During the first round of acceptances for Ikkicon for this year at the end of October (10/28), I did not get an acceptance offer. As per usual with Ikkicon, I was not notified that I had not been accepted; I had to find out via word of mouth from fellow artists that acceptances had gone through. I was a bit surprised but inoffended! I'd been tabling at Ikkicon on first round for several years and I figured it was time for others to get a chance to sell their merch. I was perfectly happy to get a chance to attend Ikkicon as an attendee this year, since I happen to live a five minute drive away from the venue. I was not told at any point in the process if I was rejected, accepted, put on a waitlist, or if there would be a waitlist available onsite. (I know that there is one, but I elected not to enter it. I'm a busy person with a non-art-related work schedule, so I went ahead and scheduled work for myself for that weekend and planned to attend Ikkicon as an attendee.) As it turns out, no one was.
On November 23rd, I was, along with 15+ other artists, contacted by Victoria, one of the directors of the convention, to see if I was interested in participating in a preshow exhibition on the Thursday before the convention. It was open to local exhibitors who were not able to get on the list for the weekend. In my clarification e-mail, I asked Victoria a few questions that made the presumption that this event would be attended by artists that hadn't been accepted to Ikkicon's artist alley for the weekend proper. She made no arguments, so I assumed that no one manning a table at preview night would be tabling that weekend. I later found out that some artists who had more initiative than I did asked if preview night artists would have weekend tables available to them. Torie confirmed that no one attending preview night had a table for that weekend.
I asked if there was a contract and an invoice coming. Victoria promised both. In the end, I only got an invoice. I paid for it anyway. It seemed like it'd be okay.
In the same time I was preparing to take part in two zines, take up more work at my nine to five, and spend time cleaning my new place, the attendees who did manage to claim a place at the convention were, despite several attempts to contact the convention runners, unable to get concrete details about load in/tear down, what the convention hours would be, where their tables would be on a convention map, or if their payments had gone through. I have been told that one artist managed to get a reply from them, but I do not know who that artist could have been. I welcome them to reach out to me so I can make this account more complete.
Moving forward to preview night! By 4 PM on Thursday evening (12/26), I was walking through the doors of the venue with my display in tow. I still had not received any additional details about checking in, loading in, or setting up besides the initial e-mail from Victoria that had specified the hours. Still, I found the preview night area easily, the tables were nice, and I was ready for customers by 6, as was most everyone else in the preview night area. (Since preview night took place in the lobby and the artist alley takes place in a ballroom on the basement floor of the hotel, I will refer to these areas as "upstairs" and "downstairs" at certain points from here on.)
At no point was I asked if I was the attending artist for my table! Nor was I offered a badge, nor was a badge ever asked of me. In the clarification e-mail, I asked if artists attending preview night would be able to get a weekend pass free or for reduced price; Victoria promised a discounted pass for the entire weekend. No confirmation, discount waiver, or any sort of receipt that could be exchanged for a discounted weekend pass was provided at any point during preview night. I talked to one staff member who may or may not have been Victoria to get access back to my table after I'd run off to get dinner. That was my only interaction with con staff that evening.
While chatting with my fellow artists, I confirmed that everyone was aware that they were only here for one night... except for the sponsored artists. The sponsored artists, who were dealers, also had tables downstairs, and were a bit curious as to why they were included with artists who didn't have tables. No one had answers for them; we all checked our e-mails and none of the artists at preview night had received any last minute acceptance e-mails or invoices for tables downstairs. Some of these artists, during the course of preview night, went up to the runners of both the preview night upstairs and the artist alley downstairs; at this point, we were aware that these two areas were being run by two separate groups. The heads of each area confirmed, again, that none of the artists in preview night had tables. They promised to notify these artists if tables would be available through to the next day. Still, none of the downstairs tables were guaranteed, so we preview night artists were forced to assume we did not have tables for any days other than preview night. After all, without any badges, we couldn't go down and check with the alley for ourselves.
Some of the sponsors just used their tables for advertising and left to set up their tables downstairs; the rest of us stuck it out upstairs for the four hours promised to us. And honestly? It was pretty nice. We were right next to preregistration badge pick-up, so we had a steady stream of customers who were interested in our stock, especially since we'd only be there for one night. If it had been a bit better organized and supervised, I'd definitely recommend it to any local artist who didn't manage to snag a table for Ikkicon proper. However, I can't suggest that now.
The next morning (12/27), a certain artist who was at preview night got a call while they were at work. It was Ikkicon, asking why they weren't at the venue to pick up their table. This artist was, understandably, deeply confused. Although this artist was one of the ones who went up to the heads of both the upstairs and downstairs artist areas and were told they'd be notified if a space opened up downstairs, they were also one of the ones told that they did not have a guaranteed table. This is why they were at work - they assumed that the table fell through. However, the call was phrased with the implication that this artist had a table waiting for them all along.
Smash cut to me, at noon. I was still asleep from last night because social interaction tires me out. At 12:13, I got a call from a local number I did not recognize. I assumed it was a telemarketer and went back to sleep. The caller did not leave a voice mail.
Smash cut to the night before (12/26, back to preview night), downstairs in the artist alley, where some my old friends from college were setting up their tables, still confused as to whether they were supposed to be there or not (remember, no one had sent the artists downstairs any e-mails about venue hours or load-in/set up - they were running on the schedule on the e-mails from the year before). At around 8 pm on Thursday night, they looked around the venue to see who else had made it into the artist alley for the weekend. They found my business' name on a table nearby.
(Remember, this was Thursday, 12/26. Preview night. I was physically in the building, upstairs. I had been told by convention runners via e-mail I did not have a table. That is why I did not check to see if I had a table. I was never sent an acceptance notice. I was never sent a contract. I was never sent an invoice for anything other than my table for preview night.)
Since I am very particular about setting up early, my friends found my empty table strange, but they assumed I was busy and would be setting up the next morning. They set up their table and made their way back home.
Less of a smash cut to the same night (10/26): a sponsored table in the dealers hall noticed that a couple of tables in the dealer's hall had cards with their friends' names on them on nearby tables, but they weren't there to set up. They found this strange, since their friends are also very punctual, so they sent messages to their friends to see if they were going to be late. Both friends reacted with complete surprise. They hadn't received any notification that they had tables waiting for them. Both parties live outside a 3 hour drive to the venue; they both had to start driving at around 10 pm last night in order to pick up their tables and set up.
Moving back to Friday morning (12/27). Some artists arrived at the venue at 9 am on Friday morning to get on the onsite waitlist. While they were waiting, they noticed an unusually high number of tables that had gone unclaimed - something like 15-20. By the time the last call to pick up tables at 10 am had come, they were still mostly empty. By 10:20, they were still waiting to be given tables, and witnessed con staff calling the respective table owners to see where they were. (Some people were at work when they got their call. I was, at noon, still in bed when I got mine.) Finally, at around 11, the onsite waitlist was allowed to claim their tables, to even more confusion - those who did not pay in cash were told they would be sent invoices for their tables. As of 8 pm on Friday, the artists I spoke to have not received their invoices.
One last cut to me, at 3 pm, doing my laundry. The dry cycle was going to take about an hour and a half to complete, so I figured I'd make a quick trip down to the venue to pick up my attendee badge. I'd have the rest of the evening to go back for my laundry, go back home, take a shower, and drive back down to enjoy the convention for the rest of the evening. (I didn't have the promised badge discount, but I like my friends and Ikkicon enough to buy a 3 day pass at full price.)
I drove ten minutes to the venue and picked up my badge, which took much less time than I'd expected. I figured that I still had about an hour left on the dryer, so I'd have enough time to run down to the artist alley, quickly greet my artist friends, then run back out to pick up my laundry. I went downstairs to do just that.
I haven't seen my college friends, who had been setting up downstairs the night before, in ages, so they were very excited to see me! They then asked me why I wasn't there to pick up my table. I asked them what table. They said, you know. The table that I had waiting for me last night. That I never got notification for. That I never signed a contract for. That I never got an invoice for.
I went to the artist alley admin table, told the shellshocked volunteer the story as I knew it, apologized for my tone, and then asked to see the person in charge, whom they promised they would find. In the meantime, I floated around the alley, corroborating stories with fellow artists and making sure I had the initial facts of the situation straight, just to see how many were in the same boat I was - there were at least a few. I was told a couple of stories that I can't confirm, but all of them pointed toward an artist alley staff with a population of one.
After that, I was pointed at Colt, the current artist alley liaison for Ikkicon, who listened to my story and offered me a table at the end of the explanation. According to him, he had not been notified that preview night was happening, and was only told about it when he arrived the day before. There had been no communication between him and Victoria about preview night, the artists involved, or the fact that several of the artists participating in preview night did have tables waiting for them despite having been told by Victoria that they did not.
The table Colt promised me needed to be set up, and as of my writing this, there's a possibility that I will be taking table with the dealers area. (Again, a few are still empty! I don't know where they are but I think it's realistic to assume that at least one of them were never told that they had a place at Ikkicon this weekend.) However, it's much more likely that they'll have to set up a new table somewhere for me.
(Despite the fire safety hazards and the lateness of the table, I think that's fine. I have complete confidence that I can make up the cost of the table in a day.)
After picking up my laundry, packing up my table supplies, grabbing dinner, and heading back to the venue to keep tabs on the proffered table, I went around the alley one more time. I wanted to collect as many statements as I could from artists with different experiences with the artist alley runners to get a clearer picture of what happened in the past couple of days. By this time, no one who had gotten a table late, both preview night artists and those who waited onsite for their tables, had gotten invoices for their tables. After as getting as much info as I could in the time I had left, I confirmed that a table would be waiting for me the next day, walked my table supplies down to the artist alley before they locked up for the night, then went back home.
It's 1:30 am, I'm sitting on my bed, writing about all of this now because I know I won't have the time later and I want to get it all down while it's fresh. I've had to get extensions on the two zines I'm in, cancel my commission opening and my giveaway date, push up my work schedule to make it to the convention at some time earlier than 2 pm while acknowledging that I still needed to get this write-up done, and come to terms with the fact that I don't have sufficient stock for some of my bestsellers because I wasn't going to be selling at this convention this weekend. I won't even be able to attend my table until 1 pm tomorrow. My job scheduled me until noon tomorrow morning, and I let them, because until literally 9 hours ago, I had no idea that I'd even been offered a table this weekend.
Here are my takeaways:
I don't think Ikkicon is a bad con. I don't think the people running it are bad people and the attendees are among some of the nicest I've ever met. I've been treated with nothing but respect and understanding today as I tried to figure out exactly what happened. I don't think I have the full truth because I haven't talked to every one of the several hundred vendors in the artist alley and to be honest, I don't think I can. Even though I talked to everyone within my capability this evening, I still think that I'm missing a lot of insight in this write-up that I don't think I'll ever get. I'm not a showrunner and I don't think I ever will be. I don't understand what goes on with convention organization and I don't know what went into making Ikkicon happen.
What I do know is that if, at any point in the past month, if I had been told that I did have a table waiting for me at Ikkicon, I would have planned my whole month completely differently. I now have plans that I need to change in order to make room for an entire weekend I never intended to spend on a convention. I was not at all once told about my standing on any list until Victoria e-mailed me about preview night. Not once was there any attempt to reach out to me via e-mail to let me know that there was an artist alley table waiting for me before or since Thursday night. Any communication between when I was notified about preview night until now about a table that has, apparently, been available to me all along would have been absolutely, deeply appreciated.
At the best, this is severe lack of communication, an understaffed con staff, and some major e-mail dysfunctionality. At worst... This seems a bit predatory, especially with the lack of contracts and receipts involved.
I also want to ask why there was a preview night if the artist alley was so critically understaffed that e-mails to both the dealers and the artists never arrived to their proper addressees. If Colt needed that much help to keep the artist alley running at a shoestring level of communication, why was preview night planned in the first place?
Despite all this, I think I'll return to ikkicon next year. It's a solid, profitable convention and I have no sense of cause or effect. As far as I'm concerned, this isn't an Anime Matsuri. No one has done anything illegal. Extreme dysfunctional communication channels is not ethically unsound. It's just bad vibes.
I don't really have a neat bow to this. I'm going to go to sleep and tutor my student in the morning, then set up my table in the afternoon and make the cost of my table back. I don't care if I do and I don't care if I don't. I only know what happened, and I know that I'll have a good time despite what happened.
I'm just tired, upset, and disappointed. I don't expect a lot, but I do expect much, much, MUCH more than this from a convention more than ten years old.