Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Con Recap: GMX

The Geek Media Expo (or GMX) is a general geekery convention located in Franklin, TN, about 30 minutes outside of Nashville.  It's in the same convention family as MTAC, and shares some of the same support staff.  For the most part, this is great, as I like most of MTAC's support staff, especially their social media contacts, but unfortunately GMX and MTAC share a fatal flaw- an artist alley coordinator who is impossible to get ahold of in the months ahead of the con, doesn't notify artists of changes, and tries to sell artists tables at future cons with no ability to answer pertinent questions.  This convention Achilles heel, Fred, intends to retire from his position as Alley coordinator this year, so I hope that future GMX's and MTAC's won't suffer from his mismanagement.

Right after MTAC, Heidi Black and myself began contacting Fred to ask important questions about GMX's artist alley.  We wanted to know about the location, whether it would be in a locked alley or a hallway,  what the table price included in terms of table size (remember, all artists in the alley were shorted in terms of table sized promised, with no refund issued for the shortage at MTAC this year) and badges, what the general venue looked like, and for months our questions unanswered and we were unable to commit to buying what amounted to a pig in a poke.  Heidi eventually went to Fred's superior, Stephen, who attempted to punt her right back to Fred, but Heidi forwarded him the months of unanswered emails to show that she'd already attempted to follow the chain of command.  Stephen was prompt to answer the questions to the best of his ability, and provided his phone number for any further questions. 

With some misgivings, we eventually took the plunge and purchased two tables as soon as the 'artist alley' opened, assuming the alley would be artists online, with dealers in the dealer's room.  Some artists didn't wait, and purchased spots in the dealer's room in the preceding months.  The table cost was $150 for a 6'x2' table, and we purchased it knowing it might be in an unlocked, unguarded hallway of the hotel.  Joseph applied for a press badge, so he could conduct artist interviews and take photos and notes for this blog post.

GMX was my first convention after returning from San Francisco, and in the weeks between, I tried to knock out as much professional work as I could before returning to the convention grind.  I only finished my work a few days before the convention, and I set about cranking out brand new mini watercolors.  Since GMX appeals to an older crowd, I indulged in painting some more expensive watercolors- a family portrait of the Belcher family, a watercolor of Aurora from Child of Light utilizing nicer papers and pigments, the main kids (Jason, Brendan, Melissa) from Home Movies, as well as a handful of watercolor ATC's.  I also made lots of new Sailor Scout Badges and Sassy buttons, since I figured I wouldn't have much time between GMX and my next convention, Anime Blast Chattanooga.

Thursday and Friday



mini watercolors, GMX, Pikmin, Madoka, Kyubey, Luna and Artemis


Heidi arrived on the Thursday before the convention, and we went to setup our tables relatively late on Friday afternoon, around 3, since the alley wasn't supposed to be officially open and the major events weren't slated until later in the day.  In the days leading up to the convention, when GMX finally released an alley map, I noticed that the table was listed as Joseph Coco, despite us contacting Fred at the time of purchase to let him know it should be in my name.  I sent him another email asking for a correction, but when I arrived on Friday afternoon, the table was still in Joseph's name.  This didn't stop me from collecting my badge- Artist Alley registration pickup was overly lax, and almost anyone could have walked away with a Dealer's Badge.  The people in charge of Artist Registration halfheartedly gestured towards a clipboard before returning to their discussion, almost completely ignoring us as we filled out the paperwork and grabbed our unlabeled badges.  Heidi and I found our tables on our own- in the hallway to the left of the entrance, and I was upset to see that Joseph Coco was the name tag attached to the table.



As late as Heidi and I arrived, most of the tables weren't set up yet.



This time the table was the advertised size- 6'x2', and included two chairs.  I also had access to a power outlet, which was extremely important.


Thanks, Fred.  It's super duper knowing you're in charge of the Artist Alley, I feel so secure knowing someone is going to actually read my emails, respond to them, and take action.


As with MTAC, I had the misfortune of losing behind-the-table-space, making my quarters cramped.  I shoved my table over a couple feet to create a pathway so that myself and my table neighbors could exit without having to attempt to navigate this narrow opening during convention hours.

Table After Set Up

Nattosoup, convention table, GMX



Shortly after we arrived, my across the hall neighbor arrived- a dealer selling used comics from the 'Golden Age'.  I hadn't been informed that the alley would be mixed- both dealer's and artists, and that many dealers were bringing additional tables to increase the size of their setup.  Next to Heidi was a StarBox dealer, whose barking tactics did more to scare away customers than attract customers.  We were both less than pleased with this arrangement, and would have liked to have known in advance that the alley would be mixed.  I believe this is something we had enquired about in emails to Fred that were never answered.

We were setup and ready for sales about an hour later, and realized that our tables were so dark that we couldn't see the blue lead used for preliminary sketches.  I introduced a new sketch pricing scheme to control commission demand this weekend- $5 sketches on Friday, $10 sketches on Saturday and Sunday, but I kept my pony sketches at $5 since they're relatively quick to knock out.  Apparently our issue with the lighting wasn't unique, as Fred came by to offer huge hotel table lamps as a solution to a poorly planned alley with bad lighting.  I turned down his offer, as I didn't have room on my table for a huge lamp, and I didn't want to put it on the floor, as the upward lighting would have created horrible shadows on my tabletop.  Friday sales were relatively slow even for a Friday, and once the convention closed for the evening, we went to Target to attempt to solve our lighting problem.  I ended up buying a small tabletop LED light and an indoor extension cord, and packed my surge protector for Saturday.

I set up a gallery wall to take advantage of foot traffic.


Since the alley was unguarded and there was still a lot of foot traffic after the alley was supposedly closed for the night, I ended up packing up my table much more than I would for a closed alley.

This photo was taken after the Artist Alley was supposedly closed.  Main events (the room next to my table) was still very much open and hopping, and there was no visible con security to keep an eye on our tables.

Friday Commissions

Nattosoup, GMX, pony sketch



GMX, Nattosoup, sketch commission,

Saturday

We arrived much earlier on Saturday, around 10:30, 30 minutes after the alley opened (that 30 minute drive to and fro every day is killer).  It took awhile to get set up again, and after helping me set up, Joseph went to go conduct interviews.  Apparently the alley went unguarded Friday evening, as the StarBox vendor next to Heidi saw a massive amount of theft- they hadn't packed away their boxes that night.  Other artists also complained about loss.  Saturday's business was much steadier than Friday's, although the raise in commission prices cost me a lot of sales.  The majority of sales were $4 sassy buttons combinations of stickers (starting at 1 for $1.50), although I sold a few copies of 7" Kara and Hana Doki Kara (honestly, a first.  Anthologies tend to sell poorly if only one representative is there.).  I was pretty satisfied with Saturday's sales, and hoped Sunday would continue the trend as customers who'd been cruising my table committed on the last day.




The vendor across from me Saturday was not the same from Friday- Saturday's vendor resold licensed toys, and had a large display with additional tables.  Saturday's crowd control was pretty poor- at times the hallway was jam packed with a remote control Dalek that went up and down the hallway repeating 'exterminate' several times an hour, as well as Powerwheels that had been painted to look like Mario Karts.  While cute the first time, it was frustrating to watch staff give these things priority access to much used hallways, and to watch the owners monopolize said hallways all day long.  Not only were these a distraction to customers, but they caused traffic jams all weekend.

Chatting with someone whose table was in the Dealer's Room, I found out that crowd was much more amenable to actually spending money, and less focused on trying to get to panels they'd wanted to attend.  The Dealer's Room also didn't have to contend  with traffic control issues that hurt sales, and it was locked at night, which curbed theft.

Sales were so good that although the alley closed at 8,  I intended to stay as long as sales were decent, in an attempt to make up for Friday's disappointing sales.  Unfortunately, about 30 minutes before the alley officially closed, the band started playing in Main Events.  My table was located right next to the open door, and the sound level was unbearable to me.  I have degenerative hearing loss, and had already suffered a fair amount of ear pain from the noise levels at AWA, so I couldn't stick around and continue to make sales in that environment.  Joseph helped me pack up, I turned away a few customers with promises that I'd return tomorrow.  By this point, I was losing my voice from talking over the music, and my ears were really hurting.

 Saturday Commissions









Sunday

In this photo, you can see the lamp I purchased to compensate for the awful lighting in the hallway.

The view from my table changed daily.


Sunday's sales tend to be pale in comparison to Saturday sales, but I'd hoped that Sunday would still net me a fair amount of money, and hopefully garner more sketch commission sales and maybe some watercolor commission orders.  Unfortunately for me, the loud noise level from Saturday and my ear pain the previous evening caused a terrible migraine all Sunday that just wouldn't go away.   I asked Joseph to stick around the table and keep me company, but he had a couple more interviews he wanted to conduct first.  On Sunday I attracted a couple customers who, while very well meaning, took advantage of my disabled state despite repeatedly being told that I had a migraine, and I feel that my sales suffered from both the barnacles and my impeded ability to engage customers.  While sales were better than Friday's, they still were very unimpressive, and I didn't make the money I'd hoped to make.

On Sunday afternoon, Fred came by in an attempt to strong arm artists into signing up for GMX at the existing rate of $150.  I had several questions for him ("what's the venue?", "who'll be in charge of the alley next year?", "will we be in a locked room or an alley?", "how many badges will be included in the price?", "what improvements does GMX intend to make?", "will an alley map be released in a timely fashion next year, as opposed to last minute?",  "will any of my emails actually get a response from the responsible party?") and he could not and would not attempt to answer any, but persistently tried to insist that $150 was a great deal, that tables were going up to $200, that I really needed to jump on that offer.  I politely tried to shoo him away, and eventually he moved on, somewhat disgruntled.  This event left an extremely sour taste in my mouth, and I definitely didn't take him off on that offer.

Sunday saw an entirely new reseller across from me in the alley

Sunday Commissions




Mail in Commissions




Samus Aran, Nattosoup, GMX

Overall Sales: $542.50

Overall Cost:

Gas: $40
Table: $150
Additional purchases to utilize table: $21 for lamp and extension cord needed to light table
Food: $30 Friday, $5 coffee Saturday morning, $10 Saturday lunch, $5 afternoon coffee, $5 Sunday morning coffee, $10 Sunday lunch

Total:  $276

The Verdict:

Considering the communication issues, the unresponsive Artist Alley Head, the fact the Artist Alley is not only mixed with Dealer's, but in an unlocked, unpatrolled alley, $150, let alone next year's $200, is a huge amount of money to pay.  For $150 to be a fair price, significant changes would have to be made, including finding an Artist Alley coordinator willing to stay in communication with artists, field questions to the best of their ability (or just admit they don't yet know, but will let the artists know ASAP), making it clear that the alley is going to be mixed if they intended to have a mixed alley, closing off the hallway (if possible) or having staff keep an eye on the alley in general after hours (the StarBoxes were huge, for someone to walk away with the table's wall of stock without being noticed was an impressive feat), enforcing some form of traffic control, or moving the alley to a locked room would make the money a better investment from an artist's point of view.  Personally, I would love to see more creator driven content at conventions in general, and I know Nashville has several comic industry vets who might be persuaded to give panels.  I feel like geek culture is portrayed mostly from a consumer point of view, and having industry panels would attract more practicing creators and would help educate a new generation of hopefuls.

Between the sibling conventions, I found MTAC to be better for me financially, although I had quite a few repeat customers, including The World's Cutest Madoka Cosplay Group.  While raising my rates on my two busiest days did help curb me from overworking myself, I lost a lot of sales to even such a minor (and deserved) price hike.  I introduced a tip jar in the form of a mushroom bank labeled "Broke Bec Fund", and while more people commented on wanting to purchase the bank, I did get some tips.  The vast majority of my sales were on Saturday, so much so that Sunday and Friday were negligible.  Had I employed a spot-swapping strategy like the resale booths across from me, I may have secured a prime Saturday spot for a far lower price, although I believe such actions are against convention rules.

As I believe I've stated in the MTAC con recap, I really like the Nashville nerd community, though I have some issues with the shops and events that cater to them.  I would like to continue tabling at, and serving, this community, but the MTAC/GMX family need to step up their games in terms of serving the artists who serve their crowd.  Many of us are nerds too, and while we're attending the convention to work, we also enjoy interacting with customers who share our interests and attending panels.  I would like to see our needs taken into consideration by an Artist Alley coordinator who is invested in the job.  While I realize this is a volunteer position, we artists are neither volunteers nor valued guests- we're paying customers and deserve to be treated fairly.