I should probably state that writing negative convention recaps are always the hardest for me. A good convention provides plenty of happy material to post about- lots of sketches and watercolors, possibly new friends to signal boost, and a convention to happily promote. A bad convention is difficult- I don't want to come across as overly negative, nor do I want a lack of sales to be attributed to my failings as an artist. I also don't want to face retribution from convention staff taking the review personally.
Negative reviews take longer to write, because while I want to be diplomatic, I don't want to lie to my readers and to other artists. I've been lied to about conventions myself, or couldn't find information about the conventions Artist Alley online, and this has led to me making poor choices regarding some of the conventions I've attended. Part of me resents the amount of time negative convention reviews take up- I find working on comics much more fulfilling and much more in-line with my career goals. I write convention reviews (both negative and positive) as a service to myself and other artists, but they don't increase my sales and they haven't increased my popularity as either an artist or a blogger.
With that said, LouisiANIME is exactly the sort of convention that inspires me to write convention reviews. A few months before applying, I figured LouisiANIME would be like Mechacon, only smaller. I figured with a mid-size, popular convention to compete with, LouisiANIME would have to have a pretty tight game in order to compete and stay solvent. I hadn't been myself, but I really enjoy the anime and convention fans in Louisiana, and having strong ties to the state, I was looking for another convention to table at on my home turf.
When I put out feelers about LouisiANIME, I got no nibbles, and the site itself wasn't much help. I ended up taking the plunge and talked Heidi Black into also diving in, and we purchased two tables at LouisiANIME. We also sent them our panel list, and received a very timely positive reply for both tables and panels. I was extremely excited, as I've wanted to bring art track programming to the Louisiana anime audience for awhile. I've mentioned in the past my own struggles attempting to learn art and comic craft in Louisiana, and it's an important goal of mine to try and contribute my own abilities now that I'm a professional artist. Heidi and I sent our own reply letting them know we'd love to produce 3 panels for them, and we requested a compensated table (our usual rate to cover lost sales while away), but received no reply to that request. We shrugged it off and decided to offer our panels to them anyway.
The weekend before LouisiANIME, we both tabled and produced panels for Hamacon, in Huntsville, AL. The plan was to drop Alex off in Tuscaloosa, then make the drive to Luling, Louisiana, where we'd be staying until we drove to Lafayette, Louisiana on Friday morning. Staying in Luling didn't really give us much time to work on anything but our panels for LouisiANIME, as we stayed with my family and they were eager for adventure. While staying with my family, my mom noticed that the registration on my liscense plate was expired, and offered to drive us in on Friday morning, since she, my younger brother, and my aunt were going to Lafayette as well. Heidi and I agreed.
A Long Drive
Packing everything into my mom's Ford Flex was an education in Jenga, as we had to fit 5 adults and a whole lot of luggage, which included not only our huge convention rolling bags full of our merchandise, but several bags full of clothes. The plan was to drop Heidi and I off at the Hilton as soon as possible, and then my mother and younger brother would take my aunt to stay with family in Orange, TX, an additional 2 hour drive. We'd intended to leave from Luling at 8 on the dot, with the threat that anyone who was late would stay behind, but Heidi and I had no way to back that up, and ended up leaving later than planned. During the three hour trek, my mother ended up with a side-wall hole in her tire about an hour away from Lafayette. Immediately Heidi and I began emailing people- Heidi emailed the head of the artist alley to alert him to the delay, and I emailed Alex, the head of panels, to let her know that we were running late but hoped to be there by our 5 o'clock panel. Our luck went from bad to worse- we managed to get Mom's ridiculously small donut on her car, but couldn't find a place with her tires in a 10 mi. radius. I found a place in Lafayette that sold them and were willing to reserve one for her (their last), and we found a car rental place. After waiting two hours in the rain for a tow truck that didn't show, we got AAA to send another (actually, it was the same guy who didn't show the first time, but he DID show this time, amazingly). Mom's Flex was towed to Lafayette while we rode together in a rental van.
Artist Alley Setup Snafu
We arrived at the Hilton around 4 o'clock, mentally and physically exhausted. When Heidi and I went to check into the artist alley, we'd found out they'd given away my table, despite REPEATED emails letting them know what was going on. Apparently LouisiANIME changed the artist alley head that day to the guy who was ALSO head of the dealer's room, and miscommunication was rampant. Heidi and I were insistent that we be placed next to one another, as all our panels were during alley hours and we were sharing an assistant, and eventually the artist alley staff requested the girl who had my table move. Heidi and I helped her move her stuff, but she was still pretty upset about it, and possibly understandably so. Her table was more than an Artist Alley's table worth of stuff- she had a backdrop and a rack full of fox tails, and she'd been utilizing the doorway next to my tablespace. The table she was relocated to did not have this additional space. I felt bad for the inconvenience, but not too bad- we all paid the same amount for our space, and Heidi and I had been promised adjoining tables at a particular location.
Photo thanks to Heidi Black. I somehow managed to be an idiot and delete my booth photos.
Even more frazzled, Heidi and I began our table setup, hours after the alley had opened. LouisiANIME's artist alley was located in the hallway, so there was a lot of foot traffic, and we often had to dance around attendees who didn't realize we were trying to setup. We were also in a race against time- we had a panel at 5 o'clock to present (Self Publishing), and the Head of Dealer's Room/ArtistAlley/General staff kept coming by to MAKE SURE we knew we had a panel at 5 o'clock. Having to stop what we were doing to answer his well-intentioned, near constant question slowed down our setup. We did ask him if he could point out where Alex was, since we were asked to check in with her, but he could not.
We only had about 15 minutes to make sales and calm ourselves before heading off to present our panel. Heidi had printed fliers ahead of time announcing our three panels- Introduction to the Artist Alley, Self Publishing, and Introduction to Watercolor that listed panel locations and times, which is a good thing, because the LouisiANIME program guide didn't have times or locations listed next to the panels themselves. On our way to the panel room, we tried to find Alex, the head of Panels, and after asking around, we finally found her.
We showed up 10 minutes early for Self Publishing, and most of that time was spent adjusting the projector and getting it to communicate with Heidi's laptop. Once the room was about halfway full, and it was 5 o'clock, we started presenting. We covered the basics- In Design, sending your work off to a printer, a few small press printers, and were met with completely blank stares. Most of these kids didn't even have an IDEA to publish, let alone a comic. After our panel, one of the attendees came by and admitted he thought this panel would be about getting scientific journalism published in peer reviewed journals. I had to laugh- that's Joseph's domain, not mine, and certainly not at all what was described in the program guide. I'm not sure where he got the idea that our panel would help him achieve that goal.
Once we returned to our tables, my mother and brother, who were acting as our assistants, had to jet in order to bring my aunt to Orange, leaving Heidi and I on our own. We were pretty worn out (and hungry, since we hadn't eaten since 8 that morning), but did our best to make sales and be pleasant for our customers.
The majority of my sales at LouisiANIME were $5 sketches, and I did pretty steady work during the afternoon. The Artist Alley at LouisiANIME was supposed to be 24 hours, which meant that as an artist you either had to pack up your stuff or stay, and Heidi and I waited until my mom and brother returned around 10 before we could leave for the night. We packed down pretty tightly, and got a very late dinner at Chilis.
The Rest of the Alley
The Dealer's Room
Saturday- The Booth Barnacle from Hell
It was pretty hard to get up Saturday morning, especially since Heidi and I knew we'd be manning our tables alone all day Saturday.
Shortly after arriving, while we were still setting up, I was greeted by my cousins Jessie and Jamie, and Jamie's wife Meghan. I knew they were coming, but I had expected some form of prior notice, so they really took me unaware. While I was happy to see them, I was disappointed to see that they'd walked in off the street without buying a badge (a big problem for LouisiANIME that did not increase sales for the artists), and was more disappointed when they started to mock the attendees. Being caught unaware, I didn't chastise them for this attitude, but I really should have said something. These are my customers, and while I may not like or even be aware of everything they do, nobody is perfect, and nobody has the right to come in and mock others at their own event. I generally enjoy what I do, and I love drawing for people, although I never make as much money as I'd like. I've worked hard to cultivate an online audience, and tabling at conventions allows me to meet these online friends, as well as new friends.
For the most part, sales were steady, mainly small things like $5 sketches, buttons, or sketches. Although I tried to encourage people to pick up and flip through Kara, I had a difficult time getting people interested. During the day, a representative of the Steampunk Artist Alley kept making loud announcements that the Steampunk Artist Alley was open, and strongly encouraged attendees to leave the artist alley to check it out. I found this extremely rude, since barking is considered bad form, and its even worse form to interrupt existing sales (she went up to tables, including mine, to lure away customers) for another artist alley. I say it time and time again, we are not in competition, we are comrades in arms, and I'm not really sure why Steampunk merits a separate artist alley. Isn't that dividing potential audience? I made sure to let customers who I thought might be interested know that there was also a Steampunk Artist Alley, even though I was under no obligation to do so, and I feel like many other artists in the Alley upstairs did the same thing. Her barking was very loud, so it made it difficult to hear customers who were soft spoken, and extremely distracting. She wasn't the only barker though. The head of the dealer's room also announced things at the top of his lungs in the middle of the alley, all day long. The combination was pretty nerve-wrenching.
About midway through the day, I attracted the worst booth barnacle I've had yet.
It started out pretty innocently, a guy came by and asked Heidi about tabling in the artist alley, since he had no experience. She told him to attend our panel on Sunday, but he said he wouldn't be at LouisiANIME then. She offered to let him sit between us, so we could chat with him without him blocking sales.
What started out as a guy asking BOTH of us about tabling turned into a guy bending my ear off about how he had attended the Art Institute in Houston, but left early because he was the best in his class and nobody took it as seriously as he did. That morphed into him talking about how he shouldn't but DID like forward girls, and borderline hitting on me for the longest time. He'd commissioned Heidi to do an ink sketch for him, but bought nothing from my table, and proceeded to critique my work and even tried to drag the artist from the table next to us into it. I kept hinting that he should go away, and even told him he'd HAVE to leave once my family got back, and towards the end, I even got somewhat heated as he proceeded to tell me that I was networking all wrong, that he could do it better, and that in general, my approach to my business was just wrong. This guy, with no behind the table experience and no web presence, was telling me how to do my job, and found (unfounded) exceptions to every point of experience I mentioned. As soon as my mom got there, I had to go up to the hotel room and have a quick cry, because the guy was just that infuriating. I called Heidi and asked her to please do her best to get rid of him, but even with my family there and Heidi trying to politely send him on his way, he continued to pester me. Even when I started to ignore him, he wouldn't go away, and lurked at my table until we packed up and left at 10.
I've been advised that I need to be blunt with guys like this, but it should be noted that I told him he needed to go, point blank but politely, several times. I have an issue being outright rude to customers, since its a point of pride that my table is a safe place, and that I'm a friendly artist. To onlookers, me loudly telling him to go away would reflect poorly on me, even though that is what he needed to hear in order to understand how serious I was. I would have had to get staff involved to pry him off my table, and he ate up several hours of my time without contributing anything of value, let alone actually buying anything. My advice for artists who are dealing with a barnacle like this is to involve staff and report harassment, because barnacles like this don't take polite, they don't take direct, and they certainly don't take hints. In the future, I'll ask what he plans on purchasing BEFORE involving staff, and make it pretty clear that the relationship is one of saleswoman and customer.
The Hilton in Lafayette was not only hosting LouisiANIME this year, but was the temporary home to the families of little league baseball players. I think many of these families were taken by surprise by the convention attendees, and I found their behavior, and the behavior of their children, to be incredibly rude and judgmental. Not only were attendees (particularly in cosplay) harassed and harangued by parents and children alike, but my display was actively shaken by a group of unattended little leaguers. Of course, we reported this disturbance to the hotel staff, and were informed that they'd received many such complaints.
To go on a minor tangent, I must admit that this behavior in Louisiana never surprises me. Growing up a nerd, I found the environment extremely hostile, and I was constantly harassed about my interests. Louisiana as a whole is pretty adverse to anything new or different, and many people there view it as a threat. Rather than attempt to find out what was going on, they made snap assumptions and encouraged their children to be bullies by their own behavior.
I was pretty wrecked Saturday evening, and though I just wanted to go to bed, I had some watercolor commissions to knock out. Unfortunately for me, Saturday was a wet evening, and the watercolors took forever to dry.
Sunday- Back to Back Panels
After Saturday, I bet you can guess how eager I was to get to the table Sunday morning. Heidi and I postponed going down until 11, and spent our time at the table mostly teaching my mother and brother how to be assistants—writing up price lists, showing them where to mark down sales, teaching them how to use Square, demonstrating our pitches. Our panels began at 1:30, and ended with con closing. Again, the head of the Dealers Room/AA/panel staff made absolutely sure we absolutely could not forget that we had these panels to do, swinging by several times to let us know.
Back to back panels before con closing are a nightmare for tabling artists. We lose valuable sales, we don't get the opportunity to encourage panel attendees to patronize our tables, and our table break-down time is abridged since we were in panel during closing. While both panels went well, our watercolor panel went a little over time, as we had a hard time getting the attendees to put down our paintbrushes and leave the panel room so we could start cleaning up that mess. Part of the timing is our fault- we couldn't host ANY panels on Saturday because we had no one available to watch our tables while we were away, but retrospectively, we should have said that we couldn't afford to host three panels if LouisiANIME couldn't compensate the costs of one of our two tables.
When I returned, I found out my mom had moved a copy of 7" Kara (one of the first Kara sales of the con!) to a mother with two boys, and I almost started to cry from happiness. It's always so so rewarding when Kara finds a good home (ahaa, sorry, I can't help but be sentimental). She also sold a few watercolor commissions for me. As soon as Heidi and I got back, we had to start breaking down and in a hurry, as all the other artists had already left and hotel staff was starting to clean up. In order to pack up as fast as possible, I had some of my stuff at the table next to me, in front of the closed door that was connected to the dealer's room. I had a few things on the floor, and when staff started moving things out of the dealer's room, instead of asking me to move my things, they kicked them aside, or rolled over my things with dollies. I asked them nicely NOT to kick my things, but my request was ignored. One of the biggest offenders of kicking my merchandise was the Head of the Dealer's Room/ArtistAlley/Panel Staff guy who's been mentioned several times in this post.
Finished Commissions Including Mail Ins:
- Got to see my family
- In Louisiana, I have a lot of love for the fanbase there
- Dealer's room was unimpressive
- Artist Alley was in the open hallway, which is a great choice for a con as small as LouisiANIME, as it insures the artists get plenty of foot traffic and potential customers
- Although the kids don't have a lot of money, they really enjoy buying commissions and get excited about my work
- Much much smaller convention than Mechacon. Felt like Mechacon in its first year, in fact, was almost identical.
- A lot of attendees said they'd rather Mechacon over LouisiANIME, and won't be returning.
- Too close to Mechacon, might do better if it were in January rather than June.
- Very young crowd, fairly cheap. Heard "I saved my last $5 for you!", which is touching but makes making ends meet extremely hard.
- Unwilling to compensate for panel time
- Disorganized staff
- Steampunk Artist Alley considered itself in direct competition with the artist alley upstairs. May have been better if the Alleys were combined into one, larger potential customer base
- Table cost as much as it would at a larger con like AWA or MTAC, but the convention itself wasn't large enough to justify the expense of the table.
Our costs were incredibly low, because my mom covered our transportation and food. She also paid for her and Devin's badges, which are costs Heidi and I would usually absorb for our assistants.
Table: $135 (actually higher than Mechacon, and only included one badge)
Hotel: $333.78 total/2= 166.89
Time Spent Creating and Presenting Panels: 3 hours each ahead of time, 1 hour presentation x 3 (panels)= 12 + 10 minutes early each panel+15 minutes cleanup from W/C panel= 12 hours, 45 minutes total. When doing freelance, I charge $15 an hour. Total value of my time: $191.25 (will not be included in total)
Transportation to Louisiana from Huntsville, from Louisiana to Nashville: $80 total in gas
$439, mostly in $5 sketches
At the risk of being accused of throwing LouisiANIME 'under the bus', I'd say don't attend. The Artist Alley is poorly run, the staff are disorganized, and the position of Artist Alley head changed hands at the last minute to someone who had a vested interest elsewhere (he had a table in the dealer's room, in addition to being a dealer himself). The hallway the artist alley was located in was extremely dark, and we were harassed all Saturday by ill behaved little leaguers, since LouisiANIME staff wasn't enforcing badges. LouisiANIME is either not interested in, or cannot afford to offer any sort of compensation to its panelists, and the convention itself is too small for artists who travel there to make their money back. The crowd itself is very young and somewhat immature even for anime cons, and they don't have much money to spend. Members of the staff were disrespectful to me and my merchandise while I was packing up, and I was often treated like Heidi's assistant by staff who knew better. Food options within walking distance of the area are limited and expensive, and since the alley was open 24 hours, savvy artists had to spend a lot of time breaking down and setting up, lest merchandise inexplicably walk.
Despite being from the area, I have zero loyalty to conventions that show no loyalty for their artists, and feel no compulsion to sugar coat where things go wrong.
What LouisiANIME could do to improve:
- While the attendance is still fairly low, and while still serving an audience that is already served by Mechacon, consider reducing the rates for badges and artist tables, to encourage growth.
- Go out of your way to solicit interesting panelists who have experience in the panels presented.
- Print a program book that actually lists times and places BY the events so that attendees can easily find events they'd be interested in attending.
- Don't switch staff at the very last minute, if possible.
- Improve communication between departments.
- Force attendees to pass by the registration tables upon entering the convention.
- Have badges checked regularly.
- Focusing on offering events that Mechacon cannot or does not already offer in order to attract more locals who'd otherwise skip LANIME for Mechacon.
- Strong social networking campaign that engages possible attendees.