Kumoricon, held annually over Labour Day Weekend, is an anime convention in Vancouver, Washington — which is across the river from Portland and not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia, which is the same distance from Seattle, but in the other direction.
Kumoricon has a small, juried Artist Alley, and they’ve declined to accept me every year I’ve applied… until this year.
This report is 7,371 words long.
I was glad to finally have the chance to go, but honestly, there were a lot of things about Kumoricon that made me hesitant: they’re a mid-sized convention (~6000 attendees), and this would be their first year as a four-day show; they’re split between two hotels, the Hilton Vancouver and the Red Lion, about 3-4 blocks apart; and most of all… their Artist Alley was in the Hilton’s garage last year (and in some previous years?), and set to be there again this year.
When the whole Aki Con fiasco was going down, a lot of people threw out comparisons to Kumori’s garage use, saying that Aki Con could have put in at least as much effort as Kumori, which, according to reports, made their garage fairly habitable. Still, at least one report pegs Kumori’s garage conditions to be health-threatening in the summer heat, and it made me wary that the con’s management didn’t deem its vendors worthy of a better space.
Kumori’s AA reg is fairly late in the year as is, but I also didn’t get notification that I’d moved off the waitlist until mid-July, a month and a half before the show, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to figure out last minute accommodations with most of the hotels sold out already. Without a car, my options were really limited.
Despite its many problems though, most I asked said that Kumoricon was worth it, and in the end, I decided that I wanted to try the show at least once. So I reached out to Errow (the headlessgirl) to see if she was interested in splitting my table in exchange for a ride down, since she hadn’t been able to move off the waitlist. Errow’s partner AJ (the hauntedboy) was already splitting a table with their friend Tara, so that rounded out our party to four, perfect for carpooling and hotelsharing!
Ellen, the Artist Alley coordinator, was understanding and accommodating of the time it took for me to make a decision about attending and to sort out things with Errow. It really only took about a week for me to get back to her, but as many conventions move down their waitlist very quickly, I appreciated the extra time.
Around the end of July, we were sent contracts and payment instructions… I had confirmed with Ellen prior to contacting Errow about tablesharing that the tables were 8′; however, when the contract came, Ellen apologized and noted that the tables were only going to be 6′ after all. I was pretty miffed, since that meant 3′ of space each for Errow and me instead of 4′, and considering each of us could fill a 8′ table on our own, this would be a pretty cramped setup. There wasn’t really anything that could be done at that point though.
A week before the con, we got the map, table assignments, and other information, including notes about parking and power.
Errow, AJ, and Tara picked me up around 1pm Thursday. Errow drives a compact car, so I was expecting one helluva Tetris game with four artists and their con gear.
Since Errow’s PVC setup is lighter and takes up less space than mine, we agreed that we’d just use hers, saving me the trouble of having to bring mine. I also shed most of my non-print merchandise because I knew I wouldn’t have room to display them anyway. This got me down to one small carry-on size suitcase and a large duffel — I haven’t packed so light for a con since I was in college! It was a good thing though — if I had brought my larger suitcase, there was no way everything would have fit in the car without a heavy suitcase sitting in someone’s lap for three hours. :’)
Unfortunately for me, I packed my clothes separately in a small bag… and then I forgot to bring it. I realized it about half an hour out of the city, but I didn’t want to make the whole party double back for it. ~_~ It was my first time forgetting to bring clothes, and between all the other times I’ve forgotten something (my PVC, my PVC connectors, half my prints, all my buttons…), I think I’ve forgotten everything I could possibly forget at one point or another. SIGH. Hopefully this means I’ve learned my lesson?
I dozed for most of the drive, but we stuck well to our schedule and rolled into Vancouver around 4pm.
We had no idea where to park for load-in though, and when we asked the staff around the Hilton’s front entrance, they directed us kind of vaguely in the general direction of the garage. Since the garage itself was being used for con space, we obviously couldn’t park there, and ended up in a weird semi-private lot behind the hotel. There were a bunch of other cars parked, but we were still iffy on whether we were allowed there. The building/storefronts the lot was feeding looked creepy and abandoned… Errow and Tara went to ask Artist Alley staff. There wasn’t a clear answer, but they checked in and we decided to take our chances and go ahead and unload.
Registration was directly to the right of the garage entrance and Artist Alley was straight ahead, partitioned off by a chain link fence. Various draped, temporary walls also sectioned off parts of the AA from the Game Room, which was also in the garage. The Alley was pretty empty when we arrived, with only Ellen and maybe 3-4 other artists around. AJ and Tara were just a few tables down from the entrance, but Errow and I were way at the end of the aisle, in a weird section that deadended with a fenced off part of the Game Room.
We weren’t thrilled with the placement of our table relative to the rest of the Alley, and the overall lighting in the garage was abysmal, but even still, it was clear that Kumoricon had put a lot of effort into making the space comfortable:
- The garage was fully carpeted.
- There were long funnels snaking through most of the garage with various openings near Registration, the Kumoricon merch stand, Artist Alley, and the Game Room, feeding in cold air from huge air conditioning units outside.
- Upright fans were also positioned here and there throughout the Alley for additional air flow.
- Two prominent water stations were at the entrance of the garage, and Artist Alley staff went around offering artists water intermittently.
It was still fairly stuffy in the garage, but the forecast for the weekend was partly cloudy and mid-70’s, so that helped a lot to keep temperatures tolerable.
And guess what? The tables were 8′ long after all.
This was great because it meant Errow and I got our 4′ space each, as originally planned, but it was really, really lucky that we’d decided to go with Errow’s PVC supplies instead of mine. Since we drove in, she hadn’t been worried about weight and had packed all of her PVC. If it had been me — even though we weren’t flying, since my PVC is thicker and takes up a lot of space — I would have packed exactly the amount I thought I needed, which was 6′. :/ It was clear that a lot of other artists were thrown off by the longer-than-planned tables and several people had PVC displays that did not cover the full length of their table.
When prompted, Ellen told us that every time she had asked the hotel, she’d been told six foot tables, six foot tables, and when she arrived on site, they were eight foot tables. From what I gathered, they were eight foot tables in years past too, so I have no idea what the confusion was on the hotel’s end. Even though things worked out in our favour in the end with the longer tables, it’s frustrating as hell to be told one thing and then given another… :/
It was a little difficult setting up my print wall since there was an upright fan blowing right at the table, but other than that, I think Errow and I split the space well, and I got to put up basically everything I wanted to put up. The extra foot of table space gave me more room to work behind the table as well.
Marl, tabling on behalf of PurpleKecleon, was at the table next to us, so we got to chat a bit during setup. One of his table assistants (I’m sorry I still don’t know either of your names…) was from Vancouver and gave us directions to the nearest Fred Meyers, about a mile and half away.
After AJ, Tara, Errow, and I were all set up, we made our way there to load up on snacks and miscellaneous things — in my case, I grabbed some underwear and a set of clothes I could sleep in. I’d picked up a toothbrush and toothpaste when we stopped for gas en route to Vancouver. Instead of blowing a lot of money rush-buying a bunch of new crappy clothes for the weekend, I planned to hand wash the shirt I was wearing each night at the hotel and hang drying to wear each day. u_u
We had dinner at the Panda Express in the same lot as the Fred Meyers, then checked into our hotel, some eight miles out from the Hilton, as all of the closer hotels had been booked full by the time I got notice of my table. Despite the distance, the hotel was still one of the official overflow hotels for the con, which meant it was still full of convention goers (which meant the halls were pretty noisy). Still, they had free cookies at check-in and free breakfast every morning, and the hotel rooms themselves were surprisingly huge, so no complaints here.
…There were two big lamps in the hotel room which weren’t tied down to anything and we seriously contemplated ~borrowing~ them for the weekend and bringing them to the convention with us to provide extra light. They were pretty large desk lamps though, and we weren’t sure there’d be space at the table to set them up. In the end, we didn’t use the lamps, but it’s pretty sad that we really considered it… It’s ridiculous that vendors should need to provide their own light!
Artist Alley didn’t open to the public until 11am, but we got up pretty early so we had time to get breakfast and figure out parking… There was no parking at the Hilton, street parking was metered, and the Red Lion only allowed guests staying at their hotel use their lot.
The gatekeeper at the Red Lion lot pointed out that there was a grass lot across the street and that we could park there “at [our] own risk.” The lot wasn’t marked for parking, but nor were there any notes about not parking or getting towed. There were already several cars pulled into the lot, and so we decided to go for it and joined them. No way they could tow everyone, right. >_>
After parking, we walked over to the Red Lion to check out Dealer’s Room. DR had the same hours as AA, so we weren’t technically allowed in, but security was pretty lax, and AA badges, while marked differently, were the same color as DR badges. <_< We were uncomfortable enough sneaking in that we sort of just made a quick loop around though. I’d wanted to find Pete to say ‘hi,’ but I didn’t see him there! The DR was surprisingly tiny and it wasn’t until much later that I learned that it was actually split into two rooms, the second of which was in a separate building, an annex to the Red Lion. Geez.
The walk between the Red Lion and the Hilton wasn’t as bad as it looked on the map, but it was still far enough that I resigned myself to not being able to really being able to check out the Dealer’s Room(s) while they were open. This normally isn’t a big deal to me, but as Kumori was my last anime con of the year… I really, really wanted to look for some Yowapeda doujinshi… (Errow went at some point and reported back that there was none to be found anyway, but still.)
Since we had already set up, I spent most of the rest of the morning wandering through the Alley catching up with people I knew and having various discussions about both sports anime and the conditions of the Kumoricon Artist Alley. At some point, it came to my attention that one of the other artists in Errow and my back corner of AA dungeon had complained about our weird placement and convinced Ellen to have the tables moved.
This is basically what happened:
The bottom section was our dark, isolated corner of the Alley, which deadended. This is not ideal, as people don’t like having to double back the way they came, and we felt it was likely that they’d avoid the corner altogether.
Mari, the artist who complained, recognized this as readily as anyone else, and was confused as to why there weren’t any tables placed along the left-side wall with their backs to the Game Room, especially since there were tables facing that direction. There was enough space along that wall for everyone in the dark corner, and so Ellen agreed that the tables could be moved as long as all the artists agreed. Well, of course no one was going to object!
There were several hotel staff on hand to help us move the tables; however, the head of the hotel staff was absolutely adamant that no tables could be placed at the very top section of the diagram, for whatever reason. Fire hazard? No table was allowed to create an endcap on that middle island either, nor could any table be placed against the wall perpendicular to the dark corner (the wall above the “con” in “Kumoricon” in my drawn diagram). This meant that all but two of the tables from the bottom corner could be moved.
Those two tables belonged to Marl and a steampunk artisan, as those were the only artists who’d yet arrived when the table shuffling was happening. Thankfully, when they did arrive, Marl was fine with moving his table up to the very front of the corner section, and the steampunk artisan was fine with staying in the back corner and getting permission to spread out all over that space.
So in the end, everyone was satisfied with the table shuffle. I’m really glad that Mari was forward enough to make the request, and I’m glad that Ellen was agreeable on the matter, but it does make me wonder why the tables weren’t set up like that in the first place? It seemed like the obvious sort of set up. How were tables set up last year?
In our new location, Errow and I were right next to the Artist Alley’s side entrance, which led into the main area of the Game Room. We had a lot more room behind our table now and sliiiiightly better lighting, but that isn’t saying much at all. Since we were in a garage, all of the ceiling lights were inline with pillars, which meant it was impossible to have ceiling lights in the aisles in front of tables. Instead, all of the Artist Alley tables were placed so that the ceiling light was directly above or behind them, which meant anyone with a print wall would be awkwardly back-lit, and that lighting in front of tables was almost non-existent.
We could hardly see people’s faces when they stood in front of our table. Seriously.
One of the other problems with being in a garage is, of course, poor cell reception.
I had been able to send a few tweets Thursday during setup without too much delay, but sending photo tweets was a no-go, and once more people showed up, even regular tweets became difficult to send. Errow meanwhile was completely cut off. AA staff came around with a wifi password right before we opened Friday, but despite connecting fine, my web-dependent applications failed more often while connected to wifi than when I was trying to go through 4G, so I ended up turning off wifi a lot.
AA opened (without warning) at noon to an impressive rush of traffic and several immediate sales. I don’t think I’ve ever had a shorter span of time between the doors opening and my first sale. o_o
The rest of Friday followed at a good pace. There was a bit of a mid-afternoon lull, but otherwise traffic was steady throughout the day, and things were never dead. Registration being right next to Artist Alley definitely helped a lot — my guess is that everyone went to AA immediately after making it through Reg for their badges. The garage being separate and out of the way from the rest of the hotel was worrisome, but Reg being there meant that everyone had to stop by first thing, and there was no missing AA.
Commission interest was surprisingly low for such an eager crowd though, and spotty reception meant I had to run a few cards in Square Offline mode…
I relied on Offline mode a lot while I was at A-kon and it never failed me, so I wasn’t too worried. The first transactions I ran on it at Kumoricon failed though, and it was a $30 transaction… this made me super wary for the rest of the day, especially since I couldn’t see the reason it failed (turned out it was a declined card, but I didn’t figure that out until way after the show). Thankfully, a majority of people had cash and there was an ATM right at the entrance of the garage, so it didn’t become too big of an issue.
Another problem with the garage was that there was only one elevator up to the first floor of the hotel (where the nearest bathrooms were), and no other way to get up there without going outside and around the building. There was no staircase that led to the hotel lobby. :| The one elevator was fine during setup hours and the first part of the day, but later on, about a dozen signs were plastered over it saying that it was for staff and disabled use only. It was annoying on principle to have to go outside and around the building to get to the bathroom, but since it was so nice outside all weekend and since we were otherwise trapped in a dimly-lit dungeon, I actually enjoyed those brief moments I had to go outside. u_u;
Since I didn’t have very many commissions to work on Friday, I passed time by doodling a bunch of random scenarios from my T2 deertaur AU, and my friend Miyu enabled me by also spending the weekend drawing nothing but T2 deertaur AU on the other side of the country. Together, we were a spiraling disaster of dumb fandom feelings, obsession, and completely nonsensical texts. I shared a lot of our doodles with Errow and gradually roped her into our special hell as well. 8) The risks of tabling with me, haha!
I was really happy to see a fair number of Yowapeda (bike anime), Haikyuu!! (volleyball anime), and, of course, Free! (swim anime) cosplayers about. The wide aisle in front of our table did mean a fair number of them passed through without my being able to get their attention for a photo though. Sigh! On the up side, it seemed like a large number of sports anime cosplayers were friends or acquaintances of two of the artists across the aisle from us, which meant they congregated there on a regular basis??
AA closed for the day at 6pm, a reasonable hour. We all packed up fairly quickly and bailed. It was weird to see daylight outside after being shut up in a garage for the whole day.
The grass lot we’d parked in had filled up during the day and getting out was tricky business — this was undoubtedly what the Red Lion staffer meant when he said “at your own risk.” Since there were no markings in the lot, people piled in wherever they could, and here and there, unlucky cars were boxed in by other cars… We managed to pull out without too much difficulty Friday though and went back to our hotel so Errow and AJ could change out of their cosplays before we headed out to dinner.
We ended up at Sushi Tsunami, a short walk from our hotel. It was pretty good sushi for the price and their udon wasn’t bad either!
There were some epic clouds in Vancouver that night too, making for a lovely sunset. After dinner and a shower, I ran numbers for the day and worked on a pair of commissions I got right at closing, finishing up just in time to go to bed at the oddly reasonable hour of midnight.
Overall, Friday was a great day, especially for a con of Kumori’s size, and especially considering how few commissions I had. My Friday total was almost exactly double what I made Friday at Sakura-Con this year and roughly the same as what I made Friday at Sakura-Con last year (if you recall, Sakura was down 20% overall for me this year compared to last year). Sakura is more than three times the size of Kumori, so that’s pretty telling!
I’d always heard that Kumori was a pretty good con from artists who’ve attended, though I wondered how much Registration traffic had to do with it this year. I worried that once people were through with Reg, they wouldn’t have any reason to return to the garage dungeon unless they were interested in the Game Room. Plenty of people say they make a point to visit AA, but I’m still stuck on the idea that most traffic to AA is incidental, and if there’s nothing else driving people there, then they won’t come…
Saturday started similarly with breakfast at the hotel and awkward parking in the grass lot, which was still pretty empty when we got there. We had about an hour between arriving and when AA opened at 10am, so I once again spent most of the time wandering around. It was a pretty small Alley, and for better or worse, I knew enough people there that I mostly only spoke to those I already knew, including Robin (The Gorgonist), Jackie (Azure-Inferno), and Kevin (Yanimator).
There was a bit of discussion about what could be done about the poor lighting, and it seemed like Kumoricon was going to try and bring in some flood lamps. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but only one set came in, which illuminated two tables near the entrance of the Alley.
AA opened again without prior announcement. The side entrance to Game Room near Errow’s and my table had been opened partially since before we officially opened though, and without anyone doing badge check there. :/ A heavy chain had kept the chain link gate shut after hours, but I’m unsure if there was ever a padlock on that chain… <_<
There was a decent rush of traffic at the beginning of the day, but it tapered off fairly quickly, and the rest of the day went significantly slower than Friday. Commission interest remained really, really low, so I continued doodling deertaur AU things and entertained myself briefly with a sketch card of one of Errow and AJ’s characters.
It was a really nice day outside Saturday — blue skies, partly cloudy, low to mid-70’s and breezy: perfect for all sorts of cosplay photos and shenanigans in the nearby park — so I wonder if attendees were just adverse to spending it in a dark dungeon garage.
It got a bit maddening in the last two hours of the day with traffic being so slow, and it didn’t help that we were right next to the Game Room… right behind us was a rhythm game similar to DDR loaded up with fabulous songs like “Caramelldansen,” “Dragostea Din Tei” (the Numa Numa song), and “Gangnam Style.” To be honest, I wish the latter two songs had been selected more often, but nope. It was mostly Caramelldansen. At least thirty times a day it was Caramelldansen.
And you know what sucks? I like Caramelldansen. I like it, and I know all the lyrics, and I’m compelled to at least bounce in my seat and mouth the words every time it plays, and I ended up irritating myself a lot with these compulsions. I have a very high tolerance for music I enjoy on repeat, but especially with little else to occupy myself with for the course of the day, it got to be pretty mind-numbing pretty fast.
We bailed right after closing at six. This time, getting out of the grass lot was even more difficult. Some asshole had parked in the “aisle” behind us, blocking most of our way out.
We were really fortunate that one of the spaces next to us was empty, giving us just enough room to awkwardly maneuver around the asshole car. The other car next to us was totally boxed in though, and the asshole being in the “aisle” meant that everyone trying to exit in that direction had to very carefully squeeze past them. Two other people had left notes on this asshole’s windshield and we added a third, politely asking that they not be so inconsiderate next time. u_u
After getting out, we straight to the Red Robin (which was near the Fred Meyers we went to Thursday) for dinner and got back to the hotel around 8:30.
I made a few bucks more Saturday than Friday, but considering we were open for longer Saturday, I really did do better Friday. Pretty much everyone I spoke to reported the same, and this is at least the third convention this year where Saturday was about the same as or worse than Friday. Weird trend, that.
I was still feeling good about the weekend overall though. The attendees at Kumoricon were markedly aware and polite. More than once, I noticed people going out of their way to not set their things down on our table and our wares while ruffling through for wallets or whatever. No one complained about prices; no one blocked our table taking cosplay photos, and there wasn’t really any running around haphazardly knocking into things. It was really lovely!
The grass lot was a lot emptier Sunday morning, and we made a point to park so that it would be difficult for anyone to box us in. There were noticeably fewer attendees milling around in the park next to the Hilton and on the streets around the con in general.
When we entered the garage, the temperature seemed cooler than it had been previously. They had apparently added another fan to the Game Room — it was very noisy, but it was definitely helping.
Also new Sunday morning: Robin brought us a standing lamp (and extension cord) to use! This was somewhat reminiscent of when Stacy and Michael brought me lamps to use at IKKiCON that year we were in a dark, unlit hall — Robin, as a Portland local, could bring in extra lighting from her home, something those traveling couldn’t. In addition to bringing Errow and I the standing lamp to use, Robin’s own table was set up with various desk lights.
Though Ellen’s pre-con email mentioned that power would be available for purchase at the con, it turned out that the whole garage was pretty much wired for power (a necessity for Game Room, obviously), and almost all tables had a working outlet behind them. We’d found one at our table’s original spot, but since our new location was back-to-back with Game Room, there was more space to cross, and we hadn’t actually checked for an outlet until Robin brought us the lamp. There wasn’t a dedicated outlet for our table as there was for other Alley tables, but one of the outlets being used to power games still had an open slot, so that worked out for us!
My camera auto-lightens the environment, so it actually isn’t that obvious in most pictures, but the lamp helped a TON. People in front of the table could see the prints clearly! They could see my buttons! And we could see their faces! Imagine that!
Seriously, look at these photos of the same Chiyo Sakura cosplayer (from Nozaki-kun!). I took her photo once on Friday and once on Sunday — mostly because I didn’t realize it was the same cosplayer right off, lol — but now I have these great comparison photos of the lighting in the garage before and after we got the lamp.
I was really excited that the lamp made such a difference and it was cool enough in the garage that I could actually wear my Samezuka jacket. Conditions in the AA dungeon Sunday seemed much better indeed!
Most of the morning was slow, but there was a sudden surge in activity around 2pm. Things slowed again after that, but I did notice significantly more button sales and an increase in commission interest. I’m certain that the uptick in button sales was due entirely to the fact that people could now see the buttons, but I’m tempted to say the sudden commission interest was due to the fact that people realized it was Sunday. Why is there so frequently sudden commission interest on Sunday??
I got more commissions Sunday than Friday and Saturday combined. I was glad for something to occupy me at the table though, and luckily, as a four-day con that went through Monday, I had still had Sunday night to work on things. When prompted, almost all attendees said they’d be returning for Monday, which kind of surprised me at the time.
We didn’t have any problems getting out of the grass lot this time and hit up Red Robin again for dinner. I had a handful of commissions to work on that night, but most of them were sketch cards and I forgot to bring blank sketch cards back to the hotel, so I could only work on my one non-sketch card commission. Blah! What a waste of the extra night to work!
Thanks to the increased commission interest, Sunday ended up being better than Friday and Saturday for me. Without the extra commissions, it would have been about the same. Reports from other artists about Sunday varied, with many reporting “about the same” and a handful noting that sales seemed best on Friday and had decreased for them every day since. Despite this though, overall numbers for basically everyone were really strong for a con of Kumori’s size. I don’t think anyone felt that their time in the AA dungeon was horribly wasted, anyway.
Monday morning was about even more quiet than Sunday morning, and it was most noticeable in the fact that breakfast at our hotel wasn’t super crowded. We checked out, drove to the Hilton, and parked in the same grass lot.
In the time before opening, I worked on the commissions I couldn’t work on the night before and finished up my queue shortly after the gates opened — just in time for Marl to come over and commission me for Min and Cress, two of PK’s characters from their Floraverse project. Cress was a huge challenge for me, but Min was a lot of fun. I like how they both turned out! :o
Traffic wasn’t bad for the last day of a four-day con. I was honestly pretty surprised that traffic was fairly steady most of Monday. Later, someone pointed out that school starting the next day probably motivated them to make the most of their last day of summer and freedom. A lot of people were spending the last of their budgets as well. Makes sense!
The Kumoricon-provided wifi network for artists had been problematic all weekend, but on Monday, they got the equipment to set up multiple wifi networks and asked artists to connect based on their relative location in the Alley so no single one would be overloaded. This worked out really well, but it’s a shame that it couldn’t have happened earlier in the weekend. Still, it’s good that the con recognized reception being an issue in the garage and that they worked to provide a solution.
Other than Min and Cress, was only one other commission Monday, but this was just as well, as we closed up at 2pm that last day. It was my first time selling on a Monday on the tail end of a show (the only other four-day con I’ve done is Rainfurrest, goes went Thursday-Sunday instead of Friday-Monday), so I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, but I made about 70% of Friday on Labour Day, which is pretty damn good, in my opinion, especially considering short hours.
After tearing down, Tara got the car and moved it to the semi-private lot behind the Hilton where we unloaded Thursday so we could reload more easily. I’m still not sure we were supposed to be parking there, but it seemed that parking anywhere all weekend was a risk of one sort or another.
I’m really glad I went to Kumoricon.
It was a good time spent with good people and I made good money. The hours were reasonable; the staff was nice; the crowd was great. Kumoricon has a lot of great things going for it. If only, if only Artist Alley weren’t trapped in a garage!
The convention has already confirmed its dates and location for next year — they’re returning to the Vancouver Hilton and the Red Lion for Labour Day Weekend 2015 — which means that it’s almost a sure thing that Artist Alley will be in the same space. And I guess… that’s fine for as long as they’re at the Hilton/Red Lion… it’s really unfortunate, but there honestly isn’t a better space for the AA at that venue.
Both hotels are small. I never saw much of the Hilton beyond the small lobby I passed en route to the bathroom, but even from the outside of the building, the Hilton doesn’t look very large; con events are spread across three floors, including the basement garage, but all the rooms are tiny.
What I saw of the Red Lion was similarly cramped — there isn’t even much over there — and that’s made doubly obvious by the fact that Dealer’s Room was split up into two locations, one of which was in a detached building separate from the rest of the hotel. I felt really bad for the dealers. It’s bad enough that DR and AA are so far apart — even if they’re in separate rooms, I always think it’s better for vendors to be in the same general area — but for there to be in two DRs! If attendees don’t know this right off the bat (and certainly, I didn’t), then how are they to know to look for the second one after they’ve found the first? What a disaster.
Kumoricon needs to move. It’s outgrown the Hilton/Red Lion. They’ve been there for four years already, since 2011, when they first moved to Vancouver, and their attendance has gone up 61% since then. There’s always that noble desire to stay a small con, as if small cons are completely free of the problems that larger cons have. That obviously isn’t true. Small cons just have different problems, and insufficient space for the event is one of those problems.
2014 was their twelfth year, so Kumori has been around the block a few things. A lot of their current issues fall frustratingly into the category of “they should know better.”
It is ridiculous that vendors who pay for their space at the convention should have to put up with substandard conditions. It is really sad that these substandard conditions are already so commonplace that many of us aren’t even surprised, that we put up with it, that we’re grateful to even just have a bit of carpet and air conditioning in the dungeon garage because we don’t really even expect that much out of some cons. At what other type of show would it be acceptable to put paying vendors in that sort of space?
Many cons pride themselves on being “for fans, by fans,” and maybe that’s why Kumoricon is resistant to moving to a bigger venue, to becoming a bigger show, to hiring management with more large event-planning experience. Well, hey, guess what. Fans don’t put fans in dungeon garage conditions for a weekend.
Yes, Kumoricon did do a great job in making that garage as nice a space as it could possibly be — and I’m very glad for that — but they should reinvest that energy into securing a better future venue. The garage might not have been horrible this year, but how much of that was because of the weather? If it had been in the 90’s this year as it had been last year, would there have been problems with artists overheating and passing out again? What if it’s that hot next year? No matter the modifications to the space, a garage is still a garage, and a garage is meant for cars to spend time in, not people.
I can’t really speak for any other aspect of the convention, but surely there’s no part of Kumoricon that wouldn’t benefit from a venue that wasn’t split across two hotels, that had actual parking, that had more space, that didn’t put Artist Alley conditions (and Registration and Game Room, for that matter) at the mercy of the weather?
Ellen, the Artist Alley head, was very nice, understanding, and accommodating, but ultimately it seemed like many things were out of her control. It’s not by her choice that Artist Alley is in the garage, certainly. She wasn’t in charge of the garage’s lighting, air conditioning, wifi, power, or whatever else, and she had no control over the size of the tables.
There are other things I think could be improved with Kumoricon’s Artist Alley too though.
Registration should happen sooner. This year, they accepted applications for two weeks in June and sent out notifications at the end of June — that’s just two months ahead of the show for first-wave notifications! Those moving off the waitlist, like me, didn’t know until mid or late July. Even for local and localish people who don’t have to book flights, that’s very little time to make accommodations.
I also think Kumori’s AA could stand to be a lot clearer and/or impartial in its jury system. Currently applicants are selected based on what staff “think[s] will best suit the Alley [that] year” so as to “ensure that [they] get a good variety of art/crafts/etc. into [their] limited amount of space.”
That’s incredibly, incredibly subjective and leaves room for a lot of speculation and paranoia on the part of applicants. What constitutes a “good variety”? Is the distinction between 2D artists and crafters? Between artists of primarily different fandoms? Between artists of different art styles? Why do some artists get in every year while others, who have never been to the show, get juried out every year? Is perceived skill level a factor? Are local artists more favoured? Is level of “professionalism”? What? Kumoricon never gives rejected artists a reason for being rejected or waitlisted or whatever, so we’re all just left to wonder.
It’d be far better, in my opinion, to instill some element of first come, first serve — as stressful as FCFS can be, it remains the most impartial judge, in my opinion — or at the very least, offer clearer criteria for what they’re looking for in the makeup of their Alley, which applicants (and attendees) can then check against. If they want 50/50 2D artists VS crafters, they should state so, and their Alley should obviously reflect it at the show. If they want a mix of newcomers VS veterans, they should state that, and their Alley should reflect it. Transparency goes a long way.
All in all, I think Kumoricon is a good show, but it could be better.
I don’t know that there’s much to be done as far as the venue and the garage goes for next year, but I’d love to see them expand to a better space for 2016. I also don’t think my two suggestions for AA reg are difficult or unreasonable, so perhaps that, at least, can improve for 2015.
I’d love to attend again and will certainly be throwing my name in the pot again come reg time, but who knows if they’ll let me in. After all, I still don’t know why I made it this year VS the other years I’ve applied.