First off, welcome all new readers! If you've found my blog from my business card, I'm glad you made it by! I usually tend to post mostly convention reviews, but I'm working on posting some newer things. :) This time around, it's a recap of experiences from Youmacon.
This particular review will be a little different, mostly because I didn't really have a lot of events I went to (and only after alley hours, which was judging and photography), so I just wanted to provide a general overview of my experiences over the entire weekend. I also forgot to take pictures, so you get animated GIFs instead. :P
If you've been poking around the internet, you may have come across a lot of bad press from artists regarding this particular show. I'm not going to say we didn't have problems as a show and as an alley, but I'm here to provide the good, the not-so-good, and suggestions to improve the show for later years.
+ I may be one of the few people who actually enjoy having my artist alley inside the same room as the Dealer Hall, as well as being over in the Cobo. I really like the professional atmosphere the facility provides, as well as an honest, legit convention hall (tall ceilings, concrete floors), there's just something that screams "home" to me about that sort of thing.
+ Speaking of the COBO, I also really enjoy being able to park on the roof as a "vendor" (I'm usually in AA, but I'm still vending things), because it's cost effective, and I never have to deal with rowdy crowds in the tight-spaced Ren Cen. There's nothing wrong with the Ren Cen, I just happen to prefer to avoid the more rambunctious crowds due to my partial social/spatial anxieties.
+ Staff was willing to work with me when I checked in. While my requests for seating had not been added to the chart, they were more than willing to help me out, and it seemed everybody else who had a request. (I'll have more on this in other sections)
+ Crowds were pretty nice! Most people were really polite, happy to be there, and enjoyed perusing my wares (and I could assume other's wares as well!).
+ Lots of tables available – upon arriving, the zone where the artists would be was actually quite massive. I'm used to vending in huge alleys (aka: Anime Central, Katsucon, etc), so the number of tables did not frighten me. I did find out that the registration area emptied directly into the "north" end of the room (the side opposite the main "entrance" to the hall), which it's nice to at least have the attendees walk past the artists area to get to dealers. Could be better, but honestly, could be worse!
+ AA Ops had their own little "booth/kiosk" thing! This was nice, because it made it really easy to find where to check in, and where to go if we had questions.
NOT SO GOOD
~ Artists Badges =/= Helper Badges. Upon checking in, I received an artist badge, but my helper did not (they did not have them at the desk yet?). We shrugged it off, and planned on getting it the next morning. When we got the helper badge, it was only listed as a 3-Day badge. While this doesn't sound like much of an issue, when your helper has to go get things during "off" hours in the alley (aka, early morn, or close down), they can't get back into the hall unless their badge said vendor or artist. I'm not sure why they did this, but this fact alone made it a little stressful to send my helper on food runs and supply runs.
~ Check-In Amnesia. When I checked in, the staff had a list of names with numbers, and then a corresponding map (awesome!). The list however, was done by name, not by studio name, and when I checked to see if my neighbors were the booths I had requested (all three of us sent in requests, and received an email saying it was received and would be taken into consideration), and they were not. Thankfully the staff let me change some stuff around so I could be near my neighbors who we share helpers/supplies together with. During this process I was informed that they had "remembered" my request, but had somehow… "lost the email". It was frustrating to say the least.
~ Corner Booths. I understand that there was a lot of hassle with the last-minute map layout (I was there for the first posting of the map, and the subsequent thread about it), and that in the end the Fire Marshal had to change the set up. But what I'd like to know is why they thought it was "fire safe" to have 60% of the booths be corner booths. I'm sure a lot of you have heard me complain about it (I'm building a full-sized post about booth locations in general because of this), and this isn't the first corner booth I've had to navigate. But one thing is certain: Corner Booths SUCK.
For those NOT in the know, a corner booth is one table that is on the corner edge of a square/rectangle "island" of booths. It's often said that corners get the "best visibility", and while that may be true, I find living behind one an exercise in futility. Both me, and my other corner mate will end up losing over half our backspace (as the central area should be set up so we can put things like displays). I ended up having to trash my original set up, and get my old supplies from home in efforts to even have something that was useful and wouldn't be so unsteady to fall over on people (I managed to only have a little button wall that might attack people if bumped). I had to borrow back end space from my friend because we had no room to store our products in a manner that would even be feasible to get when a customer ordered it. BUT ENOUGH ABOUT CORNERS. We can all come to the current conclusion that I very much dislike them, and hope that maybe we get rows next time.
~ Same-Ness of Booths. I'm not going to call out any particular booth. (I honestly can't in this regard!) There's been enough drama about that on the boards and internet, but this is more an offshoot from the "Corner Booth" critique. I've seen people complaining about the alley looking "cluttered" and "hard to navigate", and I must say I agree (I can NEVER find my OWN booth in island set ups…). What happened is that due to the tiny island set up (each side only had 3 tables wide), the booth set up that it was most conducive to was the "puppet theater" version.
A puppet theater booth is when the booth makes a tall wall usually on top of the table space and plasters it with posters/prints/plushies/etc, and leaves a small window for the owner to act through. (kind of like a drive-through window). There were a few behind-the-artists displays, but I want to say about 80-85% of booths were puppet theater style just due to the lack of backspace. This made all the booths look the "same", and in essence would have the chance to confuse patrons. This may also have lead to "worse sales" for some artists who may accidentally have a similar motif, or style, or mayhaps drew characters from the same show. When it all blurs together, nobody knows where to shop!
~ Communication Breakdown. In the weeks leading up to the show (even up to 2 months out), we received little communication from our department, and from what it looked like on the forums and websites, from ANY department. Our DH appeared to be unable to get replies from any other department, and none would aid her in using the registration system (let alone working with her to make it so we could purchase helper badges at the time of table purchase). I also get the feeling that she was not provided table information until the absolute last minute, and received little/no help or support from the rest of the departments. But I won't say the DH was wholly excluded from critique either, because they would vanish for periods of time, then come back with any number of reasons why they were unable to access the page, and it felt more like excuses. We understand you're busy AND stressed! Please, when you come back, just start crankin' out responses, instead of listing off all the reasons why you couldn't respond. We're ALSO busy and stressed, and the faster we get confirmations on things, the less we'll bug you! I PROMISE! Moral of the Story: DEPARTMENTS. NEED. TO. TALK TO EACH OTHER.
~ Artists. I want us all to take a deep breath. I am going to say this with the utmost love. I have never seen a more doom & gloom alley in all my years. *sighs* Every time I checked the Facebook group in case of any updates… all I saw was "not selling anything" and "terrible show", combined with a few "we're so screwed!" type of updates, along with angry ranting about demanding refunds for table sizes, and so forth. I understand we were all stressed, and things weren't going as planned.
But I just want to reassure ALL artists, Fridays are ALWAYS SLOW. ALWAYS. I hardly ever sell ANYTHING on Friday. Yes, attendees are going to totally blow past the alley upon first entering the hall. They are there for the VENDORS first and foremost, and then the AA. This is just the way things work, and while there are exceptions to the rule, the attendees wanna go buy their figures first before getting prints. It's always been that way. The amount of doom & gloom, whining, angry ranting I saw on Friday, made me kind of embarrassed to be sharing a hall with many of you.
Everybody, it's gonna be okay. Wait until later on Saturday before making some judgments. Also. IT WAS HALLOWEEN. School was in session, and most people would probably want to stay home or get home early so they could either hand out candy or go trick or treating themselves. OF COURSE IT WAS DESOLATE.
My advice? Get off the internet and start working on things to look busy instead of complaining at your booth on a Friday. Stop attacking/blaming your neighbors. Stop yelling at the show as though they are obligated to you to get you into the black. You're there to SELL. SHOW YOUR BEST SELF!
NEED TO IMPROVE
I'd like to provide some advice to the show, on stuff that happened, and what could possibly make it better. I'm no guru, nor does the show have to take my advice, but as an artist, here are some suggestions:
# Communication & Staffing. Please please please do two things for me: 1.) Get all the departments to know that they really SHOULD know what each other is kind of up to, so in case they need to contact each other, they can. Also, they should check their emails. 2.) In that regard, please get the Artists Department a set of full STAFF. One gal doing it alone should NOT be how this works. You're a big show, your departments deserve some extra staff members now to help.
# Technology/Email. Numerous times we were provided that there were issues with the DH handling email. That our messages might get lost, or that requests were somehow missed. (We couldn't even send in location requests until the map was started because in theory the messages would get lost in all the emails). We live in the year 2014. Most email systems are a POP3 system. You can route them to other emails (like gmail) or you can route them into a reader like Outlook! Outlook has folders, and rules you can set to filter stuff like spam, or space requests. I do this with my own departmental emails, and it makes it 10x easier to keep track of stuff. Having an email list would be great, but I'd rather the poor DH get the emails in an easier to sort format than they've currently got! This will make both the DH's life as well as the artist's lives SO MUCH EASIER.
# Confirmation Communication. One of the issues we had as artists was with the sign ups. Upon entering the system, and paying the fee, we received no other information on if we were in. In theory, if you were able to pay you were in, otherwise, you could add yourself to a waitlist. A simple copy/paste email of "you are in" would have been FAB-U-LOUS. For people who complain that we as artists are extra needy, it's little things like this that will keep us from hounding you. We just need to know if we're in, so we can then plan travel and booths. 30 minutes of copy paste emails will save you WEEKS of headaches.
Also, can we go back to using forums? Facebook is too chaotic. I kept seeing the same question REPEATEDLY, and people don't like to search for terms. I may be old, but forums at least keep threads alive. I like the Facebook group for meeting and chatting with the other artists though, so it's not all bad.
# Artist Badges for All. It's kind of a minor thing, but we desperately need specified helper and/or artist badges to be provided to those helpers we've designated. Your door guards were doing a great job making sure only artists got back in during closed hours, but that also unfortunately prevented some of our helpers from getting back to us! My helper only got back in because he was wearing a very recognizable Spooky Hat and had talked to the door guard before he left. I don't know WHY the department wasn't given more artist badges, but please, can you make our helpers be able to access the hall with us?
# ROWS rows rows (row your boat!). I can't stress enough how terrible corner booths are. Not only were the tables shortened (we were told they were 8 ft, but ended up getting 6 ft, to which I didn't care as much about that as I did losing all my backspace), but 60% of the booths were corners. Which meant 60% of artists were sharing a back area with another person. We were stepping all over each other, and I really want to know why the fire marshal thought that set up was a good idea. We were expanding our displays accidentally over each other's space, in a desperate fight to be seen. So many went taller.
If you maintain the same set up of dealers, I may suggest having the artist alley mimic the rows that the dealers were placed in? In a way, we'd all look somewhat uniform and the patrons could float between the sections, without hitting a strange wall of odd set ups and getting lost in a maze.
WOULD I ATTEND AGAIN?
Maybe in future years. I am actually planning on taking a year off from this particular alley unless any major changes occur.
It really comes down to the fact I retained a lot of stress from the show. Whether it was pre-con drama, at-con drama, post-con drama, as well as lack of communication and answers or poor set ups, I maintained more stress than I normally have for conventions. I wish the show the best for the future, and I hope to return at a later year!