Thursday, August 18, 2011

Convention review - Heroescon and Otakon

After the lovely Becca did an excellent review of her thoughts and experiences at Heroescon and Otakon, and encouraged me to do my own, I relented, so here you guy go.

Heroescon is a mainstream (think DC, Marvel, Dark Horse) comics convention in Charlotte, NC.  Because its so close to SCAD, not only do many students go, so do many of the professors, both to enjoy and to table.  A good deal of the panels are even put on by SCAD.  I don't know the number of attendees there, but it was located in the Charlotte Convention Center, and we did see a sizeable line when we set up friday morning.

The dealers room and artist alley were all in the same place, so comic giants like Neal Adams were intermixed with college comickers and comic store owners and publishers like top shelf.  This probably would have been great, were we not therefore in the far back of a giant room.  Regardless, there were still a number of people who came by.

I've used free candy to tempt people to my table for years, and at Heroescon it actually went over as a huge success - kids came by, saw the candy, and their parents would look at our work.  Yes, there were the typical old nerdy guys with their box of first editions and $800 Neal Adams commissions, but there were also a lot of kids (and a lot of kids in costume), and a lot of parents (including moms!)  There were SOME teenagers, but not so much of the hypersugared anime crowd.


I can't say I really did booming business at Heroescon, but I've never broken $1000 at any con, so I guess in retrospect I didn't do horribly (I came home with about $300).  Charlotte is a beautiful city though, and Heroescon was fun.

However, I think part of the other problem was we were competing with people who don't have standards.  In THEORY, fanart is not allowed by DC or Marvel, but there were tons of pinups of all the girls, all as skanky and scantily clad as possible, or artists who, in order to conform to the family friendly rule, would cover the naughty bits on their giant paintings with post its.  Then there were people who's tables were full of full sized comic books.  Still, all in all, it was a casual atmosphere.  Almost everyone had a banner similar to my own behind their table (6' x 2.5') then a display on their table that did not utilize pvc or crates or anything of that sort, but perhaps some small easels, or a banner on front of their table.  People liked to mill about and take time to talk to you and look at your art, rather than darting from thing to thing.

Still, I didn't do very well, and it isn't REALLY my crowd.  I have so many issues with mainstream superhero comics, and with so many of the artists that made cheap fanart or ripoff comics that I felt awkward there in the midst of all of it.

Otakon was in Baltimore in July, only a few weeks ago.  It is the second largest anime convention in the US, with an attendance of 30,000.  In additon to the merchandise I brought to heroescon (pokemon bookmarks, posters and prints, both fanart and original work, a sketcbook, a book of short comics, a longer graphic novel) I also made charms of the animals of the chinese zodiac I was selling for $3.  I had the same setup - a banner behind me with a few upright displays on the table, but most things laid flat for people to flip through.  And it was a disaster.

Yes, I made more at Otakon than I did at Heroescon, but not proportionally more.  And I had way less fun, almost having to scream at people to get them to come by our table.  Becca theorizes this was because, even though I did fanart, I didn't ape people's styles - my cloud and squall didn't look EXACTLY like squeenix, my ouran piece didn't look EXACTLY like hatori's (I couldn't do her style if I wanted to!)  And because I'm not on board with what is popular THIS MOMENT (nyan cat?  adventure time?  ponies?) I didn't draw fanart of it - I only draw fanart of stuff I really like anyway.  (Meaning I made a nice kenshin piece no one bought).  

I can't say I didn't sell anything, as I still made about $400.  Before you factor in the cost of hotel, the table, the train ride there, buying any of the materials . . . . okay.  I'm rather far in debt from it.  Yeah.  It really kicked my butt, and that means I really can't financially justify it ever again.  So why did I do so shoddily when I have - supposedly - good art?

I've been tabling at anime conventions for several years - starting at a little tiny convention called Ikasucon in Cincinnati, OH back in high school (2002?) and for a while hitting four or five cons a year.  In college without a car, con going became more difficult, though I did have friends that went, and once I started my full-time illustration job in Toledo, it was annoying to get fridays off to go to cons, especially if they were any distance away.  I still did an occasional convention, but nothing like I did in high school.  Looking back to how I handled conventions, though, things were different then.  Now, 95% of all artists have a pvc or wire frame stand of some kind over their table to hang their artwork from.  They've become more of a drive through booth, where you go up to a small window, pick a print, and pay. Back in the earlier 00's, it was unusual for people (at the cons I visited, which were admittedly smaller cons) to have even a banner.  Now, even that banner doesn't generate enough interest for people to come look at your table.

Admittedly, I think I also pulled more of a profit because I was capitalizing on the manga boom.  1998 really marked when anime and manga took off in the US, and as tokyopop and viz experimented with formatting manga and bringing them to the US, I was there with not only fanart, but colorful art that appealed to the 'high school emo.'  As the market became oversaturated, I stopped going (no correlation, it just happened to be when I got into college), and in the late 2000's, the market really declined, whether due to the availability of torrents and fansubs and free online scanlations, or just due to a lack of interest.

Now, the next generation of manga kids are used to this availability - with high speed internet, they can read all their favorite series online through a multitude of websites, and because of webcomics, they just expect things to be free - their parents give them money, they don't see that this is our job, how we have to pay the bills.  They're hypercaffinated, ADHD, and probably just like us when we were 14.

In conclusion, I have no idea what to do with cons.  One of my professors asked how I was networking online, and I was like . . . "uh, deviantart?"  But DA hasn't done much for me - I have 80K pageviews, but when it comes to commissions, I've had a grand total of 2 people who aren't my friends want stuff from me.  When it comes to prints, absolutely zero.  Whey I try to promote my stuff or sell it on other sites, no one bites.  Spitfire got featured on Drunk Duck, yet I still couldn't get people to buy ANY copies of the book.

I love art, and I'm not QUITE ready to give it up yet, but its becoming a hobby I'm paying 60K a year to learn to do better, and I just can't do that.


Seras Winterblood said...

Stumbled across your blog while looking for more of your art actually - I'm really sorry to hear that you had a lousy time at Otakon 2011 and I just wanted to let you know that the illustration you did for me really made my weekend. I go to Otakon every year to find one artist I think has the style to capture what's in my mind's eye - and this year you were it.
I know I'm just some random from the internet, but I hope this gives you some encouragement because you're really talented and it would be a damn shame if you gave up!

Best Wishes,
- Monica

Julie Jet said...

When talking to other people out here who do art for a living, they all understand that artists (including filmmakers) are often ripped off, because people don't want to pay for us. I think only other artists ever understand that concept.

I really don't think cons are the place for you, and it comes from the fact that your style has developed beyond anime, into something unique, and that's not what people at cons want. When I came to see you at a con a few years ago, the people there scared me. Not in a they're going to kill me way, but in they're the kind of people that will want to pump you full of sugar and caffeine and then run around screaming until your ears bleed and your throat is raw. They jump from one thing to another with no appreciation of anything. It's like they're all on speed or X. That's not the place for real art-because no one there cares to stop their speed-party long enough to look or care.

Not sure how to tell you how to network, because you're probably doing a better job of it than me as is.

I do recommend, however, looking into doing things like storyboarding and concept art. There are quite a few pre-vis houses out here that I think you'd do well at. Sure, it may not be exactly what you want, but it'd pay the bills so you could draw your own comics without outside funding to get them going. I'm not saying come live out here with me, just to look into pre-vis.

But what do I know; I was a film major.

Ellehcore said...

:O I love your work! And I can't wait to pay you for the commission mat design! I will deffs link you and promote you when I get it printed! ;D

(Also at cons in Australia (even the biggest ones) the freelance artist alley booths sound like the ones you are more used to with maybe a banner... perhaps come to Australia? (lol jks))