2017 was a big year for Enstaved. Technically it's been the only year for Enstaved so far, but it was still a big one, and part of that involved our appearance at our first few comic conventions.
The Tech Monkey and myself are relative veterans of various music festivals, both in Australia and overseas. However neither of us had made it to a comic convention before. In my case, it was on my list of things to do when I had the time and money. For the Tech Monkey, it was a possibility when his kidlets got a bit older and wanted to meet some superheroes.
So it was pretty cool for both of us when we realised that the best place to meet our audience and make our public debut would be behind a table at a convention. There are a few parallels between a big music festival and a convention, and as it's my only real point of reference for events like this I'll touch on them as I go.
Now what did we learn?
First up, we needed to book a table.
Dealing with event organisers can be fun. They’re usually juggling about a thousand things at once, and in the case of smaller conventions, they also have day jobs to keep on top of. Fan run conventions can be hit and miss, depending on the experience of the organisers. It can be frustrating, but you have to remember that every big convention started out the same way.
Be prepared for long waits to hear back from them, or throw a gentle reminder email their way. We were launching an entirely new product, and it was a bit hard for them to figure out where to put us. Also, being a brand new business, we don't exactly have the same draw as Weta Digital or Games Workshop.
In the end though, Central Coast Comic Convention (C4), Supanova Sydney and Oz ComicCon Sydney all gave us a chance. (Thank you!)
Con goers – You guys are awesome! These conventions have a very similar vibe to a music festival, everyone is there to have a good time and enjoy the same things. A complete lack of judgement means people can let their inner geek flag fly, and I saw a lot of families sharing the love of their favourite comic, movie, and cartoon characters down to the next generations.
One of the big differences from music festivals though was the complete lack of alcohol. Unless there was an afterparty I didn't hear about. (please let me know in future – I promise I'll be good!)
Cosplay – OK, I won't lie. We sell things aimed at cosplayers, so of course you'd expect me to be incredibly nice here. And I can tell you, it's very easy to do. The dedication and skill some of this lot have in the crafting of their outfits is phenomenal, and I say that as a designer and model maker. Seeing someone walking down the alley in a costume you just know took them hundreds of hours to make is very inspiring. Made me want to run home and finish off my half painted model kits.
That said, please remember your fellow attendees and keep a bit of spatial awareness if you're wearing wings/tentacles/horns/armour that might knock over small people (or carefully set up displays on a vendors table). And if your costume requires assistance to put on and take off, try not to lose your friends during the day. I had to rescue one poor bloke after OzCon who was stuck in his outfit and needed help to get out of it.
Hand sanitiser – Please, if you see me using hand sanitiser after shaking hands or taking money, don't take it personally. I missed half of a 4 day festival a few years back after contracting what is euphemistically called 'Festival flu' (read: viral gastroenteritis) due to a lack of washing facilities and a feed of dodgy noodles.
So I don't think you're a grub, I just want to make sure any nasties that might be doing the rounds die before they can ruin my fun. Also, it's not unheard of for facilities to run out of soap or handwash, so be prepared.
Kids – As I touched upon in the Con Goers paragraph, there will be a lot of small people roaming around at a con. I love that parents are encouraging their little ones to get involved with comic culture – I do the same for my niece and nephew! (Proud uncle moment for me when they both said they preferred the 1990 TMNT movie over the recent Michael Bay abomination)
What needs to be remembered is that kids are not just smaller adults. And as much as you're enjoying the con, please, please give your kidlets a bit of time out when they start turning feral. A bit of a break away from the action, some food or a nap (lucky buggers!) will reduce the chances of a meltdown. To the relief of everyone in the area.
Food – Yeah, that stuff. I made a rookie error at Supanova and forgot to do a food shop before setting up our stand. Spent the next 3 days running on caffeine and a single $14 sandwich I managed to snag before opening one morning. There were options from the con organisers for vendors to order food, but we were honestly that flat out I never had a chance to take advantage of it. Not a recommended weight loss technique. And while I might remember the glory days when I could run on adrenaline (or beer) for a few days at a time, that time is long gone, and low blood sugar is a thing.
So yes. Plan ahead. There will probably be options for special dietary requirements, but just in case you might want to bring some snacks along.
And if you see me drooling at any stage, please look around to see who has a pie or bag of hot chips nearby before assuming I'm having a stroke.
Water – And after eating, you wash it down, right? Water is a biggie. It's surprising just how dehydrated you can get on even a mild day when you're walking around. And that's just in regular street clothes, not a fursuit or 15kg of cosplay armour. Or, in my case, talking more in one day than I had for the last 3 weeks. Did you know you lose about the same amount of water from your system through breathing as you do from sweating? You do now.
Bring enough water for yourself and that one friend who didn't plan ahead. Also, electrolytes aren't just what plants crave. In moderation they can replenish salts lost from sweating. Buy a bulk tub of electrolyte powder and mix your own in a camelbak or a couple of bottles. Works out a lot cheaper.
Toilets - You're hydrated. You've eaten. That's good! Now for what happens next. It's amazing how much bodily waste a large group of people can create in one day. And over 2 or 3 days it's even more impressive. Not so much for the poor buggers who have to clean up after you - I hope I don't need to draw you a picture. Please, aim in the bowl if you're standing, and don't kangaroo* if you're sitting. Toilet seats are generally cleaner than you expect, so the odds of catching something are pretty slim. And for the love of whatever deity you follow – flush the damn thing when you're done! No-one wants to see that.
Further toilet etiquette is fairly straight forward. If you wouldn't want someone talking to you while you're 'busy', don't talk to them. Check for paper before sitting down (or bring your own). See above for hand sanitiser.
*It has proven quite difficult to find a SFW link to describe kangaroo-ing in the toilet to non-Australians. So at the risk of this blog ending up in search results for all the wrong reasons, here is the proper definition: To kangaroo (toilet) – to squat in front of the toilet bowl so your backside hovers above the seat. The name refers to the posture of a kangaroo as it walks around. This is done in an attempt to avoid touching the seat and reduce the risk of any contact with germs or other contaminants. What actually happens is a loss of control during use and making a worse mess than what you were hoping to avoid in the first place.
The more you know!
Too much change is never enough – For reasons I am yet to understand, our bank wouldn't give us an EFTPOS machine before our last con. Maybe they didn't want the transaction charges they would have received?
Eh, it's done, and we're getting set up with a cheaper card reader anyway. But yeah, we were cash only in 2017. And yeah, we ran out of change a fair few times during the course of events. Which had the trickle down effect of us trying to get change from the food vendors by buying a bottle of water with a $50 note.
I can only theorise that somewhere out there is a single con goer sitting on a hoard of $5 notes and laughing at us.
Know what you're talking about – We sell a few tech based items as well as our themed and pop culture staves. And it's pretty much a given that someone interested in them will want to have a chat. Which is fine for me with our Nordic, Celtic and other themed staves, and I'm always up for a chat about comics and pop culture. But I wouldn't know a scripting error from a stack overflow, so it's worked out well that the Tech Monkey is up on that side of things.
Except for Oz Comicon last year when he was absent due to prior commitments (coughgetting drunk in Queenslandcough). Luckily I had a couple of substitute monkeys on standby that helped fill the gap over the two days. And when someone came up and started talking about the proper term for an icosahedron I was doubly glad that my substitute monkey for the day had a degree in applied mathematics.
Public transport – There is an upside to working at a con as a small business. We haven't yet needed to drive to a convention centre to offload huge amounts of stock, usually just a couple of crates and shanks pony from the bus or train. Yup, no expensive parking for us – yet.
The plus side of having to get there early to load in is that the trains and buses are usually fairly empty at that hour. Leaving at the end of the day is a bit of a different story though. Bigger conventions will put on extra transport, or be located in a fairly central area so the infrastructure is in place already. At the end of the day though, when you're clearing thousands of people out of an area quickly, things will get a bit swamped. Be ready for delays, and try and arrange a meeting point a distance from the con beforehand.
Infinite variables and stock – Our staves can be assembled in up to 8 sections, and in a selection of about 9 or 10 colours. I'm not a mathematician, but I imagine there's some kind of complicated formula to work out how many variations that can make. Probably involving a lot of brackets, x's and y's. Off paper, it means that to stock every variant of our range, we would need a warehouse about the size of the moon to have everything on hand. Since neither myself or the tech monkey have that kind of storage space we manufacture to order instead.
So for conventions we have to figure out what people are likely to want, and make as many options ahead of time as possible. Also factoring the amount of pieces we can physically carry to the venue without needing mechanical assistance (see - Public Transport). Which means it's possible that we won't have a particular design on hand, or did have one and sold it already. Which is why we offer convention discounts for a week or two after the fact, so you don't miss out. It's a work in progress, so please bear with us while we tweak it.
Taking photos – Quite simple. Ask permission, and don't be a creep. That said, it's a public space, so there's a good chance you'll end up in the background of a crowd shot somewhere. Also, be prepared for people to say no to your photo requests, especially if they’ve been photographed for the last 20 minutes straight and are about to miss the panel they wanted to watch.
Social awkwardness – Umm, yeah. (nervous laugh)
I'm not a natural salesman, and I'm not big on huge crowds of people at the best of times. Also, I'm not that crash hot with facial recognition, so people coming up to me in makeup and different costumes kind of throws me a bit.
Sucks to be me then, working at cons where my livelihood depends on making sales and interacting with large numbers of people. But thanks to a diet of energy drinks and adrenaline I've made it through, though I may have been a bit twitchy towards the end.
On the plus side, I have become reasonably adept at recognising my fellow awkward people. I know we don't get out much, and are easily overwhelmed. So I'll give you space to browse and keep the small talk to a minimum if you'll realise that I've spoken to more people in the last few hours than I have in the last three months and might be a bit too frazzled to remember you from 6 hours ago.
But I won't bite, and if you've got any questions about what we're selling I'll happily answer them. Unless they're about icosahedrons.
To sum up – we love working conventions, and we'll be doing a lot more in the future. It's exhausting, stressful and a lot of work. And we've met a lot of awesome people, and received a lot of valuable feedback on what we're doing.
Plus, we acheived our aim of selling enough staves to cover costs, and made a bit on top to pay for booking a table at the next con. Next mission is finding a bit of time to get away from our stall and see the rest of the room! I hear there's all sorts of cool stuff on display...