IKKiCON came a little early this year, moving up a week to December 27-29th, the weekend after Christmas, instead of the weekend closer to New Years. The con was again at the Hilton Austin in downtown Austin, TX.
This was my fourth year tabling, making IKKiCON the con I’ve tabled at the most, and it was mostly business as usual, though for some reason, IKKiCON’s “business as usual” is always kind of weird.
This report is 4,825 words long.
I drove up to Austin from Houston in the mid-afternoon and got to Jorge‘s place just before dark. One of the reasons I like IKKiCON is because, with the exception of one year, I’ve always been able to couch surf for the convention, which is great not only because it saves me money, but because it lets me actually hang out with people outside the con. If I’m staying at the hotel for the con, it’s rare that I step foot outside that hotel or convention center for the duration, which is a shame when I have friends in town that aren’t attending the convention.
A week ahead of the con, Artist Alley management sent an email saying that “[they] will attempt to have all badges ready for pickup on Thursday. In the case this is not possible [they] will have them ready first thing on Friday.” Not exactly words to inspire confidence, eh? I’m really not sure why badge pickup was a maybe this year — they’d had Thursday exhibitor badge pickup for the last several years, so what changed? But I wasn’t planning to bother with Thursday setup anyway. Friday morning setup was supposed to start at 7am, giving us more than four hours to set up before VIPs came in at 11:30am, so whatever.
Instead, Jorge and I watched the first two episodes of Kyoukai no Kanata. Those were the two episodes I’d seen already, but watching them again was good, since I planned to finish out the series soon and needed reminding of what had happened. We grabbed a quick dinner at Whattaburger, then hung out with a bunch of former Closet Artist members, most of whom I didn’t know because we hadn’t been members concurrently, haha. (Closet Artists was a club I was a part of during my brief time at the University of Texas, and most of the people I know in Austin I’d met through it, including Jorge.) I… kind of spent most of the time playing Jorge’s Animal Crossing game, but heeeey. >_>
Afterwards, Jorge was receptive to the idea of watching Free! instead of continuing with Kyoukai no Kanata. I was going to finish out KnK on my own anyway, so obviously I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to get someone new to watch swimming anime… 8D;; We made it through four episodes before finally going to bed!
We were up around 6am, stopped for coffee on the way downtown, and parked at the Hilton’s garage. I like seeing the relative calm and quiet of the con space before the thousands of attendees arrive for the weekend, but I don’t like seeing that not even staff had arrived yet…
The Exhibitors Hall, which included both dealers and artists, was supposed to be open for setup at 7am. We got there around a quarter past, and the entire sixth floor was basically deserted. All the doors to the Hall were locked, and even the hotel’s custodial staff couldn’t get in. I went down to con-ops on the fourth floor to ask what was up, but not only did it take me forever to find them because there were no signs except right outside the room they were in, they had no idea what was going on either. I found out that neither the IKKiCON Executive Director/former Exhibitors head, nor the current Exhibitors staff head, had arrived yet though. :/
So Jorge and I couldn’t do much but camp outside the Exhibitors Hall and wait. On the up side, Tori and two of her friends showed up not long after, so we had people to talk to. Matt, the current Exhibitors head, finally showed up around 7:45am to unlock the doors. He apologized for being late and mentioned that he didn’t know we were supposed to open so early for setup and that he hadn’t been briefed on hours until the day before. It seems that the old Exhibitors head is still the one to handle most of the “off-season” exhibitor communications, and that Matt is only responsible for things at the actual show? I’m not really sure of the details, but it seems clear enough that even after so many years of related complaints, IKKiCON is still lacking in effective internal communication and organization.
As usual, I was grumpy about this until I finished setting up. Having my table set and ready to go always makes me feel better. By then, it was almost 10am — just over an hour to opening, right? Ha. For one reason or another, the opening time was pushed back an hour. It was probably because a few dealers weren’t ready, but honestly, that it isn’t anyone else’s problem that a dealer isn’t ready? Show time is show time!
Opening would never be delayed because an artist wasn’t ready, and while I understand that dealers have a lot more space and merchandise that would be at risk if the room opened before they were ready, it’s still no one’s fault by their own that they aren’t ready? I might feel differently if there had been a lot of dealers waiting to be let into the room to setup at 7am, but there was literally no one else waiting outside the Exhibitors Hall at 7:30am but me, Tori, our
table lackeys friends, and two other artists.
To pass the 2+ hours I now had until the doors opened, I made a long circuit around the Artist Alley and took my time talking to people for once. This was actually really nice and possible in part because I had Jorge there to watch the table.
Since I moved to Washington, IKKiCON and A-kon are the only two shows I do in Texas anymore, so it was nice catching up with artist friends that really only do shows in the state, like Tracie (Silver no Miko) and Keri (Alicechan). Sadly, a lot of Texas con regulars were actually missing this year, including Kiiyame (White Oblivion), Yume, and Ladre, who was supposed to come, but got sick last minute. Stacy and Michael of Kawaii Ribbons, who are still the best table neighbours ever, were also missing because they were preparing to move to Kansas! The proximity to Christmas inconvenienced a lot of people, but IKKiCON’s AA registration also took place at the same time as a bunch of other conventions, which meant a lot of artists couldn’t afford to pay for all those cons at once.
A lot of regulars missing meant that there were a lot of new faces though, and thanks to ~SWIMMING ANIME~, I had a good ice breaker topic to bond with new people over. I also keep meeting cute new SCADDies?? Luneatta (who had super adorable Free! buttons and stickers aaaaa) will be a SCAD freshman soon, and both Hanna and Ally are already SCAD freshman. Hanna and Ally’s neighbour was Hino, who is apparently an IKKiCON regular too, but I’d never spoken to her before now? I was also surprised and pleased to see Emily (Sal/Crossexe) there since outside of serial Alley artists like Kevin (Yanimator) — who actually wasn’t there this year? — I rarely see out-of-state people at Ikki.
I also made a quick pass through the Dealer’s Room. I think basically all the dealers that were there last year returned, as almost everyone was set up in the same locations. There were a lot of dealers with Eeveelution goods from various recent-ish promos, but I’d declared my small, accidental Jolteon and Leafeon collection done, and would not be swayed by endless cuteness! There was also a single dealer with Free! plush and two dealers with key straps and charms. Thankfully, I’m actually very picky about most merchandise, and even if the dealers didn’t have them priced higher than I could get them for online, I wasn’t really interested in them anyway.
The Exhibitors Hall finally opened half past noon — I’m not sure if VIP actually got early access that day since they were already running so late. Traffic was great for the first few hours, held steady through most of the afternoon, then slowed significantly in the last hour before we closed at 7pm.
It was one of the busiest Fridays I’ve had in a while, in part because of what felt like more commissions than usual. Sales of small items also went well, though I noticed I wasn’t moving many prints and hardly any posters. In actuality, the dollar amount I made in commissions on Friday this year was almost exactly the same as last year, but commissions made up 24% of my Friday this year VS 33% of my Friday last year — this means that my Friday total this year was a fair bit higher than last year. I’m really glad I keep records of these things because obviously my gut feelings are completely off at least half the time!
I think I took more photos than I have in a long while Friday, but that isn’t surprising considering Ikki was my first anime con since KuroNekoCon, a while six months ago! I’ve been stewing in fandom feelings since then, so naturally, a vast majority of the cosplayers I noticed of over the weekend were either from Attack on Titan or Free! :’D I was really amused to note that almost all the Attack on Titan cosplayers I saw were female while almost half of the Free! cosplayers I saw were male. Attack on Titan has a strong fanbase of both genders, so it was weird to not see more dude cosplayers. Meanwhile, it seems that swimming anime isn’t as inaccessible to guys as a lot of whiny dudebros might like to believe. ;)
I wasn’t really cosplaying, but I was wearing my Samezuka jacket. …To be honest, I’ve seriously considered maybe just finding a cheap wig suitable for a Rin cosplay. It’s casual enough to not get in the way at the table — well, mostly; from my experience cosplaying Rukia that one time, I know that a bang styled in the middle of my face drives me insane — and there is official art of megane!Rin, so, uh, yeah. <_< I actually did check out the one dealer that was selling wigs, but they didn’t have a suitable wig out on display and I didn’t want to ask, haha. Maybe I’ll convince myself to just go for it in time for the next con…
I only left the table once during the day to go to the bathroom, and it never really got so busy that I needed help handling customers, but having Jorge with me behind the table was still nice for company and minor things like digging out bags and counting out change. It was also nice being able to lend him out to friends who were tabling alone since I’ve had others do the same for me with their table lackeys in the past, haha. In exchange, Jorge spent most of the day marveling about the insane number of StreetPasses he was getting and the resulting puzzle pieces.
It didn’t take long for us to pack up after the Exhibitors Hall closed for the day. We bailed directly after, got dinner, then spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Closet Artists again. I got some doodling in and was pleased for the opportunity to gush about brush pens to Liz, but I was a bit sad that we didn’t get a chance to watch more Free! that night. <_<
The Exhibitors Hall was scheduled to open to VIPs Saturday at 10:30am and to everyone else at 11am. Even though I knew resetting the table would take me ten minutes or less, I still wanted to get there at around 9am, which meant getting up at 8am. And still 8am felt crazy late. 8am was sleeping in! I woke up at 6am for no reason and had to make myself go back to sleep for the extra two hours. We got coffee on the way in again and parked at the Austin Convention Center parking garage across the street from the hotel — there was no price advertised, but we just hoped it’d be cheaper than the Hilton. The Hilton’s parking rate actually hadn’t been that bad at $13/day for con-goers ($26/day otherwise!), but the convention center ended up being exactly the same ($13) anyway.
I had a lot of time to kill before we opened, but there are almost never other artists there that early, so I wandered around the Dealer’s Room a lot more Saturday, mostly looking for gifts for others. The tough thing about shopping at out-of-state cons, though, is that it’s hard to transport stuff back — there were some really nice figures I wanted to get for some Seattle friends, but I’d need to ship them since there was no way I would be able to fit them into my luggage with my con stuff. Better to wait until Sakura-Con to shop for Seattlites, I guess!
10:30am came and went while I was making purposefully slow passes through the Dealer’s Room. The aisles were dead empty, so I didn’t feel the need to rush back to my table… Some more minutes roll around and then Matt the Exhibitors head comes by to tell everyone we’d be open in half an hour or so. Oh. So we weren’t already open? Opening got pushed back again? :/
By then most of the other artists were there though, so I got to go through and buy or trade for basically all the Free! buttons available and chat some more with friends. I also circled back to dealers to get a Kyoko figure for my brother. Still, I was pretty irritated that we were opening late again, especially since the Exhibitors Hall closed an hour early on Saturday, at 6pm. It was like that last year too. I still have no idea why. It slipped my mind to ask every single time I spoke with Matt. ~_~
We finally opened to VIPs around 11am, and to general attendees at 11:30am. Traffic stayed decent to good throughout the day, but while commissions held strong, sales of physical merchandise fell flat, and Saturday felt pretty lackluster for a Saturday, especially considering the busier-than-usual Friday. I’m glad that I at least had commissions though — if one of the two has to fall flat, I’d rather it be the sales, because commissions are what keeps me busy at the table, and as previously established, being bored at the table is one of the Worst Things for me, personally.
In my downtime, I doodled commission examples. I hadn’t felt much like working on examples the last few cons, but being surrounded by Free! cosplayers inspired me, and I drew a lot of chibi swimming boys. It worked out well enough, too, as I sold quite a few of those examples to cosplayers. :) Random other thing that made me happy? My maid!Rin print was not mistaken for Grell even once this con! HA.
Honestly, all things considered, Saturday was a pretty good day too. I had enough to keep me busy and fantarding over Free! kept me from fixating too much on sales and various annoyances with the con.
After closing up, Jorge and I hit up Trudy’s with former Closet Artist Matt, his wife Arielle, and another friend of Jorge’s whose name I’ve, of course, forgotten. After that, we went to Austin Karaoke for some three hours of screaming ourselves hoarse, the highlight of which was probably Jorge wrecking his voice with “Wrecking Ball,” and fake-crying through the bridge and final chorus. The walls of the place were pretty paper thin, so you can hear people singing pretty clearly from the halls. I really, really hope that there was someone wandering by outside our room when Jorge came in with the last chorus because it was pretty amazing, lemme tell ya what.
After we got back from karaoke, Jorge and I watched three more episodes of Free!, making it to episode seven. ;D
Sunday morning was more or less the same as Saturday, though it was slightly harder to drag myself out of bed. When we got to the con, I asked the Exhibitors head whether we’d be opening late again and got a definite “no.” Apparently we opened late Saturday because of (paraphrased) “problems with dealers along the back wall,” but “we’re not opening late today no matter what.”
In the time before opening, I went around to talk shop with other artists and confirmed that almost everyone had similarly weird Saturday sales, with a few making less Saturday than they did Friday. Still not sure what all that was about, though I suspect the super short hours (11:30am-In 6pmish, just over six hours of selling — crazy short for a Saturday) didn’t help. It’s always reassuring to know that it wasn’t just me, though IKKiCON has always had this weird pattern where I and a few others do fair to middling and everyone else does so poorly that they never come back. Outside of those that missed out this year for one reason or another, there are several Texas AA regulars that swore off IKKiCON a few years ago because of poor sales.
We did, in fact, open on time Sunday at 10:30am. Commission interest went way down, but I was finally moving some actual merch, so it kind of balanced out. I was entertained enough by spotting and talking to cosplayers and drawing more commission examples that I wasn’t bored, so it ended up being just kind of a relaxing day… though predictably, commission interest returned with sudden vigor in the final hour of the day, so I was crunching to finish the last few in time. Thankfully, my last few commissions were for other artists in the Alley anyway, so I could have delivered them to their tables if it came to that.
I learned after the fact that they were actually turning people away from the door in the last half hour the Exhibitors Hall was open, though they didn’t start shooing people out until after the Hall was officially closed at 4pm. This annoyed me, though I can understand why they did it. As far as I knew, they needed the room cleared by 5pm, and most dealers would need more time than that to break down, so limiting the crowd as we drew near closing would make early breakdown easier for dealers.
And yet staff didn’t come around to rush dealers/artists about packing up after we were closed? So I actually packed up at a leisurely pace and even made one last circuit around the Alley to say bye to folks before we hauled out of there.
IKKiCON is weird in that it hasn’t actually changed that much over the last four years I’ve attended. Most cons, for better or worse, shake things up a lot more than IKKiCON has.
The con’s been at the Hilton Austin for three of those years, and every year the Exhibitors Hall has been in the same place, with the same number of dealers and artists (though table layout for artists has changed). IKKiCON has not released official attendance numbers in the last two years, but I feel like those numbers are probably about the same, judging from the “about the same” feel of the crowds there every year. They’re returning to the Hilton again next year, so I imagine that these things will continue to be “about the same.”
Staff communication, organization, and presence has been an issue every year. Of course this is just conjecture on my part, but I kind of get the feeling that they acknowledge their issues when the complaints gather during and directly after the convention, but they don’t ever address them immediately, and then a few months roll by, and they’ve forgotten them again because they’re, ironically, too busy with the next con’s preparations. IKKiCON, LLC. runs two other cons in Austin, Anime Overload and Brony Fan Fair.
A lot of things wouldn’t even be that hard to fix. The request to have more staff pass through the Alley to ask if artists need a break or something has been made multiple times to no avail. The request that all staff be well-versed in the actual hours of the Exhibitors Hall has been made several times as well, but still at the end of the day Friday and Saturday, I heard staff yelling out the wrong opening times for the next day — “Exhibitors Hall closes in x minutes! We’re open again at 9am tomorrow!” — only to be corrected by vendors yelling back: “NO, WE’RE NOT.”
IKKiCON is not a fledgling convention. This was its eighth year, and the other two conventions are in their fifth and third year respectively. I don’t get why getting this stuff right is so hard, even for a baby convention. I don’t get why the Exhibitors head wasn’t even informed of Exhibitors hours until the night before.
The thing which irritates me the most has also been pointed out a few times. It’s IKKiCON’s 50% fanart rule. Yes, they technically have one, but you’d never know it because it hasn’t been enforced any year they’ve had it. Most of Ikki’s Artist Alley contract is still taken verbatim from Otakon’s, and I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason it’s even there. Last year, I didn’t know it was a rule until after the con because no one mentioned it ever. This year, I emailed them specifically inquiring about it and whether they were going to enforce it.
I was told that, firstly, that they have permission from Otakon to mirror their rules, and, after several prods for a response, that the rule was “[p]robably not going to [be enforced] unless it’s very obvious problem.” After another prod, “obvious problem” was elaborated to “traced works and logos. Also the table should not be more than 75% fan art.”
I don’t really don’t need to explain why the rules saying one thing and staff saying another thing is a problem, right?
And “obvious problem” situations weren’t addressed anyway. At least one artist had official Attack on Titan logos and trademarked crests on items, and several artists had trademarked symbols, like the FMA Flamel’s cross and the Zelda Hylian crest, on buttons and other things. I did see the Exhibitors head wander through the Alley now and again, but it was a rare enough occurrence and I don’t think it was to look for rule violations anyway.
As far as enforcement goes, IKKiCON doesn’t really have a fanart rule. Percentage rules irritate me in general anyway — enforcement tends to be highly subjective and uneven, and as far as legal matters go, it…doesn’t actually do anything since it still allows fanart? Just…less of it? If the law is black and white, then how is taking one cookie better than taking two cookies?? If the law is grey, then just…allow fanart? ?__? If you’re gonna ban fanart, ban all fanart. All or nothing makes everything so much simpler. No more of this weird percentage nonsense that helps no one and solves nothing.
There are serious, on-going issues with how IKKiCON is run, and yet, I think IKKiCON is actually one of my favourite cons to attend…?
There is a degree of stability and predictability that comes with its lack of change, and there are plenty of things for which I’m grateful. The fact that their Artist Alley has neither increased the cost of tables nor increased the number of tables sold in the last four years, for one. The fact that I always get to see friends in Austin and that I have a lot of repeat customers, for another. It’s just always been an enjoyable convention for me once I get behind the table, and I’ve always done well — even with this year’s weird Saturday sales, my totals for the weekend saw a 30% increase from last year. And if I’ve got to limit myself to just two Texas con a year, I’m glad that IKKiCON is at least less of a hassle than A-Kon. (Though I think I might try to hit up San Japan again soon…)
But my liking IKKiCON is probably the biggest reason it frustrates me so much that they can’t seem to address their problems.
- Short hours. Accounting for the fact we opened late both Friday and Saturday, we had just over 18 hours of selling over the weekend. If we’d had an 8 hour workday every day, it would have been 24 total hours, which is actually about average for most cons, because of longer hours Saturday and shorter hours Sunday. Quick comparisons: KuroNekoCon had 15 working hours over 2 days; Everfree NW, Sakura-Con, and Emerald City Comic Con all had 22 working hours over 3 days; Comicpalooza had 25 hours over 3 days.
- (Unenforced) 50% fanart rule.
- Staff organization, accessibility and helpfulness. Pre-con, staff is hard to get a hold of. At the con, there seems to be only one staff person of authority and a sparse smattering of volunteer staff who don’t know what’s going on. The apparent inability of staff to improve on issues from years past is also a big downer.
- Staff internal communication. I repeat: it is absurd that the Exhibitors head isn’t informed of Exhibitors Hall hours until the night before.
- Secure Artist Alley. It’s always nice to know you can leave your things behind at the con and they’ll be in a locked room all night. Personally, I also really like that we share space with the Dealer’s Room, though I know some prefer being kept separate.
- Average AA cost and size. 40 tables at $100/ea is fairly reasonable for a ~7,000 convention. (There were also ~50 dealers.)
- Traffic. I felt that traffic was pretty steady throughout the weekend, though admittedly, this year I had a prime spot as an endcap to the first island of tables. Artists along the far side of the second island reported waves of deadness throughout Saturday as part of the reason Saturday was such an oddly slow day, though some of them did also say that traffic improved significantly for them Sunday.
- Hotel location. Downtown Austin is easy to get to, and there are actually plenty of parking options, though none of them free, as far as I know. However, it should be noted that the hotel is really close to the tons of bars on 6th Street, and considering IKKiCON’s usual proximity to New Years, a general word of caution to those wandering about after dark.
- Good repeat attendance. I get a lot of repeat customers at IKKiCON, mostly from past Ikkis, but a few from other Texas cons as well. This is certainly due in part to my tabling consistently at IKKiCON, but it also means that whatever else goes on at IKKiCON (’cause I sure as hell don’t pay attention to the programming) is enough to draw back attendees year after year.
- Good commissioner population. Some cons don’t have a lot of attendees that are interested in commissions. IKKiCON isn’t one of them.
IKKiCON 9 is January 2-4, 2015, at the Hilton Austin. I’ll be back. :V