Thursday, May 01, 2014

MoCCA-Fest 2014 Convention Recap

Recently I ran a three convention marathon, starting with MoCCA-Fest in New York and ending with MTAC in Nashville.  A marathon like that required a lot of time and attention- finishing my book, preparing stocks, doing new watercolors, travelling, and tabling, so it's taken me longer than I would have liked to get around to writing my con reviews.

This is my third year tabling at MoCCA-fest, and my second year sharing a table with Eric Lide.  This year, due to raising table costs ($400 for a 6' table), it was split three ways between Eric, myself, and Jon Griffiths.  I'd never split a table three ways before, and rather than opting to do time shares of the table, all three of us occupied the space the entire con.

Prior MoCCA-fest Con Recaps

Before the Con

MoCCA has always been an expensive convention for me, when I factor in travel, hotel, and food, so I've always taken it pretty seriously.  While I'm not the sort of person to slack when it comes to con prep, I took my MoCCA-prep especially seriously.  I had a lot riding on this con- it was going to be the debut of my first perfect-bound book, and I wanted to give Kara a proper send off.  This trip was also supposed to be a bit of a vacation for me, as I was leaving Nashville early and returning late, spending more time than usual up north.  Of course, with SPACE right on MoCCA's heels, this made prep for SPACE tricky, but I thought I'd be able to handle it.

What I brought

  • 20 copies of 7" Kara, volume 1, wrapped in tissue paper to prevent damage during flight, and packed in 3 separate cardboard boxes, also to prevent damage during flight
  • My 'con box', which includes materials for sketch commissions and a variety of mini comics.  These mini comics were part of a rummage box that also included sale charms and stickers, $2 for one item or $3 for two items
  • A small piece of cloth to use as a tablecloth.  Although I usually shy away from using prints, I resorted to this piece because the correct size.
  • A 2'x3' Nattosoup banner 
  • Large bulldog clips to clip the banner to the red backdrop 

Friday Afternoon

MoCCA-Fest allows for Friday setup, and Jon, Eric, and I decided to take advantage of that.  Unfortunately, Eric and I arrived in New York around 4:00, with the Armory closing to setup at 5:00.  Although it was cold and misting, we opted to make the trek to the Armory, based on the argument that catching a cab would take too long.  Unfortunately for me, my asthma reared its ugly head, and I had a hard time keeping up while dragging my luggage behind me.  I was happy to catch my breath when we arrived, and managed to get a second wind after signing in.  Setup didn't take me too long, as I'd done a demo-setup in the week prior.  An early setup is fantastic for two day conventions, especially if it's held a day early, rather than earlier in the morning.

We quickly noticed the (now much commented) giant Charlie Brown balloon watching over us as we set up, and cracked jokes about his eminence's not so benevolent gaze, hoping the inflated god would bless us with a successful MoCCA-fest.  Although he was aloft Friday evening, he didn't maintain that position all weekend.

Setup Photos

How I left the table Friday evening:

Changes from Last Year

This year MoCCA-fest brought the food upstairs, to a buffet style sitting area not far from the tables.  This was probably much more convenient for hungry artists who wanted a quick bite to eat between sales and chatting.  Bringing the food upstairs didn't mean that staff prevented food from being brought in to artists.  Another change was the gallery inside MoCCA-fest, displaying original comic art.  The gallery was nicely arranged with white draped walls that contrasted well with the red drapes used for booths, setting it apart from the artists actively selling and promoting their comics.

Another change this year was that Joseph had a press badge, acting on behalf of this blog.  He found the staff to be very attentive in answering his questions, although only a couple volunteers came by and introduced themselves as staff to me this year.  The staff didn't provide any sort of crowd control during the con, which while not necessary, might have been beneficial during peak hours.

MoCCA-Fest had clearly visible signage that designated aisles and numbers, making the map much more useful this year than in years past.  The lighting was decent and we had a fair amount of space behind the table, which was often occupied by booth babes.  Although we were originally provided with two chairs, we were easily able to procure a third to accommodate all three artists.  The black table cloth was provided.

I opted not to put postcards on the swag table, since I didn't bring as many as I usually do, and since I've seen postcards and fliers dumped in the trash in prior years.  This year the swag table wasn't at the front of the convention, and I thought my postcards would do better at my table, rather than divorced from it.


Saturday I arrived bleary-eyed but bright and early at the Armory with Eric, Joseph Coco, and Frankie Coleman.  After checking in at the table, Joseph went off to arrange interviews, and I prepared for the day.  I made quite a few early sales of 7" Kara to friends, and soon learned that the combos, which included a sketch, weren't easy to execute as quickly as I would've liked.  I lost a lot of time unwrapping and rewrapping books.  About midway through the day, Joseph brought a copy of Kara over the :01 Second table for Calista Brill, returning with a copy of Delilah Dirk.

As with the past three years, Joseph conducted artist interviews during MoCCA-fest.  These interviews are now up on Youtube in their own playlist, and I'll be posting them here shortly.

Most of my sales on Saturday were to friends I've known over a couple years, although a couple blog-readers came by to say hi.  I know I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating- I really really appreciate when you guys come by and chat.  It means a lot to me, and definitely provides the encouragement I need to keep writing.  Besides sales to friends, my sales were slow, and I had difficulty attracting the attention of strangers.  Most disappointing of all, I had trouble getting people to pick up and flip through 7" Kara.  Part of this was due to the fact that there was only one unwrapped copy on Saturday, and though I encouraged people to flip through, I should have had several unwrapped copies out.  Another part of the problem was that the book itself was set too far back on the table, requiring customers to reach over other stock to access it.

Saturday didn't provide me with much opportunity for leaving the table, besides excursions to the bathroom.  Due to the crowds, the bathrooms had relatively long lines, and required guards to make sure trips went smoothly.  Having someone monitor my bathroom behavior felt a lot like grade school, which is somewhat unpleasant at 28.  According to Joseph, it's worth mentioning that

 Oh, and the big publishers were broken off into islands in front of the streets of indie publishers. Last year they were on the streets, but just pushed to the front.  The front of the con was all big publishers, like usual. But in stead of them being at the ends of the streets, their booths were just broken off into islands, like at NYCC.

Sketch provided by Joseph.

On Saturday afternoon, I chatted with Brigid Alverson and met up with the writer of Gizmo Granny, the children's book I'm illustrating, and I met Megan Lavey-Heaton and Isa Melancon, the writer and artist behind Namesake, a webcomic I enjoy and highly recommend.  For the most part, I wasn't approached by as many artists as I have been in past years, probably due to artists being unable to really leave their tables.

After MoCCA-fest ended for the night, I attended the group dinner at Cafe 32, a Korean cafeteria a few blocks away from the Armory.  Selected for its ability to seat and sate many, it's a decent place for a large group dinner, although the long tables make it difficult to have conversation with those who aren't directly next to you.

Artists in attendance were:

Eric Lide
Frankie Coleman
Pat LaPierre
Vanessa Satone
Stevie Wilson
Jen Webber


 The lines outside the Armory Sunday morning.

Sunday sales were relatively slow for me, as the friends who were going to purchase 7" Kara already did so on Saturday.  As with Saturday, I had a lot of difficulty attracting the attention of attendees, despite changing up my table setup to be more attractive.  The con was pretty packed, which meant sales were lost due to congestion.  I also had an issue with friends of friends crowding my third of the table, which made it difficult for me to attract attendees.  I came up with a new term to describe such guests- campers.

A person who knows your tablemate but not you, but stands in front of your half of the table to chat with their friend. As you haven’t met, you can’t chase them away. Ignore strong hints to set up camp elsewhere. Either oblivious or rude.
When said people number more than two, hang out for more than five minutes, leave their stuff for longer than a half hour, and damage your sales.

Although I had requested that they hang out somewhere other than in front of my table third, perhaps I didn't speak loudly enough.  In the future, I'll make it much clearer that they're affecting my sales negatively by neither buying nor promoting.  I mention this since my table was blocked for more than half the day on Sunday, and I think others interested in attending cons should be aware that this happens and be willing to speak up.

Sunday evening, Charlie Brown was feeling as deflated as I did, and needed a ladder to help prop him up.

For me, Sunday was a long day at the con.  Towards the end of the afternoon, I went around with Joseph to meet some of the people he interviewed, though I fear I didn't make a positive impression due to being tired and cranky.  After the con ended Sunday evening, I caught up with Laura and enjoyed a tasty Indian dinner.

Booth Photos

As in years past, Joseph not only conducted interviews, but took photos of some of his favorite booths.  If you see your image here, let me know which one, so I can properly credit you.

The Haul

Post Con

After MoCCA-Fest officially ended on Sunday, I stayed in New York for an extra day and a half.  During that time, I hit up two of my favorite New York stores- Kinokuniya and BookOff.  


Flight- Both ways- $390
2 checked bags (one for clothes, the other for merchandise and table setup)- $50 each way, $100 total
Hotel in New York: $280 for 2 nights
Coffee Saturday and Sunday morning- $10
Half bagel Saturday morning- $3.50
Saturday group dinner- Cafe 32 (Korean cafeteria) -$20 
Boba smoothie Sunday lunch- $5
Dinner at Indian Restaurant- $25
Table: $400, with Eric and Jon paying me $100 each, so $200

TOTAL: $1033.50

What I learned

In the three years I've attended, MoCCA-Fest seems to have grown significantly.  This year, Saturday's attendance equalled that of both days of last year's attendance, and it definitely showed.  This year, MoCCA-Fest's admission was only $5 a day, which meant more people could afford to casually drop in.  Unfortunately, just because people can afford to check out a show on the cheap doesn't mean they want to buy comics.  The alleys between tables were congested, crowds often stagnated in one place, and it was difficult to catch the attention of attendees.   A well attended show is great for con organizers, and is probably great for more established artists, but artists like me depend on being 'discovered'.  I try to do as much as possible in the weeks preceding conventions to promote my work and my con attendance, and some cons are better than others about signal boosting all artists who mention the convention.  SPX and MTAC are two such cons that actively try to promote their artists, but MoCCA-fest can be hit or miss.  Although I probably will not attend SPX or MoCCA in the foreseeable future, as a networking convention I preferred SPX.  SPX, held in the same hotel most guests stayed at, kept all events in a central location, and there was an excellent chance that anyone you met while there was either a comic artist, writer, publisher, or enthusiast.  MoCCA-fest is held in the Armory, but events such as the Awards Ceremony are held at MoCCA the museum, the Ladies Drink and Draw was held at a location separate from both MoCCA-Fest and MoCCA, and after parties were held at various locations around the city.  For an out-of-towner like me, this isn't an inviting environment, and it doesn't encourage me to mingle with other artists outside my circle outside of con hours.

I have the misfortune of admitting that in the three years I've attended MoCCA-fest, I haven't yet attended a panel.  For the most part, I just haven't found enough time to be away from the table for the duration of a panel, so I can't speak as to the quality of the programming.

That's a major problem I have with MoCCA-fest.  It's great if you're a local, if you don't have to worry about transportation and hotel fair.  $400 for a table, while still high, isn't sky high if you have less overhead.  There's much less pressure to sell well if you don't have to worry about paying for additional baggage checks at the airport, forgetting something is less of a hassle if you can just pick it up that evening.

Although it was fun sharing a table with Eric and Jon, I don't think I'll ever split a table three ways again.  Not only is it not enough room to effectively show wares, but it seems unprofessional and I found it difficult to attract new customers.  I had a problem with their friends crowding my side of the table, and despite repeatedly asking they not block the front, my pleas went ignored.  Because the con was so crowded, people probably assumed I was just doing brisk sales to attract such a crowd.

Since this was Kara's debut, I wanted to enter the book in MoCCA's Awards of Excellence competition.  Unfortunately for me, despite paying for rush shipping, my books made it to the Society of Illustrators hours past the pick-up deadline, so they weren't included in this year's judging.  While I found that disappointing, I was able to pick up the books on Tuesday morning, after touring MoCCA.

Two day indie cons are a much harder sell for me.  The rise in popularity and attendance has not led to a rise in sales for me, and many of these cons have outgrown their ability to provide for all artists.  Perhaps larger indie cons should consider hosting multiple events throughout the year, rather than one large event.  Although indie cons are cheap for the attendees, they're expensive for artists, and there may not be much of an opportunity to recoup costs.  Although I was offering a more expensive item this year ($20 for the Kara combo) and I sold several copies, it was not anywhere near enough to cover just my table cost, let alone any of my other convention costs.

While MoCCA-fest is a somewhat kid-friendly con, with it's alley of kid-friendly artists and kids' play area, the crowds make it difficult to take your kids to the show for a relaxing and fun day of comics.  A kids' play area may mean that parents can dump their kids off while they buy comics for themselves (a problem I had last year, with the candy themed table, as we became not only de facto babysitters, but a meeting place for families as well), but it doesn't mean they're looking for kids comics or letting their children select titles for themselves.  The crowd meant that many parents adopted a grocery shopping mentality- make a list ahead of time of what you want, go straight there, and then leave.  For artists like myself, this is bad news, as parents aren't stopping by my table long enough to pick up the book, let alone let their kids look at it.  This made my debut of 7" Kara a bit discouraging, as I had hoped to at least make it onto the radar of parents looking for a comic for their kids.

Most of the comics sold at MoCCA-fest seem to be garage printed minis, as opposed to the perfect bound self published books that seemed to sell well at SPX.

Even with the crowd, I noticed that there weren't as many families at MoCCA-fest this year as there were last year.  Perhaps MoCCA-fest should target parents organizations like the PTA and library organizations to attract parents with younger children to the convention.

It seems that larger indie cons like SPX and MoCCA-fest may be going the way of superhero cons for me- they're great for established artists with established audiences, but they may not be a good choice for less established artists.  As these conventions attract larger audiences, they need to switch to large venues, lest attendees leave with shell-shock.

After three years of attending MoCCA-fest as an exhibitor, I feel like I still can't find my footing at this convention.  Usually I'm able to figure a con out by the second year and develop a working marketing strategy that helps me improve sales the next year.  Unfortunately, the 'rules' for MoCCA-fest seem to change yearly, and I just can't predict what changes each year will bring.  Tricks that have brought me improved sales at other conventions- displaying a wide variety of sketch commissions, offering watercolor commissions, having a large colorful display, are just not feasible for MoCCA-fest.  Given the cost of a table, I can't afford to have one for myself, and given the cost of travel, I just can't afford to bring an elaborate setup.  I found myself flagging early on in the convention and withdrew into my shell- it was yet another bad con in a string of bad cons (Nekocon, Ohayocon, FWA), and I began to worry that failure was my new convention destiny.

This really troubled me, as MoCCA-fest was just the first in a three-convention marathon.