CONVENTION REPORT: MomoCon 2017 (Atlanta, GA)

Hi, I’m Jade and I’m an artist.  You won’t hear much about cosplay, main events, or guests in this review – it’s all about business and my uncensored experience as an artist and panelist at MomoCon 2017.  

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official MomoCon 2017 artwork

Two years ago, I participated in what I called “the best convention in the southeast”: MomoCon.  It’s a four-day Anime and Gaming convention located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia at the World Congress Center on Memorial Day Weekend.  I remember my stomach sinking as I left their 2016 show, knowing that I wouldn’t be back in 2016.  In 2017, MomoCon and MegaCon were both scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, creating scheduling conflicts for artists, vendors, guests, and attendees.  I was forced to choose between my two best shows and, for the time being, Megacon won only because I had immediately booked it following the show’s completion.

MomoCon 2015 was what I thought every convention should strive to be.  It was a well-oiled machine full of passion for multiple fandoms including anime, animation, video gaming, tabletop gaming, LARP, and cosplay.  The convention took care with their communications and time to lay out a well-designed exhibit hall and event.  While I was there, I heard from many other artists and vendors that Momocon was just the tip of the iceberg outside of Florida, that there were better conventions out there.  I couldn’t believe it!

It was after MomoCon 2015 that I started planning to travel more for my work.  I wanted to see what the wide world of conventions had to offer outside of the southeastern states.

 

A 2016 Without MomoCon
I returned to Florida and continued beating the pavement in my home state.  I hit Megacon again and all the while, I missed MomoCon like you’d miss a dear friend.  I didn’t review Megacon 2016.  There was no point in it.  There was nothing to say that others had not.  I missed the old Megacon: the baby of Beth Widera and Christine Alger.  As I sat there in the husk of the once great Megacon at my reduced space of a booth and mediocre sales, I was filled with regret.  I kept thinking about how great MomoCon was. I wanted to be there.

When 2016 wrapped, I was ready.  I had saved up, planned ahead, made new merchandise, and I was waiting, poised to pounce on MomoCon’s artist alley application.  And pounce I did!  Within 5 minutes of the application going live, I had completed and submitted it.

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First Come, First Serve: The Saga Begins
I was instantly waitlisted.

I heard back faster than anyone I knew.  Many people didn’t hear back for weeks.  I was floored, confused.  I had built an entire 2017 business plan around having MomoCon in my line-up.  I had even debated tossing Anime Weekend Atlanta to the curb for MomoCon.  After all, I didn’t need two Atlanta cons and I had grown tired of participating in AWA’s “juried” alley featuring traced art.  (More on that some other time.)

Even stranger, the email came from someone other than the Artist Alley coordinator.

A little perturbed, I contacted the sender but I never heard back.  A week or so passed and I sent another email asking why I had been waitlisted, what I could do differently for next year.  What I didn’t want to reveal was that I knew people who applied just after me who got into the convention.  It was supposed to be first come, first serve but that did not seem to be the case.  I felt that revealing that would be like burning a bridge, so I avoided bringing it up.  At the time, I simply wanted to understand why I was waitlisted so quickly.

On a side note, if Artist Alley applications are truly first come, first serve then why not link directly to a payment portal for the artists to make immediate payment?

Countless conventions handle their Artist Alley and Exhibitor booking in this way.  So, if MomoCon was truly a first come, first serve process, why not copy what Tampa Bay Comic Con, Megacon, Anime Matsuri, and countless others have done and continue doing? I’m not saying this is the best way to do the thing, just that it is a true, indisputable first come, first serve method that is time tested.

MomoCon’s 2016 application was just that: an application.  It requested studio name, a bio for the site, links, portfolio, etc.  If I recall correctly (it’s been a while), it was a multiple page application process.  I can understand having this sort of system in place for a juried show (where applicants are weighed against each other for their art style and content), like MomoCon used to be.  But, if it isn’t juried and the convention is going to allow anyone to book a space, then why not just shopping cart it, collect email addresses on a shorter form, and then request additional information after all the spaces are filled?

It baffled me, but there was no point in beating a dead horse or challenging the system.  If that’s how MomoCon thought it was best to handle their applications, then there must have been a reason for it.

Disappointed, I spent a month reworking my business plan for 2017.  I decided to focus on my online strategy instead of conventions which were very hit or miss as of late.  (We’ll get into that another time!)

Then, three of the four panels I submitted were approved for MomoCon in late January.  Around this time, other waitlisted artists were receiving emails regarding their spot on the waitlist.  But I heard nothing.  I contacted MomoCon again, but still nothing.

Frustrated, I questioned if this convention was really as good as I thought it was in 2015.  Perhaps, I thought, they were experiencing major growing pains.  Maybe someone had a legit problem with new software and my communications were just getting lost in the mix.  I checked my junk and spam mail (I keep all of my filters turned off for this very reason) but the emails I sent to the artist alley coordinator as well as the individual who had sent my initial waitlist email  were never answered.

 

A Broken Record
Then Lanie entered the picture.

Lanie was the Workshop Coordinator for MomoCon 2017.  One of the panels I submitted was a two hour How To Draw Manga panel featuring live demonstrations, one-on-one help with anatomy, a massive Q&A session, and supplies.  Lanie offered for MomoCon to provide the supplies and, while it was greatly appreciated, I told her I would have to respectfully decline unless I received a spot in the Artist Alley.

I was frank with her: It would be absurd to have me host a panel about how to draw, another panel about self-publishing, and yet another about how to do artist alley work when I wasn’t in their alley.  Think about it.  How ridiculous would I sound saying “this is how you get into a convention” just for them to ask me where my booth was to which I would have to reply “oh, I didn’t get into MomoCon, but I was worth booking for my expertise on the subject.”  

After a month, Lanie came to know my situation with the MomoCon Artist Alley.  She understood how important MomoCon was to me, how much I loved the show and was willing to promote it.  Hell, I was even promoting MomoCon over Megacon – even with knowing that I wouldn’t be there – because it’s a great show.  With or without me, MomoCon was going to happen and I wanted everyone to experience it.  It was a show worth believing in and I kept reassuring my fans that the communication issues I was experiencing were rare.

Lanie and I continued communicating through February and March.  The conversations played like a broken record:

“Have you heard anything yet?”

“No.”

“How about now?”

“Nope.”

“Now?”

“Still nothing.”

In March, I received an acceptance email for the A-Kon Artist Alley.  A-Kon is the second largest and longest running anime convention in the United States and has a rigorous jury process.  Out of the thousands of applicants, I was among the top.  I was proud and I started planning for A-Kon, completely writing off MomoCon.

I put my sixth book on hold.  I knew that, to do well at a show like A-Kon, I would need more prints – not another book in a place where no one was familiar with my work.  I also gambled on the South Carolina Comic Con and booking a larger space at the Daytona Beach Comic Con.  What money I would have spent on MomoCon went to booking other shows.  What time I would have spent on things that I needed to have a successful MomoCon went into production for products that would help me at A-Kon.

Sure, I was disappointed, but that comes with the territory.  We can’t always get what we want.

But I wasn’t out of the game just yet, apparently.

In early April, the MomoCon Facebook Events started hitting my feed.  To my surprise, I was hosting three of them!  Irritated and tired of the game, I decided to post on social media about not getting into the show – the show I had been promoting for years as the best show in the southeast.  It was a huge blow for me and I was so disappointed.  In my post, I apologized to my fans that I would not be there.  I told them that MomoCon went to a first come, first serve process and I, apparently, was not fast enough.  I cited what I’ve included in this article: that I had never received anything from anyone other than Lanie who had tried her darndest to help me.  

Within a few minutes, the convention chair replied to my post.  “We fixed it.”

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Fixed But Not Better
Apparently, I had a table.  This was a delightful surprise, but I was still skeptical.  I had nothing from the artist alley coordinator in my inbox.  I had nothing from Lanie.  I messaged the convention chair on Facebook and explained my situation to her, expressed my concerns, and explained why I had to take to social media with that post.  She understood and said she was sorry that I did not receive anything.  It was strange, she said, that I had not received anything from the artist alley email address.  I thought so too.  Within a few minutes, I had an email from Lanie explaining that I did get a table and that she was trying to email me before those events went up, but didn’t make it in time. Lanie became my hero. A combination of my stubbornness to not host a panel without having a table and Lanie’s persistence got me to MomoCon 2017.  I am forever grateful to her.

With MomoCon now a little over a month out, I had too little time to push out my sixth book.  That led to even more disappointment.  But, in that time, I recognized that it was better not to overwork myself.  Instead, I continued focusing on what I knew would perform well at both shows: prints.  Meanwhile, I continued hammering out a page a week of my book and doing commissions, when I could.  Through this heavy production time, I still received relatively no emails from the convention.  I had applied for press passes for my husband and his friends since I knew I would be providing artist alley coverage.  Turns out that they had already purchased tickets so I was bummed that the press badges themselves wouldn’t get much use.  I also was on a list for panelist badges.  And Artist Badges.  And, apparently, a guest badge.  Somehow, I went from being waitlisted with no explanation to being a very minor guest at MomoCon.

My table was complimentary.  I had access to the VIP Lounge where I ended up ducking away to finish some sketch card commissions and met Jonathan Young, one of my favorite YouTube singers!  

I worked my butt off on my panels.  I wanted to make sure they were the best darn panels I had ever hosted!  I owed it to Lanie to really bring it for MomoConAnd I did.

For all of them except the self-publishing panel because my assistant accidentally left my laptop in the hotel room.  But it was fine.  We made do!  

Once I was in, I expected better communication.  Nope.

Fortunately, Lanie served as my point of contact.  I felt bad for her.  She would periodically email me and we would have our broken record of a conversation again.  Eventually, I received the information I needed for load-in and to be listed on the website properly – all thanks to Lanie.

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Floor Plan
The organization for Artist Alley’s floor plan on the website seemed great at first.  The page was very interactive.  It featured a fully numbered floor plan with on-hover tooltips for each artist.  Each tooltip featured several tabs for bios, YouTube videos, social media links, art samples, etc.  It was plush!  MomoCon impressed me for the first time that year.  The page was slick, responsive, and easy to understand.  Unfortunately, the page wasn’t linked anywhere on their site.  I’m not sure if it was ever included in the mobile app or if it was only available to artists (although that would be a bit pointless for us to advertise only to ourselves).

Another drawback for the floor plan this year was that the master floor plan that was included on all the signage, brochures, and on the website only showed half of the artist alley.  Additionally, the numbers on the booths shown on the website were difficult to read.  When this sort of thing happens, it becomes difficult for artists to direct their fans to their booths.  Could you imagine saying that you would be at Artist Alley booth 2200 and it wasn’t on the floor plan?  How could anyone find you?

It also adds to any existing confusion, creating an environment for attendees to question what different portions of the floor are – even if it seems obvious to some of us.  Fortunately for me, I was near the front right corner of the alley, close to the guest area, but not so close that I would get lost on the main aisle.

 

Load-In and Check-In
Getting into the convention center was cake.  The World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia has a massive loading bay and street network underneath it, allowing easy access for artists and vendors.  They had several colorful signs directing artists and vendors to the loading bay and convention staff available to help manage the traffic.  Even with me running late, I was able to get into the belly of the convention center, pull up to a loading ramp, and easily find my booth.

Getting my badges was a different monster.

I sent my assistant (husband) to find the badge pick up location which should have been somewhere against the far wall according to the emails I received.  I believe he found the table, but no one there knew what was going on.  He was told that they were out of badges by one person, to find another volunteer by someone else, to wait at the artist table by another, and so on.  The artist alley coordination was horrible.  No one seemed to know what was going on.  It was like the left hand wasn’t talking to the right hand.

Meanwhile, I was setting up my booth and was having my own special experience with the artist alley staff.  Several volunteers and a few assistants came by my table while I was setting up.  The first asked me for a contract, the second told me that I didn’t need a contract because I was a guest, the next couple of people came by to apologize and to give me artist badges but wanted to hear my full MomoCon 2017 experience thus far, another person came by and gave me a guest badge but told me to keep my artist badges, and yet another came by (this one an assistant director) to assure me there would not be issues like this in 2018 and that they would love to have me back. – What a mess!

Everyone was very nice and apologetic.  None of them made excuses or tried to pass the blame onto anyone else and I respect that.  They each owned the issues as a collective team and assured me, time and time again, that things would be better next year.  I was told repeatedly that I should not have been waitlisted, that they would take care of things.  And they did.

During the remainder of set-up, several other artists stopped by to ask me where I got my badges (this is a normal thing at conventions, really) so I directed them to where the table was supposed to be.  However, they had a similar experience to my husband: no one knew what was going on.

This was a far cry from the MomoCon I experienced in 2015.  But, I was there, my booth was set up, and I had a VIP Badge!  I was not about to complain!  MomoCon took care of me – Lanie took care of me and I was appreciative.

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The Convention – Finally
The convention went smoothly, for the most part, after the badge incident.  I hosted all three of my panels with great success (even without my laptop for one of them) and was very fortunate to see a lot of my Atlanta fans again.  The paper, pencils, sharpeners, and art boards provided by MomoCon and, namely, Lanie were outstanding for my standing-room-only How to Draw Manga panel.  The participants were very appreciative and I swiped a few of those sweet MomoCon stamped pages for myself.  I was also glad that people showed up for my Artist Alley: Behind The Table panel where I talk about sexy spreadsheets and finances.  At ten in the morning on a Sunday.  It was a good time and I received a lot of positive feedback from the handful of participants.

Unlike at other conventions, I was not taking digital commissions at MomoCon.  My husband and I, instead, wanted to spend some time together doing recreational things before and after the convention.  Among those events, we spent a nice date night at MomoCon’s Night at the Georgia Aquarium surrounded by cosplayers and aquatic life.  It’s one of my favorite convention events and one of the main reasons I refer people to MomoCon for a unique convention experience.  The pass costs a little additional, but it’s worth it to have a special night at the Georgia Aquarium among other like-minded fans.  We also took the time to play some of the games in the Video Gaming area on Saturday morning.  To my surprise, they were free!  After the convention, I poked around the website, hoping to find MomoCon bragging about having so many free games, but the word “free” was excluded.  Why?  I brought a chunk of cash over to the gaming floor thinking that I was going to drop piles on the Gundam Simulator, but left with my wallet still full.  I was delightfully pleased, but this is something that should really be advertised better.  I wonder how many more people would take an interest in this portion of the floor if they knew the games were free to play?   Anyways, the games were awesome!  I flipped the table, piloted a Gundam, and kicked my husband’s butt at Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax!  Good times!

We managed to browse the exhibit hall for an hour or so on Sunday morning.  It was the first opportunity I had to see the showroom floor beyond my table and the path to the nearest bathroom.  I was disappointed – again.

Most of the hall was filled with bootleg merchandise.

In 2015, I remember FUNimation, one of the largest (if not the largest) anime distributors in the States, had a large booth and strong presence at MomoCon.  FUNimation is great about policing the exhibit hall, purging it of any bootleg so that shoppers know they are getting only legit merchandise.  I love that!  Unfortunately, without FUNimation there, it felt like the security in this regard was a little lax.  I found aisles of knock off keychains, posters, and wall scrolls.  Specifically, there was an entire booth with knock off Pokemon keychains and buttons with official artwork that had been printed or used.  As a passionate collector, I found little that I wanted in the hall.  I did, however, find a few amazing artists and one booth with high quality, rare merchandise at reasonable prices – and it was all authentic!  One booth among dozens.

As MomoCon wrapped, I found myself grateful to Lanie and MomoCon for providing me the opportunity to vend there.  I was relieved that my panels went well and surprised by how well my business performed at the convention given how little time I had to promote it and my booth.  I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants with MomoCon this year.  After being reassured constantly by staff that I would not be put in that situation again with MomoCon, I’m looking forward to returning and hoping that they will follow through on that promise so that I can make MomoCon my convention destination in Atlanta.

The Bottom Line
As for sales (because that’s why y’all really come here, right?), I was up 60% in revenue from MomoCon 2015, up over 45% from 2016’s Megacon and up 100% from Anime Weekend Atlanta 2016.  This is widely thanks to my fans for showing up and supporting me by purchasing my art and coming to my panels.  I couldn’t do what I love for a living without their support.  A good part of my success also came from me working hard at what I do all year to put out new products – even if I did return to Atlanta without my sixth book.  MomoCon 2016 was my best show to date.

My success is also largely thanks to Lanie for her persistence in getting me to MomoCon.  I’m convinced that, without her, I would have fallen “through the cracks”, as one volunteer put it.  According to multiple volunteers and staff, that’s what happened to me.  Fortunately, things came together in the end and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate in MomoCon again.  I sincerely wish that I could have given the convention a more glowing review like last time, but there were too many headaches on my side – as an artist.

MomoCon is still an incredible show full of passion.  It feels like a small community convention that has finally grown up and come into its own.  I stand by my 2015 MomoCon review.  It is the best convention in the southeast.  Even with all the flubs with my application, booth, badges, etc. this year, it is still better operated and more fruitful than most of the conventions I’ve experienced.  I’m hoping to be back at MomoCon in 2018 with some more panels, new art, and, of course, more books.  

Thank you, again, to everyone who supported me this year at MomoCon.  Whether you showed your support by sending emails to the convention, showed up at my panels, purchased art from me, stopped by my booth to say hey, frequented my Twitch stream and social media pages to show your support and love, showed me love over on Patreon, I greatly appreciate your passion and support.  Thank you for making it such a huge success!

.

-Jade Woodruff
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
@BentoStudios

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