Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review for Artists: Natsucon 2013

Disclaimer: All opinions and statements made in this review are my own and do not reflect on the convention as a whole. I am specifically writing about the artist alley for future artists to use a reference.

So Natsucon 2013 had a pretty terrible AA weekend, especially when you consider what a success last year was. I didn’t do too bad, but I will write this in the general perspective because no one I talked to did well. Hell, we didn’t even make half our goal. Problems with coordination early on screwed a lot of the artists and staff who tried to patch things up. So here we go.

Venue: Gateway Center, Collinsville, IL
Collinsville’s Gateway Center is home to many events because they are a large and spacious area. Parking is free and rooms are aplenty.  If you’ve been before, the only “new” thing to note is that they no longer contract out to Securitas for convention security. Looks like there was no actual armed security patrolling the place, which could be a problem for such a large gathering. The center staff are wonderful and usually have no problems with even the strangest of happenings. They do have hot food and concessions on site, which is a plus. If you have a taste for something else, there’s plenty of fast food nearby as well.

Natsucon did place people at every doorway to restrict access to staff only. This left only the front doors for everyone else, which was pretty inconvenient.

Space: Hallway
The setup was the same as last year. Artists are spread out throughout the hallway. This means you have to setup and tear down each morning and evening. Tables were spaced out well enough that you had room on both sides to store boxes and move about. Natsucon setup their events in a way that placed registration and the main events hall on polar opposite ends of the long hallway, so traffic actually flowed across all the tables. This is nice because many artists remember the snafoo two years back when Natsucon placed quite a few artists in a back corner where nothing happened and there was no traffic.

There was a small issue with table assignment and some artists were double booked, leaving open tables in the hallway. That was obviously not cool because that takes away a space that another artist might’ve been able to buy and sell at. I’ll cover more on this issue in the “Staff” section of this review.

Variety: Crafts, Crafts and More Crafts
Natsucon is primarily filled with crafters. This year there were only a handful of tables with prints. However, you can find a huge variety of other things like hats, masks, bead sprites, and stickers. I was one of two tables with jewelry, which was surprising. There were actually so many crafters that a few were denied and chose to buy a vendors booth just to get into the show. I should also note that Natsucon used a juried system this year to select their artists so I guess the print artists I usually see just didn’t apply.

So here’s a little tidbit about the dealers. So the dealer’s room this year was gigantic. They had about triple the number of dealers as last year, which is a crazy leap. Apparently they wanted to compete with ASTL. The dealer’s were also really diverse and fantastic. From plushies to DVDs to corsets to trading cards and figurines. I couldn’t find much in the snack department, only a small table in the back corner. Oh well.

Sales & Attendees: One Button at a Time
Last year’s Natsucon was sensational. It was my #2 show of 2012 for profit and I had extremely high hopes for the weekend. So at the end of the weekend, I would say I had an ok show. I would also say that I was ridiculously lucky because many other artists I spoke to barely broke even, if they did at all. There’s no obvious explanation for what happened to make this year so terrible but there’s plenty of speculation. The entire weekend was slow to the point that hours would pass without someone stopping to even chat. I found myself selling one button at a time all weekend which is just unheard of. I sell buttons for $1 each or 6 for $5 and most people have no problem dropping that $5. By the end of the weekend, my earring rack was still full. So right, sales sucked hardcore. Some artists and dealers were chatting and discussing how it was slow all around. Some packed up early on Sunday because they knew they weren’t breaking even.

As for attendees, I did see quite a few familiar faces (I love you guys) but the crowd this year seemed much younger. Even my regulars only stopped by for a quick hello. I saw more minor badges than I ever have at a con.  With a younger crowd comes a different spending pattern. The thing I heard the most was, “I already spent all my money. I only had $40.” A lot of people wouldn’t even stop by to chat because they’d spent all they had within the first hour of the convention.

I also read some of the FB comments and overheard many conversations of unhappy con goers. More than usual, that is. It seems Natsucon wanted to charge badges for those who just wanted to hang out in the hall and not attend any events or panels. This made many people unhappy enough to declare they were never coming back. Also, there were no programs. They uploaded a file online but it only had Friday’s schedule. At the con, they had a sign stating they were going green and therefore not printing programs. So I don’t know what was at this show, but according to a lot of attendees there was a severe lack of fan panels.

Staff: This is important.
Ok, I’m going to break this down as specifically as possible. The staff that worked with us (artists) at the convention were fantastic. J (Jay?) was the very newly appointed AA coordinator and he stopped by more times than I can remember. Polite, professional, and awesome. The other staff I interacted with were also awesome, as they have been in years past. So what went wrong?

Well I have no idea what all the commotion was but I have a vague idea. The person running artist alley before J was not doing their job and was therefore replaced. But because this individual didn’t keep up with AA stuff, there were quite a few problems for artists this year. As I mentioned before, some artists, including myself, were double booked by accident. Hell I never got an acceptance email, an invoice, or anything to say I’d gotten in. I had to sent FaceBook messages and emails to everyone just to get an “Oh yeah, you’re in.” So I paid without them billing me.

 Also, there was ZERO communication until the last little stretch where another staff member started emailing me answering questions from months prior. Even he seemed a little confused about what was happening with the AA because of the disorganization. In the end, no list of artists were ever uploaded, no schedule for times, no nothing was ever emailed out to artists. Terrible.

So here’s what I’m mostly upset about. Remember that badge contest they held a while back? Yeah. Well they were going to put all the entries up on their website in April for our viewing pleasure. That got pushed back to “after the con” and now it’s probably going to be a never. Such a bummer, but I guess that’s not too bad. Did I mention I won one of the badge designs? I have no idea who the other winners were and no one knew that the badges were designed by some of the artists. That kind of removes the incentive for us to do that again. Well the prizes were supposed to be: half off the artist table, Fast Pass, con tshirt, and access to premium events. Well I only sent the half payment and I had to ask J is I could get some of the hotel key FastPasses for myself (did I mention he was awesome). No one seemed to know that there were even supposed to be prizes. Lame.

I feel for the staff who scrambled at the last minute to get things fixed and I’m grateful that they tried their best. If I can, next year will still be on my list because I know that the convention staff are more than willing to learn from their mistakes and rectify situations, as demonstrated last weekend. Hopefully this won’t happen again but I know several artists who will not be returning.

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