Friday, April 3, 2015

Naka-Kon 2015: Artist Alley Review (+Planet Comicon)

This was my second year attending Naka-Kon and I again have nothing but fantastic things to say, so get ready for a couple pages of exuberant, bubbly praise.

Naka-Kon is a long running anime convention out of Overland Park, KS (Kansas City) that draws just under 10k in attendance. Their artist alley and dealer slots are highly sought after and the price for a table is really reasonable ($100), especially considering the size and how great it is every year. The vendors situation has been successfully fine tuned to an art.

So this weekend, I was attending Naka-Kon and my husband was scheduled to sell at Planet Comicon just across the city. I was excited to be doing my first dual con and prepped like crazy. Unfortunately, things went hinky and we had to pull out of Planet Comicon, literally last second. I’m going to cover my limited experience at Planet Comicon at the bottom of this review.

So back to Naka-Kon!

The convention hotel is the beautiful Sheraton, but I opted for the Holiday Inn Express two blocks down since I wasn’t splitting room with anyone this year. The HIE is walking distance to the OPCC and the staff are wonderful. There was a problem finding parking on Saturday night. The lot and underground garage were full, so we ended up parking at the convention center lot and walking over. Again, two blocks, not gonna complain. The staff here were super friendly and professional, although I’m guessing that’s completely normal since they cater to a lot of people visiting the hospitals.

Location & Venue
Naka-Kon is held at the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park. The location is pretty prime. Easy access off a highway and really straightforward to get to. It is surrounded by hotels and hospitals, with tons of food options about a mile and a half down the road. My favorite part is the parking lot; it’s gigantic and free. There’s no worry about not finding parking (although I got there early every morning so maybe it was tougher later in the day).

The OPCC is also spacious, accommodating venue. It’s a two story building with a grand foyer/lobby and big panel rooms. Their staff are polite and on top of their game. Is it weird that I mostly judge this by the fact that trash cans were never overflowing?

Artist Space
Artists are given a 6’x5’ (?) booth, one uncovered, unskirted 5’ table, 2 chairs, and pipe and drape to separate you from other artists. It was the exact same design as last year, if you read that review, and I got the same booth space :D Not sure if that’s on purpose or not but I thought it was pretty awesome. You have artists to either side, but not to your back. Each “row” of artists is not an island, it really is just a row that faces one direction. Although this means fewer artists can be accommodated, I think it is fantastic. It was funny because the artists around me started the weekend with only forward facing displays, but started to pick up on what I was doing and by Sunday, they had taped up new displays on the back.

With your front and back exposed to the walking crowds, it brings in a new list of pros and cons.
Pros: You essentially have a 360 display. I made my print display 2 sided so people walking behind my row could still see my art, and there’s no neighbor back there to disturb! Last year and this year, I actually made a couple sales to the back of my booth because people couldn’t get around to the front.
Cons: If you have things that are normally stored behind your table, you gotta keep a better eye on them. I’ve never had anyone reach over the drapes and try to grab anything, but you never know. This applies to anything normally hidden beneath or behind your table: cash boxes, your purse, cameras. People behind you can see exactly where it all is.

When I setup on Thursday and Friday morning, the room was dim. Only half the lights were on and it was casting shadows from displays all over the place. Fortunately, all the lights turned on right before opening and talk about a wonderfully lit space. Zero problems here.

The ballroom where we were all setup was really big. Most of the dealers were in the front and along the perimeter, while all the artists were in rows in the back. Usually the idea of placing artists behind the dealers is terrible because everyone blows their money before they make it to the back. Naka-Kon has somehow made it work out so that this is definitely not the case. Even though we’re all in the back (closer to the concessions!), the traffic was still very heavy.

The room locked up each night and security was present. There was also a PA system that made announcements about the times the room was opening and closing. Helpful.

Fun fact, GlitchGear was vending behind me. Ugh I wanted to get some of the Borderlands shirts so bad. But they played music all weekend. It was pretty loud but I’m not gonna lie, it was good music. Not KPop or anime soundtracks, but gamer music. It wasn’t loud enough to affect my communication and I certainly enjoyed it all weekend. ^_^

Naka-Kon is a juried show, although I’m not sure what they look for. Last year I speculated that they probably picked one or two of their favorite artists for each type of craft, and had about half print artists. This year, it feels like there was a dominance of print work. I’m not saying it like it was bad. The artists that were there this year made me feel like a total noob. It was like I got mixed in with all the artists I worship on the internet XD

I did get to walk around a few times, but I’m much more interested in crafts than prints so there wasn’t too much to see. A few people plush, some hair accessories. Granted, everyone was super talented, I didn’t find too much I was dying to grabby-hand. For the record, I also live in a one bedroom apartment with my husband and a dog, so anything not necessary or absolutely must-have doesn’t make the list. Sadly.

Awesome. The end.

Just kidding. So last year, I had my mind blown by how well sales went. This year was on par. Those with VIP passes got to come in a little earlier, and if you want to shop, you need a VIP pass to get in before things get sold out. After opening ceremonies on Friday, it was nonstop. I sold a ton of buttons on Friday, hundreds, and it got busier as the evening went on. We got a few breaks, but they never lasted more than five minutes.
Saturday started steady with lots of little sales, but it picked up really fast. In the first three hours of Saturday, I matched my Friday sales. The room was crowded even with giant aisles, and the table always had people at it. I will say that although it was constantly busy, no one seemed overwhelmed. Well, maybe except some of the dealers. A few booths were totally swamped. As Saturday continued, it only got more hectic. There was always heavy traffic, but insanity would come in waves between events and panels. It would go from three or four people in front of my table to ten in an instant. By the evening, a lot of vendors had big empty spaces where they had sold out of merch. Half, and even whole tables were bare. Good for them.

Sunday ended with a bang. I sold more large purchases Sunday morning than the rest of the weekend. The sales didn’t slow down until the late afternoon as the convention was winding down. This was the day when everyone was dropping the rest of the money they had saved throughout the weekend. I did have a neighbor who started calling customers away from the tables around him but nothing else that could’ve affected sales.

As an anime convention, a majority of the attendees were teenagers and young adults, although there were plenty of toddlers and families enjoying the weekend. Usually I break down demographic because it can correlate with spending patterns and what items do better. Naka-Kon does so well all around that this information is obsolete.

Staff & Volunteers
I love the staff. They send out frequent emails to keep us updated. This year, the artists and dealers were required to submit a tax clearance form before being allowed to sell. We got the applications emailed to us way back in the fall. I mailed mine in and sorta forgot about it. Well two weeks before Naka weekend, I got an email that said they hadn’t received mine! I panicked. I emailed them and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I heard back. We were able to correspond efficiently and I got my form submitted two days later.

It’s such a small thing for them to email me back quickly, but it saved me a lot of worry, not to mention I had already paid for the table.

The convention staff working the event were very polite and helpful. I didn’t need too much from them throughout the weekend since it was smooth sailing. J

Final Verdict
So much yes. Yes I recommend Naka-Kon to artists and dealers. Yes, I would like to do it again. Yes I had a crazy good time. It’s a fantastic show that keeps you on your feet. It’s pretty tough to get into, but it’s worth applying for time and time again. It’s one of the biggest anime conventions in this region of the Midwest and it is organized and well run. I hope I can make the cut again next year so we shall see!


Planet Comicon Limited Review

*This is not going to be short.*

I was going to send my husband to Planet Comicon in downtown Kansas City while I attended Naka-Kon. I had emailed the AA head, asking to be placed on the email list to be notified of when apps opened. A couple *months* later I got an email that said, ok, I'll add you. I'm sure it was a mistake, but I never got an email and didn't know apps opened until three weeks later. Better yet, it was a FCFS, $215. Seemed steep, but I wanted to go.

Another artist told me they paid via paypal instead of check, and gave me the paypal email. Not sure if they gave me the wrong one, but it didn't match the one on the application. So I emailed the AA head. The response was rude, at best. When written,  I realize text can come off rude just because the sentences are shorthanded. But still, I felt like there was a lack of professionalism going on already.

So some major problems arose and we had to back out late Thursday night, after I had already driven to KC to setup and come back to Columbia.

Planet Comicon is a huge comic convention in the city that has had the poor planning/luck to fall on the same weekend as Naka-Kon two years in a row.

The convention boasts 40k+ attendance and had a list of guests I drooled over. When arriving on Thursday to setup, I practically had a heart attack trying to drive through downtown KC. It's a typical downtown with terrible traffic, ridiculous lights, and lots of people in a rush to be elsewhere. Ugh. I managed to find a parking lot to unload and I walked all my things up the loading ramp. 

PCC had it setup so that vendors and artists unloading on Thursday could drive right into the venue and unload inside. As I walked past, I will note that this is only a good option if you have a ton of stuff to unload. The "parking" inside and at the top of the dock was very limited. Because of this, the line of cars waiting to get to unload was astounding. 

When I first walked into the room, I thought I had lost it. The vendor's area was huge. Hundreds and hundreds of tables and booths. I've never been to any really big cons like this so I'm sure it's normal for it's size, but I couldn't help but wonder how in the heck anyone manages to not disappear in a place like this. I entered in through the south entrance, my table was on the south end of the map, and it still took me a good 10 minutes to walk to it. When I finally found my space, I'll admit that my 5' table didn't feel like it was worth $215. But I set up and left. 

Bad idea. I left right at rush hour. The drive from PCC to Naka (for setup) should've taken me 20 minutes. Took me an hour. Talk about stressful.

Thursday night, I drove home to sleep. Then all the stuff happened and we backed out of PCC. I sent an email to the head (never received a response; it's now April) and showed up Friday morning to tear down. Because of traffic and not being able to find a place to park (downtown parking is atrocious), I rushed into the dock doors, only to be told they were closing them in 10 minutes. I ran to my table and with the help of my neighbors, literally threw my booth in a box and ran to make it out the dock doors.

As I got to the doors, I stopped by the registration table where they had been handing out the badges and tax packets to return my things, badge and all. Here's the part that set off my negative opinion.

I spoke to THREE staff members about turning my stuff in. I didn't ask for my money back. I just wanted them to know that I had checked in but I was leaving, so my table should be given to someone else. After the first two members had no idea what to do, I talked to a third person who told me she had just closed the registration table area and ignored me when I asked more questions. All the boxes and info was still sitting there. 

I was livid. My time was getting thin, not just from the dock doors closing, but from the reasons I had to leave in the first place. I left and asked my neighbor artist, who was kind enough to help me carry some of my boxes out to the curb, to please run my packet to the front registration area. I know the artist, so I trust that she did it, but I haven't heard anything from any of the staff about taking me off the list of Missouri Event Tax Vendors. If I get a letter from the DOR stating I have to pay taxes, this is going to be a big stinker.

 I packed all my things into my car from the curb and left for Naka-Kon, where the rest of my weekend was absolutely fantastic.

Other artists I spoke to say they had communication problems, unanswered emails, and some even said they weren't allowed to unload on the dock on Thursday. But overall, they said sales were very good and the convention was fun, especially with all the guests. I however, don't think I'll try back for a while at least. I was just not happy with the way I was treated.

It was pointed out to me that leaving at the last second was not so good, but conventions have to realize that things happen outside of their event. Emergencies and problems arise, but that's not an excuse for professionalism to go out the window. My husband's health and work comes before a comic convention. End of story.

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