Convention season is officially upon us, and has started off with a bang! Anime Milwaukee continues to be my first con of the year, and continues to set the bar – AND HIGH – for the rest of my convention experiences this year. I was a returning guest of honor, and had fantastic panels (with high attendance), and great sales on the floor. The staff and volunteers continue to make an experience worth having – and attendance increased over 10% this year, breaking the 10,000 mark!

A special thanks to all the staff, volunteers, and guest relationships folks who keep bringing me back and giving me a wonderful experience – one I encourage each of you to come have next year! This was my 8th year (out of 11) returning as a guest of honor, and I keep coming back for this same reason: the show is great, and I love being there.

After work, I packed up the car and headed over to pick up my buddy (and fellow guest of honor), Russell Lissau and his daughter. It was the first time I was car pooling with him in my new SUV, and I knew I would have enough room for his stuff, but was impressed I was able to fit all my stuff into only half of the trunk. Either my packing skills have gotten better over the years, or this car is much more massive than I originally thought. Or both!

The trunk of the car, saving half of it for my buddy Russell – but was impressed that I was able to fit into half of it

We grabbed a quick dinner at a local burger place, and then headed up to the convention center. In no time at all, we arrived and unpacked. Despite having a dolly this time, it still took me several trips to get my stuff down to the floor (hey, my first year with merch…I’m working on it). Once there, I started to set up that night because I knew I would need a little time to play with the configuration. With a 3 foot book display, and a 14-inch vertical merch display, there wasn’t a ton of real estate on the 6 foot table for me to set up all of my stuff…so I’m glad I gave myself the extra time to experiment.

The booth, now with t-shirts, posters, and pins!

After setting up, the group went to the green room and had some food. We met a few of the handlers and some of the Japanese guests, and had a little food, but ultimately went to bed early – which is almost unheard of on a con weekend. But, thankfully, it helped set the tone for what would be an excellent weekend.

How late do you usually stay up at a con?

Friday morning we all went to the gym in the morning, including my buddy Russell (who NEVER joins us in the gym). I like to start my weekend with a healthy workout, as it keeps my energy high (and gives me a big appetite for breakfast). We headed over to the restaurant across the street from the hotel for a meal, and then went to the floor to finish setting up our tables before Opening Ceremonies.

Behind the curtain at opening ceremonies with my comic pals, Russell and Alan

The comics crew headed over to Main Programming for Opening Ceremonies, and got to see the guests – many of which I hadn’t seen in ages, and some of which I hadn’t ever met before (despite attending multiple cons as guests together). All of the big voice actors were there, many of the cosplay guests where there in costume, and Samurai Dan and his wife were there with the dogs (which is always a hard act to follow on a stage). We all said our hellos, and then Jon St John – the master of ceremonies – introduced us all. He had a teleprompter in front of him with our names and bios (which were also displayed for the audience), but despite that he still got my name wrong, which would become a running gag throughout the weekend.

Opening ceremonies, this bald guy gave a talk for a while. It was fun. He was good looking. You should buy comics from him

After energizing the crowd, we headed back to the floor for finalizing set up and for the flood of people piling into the show. The day went by quick, but was a ton of fun. I also had a Writing for Comics panel at 2:30pm, which followed Alan’s first Making Webcomics panel. I arrived a little early, and he handed some tougher questions about overcoming troupes to me. I participated in his panel and had some fun, but then immediately started into my panel. Attendance was solid, and I had some great engagement from aspiring writers (and some artists). After the panel ended, I went back to floor and continued selling until the end of the day.

What kind of programming content do you like to attend? What attracts you to a panel? The topic, or the panelists?

Showing off the product for some photos

Standing and talking to photographers at the booth

With the ever-incredible Mel!

After the floor closed, we headed to our rooms to grab some food (pizza from a nearby Italian restaurant we’ve never tried), and then went to the green room for some group toasts. It was the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy, and many of the voice actor guests had done work for the FF games series. At the same time, we were toasting for our absent friend, Gyu, who has been a major presence in our lives both in and out of the con world. Gyu’s absence was celebrated with a few fingers of 30 year old scotch – something he would enjoy – and it was a chance to talk to some of the voice actors I had not had a chance to meet previously.

30 year old scotch in the green room, toasting the 30th anniversary of Final Fantasy (with photo bomb by Kari Wahlgren and Jon St John)

After the toast, we went to the VIP event in the top of the hotel, and hung out with fans. I got to talk to Johnny about his new band, and we talked merch (since I’ve been dabbing in t-shirts and pins, and he’s looking at experimenting with some new stuff to sell at concerts and cons), and then we split so we could hang out with the fans. A number of Channel Awesome fans found me and started chatting me up, which was a blast. I got into some very impassioned talks about good and bad movies, which started to make me lose my voice (not good!), so I finished the evening listening to what they enjoyed (or didn’t) about certain movies. After the VIP event, we went back to the green room for a quick snack, and then we all went to bed again (rather early by comparison to previous years). The rest was much appreciated.

Saturday morning started as all the rest do – got ready, grabbed some grub (this time at the Hyatt restaurant), and then went to the floor to set up and start selling. And sell I did! Man, the crowds were massive and the desire for original art and commissions was high! I loved it!

Around noon or so, Gabe and I went to our How to Draw an Alien panel, and re-arranged the room so it was more appropriate for a workshop. We gathered everyone around a few tables with paper and stuff to draw with, and we started talking about aliens and Gabe’s method of design. Then we built our own alien creature together. His name was Bob, and he worked in corporate finance. We then designed his boss – a stop light with each light showing a different emotion. We then opened up the group to free design their own support staff – janitors, HR, marketing, and one guy even made a transportation alien. It was a lot of fun, and we all shared and had a laugh at the fun creations we had made during the class. After, we packed up the room and went back to our tables to keep selling for the day.

Come buy comics from this man at AMKE 2018

Hellboy sketch card commission

Bruce Lee sketch card commission

King Kong (from Skull Island) sketch card commission

Jason (from MKX) sketch card commission

After the floor closed, I met up with my friend Lauren, who had driven up from Chicago to see me and hang out with our mutual friend, former Power Ranger Johnny Yong Bosch. The group went to the Thai restaurant across the street (a big mistake, because even with reservations we were delayed in being seated, and the service staff was overwhelmed with the volume of patrons). We eventually got through the meal, and headed back to the hotel to have drinks with some staffers who we’ve been promising to hang out with for some time. Lauren left to hang out with Johnny, who was grabbing dinner with Samurai Dan and his family, while we finished drinks. A homeless entered the hotel and tried to solicit drinks from us, which was not cool, and eventually hotel security scared him off.

After drinks, we went to go play Cards Against Humanity with Dan and Jillian, which ran until a bit after midnight. After, I retired to the green room with Johnny and Lauren to watch some Olympics and keep hanging out. Around 2am, we decided to call it a night. Johnny and I were going to grab breakfast in the morning anyway, which would come far too early for either of our preferences.

Got to spend a fine evening hanging out with two of my favorite people, Johnny Yong Bosch (Power Rangers) and Lauren Marie

I packed up my room and loaded up the car, and then headed to breakfast with Johnny. We talked more about his band and musical experiences, about our families and what cons we enjoyed attending. It was a fun time, and something I don’t get to do nearly often enough because of the late nights and tight schedules many cons keep us on. It was very refreshing to get to hang out with my friend and just share a meal. After breakfast, I headed to the floor for a final day of sales – and boy oh boy, did the trend get set early in the weekend, because they were a flood.

Hanging with the comics crew in artist alley before opening. From left to right: Trevor, Gabo, Russell, and Alan

With my buddy Shoulders Hernandez

Black Panter sketch card commission

Ed (from Ed, Edd, and Eddy) sketch card commission

Around noon I did my final panel for the weekend, which was Crafting Fictional Worlds. This panel by far had the most attendance of any panel of the weekend, and the group and I had a lot of fun talking about what to reveal and what to imply in stories, how to balance telling vs showing your world through visuals or exposition, and many more topics. I didn’t get to answer every question people had at the panel, sadly (if you attended the panel and are reading this, ask me now!), but that’s what happens when you have 75+ people in a room and only an hour for a panel.

I returned to the floor for the final hours of sales, and Johnny stopped by to say his goodbyes. I gave him a hug and a pin for his daughter, and then started to pack up my stuff.

Anime Milwaukee was another incredible con, with great attendees, staffers, and volunteers. I’m always incredibly humbled and honored to be invited back, and hope to return yet again next year!