Rose City Comic Con is a two-day comic convention in Portland, and this year it ran September 20th and 21st. RCCC is partnered with and shares a lot of staff and resources with Emerald City Comic Con, so I figured they’re similarly run and attract a similar crowd.
ECCC 2013 wasn’t a particularly good show for me as a vendor, which is one of the reasons I didn’t attempt RCCC 2013. I went to ECCC 2014 as an attendee (and table helper to my friend Kara) and decided afterwards that I’d rather do so-so as a vendor than feel weird as an attendee (and I always feel weird as an attendee), so I’m on board again to vend at ECCC 2015. RCCC was still iffy for me because of travel reasons, but Laura invited me to join her carpool down for the show and then, as usual, I figured, “I may as well give it a try.”
This report is 4,237 words long.
RCCC’s Artist Alley application process is like ECCC’s: mail in a physical application along with payment, and presumably, artists are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. I’m not sure when applications first opened, but I didn’t send mine in until late May, as it wasn’t until then that Laura mentioned the possibility of a carpooling. I emailed the Exhibits Director two weeks later to check that they’d gotten the application and was notified that they had, but that I was waitlisted.
I wasn’t too fussed about it, and I moved off the waitlist just a few weeks later anyway, in mid-June.
Mid-August saw an email go out to all exhibitors about convention center show arrangements like renting furniture or fixtures and other things that are probably useful for dealers, but which are pretty overkill for independent artists. We got table assignments around the end of August, then a final informational email reminding us of hours and such a few days ahead of the show. All-in-all, very tidy, professional, and reminiscent of my interactions with ECCC. This is only RCCC’s third year, but they’ve clearly benefited tremendously from their partnership with and the expertise of ECCC.
The carpool party was me, Laura, her friend Stasia, and Stasia’s roommate Leigh. Only Laura and I would be tabling at RCCC, and Laura doesn’t have a very complicated setup at all, but the car was a Toyota Corolla and as usual, I was worried and felt bad about having a lot of stuff. My Kumoricon party had managed somehow with four artists in an even smaller car, but I had parried down a lot of my luggage for Kumori since I only had half a table. RCCC’s tables are only six feet, but that’s still a full-sized table, and so I was bringing… all my stuff.
Somehow it all worked out fine though. My print order for RCCC arrived literally 30 minutes before Laura and Leigh came to pick me up at 12:30, and Leigh has some amazing Tetris skills that somehow made everything fit. After grabbing Stasia from work, we started making our way south.
Traffic was pretty bad around Tacoma and Olympia and again right outside of Portland, so we didn’t get to the convention center until around 5pm.
Parking at the Oregon Convention Center was $8/day, I think, but there was a weird side lot for vendors to temporarily park for load-in. It was strange because the lot was across the street from the OCC (and sort of poorly marked, so we missed it the first time and had to circle around), but thankfully, there wasn’t a lot of traffic on that street, so dragging our stuff across wasn’t too hazardous.
After we unloaded the car, Leigh left with it, as she wouldn’t actually be attending RCCC — the carpool down was an opportunity for her to visit her family in Portland, and she was taking the car for the weekend since the rest of us wouldn’t need it. The hotel we were staying in was just two blocks from the convention center.
We dragged our stuff into the loading dock, then asked directions to Artist Alley and AA check-in. As with ECCC, the Artist Alley and Dealer’s Room shared the same space and were collectively the Exhibits Hall / the Show Floor, which comprised of Exhibit Halls A, B, and C of the Oregon Convention Center.
There wasn’t much going on as far as security — probably because most everyone was coming in through the loading dock, while badge pick-up was outside of Exhibits and in a small, separate room across the hall, which would make badge-check at the dock inconvenient for basically everyone. We dropped off the bulk of our luggage at our tables before grabbing our badges and then going back to set up.
Both tables next to mine were already set up, and I felt kind of bad because neither had a lot of vertical structure on the tables themselves — Creator’s Edge, to my left, had grid cubes just two cubes tall, and Tom Rogers, to my right, only had easels propping up books and prints. And as we all know, I have a towering PVC fort.
I ended up limiting the number of prints I had on the outside of the PVC side arms so I wasn’t completely dominating the shared space between my neighbours and me, but I still felt pretty bad about it. Both CE and Tom had tall vertical banners behind their tables, as is typical for comic cons, but my vertical structure being on my table still made me feel like I was blocking their stuff.
I was trying the individually boarded and sleeved print setup I had previously tried at Dragonflight, but I think I may need to get a second large, plywood rack if I want to keep doing that. I just have too many prints to comfortably fit, and my smaller plywood rack is oddly suited for button display. A lot of people have the plywood racks now, and I saw a ton of other artists that had double-stacked large racks for individually packaged prints. The downside of that. though, is decreasing the number of prints I can hang from the PVC… Hm.
Since Laura finished setting up a whole hour or so before me, she and Stasia had gone ahead to check into the hotel. After I was done, I made a quick circuit through the rest of the Alley and the Dealer’s Room (which was really pretty empty, and most of the people I knew in the Alley weren’t around yet) before going to join them.
Laura had booked at the Motel 6 two blocks over. The location was really great, but the building was about as shady as you’d expect. <_< We lounged around for a little while before deciding to head out to the RCCC Kickoff Party at a comic shop about a mile away. Honestly, I was iffy on the idea because mingling is awkward, but Laura and Stasia were enticed by free beer while free food was a reasonable enough lure for me. When we left the motel room though, we had difficulty getting the door to close. :’D We’d pull the door shut, but it could still be pushed open easily without a key. We called the receptionist up and he managed to close it eventually by slamming the door shut really hard, but yeaaaaaaah, I didn’t leave anything valuable in the room. >_>
In lieu of figuring out Portland’s bus/lightrail system, we decided to just walk the mile. It was overly sunny and hot there all weekend, but by 7:30pm, when we were heading out, the sun was mostly set and there was a good breeze, so the walk wasn’t that bad.
We got to the kickoff party a little after eight, but left almost immediately. The comic shop itself wasn’t very big, and so most of the people were outside in the empty lot next to the building. Some tents had been set up to serve food and beer, and most of the people were in some kind of huge, tangled line trying to get to the goods. There was also a cop car parked, with its sirens flashing but muted, outside the shop when we arrived.
Instead of trying to figure out the messy crowd, we decided to just seek dinner elsewhere and after wandering around a bit, settled on Thai Pod. It was pretty good!
On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped by Safeway and Walgreens for miscellaneous supplies. It didn’t end up being a very eventful evening, but that’s always totally fine with me, haha. x_x
I woke up at 6:30am Saturday morning because the lightrail train that passes by the hotel sounds… exactly… like… the TARDIS.
The air conditioning in the hotel room wasn’t very good, so we had the windows open all night, and the noise was really loud. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much if it didn’t sound exactly like the space-faring time machine of dreams though. I manage to go back to sleep for a little bit though and eventually get up around 8:15, ahead of Laura and Stasia. Exhibitor setup for the day started at eight, but we were all already completely set up, and doors didn’t open to the public until ten.
I knew there was a Starbucks across the street from the convention center, but I didn’t feel like figuring out which side of the convention center it was on, so I just spent most of the morning wandering around inside the Exhibits Hall. I managed to find the tables of most of the people I knew, with the exception of Wendi Chen, who I knew was in the Dealers’ area instead of the Artists’ area, but I couldn’t figure out where her booth was. x_x
There were several food options in the convention center, including many sharing a wall with, or directly inside, the Exhibits Hall. There were concessions with popcorn and fries, as well as some local ice cream? One of the exhibitors right by the entrance was preparing to serve energy drinks and/or slushies for the day, though they weren’t ready yet when I wandered by. I ended up getting coffee from the restaurant right by one of the Exhibit Hall entrances, then said hi to Unicorn Empire, Errow, AJ, and Tara, before finally making my way back to my own table.
It seemed initially like we opened earlier than scheduled… The main reason I went back to my table was because, while chatting with Amber at Unicorn Empire, I noticed people with attendee badges wandering around. They weren’t VIP badges or anything, just regular weekend attendee badges, and even a Saturday-only badge. After I got back to my table, an overhead announcement warned that we’d be opening in ten minutes, so I was really confused.
I guess someone wasn’t badge checking carefully enough?
I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case — the label on the badges indicating what membership type a person was wasn’t very clear. Identification was most obvious in the kind of image on the badge, rather than the words on the badge, which would require badge-checkers to memorize what image is associated with what member type, rather than just reading the badge. Staff and exhibitors had a red alien picture on their badge, but the actual words “staff” and “exhibitor” were in tiny text. Attendee badges were actually physically smaller than staff/exhibit badges, so that was an indicator as well, but still, the labeling shouldn’t have been so tiny.
Right before we officially opened, Hannako came by and gave me these super cute fanmade swim anime buttons she got while in Japan. ; A ; We’d only run into each other a few times and only very briefly at previous cons, so I thought it was super sweet of her. ;__;
Traffic after we opened at 10am was all right, and it got to be fairly heavy around noon and the early afternoon, but none of it was “high quality” traffic. Most people were making their way through the aisles at a normal walking pace, with little more than a cursory glance at most tables. Very few people stopped to browse or chat. My first sale came a full hour after opening, and the rest were very scattered throughout the day with long stretches in between. I was definitely getting a strong ECCC vibe from the crowd, which, while completely expected, was still sort of disappointing and discouraging.
Something interesting though… One of the things I wish Sakura-Con would do is reintroduce single-day passes, and one of the things I wish ECCC would do is reserve a number of single-day or weekend passes for sale at the door (so the entire show isn’t completely sold out five months in advance).
This is because I think it’d be beneficial to vendors if more these cons made it easier for more casual fans to attend, since many of the more “hardcore” fans have already seen specific vendors dozens of times across dozens of shows and we’ve already sold to them. Single-day passes are less of a commitment, and having some passes available at the door allows curious passersby to attend the convention without planning for it several months out.
That was my “oversaturation” theory, but I think RCCC attracted a lot of that casual crowd…without the desired results. There were a lot of families and first time con-goers at RCCC, but interest in browsing and buying remained very, very low.
I chatted on and off with my table neighbour Tom, who apparently also went to SCAD, graduating last year, and who’s also a friend of Grace Allison’s, who I had a few classes with. Tom had a friend who stopped by a few times to hang out who was also a SCAD grad (’07, so before my time). I dunno why I’m always surprised to run into SCAD people at cons, but I am! It was cool to talk about old classes and professors with them. Grace was also at the show, but I never got a chance to find or stop by her table.
There were a lot of kids under ten at the show making amusing comments about my work (multiple little girls were drawn to my Loki/Elsa piece, but couldn’t identify Loki, so they’d point and say “look! it’s Elsa and some guy!“), but honestly I’m never quite sure how to respond to kids that young, especially if they show up at my table unsupervised… x_x Despite enjoying a lot of children’s media and occasionally drawing in a style that might be perceived as being “for kids,” none of my work is really made with children in mind, and I get really awkward when faced with them, haha…
Here and there, a few attendees recognized me from Kumoricon or KuroNekoCon or Sakura-Con, which was really nice. As always, I’m most comfortable with and have the most in common with the anime crowd, so it really cheers me up when “my people” come and stop by, even just to say hi and stuff. ;__;
The afternoon wore on a long time because it was so difficult to engage the general crowd. I actually drew a lot on Saturday, but was still frequently bored and couldn’t concentrate well. It was frustrating because I more or less of expected it to be that slow, but still hadn’t come prepared with some kind of project to occupy myself with at the table. I actually ended up packing up at my table ten minutes prior to closing because things were so slow, and I basically never pack up early?
The show floor closed at 7pm, and my initial plan was to beeline to the Denny’s a few blocks over and stuff my face. Laura and Stasia had fed off random con concessions throughout the day though, and I ended up going along with Errow, AJ, and Tara to meet up with Molly (Jakface), Anne (of Devoto), and their friend at a Thai noodle place.
Getting to dinner was kind of an adventure. We walked to the Doubletree where Errow & etc were staying to get the car. The restaurant was only supposed to be two miles away, but something about Portland and one way streets meant that when we missed one turn, we had to circle around for another five miles or something before we could get back to where we wanted to be? We passed a really cool food truck village or something while we were off track though? Portland seems to have a lot of neat food places and trinkety local shops. It would be really nice to visit outside of a convention sometime.
Dinner itself was nice once we got there though. It was a larger group than I was used to having and sitting at a long table meant that not everyone could easily converse with everyone else, but it was still good company. It seemed like pretty much everyone had a bum day. I was so hungry I ordered two entrees and then finished half of AJ’s meal too. <_<
We bailed around 9pm and Errow dropped me off back at my hotel, where I ran numbers for the day.
Saturday’s total ended up being one of my lowest single-day totals so far this year — I only made less at both days of DragonFlight, Friday at Sakura-Con, and Sunday at MomoCon (though I left several hours early that day at Momo). That’s pretty alarming for the “main” day of a convention that had ~18,000 attendees last year, so probably 20k+ attendees this year.
Is the comic con crowd really that divergent from what typically makes up my audience? Even on my shortest day (4 hours of selling) at Kumoricon, Monday, Labour Day, where the attendance was less than a third of RCCC’s, I did better. Interestingly though, my RCCC Saturday total was still higher than my total both Friday and Saturday at ECCC last year, and ECCC’s attendance eclipses RCCC’s.
I keep giving comic cons another go, and another go, and another go, but maybe I should really stop…? I keep thinking that there’s something I can do better, something about my table, my presentation, my stuff that I could change to do better, but if my audience isn’t there, then no amount of repeating these shows is going to change that?
We closed the windows Saturday night, but the TARDIS still woke me up Sunday morning, and I ended up heading out pretty early to find that Starbucks. It wasn’t far, and it was nice and empty at 8am too. It was grossly warm in Portland all weekend, but I got a sandwich and my first ~pumpkin spice latte~ of the season anyway and sat in the Starbucks drawing for about an hour before finally making my way over to the convention center. It was a peaceful way to start the morning.
I made a long, slow circuit around the Exhibits Hall in the hour before show time. I did finally find Wendi’s table, but neither she nor her booth partner were there yet. Most con vets reported having a very slow Saturday, though there also seemed to be a lot of vendors new to tabling or conventions in general, including Julia Krase and Robert Ryan.
RCCC is a great opportunity for Portland locals to get their feet wet in the convention scene, but even so, I think $200 AA tables for a show that’s perhaps grown too big too fast is a bit steep, even if there are no travel or lodging expenses… I’m not really sure how well the newcomers did since they didn’t have anything to compare against, but if veterans seemed to be doing poorly across the board, regardless of style or genre or type of goods, then it was probably a discouraging show financially for everyone else too.
Right before we opened for the day, I walked with Amber to the exhibitors’ registration to pick up forms for next year. Like ECCC, RCCC allows all exhibitors to sign up for the next year’s show while at the con, guaranteeing spaces for returning vendors. I was really iffy about it Sunday morning, but I grabbed a form anyway.
Sunday felt a little busier than Saturday.
Traffic flow was about the same, but it felt like I was making a few more sales? One very kind person tipped very generously after buying and enjoying the minicomic version of Sunflowers and Rainbows, but otherwise there wasn’t much that was notable about the day…
It was still a very slow day, and I spent a lot of time at the table doodling to entertain myself. Gradually, I was able to focus better on drawing, which resulted in less preoccupation with the con being slow and an improved mood. At the end of the day, based on the vague feeling of having done better Sunday than Saturday, I decided I’d go ahead and buy my space for next year.
Financially, Rose City Comic Con wasn’t a very good show for me.
Despite feeling that things were a little busier, my total for Sunday was exactly the same as they were for Saturday (off by $4), and altogether, I made about as much over the weekend at RCCC as I did in one day at ChibiChibiCon, which probably had fewer than 500 attendees. Commission interest over the weekend was extremely low (12%), and there just… wasn’t a lot of desire to engage from a vast majority of the crowd. Few people looked at the table for more than a few seconds, and it didn’t seem to really matter what incentives vendors provided for them to stop. (Tom had candy at his table all weekend, but kids would just grab and go, and their parents were almost always most interested in just moving on as well.)
RCCC’s attendees were mostly families with young children. There were a lot of first-time con-goers who seemed mostly interested in checking out the general feel of a convention, but not very interested in shopping or buying. I think many of the points in this article about the changing face of comic conventions are directly applicable here. People aren’t coming to comic cons for comics anymore, but it’s maybe notable that even I, without significant comic work and dealing primarily in prints, mishmash, and on-site commissions, wasn’t able to hold the crowd’s interest.
There were people in crowd at RCCC that enjoyed and cared about my work, and as always, it was great being able to talk to them even if they didn’t ultimately buy anything — but those people seemed few and far between.
The vastness of the Exhibits Hall probably didn’t help either, honestly. The seasoned con-goer is accustomed to wandering down dozens of aisles of artists and dealers, but the newcomer? The newcomer dragging around an impatient five-year old? Nah. They make it down one aisle, get bored, and leave to find something else to do. They might have spent more on concessions than on art.
Socially, Rose City Comic Con was pretty nice. The show’s hours are reasonable and allowed for plenty of time after hours to hang out with fellow artists, though here, again, the vastness of the Exhibits Hall made it difficult to connect at times. Most of my friends were situated pretty far away from me, and while it was nice shooting the breeze with my immediate neighbours, there was still something lonely about most of the time I spent at the table with not much to do. Most of that is probably just my own awkwardness though.
But Portland’s a cool town — it would have been nice to explore a bit more. Maybe next year, I’ll head down a few days ahead of the show just to check out the city. Portland is home to a lot of artists and has a strong independent, self-made culture. Even if the attendees at RCCC aren’t there to support or buy from artists, we artists can be there to support and buy from other artists.
I keep thinking that I should just give up on comic cons. Sales aren’t the only thing to gain from conventions, but if even basic interest isn’t there, then it’s probably time to consider other options. There are so many conventions these days that it’s getting more and more important to pick and choose wisely. I’ve stretched myself pretty thin this year, and there are always new shows to check out, so I shouldn’t cling too much to the ones that obviously aren’t working out.
But I’m already signed up for both ECCC and RCCC next year, so I guess for now, I’ll keep trying my best.