Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Archon 38: Review for Artists



This was my first year attending Archon, St. Louis’s own scifi and fantasy convention. It’s always been on my radar to check out, but I had never had the guts to attend a a convention so far from my comfort zone. As I understood it, this was the haven for Trekkies and classic scifi fans, not Naruto ninjas and Ouran fangirls.

Table cost was $70 and didn’t come with a badge. I did receive confirmation from John Seis, the wonderful man in charge of artists, that if artists weren’t attending events, badges were unnecessary.

The storm front moving in. Taken about 4 seconds before freezing cold rain poured on me.
So a few days before I was about the leave for St. Louis, it stormed like a beast in mid Missouri. We had flash floods and tornados that were supposed to continue through the early weekend, and that made me pretty nervous. Fortunately I managed to catch the ONLY dry patch between storm clouds and ride it all the way east to St. Louis, where it quickly caught up and poured on us. Friday morning was sunny when I woke up but started pouring in the afternoon, before drying to a chilly, cloudy sky for most of the weekend.

This convention was more adult oriented than any I’ve been to before, not saying that it isn’t family oriented as well. But at the Friday night reception, there was free beer (and food). I don’t drink, but that is pretty awesome. And it was Klingon War Nog. According to everyone, that stuff is delicious and expensive.

Location  & Venue

Archon 38 was held at the wonderful Gateway Center in Collinsville, IL. I have reviewed the GC many times before because they host a great many of the conventions near the St. Louis region. Just a quick review:

  • The GC is located conveniently off several major highways including 55 and 255 (that’s what they are in MO, not sure if that’s what they are in IL)
  • There’s enough parking for everyone and their momma and it’s free!
  • The location is wonderful. There are a ton of fast and real food restaurants within a few miles, as well a grocery stores, Walmart, and anything else you could need last minute. Very convenient.
  • The GC has it’s own hot food and snacks vendors both in the main ballrooms and in the front lobby. And the food is actually delicious and the prices aren’t too jacked. One thing I’ve never seen before is the Italian beef sandwhich. Not sure if it was special to this convention or if I’ve really just not noticed it in the last half decade. I could spend all day talking about how delicious those sandwiches were. On a food related note, the GC staff also came around a few times each day with a little food cart for us. That was awesome! I have definitely never seen that at any of my other events there. Such a luxury, especially for those of us manning spaces by ourselves.
  • Staff are friendly and professional. The trash cans get empties, the bathrooms are clean, and they’re just super polite and great to work with.


Artist/Dealer Space

My table! And my two lovely dolly assistants :)
The dealers were in a locked room. I only managed to wiz through there once, very quickly. It was pretty packed! I know a few artists who opted to be in the dealers room because they locked their doors each night.

Artists got tables in the main hallway, right smack where the traffic was. The GC has very specious halls so there was no squeezing to be done. Each artist received a 6’ table with a skirt and two chairs. Each table was placed about 6” from the tables next to it. Most of us bumped together here or there to create more walking room between every other table.

The location was good. The tables spanned across the main panel/event rooms, so no one was dangling alone in the corner of some dusty hallway. Of course, 38 years in I’m sure they’ve got this figured out. The only problem I noticed was on Saturday night, the line for the masquerade started at 6pm although the masquerade seating wasn’t going to start for another hour. To prevent a fire hazard, the line was asked to press up against side of the hallway, against all the artist tables. This resulted in about 2 hours of being blocked for those artists.

Because artists were in the hallway, it was a “set up and tear down as you please” type system. Being my first time, I had no idea what time to arrive on Friday. I was told I could arrive as early as 9:30am, although the dealer’s room wouldn’t open until 4. The opening ceremony was at 1:30, but there were panels as early as 11am. I settled on leaving whenever I woke up. I arrived around noon, and most artists had trickled in by the early afternoon. There was already quite a bit of traffic by the time I arrived, so for future reference, get up earlier.

Variety of Products

Most conventions I go to are pretty anime oriented. When I say, “There was a really good variety,” I normally mean there was a good mix of plushies, prints, jewelry, bead sprites… This was a different world of variety. There were quite a few authors, including one of my childhood favorites, Tamora Pierce. It was very neat to see authors with their stacks of books in the artist alley.

Magpie’s Masquerie was next to me, and if you’ve never seen them at KawaKon, they’re purveyors of costume horns, “fruit” bats (plush bats made to represent real fruit!), and ren-fair type wares. The artist to my other side was a weaver and she even had a demonstration loom that she worked on for half the weekend. Painters, a needle felter, hat makers.

This was a very new experience for me. I will say that I felt like I stuck out pretty bad. I would describe my table as colorful and “junky”. Junky refers to it being crowded with trinkety items popular with anime crowds. This weekend I managed to catch the eye of every minor or mom with a kid. However, only a handful of adults stopped to look. It was weird for me.

Sales

Just down the hall.
On Friday, I made most of my sales while I was setting up. This wonderful experience died pretty quickly as the day trickled on. There were hours that would go by with only a few people that stopped to chat. It was like this up and down the hall. I figured it was just a case of the Fridays. It’s a school and work day, plus it’s only the beginning of the weekend. At the end of the day, I went home exhausted but content. I managed to break even on Friday and I was very excited that the sales I did make were a great range of my items. A little bit of everything sold, which means a lot to me because I pride myself much more in my print work and jewelry, which usually sell poorly on Friday.

Saturday had a bout of chilly weather and I think that made me really tired. By 2pm I was ready for a nap. Again the traffic was very steady, sometimes even overwhelming, but the sales were slower than I had hoped. Most people just wanted to get to their events (and I don’t blame them; the programming was very interesting). I spoke to a few other artists and dealers, and everyone was in a similar boat. I have to admit, between the exhaustion, the cold, and the slow sales, I was getting pretty down about the convention. These things pay my bills, ya know? By the end of Saturday, I was debating on whether or not I should just pack it in and call it a weekend. Of course, I chose to stay because I dislike artists jumping ship without a good reason. It makes the AA look bad. Plus I had already paid for the table soooo…

Sunday I woke up and arrived TWO HOURS late. I set my alarm clock wrong and it never went off, so I woke up when I had planned on arriving. Derp. Well, Sunday was still pretty slow but I will admit I was in a much better mood. The past two days I stressed myself silly over the numbers but by Sunday I had decided I was done with that nonsense. Sunday was still fairly slow, but I definitely enjoyed myself more and talked to a few more people, mostly teens waiting for their rides or moms waiting on kids. The nice thing about Sunday was that even though I made fewer transactions, everyone was ready to spend their last dollar. I had several people toss me a $20 before picking out their prints. How silly. While I was packing up, I made quite a few last minute sales. It certainly boosted my mood and the weekend finished on a really good note.

At the end of the weekend, I had made my threshold (by $15 O_O), which is my minimum profit in deciding whether or not I would attend again. So it wasn’t bad. I think the sudden onset of cold weather didn’t help either.

Staff

After I had paid for my table, I had heard from a few people that Archon has sorta been going downhill over the past fear years. Mostly vague rumors, about how they weren’t interested in trying to attract the pop culture and anime crowds and so the event itself was slowly dying out, staff who flat out disliked anime...

Not the case.

I found the staff to be very professional, friendly, and just all around great to work with. John Sies, as I mentioned before, was wonderful in answering questions and very accommodating when I asked to move my table further from the wall. Another staff member came around the AA to personally introduce himself to each artist. When I mentioned feeling out of place, he explained that Archon was meant to be all encompassing so my artwork was very fitting. Many asked if I was enjoying my weekend and if I planned to return. Very genuine. So those rumors are debunked!

Crowd
Talented mom made the cosplays :D

Every time I write a review, I feel like I add a new section. Here’s a little blip about the crowd J

Archon definitely attracts an older audience. I met quite a few people who told me they’d been attending Archon for decades! There were a bunch of families too, many with young children. Archon had an entire children’s track, complete was story time and kiddie masquerade. That’s such a great way to get the next generation involved, and give parents more reasons to attend. I can’t remember how many princesses and mini Spidermans walked past.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of anime fans. Most, if not all, stopped by my table to chat. Like me, many were first timers to Archon. While there wasn’t much programming for the anime crowd, they had many cross interests in the scifi or pop culture aspects so it worked out.



Final verdict:

Archon is a good convention, but definitely more worth it if you can attend the events. I wish I had a companion because some of those panels (nanobot technology, seriously!) would’ve been right up my alley. I wouldn’t expect to make a fortune since most of the attendees are trying to get to those awesome panels or autographs, but you’ll make enough to call it a good weekend. This seems to apply both to artists and dealers.

So will I go back? I’m not sure yet. The slowness of the days was very taxing despite decent numbers. I’m pretty sure if I return to Archon, it will not be as an artist. I want to get to those panels! But you never know, I do love shows in the fall. However, this time next year I don’t think I’ll be available because I’m going back to “school”.

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