The Con Funk, Heroescon vs. Otakon

Before coming to SCAD, my experience with cons was limited to just being a bystander.  I'd never held down an artist alley table, and to be honest, my time spent IN the artist alley was walking to and from the cosplay masquerade at Mechacon.  It wasn't that I wasn't interested in the art, or in the artists, I was just scared of them.  I assumed that they'd be swamped with requests and commissions, constantly busy, too busy to .chat with an aspiring artist like me.

Having tabled at two very different cons, Heroescon and Otakon, has really opened my eyes to what goes on behind the AA table.  Every time I table, I learn a great deal, both about the demographic of the con, what sells and what doesn't, and how to better promote myself as an artist.

My first artist alley table was at Heroescon 2011, right after the Spring semester ended.  I was coming straight off of finals, and had very little time to pull anything together.  Heidi was kind enough to help me pull a few books together- a printing of a children's book, The Bedtime Princess, a garage print of Ahoy, a children's comic, and an ashcan full of sketches and minis.  I had the business cards that lived in my purse (about ten), my Copic markers, some Bristol, and my pencils.  It's safe to say I was woefully unprepared, especially considering everyone around me had beautiful books, prints, bookmarks, and banners.

My face is super derpy here, but this is a pretty good example of what I had for Heroescon.  Not a whole lot.  The prices did a bit of a jig by the time Otakon rolled around.  The banners behind me are Heidi's and Sarah B's.

Heroescon is a mainstream con, and I think it's safe to say my style is very much not mainstream.  I was sharing a table with Heidi, and had agreed to go as a way of getting my feet wet.  Sales were extremely slow the first day, but picked up by Saturday.  I offered $5 sketch commissions, and got a surprising number of takers, especially from families.  Because the dealer's room shared space with the artist alley, there was a lot of guest circulation, but unfortunately, I was trying to appeal to the wrong demographic with the wrong merchandise.  I feel like Heroescon was good for networking, as there were a lot of established artists there, and in retrospect, I think I would do Heroescon again, especially since it was in Charlotte, NC (I have friends who live in Charlotte), and the table itself was fairly cheap.

During my downtime at Heroescon, I did a lot of sketching and took a lot of notes, resolving that Otakon would be a better con for me.  I created a banner, purchased a button machine and produced buttons, and had some charms made at Printsess.  I felt like I was prepared.  Again, I shared a table, this time with Emily Kluwin, and brought along a helper monkey for when things got busy.

The problem with Otakon is that there are A LOT of people.  And the Dealer's Room is HUGE, and right next to the Artist Alley, and selling (for the most part) licensed merchandise.  The artist alley is also huge.  And full of fan art.  And I swore when I decided I was going to go to Otakon that I'd sell original stuff, even if it broke my wallet.

Sorry you can't see my banner better.  By the end of the con, we had signs ALL ALONG the front of our booth, plus two con monkeys yelling out our deals, holding up signs.

Otakon broke my wallet.

Saleswise, I did better than I did at Heroescon.  We really pushed my bacon charms, my heart/life pins.  I got a couple nibbles for $5 sketches, but far fewer than the number of nibbles at Heroescon.  You really have to grab the attention of Otakon guests, and you have to KEEP their attention, which is hard when your tablemates are ALSO vying for their money, and their friends are trying to drag them away, and they only have ten bucks left in their wallets.

What I brought:

Examples of my finished color work, in case anyone wanted to pre-order a commission.  I got a lot of compliments on the little Yotsuba, but no offers.
A bunch of home pressed buttons.  There's a lot more variety than this, I just didnt feel like lining up all the chiyogami buttons I made.  I wanted a 1.50 each or 4 for $5.  I was constantly told they were too expensive.
Charms I ordered from Printsess.  I paid about 150$ for 100, as they're 1.5" charms.  I sold them with cellphone lanyards for 3.00 or 1 of each for like 12 (there's five designs).  I REALLY had to push the charms, but I just about sold out of the bacon.
The children's book (leftovers from Heroes)
The children's comic (also left over from Heroescon)
The artbook (oh hey, ALSO left over from Heroescon.  I plan on replacing it before MoCCA)
And bookmarks
 All books were being sold for 5$ each, regardless of printing price per unit (it ranged from two bucks to three bucks per unit).

 Here's a general rundown of my impression for both cons:

Mainstream superhero con located in Charlotte, NC

A lot of adult males, a lot of families
300$ for a whole table, comes with two badges
Well organized
The dealer's room is in the artist alley, so there is a lot of circulation
The dealer's area is pretty small compared to the artist alley
A lot of well established artists there
$5 sketches sold well, people are looking to spend their money on art and commissions
A lot of people had banners
Its a good con for networking, people are friendly
I made about 75$, more than I thought I would

Anime convention
Baltimore, Maryland
Mostly female demographic
Ages ranged from 9-late 20's
Mostly about the cosplay, panels, and dealer's room
Really had to push to sell things
Most people ran out of money really early in the con
There was a lot of copycat fanart, unlicensed merchandise
 I made about 120$, which is bad considering the train tickets were twice that for JUST ONE TICKET.




  1. This is a very good review. You're very objective with comparing them, and you are 100 times more observant than I am, meaning you notice the why things happen. This is a review I'd read even if I wasn't your friend.

    Hopefully now someone will tell you where you belong and where you can get the big bucks!

  2. This IS a nice review. Even though I live on the West Coast, I've contemplated going to Otakon now and again (I haven't been). I'll keep your details in mind for future reference though.

    But I can say, is PLEASE do not lower your prices. They're low enough already, TOO low, in my opinion. I know artists undervalue themselves, myself included, and I certainly know the pressure you can feel if people are saying your prices are too high. I'm curious though, if people said the same thing at HeroesCon?

    In my experience (I'm no expert~!! Especially since I've only shown at cons on the West Coast), anime con goers are super crazy cheap--and this isn't a bad thing, it's just (VERY generally speaking) because they're young. There are ways around that, though. :) Like say with your buttons, instead of selling them individually, you can think of putting them in a little package (be sure the package is branded for you) and sell them in sets. Say 3 or 4 for 5$ or so. Same with your charms. Bundle them in a package. This probably doesn't seem like a lot, but to a consumer it seems a lot like you're offering something of "higher value" even though all you're doing is putting them in a little plastic baggy. :)

    If you want to be a huge seller, I don't think there's a way around SOME fanart, which is unfortunate, but at the very least, having one or two pieces (a MINORITY of fanart) to sell will at least attract people to your original stuff.

    Thankfully, this doesn't seem to be the case with comic cons, where attendees are generally older (with more money to spend).

    But each con you go to does help so please don't get discouraged~!!!! :D Keep fighting the good fight. You'll figure things out. I'm cheering for you.

    (and goodness gracious, raise the prices on your sketches~!!! You're worth so much more than that~!! :D ).

  3. Becca
    Many of these cons are VERY poorly organized and some of them have the artist tables where no one finds them. Heidi's early artwork sold much better than her best artwork does now at these things.

  4. I'm sorry I deleted my Tumblr, if only for my review of Otakon.
    Really, though, apart from the artist alley, it was one of the most disappointing cons I've been to. Though my interest in anime is waning, I was entirely disappointed in the panels, the guests, and even the dealers room. (The few series I DID look for in the dealers room were either scarce or not to be found. I left thinking if it was something important to me I'd just buy it on the internet anyway, and that in the long run, I would rather spend the money in the artist alley.) I did get a TON of commissions at Otakon. It's probably what I spent the bulk of my money on, and I'm really pleased with each and every one of them!

    I find myself shying away from all anime cons, largely because of the crowds attending and the lack of interesting programming. Cons that go beyond the sphere of anime, like Megacon and Dragon*Con, are much more fun. (Then again, Dragon*Con is still the best con I've been to, and I shall continue to attend it, even if that's the only con I go to.)


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