Ten years ago, I took a trip to Crystal City Virginia to participate in my third anime convention ever, Katsucon. In it’s ninth year, I tripped down with friends from the IRC network I was frequently on and knew many folks from, stayed with them at the hotel, and spent the weekend hanging out with other folks from there, and the artist of the webcomic Megatokyo (before my tolerance for it dried up). I wound up stuck in the hotel for two additional days due to the blizzard of 2003 in the area that kept us from leaving, but spawned the most interesting weekend I’ve ever had. That year, a friend of mine, then head of Art Show, an exhibit that showcases artwork by artists to be bid upon and sold, if I wanted to come back next year and help run the show. I said yes.
What was I thinking? =D
Ten years later, I continue to drive six hours out of my way in the winter to staff what I consider to be one of the best conventions on the east coast, and certainly one of the most fun conventions to staff. I’ve detailed quite a bit of my trip in the Live Updates already, but the somewhat expanded story is as follows:
Friday we left Connecticut around 3:45AM on the road south towards Washington DC. Part of the reason I leave so early is because the arguably fastest route down is I-95 through New York City onto the New Jersey Turnpike. Being an EZ-PASS holder I take advantage of the express lanes at toll booths and just cruise-control the entire way down. Only one stop was required for breakfast and fuel and we were there by around 9:45AM, but we could not check in to our room because it hadn’t been turned over yet. We went over to the show and started working, helping set up, check in artists, and prep for Saturday, the largest day of attendance and bidding. In previous years, I usually bring a laptop to assist with data entry, as the system our department head designed to run the paperwork requires typing in all of the control sheets for the artwork so that we can check them out and pay them in the end. My netbook is less than ideal for this, so I brought a full keyboard and mouse last year, which worked really well. This year, I hauled down my spare 19″ wide LCD and hooked it up to the netbook, which made working a little easier. It was quite heavy though, I’ll need a different bag next year, or a case. Being exhausted as hell from driving, we turned in early to get an early start on Saturday.
Saturday we got in early to begin the day with an early wave of bids and attendees checking out the artwork. We had many exceptional volunteers this year that helped man our bag check in/out station which enabled us to keep on top of bidder registration, quick-sales, and other operations, so my first and foremost shout-out is to those folks for making our jobs possible. We got our taste of the hotel food options this year down in the Galaxy Cafe (the staff cafe for the Gaylord Convention Center) with lunch, and their pizza/calzone things were pretty good, as was their fries. We did a tour of the Merchants, where my fiancee found some figures called “Furry Bones” that she loved, and struck a deal for five of them at a decent price. She vows to buy more. I laid eyes on a Lynette Bishop figure from Strike Witches I kinda wanted, but held off on buying until later. We saw some very interesting cosplayers, but more exceptional were a number of people doing Wreck-It Ralph cosplays, including several Vanellopes, Ralph, Felix, other characters from Sugar Rush, and at least one Turbo. I also saw two girls cosplaying Nibutani and Dekomori from Chunibiyou, a Lunamaria Hawke (Gundam SEED Destiny), Hikaru (Angelic Layer), and a couple cosplayed as the man and woman from the Pixar short Paperman which I thought was very cool. We continued to run Art Show as I continued to monitor my bids for outbids. I placed bids on a Portal piece, some handicraft pieces from Plants vs. Zombies, and a 27 ounce beer mug that had the “Challenge Accepted” meme stick-figure guy etched on it with “27.25 Ounces? Challenge Accepted” That piece was sent to auction, but I won the other two at the end of bidding Saturday evening. That night, we held the live auction with about 30 or so pieces, mostly 3D art that sold anywhere from 20 to close to 200 dollars. Not a record compared to previous years, but still impressive. Being late at night, after squaring away, we retired for the night.
Sunday we spent the first half of the day checking artists out, taking care of bidders who bought work, and breaking down our area. What complicates all of these things is bidders show up when artists should be checking out, and vice-versa, so accommodating everyone takes time and being a man down crippled our ability to take care of that and break down, but we managed to do it without too much trouble. I snuck over to Merchants quickly for my last solo-tour of the room, and walked out with the Lynette figure from yesterday’s eye, as well as a Sanya Figma figure, and Tenchi Universe on DVD. Added to my art buys from the show, I put down a small chunk of change on this year’s convention. After closing up shop and sitting around talking for a bit, we went to dinner at Potbellys Sandwiches down the street before going back for the staff reception. The con chair and other staff said some words and gave some awards, we chatted a little bit, and left for our room to turn in early so we could get an early start in the morning. The trip concluded this afternoon after a good ride up to New York, but an hour and a half stuck in traffic on the bridge due to construction.
I’ve been to a lot of conventions. Not as many as some folks, and certainly not as long ago as other folks, but in a eleven-year span, I’ve covered at least thirty cons, by guesstimate, but ten of those have been Katsucon. Katsucon has always been good to me, even though I missed 2009 at Crystal City because of staff downsizing. It’s nothing you boast about on a resume, but staffing cons is much more enjoyable than going to them. You have something to do, something to contribute to, and you still get to meet people, see crazy outfits, and buy neat shit. It’s the evolution for those of us who went to go nuts with friends years ago, to just being a passive part of other people’s fun for one weekend a year. I don’t attend any other cons with the exception of two PAX Easts and occasionally Connecticon, so it’s the only weekend a year I get to go nerd it up with nerds of my social caliber.
If you live in the DC area and haven’t been, you should give it a shot. It’s not large like Otakon and still offers plenty of programming for your taste. The Gaylord can be a tad expensive, so if you got friends, bring them to defer room costs. Otherwise, there are several hotels a mile away on Oxen Hill Rd. that offer rooms for 100-119 a night if you have wheels. Katsucon Twenty comes back to the Gaylord Convention Center next year on the same weekend. Check it.
Thanks to all my fellow staffers, visible or not, and looking forward to as many more of these as I can.
Edit 2013-2-20: I was aware of the BBYO, a Jewish youth organization, being booked at the Gaylord alongside us this year as they were hosting their world summit at the same time as Katsucon. We’ve dealt with other organizations in the past, a Christian family group, a military ball, and other folks, so I didn’t think anything of it. Being stuck in the show all weekend, I don’t really get out to the hallways and panel rooms as often as other staff or attendees, so I didn’t witness anything first-hand, but reports seem to indicate that several groups of people, staff and attendees, clashed with BBYO’s staff and attendees over blocked access to the hallways leading to the parking garage, and to the gazebo frequently sought after by the cosplay crowd, especially this year with the World Cosplay event going on. Reports of racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and physical confrontations, by both sides. I’m pretty disappointed in people’s inability to control themselves in public places, and that goes for both Katsucon attendees and BBYO attendees. I’m no stranger to the things our convention has done, ten years, five hotels, I’ve heard some shit and seen some things. It’s difficult to control over ten thousand people, we simply don’t have the level of staff to police everyone. It’s up to our attendees to enforce common courtesy and respect the hotel, our staff, and each other. I’m sure the BBYO folks feel the same way, and it’d be callous of us to believe that the actions of a few represent their organization as a whole. I’m only glad I didn’t have to deal with anyone like this myself this weekend.
But on the off-chance that the hotel/con center staff reads this (ha, right) you guys need to really better coordinate multiple conventions in your convention center. I know we’re not an easy bunch to control, and you have my gratitude for all that you do, but a lot of these issues I’ve heard could have been minimized by keeping both conventions separated and traffic-shaping them through common areas as best as possible. There was nothing you could do to prevent some of this from happening, but most folks problems were over the parking garage, elevators, and gazebo, all things within your control.