I was lucky enough this year to attend the Anime Central (ACen) artist alley for the second year in a row.
You can read my previous review here for 2017.
As a reminder, since this is a convention I've reviewed in the past, I'll only be going over things that were majorly different so for a more complete review please be sure to check past years.
As far as I can tell, there were no significant rule changes from previous years.
Sign up continues to be simple, it is just a google docs style form to fill out to enter you. Artist alley applicants are chosen by lottery, though picks are chosen by category (plushies, prints, stickers, etc) to ensure a good variety of artists.
My biggest issue this year was, again, the exhibitor portal. Every space I wanted to select for my table said it was taken. I was told that this was because the tables had been claimed already, but the system wasn't updated yet when I was looking. After trying around 15 spaces and having them all say unavailable it was admitted the issue wasn't on my end.
By the time this was resolved there was only a handful of spaces left. Luckily I was very happy with the one I received, but this is still a frustrating process.
Communication is still quite good given the size of the con with emails readily answered.
We experienced issues with load in last year and that continued into this year. Last year I had issues with a lack of information. This year there was a huge improvement in that area. We were given regular updates about load in via email as well as a .pdf packet, however it seemed this information conflicted with what convention center employees were told. When we went to the loading dock, we were told as artists we should go around the building to different loading docks. Last year those same docks were closed and we were yelled at for trying to enter them. This year they were open, but employees still tried to turn me away and send me to the docks I had just left. Luckily someone else came along who knew more information and let us come in. However they wanted us to have a badge and we needed to get those from the front
Load in times were incredibly difficult for us to manage this year. Times on the packet said 12pm to 6pm Thursday and 8am to 9am Friday. Both times were terribly inconvenient. My helper works a regular job and doesn't get out of work until 5pm on Thursday. With a 2-3 hour drive, that wasn't possible for us to make it in time. But 8am to 9am also isn't enough time for us to set up, I know from past experience it takes at least 2 hours for us to set up, sometimes more. My helper managed to, luckily, get out of work at 2pm and with a time change crossing the time zone line we were able to arrive before 6pm. We were planning on just unloading whatever we could and then taking the hour on Friday to set up as much as we could before opening.
Then we were told that we'd have until 9pm to set up so we breathed a huge sigh of relief.
But at around 7pm someone came by and told us the doors for the loading dock were supposed to close at 6pm and our car was parked inside and causing problems. We had to rush out to move it.
In the future I'd love to see better hours for set up and see less misunderstandings between different staff members. While I loved the improvements to the load in information, it almost created more problems than it solved because of the conflicting information I was getting at the con.
At the Con
I was nervous with the location at set up. Instead of being off the dealer's hall area it was pushed back into another hall with a photoshoot and autograph area between the artist alley and the exhibit hall. I thought it was the kiss of death, no traffic was going to move past that photoshoot set up.
Oh I was so wrong. There was a set of doors in the artist alley leading directly open to the main convention hall entrance. When these were opened Thursday we had plenty of traffic. I was consistently busy with very little down time.
The layout was also significantly improved with aisles wide enough to easily walk through for customers. Even when it was at the busiest times it was still possible to move through the aisles even when they were congested. There were less artists this year with each table costing more. Personally I think this was a good choice on ACen's part.
Space between artists was still at a premium, though. It was not as bad as previous years, but I did witness paramedics having an issue trying to reach an artist behind their table as there was not enough space for a gurney. As an artist against a wall, though, I had plenty of room this year which was appreciated, there was more than enough space to set up my backdrop which I'm still happy with my decision to add it to the display. It really ties everything together nicely.
All in all, this layout was a huge improvement and I do hope they keep the same general layout, though perhaps allow for a bit more space between tables. Sales were much better for me this year, about 3x better than last year. I think this can be directly attributed to the better location and better layout. My stock had very similar items to last year and I actually brought less this year so I don't think the increase in sales had much to do with any changes I had made. Last year I was on the edge about whether this con was worth it to attend given the high costs, but this year really proved to me that there's a reason Anime Central is so popular.
One minor personal change I will be making at cons moving forward is to change the way I "hold" items. For whatever reason it was very popular at this con that people asked me to hold things for later for them. The problem with this is when I have limited stock I have a lot of people still interested in that item, but if I hold it all day and no one comes to claim it I'll have missed a lot of opportunities to sell it. Most people did come claim their plushies in a timely manner and I had a few I called out on social media hoping they'd see it in time.
Moving forward I will be holding items exactly 2 hours. If someone asks I'll give them the exact time I'll be putting it back out on the table. If there's less than 2 hours left in the day then I won't be offering a hold. Hopefully this will result in a smoother process all around.
This year we avoided the main entrance and loaded out through the loading docks by the artist alley. Since vendors weren't using these docks it wasn't crowded and we had no problems getting packed up and moved out in a timely manner.
This year we immediately got my helper an accessibility badge to avoid issues. Last year we had problems with doors off the exhibit hall being exit only so when my helper left she had to return by either walking entirely around the building or up flights of stairs. We also experienced very rude security.
Although we got the badge immediately, we actually never needed it this year. Though it was still nice to have, it seemed like the layout was better thought out in general. There were no awkward exit only doors we ran into issues with.
I did manage to check out the game room this year. Last year I didn't and I had no idea I was missing out on such an awesome space. I sell at cons every year and I attend even more on my own personal time, but this game room was so huge it was almost mind blowing. Absolutely a must see for future years and I'm kicking myself for not visiting last year.
It was also a nice coincidence that the community event on Pokemon Go fell on the convention weekend. I had a good time in my pokemon costume walking around and playing, though so many people in the area was killer on my GPS signal.
I also ate an embarrassing amount of walking tacos....
The photoshoot area set up between artists was also very cool. I had my doubts when I saw the sets being built, I thought for sure that attendees would just sit around in them and there would be issues, but for the most part people were respectful and cleared out when others wanted photos. I also saw people using the space respectfully and taking turns or creating their own lines to use the space. I personally think this was a huge success, very creative, and I'd love to see it in the future and I'd love to see other cons create a similar area. Industry guests also seemed to really bring their A game this year in terms of displays, they seemed to fill up the space much better and have more interesting things to offer.
While some issue remained, good communication and professional staff makes it easy to manage once you get settled in and set up, though it can be frustrating initially. This year was a notable improvement over last year in terms of layout, location, and sales. It was all around a highly enjoyable weekend. ACen remains a massively large convention with high costs, but it's still absolutely worth attending as an artist if you get lucky with the lottery. For the average attendee you should probably visit ACen at least once, even if larger cons aren't typically your scene, it's mind blowing what can be done with more room and a bigger budget.
(And as a side note, I totally recommend hitting up Giordano's for some pizza while you are there. It took us an hour to get a table and an hour to get our pizza, but it was worth it! And I'm saying this as someone who is lactose intolerant and was sick all night. Worth. It.)