In stark contrast to my first con of the year last year, my first con for 2014 was Chibi Chibi Con, a small, one-day, college-run anime convention this past Saturday at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.
The interesting thing about Chibi Chibi is that it’s actually been around for a while — 2014 was its eight year, but being run by a college anime club means that staff turnover is probably very high, and that comes with a predictable list of downsides, including communication issues, timely responses, and general organization. Still, I like college cons, and it being a one-day, Saturday affair in a city an hour south of me means it’s pretty easy to last minute it, if necessary.
This report is an astounding 5,325 words, and I have no idea why.
Tori had attended and reported on the convention before — and that’s how I learned about the con in the first place — but prior to me securing a reliable ride to cons outside of Seattle, I wasn’t really able to consider it. Luckily, 2013 proved Xib to be a most excellent con buddy, and so Chibi Chibi Con was a possibility at last.
Though the con’s website had not updated all year, we first inquired about Artist Alley in mid-October. Communication was a bit weird though. I’m glad that both of us emailed in separately because we got a different level of response, for whatever reason. When I emailed requesting information about 2014 vendors, I was told that applications weren’t available yet, but was promised an email when they were. Xib asked for literally the same thing, but somehow got table prices from them as well? And when applications did finally go online, I never got my promised email. I’m not sure if Xib did, actually, but he was the one who first noticed that the website had updated. I don’t know how Chibi Chibi manages their email inquiries, and while an informational mailing list was mentioned once or twice, I kind of doubt there actually is one…or if there is, that it’s actively maintained.
The one bit of info that both Xib and I got was the maybe-date of February 22nd; because of “scheduling rules at the college, [they wouldn’t] be able to have a for sure date for another couple of weeks.” The tentativeness of the date three months ahead of the convention would be a deal-breaker if it were anything other than a one-day con an hour’s drive away, but that’s what it was, so okay.
The vendor application finally went online in late December. The form was painless and the spaces very cheap at $20 for a 4′ table, $30 for a 6′ table, and $40 for a 8′ table. (Of course, I sprung for the 8′ table. ♥) There didn’t seem to be a strong distinction between dealers and artists, though applicants were asked to choose one or the other. An auto-generated confirmation was sent to me after I submitted my application, but I didn’t get an actual response to the application until a month later and after I sent in two emails in asking about it. By that point, it was already less than a month to the actual con, so again, if Chibi Chibi were anything other than what it is, that would have been a deal-breaker.
After another inquiry email from me, the convention finally sent out an informational email to accepted vendors two weeks ahead of the convention with notes about load-in and set-up, though most of this information was already available on the website or in the vendor application itself. It didn’t end up mattering much in the end, but one thing I wish I’d paid more attention to was the location and map of the college. I didn’t look at the campus map until the night before, and the map makes the distance between parking and where the convention was located (the Library Building) seem significant. The emails noted that we needed prior permission if we wanted to drive onto the Red Square to unload nearer to the library, but it didn’t specify what sort of information we needed to provide to get permission, requiring, probably, more back-and-forth than was necessary. I sent them an email about it Friday afternoon (Xib had as well, earlier, unbeknownst to me), but unsurprisingly, I never got a response.
So after IKKiCON, I did…go ahead and…buy a cosplay wig for Rin Matsuoka from Free! Chibi Chibi Con was my first time cosplaying since 2008. To be honest, all of my prior cosplay efforts were really half-assed because I don’t have any sewing skills to speak of and couldn’t afford to buy pre-made costumes (the uniform for this Nanao cosplay was borrowed from a friend).
And actually, I think my Rin cosplay is pretty half-assed too, but maybe for practical reasons — after all, I still need to work a table, and one of the reasons I kind of gave up on cosplay for a long time was because I felt that it would get in the way too much. The long sleeves on the Shinigami gi when I cosplayed Rukia and Nanao definitely got in the way. But I caved on Rin because 1) swimming anime has ruined me, and 2) it seemed like a relatively low-effort and casual cosplay.
“Low-effort” as it might have been though, cosplaying still meant I had to get up an hour earlier to prepare, so I was up at 6:45am Saturday morning to figure out my wig. My actual hair is currently at this really awkward length where it’s too long to not need a wig cap, but too short to put into a substantial ponytail, making it really hard to tuck into a wig cap? Of course, my astounding ignorance regarding wigs and hair in general didn’t help. Hair pins! HOW DO THEY WORK. Being effectively blind without my glasses while I did the whole wig thing didn’t help either. Aaaaaa めんどくさい！
I think I was pretty much ready to go around 7:30am, but between last minute packing, loading the car, and grabbing coffee and doughnuts, Xib and I didn’t get to attempt to depart Seattle until 8:45am or so. I say “attempt” because we wasted at least half an hour in detours circling around downtown trying to get on I-5 South because both downtown on-ramps were closed for some reason. Once we finally got onto the highway though, the drive was very easy.
Vendor set-up began at 10am and the convention was open to the public at noon. Because of our delays getting out of Seattle, we got to the Evergreen State College campus around a quarter past ten. Upon arrival, I realized that the map of campus made everything look bigger and further apart than it actually was, so it wasn’t actually a big deal for us to just park temporarily at the “bus loop,” unload, drag everything into the library, check in, then have Xib go actually park the car.
The check-in table is the first thing you see entering the building and vendor tables were set up directly behind and on either side of it, so getting lost was not an issue. Tables were assigned, but we hadn’t been given the option of requesting neighbours — this was probably because of the multiple table size options and the way they had things set up. The staffer at check-in seemed a bit confused by how things were laid out, but even so, she managed to point us both to our tables fairly quickly.
Xib had a six foot table while I had an eight foot one, so maybe because of that, we ended up pretty far away from each other. I was kind of concerned with my location since it faced the back wall, was backed into a pillar, and was oddly offset from the rest of the pseudo-island, despite being an endcap. I liked the overall layout of the vendor area though, and the fact that it was so centrally located eased my mild worries.
Unfortunately, while setting up, I realized I’d forgotten my prints binder at home, so I couldn’t display my full stock of letter-sized prints. One downside of a one-day con: I can’t go home and remember to bring it the next day. I hate to see good space go to waste, especially since I also didn’t bring any of my minicomics, but in the end, I shuffled around zipper bags and commission examples to fill the gap. Since there was such a wide berth behind my table, I also taped up some posters/prints I don’t normally display on the backside of my table. Filling the entire backside of my display is actually something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but I need to print more display copies of some of my newer stuff first. I’d also forgotten the plastic bags for my posters, though that was less of an issue.
I finished setting up right around when the con opened to the public. Attendees trickled in casually but steadily. Since Chibi Chibi is a free, one-day convention, they did not issue badges or wristbands to anyone, so aside from people in cosplay, it was impossible to tell who was there for the con, and who was just a student at the college and passing through.
I do kind of wish they’d had some kind of identifying factor though — even just for vendors? I like being able to tell when someone browsing my table is another vendor. It’s a nice memento too…in fact, I think Chibi Chibi is the only convention I’ve ever gone to that didn’t give me a badge of some sort. (I didn’t get a program either, but 75% of cons don’t give vendors programs for some reason U_U) Jet City Comic Show, which is also a one-day show, gave vendors badges (and gave attendees wristbands), and MomoCon, back when they were still free, also still issued badges to vendors and attendees alike. If nothing else, badges are the best way of gauging con attendance. Post-show, Chibi Chibi has given 4,500 as an estimated attendance, but I for most of this report, I had no idea how they arrived at that figure. I’m not the best at guesstimating attendance, but it didn’t feel like 4,500 to me, man.
Traffic was good throughout most of the afternoon, but the first couple of hours passed slowly for me because I had zero commissions to work on. Sales were good though — there were obviously a lot of first-time con-goers in attendance — and I was moving stuff that hadn’t moved in a while. It was one of those cons, haha. Suddenly everyone cared about Darker than BLACK and Durarara!! again??
I entertained myself by sketching random things and trying to spot other Free! cosplayers, but there were disappointingly few. At least half of all cosplayers were Homestucks. I had expected as much, from the contents of the #chibichibicon Tumblr tag ahead of the con, but it was still kind of weird to see them make up such a huge percentage. For the entire day, I only saw five other Free! cosplayers. Post-con photos confirm that there were a few I missed, but still! There weren’t even that many Attack on Titan cosplayers, though I’ve admittedly been much less interested in the series in the last few weeks and didn’t take many photos of those that were there.
It was, perhaps, in line with the utter lack of Free! cosplayers around, but I was kind of relieved that I was only asked for my picture twice. One of the other things that worries me about cosplaying while tabling is being asked for pictures while I’m working on commissions or handling customers — I don’t really know how artists that usually cosplay behind the table deal with it, honestly. Seems like a huge distraction and timesuck. Sure, I could just say no, but it’s hard, and I’m sure anyone who’s cosplayed before knows it’s hard.
“Why are you even cosplaying if not to have your picture taken?” is the question. Well, maybe I just want to dress up like this character I like? I typically don’t like having my picture taken at all (there have been like, five photos of me in five years of con reports, ha), and being in costume doesn’t actually change that much…working a table meanwhile just deters me more. That said, it would be fun to do a photoshoot or group cosplay shoot after exhibiting hours at some con. Maybe Emerald City, since I won’t be working my own table, just helpin’ out Kara at hers.
Even though there weren’t all that many cosplayers from fandoms I care about, I was still impressed by the overall number of cosplayers and the level of finesse for a lot of the costumes. Maybe that was what surprised me most about the population of Homestucks? Most had very even coats of body paint and most sets of horns didn’t look like paper mâché. There’s nothing wrong with simpler, or even sloppier, cosplays, but it’s always neat to see large groups of people with a higher level of skill.
I wonder how many of the groups were coordinated? Though the con took place on campus, I’m not sure of the percentage of attendees that are actually students. Even parking was free for the weekend, so I’m sure there were plenty of non-student locals in attendance, as well as others that made the trek down from Seattle. Chibi Chibi claims 4,500 attendees, and I was told that they had around 1,500 last year, so the jump was a surprise even to them, but I felt like the number was maybe closer to…800-900. The activity level felt similar to Kuronekocon, which had around that many attendees (and badge verification to back them, dangit).
I never got a chance to really explore the venue, but it seemed like the entire convention was contained within the three (?) floors of the Library Building. The vendor area and various event/viewing rooms were on the ground floor, panel rooms were probably on the second floor (which I didn’t realize had an open space to look down into the first floor atrium until late in the day), and there was some other stuff in the basement level (including the rave).
My memory isn’t that great, but the space seemed like it was maybe half the size of the Georgia Tech Student Center where most of MomoCon was held before their move in 2011 to a hotel. In those years (2009, 2010), MomoCon was bursting at the seams (complete with fire marshal crackdowns) with ~7000-8000 attendees over two days, despite utilizing several other buildings in addition to the Student Center. Chibi Chibi, while active and lively, was never really even crowded.
In the mid-afternoon, a very nice Elsa cosplayer (above) stopped by my table and complimented my various Loki art. Somehow we got into a conversation about Elsa/Loki as a pairing, which is silly idea I’d been kinda indulging in recently. The fact that the cosplayer seemed to also like the idea inspired me, I guess? And I spent the rest of the afternoon working on this drawing for funsies. Good thing, too, since commission interest remained very, very low the entire day.
Maybe it was just as well. Cell reception was also awful the whole time, so commissions for characters I’m unfamiliar with would have been difficult. Both Loki and Elsa I can more or less fudge from memory. I only ended up using Square five times in total, but each card I had to run took at least five, full, long minutes, and the slowest transaction took at least ten. It was maddening because I almost always had 1-2 bars, but my signal kept getting interrupted midway through card verification. It wasn’t just me and T-mobile either — I overheard lots of complaints about poor reception throughout the day.
At some point, in the early evening, I think, the cosplay contest happened…and it happened on a makeshift stage near the entrance of the building — so, uh, basically right next to where the vendors were. As such, the noise level ramped up significantly with yelling and cheering and probably announcements on loudspeaker. I tuned it out fairly quickly and had no idea what was going on since I was facing the opposite wall, but it was still pretty disruptive. Either during or directly after the contest, loud music also started playing from the front of the building. I found this irritating on principle: Chibi Chibi specifically told vendors that “amplified music is … prohibited inside the vendor’s hall. Any boomboxes, amplified mp3 players, cd’s, etc. should be left at home,” but it seemed that the convention was exempt from their own rules.
Otherwise though, the music didn’t actually bother me much. I was on the opposite side of the atrium though, so it was probably more of an issue for vendors closer to the front. I mostly just found it interesting that a lot of their selection seemed… dated? I do not remember the last time I heard “Hare Hare Yukai” or “Caramelldansen” played at a convention. A year or two at least? In fact, it might have been a few years since the last time I even saw a Haruhi Suzumiya cosplayer, but there were several of them at Chibi Chibi. It was almost like being sucked back in time to 2008! And yet, aside from Homestuck and timeless game properties like Legend of Zelda and Pokemon, the series with the most representation at the convention seemed to be Dangan Ronpa, which is fairly recent, even considering the game.
Probably my perception got really skewed by the same cosplayers passing by my table over and over again though (another reason why I doubt the 4,500 attendance figure). I think I saw the same three DRAMAtical Murder cosplayers a dozen times or more, which made me feel that Dmmd had way more representation than it actually did.
Things got progressively noisier as the evening went on. The music kept playing, and eventually there came waves of screaming/yelling coming from both upstairs and downstairs. I’m not sure when the rave started, but we could definitely hear it from the main floor.
By 8pm, things had slowed considerably in the vendor area anyway, and lots of people had packed up already. Sadly, I never really got a chance to see the rest of the vendors. A good third of them were already there and setting up when we arrived, but since we were running late, I was far more preoccupied with setting up myself, and by the time I finished, attendees were already coming in. With Xib so far away, we couldn’t really cover for each other, and with the exception of a few quick runs to the bathroom and water fountain, I was at my table the entire day.
I never figured out if dealers were separate from artists either. It seemed like the tables against the side wall near me were dealers? I saw a bunch of rolled up wallscrolls in a bucket and there were full-height grid walls here and there, but while that area was pretty near me, I never went to look, and they were behind me and to the side, so I wasn’t facing them. It seemed that most of the vendors were artists though, which was pretty nice, really. Some of them stopped by my table during the day, and it was around 9pm that it was empty enough on the floor that I finally got up and visited a few of those that were left.
Most of the artists I spoke to were new to Artist Alley and reported having had a good day and having made good sales — yay! Even if it makes me feel old, I do like talking to new Alley artists, and Chibi Chibi is really a perfect con to start at for local folks. It’s incredibly convenient and low-cost, and there are a wealth of first time con-goers as well, making the marketplace fresh on both sides. I got to throw Catprint and Jetpens business cards at several people! (Haha, yes, I love both these companies so much I actually keep their bizcards on me at cons…) It was nice connecting with folks, and one of the artists at a table across the aisle from me was actually one of my Tumblr followers (and fellow Pokemon Collector)!
The convention technically ran until midnight, and vendors didn’t have separate hours. Vendor tables needed to cleared away before midnight though, so the word on the floor was that vendors needed to pack by “by eleven.” Xib and I started to break down slowly around 9:45-10pm. The rave was going on at full blast at this point, so there were basically no attendees still milling through the vendor area, and it was getting nearly impossible to have conversations with other artists because of the noise. Moving leisurely, it took us about an hour to pack up. Xib got permission to drive onto the Red Square to load up, and we rolled off campus right around 11pm.
As neither of us cheap, masochistic fools had eaten all day, I was really, really glad there was an IHOP close by. Where else can you even go for an 11pm meal?
Chibi Chibi Con was good! I had a good time and did well and most of my complaints are minor.
For the most part, the downsides come expected with a small, college-run convention, and the pros far outweighed the cons. It was low-stress all around, and even when I wasn’t really sure what was going on, I wasn’t too freaked out about it. Again, it’s the perfect convention for newcomers to test the waters with, and for Alley artist veterans, it’s well-timed too. November through February are the least busy convention months by far, so it’s a nice show to tide me over until spring (especially since both ECCC and Sakura-Con are later than usual this year). I finally got a button machine recently, so I took the opportunity to design and punch a few new buttons, but otherwise, I coasted through the con on old stock, making it even more low-hassle.
- Availability of information. The convention’s website wasn’t updated until around the new year, which is pretty silly for a February convention. A lot of old comments from several years ago remain visible on their website, too, making it kind of confusing since I can’t be sure if the responses given are still applicable for the current year. Their forums are more or less dead, and their Facebook isn’t updated all that frequently either.
- Lateness of date confirmation and vendor registration. The date was confirmed alongside the website update around New Years, but this is only an issue for those traveling far enough to need lodging accommodations or those who work weekends and need to request time off.
- Staff communication and accessibility. I felt like I had a hard time getting answers from staff in emails. Several times, I had to prompt them twice before I got a response, and while they were always courteous and apologetic about it, it’d be nice to not have to badger in the first place. I’m also still a little miffed about not being alerted to vendor applications going live despite being told I would be. At the convention itself, with the exception of the people that were literally sitting behind the staff table up front, it was impossible to recognize who was actually staff. One of the artists at the table across from me was actually staff, but I never knew this until the very end of the day when we were chatting about other things and she mentioned it offhandedly. I suppose for such a small convention, one staff information table is good enough, but it’d still be nice for staff to have a badge or something to be identified by.
- No badges. I really don’t like the lack of attendance confirmation since it can be a pretty important metric. Lack of vendor badges means security is nil as far as checking that people behind tables are supposed to be there, but really the biggest thing is that I don’t like not having a badge to add to my collection at the end of the day. :(
- Weird endcap table gap. This is a very minor issue, but as seen in my scribble map, there was a gap between the two main pseudo-islands and the endcaps on the bottom. The gap can be seen in the photo above and is plenty enough space for people to walk through. This weirded me out because it meant people were walking around behind me all day, and more than once, someone came up to talk to me…from behind. Yo, dude, I gotta face the front of the table, okay? Come around to talk to me. o_o It would have been easy enough to extend the sides of the island to close that gap — the pillars weren’t very substantial, and there would have been room.
- Cell reception was horrible. It wasn’t the worst I’ve experienced, but it was still pretty damn bad. It was good that I didn’t have more people wanting to use credit cards, really, because I dunno what I’d have done if all of them had taken ten minutes to clear. The weird thing was that reception was only terrible inside the building? As soon as I stepped outside, I was able to tweet pictures without a half hour delay… :/
- Very few commissions. I only got four commissions the whole day, two of them from other artists, and all of them were very quick pencil/ink ones. I’m not really sure what factors into whether or not I get a lot of commissions a certain convention, but Tori also reported that commissions at Chibi Chibi were down between 2012 and 2013, so maybe it’s a con-specific trend?
- The convention itself is free. Free admission means more incidental wanderers and curious con virgins, both of which are great for business. This also means that anyone bringing along table assistants don’t have to pay additional badge costs.
- Small and one-day. There are so many conventions these days, and so many of them try to start too big right off the bat. There are cons that, in their first year, try to drum up a full three days of programming at a fancy hotel. It’s really refreshing to see a convention maintain a very small presence for years. After I asked, Chibi Chibi Con confirmed that their 4,500 attendance is based on “a volunteer with a clicker counter counting all day,” which means that people were probably recounted a lot. You could argue that with so many cosplayers, it’d be easy to remember if you’d already counted someone already, but 1) some people seriously swap between 4-5 costumes a day, and 2) there’s no way a single volunteer sat there and clicked for twelve hours — there had to have been shifts, in which case, different volunteers wouldn’t know who had already been counted, and 3) even one person on a one hour shift will inevitably click in the same person twice because there’s just no way you can remember that stuff perfectly, sorry.
So I’m gonna stick with my way more modest estimate of 800-900 warm bodies for the day, but that’s not at all bad. Small means the con isn’t crazy. I got to talk to a lot of people for longer, and a lot of people circled back a lot. It’s nice to be able to build a sort of familiarity with attendees, even just over one day.
- Cheap and low-risk. $20 for a 4′ space? Perfect for Alley newbs! It really doesn’t get better than that, and you can even pay in person at the con! You don’t need to pay beforehand, which means you lose nothing if you change your mind last minute! An acquaintance got a table at Chibi Chibi and showed up for about an hour and half in the afternoon before deciding that she wasn’t going to be doing very well there and leaving. It was her first con — I think even as an attendee — and she had no idea what to expect. When she left she said she felt very under-prepared, but also that she had learned a lot. This acquaintance had also been thinking about Emerald City Comic Con, among other local conventions, so I think it’s very, very good she came to Chibi Chibi first. If ECCC had been her first con as an artist, it would have been a $295 lesson learned instead of $20.
- Relatively few dealers. This is hugely beneficial to artists because dealer goods are typically more extravagant and more expensive. Fewer dealers to shop at means more money to spend on artists! Few dealers is also hugely beneficial to the dealers that do come, as there is virtually no competition in official goods. At large conventions, there might be a dozen dealers that have the same figure, often at competitive prices, but at a con like this, chances are, there’s only one dealer with that fig — good for the dealer, maybe not for the attendees!
- Good total number of vendors and vendor location. There was no map and I was never able to get up to count tables, but judging by the inability of the convention to use bcc in emails instead of cc, there were about 40 vendors at Chibi Chibi Con. It’s a bit hard to compare to other conventions since it’s a one-day con and the figure includes both artists and dealers, but it felt like a good sized Alley to me. The vendor area was also smack in the middle of the convention — it’s the first thing you see coming in, and you basically have to walk around it to go anywhere. No one’s forced through the middle section of the Alley, but the aisles were wide and welcoming, up until the loud music started in the evening, I felt like there was good traffic throughout most of the day.
- Good venue. Olympia actually seems to be in the middle of no where, but it’s an easy drive from Seattle (assuming the stupid on-ramps to I-5 aren’t closed!) and the campus has free parking on weekends. Perfect! The Library Building seems to accommodate the convention’s needs well, and it feels like they’ve still got some room to grow. Bonus: the area has an IHOP for after-con mealtime needs and unlike downtown Seattle, parking isn’t insane! Especially not at 11pm on a Saturday! Hurray!
WOW DANG, how did this report end up so long? THANKS FOR READING.