As the title implies, I don’t enjoy Cons; Comic book conventions or any thing of the kind. Aside from the normal assumptions about cons (which are exaggerated); body odor, expensive and low quality food and long lines, I mostly dislike the experience of being an Artist at a Con.
I’ve had people try to haggle my prices down on original art, books, commissions and have even had them offer group discounts if they bought something from my booth mate. It's awful and sometimes disrespectful to the craft I am spending my life mastering.
But this is not unexpected. It’s part of the job. They know I need them. I go there with my prints and originals and books and ask them to buy my stuff. They’ve never heard of me, I’m not famous. I’ve never even been on the front page of Reddit. While I do my best to enjoy myself, I’ve never looked forward to the event and usually come home broke and tired. Admittedly, I enjoy my time with my friends and peers, a great deal.
My colleague and friend Pete Mohrbacher asked me to attend a con with him this year to promote and sell our book Angelarium, which I had been declining for a year now. I grumbled, resisted and labored over the decision, but was persuaded in the end to attend my first gaming convention; Gencon.
After a late night flight, 2 uber drivers (one got lost), a leaking air mattress I had to share, 2 hours of sleep and nearly dying in the shower, I arrived at Gencon
The people who attend Gencon are a breed onto their own. They come to this con not snag the latest exclusive or get a rare comic signed, or to buy cheap art. They come to play. Because they love it. (Because of that, they want to buy Art that they love as well.) Everywhere people were playing games, trying new things, talking, laughing and just being happy to be gamers and at the best gaming convention on the planet.
But this isn't about them. Or how they opened themselves to new things (including my book), but about the community of artists that attend and show at Gencon. Community might be the wrong word, family might be more accurate.
I saw people genuinely care for one another here. They bickered, they fought, they supported one another and cheered them on. Advice was given about booth setup and product choices and most importantly they stuck together (The industry then came to them). At most cons the artists disperse to one industry party or the other . This group found excuses to hang out together, even going as far as attending dance club en masse. (See my list of things I learned at Gencon to get some tips about Con Clubbing)
The art show was run wonderfully by Barbara Fisher and Deisel of D&D fame. These two came around and introduced themselves to everyone there, even those of us not on the bill. Which was unnecessary as everyone knew them. From the look of it, they were like parents coming around to see what their kids were up to. It was really a charming way to start the Con Thursday morning.
And we were off! The doors were open and people were already stopping by the booth to check out what we had to offer. I imagine the same was happening with everyone else, so I didn’t get to meet anyone until after the first day closed.
Once it did close and booths tucked away, the Artists seemed to “clique up” and go their separate ways. I expected this. What I didn’t expect was for each clique to find their way to the Hyatt bar, which served as sort of a clubhouse for the Con’s Art show. I got to bounce between groups and introduce myself as the writer and designer for Angelarium (I only had to clarify once that I am NOT Peter Mohrbacher or his “boothbitch”. An easy and funny mistake to make, but “you-know-who-you-are”, I had to call ya on it :P). Which was a first for me. I don’t often(or ever) make appearances to promote the book. Something I am glad to be rectifying. Everyone was welcoming and quick to start a conversation.
The first night was filled with scotch, introductions, art talk and good times. Best first day ever.
Friday was a little more social as we had some Art Show’ers come by and say hi. My buddy Allan Panakal was a champ and introduced me to EVERYONE. Allan is seriously the best hypeman on the planet. This guy got me in front of everyone I needed to and made it incredibly easy to fit in. He also makes some pretty interesting work. I had never described vector art as “painterly” until I met Allan.
That night I got to hang out with Allan and his cadre of ne’re do wells and went to a party thrown by the guys at Dog Might. These guys throw a hell of a party and the best part was that this was an entirely new and separate circle. I got to talk about games with gamemakers (and makers of gaming accessories) It was great. It was different. It was a blast. After it all, I met up with the rest of the Art show at, you guessed it, the Hyatt. It was Dance Club time.
I’m going to hazily gloss over the details, well because *REDACTED* and *REDACTED* *REDACTED* *REDACTED* and suddenly, Pete *ahem, I mean* *REDACTED* was passed out under a tree with a *REDACTED* tied around his ankles. IT WAS AWESOME!
Saturday: The Reckoning
Saturday was more of the same, great people coming by the booth and “oo-ing” and “ahh-ing” and reaching into their wallets to buy stuff. Oh and hi-fives. I got a lot of hi-fives. I got interviewed by the charming people at 7LANDHAND, walked around a bit and took pictures.
Every year the show runners host an awards ceremony for the artists exhibiting that year. I’d never heard of it, in fact when I asked around, this was kind of a Gencon secret (Sorry!). After the events on Saturday every artist in the alley piled into a hot ass conference room and got in line to buy beer.
I didn't have any expectations for this event, as I wasn’t billed and no one knew me. So I was able to relax a bit and spectate. What I quickly noticed was that everyone was relaxed and happy to be there.
An hour later, we got to it. Barbara and her jury (Sorry I can’t remember your names!) Stood at the front of the room and began calling out categories and winners. I won’t get into the specifics about who won what (Except the part where Pete ran up and shoved people out of his way to get a cellphone picture of Ania Mohrbacher collecting her prize) The special thing about this Award ceremony was that everyone in the room was there because they wanted everyone to win. Not following? I’ll clarify.
People showed up not to see if they won, or to see who else won. They came because this was a celebration of the Art show. Everyone who got a prize, was representing everyone in the room. Everyone won. Everyone cheered. (I might have been the only near to shedding a tear though.) It was the Art community I’d searched my whole life for. It was so goddamn special. I only hope I get to come back and maybe become part of it. Please? I’ll bring punch and cookies!
More con. More Awesome.
Enter… Sunday: The Beginning of the EEEEEEEEEND.
I happily spent the morning running around to the booths in the Art show and said some early goodbyes, since I was catching a flight before the Con officially closed. I swung by Jeff Miracola’s booth to say bye to him and Silvia Acevedo, easily two of my favorite people.
I stood at the booth, making my last few sales and noting the lack of “Sunday Bargain Hunters”. A Go’er even was so kind as to give me a boxset of Frazzeta toys, just because I was admiring it. The guys at 7LANDHAND came by to say goodbye and offer me a board game they were demo-ing. This was the total opposite of my previous Con experience. Bleh, again with the waterworks...
Everyone was great; Con Show’ers and Go’ers alike. I closed out my day by having a fist fight with Allan for taking and sharing pictures of me sleeping in the booth. (I promise, naps and fights were staged and performed by professionals. Don’t try this at home kids)
I checked in for my flight, sat down; glowing from the great times and caught my first Snorlax right there in the airport.
BEST CON EVER. PERIOD.
Next week I’ll be in Atlanta for Dragoncon and I’m worried. Worried that it won’t be as great as Gencon and worried that it will be better, thus diminishing my Gencon experience. It’s kind of a great place to be, because in either case, I’m still very excited to attend. Wish me luck! If you liked this Article and want to see more Con write-ups, say so in the comments. Cheers!