Convention Review: Anime Milwauke 2018
Anime Milwaukee, where have you been all my life? Helper Mom and I were in total agreement, this was an amazingly well run con! From start to finish we had no major issues. We usually run over pros and cons on the car ride home and decide what I'm going to post in my review as well as comparing our own personal experiences. This time, though, all we could do was gush. We struggled to think of negative things to say.
I've never been to Anime Milwaukee before. In fact, I've never even been to Wisconsin before that I can remember, though we spend a lot of time on the other side of the lake from it. I've always passed it up in previous years because February around Lake Michigan usually means snow and lots of it and I have some serious winter driving anxiety. It's also wedged right between my holiday rush and Shuto Con, meaning it's not the best timing.
At ACEN 2017, though, I had staff approach me with information about the con and I had 2 different attendees beg me to come to their hometown con. After talking it over with helper mom I felt confident enough to take the plunge and try it out since it seemed like I'd find a warm welcome. I'm so glad I did.
The rules are very standard restrictions on things like adult merchandise and bootlegged items with some common sense additions like no mix tapes. I didn't notice any red flags.
I messaged staff directly to ask if manufactured plushies were allowed. Their response was, "Yes, manufactured plushies are allowed if it is your own design (and an original property-i.e. not fanart) , the only caveat to that being that it shouldn't consist of all of your merch to the point where its more of a dealers room thing (like for example, tasty peach studios). In your case if the majority are handmade and its just one design that's not, that's perfectly reasonable!"
I was very grateful for the quick and polite response, so I recommend sending staff an email with questions about specific rules if you have any.
One interesting thing about Anime Milwaukee is that they provide a 10x5 space for artists (it isn't marked out exactly, but there is ample room), but only a 6 foot table. At first I thought this was odd (they mentioned in previous years they supplied an additional 4ft table, but wouldn't anymore due to theft). In practice, though, it worked very well. As an end table, we were able to use our own 4 foot table to create an L shape that helped draw attendees coming from the side and I noticed other artists who were able to utilize the space in creative ways such as bringing a large floor standing card rack or having space to do portraits on the spot. I loved the flexibility.
Anime Milwaukee is juried. You fill out a submission via google docs. After the jury process was completed, we were given an Eventbrite link to pay for our table as well as a final contract to fill out and return. I have made my love of Eventbrite no secret. The convenience is amazing and it's easy to use. We were also able to purchase helper badges via Eventbrite at a discounted rate. I'm a huge fan of discounted helper badges since a helper will usually spend a solid chunk of their time behind a table and it really sucks to pay full price for something you'll barely use.
I ran into no issues at all with sign up and found staff quick to respond to my emails.
Communication with Anime Milwaukee staff was always top notch for me. All my emails were answered relatively quickly and I saw them answering other questions on Facebook as well. All communication was polite and I never ran into a rude staff member at any point during the con or leading up to it. Staff even stopped by regularly at my table and were always friendly. I wanted to hug every one of them.
Leading up to the con we got one of the best load in emails I've ever received.
It included an actual drawing of where things are located on google maps. Even posted a bit of satellite imagery to help identify the loading dock area by sight. It's a small thing, but it's something a lot of cons don't do and it can make a big difference. Seriously, check this out.
It also included a seating chart that was nice and clean so we could use it to show our followers if we wanted to. There was a written a description of how to get to the hall once you are in the convention center and clear hours listed for both load in and load out as well as the hours the exhibit hall was open so I had no need to dig around in the contract to find those.
Even security at the Wisconsin Center were amazingly helpful whenever I needed to find a place. Even if they didn't know the answer they did the best they could to help out.
Staff really rocked it out.
Load in was a bit confusing at first. I wasn't 100% sure where to park, though we were given good suggestions this was just my own personal confusion. I tend to avoid the loading docks since I don't usually NEED to use them and they are often congested with vendors, but we decided it was best to load in there after looking at all our other options. If you have only a small load, it would be possible to carry things through the connecting tunnel from the Hyatt or parking garage, but we had too much stuff to want to make that trip twice.
Friday morning there was no wait for the loading docks, though, and we were able to pull right up and unload. We parked in the Wisconsin Center's parking lot and stayed there all weekend. Loading dock staff was very friendly, laughing and joking with us while we unloaded.
At the Con
Check in was super easy. Artists and Vendors had a little booth just for us with no waiting and I just told them my name and studio name and got my badges. Personally, I do prefer when they check IDs just to make sure someone isn't swiping badges that don't belong to them, but I suppose it doesn't matter too much in the long run.
The map we were given with table placements was 100% accurate so it was easy to find our table. Staff put a valentine card with our studio names on the table and it had a little piece of candy tucked into it. It was literally the sweetest way of marking table placements I've ever seen I loved it. I wanted to take a picture and gush about it on social media, but there was no time to waste during set up!
The layout was wonderful. As I mentioned previously, the greater flexibility with a space allowed for a ton of creativity. We had plenty of space behind us, though we did end up a tiny bit squashed it was because plushies take up so much room and not the cons fault. There was plenty of room to the sides of the table to get out as well.
I also enjoyed the hours. Opening at 1pm on Friday gave us plenty of time to set up Friday morning. Being open until 7 was also nice with the later start to give us a bit later in the day to work, but it was also early enough to mean we managed a hot dinner by 8:30pm and bed at a decent hour. Saturdays 10-6 was perfect. I could wake up at 8, eat breakfast, get on my cosplay, and get to the table without sacrificing sleep. It was a nice 8 hour day which is just long enough to leave me tired, but not dead on my feet like some cons which have 12 hour days. That's rough to manage for a single artist even with a helper. Closing, again, gave enough time to eat a decent meal before most places closed for the night and we also got to enjoy ourselves a bit. Had we wanted to, there was time to attend a few panels and actually enjoy the con. The 3pm end on Sunday was a blessing when you have a drive that is 4 hours on google maps, but 6 hours once you factor in traffic and rest stops. Had it been any later we'd have been home very late when you have to wake up for work Monday morning.
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The only real complaint I have is that Friday registration had issues that left incredibly long lines. Some attendees said they waited up to 4 hours to get their badge. I know that there was the option of mailing badges, but I understand that doesn't work for everyone in all situations. Registration being so long also meant these lines made it difficult to access the exhibit hall as they were largely blocking access except a path through the middle of the room that was roped off, but still pretty crowded. My helper pointed out that if you didn't know the lines were for registration, you might think they were for the exhibit hall or not even notice the exhibit hall was there. I think perhaps larger signs in the hallway might have helped, but there may have been some and I just didn't notice it.
Luckily the issues seem to have been resolved because this wasn't a problem the rest of the weekend. It also meant Sunday was also surprisingly busy, I think because so many people had to wait until later in the weekend to stop by. With most cons, Sunday is usually rather slow.
Announcements were loud and clear, giving attendees plenty of time and regular warnings about when the hall was closing and they weren't disruptive to sales. Staff went around at the end of the day on foot as well, clearing out those without exhibitor badges.
There was a few moments of down time, especially Friday, where I found myself with no customers, but overall I had a pretty steady stream of people. It was so nice meeting fans in a new place. I had a few who mentioned they'd been waiting years to attend a con I was at and see the bats in person and again I am just so humbled and grateful. The larger my fan base grows, the more you all shock me with how amazing and supportive you are. It gives me a ton of motivation to work out how to attend other new to us cons in other locations.
Sales were good and picked up steadily throughout the weekend. It ended up being on the high end of my regular sales goals for similar sized cons so I finished the weekend a happy camper with a few less bills to worry about. The crowd did seem to be a bit on the younger side, I'd bring more lower price point items in the future.
The thing I was most upset about all weekend was my own darn fault, I forgot the table cloths for our booth at home! Luckily I had 2 sheets I usually use to cover the table with so we used those as impromptu table covers. But I was happy no one seemed to notice. Sometimes we are our own worst critics so that's the take away lesson there. No one will notice you messed up if they didn't know what it was supposed to look like in the first place (unless you announce it on your blog like this of course).
We were worried there would be a big line at the loading docks, but there was ample room up there for cars to park to the sides and we had no issue packing up and getting out in less than an hour before most vendors were even done packing. With our car parked so close it was shockingly simple and easy.
Because we were able to get out so fast we were able to make a detour at Mars Cheese Castle. Seriously. A cheese castle. Could this con get any better? (And, yes, we were still mostly in our costumes, but we did remove ears and tails to help, uh, blend in. Poorly)
As an Attendee
We honestly didn't attend any panels. It's not that there weren't any, it's just most of them that we like (anyone who has read previous reviews probably knows by now we tend to prefer 18+ comedy panels) were usually towards midnight when we were getting our beauty sleep. Sometimes it's rough to have to actually work at a con.
We did pop down to the hotel restaurant for dinner and drinks Saturday and were surprised to find the limited menu, but the prices were lower so we appreciated that. The drinks were excellent and we had a good time.
We weren't a huge fan of the elevator crowd management. There were people on the 2nd floor managing lines, but many attendees just went up or down a floor to avoid it, adding more hassle to those patiently waiting. We also had staff put a group of us on an elevator going down when we all were going up and got chewed out by an attendee who didn't like that we were "going down to go up". Sorry, buddy, we waited our turn in line and it was the staff's choice to tell us to hop it, it is what it is. Helper Mom also noticed empty elevators going up as we waited because there was only one staff member managing elevators. So as they were unloading one group and loading another one on, they weren't pushing the buttons to stop the elevators that would have otherwise been available. All in all, we only waited 10 or 15 minutes, so it wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it could have been done better with more staff to help and attendants on the 1st and 3rd floors to prevent people from just cramming in an already crammed elevator.
I don't think I'd stay at the Hyatt again in general, though. It's no fault of Anime Milwaukee itself. The large atrium set up with gaming and the bar going on in the middle was a horrible set up if you (like me) have a hard time sleeping through noise as it echoes up to all the rooms. There was screaming, yelling, and music all hours of the night. We also had some jerk knocking on our door at 1am and other people running the halls. It really isn't a good place to be if you need to sleep, but it could be fun if you're looking to party or can sleep through loud noises.
On a personal note, Helper Mom and I finally finished her newest cosplay. We're slowly working through the eeveelutions. We enjoy getting stopped for photos when we are just walking around
We also got stuck at one point in the skywalk when the automatic doors shut in front of us and weren't opening. They had a bar that said to push in case of emergency and Helper Mom doesn't wait for any man, woman, or door so she shoved them open. We were amused to see they remained shoved open just as she left them all weekend. Sometimes it's the smallest, silly things that make a con memorable.
There was a lot of hallway fun to be had with random lines, dancing, and song everywhere. It was fun without feeling like people were being rude about it. I'd love to explore more of the con in the future as an attendee. The schedule leaves plenty of room for artists to have fun, too, we just weren't feeling up to it this weekend.
Anime Milwaukee's artist alley was well run and well organized. It was seriously top notch. It was one of the best, if not THE best, artist alley I've been part of. The staff obviously put a ton of care into planning things out and it showed. Combined with consistently good sales all weekend, I'm already planning out next year and seriously kicking myself for not coming sooner.
I had more gripes as an attendee, but honestly they were all minor and most could be fixed by moving to a different hotel. There's no actual need to stay at the Hyatt other than the convenience of the attached skywalk.
All in all, this is really solid con. 10/10 I would absolutely recommend any artists interested to give this one a shot.