Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Hamacon Recap

You'd think after my crazy three convention spree this spring (MoCCA, SPACE, and MTAC) I would've sworn off back to back cons.  For an artist who makes the majority of her convention money selling commissions, back to back conventions are a nightmare, especially if there isn't an opportunity to return to Nashville between cons.  There's no chance to restock as most of my stock is drawn and assembled by hand and doing conventions back to back is physically and emotionally draining.

Still, conventions are the way I make much of my income right now, and when I have the opportunity to do two southern anime cons in a row, I'll probably take advantage of it.  Hamacon was the first in a two convention string that ended with LouisiANIME in Lafayette, La (review coming soon!).  Hamacon is a three day anime convention in Huntsville, Alabama, and has grown from being a tiny college convention to a stand-alone anime convention in its own right.  It's the first convention I've ever done in Alabama, and Heidi Black and myself applied to produce three panels for the convention with an artist alley table as compensation.

After applying to Hamacon at our friend Alex Hoffmann's request, we ended up meeting the Artist Alley director, Emily Swallowfish, at MTAC.  Emily approached us to recruit us as artists for the convention, not quite realizing that we'd already applied and been accepted, and Heidi and I were really impressed by Emily's dedication to her convention.  After meeting Emily, I felt assured that Hamacon took its artist alley and artists seriously, and that we'd be treated with respect during our time at the convention.

The weeks preceding Hamacon weren't quite as filled with my hectic before-the-con rush to restock.  The weekend before the convention, I made a preliminary run to Huntsville to pick up Alex, since she wanted to hang out and help me prepare for the convention.  On the Wednesday before the con, Heidi came (since we drove together), so I had a full house.  I had quite a few mini watercolors remaining, so I resolved not to paint any new ones before the con, but I DID finish the outer senshi badges.  Hamacon was the first convention I was able to offer all 10 of the basic Sailor Scouts as cute ribbon badges.  Heidi used her Office Depot discount to reprint some of our minis, so we assembled those as well.

Since Heidi and I had panels on both Self Publishing and Introduction the the Artist Alley, I took a lot of photos for our panels before the con.  While doing my demo setup (which had to serve for two cons, not just one), I took a lot of in-process photos while assembling my metal mesh cubes, and we took a lot of photos while assembling books.




When working on my demo setup, I used my 6' demo table, and with Alex's help, we figured out the optimal setup for this size table.  As you can see in the demo, I wanted my half banner above the table.  I've wanted a 6'x2' banner for awhile, and while I'm currently working on that, I don't yet have one.

For Hamacon, I made sure to restock my popular items from MTAC.  I finished out the Sailor Senshi bows, so I now offer all ten (excluding the Starlights)

We had a full car driving to Huntsville, but somehow Heidi managed to jenga three people and their luggage into my Jetta.  The drive from Nashville to Huntsville is fairly short, just two and a half hours, a cakewalk to some of the conventions we've driven to (like Nekocon (link)).  I'd booked us a room in the official Hamacon hotel, the Embassy Suites, and while our room was nice, it was also somewhat pricey.  Of course, our rate might have been lower if I'd managed to score a room while the Hamacon room block was available.

 

Friday 


The convention floor itself:



Table Setup:



Heidi's solution to the instability of the additional length: 
 
 It worked all weekend, by the way!

The assembled tables:



There was a little area for the artists in the alley to draw on the concrete.  Mine is the anthro pig girl.

The alley from the outside.


Friday morning the three of us trekked over to the convention center (connected to the Embassy Suites by a sky bridge, an easy walk even loaded down with luggage) to check in and begin setting up.  The artist alley was located in a large room that'd been partitioned off into various sections.  Inside this large room were a game room section that featured arcade cabinets and pachinko machines, a Mario Kart racing track that featured Mario character plushes tied to RC cars, a lunch counter with a dining area, and the artist alley.  Heidi and I were directly across from the Game Room, facing no other tables, and we were a little concerned that nobody would make it our way.  This concern turned out to be unfounded.

We found that instead of the usual 6' tables, we had 8' tables.  This threw off my planning more than a little bit, as it meant I didn't have enough wire mesh panels for a banner at the top of my table, so I ended up putting it in front.  This meant my table was not as eye catching from a distance, but my display was more sturdy than if I had taken the risk.

Fridays at anime conventions usually start off slow until around 5:00PM, and Hamacon wasn't a big exception.  I mostly sold small things- stickers, buttons, and $5 sketches, and this didn't change after 5, but the frequency greatly increased.  By the end of Friday, my drawing hand was pretty worn out, but I had a few commissions to knock out back in the hotel room.

Saturday

Staying up late to work on commissions made Saturday morning come way too fast.  Fortunately, our hotel (The Embassy Suites) was connected to the convention center via an airbridge, so heading to the con was a snap.  This also meant Alex, Heidi, and myself could return to the hotel room for bathroom breaks and for easy snacks.

Sales on Saturday were much like those of Friday, and I stayed busy with sketch commissions.  I began to refer to this as rabbit starvation.  Despite drawing all day, and constant sales, my end figure seemed low for all the work I was putting out.

On Friday evening, Heidi and myself did our Introduction to the Artist Alley panel at 9:00PM.  It was nice doing a panel after the artist alley was closed for the day, as it meant we didn't lose sales and were able to present to other artists from the alley.  We ended our panel with a Q&A that went so well we ended up taking it outside the panel room when our panel time ended.  After we ended the Q&A, we went back to the room to work on commissions, and it was another late night for me.

Sunday

Sundays are always difficult for me, as it's the hardest day to wake up.  Heidi and myself didn't spend much time at our tables on Sunday, since we had back to back panels, but fortunately, we had Alex to help.  We did Materials and Techniques parts 1 and 2 in two different panel rooms.  The first, Materials and Techniques 1, was in the 'workshop room', which was part of the main convention room that included the game room and artist alley.  It was difficult to present in this room as we didn't have a projector (despite requesting one), a white board (to actually demonstrate), and the music was so loud that our audience couldn't hear us speak.  We did our best to make due, but the audience itself presented a difficulty, as it was split down the middle between artists who were skilled enough that they wanted to learn how to make comics, and artists who wanted to learn basic drawing skills. 

Our second panel, which was shortly after our first, was in the convention's largest panel room, and had us up on a stage.  We did have a projector, so this time we were able to use the presentation we'd created for the event, but because we were on stage, we had to invite the audience up to the stage so we could do our demonstrations.

Although presenting panels SHOULD be good for popularity and should increase our sales, panels haven't done much to boost my sales.  Heidi's able to sell her artbook based on our panels, and we've been brainstorming on ways to make sure that both our books get a fair shake.

Unfortunately by the time we returned to our tables after our panels, the convention was just about over, although Emily, the Artist Alley head, did extend it by an hour.  When conventions schedule us for back to back Sunday panels, we tend to really miss out on sales that may be inspired by our presentations, costing us additional money.

Finished Commissions, including Mail-Ins:


















































The Pros:
  • Sales were fairly steady
  • Hamacon compensated Heidi and I for our time by comping one of our tables.  We split the refund.
  • Staff were extremely helpful and polite and checked in with us often
  • 8' tables instead of the typical 6'
  • Crowd was excited to be there

The Cons:
  • Crowd was young, and therefore fairly cheap
  • Despite dealer's room being very unimpressive, there was still often a line to enter it
  • Non stop Pachinko machine noise made it difficult to hear customers and became very annoying
  • Room was cold
  • We weren't prepared for the larger tables, so we hand to adjust our setups a little on the fly.
  • Most of my sales were small- $5 sketches
  • Despite producing panels, I saw few sales of 7" Kara.  There never seemed to be a good in-panel opportunity to promote my work
  • Room was noisy from loud music played in the line-dancing area of the large common room.

Costs:

Hotel: 504.40 between 2 people (Heidi and I split Alex's costs when we can)
Transportation: $80 in gas (my Jetta takes diesel)
Food: Probably around $100, discluding our celebration dinner Sunday evening.
Table: $100, but Heidi and I were reimbursed 1 table cost for our total panel time, so we each paid $50.

Total Cost: 442.20

Sales:

$705 including mail ins.

The Verdict:


Hamacon is a nice, fairly young convention with a lot of potential to grow.  It recently graduated away from being a college con, and it seems like the staff are trying to promote the convention as much as possible, meaning Hamacon will continue to grow.  Though the attending audience are very young, there seem to also be a lot of parents in the mix who are interested in supporting their child's interests.  The head of the artist alley, Emily, was a pleasure to work with  and checked on her artists often.

Despite the crowd being young, and relatively cheap, sales were really brisk and the attendees seemed to be genuinely excited about the con.  For many, this was their first time attending an anime convention, and it was heartwarming to see parents attempting to cosplay along with their kids.  As is often the case, the artist alley only saw patronage AFTER attendees were done with the Dealer's Room, and while Hamacon's dealer's room wasn't particularly impressive, there was still often a wait to enter the small room.

This seems to be the sort of convention where the crowd grows as the con does.  Given the reaction this year, I can see Hamacon growing up to be a convention with an extremely loyal fanbase, much like Mechacon in New Orleans.

Conventions who compensate artists presenting panels are a treasure.  Compensation seems to equate respect when it comes to conventions, and in my experience, most of the conventions that offer compensation are also willing to go the extra mile to help artists present their panels.  Although our rooms were not always ideal for the situation, there was always staff available to help with technical hiccups.

I would strongly consider attending Hamacon again next year, especially if we could work out a trade for panel time for table compensation again.  Although the Embassy Suites was a little pricy, our suite was HUGE, and we could easily fit another couple people comfortably.  Our room included a mini fridge, an extra sink, and some counter space, so bringing our own food was a snap and helped us save a little money.  Being able to comfortably walk to our hotel room for bathroom breaks was really nice, and while eating options weren't hugely plentiful, we still had affordable choices.