Five years ago I attended the first Ancient City Con in St. Augustine as a vendor. (Artist? Whatever, I went to sell books.) I had the first book of HOLE, Running with Broadswords, and out of around 150 attendees, I sold twelve books. I was over the moon. I felt like I had an actual commercially viable product people might actually be interested in if only I could get them to see it. It was a beginning.
The next year I also had book two, and I did even better. Ancient City Con 3, now at about 600 attendees, was the best year yet, selling out of all three books. It was a good con for me.
I missed year four due to some scheduling conflict or another… who knows what that was… but a friend of mine who is creating class guides for both 4e and the Pathfinder system had a table for this year and invited myself and Rox of Spaz House along for the ride. (Her official nom de plume. She is a blogger, artist, and podcast personality over at Need Coffee.) We were happy to go, and I ordered extra books for the trip. ACC5 had continued the annual growth trend, and was projected to have between 1,000 and 1,200 people showing up.
As we arrived the hall to the main convention room was choked with dancing costumed teenagers. They had Japanese synth-pop playing on the boom box, and were dressed as their favorite video game characters. They were all happy and bouncy, and it was a nice welcome to the show. Once we got inside, there was a bit of a mix-up about the vendor rates, and we were not given the passes that were supposed to accompany the table fee, and required to pay for additional badges to get in. (This got cleared up later in the day, but it was a rocky start.)
When we went to our table, we found it in the middle of a solidly packed row of twenty or so tables with no space in between for egress. One end of the row was butted up against a wall, and we were instructed that we would need to walk all the way around the far end every time we wanted in or out. There was two or three feet in between the backs of the table and the other wall, which was stuffed full of other artists plying their wares. (Later we were told that the convention staff had decreed the arrangement fire-marshal approved because people could always get on their hands and knees and crawl under the table in the event of an emergency.)
Fortunately for us, we were at the wrong table.
Leaving the over-cramped artist tables for the roomier vendor tables on the opposite side of the room, we set up shop. There was plenty of room and we could exit from both sides of the table. To our left were a trio of women selling leather bras, bustiers, and skirts, feathered hats and boas, and some other smaller items we never got a good look at but which caused an inordinate amount of giggling every time one got sold. They weren’t talkative, but they were fun to watch, so we were happy to have them.
To our right were a pair of entrepreneurial young men selling Pocky, Panda cookies, and Ramuné soda at close to half what you typically see it going for. One of the pair worked at a (national) grocery store chain and developed a relationship with the distributor, and received all of his inventory at the store’s prices. He told me he was still clearing what any other seller was, and that he kept his price low because as a Pocky enthusiast, he resented they typical high prices. At the last show he had been to, another dealer had attempted to buy him out, and he had refused on the grounds that the attendees should have access to low-priced Pocky. He sold out the second day and left early. (Much to the other dealer’s relief.) He was serious about his cookie-sticks, but the pair of them were energetic and very upbeat. They sold like mad.
As for us… well… it was not so good. My buddy who invited us sold some dice, but no class guides. Rox sold a few art post cards, and I sold exactly one book. There were lots of people, and we talked to a bunch of them. Everyone was happy and friendly, but no one was buying anything. From us, anyway. Mulling it over afterwards, we realized that the one thing everyone was doing was wearing costumes. Smiling and laughing furries and video game characters were making the rounds of the dealers’ room like it was a racetrack, around, and around, and around. There were some gamers at the far end of the convention, but there were even fewer of them than there had been in past years, and they stayed in the little gamer’s area. With a start we realized that no game store at all had chosen to represent themselves at the convention. That spoke volumes.
What had begun as a nice little gaming con was now some sort of strange Japanese furry-pop event. Two different vendors could not keep stock of ten and fifteen dollar grab-bags of random Japanese plastic crap. Grab bags. Everyone was nice, but completely useless for what I had actually showed up for.
One thing I did get to try out that I will definitely keep is my quest giver hat. I printed out a big yellow exclamation point and stuck it to my hat and handed out little rolled up scrolls with quests on them to anyone who asked. It was fun, kept people coming back to my table, and got the word around of who I was. Successful completion was rewarded with chocolate “gold coins”. Only one kid tried to scam me…
Lena helped me make the quests, and one of her idea for a third level (the highest and most silly level) quest was to get a kiss on the cheek from a girl. The kid on the right (who arrived in a gang of kids with two girls his age) got it, and immediately fell apart. “I can’t do this quest. You gotta give me another one. How am I supposed to do this quest?” he yammered. Several times he left, only to come back more flustered. I asked one of his friends if he was gay, thinking I might let him off the hook, and his buddies said that he wasn’t, just afraid of girls and trying to act upset so that I’d fork over the candy. I watched him after that, and any time he thought we weren’t looking he was joking and laughing like any other kid.
Finally, he came back to the table looking relieved, and said that he had asked a random (female) stranger and had gotten his kiss. It sounded implausible, but I had already decided that I was only there for fun, and calling kids liars didn’t seem like fun to me, so I’d just roll with it. I gave him his candy and he happily left. Almost immediately his friends descended on the table, asking if he had told me that he’d gotten the kiss. Of course they ratted him out, and told me that he had lied about the whole thing. Rox chased him down and kissed him, as did the other two girls in his gang when I bribed them with more chocolate. Soon after the kid walked by our table, (not stopping) and shot me an evil glare. His cheeks were still burning with his humiliation at having been kissed by not one, but three cute girls.
Poor thing. Next time that happens he’ll have to pay cash for it.
In the end, even though the show was a financial bust, we did have a pretty good time. I won’t be going back, but there is a place for conventions such as this, and I’m happy for the folks who went and enjoyed themselves. There’s another con in town called Rapier that sounds much more like my kinda people. Next year I’ll go there.
Wonder if I’ll see that kid…?