This review is not about the convention. It is simply an opinionated review from an artist's perspective to reference for anyone interested in attending the artist alley.
This is my third year at KawaKon but only the second review I've written for it. Here's the first one from last year for those who would like to compare: KawaKon 2012 Review.
So here we go:
Dealer/Artist Space: Finally It Makes Sense! Sorta
I’m going to start with the venue this time. This year KawaKon was held in the Hyatt Regency at the Arch in downtown St. Louis. Hyatt is obviously one of the more gorgeous hotels available and is a great luxury to be in. The hotel staff are amazingly polite from clerks to valet and the interior is downright breathtaking.
However, the hotel is perhaps a little too high class for an anime convention. Not like conventions are trashy, but the cost just attending in this location was pressing. For one, you’re in downtown St. Louis. Want to park? You have to pay. Want to eat? You either walk a couple blocks (not recommended) or you dine at the hotel. Cha-ching. Another problem in addition to parking was loading/unloading. We received an email to head to the loading dock on Pine Street. Upon arriving I was confused because the dock can only fit 2 vehicles and you can’t park on the street anywhere to wait, not to mention that the hotel was also using the dock. I ended up parking 2 blocks away at a meter and walking all my stuff to the hotel. Thank goodness for my rolling cart. Unloading was a little more organized because the loading dock was scheduled for those who needed it to take turns. I left through the front doors since I was getting a pickup ^_^
Also, some poor planning landed the convention over the same weekend as Mardi Gras. That was a traffic nightmare and some con goers had more than their share of drunk partiers meandering the hotel and streets. But from a third person, sober perspective, it was pretty funny to see cosplayers and Mardi Gras-ers mingled together.
Now the dealer/artist alley is always in a locked room. Kawa always chains the doors during closed hours too, which I really like since some conventions just have “patrolling security”. This year artists and dealers were separated although in the same room. I’m glad they made this change because years before artists were scattered among dealers and overshadowed. There was plenty of room for tables (6 ft), behind the tables, and in the walkways. I give the vendor room layout an “A” this year.
The hours seemed to close a little earlier than I remember (6pm on Sat, 3pm on Sun) but if they lock the room, who can really complain.
Variety: Not Your Typical Anime Con
In the last three years I’ve seen Kawa slowly transforming into a variety geek con more than anime. They are still advertised as an anime con but their panels, events, and artists definitely cater to a larger palate. Steampunk is fairly predominant, as are video games and scifi. This year even featured artists who usually attend Renaissance Fairs.
Print artists were lacking, and I mean the people who do mainly poster prints. Crafts were the dominating portion of the artist alley. There were blade engravers, leather masks, comics, hats and scarves and all sorts of goodies. I love the variety from all the artists because a lot of them try Kawa as first timers and I meet new people every year. However, the return rate to the artist alley is normally smaller than other cons because sales aren’t always the best. It’s great for social connections though!
Sales and Attendees: It’s Like A Broke Party
You’ll never be too bored at Kawa’s artist alley. I’ve been to many conventions were you get a few hours when no one walks in the dealer’s room or artist alley. This is not one of those. There were always people walking around who generally were very happy to talk. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to so many people before.
However sales were ok at best. For some of the returning artists they did better than last year, but as quoted, “Last year was abysmal”. I barely made half what I was expecting to. Many other artists just barely broke even by the end of the weekend.
I do feel that for the St. Louis cons, Kawa is normally the slowest for sales. It used to be that it was so close to ASTL that most people were saving their money for that one instead. This year Kawa was held a month earlier than years prior so I hoped the timing would be less of a problem.
I think the problem was in the venue. Attendees were not only paying badge price, but parking. The hotel parking was $26 a night if you were staying. A few garages were available a block or two away for considerably less but they filled up fast because of Mardi Gras and other events in downtown. Another problem was food availability. There were no dining options aside from the Hyatt restaurant that weren’t at least a few blocks away. If you didn’t want to lose your parking, that meant walking through downtown. A lot of people ended up bingeing on snacks or paying to eat at the Hyatt. Many attendees mentioned how fast they spent their money before even making it into the dealers room.
Staff Attitudes: The Usual
I had very little interaction with staff this time around since I didn’t get the chance to leave my table. Kawa was fairly prompt with getting out information although a communication problem did exist between me and the head of the artist alley. She didn’t seem to be receiving any of my emails. I sent about 5 between applying and the show and only heard back once and that was after I contacted the chair. A few other artists claimed similar problems so maybe it wasn’t just me.
Didn’t have any problems with staff this year so we’ll just leave it at that.
That said, I had a good time at Kawa this year. Mostly it was meeting new artists and talking to old friends. Sales can be summed up as worse than last year (for me) but only a few fared slightly better. I might go back next year if I'm in the area but this isn't a big profit for me.
I would like to see Kawa be held somewhere that parking isn't a nightmare. Perhaps in South County. There are tons of venues there and it's very spacious with free parking and fast food everywhere.