Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Nekocon Recap

This year's Fall convention season was my busiest yet.  I attended 4 cons in 4 months- Mechacon (August), SPX (September) Anime Weekend Atlanta (late September) and Nekocon (early November).  During that period of time, I also completed freelance work, generated over sixty mini watercolors, and completed both a new chapter of 7" Kara as well as a mini comic for the Hana Doki Kira shoujo anthology (the Kickstarter is currently ongoing!)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nekocon like I was, it's a three day anime convention in Hampton Roads, Virginia.  What originally attracted me to the con was the fact that Celesse (Samantha Whitten-shop, DeviantArt, webcomic) an artist I've admired for years, is the official convention artist.  I figured any convention that was good for her had to have some potential, a sentiment echoed by every artist I talked to about the convention.  Nekocon is a juried artist alley, meaning I had to submit a portfolio.  Both Heidi and myself applied, and since I was accepted, I offered to share my table with her.

In an effort to save money after SPX, I decided that the rest of the conventions I attended would be 'driving cons'.  I'm not much of a driver to be honest, I got my license at 22 , and do most of my driving during daylight hours, so Heidi and myself decided to split the drive as much as possible.  I would drive up to Beavercreek, Ohio on Tuesday to pick her up, spend the night in Beavercreek, and we'd leave early on Wednesday.  We'd make the seven hour drive to Winchester, Virginia, where our friend and fellow comic artist Chris Paulsen lives, and then drive the remaining three hours to Hampton Roads on Thursday morning, hopefully arriving in time to pick up our badges and set up in the Artist Alley.  We decided to take my new Jetta, since it gets amazing gas mileage (it's a TDI, meaning it takes diesel) and is larger than Heidi's Mazda hatchback.  We agreed that she'd do the majority of the driving, since she makes for an anxious backseat driver, and I'm already a rather nervous frontseat driver.

Driving times:
Nashville to Beavercreek- 5 hours, 45 minutes
Beavercreek to Winchester- 7 hours
Winchester to Hampton Roads- 3 hours

Unfortunately for me, I had insomnia all of Monday night, which meant I made the five some odd hour drive to Beavercreek running on empty.  I ended up pulling over at a rest stop for a thirty minute nap, which unfortunately cost me an extra hour (isn't that how it goes?). 

The drive to Winchester was mostly uneventful, and we enjoyed Chris's hospitality so much that we tried to convince him to be our con assistant for Nekocon.  Alas, he had responsibilities of his own to pursue.

Thursday Night- Arrive in Hampton Roads and Check into Artist Alley

We arrived in Hampton Roads around six and decided to grab a bite to eat before Thursday night registration opened at 7.  When we arrived, we were some of the first artists there, and con staff were having major technical difficulties with their Mac and QR reader setup.  We waited for about thirty minutes before they decided to open up another lane in regular Registration just for artists.  After that, registration was fast, and Heidi and I were able to begin setting up.

Map of the Artist Alley




One of my major quibbles with Nekocon was the fact that staff admitted that they usually did not have a seating arrangement for the Artist Alley figured out until the Monday before the con.  This is the only convention I've ever tabled at that had a problem organizing the Artist Alley in a timely manner.  I found this particularly frustrating because I, like many many artists, like to notify my friends and fans about my Artist Alley location as early as possible.

For the past three conventions, Heidi and myself have found ourselves consistently placed in the back corner of the convention floor.  For some conventions, this placement isn't really detrimental (Anime Weekend Atlanta), but at SPX and Nekocon, it meant a major loss of sales.  I'm not sure if much can be done about such placement, particularly when it's only realized late in the game (such as with Nekocon), but in the future I may request a table swap if it's possible.

The Artist Alley Floor and Table Setup











The Artist Alley for Nekocon is in a large, unfinished warehouse-type room with cement floors, cement walls, and exposed vents.  Towards the back of the room was a small outlet for food vending.  We shared this room with the table top gaming portion of the convention.

Heidi and I agreed upon a candy themed table (much like at MoCCA), but Nekocon has a strict 'no free candy' policy, so unfortunately we were not able to have our candy bowl out for guests.  The change from individual tables to a shared table meant a lot of rethinking.  Right after SPX, I ordered a 3'x2' banner from BuildASign, and thought it'd be a good idea for Nekocon.  I've been burnt in the past with con-mates not giving me an opportunity to order a banner in time for a convention, so I made sure to let Heidi in on the deal early enough that she had one made as well.  Knowing BuildASigns dubious quality, I made sure my sign was simple and readable.

Other changes instituted for Nekocon included an easel style portfolio to display my mini-watercolors (since I'd be losing the wire mesh cubes), a smaller corkboard to display buttons, and example sketches hung from a magnetic wire. I'd run out of regular business cards shortly before Nekocon, so I stamped up some doilies with my Nattosoup stamp.

Friday

Artist Alley Hours: 12:00P.M.-10:00P.M.
Actual Time Spent in Alley: 12:00P.M.-6:00P.M.

Shots of the Artist Alley:





Commissions Finished:



 Friday at Nekocon was one of the slowest convention days I've experienced since Interventioncon year before last.  Fridays at conventions are generally slow, particularly at conventions held during the school year, but business usually picks up around 4:00P.M., when the teenagers are out of class.  While Fridays are never a high sales day for me (I tend to attract kids and college-aged people), I usually sell quite a few impulse items.  On this particular Friday, I sold a total of $22 in merchandise, including two $5 sketches.  The convention itself was so slow that I ended up inking the sketches gratis, to help pass the time.

Friday wasn't a total bust.  Slow sales meant we got to meet other artists.  One of these artists was a longtime inspiration for me, Maximo Lorenzo.

I've mentioned before that when I was a teen, I wanted to move to Japan and become a mangaka.  A big part of this desire stemmed from the fact that because I'd never seen anything like manga published by an American company and made by American artists, I'd assumed the only market for me lay in Japan.  Tokyopop's Rising Stars of Manga contest, regardless of it's reputation, showed me that there were other artists like myself who were interested in making the same sort of comics I was interested in making.  Although my little Waldenbooks didn't always have the latest RSOM anthology, I eagerly devoured those available, and this was where I first saw Maximo's work.  The first work of his I read was his entry for RSOM, "Hellbender", but I really remembered him for his work on "Bombos VS Everything".  Years later, reading Tekken Kinkreet, I was struck by the (positive) similarities in feel, and my fondness for TK was probably nurtured by my prior enjoyment of Bombos.  He's currently working on the webcomic One Hit Knock Out, which I recommend you guys check out.

I knew he was attending Nekocon early on, from checking the conventions website, but I figured I wouldn't have the courage to stop by and say hi.  In the past, I've been burnt by talking to artists I admired at conventions, particularly AFTER (yep) they found out I was also a comic artist.  Fortunately for me, Maximo is a super chill guy, and was taking advantage of slow sales to go around and talk to other artists.  I know I should probably follow this lead and shake off snubbings past for future cons.


On Friday, he dooded up Heidi and I with our wigs and catears.


And while I was hanging out with him on Saturday evening, he drew me as I did commissions and made funny faces.


So of course, I had to return with a drawing of Bombos.

On Friday, several of us (Julie Wright and Amanda Gomes of Lesser Key Studios, Maximo, Heidi, and myself) left the convention early for dinner and chitchatting.

Saturday

Artist Alley Hours- 10:00A.M.-10:00 P.M.
Actual hours spent at con: 10:00A.M-10:00 P.M.
Room was slow, left for dinner around 4:00P.M., returned at 5:30P.M.
Dealer's room closed at 5:00P.M

Saturday's sales were somewhat better than Friday's.  I filled a few commissions and sold a few minor items, but Heidi felt like her sales were just awful.  Part of this problem is that, despite our efforts to differentiate ourselves as individual artists, when we share a table customers assume we are one person, and sales suffer.  We ended up leaving to grab some lunch around 4:00 (as the 'food' options available in the NekoCafe were abysmal, on par with elementary school food), and returned around 5:30.  Since the table adjacent to us had been vacant all weekend, Heidi decided to move over.  Re-energized by the additional space as well as by some tasty dinner, we both saw a spike in sales.  For me, many of these were repeat customers with friends, pleased with the quality of their prior inked sketches and looking for more.  As usual with me and commissions, I ended up taking on more than I could really handle for less than I am really worth, trying to make up costs for Friday and Saturday morning.  I spent the rest of my evening trying to complete commissions.

Commissions Filled:








Saturday Evening:


 

Sunday

Artist Alley Hours: 10:00A.M.-4:00 P.M.
Hours Spent at Con: 10:30A.M.-5:00P.M.

Much of Sunday was spent filling Saturday's commissions, babysitting Heidi's table while she explored the Artist Alley, and trying to make sales.  This is a difficult combination that I prefer not to attempt without an assistant of sorts, as I can't do all three properly at the same time.  The majority of my focus went to filling commissions. 

Commissions taken Saturday but filled Sunday:




 Splitting up the table meant I could display more watercolor pieces openly, inspired a few watercolor commissions.  Unfortunately, since I was busy filling commissions taken on Saturday, I could not afford to offer anything but mail-in commissions on Sunday.  Also unfortunately for me, when placing commissions, many customers will give me a late pick up time, and then arrive much earlier expecting their commission to be ready.  This meant I had to request many customers to switch their pickup to 'mail in', which I have always comped.  Doing the math this weekend, I realize that on a $5 sketch. I'm only making about a $1.67 total.  Mailing the sketch itself costs about $3.  From now on, I intend to hold customers to their pick up times, and charge for mail ins.

 

Mail in Commissions:









Convention Aftermath

Heidi and myself left Nekocon around 5:00P.M., grabbing dinner with Maximo at a Thai restaurant near Newport News.  We ended up leaving Newport News around 7:00P.M..  The intention was to drive straight to Winchester for the night, with Heidi doing the bulk of the driving as per our prior arrangement.  She began to get the jitters around 8:00P.M., and we switched off, although I had some private misgivings about my night-driving skills.

I should note that my vision is pretty crummy, and my nightvision far worse.  Every single light starbursts to the point where I have a lot of difficulty driving at night.  I've known this, and Heidi knows this, hence our usual driving arrangement.  My glasses don't do much to remedy this situation.  I figured I could make the remaining two hour drive without incident, and decided that if I got too sleepy, I'd find a rest stop and wake her up.

About an hour away from Winchester, in the middle of nowhere, I passed at least a half dozen deer carcasses and began to feel a bit anxious.  The interstate was under repair, and we'd been funnelled onto a highway that constantly shifted between 55MPH and 45MPH.  It was dead quiet.  My GPS notified me of an upcoming lefthand turn back onto the interstate about 100feet early, and it was so dark outside that I trusted it.  I used an unmarked turn lane to turn into oncoming traffic (I'd assumed that because the highway was also under construction, and dotted with construction cones, the large overhead sign had been removed).  While making the turn, I managed to hit a small road sign that had been obstructed by my actual GPS in my field of view, and hadn't really been illuminated by my rather dim Jetta headlights.  A burst of adrenaline inspired me to get out of the road itself, and to pull into the median.  I had no idea what had happened, and thought I'd hit a deer at first while turning onto the interstate.

Although freaked out, I was ok, and Heidi woke up with a jolt.  My windshield was completely shattered but intact.  We called the cops, and were soon joined by one of the nicest policemen I've had the pleasure of meeting, who stayed with us until we arranged for a tow truck (which took a ridiculously long time), called my insurance company, and Chris arrived to pick us up.  We waited for the tow truck at a McDonalds one exit down the road, and my car was eventually towed to a certified VW repair shop in Chantilly, VA, about an hour outside of Winchester.


While at Chris's, I managed to knock a few commissions out, and discovered to my great dismay that my laptop screen shattered during the crash.  I've been working to get my anxiety issues under control, and have found that dealing with one problem to completion really helps.  I know that laptop screens can be replaced, and that Joseph is capable of doing so, so I decided to worry about my laptop after returning to Nashville.  Chris was kind enough to let us stay with him until my car was repaired on Thursday.  We stayed one more night in order to get a fresh, early start on Friday, and made the trek to Ohio to drop Heidi off.

Originally Joseph was going to fly to Dayton and make the remainder of my drive with me, but due to a booking error, his flight was set to arrive Saturday rather than Friday.  I decided to attempt the five hour drive alone, and despite clenched teeth and white knuckles, made it back around 11.

Overall Thoughts:

 Nekocon was a very expensive convention for me in many ways.  I spent about $200 in gas, put at least 30 driving hours on my car, paid for two nights in a motel in Ohio (one of which I didn't even use, but it was too late at that point to cancel), and lost a lot of working time.  The food available at the convention itself made my stomach turn, so I lost time at my table in order to buy food off premises.  Sales were slow and I managed to dig myself a hole by over delivering on what was promised.

The Artist Alley was consistently kept so cold that my arthritis was acting up, inhibiting my ability to draw.  Despite wearing a stockings, boots, a sweater, and a jacket, I was still so cold that my nose was running, my teeth chattering, and my hands were shaking badly.  Part of this is due to the fact that we were directly under a vent.  When Heidi went to chat with staff about the situation, she was met with condescension and treated like a child.  When customers complained to me about how cold the AA was, I told them to take it up with staff, as they treated our complaints with disregard.  In my sad experience, at many conventions, the staff are far more willing to listen to regular guests than to those tabling within the Artist Alley.

It has become a regular occurrence for me to sell about $500 worth of merchandise and commissions at anime conventions, but I doubt I broke $300 at Nekocon.  Combined with the costs of hotel, food, and travel, Nekocon was a loss for me.  I seriously doubt I'll be attending Nekocon again, as I cannot afford to attend conventions where I can't make back the majority of my costs.

Convention Grade: C-