The convention season is upon us, and there was no better way to start it off in 2011 than with a show like Anime Milwaukee.

Last year I attended this show for the first time, which was located in a student union on a college campus. Attendance was kind of small (about 1,200 people), but fun times were had by all. It IS an anime show, after all, and fun and cosplay are the name of the game.

Despite the smaller attendance, the show was profitable – namely because I was able to stay with my good friend and fellow comic creator Alan Evans (Rival Angels).

This year was no different, except Alan and I were invited back by the show as guests. Oh, and the venue changed to the Hyatt in downtown Milwaukee. Oh, and the attendance went way up (estimated 3,000-4,000). So, basically everything changed. And it was still an awesome and profitable show.

I apologize in advance for not having a lot of pictures to supplement the convention experience review below, but I was spending more time focusing on sales and meeting fans than photo taking. Next time, I’ll try to magically grow another set of arms so I can do both at the same time.

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THURSDAY
After a long day at the office, I hopped a train up to Milwaukee to stay with Alan, his wife, and their three cats (who are much more affectionate than Waffles, I must say). Alan and his wife are gracious hosts and opened their home to me for the weekend (and I’ll be doing the same come C2E2, but more on that later).

Since it was late, we stayed up chatting and catching up a bit, but went to bed soon after. We had a long weekend ahead of us filled with anime fans!

FRIDAY
Alan and I arrived at the hotel and set up our tables in artist alley (AA). We got to the show a little early to set up before the VIP attendees were admitted to the show floor, and to chat up with some of the fellow exhibitors that we’ve met before at other shows – and some new ones, to boot.

After the show opened, Alan and I began doing our thing: informing the masses about our various merch on the table, specifically our books. Being guests of the show was certainly a draw for many of the fans who attended the show on Friday, although traffic was a little on the lighter side. Sales reflected this, but since last year was lighter on sales (still profitable, though), this wasn’t anything alarming.

During the down times, Alan worked on some art while I made some commission sketch cards and chatted people up about the panels I had over the weekend…and about comics and anime in general.

My first panel was that afternoon, and the attendance for the panel started off a little light. You would think a panel titled “Writing for Comics” would bring in some more perspective creators, as it was an extremely well attended panel the previous year. Understandably, I was a bit nervous. However, after about 10 minutes of starting the panel the room quickly filled up and my fears were alleviated.

After the panel Alan and I finished up our sales portion of the show for the day, and then we had our guest duties.

Opening Ceremonies was at the end of the first day for this show, and the theme was kind of a retro history. They had dancers up the wazoo for this thing – swing dancers in zoot suites, break dancers, lots of dancing acts. The entire staff of the show even came out on stage to sing some Journey songs. Meanwhile, back stage, Alan and I were mingling with two other guests – Doug Walker and Uncle Yo. These guys clearly knew each other from other shows, but were kind enough to let us into their conversations. And man, they were funny. These guys were on the entire time behind stage – and on stage, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Eventually the time came for all of the guests to take the stage, and our direction was “keep the audience fired up for 30 minutes.” That was it. So after everyone came out onto the stage, the performers with the strongest personalities took over. I’m fine with sitting back and letting someone else energize the audience – especially if they do it for a living professionally.

After Opening Ceremonies, Alan and I went to go grab food and went back to his place to reflect on the day and crash.

SATURDAY
The big convention day started with a 9am panel (before the convention even opened) with Alan and I talking about Making Webcomics. When we arrived at the show, the place was packed!

“Okay, one of two things has happened here,” I said. “Either someone lied to you about there being coffee, candy, or cartoons at this panel this morning, or none of you have been to bed yet.”

Alan and I put on a great panel, informative and entertaining, and then headed back to the show floor where his wife was watching the tables. By this time the show was in full swing, cosplayers out in force dressed as their favorite characters and buying everything in sight.

And I mean everything!

I started bundling Reading with Pictures (RWP) with my brand new book, Junkyard Chase, and the attachment rate was a good 90%. People couldn’t get enough of it. I started to get nervous because I was selling through my RWP inventory faster than anticipated, and I had a panel on it later that night!

This is a good problem to have, mind you.

As the floor was closing that night, I had to run to my RWP panel and finished off the day strong. I was starting to lose my voice, but my energy was high from the day spent selling. I put on a great show about comics in education, the role they can play, and how people can work to get comics in their schools and libraries. After the panel I sold through several more bundles, and then went out to dinner with Alan and his wife.

Rock Bottom was full, so we hit up a local burger joint and went back to the Evan’s home. Thinking quickly, Alan and I ran to a liquor store before they closed to buy materials to make Mint White Russians. After the adult drinks were made, we started making silly movie choices. Namely, we watched Jurassic Park 3 and Resident Evil 3.

Let me just say, RE3 was by far the worst of the two. But I’ve always had it out for that franchise. However, it’s never deviated more from the source material than it did with the third flick where Milla develops – get this – psychic powers.

Yeah, someone was snorting blow when they said yes to this movie.

And on that note, Alan and I went to bed. I had already made more sales (and made far more money) than I had from some of my largest shows the previous year, so Sunday was just going to be icing on an already delicious cake.

SUNDAY
Thankfully we didn’t have any early panels on this day, so we were able to sleep in a bit. And after that “bad movie marathon” from the night before, who can blame us.

Attendance for the show was a little heavier than Friday, and sales were certainly stronger. People were starting to get a little tuckered out, and the weather outside had started to snow – so many people were taking off early.

Alan and I stayed throughout (what choice did I have? I had to give one of the final panels of the show again), selling the whole day away. In the afternoon Alan left for his first Rival Angels panel, which he said went well. Once he got back I ran to my panel about @$$hole!.

Last year I was late to this panel, and didn’t know what to expect. I was anticipating maybe 3 attendees at the panel, and as I walked into the room I saw about 50. I was so awe-struck I could barely speak, but I gave the best panel I possibly could.

This year was a little different, and we think the weather was probably working against us. The panel started with a handful of people, but eventually grew to about 20+ strong. I told my goofy stories about how the comic came to be, some of the real-life events that have shaped the themes, stories, and direction of the comic, and then told my hilarious convention stories.

People were in stitches.

At the end I thanked everyone for attending not only the panel, but the show. Attendees (and the volunteers who put the show together) make the show worth going to, and Anime Milwaukee was a very strong start to the convention season. They made some big shoes to fill by other shows of the year, and it was more profitable than most of my largest attended shows of the previous year.

Anime Milwaukee is a great show put together by a dedicated group of volunteers who know their craft, and the attendees are eager to meet guests and artists, shop for stuff, and yes – attend panels.

If you love anime, manga, pocky, or comics, then I strongly encourage you to think about attending this show.