February 18, 2009
Katsucon 15 Write-Up
The first manga/anime convention I attended was Katsucon 12, in 2006. So, Katsu kind of holds a special place for me, which is why I'm going to try very hard to provide reasons for my opinions here instead of just ranting. Because this year's con pretty much sucked. It's the only one I've ever been to that, had I known last summer what I know now, I wouldn't have signed up for.
The VenueKatsucon was between venues this year. Previously they'd been at the Omni near the National Zoo; next year they'll be at the Gaylord National Harbor just south of the city. This year they were at the Crystal City Hyatt, where Anime USA was last fall.
AUSA did a better job of handling the space, even though the hotel was partially under construction. The dealer room, in particular, was done better in October: Katsu set it up to allow (and in one place require) contraflow, which took the smaller aisles between tables and made them more congested. AUSA had a rat's-maze-type of flow, where you came in one door, followed the path through the room, and made your way out the exit. This allowed traffic to move freely in the (relatively) narrow spaces. To have two-way traffic you pretty much need 20 feet between tables and that just wasn't available here.
An improvement that Katsu made over previous years was the use of staffers to keep people moving, especially at the ends of escalators. This has always been a problem, where people would stop randomly to check their map, take a picture, etc., and the fact that the hotel layout was new to many people didn't help matters any. Photos, on the other hand, were a problem because there were no designated picture areas except for the professionals' space on the second floor. I think they might have had one corner of the B-level basement blocked off, but if you saw a nifty costume on 3, you weren't going to go down a flight of stairs and three escalators for the shot.
The Hyatt has a large skylight in the lobby, which is basically the only source of light. This is great for natural light in the daytime. The place turns into a cave at night. Not much the con staff can do about that one, but it does detract: If you're running a 24-hour-a-day convention having the main area putting your con-goers to sleep is contraindicated.
Attendance & Registration
In order to accommodate the smaller space, registrations were capped at 6,000 this year. According to a staffer that I griped in front of, 90% of Katsu's registrations this year were pre-sold well in advance of the start of the con.
Now, I'm sure this was an exaggeration, but let's say it was on the order of 75-25 in favor of pre-reg. They had everybody queue up in the same line, and had the same number of people at the end handling at-door as they did pre-reg (four each, if I'm remembering right). Since there were fewer at-door registrations being done, this meant that at-door people were actually being pulled to the front of the line to have their stuff done -- pre-registering cost you time!
If you have 3 pre-reg people for every at-door then you don't go 4-and-4 on your staffers. Either set it up as 6-and-2 and make everybody handle one thing only, or make each staffer handle whatever registration type the next person has. Helping the con by pumping cash into it early should not earn you more time in line.
Of course, the line itself was a cluster fuck too. At one point the line wound around the lobby, out the door and up the block past the end of the hotel. One person I asked near the door had been in line for almost an hour, and they hadn't even made it indoors yet!
It's difficult to compare the crowding to AUSA, since Katsu would want to cram in as many people as the fire code allows, to prevent becoming a "small" con. But yeah, it was crowded.
They still ran three "live" rooms (as opposed to video rooms, workshops, gaming and the "major event" room) but the programming was few and far between and a lot of it simply didn't look appealing. Not only is it nice at a con to get off your feet for an hour, it's also good to hear new opinions and ideas from various people.
I believe I attended four panels. "What Not to Cosplay," which I left when Q&A started; a panel on claymation comics, which was cool; a fan-panel on Gurren Lagann, which also provided some good information like that Bandai will be releasing Gainax's manga in English this year; and "So you Think You Can Voice Act," a voice actor panel which I left before people in the crowd started "auditioning". I'm pretty sure that's a record low.
For video: I didn't watch a single minute of anime, which I know is a record. Nothing looked good, or something that did look good conflicted with the few panels and events I went to.
Iron Artist has morphed into something called "Art Fight", and it wasn't an upgrade. Last year's was bad enough with the murals covered in random crap; this year we got even more murals covered with random crap from the artists as they rotated around to each canvas. This stuff gets sold at the charity auction (more on that soon) but I can't imagine that four canvases stuck together into a wall-sized monstrosity that looks like a box of markers threw up on it could possibly sell for more than four well-done individual pictures.
At the first charity auction I attended in 2007, the Iron Artist competition was done more like Iron Chef: Each artist was given X amount of time to do what they wanted in a central theme. Hawk (in particular) turned out some great art that I happily bid on (and lost -- I think his picture of his character Eve wearing glasses went for $120). Last year they had artist teams and one theme, and you started getting the giant canvases. This year they shifted themes every 10 minutes and the results were pretty much the opposite of impressive. I would have been more likely to buy the remnants of the "McGangBangs" the announcers were eating during the show.
My suggestion, if they insist on keeping the "Art Fight" format, is to have each group work on a single canvas at a time (instead of four mural style) and swap the individual canvases out every 10 minutes when the theme changes. So each group would produce six individual 3' x 2' canvases by the end of the show (making 24 in all). You'd need a few stagehands (I'd volunteer, especially since it's my idea) to keep the materiel moving, but I think the results would be a lot more attractive and have the benefit of allowing more people to buy them at the charity auction.
I only recently started checking out the art shows at cons at Otakon last fall, so this was only my third one. Otakon's blows it out of the water. I'd say a good 85% of what was available were prints, which were supposedly forbidden from being sold in artist's alley. Either I misread the rule or it was being flagrantly violated and nobody cared. Otakon had a great deal more originally-produced artwork, and I have a hunch I'm going to see the original of one of the prints on sale this summer.
The little bit of original art was good -- I bid on three oil-on-canvas painting and won one -- but it was few and far between. I quick-bought one print for print pricing ($20 for tabloid size is fair) and to that artist's credit I didn't see it on sale downstairs. But I'd like to see more things the artist can't make more of at Kinko's.
One gripe I have is that they close bidding during dinner hours, making it easy to get sniped if you're hungry. I was hungry, and got sniped. It's a minor bitch to be sure, and possibly necessary since the final auction has to be Saturday night to avoid conflicting with the charity auction, but it's annoying that I lost a piece because I wanted to eat at a reasonable time. But I have the artist's name that did my painting, so I'll be looking into commissioning one or two more soon.
In 2007 this was one of the better parts of the con -- the auctioneer kept things lively and there was a pretty consistent flow of good stuff to counterbalance all the things I wouldn't buy in a million years.
OK, it's going to be difficult to write this part without sounding like a total douchebag. I'm not trying to be mean, and as always this is my opinion and mine alone. You've been warned.
Last year the auctioneer went into telethon territory. The proceeds for the auction, as far as I know, have always gone to Relay for Life, which provides money for cancer treatments and research.
Last year the auctioneer's mother had cancer. Esophageal cancer, which is a pretty nasty one. Bringing your own experience into things is fine; just about everyone has a family member who has cancer, is in remission, or died of it. If you want to bring it home that way, I'm with you. The show of hands at the beginning is pretty telling. The only way to get more would be to say, "hands up if you're breathing right now."
He went overboard though. He called up his parents to talk directly to his mother, and from the sound of things he hadn't told them about it first. It came off as clanky and uncomfortable, and I was glad when the call ended.
Last spring, the guy's mother died. I feel bad for the guy -- I've never handled deaths particularly well, and the only thing I have going for me with regard to my parents' ultimate check-out is that they both come from long-lived families (three of four grandparents made it past the median life expectancy) and that they're only 22 and 26 years older than me. In other words, I've got time. The auctioneer obviously didn't and to the point that I can empathize with someone I don't know, I feel for him.
And I have no doubt that when his voice caught while telling us what had happened last March that the tears were real. But I remember Jim Bakker sobbingly asking for everybody's forgiveness back in the 80s, and my first instinct is to distrust a person who cries in public, especially if he's getting ready to ask me for money. Yes, that's my issue and my baggage, just like it's not the boss's fault that I get defensive when my work is questioned due to a previous bad boss. But there it is.
(My second instinct, as an FYI, is to become very uncomfortable. Seeing an adult cry pretty much makes me want to leave the room. Partially for their privacy, and partially so I don't have to sit there frantically grasping for an appropriate response. I overcame the first instinct quickly because I trust the man's intentions. The second, not so much.)
So yeah, that's my asshole comment: I didn't come here for a telethon. I'll save you a seat on the ride to the inner circles of hell if you'll be joining me.
Secondly, which isn't particularly their fault (expect for the ugly Iron Artist garbage detailed above) is the fact that there was absolutely nothing there this year that I wanted to buy. Nothing. I had my bidder number right at the start of the auction, and when I walked across the room to check out the hanging pictures (they weren't set up yet when the auction started) two hours in, I hadn't even considered raising my bid card. When I saw that the stuff they had hanging was also crap I turned in my number and left. Of the three charity auctions that's the first one I left before it ended.
This was the first year they did it. I saw the menu and the prices, and decided it wasn't worth eight bucks for a burger just to have my food delivered by a possibly-underage girl in a maid outfit.
This was the seventh convention I've attended (4 Katsu, 2 Otakon and 1 AUSA) and it was easily the most disappointing of the seven. The only true highlights were the Venture Brothers voice actor recognizing my costume, and the couple of hours I spent talking to a guy who'll be on staff at Tekkoshocon in April (a con I've never attended). And the second came about because I was so bored with the con that on Saturday night I was playing Race for the Galaxy in the Holiday Inn lobby instead of doing con-stuff.
However, there is the new space Katsu will be in for 2010. And since I'm a Browns fan, I'm very familiar with the mantra I will now use for Katsucon: Wait till next year. Let's hope that, unlike the Browns, Katsu improves.