Thursday, May 08, 2014

SPACE 2014 Convention Recap

Shortly after arriving back home from MoCCA-Fest, I had to get on a plane to fly to SPACE.  SPACE is an indie comics con located in Columbus, Ohio, and it was the weekend after MoCCA-fest this year.  Organized by Bob Corby, a comics veteran, it's a good midsize con between small (Fluke) and much larger indie comic cons like SPX and MoCCA-Fest.    SPACE was held in a Ramada just a short drive outside of downtown Columbus, making it an affordable alternative to big city indie cons.

Although SPACE tables are quite affordably priced, I ended up splitting a table with Heidi Black.  Rather than reheat one of our older themes, we went with a fairly simple green color-scheme and focused on doing our own thing.  I feel like this worked well for us, perhaps better than our themed tables from conventions past.  Without too much extemporaneous clutter, customers were able to focus on the comics we were selling

Unlike most conventions, I didn't opt to do a demo setup this time, since Heidi and I have tabled together so often.  I assumed our mesh-cube structure would be the same as the one we used for Ohayocon, and I figured that without bringing mini watercolors, I'd have plenty of room to arrange the rest of my wares.

Joseph spent the majority of his time at SPACE checking out comics and interviewing artists, leaving Heidi and I to fend for ourselves.  Since we weren't really juggling commissions, this wasn't much of an issue.

What I brought:

  • Copies of 7" Kara
  • 'Normal' 1.5" buttons
  • 'Fancy' 1.5" buttons
  • A selection of sale mini-comics
  • Stickers
  • Charms


On Friday evening, SPACE held a launch party at the Laughing Ogre, a local comic shop with a great comic selection.  We picked up our badges at the front of the store and headed toward the back for snacks and to meet other artists.  Although I ended up spending most of my time chatting with just one artist, Joseph and Heidi managed to get away and chat with a few new people.


Before Doors Opened:

On Saturday morning, Heidi and I trundled down around 9:30 to begin setting up our table.  We opted to go for a wire-frame structure with our banner attached at the top, and our two smaller, separate banners hung from the front.  I think we were both hoping that attendees would be able to tell our work apart, but midway through Saturday, I'd gotten sick of people assuming it was the work of one person, and laid down a line of washi tape to help make it easier.  The vendor area was in a segregated room that could be locked, the con 'officially' opened around 10:30, and attendees were milling around earlier than that, which made getting set up fast a little distracting.  That said, I vastly prefer this sort of arrangement over conventions that have the artist alley in unlockable halls that get a lot of through traffic.

Being an indie comic con, SPACE didn't have many of the distractions (or the attractions) that anime conventions offer to attendees.  There was no dealer's room selling mass produced licensed anime merchandise, nor was there a cosplay contest to distract customers.  There were no cosplayers in oversized costumes knocking over table setups, or mall-katana swordfights in the aisles.  SPACE was primarily the exhibition room and the panel rooms, and once you'd browsed the exhibition room and hit up the panels you were interested in, there wasn't much reason to stick around the convention.

Something I've noticed about doing anime cons is that I'll often see the same people all three days of the convention.  At most anime cons, the audience is captive- they've travelled to attend the show and are staying in that hotel.  They have plenty of time to consider what I have to offer, to talk their friends into buying commissions, to come back on Sunday to purchase a watercolor mail-in commission.  With indie cons, once the attendee has made the rounds, they're gone, and without a constant lure to attract new customers, business can stagnate quickly.

Although SPACE had relatively narrow aisles, there was plenty of space behind the table to allow artists to set up and organize in comfort and ease, unlike many other indie comic cons I've attended.  This gave Heidi and I the space we needed to get our wire setup up without disturbing other artists, which was very much appreciated.  In our location, we seemed to get as decent a stream of traffic as could be hoped for at a con SPACE's size, but I was informed by Joseph (and a handful of artists) that the artists located at the end of the L shaped annex weren't seeing many sales at all.  This sort of layout is always problematic for artists located in those sort of areas, and the only solution I can think of would be to put a special attraction back there to lure attendees in.

The View from Behind the Cage

After FWA and MoCCA-fest I'd begun to fear I'd lost my touch with sales and customer interaction.  SPACE went a long way toward assuaging that fear.  I had a lot of fun engaging the audience, and had even picked up a few tips from my fantastic Twitter friends on how to better promote my work to parents.  Unfortunately, SPACE wasn't the sort of family-attracting con I would've liked, but I did a lot better selling copies of 7" Kara to strangers as the con wasn't as packed as MoCCA or SPX.  Heidi and I work really well as table partners since we have common goals, and we've had a few years to develop a dynamic that seems to work well for us.  

Part of what made SPACE such a pleasure was the fact that our table neighbors, Lee and Pock were an absolute joy to table next to.  In addition to comics and stickers, Lee was offering tarot readings, and she seemed to make bank with this unusual offering.

While Heidi and I were busy chatting with attendees and other artists, Joseph went around interviewing artists for the Youtube channel (link).  I'll make a post here with those videos shortly.  Much like with MoCCA, he also took photos of some of his favorite booths for the blog.

Booth Photos:

As you can see, SPACE attracted a fairly diverse crowd of artists, although it seemed that the majority were males in their mid-40's and up.  I think Heidi and I were the only artists who really fit the anime-con artist alley profile, and we still did fairly well.  I would've liked to have seen more young faces and families in the audience, but courting families can be difficult.

On Saturday, SPACE staff handed out menus for the restaurant upstairs, and though we filled ours out and turned it in, when it came time to get our food, we were told that someone had already claimed it.  The kitchen insisted on remaking it.  By the time we got our food, over an hour after everyone else had finished, it was most definitely not worth the wait as the food was extremely bland.  We were informed through the con rumor mill that although SPACE had informed the hotel of possible dining plans, the hotel didn't inform the kitchen, and they weren't able to prepare for the con.  Rather than risk another screw up, we opted to send out for food on Sunday.


Sunday morning was a little rough, as I had some trouble getting up, and I think we rolled in as the con was opening.  This wasn't a big deal since we were still set up from the night before, and were able to quickly prepare.  Sundays at conventions are generally pretty slow, and SPACE was no exception.  Heidi and I decided to take advantage of this lull in activity and attend a panel, the Ladies Sketch and Kvetch.  The program made this sound like an open panel, where attendees brought their sketchbooks, chit-chatted, and got to know other lady artists, but unfortunately it was a structured panel that focused on the Columbus Sketch and Kvetch group.   Two hours prior to the Sketch and Kvetch, we were approached by a comics professor who wanted to know if we were interested in being interviewed by his highschool students.  We agreed, but made sure to tell him that we wouldn't be available at the time of the panel.  That was exactly when the kids showed up though, so we hung around long enough to talk with them, going into the panel somewhat late.  Had it been an informal panel, this wouldn't've been an issue, but because it was more structured, I felt like a heel for interrupting.  Although we were somewhat disappointed with the content, we stuck it out and made plans to arrange our own open ladies' sketch and chat panels at future cons.

Cost Breakdown

Flight- $390 plus 1 checked bag ($50 total)
Hotel- $132
Table- $32
Saturday- Breakfast- $8, Lunch was originally $10, but they gave us half off because they messed our order, so $6, Dinner, pizza, $6
Sunday- Starbucks Mocha and a Naked Smoothie- $9, Dinner, Greek-$19 , Dessert- $12


What I Learned

SPACE seemed more like an event for comic artists to hang out and reconnect with each other than a true venue to sell comics to interested attendees.  Many of the tabling artists had done SPACE for years, and had a large collection of mini comics, but it seemed like only a few made the jump to larger scale self publishing or even publication.  The atmosphere was casual and relaxed, but many of those who'd been tabling for years were more interested in promoting their own projects than in meeting and listening to other artists.  The panels offered at SPACE didn't really bridge this gap either, which definitely made me feel like a outsider, albiet one who was welcome at the con.  The Ohio comics community seems to be relatively close knit, and while they're friendly to strangers, they're not looking to adopt any long distance members, nor are they really interested in the projects of those outside this community.

The Ramada that SPACE was located in made it an affordable con, as the rooms were cheap and the parking was free, but the location was pretty terrible to attract foot traffic.  It seemed like unless you knew SPACE was being held in that Ramada on that weekend, there was no way you would just casually wander in.  This made SPACE a bit more like an anime con, but without the crowd or ability to really move commissions.

One of the issues many artists faced this weekend was the limited variety in attendance.

I know that Bob Corby does some promotion- he attends conventions like SPX to promote SPACE, but until Joseph interviewed him last year, I'd never heard of it.  Even after hearing about it, I didn't see much in the way of promotion.  SPACE's Twitter doesn't reply to mentions or direct questions, and there seems to be no Tumblr presence.  SPACE shares a site with Back Porch Comics, and you have to search a bit when you do a Google search for SPACE rather than Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo. It's my understanding that Corby is handling most of SPACE on his own, and I know that Heidi has offered to help promote the convention to attract a more diverse crowd both behind the table and in front of it.

I also know that SPACE also has some outreach to one of the local highschools, and offers tablespace in front of the exhibitor's area to allow the kids to promote themselves and sell their comics.  I'm always excited to see this sort of opportunity offered to highschool kids

Outreach extended to local libraries (perhaps the Sketch and Kvetch could present a panel there to young female artists), posters at local colleges advertising tablespace, and maybe even presentations to highschool kids interested in entering comics would all be good ways to promote SPACE and bring in fresh blood and new ideas.  Putting up fliers at popular locations (college campuses, coffee shops, libraries, game stores, comic shops) in 100 mile radius would let more Ohio artists know about the con itself.  Taking the convention out of the Ramada's basement and up into the sunlight might attract more foot traffic.  SPACE could also take a page from larger indie comic cons like MoCCA and SPX by having a Tumblr that reblogs select posts made by exhibitors that promote the convention itself or advertise what they intend on selling at the con.  By making a Tumblr and maintaining a SPACE tag, attendees can plan ahead on who they want to see and what comics they want to pick up.  This promotion is good not only for the artists, who will be able to extend their audience, but will be good for SPACE as it gives artists a reason to discuss this con with their Tumblr audience.

SPACE had several things going for it- affordable tablespace for exhibitors, an affordable hotel to stay at, located in a fairly large city with a tight-knit, supportive comic community, and an affordable entry fee for attendance.  Unfortunately, most of the people at SPACE were located behind the tables, and many artists didn't make the rounds of the room with an eye to buy.  SPACE was one of the first cons I was able to wander around in a long time, and I dropped about $60 in a 30 minute period right before closing on Sunday.

While I would consider attending SPACE again, I can't say I saw much benefit attending this year.  It was definitely a better indie con for me than MoCCA-fest, but I didn't gain any new followers or make many lasting connections.  Unlike many of the other artists at SPACE, I'm not a Columbus local, so I can't attend Columbus comic events.  I understand that it isn't Corby or SPACE's obligation to make me feel included, but rather my job to make sure I promote the event enough that I attract artists like myself and attendees who support my work.