Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Convention Recap: Ohayocon 2014

I'd hoped to write about my experiences with Ohayocon sooner but I was having trouble separating out my personal experiences from the important take-aways.

Being from the south, I was out of my element in Ohio. I'm not a fan of the northern food or cold.


When Heidi and I had applied for Ohayocon, the weather was still warm, and winter seemed far away.  We applied for a shared table thinking it would increase our chances, and I emailed the people in charge of panels our list of panels we're qualified to present.  We hadn't even attended Nekocon at that point, and hadn't shared a con table since MoCCA-fest. As the con approached, I think both of us had some misgivings that we probably should have discussed, but both of us stifled those thoughts as being counter productive.

One of the misgivings that both of us privately mulled was the fact that when we share tablespace, our sales drop dramatically. We discussed this problem after Nekocon, when we first noticed how drastic the drop was, but decided to pursue Ohayocon as Rascals, Rogues, and Dames (our group studio name) anyway.   When Heidi told me she'd be bringing her sister along to act as an assistant, I had some concerns, but hoped I was just over worrying.  Another major concern arose when Ohayocon sent out emails saying that artists needed to sign a contract that would be included in a later email, but never sent those emails, and did not respond to Heidi's email inquiring about that contract email.  Poor response from conventions is starting to become an alarming trend, and perhaps we should heed this warning and back out from cons that can't be timely in the future.

One lesson I DID take to heart after Nekocon was that I love my car entirely too much to risk wrecking it again due to overexertion while driving.  Having no experience driving in snow, and a bad experience driving at night, I opted to buy plane tickets from U.S. Airlines, thinking they were a steal at $180 roundtrip.

Ohayocon decided that the Artist Alley was to be fanart free this year, meaning artists could not sell fanart of any kind.  I think many artists were a bit disgruntled by this, since fanart is one of the big sellers in the Artist Alley of any anime con, but I used this as an opportunity to crank out some new original products .

In the weeks leading up to the con, there was a bit of noise in the convention community that Ohayocon wasn't necessarily diplomatic to all paying guests, and a few artists backed out of attending.  Because this information was second hand, Heidi and I opted to take it into consideration but not act on it.

Flying in to Columbus

My first real surprise for this convention was checking in at US Airlines.  For two bags, both under 50lbs each, they wanted $60 each way.  This meant I spent $120 flying my con supplies to and from Columbus.   For comparison, Delta is $50 for two bags both ways and Southwest allows you to check two bags free.  My second surprise came when I discovered, through no fault of my own, that my primary bank account had a hold on my debit card. I strongly recommend having a back-up account with another bank or possibly to carry cash if you feel safe at conventions.


I arrived in Columbus fairly late on Thursday night, cranky and exhausted, and was picked up by Heidi and Julie, Heidi's younger sister,  at the airport.    It was a tight fit with luggage, but we made it to our Ramada.



Check in Friday:

Friday morning we braved the cold and made the drive into Columbus to find breakfast and get settled into the Artist Alley.  I'd hoped for a tasty breakfast and some piping hot coffee (preferably a mocha) to start the day off strong, but ended up with somewhat regrettable diner pancakes that I picked at.  Not a great start.

On Friday, we were able to find parking in the convention center's covered parking garage, a boon because it was FREEZING outside.

Lugging our supply stuffed suitcases into the convention center was a bit of a challenge.  The hobby reeked of cigarette smoke, which caused issues for Heidi and Julie.  This was due to smokers huddling near the door for warmth, despite 20ft distance signs posted.  I suppose in weather like this, entrances need to be patrolled by convention center staff if attendees are to expect smoke free indoor air.   For me, the difficulty came from the crowd, who were oblivious enough to our struggles to handle the wayward baggage that many people almost got run over as they lounged in the walkways. We beelined for an Ohayocon Information Booth (a rather nifty feature) and inquired about the location of the Artist Alley, since Ohayocon hadn't released maps prior to the convention opening.

Finding the Artist Alley


Despite being prominently labeled an 'information booth', none of the three people behind it could actually tell us where the Artist Alley was, although they did point us in a direction. I say 'a direction' because it was the wrong one. I inquired about the possibility of them putting up signs to help direct attendees, and that was dismissed as they insisted the convention was easy to navigate. Uh. Sure.

Heidi, Julie, and myself asked several members of con staff, and eventually were led to the second floor, where the dealer's room was located. Still locked, the door attendee kept us company while trying to find someone who could actually take us to the Artist Alley.

Eventually we made our way to the strange little 3rd floor balcony that housed the Artist Alley. Perched on top of the Dealer's Room, you could see but not enter it from the Dealer's Floor. Instead, attendees had to leave the Dealer's Room and wander around for awhile before possibly chancing on the AA, since there were no signs, and none of the maps accurately reflected its location.

Heidi and myself got checked into the Artist Alley, which was a fairly simple procedure, and I asked one of the staff members to please point out our table on the map, since neither Heidi nor I were given any of the material (maps, coupons, guidebooks) that other attendees received. This is way too common at conventions- artists in the Artist Alley aren't even treated with the same respect that normal attendees get, and although we are paying not only for weekend passes, but tables, we're often dismissed by staff as being inconvenient when we request this material at artist check in.



Blurry, hasty shot of the Dealer's Room.  That balcony you see below the multicolor lights is where the Artist Alley is located.


The landing leading to the Dealer's Room was pretty empty.


One of the many information booths that just didn't have a clue.


The Artist Alley itself was much smaller than I had anticipated, and more like the Artist Alley of a smaller con than a con as large as Ohayocon.  The tables were beaten up, rickety wooden tables.



The Dealer's Room from the Artist Alley balcony.


Ah!  Here we are, Table 64!  This information would have been fabulous to have in the weeks prior to the con, when we were making our con announcements and trying to convince people to make the trek out to Ohayocon.  Not really sure what took the Artist Alley so long to figure out who would be located where.  By the way, I'm taking a photo of the Staff's copy of the map in the program because neither myself nor Heidi were given one.  This is somewhat common with anime conventions- the artists get none of the 'swag' that the other attendees receive, even if it's basic stuff like programs.

Setting Up

 I've been using a wire cube structure with moderate success since Mechacon 2013, although this was my first time using a wire structure with three people crammed behind the table.


Home sweet home for the weekend.



Since this was a shared table, Heidi and myself opted for our Space setup, slightly revamped.  While in Luling visiting family, my mom helped me whip up an overlay to help customers see the divide on our work.







A single set of wire cubes doesn't come with enough connectors for a setup like this, so I brought the connectors from my set.  Heidi bought zipties, which helped hold the banner backing together.





Readers of my blog may recognize this handpainted banner from Interventioncon 2012.

This setup took about an hour to complete, since we had to redo some things.  The connectors that came with Heidi's set weren't as sturdy as mine, so we needed to replace those, and that took some time.

Ready for Sales 

Setup took us awhile, and the Artist Alley actually opened while we were still setting up, so we had to field people looking at our stuff while trying to finish assembly.
 

Another new addition for this particular setup was our banners on the front of the table.  Even with this, people had a hard time realizing we were two separate artists selling very different work.

Friday's sales were customarily slow, although I did sell a few sketch commissions, and I managed to sell A LOT of the 3D $2 buttons.


A shot of the Dealer's Room.  Although the Artist Alley had a strict no fanart policy, the Dealer's Room did not.  The Artist Alley also had a policy about not paying disrupting music, apparently this did not apply to the Dealers, as the pop-up headshop below blared music the entire con.







We ended up leaving the Artist Alley two hours early since Heidi was starting to feel sickish.  I was a little disappointed, because although sales were slow for both of us, I was at least making money.  I kept this opinion to myself however, since I know from Mechacon that being sick at a convention is awful, especially if you don't have a room at the attached hotel.

 Saturday

Unfortunately I still had not had a good meal by this point in while Ohio. I strongly recommend artist's make it a priority to treat themselves with food they will enjoy and will give him or her energy to make it through the day.

The roads were icy and slushy on our drive to the convention, making a 10 minute drive take 40 minutes instead.

Heidi and I were concerned that the snow and the cold would deter fans from attending Ohayocon on Saturday, but when we arrived, the parking garage was completely full, and the overflow lot was filling up fast.  We hoped this was a sign of better sales.

Saturday sales were a lot brisker than Friday's, but by no means noteworthy.  Heidi wasn't feeling well, so her table-fu was fairly poor, and Julie familiar enough with this sort of frugal crowd to understand how to sell to them.  I ended up shilling for both of us, which was especially taxing given my eating habits and the cold.

Those of you who table alone know how hard it is to make it through a con day without a lunchbreak, and though I filled in for Heidi as much as I could on an empty stomach.  Later in the evening, I stole Heidi away so I could pick up some food.  Normally, I wouldn't have an issue navigating a convention alone to find food, but Ohayocon was such a disorganized warren that I feared I wouldn't be able to find the Artist Alley on my own.  Sales at the time were pretty slow, but by the time we'd stood in line for an hour and brought back food, some of my customers had returned expecting their commissions to be finished.   I apologized profusely between mouthfuls of Greek chicken noodle soup.

Julie was helpful to Heidi, but not much for myself. I think if artists are sharing a table have assistant's, they should hammer out the details of what is expected beforehand. Nothing as formal as a contract, but basic needs and compensation merit a conversation.  In the past, the assistants I paid to bring would help out others in my group with sales, and would bring back food or drinks for the entire group.  Although I usually don't ask for compensation from the other group members for food or hotel costs, I wouldn't find it unreasonable to chip in for someone else's assistant.  This is something you should discuss well beforehand with your table partner.










A shot of our table on Saturday.  Not much had changed.  Those little balls changed color, and I regret bringing them, because they were way too distracting for the customers.


Oh look!  The Christmas present ATC's I still need to mail out!  I'd kept them to use as ATC watercolor examples.  Usually watercolor commissions are a HUGE seller for me, but I only sold three the entire convention.  Maybe it was that super high price point of $20.



















Closing time


The Artist Alley closed at 7:30 on Saturday night,  which is really early compared to many anime conventions. Mechacon and Nekocon's Artist Alleys closed at 10:00 PM on Saturday night, Otakon's closed around 1 A.M. While I don't want to spend my entire night behind an Artist Alley table, it would have been nice to have the additional time. Unfortunately the staff seemed adamant about clearing the alley by 7:10, and even after the customers had left, were somewhat rude in shoo'ing artists out. If you wanted to make plans with other artists, you had to make them very shortly after the Alley closed.



  
Take Home Commissions from Saturday Night

As mentioned before, the Artist Alley closed at 7:30.  Although we had arranged eating plans with another group of artists, Heidi and I had difficulty finding parking and ended up eating elsewhere.  Saturday was an unusually early night- we returned to the hotel around 9:00.  This was fortunate for me, as I still had a lot of commissions to work on.







I was up til 2 on Saturday finishing up commissions which meant

Sunday Morning

Came awfully early.


Still no luck with food or parking.

Throughout the morning, Julie complained about feeling flu-ish as well, and Heidi was pretty much incapacitated behind the table for long stretches of time.  They took turns resting on the luggage.  Occasionally Julie would venture to Starbucks for tea for their weary throats.  I probably should've asked for a mocha, since caffeine makes the world go round, but I didn't want to impose.



Sunday sales were almost as brisk as Saturdays, with a lot of casual fans looking for unique convention souvenirs.  I sold a lot of sketches via word of mouth (my favorite!) as pleased customers egged their friends into buying commissions.





Breaking Down Sunday Afternoon


I took a lot longer to break down than Heidi since I have so many small items that need to be careful packed, but we ended up clearing out just in time.



Heidi opted to get the car while Julie and I guarded our things in the lobby.  

My plane left Columbus at 5:30 PM on Monday afternoon.

Afterwards, we hit up a little outdoor mall to check out their American Girl store, and I ended up at the Lego store, checking out the backs of the Lego TMNT boxes.  After that we went to Dick Blick, since neither Beavercreek nor Nashville have this artist Mecca.  Although it was still two hours early, Heidi opted to drop me off at the airport and head on home.

Mail In Commissions:



Price Break Down:

TRAVEL:
$185 to fly to Columbus
$120 both ways to check my bags

HOTEL:
$101 for my share of the hotel, but it was booked on my card, so I also covered the possibility of incidentals.

FOOD:

Probably around $70 for the trip, tops.

To be honest, I have a hard time calculating how much it cost for supplies, because I used a lot of things I already had materials for (like buttons for instance).

Biggest seller: 

My 75 cent stickers.  Sorta glad I had them, because those were sales I probably wouldn't've seen otherwise.

I made $95 all weekend on small impulse items like stickers and buttons, and about $200 on sketch commissions, meaning I definitely did not break even.

Pros

  • The awful weather did not deter fans from  attending the convention itself.
  • A lot of space behind the table 
  • The extremely linear layout meant that it was difficult for attendees circuiting the AA to miss your table.

Cons

  • Artist Alley did not allow for Thursday evening setup, unlike conventions such as Nekocon  and Anime Weekend Atlanta.  Thursday evening set up means that artists can take their time to find the best set up possible, with out attempting to juggle sales at the same time.
  • Artist Alley was on top of the Dealer's Room, but customers had to leave the Dealer's Room to reach the Artist Alley.  
  • Artist Alley was difficult to find and reach.
  • Staff was somewhat rude (with one shining exception of the gentleman guarding the unopened Dealer's Room).
  • Staff did not know where Artist Alley was at check in, and suggested we just search for it.  
  • There were no signs directing attendees on where to go.  Suggestions that they consider signs in the future were completely dismissed.
  • Staff never checked in with us, unlike at conventions such as Mechacon and Anime Weekend Atlanta.  On Saturday, a staff member made the rounds with a clipboard, looking for fanart, but did not address us or greet us, nor did he return greetings.
  • The parking situation was pretty dire for a convention that size.  There was no free parking available.
  • Heidi was sick the entire time, meaning her sales were poor and her spirits were low
  • Julie was not an ideal assistant, but anime cons can be very overwhelming for people new to them.
  • Dealers were allowed to sell fanart and fan made unlicensed products, but artists were not.  Our placement above the dealer's room meant we got their seconds, customer-wise.  Their money was already spent when they came.
  • Ohio
Overall, Ohayocon was definitely a bust for me.  Travel made costs pretty high, and sharing a table really limited sales.  Not eating properly meant I was off my game, and trying to help Heidi sell things while she was sick meant I was dividing my attention.  Julie and Heidi's low spirits were pretty taxing and sometimes scared away customers.  Heidi was sick at the table itself, and some customers may have shied away, leery of catching her con crud.  She did have hand sanitizer on the table itself, and kept her hands as clean as possible.

 Conventions like Nekocon and Ohayocon call to mind my promise that I'll stop doing anime conventions by the time I turn 30.  While I love seeing the pleasure my sketches give customers, I can't make enough money selling $5 sketches at out of state cons to warrant attending as many as I do. I really wish the Artist Alleys for Tennessee conventions responded to emails in a timely fashion, as I'd love to do more local cons. While conventions like Mechacon and Anime Weekend Atlanta may remain on my 'must attend' list for a long time, I have no problem striking Ohayocon from it with a flourish.

Fanart may not be a big seller for me, and I don't offer prints of ANY licensed product, but I don't like it when artist alleys ban it altogether. Fanart is what brings the FANS in, and gives the AA a fighting chance against a dealer's room full of mass produced product and dubious bootlegs. Customers expect us to offer prices comparable for what they'd pay in the Dealer's Room, not realizing that we don't have access to the numbers that those sellers have, and that every loss cuts us deeper.

The problems I face tabling at conventions like Ohayocon aren't unique to myself and Heidi, many other artists face the same issues. It's hard to sell product in an age where customers are very much used to pirating shows they claim to love. This sort of behavior explains why they have no problem reading everything offered on the table, asking detailed questions, and then not buying a thing. I wonder sometimes if attendees assume that we're paid to be there, like the show guests. The answer to this, if there is any doubt in any member of my audience's mind, is no. Most of us are not comped. Most of us are not guests. We are paying attendees who have to buy pre-reg badges just to get a table, and then pay the table costs. We are paying more than even the highest level of badge perks, and are often treated like a nuisance by the staff.  More conventions than I care to name send staff members around with clipboards, quietly making tickmarks, counting how much fanart we display without bothering to talk to us or even return a pleasant 'hi'.  I know you guys can imagine how this feels.

On my Tumblr, I brought up the oft asked question 'if it's so bad, why do you do it', and the answer is 'it shouldn't be this bad'. Anime cons shouldn't be this bad. I honestly don't know if they were ever better, but other artists who've done this gig for years say they were. People were more polite. Willing to spend more in the artist alley. Staff were polite, concerned about making sure we were ok, artists were treated with the same consideration as any other paying attendee, not less. I attend anime cons while I work on my major comic, because I love interacting with people and I love drawing for others. I'm trying to generate an audience and I'm trying to meet new friends. I think a lot of us are in the Alley for this reason.  I don't do anime cons INSTEAD of indie cons (I do them as well), or INSTEAD of working on original projects (always working on Kara or on freelance or writing this blog).  I do anime cons because it gives me an opportunity to be a quick draw, which is something indie cons don't really do.

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