Otakon 2013: Artist Alley

narutaki_icon_4040 The last couple of years I have been spending more and more time in artist alleys at conventions. At this year’s Otakon, I resolved to spend twice as much time as I did last year (I don’t think I actually accomplished that) and was still left with a feeling of having not seen all that was on display. In fact, I barely even glanced at the art auction!

I realized this time, more than any other, depending on the pace at which you explored the alley, the experience and what you took away could be different. On my first casual walkthrough, I felt a twinge of disappointment. Nothing seemed to jump out and the myriad of crafts I had seen growing in previous years felt diminished. But once I took a more careful and slow pace in my return visits, there was still plenty of artists producing worthwhile pieces. However, my first reaction was not completely off the mark.

Attack on Titan was the hot title in the alley (and every where else at Otakon for that matter) and I admit to fully indulging with the masses on this one. This is the first year the big series was at the top of my list, too, and it was a lot of fun. It should then come as no surprise that one of my first purchases of the weekend was a set of buttons featuring the different military branches. The official logos are already well designed; I liked Steph Stober’s added use of color and texture to give them a little something extra.

I have been playing a few more videogames lately so perhaps that explains why I found myself with more than a few game-related buttons in my collection. The Chrono Trigger ones from ohmonah really popped, I nearly bought all of the characters but decided to just go with my core team. As a detective, it was impossible to resist picking up the delicate, watercolor-rendered Professor Layton and Luke buttons from Billies. And I didn’t believe my eyes at first when I spotted Emily Smith’s set of Ghost Trick buttons, what a delight!

I was keenly aware after my first two trips through the alley that I had come away with nothing except buttons. I seek them out, you understand, but I usually find myself with a mixture of items so that realization gave me pause.

The last few years, artist alleys everywhere have been growing more robust with art styles and types of wares offered. Otakon 2013 took a step back in both of those areas unfortunately.

There was a return to prints as the top-tier, overabundance item of the alley. Many artists were selling large (11 X 14/17) prints exclusively so I wasn’t able to pick up something from all of those who caught my eye. Don’t get me wrong, prints are cool, and I even indulged in one myself from electric prince, but they rarely feel like a precious item. If artists wanted to combat that feeling, they could print them on thicker paper and actually do a limited numbered run. Of course, this is all my personal take because prints obviously sell well.

There were noticeably less crafts overall. With a few exceptions the homogeny that many have complained about in the past when looking at art styles in the alley, has now taken hold at the craft tables. Didn’t I just spy those adorable crocheted bunnies in the other row? Weren’t these zippered bags at the booth next door? Are you sure I didn’t already see these earrings? It wasn’t as if these things weren’t cute or were poorly made, it just felt like I was seeing the same thing a lot.

A few of the more crafty places were worth noting though: the women making amazing scarves (like one made of crocheted cupcakes!) that I simply couldn’t splurge on; a place that etched onto glass and flasks and the like; and the group that had a lot of ceramic octopus rings and other ornaments.

I’m pleased to report that art and character styling was still high. I love seeing artists take their style all the way through their work. I should be able to pick out the same artist year to year, at least I’d hope to. Nina Petrossian’s tactile and almost manic style is one I’ll remember with a fantastical bookmark and vibrant Sailor Mars sticker to remind me.

I was happy to once again find new bookmarks to buy from Lauren Brown. This time I picked up Link flying in the skies from The Legend of Zelda. Just as my previous purchase from her, this bookmark used the rectangular space to its advantage.

A standout style was Shaburdies who had created art with a flat and exaggerate look that felt perfectly whimsical. I purchased her Attack on Titan postcard set (image at top). Initially, I was only going to buy two but as I sat there contemplating which two, I simply exclaimed “Oh my goodness, just give me all of them!”

The surprise of the alley was a lot more people producing original comics. These were along side a few more art collections and a bit of doujinshi. But there was no way I could buy it all! I only narrowly resisted some Attack on Titan and Kuroko’s Basketball doujin, I rather wish I hadn’t resisted now.

As for the many artists producing their own comic stories, I of course picked up the first book ever made of KAWAIIKOCHAN!! GAMING NO KORNER. I was also helping out at this table for a couple of hours over the weekend. Seeing people come by clamoring to get a copy was amazing. I wasn’t even involved with the book but it gave me an ego boost just being there seeing fans gush.

I’d suggest to budding comic artists to have not only full-length books, but short stories or smaller books as well. With so much to choose from in the Artist Alley, it is a hard sell to pick up a $10-20 book about something completely unknown. But I’d be delighted and open to collections that were in the $5 range. Buying something keeps the artist in my mind a lot more than just grabbing a business card and hoping to check them out once I get home.

It feels like no convention has been able to crack the code of how to label and layout their artist alley. Otakon is no exception.

Admittedly, many people simply wander the floor flitting from booth to booth without consulting the map. However, were you to be looking for someone in particular or if you wanted to find your way back to an artist you happened to like, good luck. This was the directions for getting to the KAWAIIKOCHAN!! booth: Table P08 on 400th Street near the corner of Avenue B. I’m unsure why the table could not simply be #408 just as I don’t understand the need for the clusters of tables either.

The space allotted for Artist Alley is oddly shaped so this factors in to the layout. Maybe they could try putting the art exhibits in the strange shaped area on the left which would allow the artist tables to move over and more easily keep a grid pattern.

I could easily have deemed Otakon 2013 “button con” for me, but you might be thinking I could do that about any convention. Incidentally, my final purchase of Otakon were some fun Durarara!! and FLCL buttons by ZelasArt.

Despite my button mania, there was a lot to see and certainly many artists that brought their best and stood out at the convention. I do feel, overall, Otakon’s Artist Alley took a step back from last year but it was in no way a disappointing display. As always, I look forward to all the artists’, both those who I enjoyed and those who are still honing their craft, works and wares next year.

~ kate

More Otakon 2013 posts:

Otakon 2013: Tweets
Otakon 2013: Our 6 Favorite Announcements
Otakon 2013: General Impressions
Otakon 2013: Shinichiro Watanabe
All Points Bulletin: Leaving Baltimore, Heading To Las Vegas
Otakon 2013: 10-minutes with Yuzuru Tachikawa and Michihiko Suwa
Otakon 2013: Concerts
Otakon 2013: Guests
Otakon 2013: Shingo Adachi and Tetsuya Kawakami
Otakon 2013: Fan Panels
All Points Bulletin: The Gamification of Otakon
The Speakeasy #044: Baltimore Zoo, Otakon 2013

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