Convention Review: ACEN 2014

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Anime Central (or ACEN, as it’s often called) is the 3rd largest anime convention in North America, and I have had the distinct privilege of being a returning guest of honor for 6 years in a row. ACEN is a lot of fun, I call it “the con that never sleeps,” and it’s set the bar for how well they treat their guests year after year. It’s seriously my favorite show, and this year was no different. Let’s dive right into the events of the weekend….

The day before the show started I headed over the convention center to say hi, get my badges and agenda for the weekend, and to hang out at the Hyatt restaurant and get a little comic work done. I brought along the iPad, which has become my favorite portable tool for working on scripts on the go. It’s light, portable, and the keyboard case I bought for it is very easy to use.

Working on the next Albert the Alien script at the bar before the show

I also had a chance to pay a little homage for a friend of mine who isn’t with us anymore. My friend Kim brought me to my first ACEN back in college, and after we graduated it was the one time in the year we got to hang out. Unfortunately, Kim passed away from epilepsy several years ago, and so I decided to honor her memory this weekend in a few ways. This was one of them, but the other would happen Friday night during the Panel that Shall Not be Named. More on that in a little bit….

One for me and one for absent friends

I was visited by a lot of friends while I sat the restaurant, and had a few drinks and meals with them as they came and went. I eventually got my room key and checked in, and my wife dropped off the rest of my stuff not long after that (thank you, honey, for driving my heavy stuff so I didn’t have to carry it on the train). Towards the end of the evening I went to the Green Room for their industry mixer, meeting all of the guests who had arrived by that point and mingling a bit. However, I also got invited to go see Godzilla opening night in IMAX 3D. I’ll post a review about the movie at some point in the near future, but I can say this – DON’T GO SEE IT IN IMAX 3D. Not worth the extra money.

After the movie ended I went back to the hotel and went to bed. ACEN is an exhausting weekend that often results in me losing my voice, and I wanted to get as much rest as I could.

Friday morning started off early, with me hitting up the gym with my fellow ACEN workout buddy Jessie Pridemore. Jessie and I have somehow just met in the gym over the last several years at this show, and this year I decided to reach out to her and make it an official meet up. The two of us motivate and push each other, help each other out with spots and whatnot, and ultimately get to hang out and have fun before the show starts. Plus, working out first thing in the morning tends to make me feel energized for the rest of the day. And I had a LONG day ahead of me.

I took a quick shower, went down for breakfast, and met up with fellow comic guest Josh Elder (Scribblenauts, Mail Order Ninja). We were both there representing Reading with Pictures as the educational guests of the show, and after breakfast our handler escorted us to opening ceremonies. We sat through the introductions before we had our chance to go up on stage and give our pitc – the beginning of which I gave Josh a hug and whispered “Hail Hydra” into the microphone. Sadly, I don’t know that anyone actually heard the exchange over the applause.

We pitched ourselves and our panels, and then headed straight out to the floor to set up. The convention floor was set up a little differently this year, with an Industry section up front and Artist Alley behind it. This is not unlike how Reed sets up their shows, and it created some good flow overall for the floor. Unfortunately the vendor who set up by us had a 13 foot tall vertical display banner, so our tables were a little obscured and this hurt sales for the first day.

The booth set up (original location)

Josh primarily worked on some comics and I sold to anyone who came by (when they came by), but I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to move us closer to or inside of Artist Alley. Eventually my artist Gabo offered me a half table, and I decided to take him up on it on Saturday.

Our primary goal during the weekend was really to promote the new Kickstarter we had launched for Albert the Alien. Kickstarter campaigns are a lot of work, and being unable to tweet and promote because of the event could have hurt the campaign. But we turned it into a positive by handing out some vertical fliers with QR codes that linked directly to the pledge page, and to incentivize pledges during the weekend by offering an ACEN exclusive reward (which was a mystery prize).

The Albert the Alien Kickstarter promotional handouts given out at ACEN

I also had a few new book products on the table, including the final chapter of @$$hole! and the new limited edition box set.

The limited edition box set

After AA closed, Josh and I headed up to PDR (where they serve guests meals) to grab a quick bite before our panels started. During that time, my wife showed up so she could enjoy a bit of the show with us as well.

All of our panels were in panel room 3, and they were often back to back – so it was very easy to get comfortable in the room and switch off back and forth with each other. Our first panel was an introduction to Reading with Pictures, which was did together. Josh talked more about the organization and it’s goals, and how it was founded. I talked more from a content creation standpoint, and what it was like to create stories that contained educational content but also had a fun adventure story. As always, we worked off of each other well and gave a very informative and entertaining panel that the attendees really enjoyed.

After that, Josh gave a panel about working on licensed properties – including his latest work on Scribblenauts for DC. After his panel ended, however, I got to move into the main event – The Panel that Shall Not be Named.

This is a panel ACEN has me do every year, and has a lot of history at the con. It’s a ton of fun, but this year I decided to mix it up a bit and make it 100% brand new. I can’t say what happens in that room (you have to be there to experience it), and the title alone usually draws about half of the crowd, but I like to mix it up so it’s something new for the people who do come back each time. This time I even threw in a few curve balls and told a story about my friend Kim, which had some of the people in the audience in tears. Hell, I was tearing up telling the story. But I recovered with a few additional fun stories about how I met my wife and how I proposed….and then showed them some of the fake movie trailers from our wedding.

After the panel I bum rushed it to the improv panel (the same folks put it on at Con Alt Del, and it was a fun time) and I jumped in for a few quick skits. I was only there for about 10 minutes, however, before the panel ended. I had done some skits with this same troupe during Con Alt Del late last year, and they were a lot of fun. They also offer improv classes, for anyone who’s interested to join.

After that, we went back to the hotel room to go to bed. I had been at the gym by 7am that morning, and we went to bed around 1am – and I had to start my day with a 9am press call on Staurday. As I said, the show’s a lot of fun – but you do have to work, too.

Saturday morning I got up, grabbed a quite bite of breakfast, and ran to the press event. It was a group of about 6-10 people asking questions about Reading with Pictures and educational comics. As the Marketing Director for the organization, I answered their questions well and then met up with Josh to hit up the floor. My friend Anna joined us when Beth went home (her first anime convention), and we relocated to Gabo’s half table in artist alley to help increase sales.

Sales were quite a bit stronger in AA, and it was nice to be around other creators for a while. We sold our hearts out, and then went to grab a quick dinner between AA hours and our panels.

One of the ACEN exclusive Kickstarter rewards – these were very popular

Josh started off the evening of panels with his “Case for Comics in the Classroom” panel, talking about the benefit comics bring to education and the unique way they can be leveraged in an academic setting. After that, I jumped straight into my “Making Time for Making Comics” panel, which was essentially about time management. Making time for your creative projects. As someone who has made a career out of planning, project and time management have been critical to me in both comics and my career, so it’s something I had a lot to talk about. And it was a great panel with a large audience and a lot of engaging questions – and some strong sales after.

After that, Josh and I both did a “Breaking into Comics” panel talking about our two very unique stories and how we’ve both walked different paths to getting where we are today. It was a great chance to share some funny and insightful stories from conventions, as well as some more engaging questions from the audience. It ended with a standing ovation and a 45 minute buying and signing line – which I’ve never had before! Since we were the final panel in the room, though, we were able to go longer, which was great.

We skipped the 18+ Cards Against Humanity panel (which I’ve done before, and it’s a lot of fun, but it was going to end in 10 minutes) and instead dropped our stuff off at the room, said goodnight to Anna, and then headed up to the Green Room to hang out. It was Josh’s birthday, so I interrupted everyone and lead them in singing him happy birthday. There was much cake and merriment after, and long conversations late into the morning. Around 3am we all headed back to the room and went straight to sleep.

Another original from Gabo for the Kickstarter promotional exclusive to ACEN

The final day of the show was a slightly later start for us. We had some quick breakfast, and then I headed back to my half table to sell my heart out on the final day. Sales were similar to the previous day, but we did have a lot of interest in the Kickstarter from people who had stopped by earlier. They wanted the exclusive, which was a 3-panel strip you could only get at the show, with an area for Gabe to draw an Albert commission on the back. We gave out about 7-10 of these at the show, so it was definitely worth it.

Eventually Beth showed up to help out, we kept selling until the very end, and before I knew it the convention was over. We broke down, said our goodbyes, went into the hotel to validate our parking (and say thank you to all the staff and volunteers who helped make this weekend possible), and then headed home.

ACEN is a convention that never sleeps (and I never sleep at it), and it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s a really fun weekend, and it’s a show I hope to continue to guest at for years to come!

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