Otakon 2018: Artist Alley

This year’s Otakon sported an expanded artist alley. Last year the space was paired with the autograph area, but this time around artist alley didn’t have to share. The extra wide aisles and a few empty tables showed there was plenty of room to grow for the alley as Otakon gets more used to its DC location.

I spent all my extra minutes and a lot of the con proper exploring the artist alley. I even made a little time to walk the art show this year. There was an amazing turn out of talent!

I’m really going to have to get a bigger zine budget, I saw quite a few in the alley that collected the work of many artists on a certain subject or series. They were a great way to get a little bit of a lot of different styles. The one I just had to get was dedicated to The Eccentric Family, which I simply never thought I’d encounter.

I ended up with one (tiny) commission. Austin Pettit was doing $5 Pokemon drawings with great color! (This was a gift, otherwise I would have been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Pokemon stuff in the alley.)

I saw a couple artists doing “left-handed drawings” for a steep discount and now kind of regret not taking them up on it. I know commissions at cons are a lot of work so I respect the artist’s prices, but I enjoyed seeing some simpler and/or sillier (and ultimately cheaper) twists on them. I have a feeling I’ll be looking for more of this in the future.

A few stickers made their way into my hands. I absolutely had to have MiniVanVan’s Sailor Moon set. Her style and expressions for these chibi versions reminded me of bit of Peanuts. I picked up a Ketchup from Animal Crossing sticker from Sara Hagstrom. And a set of Card Captor Sakura wands printed on vinyl from Jin S. were prefect for putting on a laptop!

The cleaning cloth printed with handheld consoles and game controllers in a great pastel palette was from Jerri Lee. These types of cloths, used for cleaning glasses and cell phone screens among other things, have been popping up more and more.

I tend not to go print crazy, but I ended up with more than I had planned this year. There was no way I could pass up the stylish as hell Cowboy Bebop print from Miho. If I was a DBZ fan I would have picked up more prints from her, they were dope.

The Fullmetal Alchemist print by Pixel Wayve had foil accents! Ruth from The Ancient Magus’s Bride by False Delusions was shimmery (and obviously was one of the best dog characters of recent memory). I’ve noticed many artists adding a little something extra to their prints just as these did. This was a smart move since prints still dominate as the number one item for sale.

I never would have expected to find a Penguindrum print, especially the gorgeously graphic one by Karen M.

Unsurprisingly, My Hero Academia was the most represented series in the alley. Per my plans, I stuck to more peripheral characters and picked up a fun print of the 3rd years by Cambrasine.

Overwatch was everywhere and maybe on par with My Hero Academia, followed by Persona 5 and Voltron. I also saw a number of Zero Two pieces, but nothing else from Darling in the Franxx.

The usual suspects Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and Legend of Zelda were still big. Fullmetal Alchemist continues to have a strong showing. Also I saw more DBZ than usual.

I was surprised to see so little Attack on Titan now that the anime has returned. And while the various sports boys were still around their presence was definitely diminished. JoJo’s popularity has calmed (I hope it bounces back after the Part 5 anime starts), however I did find a couple of wonderful Rohan pieces to add to my collection. Two from Chumaruko and one by Alyssa Molina.

Last year I couldn’t pick up very many enamel pins, so I had planned to make up for lost time this year. I was not nearly ready for the enamel pins boom that hit the alley.

By and large enamel pins I saw were original designs frequently unconnected to a series. Words, nature, animals, designs, food, and Japanese cultural symbols were abound. I loved the simple, graphic pins of a sailor fuku and gakuran by MILQ. And I couldn’t pass up Lianne Pflug’s charming blackbird.

Of the ones based on existing properties, I nabbed a perfectly super-deformed version of Crono from Chrono Trigger by Thinknu, and a badass version of Sailor Mars by Mako Fufu. Really, if I could have, I would have bought everything in their store.

We may have hit peak enamel pins in the artist alley. They had really exploded since 2017. I overheard a couple artists saying they were done with enamel pins for a while. Enamel pins are difficult to make and only a few companies do it so you have to order a large quantity to make it worthwhile. A button maker is a much easier investment. Or for something more custom and unique acrylic pins can be homemade.

Buttons had bounced back from the past year when I felt I had to search for them. I picked up a set of shiny Professor Layton series buttons from Karen M. (same artist as the Penguindrum print I purchased). I saw a fair amount of Fire Emblem but most of it was from Fates. Erika Koonce had some great classic buttons from FE though including a Lyn. The sweet Splatoon buttons by Jessica Gruver were a gift.

I finally made it back to Shiny Things by Miyuka who I bought a Gameboy pin from many years ago (and get more compliments on it than any other item I wear around!). I picked up her version of a Super Nintendo controller to set alongside the Gameboy. Also on the acrylic front I got a fun and cute pin declaring the only way I party is with anime made by Grandma Thunderpants.

I adored the couple of acrylic pins I picked up and hope these become a bigger sight at the alley in the years to come. They are so crafty and can be unique shapes.

As with every year, there’s tons of items that I couldn’t or didn’t purchase. The item that continued to be very prevalent was charms/keychains. Some artists had huge boards of them that were often dizzying. They were usually double-sided plastic although I saw some very cool wooden ones as well. Notebooks and sketchbooks were still around this year building off what I saw in 2017. I noticed a lot more of them were using dot pages, which is preferred for bullet journaling.

More and more clothing is making its way to the alley, and I saw more scarves than usual. Same goes for handmade jewelry. I was surprised to not see more tote bags. For me, totes are rather hard to resist so I’d like to see more around.

At the art show I saw many more crafts than I expected. There was a quilt and plenty of needle point being shown off in among the paintings and framed prints. I wish it were easier to figure out who in the art show was also in the alley and where. Maybe this was more clear if you registered for bidding which I didn’t.

As much as I loved the artist alley this year, I read a number of less than stellar reports from the artists themselves on Twitter. Communication and information were sighted as troubled from the beginning of setup. Plus, the artist alley hours seem to be a major point of contention since they are open a lot longer than the dealer’s room.

Many people have suggested artist alley move to an 8-hour work schedule. Maybe their hours could be different from the dealer’s room for less overlap, like artist alley could be open from 2PM-10PM. Whatever the hours are, I’d welcome them to be shorter if only for my selfish reason of wanting to meet more artists. Artists need breaks. If they are lucky they might have friends covering for them but some simply have to shutter their table when the hours are so long. I like being able to tell an artist I like their work and have them sign something I’ve bought.

I hope some new policies can be worked out for the coming year, but it sounded like these artists who encountered problems felt they would not return to Otakon. As a fan that’s really sad to hear because from the outside it was one of the best showings at artist alley to date.

~kate

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