ table was hauled out and replaced, a couple of staff guys were assigned to help us re-set up our display. The rest of the AA staff came by a lot to offer additional help and their apologies. The 6′ PVC setup was torn down. It was re-built to 8′ long and 4′ tall, a standard setup, but I didn’t have enough pieces to build the arms on the sides because I hadn’t brought all of my PVC. Xib’s grid cubes were moved behind the table to be used as storage instead of display.
I ended up taking up more like two thirds of the table instead of half. >_> I haven’t shared a table since STAPLE! in 2011, and I’m not sure that even counts because I didn’t bring much to that con at all. I didn’t bring everything to Geek Girl Con either, but I still had too much stuff. SORRY, XIB. I could have probably made better decisions regarding what posters I actually displayed, but I was really frazzled by that point and didn’t care at all. It was more than half past ten by the time we were settled.
All of the on-site staff were really nice and apologetic about the whole fiasco, and it seemed that they worked as quickly as they could to rectify the issue. The venue staff were also nice and fast in getting us our 8′ table and hauling out the 4′ one. We were offered tons of help from both con staff and our awesome neighbours in setting up and tearing down and setting up again. The whole exchange went about as well as anyone could hope, honestly, and I’m really glad we got the 8′ table in the end, but given the staff’s responsiveness on-site, I’m left wondering why the issue was an issue in the first place.
Later on, when Xib made a circuit around the Alley, he discovered that we weren’t the only ones that got shortchanged on the table. While some of the artists that had 4′ tables had specifically purchased a half table (how? There was nothing on the application about half tables?? There was nothing on the site about half tables??), at least one other artist showed up Saturday and was surprised by the fact that they had a 4′ table instead of an 8′ one. That’s a pretty serious mix-up to have happen once, much less twice. The Artist Alley wasn’t even that big! Xib says the other artist also got their table swapped out, too, though I didn’t notice, probably because I was too busy being mad and stressed out.
Xib went on a coffee run as soon as we were set up, so I finally got caffeine around eleven, after more than two hours of freaking out about the table. Traffic in the Alley was pretty slow throughout the morning, which was great for when we were scrambling to get set up and settled, but not especially reassuring once I got to sit down.
The above Cecil and Carlos cosplayers stopped by for a pretty lengthy chat though (and returned a few times throughout the day), which was super nice. They didn’t have a table at GGC, but were wandering around being awesome and handing out lollipops and business cards. I feel like I’ve seen Kisney House at a lot of other cons, but I’ve never really spoken to RE and AJ before because I’m the worst? Xib is much better at this ‘talking to other artists’ thing, thankfully, even though it took him ages to tell Jak (our cool neighbour) how much of a fan he was of her stuff (this is still better than my buy-and-run tactic with artists whose stuff I like though…).
Xib was also good company. The boredom problem I’ve had at my last couple of cons was mostly alleviated by Xib being there to talk to me, distract me, ask me things, and give me things to draw. And since Xib could greet and help customers too, it didn’t matter as much if I got too “into” drawing and zoned out for a little bit. I’d forgotten how awesome it is to have someone at the table with me who’s selling with me. ;__;
It was a very good thing that my boredom didn’t become an issue, because there was really a lot of downtime at the table.
Geek Girl Con defaults to being a multi-genre con, I guess. It embraces everything that can fall under a “geek” and “nerd” label, which includes entertainment media of all types, along with basically all STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. There was a job fair at GGC, and a handful of local tech giants were there recruiting. There were panels about women in programming alongside panels about girls in YA novels and Doctor Who companions. It’s a convention with many interests to be sure.
But one of the reasons I hadn’t sought to get my own table at GGC was because, despite the generality of “girl geekdom,” I’d pegged it to draw mostly a mainstream comics and gaming crowd. It is, after all, in mainstream comics and games that issues of outright sexism are most obviously problematic, and it is in these areas that nerd feminism and Tumblr-era social justice champions have been most focused on. Ladies have been fleeing STEM fields in droves, but you’ll see a hundred reblogs of a post about terrible boob armour for every reblog about that.
After my experiences in Artist Alley at Emerald City Comic Con earlier this year, I’ve decided that, for the time being, mainstream comic shows aren’t really for me (as a vendor). And don’t think I’ve ever self-identified as a gamer, even when I still played games.
I don’t think I was too far off in guessing that attendees at GGC were primarily comics fans and gamers, so the slowness wasn’t terribly surprising. I was stressed out and off my game, too, so that probably didn’t help.
Good thing lots of friends stopped by!
Mika, Tori‘s tablemate from KuroNekoCon, and who had space upstairs in the Exhibitor Hall, brought greetings from Tori and mentioned that MomoCon had sent out acceptance emails about their Artist Alley. (We both got in. I still need to finalize some details, but it’s looking likely that I’ll be hitting up the Southeast again next May!) Various folks Xib and I both knew from SICAGA or Double Jump showed up, including fluffy, Jer, who did another coffee run for us, and Laura, who had me draw a dumb doodle on her badge. Pete Ellison, who was also exhibiting upstairs, came by and ranted about Aki Con with Xib, haha. Me, I am pretty tired of talking about Aki Con at this point, but it’s this coming weekend, so the subject’s fresh again, I guess.
Cell reception got worse as the afternoon wore on. It had been fine in the morning, but it declined steadily as more people showed up. This made running Square difficult and annoying. I ran into downtown Seattle’s amazingly terrible reception issues last year when Jet City Comic Show was at Seattle Center (it was so bad, I couldn’t even text people, much less think about using Square), but I was surprised that it became such a problem at the Conference Center since it’s…almost the exact same space that Sakura-Con and ECCC uses, and I didn’t have any issues with reception at either of those conventions. Then again, the Artist Alley at both Sakura and ECCC were on the third floor, and @Chiparoo reported that reception on the third floor at GGC was also fine, so maybe it was only a problem for the second (and first??) floors.
In the mid-afternoon, I got my first commission of the weekend, but it was pretty much the best commission. Elliot Kay asked me to draw “an angel beating up a werewolf with another werewolf” and, aside from a few details regarding the angel’s appearance, pretty much let me run with that. Monster-type werewolves are one of my favorite things, but I rarely get asked to draw them, so I really had fun with it. Xib can confirm that I was muttering “I freakin’ love drawing werewolves” to myself while working on the piece, hahaha. Also blood! I never get asked to drawn bloody things! Blood is so much fun?!?!
So I like how it turned out! Because of space issues, I made the weapon!werewolf four-legged and less monsterized, but Elliot had already okayed that.
We had really reasonable hours, but the day seemed to drag on a long time, even with conversation and company. There were very obvious waves throughout the day as attendees showed up between panels and emptied out completely when a big one was going on. Anita of Feminist Frequency was hanging out at the table next to us anytime she didn’t have a panel or event, so I kind of used her absences as a second indicator of when something interesting was going on outside the Alley cage, haha. In the last hour, the room was almost completely empty, and Xib got up to make a slow circuit around the room. He was gone for most of the hour (actually talking to other artists!) and missed maybe a dozen attendees stopping by the table, no sales.
No one announced our closing at 6pm, but attendees gradually filtered out as artists began packing up. We left, but wandered back a few minutes later to grab something we’d forgotten. By then, the entire room had emptied out and all the staff were gone…the room was unlocked though. I’m sure that the room got locked eventually, but come on, guys, security?
Xib and I walked to Rock Bottom (hey, Kara, Xib likes making obligatory ‘hitting rock bottom’ jokes just as much as you!) and met up with fluffy for dinner. We talked a lot about gender issues and I felt a little better about keeping with the subject and spirit of the convention despite never venturing outside of the Artist Alley. Rock Bottom’s “Just Hot Enough” burger isn’t hot enough at all though, if anyone’s wondering.
We made sure to pick up coffee before heading over to the convention Sunday. We arrived about an hour before the Alley was set to open at 9am, and it was my turn to make a circuit of the room and interact with other artists. I think I even did better than usual!
I stopped by Kel and Kory‘s table, confused Kel with my identity (haha wow I hate reminding people who I am/introducing myself in the first place), chatted briefly, and picked up a book. The table next to theirs was Greg Means of Tugboat Press, and I picked up a couple of small anthology volumes there. Meg Lyman had a bunch of really adorable octopus and crab-themed art. Then I wandered over to Mark Monlux‘s table and accidentally spent the rest of the time until opening talking to him about movies and recommending anime (the mistake was Mark being receptive to me making recommendations; oh no, I’m never gonna shut up), so I never really finished my circuit, whooops.
Sunday wasn’t much different from Saturday. Traffic came in punctuated spurts with dead intervals in between.
In the active periods, a lot of cool people came by to talk and network and trade business cards, including a food photographer and quite a few bloggers and social media marketing people. Everyone had Twitter to follow, and I’m seeing more and more Tumblrs on business cards, too. It was actually one of the techiest con crowds I’ve encountered in a while, but this wasn’t surprising at all as Geek Girl Con itself is pretty techy (you know, STEM job fair and all that). I liked that they had an official Twitter and Instagram hashtag for the con (#GGC13) and that the people behind their website blog and social media outlets were all really on top of things. It’s really great for a con to be accessible through these more casual channels.
Aside from talking to people, I only had one small commission the whole day and so spent most of my down time filling page after page of my sketchbook with…Free! rock band AU doodles, because Xib is a terrible enabler.
Our morning coffee ran out pretty fast, but then a really nice lady brought both of us our caffeinated beverage of choice! (Caramel macchiato for me; Mountain Dew for Xib.) And then, Laura showed up and brought us both pumpkin spice lattes. I think this was the most coffee I’ve had at a convention, partially because I ended up drinking most of Xib’s because it was too much for him??
Halfway through the afternoon, Xib’s friend Lobster showed up to drop off the Puppycat kigurumi she had been working on for him. It had apparently been started Friday night and just finished, and Xib had to put it on immediately. A Bee cosplayer had stopped by our table the day before, and Xib kept wishing that she’d come back so they could take a photo together.
And I guess cosmic convention spirits also wanted them to get a picture together because the Bee cosplayer didn’t have a badge, but “[a] totally nice Rogue cosplayer told [her] there was a Puppycat in Artist Alley, and then gave [her] her badge so [she] could go up there and take pictures.” It was meant to be~.
We were set to close at 5pm, though again, no one ever announced this to the room. People started packing up and attendees seemed to take the hint and filtered out. Xib was last-minuting an art trade with Earl, and we also did some last-minute merch trades with neighbours, so we didn’t start packing up until well after most people. And I guess we had one of the most involved set-ups as well, ’cause we were definitely the last people out of the room, haha.
Despite the last-minuteness and all the stress and confusion regarding the 4′ table, Geek Girl Con ended up being a pretty good time.
Tabling with Xib was undoubtedly a huge part of that though. Traffic throughout the weekend was pretty unsteady; if I’d been flying solo as usual, I’d certainly have been bored a lot. And with the cell reception issues at the venue, I wouldn’t have been able to pass the time on Twitter and Tumblr like I did at Rainfurrest. Xib is way better about taking the initiative to talk to other artists, too, so I think I managed to make more connections than usual because of him. It’s just good to have company at the table! Maybe I’ll try to do it more?
It wouldn’t really work out at larger cons since I have so much stuff and could actually be working the whole time on commissions, but at a small con like this? Why not? Especially since the Artist Alley was so small, I don’t think it would have made much of a difference, sales-wise, if I’d occupied the entire table anyway. Visibility would have been about the same. And alleviating boredom is totally worth whatever the difference anyway.
In general, GGC seems to run itself pretty well. It has a strong focus, and strong programming and a strong guest lineup to back it. All the attendees seemed to be having a fantastic time, and along with tons of photos, there are lots of nice, uplifting stories and blurbs in the #GGC13 Twitter hash and the Geek Girl Con Tumblr tag. I’m sure it was a great con to attend as an attendee, especially for anyone looking for meaningful discussion, education, and something outside of the standard anime, comic, and gaming con fare.
Staff were all nice and visible in their blue “agent” shirts, and as I’ve already said, everyone we talked to about our table problem was very understanding, professional, and responsive. Things got resolved on-site as well as anyone could hope, but I’m still a bit put off by the fact that it was an issue in the first place, and by the fact that we weren’t the only ones it happened to. In an Alley with just 22 tables, how did two end up at the wrong size?
It seems that at some point, the Artist Alley application form changed. One of the artists who had expected a 4′ table said that the form she submitted did not mention 8′ AA tables, only 4′ AA tables and 8′ Exhibitor tables. The 4′ AA tables came with one chair and one badge. It’s unclear when this change happened, since the form Xib submitted (with the 8′ AA tables listed) was dated correctly for 2013 in multiple places, so it wasn’t like he had accidentally used last year’s form. With two different forms indicating different standard AA table sizes, it’s easier to see how the mix-up happened. Xib had to correct them for number of badges already, but there was no way for him to have known from the emails exchanged that he had been put down for a 4′ table.
There are a few other stories I’ve heard regarding issues with Artist Alley/Exhibitor registration, including a non-response on an application. GGC requires payment via check be submitted alongside a physical application, so a non-response means a held check, and that’d make anyone nervous.
This was GGC’s third year already, so they’re just about out of that “new con” awkward period.
I think that most, if not all, of GGC’s staff has worked other conventions before though, so it isn’t like they’re inexperienced. There’s probably a lot of crossover staff from other local shows like ECCC, PAX, and Sakura-Con, and those shows have been running a good while now. These guys should know how to run a convention, and for the most part, they do! But the number of mix-ups and issues there apparently were regarding AA/Exhibitors is a concern that needs to be addressed.
Financially, GGC was my lowest grossing con of the year thus far and brought in about half what I made at KuroNekoCon, which was probably three or four times smaller, but in my “home” genre. The figure isn’t terrible though and is pretty much in line with my expectations. (There are no official numbers for GGC 2013 that I can find, but judging by previous years and the fact they capped attendance, it’s probably around 3,500 or 4,000?)
GGC had the benefit of also being my lowest cost convention — I paid Xib for half the table cost, and that was it. No lodging or travel costs! I didn’t even need to pay for a two-way lightrail ride each day like for Rainfurrest because the con is literally a ten minute walk from my apartment, if I don’t get distracted by the five dozen coffee places in between. The low costs make it hard to argue with, even with the stressful mishaps, but like I already said anyway — tabling with a friend made it worth it even if it had cost more or if I had made less. Barring further mishaps, we’ll definitely be back next year.
And actually, Xib will be joining me for Jet City Comic Show in two weeks! Come see us there!