Artist Alley Con Review: Japan Expo USA’s First Con

August 28, 2013 at 3:43 am 5 comments

This past weekend was the United States debut of Japan Expo which has a HUGE following in Europe. Their Paris show pulls in around 2k attendees. When I heard that they were going to start a US version of the con and that it was going to be in Northern California, I was really excited and made sure to sign up for the artist alley.

Gamushara OENDAN all male pep team. They were  hugely entertaining!

Gamushara OENDAN all male pep team. They were hugely entertaining!

One of the things that sets this one apart from the usual anime con is the Japanese cultural aspect that is featured. They had traditional arts, performances and demonstrations in addition to anime related voice actors and artists. I really enjoyed viewing some of the traditional stuff and probably took more pictures at this con than I usually do. Near the AA they were doing katana blade demos and martial arts. There was an ikebana demo that my helper got to attend which as a horticulturalist, she loved. One of the most entertaining acts was an all male pep squad. They had people on their feet clapping along and chanting. Even though their songs were all in Japanese, I still had the tune in my head the day after.

And now on to the artist alley aspect which is the viewpoint that I write most of my con reviews from.

I really had no idea what to expect. Normally, I wouldn’t travel too far from home for a first year con. Things usually are very rough and attendance low which would make it really hard for me to recoup travel costs. This one was in Santa Clara which meant I could stay with my sister and I was banking on the huge reputation that JX has abroad (and among American anime fans). I got time off from work to head down Friday, only to find that this con was going to START at 8:30 in the morning. As I take public transit and it’s a three hour train ride, there was no way I could get down there in time to check in, set up and be ready to go by the time they started letting VIPS in. So I had to take a half day on Thursday to head out in the afternoon. I didn’t find the hours out til the weekend before which was a bit annoying.

Hours snaffoo aside, the check in was a breeze, one of the easiest ones I’ve ever done and I had plenty of time to set up my table and really take the time to make it look nice. Normally, I’m trying to get everything set up right before and things just go up in their usual place. I was able to try a slightly new layout which I think helped move some product that normally doesn’t sell. All about presentation! I then headed to my sister’s and that was pretty much it for Day 0.

Friday was an early start and as it became apparent throughout the con run, probably too early for most people artists and attendees a like. Friday was also

This was me in my Mey-rin from Black Butler cosplay :)

This was me in my Mey-rin from Black Butler cosplay ๐Ÿ™‚

really, really bad sales-wise. Traffic was pretty minimal and most of us spent the time staring at each other and talking. One of my AA neighbors was doing an anime con for the very first time. I assured her that normally first days aren’t THIS bad. I didn’t even fill half a sales sheet and didn’t even make back my table fee. Usually, I’ve made that back by the end of Day 1. Still, I chalked it up to it being the first day of a brand new con. First days at established cons can be slow as a lot of people are just browsing and deciding what they want to spend money on later. Also, it was a work day and school was back in session for most people. The sentiment around the alley seemed to be ‘This is really bad, but Saturday should be much better’.

Well, it wasn’t as dismal as Friday, but it wasn’t as strong as a Saturday should be. Later in the day, my neighbor came over and said ‘This is bad, isn’t it?’ and I had to agree. I have never seen sales as slow on a Saturday at a larger con as I did at JX. Things did pick up a little towards the end, but I just BARELY filled one sales sheet. Normal Saturday I go through at least two. Grumbling among the artists was starting to get louder.

Sunday some people didn’t even show and a lot left early. The crazy thing is, Sunday I posted my best sales all con. I made almost more than Friday and Saturday combined on Sunday. I don’t know if there were more people there or if there weren’t as many panels that people wanted to attend or everyone finally decided to buy stuff, but I actually exceeded my higher sales goal. I had my realistic goal and my crazy goal. I beat the crazy goal by $200. Strong sales on Sunday really helped me to leave with a better feeling about the weekend.

Towards the end of the con, staff came by and said that the CEO was going to be coming around and soliciting feedback and that they realized it had been a rather disappointing con for those of us trying to sell things – vendors and artists a like. After things closed down, he came and expressed his apologies for the way things went and acknowledged that there were things that needed to be done in a different way next year. He said he wanted our genuine, candid feedback and that there would be a survey going out soon via email.

Impressions of Japan Expo’s first show? I loved the exhibits and found myself enjoying more of the con than normal. Even though sales were pretty bad the first two days, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and come back next year. To expect something of this size to be pulled off perfectly in the initial run is just unrealistic. Yes, I do feel that they over estimated in prospective attendees and I think that did mislead some people to set up booths/tables thinking that would mean sales. However, people need to realize that it’s a first time event. You really do take a financial risk going to a first time event as there is NOTHING to base previous experiences on.

I do think there needs to be a better location for the AA. We were kind of off in a corner. If you look at my previous post with my location and a map of the con you can see that we were in the far right portion of the giant exhibition hall. The Santa Clara Convention Center has this kind of weird diagonal set up. The main dealer’s and exhibits were over in the first 2/3 and then there was the martial arts demo stage, the main stage and the cosplay stage that kind of buffered the AA from the main activity. As most of these weren’t being used every hour of the con, it made it easy to overlook the fact that there was actually something back there that was in operation at all hours. I think it was pretty telling when an attendee went by and said ‘Oh, there’s an artist alley here!’. Things you don’t want to hear… Of course, suggestions in layout may be a moot point as I hear they are looking to move to the San Jose Convention Center (where Fanime happens) in 2014. At least the South Hall Tent of Complete Misery will be history at that point!

I really appreciated the CEO coming out and speaking to us and acknowledging the shortcomings of JX. That can’t be easy to face a bunch of frustrated artists and vendors, some of who didn’t even break even and apologize. In this day and age where some cons treat artists like second rate members (you’re not a big time vendor paying us the big bucks, so shut up and don’t bother us), this made a strong impression on me. The staff were very good and polite as well, something I heard was missing at AX this year.

I will be going back. I always make a policy to give something new a second chance before completely writing it off as a failure. If it looks like they learned from their mistakes and feedback, I will then add it to my regular rotation of cons. I really do hope JX succeeds and becomes a mainstay.

P.S. this may seem a bit stupid, but I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get a badge. Instead they did wristbands for vendors and artists. They had a good reason for this policy, but I still like to collect my anime con badges and hang them in my art room. Goofy things artists do. ๐Ÿ™‚


Entry filed under: Artist Alley Reviews. Tags: , , , , , .

Japan Expo USA is Right Around the Corner! Help My Friend’s Book Grow!

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Heather  |  August 29, 2013 at 12:45 am

    I am glad that you where able to hit better numbers on your last day! I hope in your survey that they give you that you can mention the high cost of their AA table prices? That was the one thing that made me not join up for this year.

  • 2. Kiri  |  August 31, 2013 at 4:23 am

    It’s always super heartening to hear when conventions are willing to learn from their mistakes and actively solicit feedback. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ CA shows seem like a huge hassle to me, but I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

    (PS, I think you meant JX pulls 200k attendees in Europe, not 2k. Big difference ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • 3. kimchikawaii  |  October 1, 2013 at 12:55 am

      For sure! I really appreciated that and I’ll be back next year to see if they’ve improved.

  • 4. minionme  |  June 12, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Great review! This helps alot. I’ve been trying to email them for this year’s in San Mateo but still haven’t heard much from them. Have you already put it your application?

    • 5. kimchikawaii  |  June 13, 2014 at 2:23 am

      Nope, I haven’t heard much either. I’m hoping to sell at their second event, but we are all largely in the dark. They keep saying they will announce on their Facebook page and that’s it ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Time’s getting kind of short!


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