Monday, March 30, 2015

Con Recap: Anime Kaiju

Negative con recaps are always the hardest for me to write.  It's difficult for me to evaluate painful or unpleasant experiences with a level head, and it's almost harder to sit down, focus on those experiences, and try to write a post that is not only not vitriolic, but useful to my readers.  I've been fortunate in that my negative convention recaps were actually able to aid convention staff in improving their conventions, and I've been doubly lucky that it hasn't resulted in me being blacklisted from these cons, but rather, invited to attend again and revisit my initial impression.  Despite this surprisingly positive reaction to my negative words, I'd initially decided not to write a recap for Anime Kaiju.  At the time, I felt like this blog was becoming too focused on convention experiences, and not focused enough on me as an artist.

For some reason, Anime Kaiju and Black Materia conventions kept popping up in my conversation and social feeds, and there was always a reason to talk about my experiences.  Joseph encouraged me to write the recap, in hopes that it would prevent other artists from making the same mistake I did.

Black Materia is fairly new to the Nashville and Tennessee convention scene, and planned to host four first year conventions for the first four months of 2015, including MTAC weekend.  These conventions were (and are) Anime Kaiju, Taiga Con, Star City Anime, and Daisuki Con.  I only attended Anime Kaiju, which was New Year's weekend.  Conventions on holiday weekends can be hit (like MTAC, which was Easter weekend last year) or miss (like Sukoshicon LAW, which was the 4th of July weekend).  When I put in for a table, I figured it was a low cost gamble- the convention center was a short drive from my apartment, and I figured I could make my table cost ($80 for thwe weekend) back easily.  I didn't really give the convention a second thought until some Nashville convention scene people warned me at Anime Blast Chattanooga that Anime Kaiju was probably going to be a bust, sales-wise. 

I decided to persist anyway, despite the voice of good reason nagging in the back of my mind for months that this was probably a bad idea.  Part of what contributed to this was the fact that December, and holiday shopping, drained my bank account and I really needed an opportunity to recoup some of my holiday losses.  Another part is discussion on Artist Alley Network International regarding professional behavior for artists.  It was discussed that A: Leaving conventions early, no matter how awful the sales or how rude the staff, is unprofessional and B: Cancelling last minute is also very unprofessional.  What happens, however, when the convention itself is unprofessional?  Anime Kaiju was an excellent convention to demonstrate how a con can go wrong.

It's ironic that my worst cons are always the ones that I manage to get photos for.  I'm way too busy at the good ones to be able to get up from the table much.  I have plenty of photos for Anime Kaiju.



Since I had another set of hands around, I asked Joseph to take some photos of me setting up my table.

Even though we had arrived fairly late, and set up had opened for artists on Thursday, most of the alley was still very empty Friday morning.

All set up and ready to go!  Since it was so cold outside, I opted to dress down and just wear geeky shirts all weekend.  On Friday, I wore a shirt designed by Cassie Freire.

 As you can see, the tables were standard size 6'x2', and were located in a lockable vendor room that included both artists and vendors.  It seems like artists were located on the inner square, and vendors and voice actors were given the perimeter tables.   There was plenty of room behind the table, as well as a generous amount of aisle space.  It seems like the organizers had planned for a well attended convention.

After about an hour into setup, a staff member came to tell the few people that were in the artist alley setting up that registration had opened, and they could pick up their badges.  I sent Joseph with my ID to pick up both of ours.  He was gone for a little while, but returned with both our badges as well as a schedule, and said that picking up badges wasn't difficult.  I guess that's a plus for Anime Kaiju?  Throughout the weekend, when I'd leave my table to visit the bathroom, I'd check the registration hall, and there never seemed to be many people there, let alone an actual line.

After the Alley Opened

Unfortunately, there just wasn't much foot traffic, certainly not enough to justify the size of the alley, and the alley looked empty the entire weekend.  The table next to me stayed empty for the weekend, and while I was invited to spread out, I never had the energy in the evenings after the convention closed to put together enough wares to fill out a second table.  Even if I had, there weren't enough customers to really warrant utilizing the second table.

The empty, lonely tables across from me were designated for the Voice Actors to use for signing and selling merchandise, but stayed unmanned for long durations during the convention weekend.

And even after the alley opened on Friday, the tables behind me were empty.

The lack of audience gave myself and my lovely con helper plenty of time to get lots of non-convention work done!

In the Halls of the Convention Center

Things were so slow that I had plenty of time to use the bathroom, eat snacks, and grab photos.  This is the main hallway for Anime Kaiju, Friday afternoon.  As you can see, it's pretty empty.

And here's the registration hall, ALSO empty.  From talking to the few attendees who did show up, it seems like there was no publicity for this convention, and many of them found out about it last minute.  There was no hype, nobody saved up money to attend, and while the convention's organizer professes that he's starting these four conventions to make enough money to send his kids to college, I don't think cons this poorly organized, promoted, or attended tend to make money for ANYONE.

On Friday, ten minutes before Opening Ceremony, a lackluster staffmember went to certain tables in the artist alley and told the artists they were welcome to come to the Opening Ceremony to promote their tables to the audience.  I was skipped over, but I overheard this from the girl next to me.  It doesn't seem like the staff member picked particular tables with any forethought, but rather didn't feel it necessary to either make it a general announcement over a PA system, OR tell all of the artists.  Most of the artists opted not to leave their tables unattended.

 Around the Vendor Hall

Anime Kaiju had a mixed vendor room, which meant dealers and artists shared the space.   It's probably for the best that the space was shared, because I don't think either the Artist Alley or the Dealer Room alone would've brought in much of a crowd, considering how sparsely attended Anime Kaiju was.

Unfortunately, this shared space didn't do anything to increase foot traffic.  Nowhere to be seen were the multi-hour lines that MTAC had for their dealer's room.  This was about as busy as it got at Anime Kaiju.

Towards the evening, some of the voice actors showed up to claim their tables.

This increased traffic somewhat, but didn't result in an increase in sales, as these new faces were only there to see the voice actors.

Friday Evening Break Down

Since the vendor hall was supposed to be locked after hours, I didn't break everything down, but I did remove  most of the smaller items from my table top.

As you can see, Black Materia Inc is really proud that they have a four convention lineup.  Too bad they didn't see how the first convention went before making plans for the others.


Although I didn't have any take home sketch commissions to finish up Friday night, it was still hard getting up and out Saturday morning.  I was worried that Saturday would be as slow as Friday had been, and it was difficult to convince my sleepy body to get up and go man that artist alley table for opening.

My lovely assistant posing behind the table.

Although foot traffic on Saturday wasn't much better, sales picked up enough to justify getting up and tabling that morning.  My assistant said he felt awful, and went back to his apartment to sleep off bad allergies, leaving me all by my lonesome on Saturday.  Usually this would leave me overwhelmed, but given how slow Saturday at Anime Kaiju was, I was mostly just bored.

The person next to me still hadn't shown up by Saturday afternoon- I was informed that she'd meant to sign up for Taiga Con, another Black Materia Inc production, but had accidentally signed up for Anime Kaiju instead.  I was informed by staff that I could spread out if I wanted to.  While I considered the option, there wasn't enough traffic to justify going to that trouble.

Sketch Commissions
Although Saturday was pretty slow, I did manage to attract some sketch commissions.

And a rare behind the table shot of my mess often needed materials.


If getting up Saturday was difficult, getting up for Sunday was even harder.  While the 'good' was much better than Friday, it still wasn't as good as a Saturday should have been.  Sundays at conventions can go a couple ways- slow slow slow, or frantic last minute sales.  I held out hope that Anime Kaiju would be the latter.

Unfortunately, my hopes were less founded than my fears, and Sunday at Anime Kaiju was pretty much a bust.  Much of the alley began picking up early, rather than endure the long wait for closing time at a dead con.

Around the Alley and Breaking Down

My Costs:

Table: $80
Transportation $40 (tank of gas and wear and tear)
Food: $10 in coffee, $10 lunch (Friday)

Total Cost: $140

My Sales: $165

My Verdict:

Skip any and all Black Materia Cons, at least until they're willing to devote time to actually advertising their events.  Black Materia Inc seems like they don't actually care about producing good conventions in the Nashville area, but rather poaching attendees from ArtsCubed events.  Staff very infrequently checked in with me, important information was distributed via word of mouth rather than being informed by staff, and attendance was disappointingly low.  The halls outside the combined artist alley/dealer's room were as empty as the dealer's room itself, and the panels I peeked into were equally empty.