Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Con Recap: MTAC

Right now, I live in the Nashville, TN area, and one of my goals for this year was to do fewer cons, and focus more on local cons.  Although Nashville isn't a huge area for the comic arts, there are several anime conventions- Akaicon, JABEcon, MTAC- that are well worth exploring as an artist looking to table.

Last year, you guys got to hear me expound on how much I loved my first year tabling at MTAC, and it became the standard to which I held the rest of 2014's conventions.  I sung MTAC's praises to almost any artist I met, but little did I realize that that would be detrimental to me.  MTAC opened their artist alley application with no fanfare or prior announcement while I was at Kamicon, and I missed applying for a table the first go round.  Artist friends informed me that the MTAC alley sold out WITHIN AN HOUR, which is understandable given how small MTAC's artist alley is.   Apparently my praises had convinced several artists to apply for MTAC, which made it a little harder to get a table this year than last.  I applied to be on the wait list, and fortunately, I managed to secure a table, which is doubly fortuitous as I was presenting two panels in conjunction with Heidi Black.

This year, it was really important to me that I offer panels at MTAC.  I'd spent last year and GMX talking to attendees about possible art track paneling, and I knew the interest was definitely there.  When I pitched the panels to MTAC, I mentioned a few requests that I felt were fairly do-able

1. Not to have our panels during alley hours if at all possible. 
2.  If that's not possible, to please not schedule panels on Saturday, our busiest sales day
 3. Since MTAC was split between two hotels, to please have the panels in the same hotel as the artist alley, otherwise we'd be losing a lot of time traveling between hotels. 

It took a few months to hear back from MTAC, but when we finally did, we were told that they were interested in two of the three panels we pitched:  Artist Alley 101 and Introduction to Watercolor.  At that time, we were told they'd try to work around Artist Alley hours, also told they'd try to schedule our panels in the same hotel as the Artist Alley, so we wouldn't have to try to navigate parking or the shuttle.  Unfortunately, later correspondence informed us that our panels were at 10:00 AM on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday.  This meant that we'd be starting a panel AS THE ALLEY OPENED on Saturday morning, and that on Sunday, we'd have to leave our tables early, catch a shuttle, and present our panel two hours into the alley on Sunday.  In addition, our panels were scheduled to be in the Sheraton, rather than the Marriot.  In early correspondence,  the person in charge of panels, promised to send us this information when he had it, but I had to request it the week before the con, otherwise I would not have known our official times, location, or rooms.  I realize it's difficult to contact panelists individually, but I think creating a mailing list to keep panelists and staffed informed would be an easy way to keep everyone on the same page. 

I must admit, the process of being accepted for panels, waitlisted for tables, pressured into purchasing a badge without any information as to whether that badge's cost could be applied to a future table cost was REALLY frustrating for me, and I had to go over that coordinator's head a couple times to get the information I needed.  There were a few other non-minor quirks that spoiled my excitement for MTAC in the weeks preceding the convention, but I tried my best to shove those to the back of my mind and just focus on convention prep.

As MTAC is a local convention for me, I'll go ahead and publicly reiterate that if MTAC needs help with social media, I would be more than happy to step in, especially in the weeks leading up to the show.  I feel like announcing Artist Alley application opening a week before it opens, a day before it opens, and the day it opens are pretty standard for mid-sized conventions, and it would be incredibly welcome.  I think right now MTAC's artist alley is first come first serve, and given MTAC's small alley size, it may be a good idea to move to a curated application process that requires a portfolio submission.  Conventions like Anime Weekend Atlanta have utilized this system in the past, and it always seemed like Anime Weekend Atlanta had a wonderfully diverse alley.  I do realize that this would require additional manpower during the weeks leading up to the show, but it would allow MTAC to keep their alley size, would allow for a larger submission window, and would attract artists of all skill levels who take tabling seriously. 

Since MTAC was such an important show for me last year, I made sure I prepared to make it count this year.
 

Thursday Night Setup

Heidi and I arrived on at the Marriot on Thursday afternoon to start our artist alley setup.  It's always really nice to be able to set up the day before.  Although badges hadn't yet arrived, we were able to get checked into the alley very quickly, and the artist alley staff were very friendly and helpful.  We were informed that the alley was actually 24 hours, which would've been nice to know from the start, but better than finding out Friday morning.  We realized later in the con that even if the alley wanted to be 24 hours, the Marriot staff was going to kick attendees out at 8PM, and we were shoo'd out at 9PM.  The 24 hour alley SUPPOSEDLY meant we can set our own hours, BUT it also meant we have to breakdown every evening, had this actually hyappened.  I left a lot of display stuff up on Thursday with the knowledge that if the alley was indeed a 24 hour alley, I could show up and find my entire table raided, but I was relying on con security to keep an eye on the alley.  I DID bring the valuable things back with me, or put them away where it would be obvious if someone was digging.

The alley was located in the foyer right outside the Dealer's Room, and the hotel was pretty much just Dealer's Room or Artist Alley.  I was worried that this divide might mean we didn't get enough foot traffic, but hoped that it meant that only people with money to spend would be hanging out in our hotel.
 




The backlighting was pretty obnoxious, and Heidi and I ended up turning off those lights.  I ended up bringing a battery powered natural light lamp with me to help me see what I was drawing during the convention.







Heidi and I were two of very few artists who took advantage of Thursday night setup.



The view from outside the convention provided a tantalizing view of our setups.

Friday

I apologize in advance- my photos got all mixed up.

It seems like my photos posted in reverse order, so I'll save the photos for the end.

My apartment is about 20 minutes away from the hotels MTAC was being held in, so while we did have to get up earlier than I usually do, it wasn't too bad, as we'd already set up the night before.

MTAC is held Easter weekend, which means kids are out on Friday, so Friday and Saturday sales tend to be pretty steady.  Because the alley isn't immense, customers don't spend the entire con wandering around, unwilling to commit to a purchase.  MTAC is a good con for moving commissions, and the commission portfolio I introduced at Kamicon really helped customers decide on the commission that was best for them.

I was concerned that splitting my $5 commissions up into $5 dots for eyes and $10 for detailed chibis would really kill my sales, but I got a nice split of $5 and $10 commissions, as well as several group commissions.  Since we were returning to my apartment each night, it wasn't too hard to pull out the 11"x17" paper and knock out group commissions.  In the future, I need to have an example one ready for shows.












The crowd around the perler bead spriter guy got pretty bad in the middle of the day, making it difficult for me to conduct sales as his crowd blocked off my table.



The view from my table before the crowd got bad.  It didn't seem like the crowd he attracted were really buying much besides raffle tickets for the Chopper he was selling, and it did seem like many of his perler creations were straight from thee original sprites.


The first of the day's many shuttles.  These shuttles took con-goers from the Sheraton (main events, panels) to the Marriot (Dealer's Room, Artist Alley, Signings), and ran all day long.







It seems like my photos all loaded backwards.  This is a shot of the alley when Heidi and I arrived only a few minutes before the alley actually opened.  A lot of people hadn't shown up, or were still in the throes of setting up.

Friday night, after the con ended, we went back to my apartment, had some dinner, and got started on commissions.

Saturday

Saturday unfortunately started with presenting panels.  We went to the Marriot, and Heidi and I took the shuttles over to the Sheraton after settling Joseph in behind my table.  Heidi was supposed to be given an assistant by MTAC staff to watch her table while she was gone, but that didn't seem to pan out.

The shuttles MTAC provided were free to attendees and actually very nice.  There was no wait for the shuttle between the Marriot and the Sheraton.




When we arrived for our 10 AM Intro to the Artist Alley panel, people were already waiting for us.  I thought having the panel during alley hours was a huge shame, as artists interested in participating would have to find someone to watch their tables in order to attend.  We had to wait for someone to unlock the panel room, setting us back about 15 minutes, and I got our attendees to take a photo for me to commemorate the event. 






I recorded our panel with my camcorder, and hopefully we'll have the panels up on my Youtube channel as soon as Joseph edits the video!

Wow!~  It seems like my photos  are OUT OF ORDER yet again.  Below are shots taken on the fly while we navigated the super crowded Sheraton to find our panel room.  It was like a warren, and it would've been incredibly helpful to have some staff to check in with to help us find our panel room.




Below is the line for the shuttle from the Sheraton to the Marriot.  We stood in line for 45 minutes, and were eventually given a ride with MTAC's guest services van.




Back at the con, I had a list of commissions already waiting for me, and Joseph had done several sales on my behalf.  I dived right in, and got to drawing.


Of course, Steven Universe was HUGE at MTAC this year.














Sunday

I was still working on Saturday commissions Sunday, but I managed to knock them out before my panel at 2PM.  It's always really hard to pull yourself away from your work (and sales!) to present panels in another hotel.  Keep in mind that all the back and forth ate up at least an additional hour of our time.  Our watercolor panel's video and slides will be online soon!









Mail Ins

And MTAC was a really good convention for mail in commissions.  Unlike SOME conventions (which will be mentioned later, haha), I never had to really sell commissions- people knew what they wanted and were ready to pay for it, which was a refreshing change of pace.












The Breakdown

Hotel: $0
Transportation: $40 (for a week's worth of gas, I'm sure we used far less than that)
Food: Friday- Starbucks Frappchino $5, Soylent held me through til we got home, Dinner  Saturday- Frappechino $5, Soylent held me til 3:00 PM, $13 Grits at the hotel, leftovers for dinner, Sunday- Frappechino $5, Soylent until closing, dinner at The Row for $24 (never order the seafood special in Nashville, they don't know what seafood even looks like here)
(NOTE:  I could have easily brought food from home every day, as the hotels the convention was held in were super close, but it was easier for me to get hot food at the con)
Table and badge:  $150 (Note, I was supposed to receive compensation- 50% off my badge, discluding table- for panel hours, but that money has never been reimbursed)
Total Cost: Around $242

Total Sales:


The Verdict

MTAC continues to be a fantastic convention for me.  While it was extremely difficult juggling panels that were during peak Artist Alley hours, especially as the con was split between two hotels, it was also incredibly rewarding both emotionally and financially.  MTAC continues to set the standard to which I compare other anime conventions, and the Nashville crowd continues to touch my heart.  I am so humbled and honored to continue to receive the exceptionally warm reception Nashville has given me in the convention scene.

My only real concern with MTAC is as much as I love love love tabling, it's becoming increasingly hard to get a table within their small, well curated artist alley.  This year the artist alley sold out within an hour of opening, which was a shame, as I was at Kamicon (along with several MTAC staff members), and unable to jump right on it.  Perhaps MTAC could introduce an early buy-in system the way Anime Weekend Atlanta used to do?  I have often suggested that MTAC expand their artist alley, but after attending Animazement (review to come soon) which was just TOO TOO large, I like that MTAC can curate their artists.  I feel like this curation and smaller alley size ensures that the artists who table do better and that there are no dead zones.

I plan on doing MTAC as long as I live in the area, and I may even continue to table should I move, if I can afford the  additional costs.  To be honest, I've spent years trying to court the New Orleans anime scene through Mechacon, and have never had the warm reception that MTAC's given me in just two short years.  I really think MTAC is a hidden gem of a con, and I look forward to watching and helping it grow in the upcoming years.