Convention Report: Anime Iowa 2014

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I attend a lot of conventions, and I love meeting fans – both long-time and first-time. And I love making new friends at shows, too. But there’s something great about being able to do a show with people you already know, too. Which is why I was so glad I was able to get Uncle Yo and Russell Lissau invited to Anime Iowa this year!

Russell and I are long-time friends and do conventions all the time around Chicago, so it was fun to get to travel with the guy to a show that’s not too far away. And Uncle Yo and I have been friends for a number of years, but I didn’t get to see him at all last year (because I was only doing a handful of shows, focusing on my wedding). And I’m not even mentioning the other awesome guests they have at this show — so let’s hop right into it!

After working from home in the morning, I grabbed my stuff and road the bus (and then the train) to O’Hare to catch my flight to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I went to go check my bag, which contained several new books I’ve never flown with before. To my surprise, my check bag was slightly over weight, and I started to rummage through to lighten the load. However, while I was pulling out books, several of the TSA agents started asking what I did. “Write comics,” I told them. “My latest title is an all-ages comic about the first exchange student from space.” I pulled out a few copies for them to look at while I stuffed heavier books in my carryon.

The agents got very interested in this title, asking what age it was for. “Recommended for readers 7 or older,” I replied. One of the agents then asked if they could buy one from me right there. I said sure, and two more agents wanted copies for their kids as well.

I wasn’t even at the show yet, and I had already sold 3 books.

I made the sales, finished the weight shift, and checked my bag and went through security. I quickly grabbed some lunch and waited for my plane – and my traveling companions!

Russell I knew would be traveling with me, being a local here as well. But I was pleasantly surprised once again on this trip to run into Mimi, who I had met last year at this very same show. Her previous flight had been delayed, and so she was moved to our flight.

Shenanigans on the plane to Iowa!

After an hour delay for our flight, we eventually boarded and started the trip to Iowa. Russell wrote a bit, and I relaxed and watched a movie (Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol, if you’re curious).

After about an hour in the air, we touched down and were greeted by our handler for the weekend (and my handler from last year), Mel! She made last year a real treat, so it was great to be paired with her again this year.

Guests arrive at the Cedar Rapids airport – Mimyru, Russell Lissau, and Trevor Mueller

Mel drove us to the hotel where we unloaded our stuff, met up with Uncle Yo, and then we went to grab a bite to eat from the local burger place. It was nice for Russell to get to meet Uncle Yo for the first time, and they hit it off swimmingly – and I was glad to get to catch up with him, since we hadn’t hung out in person in almost a year.

After food, we got Mel to drive us into town for some supplies. I needed some new stands for my comics (I didn’t bring the new vertical rack, because it’s so bulky), and we needed snacks and beverages for the weekend.

After shopping, we headed back to the hotel for a quick meeting with the staff and volunteers (and other guests) to go over the agenda, and then were released to go our own ways. We headed to dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Keep those appetizers coming!

Since the show hadn’t officially started yet, and wasn’t starting until afternoon the next day, we headed up to the room to listen to some tunes and work. I worked on some pre-commissions and some new sketch card designs, Russell worked on some scripts, and Uncle Yo worked on some new jokes for his stand up routines. Sleep soon followed.

I got up early to hit the gym, which is normally empty. Russell went for a swim, but after he left something happened that’s never happened to me at an anime show before. Someone actually came into the gym who wasn’t just a random person staying at the hotel. A con attendee was trying to do some lifting. I gave some advice on a few items he was doing (the guy was going to hurt himself), and then parted to shower and grab some breakfast with the guys.

The hotel has a pretty good restaurant, so we decided to eat there. I was still hungry after we finished, though, and since we had some time to kill, Uncle Yo and I walked to a nearby Mexican place for an early lunch. It was plenty tasty, and filled us up right for the day.

A quick trip back to the hotel had us setting up in Artist Alley, or as this show refers to it: the Marketplace.

This is a man set up to sell some comics!

We skipped opening ceremonies because sales were so strong, and we didn’t want to lose the momentum. Like last year, book sales were okay for me here – but what really sold for me were commissions. And boy, did I get a lot of them!

Squirtle sketch card commission!

Game of Thrones sketch card commission – and she dressed up for the part!

Spider-Man vs Deadpool commission – Epic Rap Battles Style!

Someone wanted a commission of the characters from @$$hole! posed in the classic Star Wars IV: A New Hope poster. BEST FAN EVER!

I spent most of the weekend with my head down working on commissions, which could also be why book sales are lower for me at a show like this. But hey, those pictures aren’t going to draw themselves, right? 😉

After the floor closed we only had a small window before our panels. Russell and I had a joint 9:30pm panel on writing comics, which – like last year – was extremely well attended, and filled with some amazing questions. The audience at Anime Iowa is very engaged with the educational panels, and they’re very knowledgable and enthusiastic about making comics of their own. In fact, I had someone come up to me from last year with their first book – the 4th time this has happened to me in my time as a guest at conventions! Always a satisfying experience, and one I look forward to having more.

It didn’t hurt that their book looks gorgeous!

After the panel we had a few drinks and walked around the con to see what was going on. Our room was on the same side as the back patio, so we heard music late into the night (I almost never sleep at conventions as it is, but booming music until 4am certainly doesn’t help sleep happen for me).

Around midnight or so, we wondered into the 18+ Cards Against Humanity panel hosted by Samurai Dan and Lady Jillian. I did this for the first time at this show last year, and it was a hoot – but this year took the cake. The guests on the panel were firing on all cylinders, with voice actors performing the cards – or someone taking off their shirt and dancing with tassels on. We even traded cards so we could trump each other and keep the humor building throughout the evening. We really got into it, and it was an absolute blast!

After being energized like that, we headed to the bar for a quick drink and then it was time for bed.

Saturday morning came far too early, and I missed my alarm. Thankfully, Uncle Yo kicked me out of bed about 15 minutes before my 9am Self-Publishing panel was going to start. Unfortunately, the room was locked – so we had to find someone to get us into the room just as the panel time started. Thankfully, I was ready to dive right in – and did so – while I was setting up my books on the table.

Some great questions from familiar faces throughout the weekend, as well as new faces trying their hand and making comics for the first time. Attendance was also extremely high for an early morning panel, which was also awesome.

After the panel I bum rushed to the sponsor breakfast to hang out with some of the amazing sponsors of the show. Attendees, businesses, volunteers, staffers, and fans were among the guests at the breakfast, and I got to hang out and joke around with them while enjoying some tasty eggs and bacon and juice.

After breakfast it was quickly to the floor for much selling and more commissions!

Pocky is all kinds of delicious!

My partner in comics – Russell Lissau!

Working hard on more commissions!

We broke down our tables a little early on Saturday night to grab some dinner before I had to go be a guest judge at the masquerade. Uncle Yo was MCing the event, and it was the first time I’ve even seen a masquerade – much less judged one. I know from people who have worked them that they’re extremely well attended – and also tend to run longer than they’re supposed to. However, I was very excited for a fun night of costumes, performances, and hanging out with fans.

Maybe 1/3 of the crowd at the Masquerade Saturday night

I was one of the performance judges, and had to fill out sheets of paper on each person who signed up to be in the performance category. Cosplayers show up in their outfits and pose, or perform a scene (or a song, usually lip-synced) from their favorite game / movie / anime / series / whatever. In between acts, Uncle Yo was entertaining the crowd with jokes and stories that were delivered with a professionalism and polish that puts my panels and speeches to shame. The dude is a true artist of his craft – and he does it WELL!

As expected, the events ran late and the performance judges ran off to go tally our votes on who was the best. There were multiple categories, and we needed a 1st-3rd place (and judge’s choice) for each of them:

After about 30-40 minutes of tallying, we knew who our picks were to win, but there was an issue – the costume judges still had about 8+ people to judge before we could report on best in show. We were already running super late (the event was supposed to end around 8:30, and it was already after 9:30pm). Eventually, we came up with a solution – Lucas (one of the other guests of the show, and an awesome voice actor) and I would go on stage and announce the performance winners, hand out our prizes, and then we would announce the best in show winners during closing ceremonies the next day (and on social media).

We went up to the stage and did our announcements. Several of our winners were still being judged on costumes, so they weren’t able to go up and get their rewards on stage, unfortunately, but Lucas did a good job of MCing the event and keeping spirits high while I looked pretty and interviewed the winners. It was a fun time.

After that, we headed to the room to relax quickly before heading off to bar. Fans were in abundance (coming and going from the rave), and we chatted them up late into the night. After that, we went to bed for some much needed sleep.

The final day of the show started with a delicious buffet breakfast in the restaurant, and then we headed to the floor to set up. Russell had sold out of most of his books by this point in the show, but I still had plenty to sell – and sell I did. No more commissions came in on the final day – it was all about selling the books, and they did go quickly. Many box sets and complete collections were purchased by fans who had stopped by earlier in the weekend, or who had attended panels throughout the weekend.

Around the afternoon, the show started to die down and Russell and I packed up and started saying our goodbyes to our friends – both fans and staff. Everyone made this weekend truly an amazing experience, and one that just keeps building year over year. Not just because the con is growing – but because everyone who’s attending this show is just so awesome!

We hopped into the van with Mel and grabbed a quick bite at the airport, and then waited for our plane to come in and take us home. On the ride, Russell slept a bit and I was watching another movie (Inception, in case you were wondering).

Something was really bothering me the whole flight home….

After the plane landed and we grabbed our stuff, Russell and I parted ways with a big hug. It’s always a pleasure to exhibit at a show with the man – he taught me everything I know about selling at cons – and it was such a fun weekend. I can’t wait for our next show together!

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