Back-to-back conventions are exhausting affairs, but I think they make up for it by being awesome. Anyway, I definitely had it better than most. As with Easter weekend, there were at least a half dozen conventions over Memorial Day weekend, including Fanime, Animazement, Anime North, and Phoenix Comic Con, so I know for sure that I wasn’t the only artist doing back-to-back shows. But with Comicpalooza as my prior show, at least I was already in the right state for A-kon!
This report is ~4700 words long. U_U
Following last year‘s much-later-than-planned arrival in Dallas, I meant to pick up Chrislea around noon for a comparatively early departure from Houston. This was delayed a bit by traffic (always with the traffic, this city) and a last-minute dash to find AA batteries for my mp3 player (no, you will never get to ride with me without hours of listening to me warble to bipolar songs!), but we were still on the road by 1pm. You know what’s funny about driving from Houston to Dallas? It’s a five hour drive, but I think it took us like two hours before we were completely clear of the sprawling Houston metropolitan area. This city is too damn big.
We made good time, had a quick dinner at McDonald’s just before 6pm, and pulled into Dallas shortly after. The Sheraton isn’t very far from the exit off I-45, but unloading and parking was a messy ordeal not helped by several dozen con-goers already wandering back and forth in the street between the hotel and the convention/business center. The hotel garage was already full, which is just as well because I think they were $24/day. However, the second floor of the hotel garage doubles as a loading dock for the second floor Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room, and it being barred kept us from being able to unload there. On the street level, there were cars and small trucks unloading everywhere, leaving no real space to pull up, and I’m terrible at parallel parking, so that was out too.
Long story short, I ended up parking at another garage two blocks down. ($18/day is as good as it gets, I guess.) I dropped Chrislea and all the luggage off before parking, so she, with the help of some kindly strangers, had carted the stuff over to the hotel by the time I was parked. It doesn’t reaaaaally affect un/loading issues, I guess, but I’m really glad A-kon is moving out of Sheraton and into the Hilton Anatole next year. They’ve very obviously outgrown the space and the con hadn’t even started yet at this point on Thursday. The Hilton still isn’t a convention center though, so it remains to be seen how much space A-kon will actually be gaining and how they’ll partition it for use.
Check-in for Artist Alley was short and painless while still being secure. Photo ID? Tax ID? Good to go! Meanwhile, the pre-registration badge pick-up line folded back and forth from the door to the downstairs Artist Alley, then wrapped around the side over the entrance to the main events room. It was apparently taking 2-3 hours to get through. Don’t envy you guys!
Chrislea and I split up after checking in, since she was in the downstairs Artist Alley and I was upstairs. A-kon’s AA was split like this last year, too (and maybe the entire time they’ve been at the Sheraton? Not sure, as 2011 was my first A-kon). While the downstairs is a 24-hour Alley, the upstairs area has set daily hours and is secured overnight with the area cut off by makeshift wall dividers. But at 7pm Thursday, those walls hadn’t been set up yet (to make it easier for people to load stuff in), so there were people wandering all over the place… which meant I had attendees hanging around watching me set up and browsing through goods as I put them on the table. Which meant I actually made a few sales Thursday even though we technically weren’t open. :o It was a welcomed way to start to the weekend though!
Along with vendors and attendees, there were a lot of Artist Alley volunteers milling around offering to help people set up and such. I’ve adapted to usually working by myself and so don’t need much help, but staff presence is always welcomed.
Around 9pm, the divider walls were put up and attendees were being shooed out of the secure area. I would have liked to browse around the upstairs AA some, but artists were taking off as soon as they finished setting up, leaving most tables and displays covered. This is a reoccurring frustration, being doomed to share business hours with artists I want to buy things from. D;
I was staying with Kiiyame (White Oblivion), Yume, and Yume’s veritable army of minions (including Yume’s sister and two friends, Sara and Rebekah) for the weekend. As the place was locking down for the night, Yume was still setting up several tables down from me, but I nabbed a room key from her before I left to go wander the downstairs AA to bother Kiiyame and see who was already selling… and surprisingly few people, actually.
Maybe half the AA tables downstairs were set up, but of those, less than half — so less than a quarter of the full downstairs AA — were hanging out at their tables still. Most had just set up and left, including Kiiyame, Missy (Zimmay), Finni, Amanda (Cinnamoron), Cari (Blix-it), Jessica (RadiusZero), Tachiik, Ladre, and various other super talented people I know from and follow the Internet, but whom I haven’t really interacted with personally. I did get to say hi to Tracie (Silver no Miko) and Alice-chan though, and check in briefly with Chrislea, but being some of the few artists actually hanging out meant they were also handling plenty of customers, so I didn’t linger long.
As it turns out, Yume scored a huge King room in the hotel for the weekend — basically the biggest room we could have gotten without getting a suite. I should have taken pictures of it. It was twice the size of a normal King, at least, with an L-shaped couch that was also a pull-out bed. We’d been worried about stuffing six people in a room with one bed, but things worked out beautifully. There were even two showers in the bathroom, though it was feasible for them to both be in use simultaneously. XD
Sara, Rebekah, and Kiiyame were all in the room when I finally got up there around 10pm. I was really tired, but it felt too early to go to bed, so I rolled around a while, nerding out with Kiiyame about
the Avengers Loki while helping her sort buttons. We were pretty aghast to find that none of our other hotelmates had yet seen the movie. :|
Sleep did happen eventually. But not before I covered the steamed up bathroom mirror with LOKI’D and terrible chibis of said character. These are the dumb things that fantards do and then giggle hysterically about later. U_U Only Kiiyame would get a laugh out of it, but that’s okay.
The upstairs Artist Alley (and the Dealer’s Room) didn’t open to the public until 10am Friday. I already had everything ready at the table, but I still needed to set up at the A-kon Art Show, so I was up a little past 7am.
The Art Show was on the third floor, above the secure Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room and alongside various panel rooms. The staff were setting up several mail-in artists’ panels when I got there, but Missy was the only other on-site artist there. The room was darker and the panels weren’t quite as nice as they were at Sakura-Con, but the location relative to the rest of the convention was definitely superior. I’m never quite sure what the traffic to the panel rooms is like, but at least the room was near other events instead of isolated in its own in a corner. A-kon’s panels were smaller than Sakura-Con’s, but I think they had more overall panels, so the space events out? They didn’t have as many print shop tables, which I guess makes sense since A-kon’s Artist Alley is larger by ~35 tables.
I had two panels this time and ten pieces to hang, but since I didn’t have to label a few dozen print shop pieces, I finished up pretty quickly. The staff and volunteers awesome all around, so the whole process went smoothly. :3
It wasn’t quite 9am when I left the Art Show, so I still had plenty of time to wander. Naturally, the only thing I wanted to do was resume browsing other artists’ tables, so I went to the ground level and did some shopping. There isn’t usually anything specific that I look for, but this time was different. This time, I was a month-deep in a growing obsession made worse by constant Internet proximity to many, many others with the same problem. I needed Avengers things. I needed Loki things. 8__8
But for better or worse though, I was really, really picky, so my downstairs prowl only resulted in the purchase of three buttons from Karen (iamacoyfish). But only about a third of the artists were there, so I was sure I would need to go back and make additional rounds. When I got back to the upstairs Alley, a lot more artists were around and setting up. Huzzah! An opportunity to actually make a round upstairs! I nabbed Lego Loki and Lego Axel badges from Jennifer (Kieshar), then finally found and chatted with Shirly (S-Girl), an old face from the Southeastern con circuit doing a Texas show for the first time! After that, I spent a while gushing at Meg (Daunt)‘s art while she setting up. We ended up agreeing to a merch trade, so I scored some freakin’ gorgeous miniprints of Loki and Tony, as well as Sherlock and John.
And then it was 10am and time to settle in at the table for the day!
Friday morning was fairly busy with the initial rush of attendees eager to plunge into a weekend of convention things, but it wasn’t anything crazy? I don’t think it was as busy as it was last year, but this could be because at the time, last year A-kon was the biggest and busiest convention I’d ever been to. This year, I had a better idea of what to expect and so didn’t feel as overwhelmed. After all, I’d figured out a better way to manage queued commissions as a direct result of last year’s madness.
I might have also been really distracted trying to get pictures of every Avengers cosplayer I saw. U_U There were also, predictably, a ton of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra cosplayers, but actually, the most shocking and amazing cosplayer I found Friday, and possibly over the whole weekend, was Enerjak. o__o Because it’s enough of a feat to find anyone who reads and enjoys Archie’s Sonic comics — a cosplayer is unheard of! I should have asked to take a picture of the cosplayer’s back too — the dreads were really well done. ;3;
In the early afternoon, someone from Mu Epsilon Kappa came by to pick up a couple of grab bags I was donating to them for use as prizes in various panels. It was a donation, but to my surprise, they gave me a huge box of baked goods in exchange. o_o Chocolate brittle and scones and muffins and cupcakes, oh man. Best trade ever! Shirly also came by randomly to give me an iced coffee from the snack bar down the ways. <3
I did a couple of colored sketch cards (mostly Avengers-related, awwyeah~), a pair of badges, and a couple of other commission types Friday, but it was a relatively light workload and I had still had plenty of free time to doodle commission examples. In an effort to focus on a character other than Loki for a while, I ended up amassing a fine collection of Hawkeyes which eventually lead to a Hawkeye and Nightwing commission featuring bird posteriors. :3 A good time was had by all. Oh, what, we’re at an anime convention, not a comic convention? Whooooooops.
Sales held pretty steady throughout the afternoon, though I did see some weird trends. Buttons and bookmarks normally do equally well for me, but as with Comicpalooza, button sales were down, but bookmarks were way up? I was sold out of two bookmarks by midway through Friday, but this was partially because I was already low on them after the previous weekend. I think the Dealer’s Room closed at 7pm, so there was a small boost in traffic afterwards in the evening, but things never really slowed, so it was all good regardless. The upstairs Artist Alley closed at 9pm. A volunteer reminded attendees of this fact repeatedly over the loudspeaker in the half hour leading up to it and for many long minutes thereafter. Once again, artists bailed just as soon as the attendees were clear and the area was secured, so I didn’t have a chance to browse again before heading out for the night.
Downstairs, things were still quite busy. Last year, I was a little jealous of the activity and wished we could have stayed open longer upstairs. This year… I really did not care. XD Side effect of back-to-back conventions, I think. Anyway, things probably looked busier than they actually were because there were tons and tons of people just wandering around, but most of them weren’t really shopping. I visited Tachiik and Ladre briefly, then settled behind Kiiyame’s table to just chill and chat a while… and to devour four of five slices of pizza. :D And to doodle stupid doodles of Loki on a half dozen index cards and hide them in her things. 8D
After that, I made a full round of the downstairs Alley since most artists were still around! You could tell most people were doing well because a lot of prints were marked as “sold out” already. :O I found Emily (Creepyfish) and Ellen (Rockaaar), who were having a rough day, gave them what remained of my chocolate, and picked up a print from each of them. Then I got some new buttons from Alice, chatted briefly with Missy, ran into Shirly, who was also making rounds, bought a button of the Tenth Doctor off a table way in the back corner, and then called it a night.
We opened an hour earlier on Saturday, at 9am, and the morning was relatively casual. In the first few minutes, I saw a couple wander by with Starbucks coffee and inquired as to where the Starbucks was. They gave directions that kind of confused me, then asked me if they could do a coffee run for me in exchange for a commission. Um. Hell yes?! A note to all con-goers that might see me at a future convention: YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY TRADE ME COFFEE FOR A COMMISSION. Usually I will be more than happy to trade you a commission worth twice the cost of the coffee, so my standard Starbucks order (Venti caramel latte with a shot of peppermint) will get you a colored sketch card or equivalent. Or if you want a print, that’s cool too. This offer is valid twice a day. 8D
It was a good thing the couple was there early too, because if Friday seemed busy, but not that busy, then Saturday, once it got going, was definitely busy-busy.
And the flood of commissions came.
I think I did over 30 commissions on Saturday, most of which were in color. It was a non-stop flood, and my neighbors — Curry and Kii — were both swamped with commissions as well. I really wish my brother could have been there to help with fielding merch sales and digging up change while I worked, but I think things went pretty well for the most part. My queued commission system kept me organized, and I had Stephanie texting me all kinds of reference pictures on request because there are so many characters that I mostly know, but end up wanting clarification on, ahahaha. I really need to stop putting off that smart phone, right?
I did a ton of pony commissions Saturday, a good mix of OCs and official characters. Either there were more bronies running around than usual or having a single pony commission example brought all of them to the table? o_o One of my favorite bronies was a very gentlemanly military (I think he was navy?) guy. A lot has been said about the odd percentage of older male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but there is just something really nice about people being so open and frank about liking and appreciating a well-made show, target audience be damned. I think the defiance to openly like whatever the hell you like regardless of what other people think is encouraging. :> But yeah, the navy guy was very sweet, and I really enjoyed drawing what surely amounted to a herd. Who leveled up in pony-drawing skills over A-kon!? THIS PONY.
It got really crowded in the late afternoon, and you could feel the temperature rising from the heat of a few thousand bodies. I’d heard from a few that the AC actually went out, but I don’t think it did because it was probably 90-95 F outside, and if the AC had been out, it would have been a lot more unbearable inside than it was. The official attendance for the weekend was just under 22,000, a big increase from last year’s ~18,400. I also heard that they had to start turning people away at registration because the fire marshal was up in their business. :P It’s like MomoCon 2009 all over again! I hope the Hilton next year can handle 24-25k, because I’m sure that’s what the numbers will be in 2013.
I’d managed to work through my entire commission queue, save one, by the time the upstairs Alley closed, so I had a commission to start the day with Sunday. As we opened an hour earlier, we also closed an hour earlier on Saturday, and attendees were being hassled to leave at 8pm. I took issue with this last year, but as with Friday, this year I just couldn’t bring myself to be fussed. XD Besides, Kyle Hebert got the mic after a while and told people to gtfo in the Dragonball Z narrator’s voice (I think Kamina would have been the more effective choice though~). And the Art Show’s live auction was Saturday night at 9pm! So the early closing time was actually really convenient. After packing up and throwing a sheet over my table, I dragged myself one floor up.
There was a short line forming outside the panel room where the auction would be taking place. Melissa (Mistyibuki) of the IKKiCON staff was at the end, so I got in after her and we spent the half hourish to 9pm chatting. I was kind of surprised at the length of the line by the time we were let into the room — unlike Sakura-Con, A-kon wasn’t also holding a charity auction, so 100% of the people were there for the art auction. And it was a good hundred people, at least.
Maybe 15-20 pieces made it to auction, including two “staff picks” that did not technically make it to auction (I believe it was two bids to auction?), but were chosen to be there anyway. Since the Art Show hours started after AA opened and ended before AA closed, and since I was one of the first to set up in the Art Show Friday morning, I hadn’t seen a majority of the other pieces in the show. None of my pieces made it to auction, but I was super pleased to see that there was a lot more original art (VS prints) than was in the Sakura-Con show. The few prints that were in the auction were from clearly marked editions, so that was really nice too. (Of course, I didn’t take any pictures during this whole thing, ugh, but it was pretty dark in the room anyway.)
The auctioneer was a very personable fellow and did not waste any time goading bidders and pitting them against one another. Mel had two pieces she had bid for in the silent auction and both had gone to the live auction, but I was just there to watch the carnage. While we’d been in line, we had heard various seasoned bidders and long-standing participants in A-kon’s art auction discussing the bidwars of previous years and citing many winning bids well into the hundreds. They weren’t kidding.
The competitive ferocity between some of the bidders was intense, but the general feeling in the room was very positive. These guys knew how to bid, too, with several pieces seeing bid-jumps of $40-$50. It turned into a surprisingly entertaining event, and I’d give the auctioneer most of the credit. Apparently he’s a stand-up comedian. Makes sense. The jokes came steadily and got increasingly dirty and hilariously inappropriate as the auction went on — I suppose they figured that no one under eighteen would be there anyway? There was some serious cash being spent. Very few pieces ended at less than $50 and at least a half dozen ended over $100. I think the highest piece went for $500+. It was craaazy. o___o
Mel didn’t win either of the pieces she was bidding for, but it was probably for her own good. After the auction, another artist and I wandered into the actual Art Show room, which was next door to where the auction had taken place. We freaked out some of the Art Show staff by “sneaking” in, but they were cool with it after we explained that we were artists and hadn’t had a chance to browse the Art Show because of AA hours. It was a pretty mixed gallery. Lots of general fantasy and dark sci-fi. Most of the fanart was from older series. I was pretty surprised. :O
I was also surprised to see that one of my pieces — the one of Horo — did get a single bid, and thus was sold! Woooo~.
I think it was almost around 10:30pm by the time I left the Art Show and wandered back down to the 24-hr Artist Alley. I made another full round, but didn’t pick up anything new, then made my way back up to the room.
Sunday morning, I managed to poke around a few of the tables in the upstairs AA before we opened at 10am. A lot of artists didn’t show up until riiiight before show time though, so there were a rushed few purchases/trades shoved in there at th nd. I’m really, really glad I did finally manage to pick up a few buttons from Shirotsuki though, and I totally got Sal (Crossexe)‘s last Loki button, not to mention a little Loki doodle she was using as a commission example. C:< There were a few other buttons I picked up, but I don’t remember the artists — guys, you should really put your website URL on the edge of your buttons. It is super helpful!
I should really stop buying buttons though… I have like 100+ of them in a bag and no where to put them. >_> I don’t even wear my button hat (with 150+ buttons on it) much anymore because I’m afraid of losing buttons, hahaha.
Sunday was kind of like Friday. I suppose it was busy, but I think my gauge of “busy” depends on how overwhelmed I feel, and I didn’t feel especially overwhelmed. I was sold out of several of prints by then, so sales were a bit more relaxed. I did sell a ton of random minicomics on Sunday though? Maybe because they were cheap. :o I dunno! I frequently wonder if there’s a point in noting sales trends like this because nothing ever makes sense.
I had more commissions Sunday than Friday, but not nearly as many as Saturday, so I had a good bit of downtime. I don’t remember what I did in my downtime. Probably sit there like a zombie? It was kind of weird because I wasn’t that tired physically, but I was spacing out a lot… XD
Around 3pm, I had commandeered Sara from Yume’s table so she could watch mine while I ran upstairs to pick up my unsold pieces from the Art Show. Between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, someone decided they wanted my Eleventh Doctor painting, so that one was gone too! A-kon’s Art Show was definitely a more successful venture than Sakura-Con’s, and I think I learned a lot more too. I feel that the much higher percentage of original pieces and clearly marked limited edition prints helped drive interest in bidders. I’m looking forward to seeing how Otakon’s Art Show goes.
When I got back to the table, Sara went through my remaining Art Show pieces. She hadn’t been up to see the Art Show at all and decided she wanted to buy Discord. Yesssss. <3
Same as last year, we needed to be packed up and gone by 6pm, so I started breaking down slowly around 5pm. Though 5-6pm is a pretty late Sunday closing time compared to some other conventions, I felt like Sunday was crazy short. To be honest, despite the whirlwind of commissions, steady sales and crowds, I felt like the whole weekend should have gone on a lot longer… I wasn’t that tired! Or maybe I was so tired that I didn’t feel tired anymore? It’s hard to tell.
It was pretty chaotic at closing though, and I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone in the mad shuffle. Attendees were still wandering around, but tables were in half-dismantled disarray. I packed up my stuff, went downstairs to find Chrislea, then left my stuff with her while I went to retrieve the car. We continued the post-con Chili’s tradition, dutifully gorged ourselves on delicious food, then hit the road.
A-kon was good. It’s a tightly run ship, and the experience gleaned from its longevity shows. Most of the problems and points of frustration I had last year were non-issues this year by some combination of better planning and clearer expectations, so I think things can only improve for next year. I’m not sure if they’ll continue with having two Artist Alleys (secure VS 24-hour), but I think it’ll be fine either way.
Come to think of it, IKKiCON is the only con I’ve attended through a venue change. MomoCon changed venues the year after I moved out of Georgia. Anime Matsuri returned to its venue at the Woodlands this year, but I didn’t attend. San Japan, Anime Overload, amd Delta H Con are all at new venues this year, but I won’t be going to any of them. IKKiCON’s change-of-venue lead to pretty significant changes in Artist Alley (to mixed results), but they’re going back to the Hilton this year, so it wasn’t a lasting change. It’ll be interesting to see how A-kon’s venue change affects AA moving forward, but I’m not too worried about it.
I feel like I should have more to say, but I can’t think of anything, haha. Whatever!
A-kon’s a good show and with any luck, I’ll be back next year. :)