Nekocon 17: An Array of Artistic Allurement

*Photo Credit: Daryll Morgan Photography (Daryll's Facebook page)

Magnificence and magic went hand in hand at Nekocon 2014. The gods were smiling down upon us as thousands of anime, fantasy and comic book enthusiasts alike gathered in the Hampton Roads Convention Center to celebrate the beauty of nerd-culture. Nekocon 17 boasted an impressive 4,000-plus attendee list, as well as a wide array of special guests such as Todd Haberkorn, a world-famous voice actor, and popular Japanese singer, Sayaka Sasaki! I have been going to conventions for years, but I must admit that Nekocon was one of the greatest events I have been to.

Special shoutout to the amazing members of the Cosplay Club at VCU (pictured above). They were fun and so awesome for letting me room with them.

The convention was full of friendly and fun con-goers, eager to showcase their intricate cosplays and ready to discuss Psycho-Pass in an instant. It was heaven. I played a little BlazBlue in the fun Game Room, I gaped at the huge line to get into the Maid Café and I laughed along fellow RWBY fans in a panel speculating the future of the series. All in all, the convention was full of delights and curiosities. I met so many new friends and made a lot of amazing memories only fellow convention-goers can empathize with.

The Dealer’s Room was amazing as usual, full of giant San-X characters, creepy body pillows and endless stacks of manga and DVDs. The Artist’s Alley is what I really loved. The prints, the hand-made plushies, the gorgeous comics made me want to never leave. The Art Auction was also here, and I must say that the 18-plus section of that was quite interesting (wink). I cannot begin to explain the brilliance I encountered in the Artist’s Alley. For this particular article, I wanted to focus a bit on the creative masters I had the pleasure of meeting. I had the awesome chance to catch up with some artists after to convention to interview them, so be sure to check it out those interviews below!

Artist: Cari Corene

Cari's Etsy shop

Cari's Tumblr

Cari's website

Tell me a little bit about your background:

I’m firstly an illustrator, I’m secondly a small business professional. I took a degree in sequential art from the Savannah College of Art & Design. That is, my degree is in telling narratives with sequenced pictures. I’ve drawn pictures during school and work and free time since being a young child who was moved from home to a foreign place with no friends. I discovered a love of comics through Sailor Moon, then discovering webcomics, and became ambitious enough at age 15 to draw 150 pages of Lord of the Rings fan comics over summer break. After that I thought if I could do 150 pages of fan work, I could find the love to do that many pages of work on my own characters. Since then, I’ve never stopped drawing a mix of fan and original pages.

What colors describe your artwork?

My color pallet is well summarized as being ‘Not Green.’ I don’t like cool yellow or warm blue either. If it’s too close to green, I don’t do it. I don’t know how I’ve got this fixation on being unable to paint green, but it’s become such an issue that I don’t even go there.

Other than that, I really love value contrast and saturation contrast plays. Most of my images are creating compositions out of interestingly placed values, hues and saturations.

What do you like about showing your artwork at conventions?

This is going to sound awful, but what I like about conventions is the selling aspect. I spend most of my time at home, making art, not socializing, but selling is the opposite. In order to successfully sell work, I feel like there’s a really intricate social interaction that needs to take place. Because I’m not just working a retail job. In retail if the customer wants to buy it, you sell it; if they don’t want it, you’re a half-assed minimum-waged retail worker...you back off, check your phone and let the customer do their thing.

When I’m selling my own art it’s way different. I need to balance my need to make money with also a gracious attitude because a customer is frequently not just buying this poster thing I made. They’re actually supporting my artistic future. This isn’t about me selling a product. This is about me funding my ability to make new work. I need people to know how grateful I am, but I also have to stand my ground and make a case for my work being worth a financial investment. When you give me $20, I DO hand you two posters of your choice, but the transaction doesn’t end there. You’re giving me an investment in my future, I’m giving you a gift back.

What most buyers lack experience with is how to buy art and why to buy art and an understanding of how purchasing from an artist at an artist alley is a lot different from buying poster at a store.

It really takes all of me, every day, for 12 hour shifts each day, to make this social interaction work. I enjoy it, it takes all of me to do it, and there’s something satisfying about pouring every good part of myself I can into an endeavor.  

What are some of your goals for the future?

Balancing my time. I want to paint landscapes, I want to paint my characters, I want to paint fan art characters, I want to paint children’s books, I want to paint porn, I want to do EVERYTHING ALL OF IT ALL THE TIME EVERY DAY! And in addition to painting it, I want to merchandise it.

My biggest struggle is scheduling myself so that I can accomplish all these tasks.

There is no shortage of work for me, there is no shortage of people who would like to throw money at me to draw stuff for them. The problem is when all I REALLY want to do is create, I need to budget time also for creating the work that earns money (too frequently what people want to buy and what I want to paint are divergent topics), photographing that work for my Etsy, restocking inventory, creating new products and dealing with all the packing and traveling and presenting a public display of my work.

There’s no shortage of money to be found, just a shortage of time in which to earn it while also creating the work that inspires me as a creator.

My goal will always be to better manage my time, then.  

Artist: Ricky Bryant

Ricky's website

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design where I studied animation and sequential art. Since graduating I've done freelance work involving illustration, comics and a little bit of graphic design. Currently, most my time is taken up with commission work, teaching cartooning and doing animation work for video games. 

What do you love about conventions?

When I first started going to cons back in 1999, they were mostly a social refuge for me. I was an awkward black nerd in school and cons were one of the few places I could go to where I could meet like-minded individuals and celebrate our common interests away from judging eyes for a weekend. Around 2002-03 when my art college friends and I started making road trips to cons, I became enticed by the artist’s alley scene. I applied for an alley space to sell stickers at one Katsucon and haven't stopped working that space since. It was a great experience as a student because it taught me to think like a commercial artist early on. And I also found they were good opportunities to network. My first industry contact occurred from a chance meeting at a convention, which led to my current side gig as a clean-up animator on the game Skullgirls.

Do you feel as though the competition at conventions for artists has become tougher?

This is a little subjective, I think. No two artists do the same kind of work, just like no two convention-goers necessarily enjoy the same kind of art. I've seen folks who are so talented from a technical standpoint that their art could cure cancer if they wanted it to. But they get passed over by con-goers  because the images they were depicting just didn't click with them. And that's perfectly normal. Someone would throw down money for one artist's awesome stylized landscape painting, but the person behind them will go to the next booth over and grab a pin-up of their favorite girl from League of Legends. And their mutual friend may be all the way on the other end of the room buying a pair of earrings from a crafter. So I can't really say that there is "competition" in the traditional sense, since everyone is doing their own thing for the most part. And that's what really resonates with the con-going patrons. Now if you are talking about getting through the artist alley application process however, that's a WHOLE other discussion.

What are some of your goals for the future?

Career wise, I hope to better my skills as a digital artist and continue doing independent video game work. That field gets bigger which each passing day and the work I've done within that space has opened new doors for me each time. As far as conventions go, I'm going to work my first traditional comic convention next spring. Eventually I hope to find the time to put together and self-publish a few art books to bring with me.

Are there certain themes that your artwork follows?

Not consciously. But I find that I tend to do more light-hearted fare and the occasional piece of parody. Stuff that has some kind of narrative to it (I blame my comics background for that).

Artist: Annette Lee

Annette's Facebook

Annette's work (Weebly)

Buy Annette's work

Annette's work (DeviantArt)

Annette's Tumblr

Tell me a little bit about yourself:

I’m a 23-year-old VCU Communication Arts graduate who loves stories, children’s book illustration and animation. I’ve always been a dreamer, maybe even a little ridiculous. One time, I got tested for deafness in fourth grade because my teacher thought I had serious hearing problems, but I was actually fine and was just daydreaming really hard. Also, I really like cute things, video games and food!

If your artwork could speak, what would it say about you?

Oh wow…I never really thought about it before. Well, I guess my artwork would primarily say that I don’t always have both feet on the ground. They might talk about how I don’t really take things too seriously, how I wish everything in life was vibrant, innocent and whimsical, or they might speak of a subject I feel strongly about that’s more serious or sentimental. They’re usually a reflection of myself somehow, whether I could put it into words or not!

What are some of your favorite materials to use?

I really love working with watercolor because of its transparency and how vibrant it is! Being the lazy person that I am, I like how watercolor paints last a really long time. They’re pretty easy to clean up compared to other mediums like oil paints. I also really like using pastel and acrylic ink for whatever I can’t achieve with watercolor. Using these materials together has a sort of childish charm that works well for my work.

What are some of your goals for the future?

One really important goal is to find a job, or maybe “career” is a better word, that suits me well. Honestly, it hasn’t been smooth sailing after graduation, and more than anything, I want to be able to support myself through my artwork and share it with more people. It’s really heartwarming when people appreciate your work and positively react to it in their own way.

I used to think that I solely wanted get into children’s book illustration (a market that’s sort of difficult to break into), but recently, I had a table in the Artist Alley at a local anime convention (Nekocon 17), and I was so happy to be among fellow artists again! I realized that I would love to continue to travel and sell art at anime and gaming conventions because it’s actually a lot fun! It’s a great way to get your work out there, meet other artists, new people who come to enjoy your work, or new friends who have common interests. It’s a really pleasant environment to be in.

Another goal of mine is to move someplace new. The place I currently live in isn’t very exciting and is more suited for people starting families or old people who want a quiet lifestyle. I’m not really sure where I would want to move, but maybe a lively, cultural place in California or New York – any place that’s great for artists where I could belong.

Artist: Tangent Artists/Monica Marier

Tangent Artists website

Tell us a bit about your background:

I’ve been an artist most of my life, and (unbeknownst to me) a storyteller too. I was always drawing pictures of elves and faeries in my notebooks and coming up with long epic convoluted plots for them. My first comic was created in 1999, a cheesy fan comic for my then favorite manga, Dragonball Z. I still laugh when I think about how silly it was. I even made myself as a character. Since then, I’ve done a few comics here and there, some for myself some for my college paper, but most of my comic work happened when I co-founded Tangent Artists.

Tangent Artists was formed in 2006 by a group of college friends from the George Mason University’s digital arts program. We were working on a fantasy series then, but then as some of us got jobs in other cities, some key members of that comic creation team left and we were forced to take a look at our lineup.

We decided to keep Donuts for Looking, which started out as just a funny way to share silly moments from the meetings. Bringing on my brother, David, as a writer, added Skeleton Crew, our supernatural comedy to our projects. We still had a sizable gap of fantasy fans who had liked our old comic and wanted more swords and sorcery so we decided to turn a sketch diary of two years of RPGing into our third comic, CRIT! We currently have a crew of six (plus auxiliary) that provide the art, writing and website/company management.

What are some of the pros and cons of featuring your art at conventions?

Well, the best part about going to conventions is getting to see everyone who reads our comics. I think we have the most polite fans in the universe, because when we post online we get a bunch of likes, but no comments. We don’t even get hate mail, just respectful quiet. It’s only when we go to conventions and get to meet and talk to these great people that we truly feel like we’re creating something special and have done something to touch their lives. I’ve become friends with a lot of them and they’ve made my life richer too.

Of course, seeing old faces is only equal to showing our stuff to someone who has never seen it before. I’m not going to suggest that everyone who sees it loves it, because that’s just wishful thinking, but every now and then we’ll get one person who looks at a few pages of our comics…and then looks at a few more…and then they get this excited expression on their face that just makes my day. We’re something they’ve never seen before. We’re a new discovery. And that’s just the best.

I also love commissions. Some of my favorite artwork I’ve drawn for other people and they have such cool ideas. I got to draw a four-year-old playing with his favorite heroes. I’ve escalated a merry war between friends by drawing their highlander-esque duel. I’ve drawn whole kinships and guilds from MMOs. I’ve drawn baby announcements, med-school graduations, commemorated loved ones and just plain celebrated in fantastic creative nerdy ways that have me in tears and stitches at the same time.

As far as the cons of conventions? I don’t have many complaints. Conventions are hard to run. Being staff isn’t easy and being a con chair isn’t easy, so even with snafus and fubars, we’re just grateful for someone stepping up to take all that responsibility. We love conventions, their staffers and the attendees who come.

I think the only downside is that going to conventions, staying in hotels and feeding ourselves is expensive, fatiguing and hard to schedule. I’d love to be able to go to as many cons as my Artist Alley friends, but for three of us with jobs and families, it’s hard to do. I’m a mom with school-aged kids so it’s especially hard on them if I’m gone two weekends a month, let alone three or four.

It’s also easy to spend more money than you have to when you’re not being careful. I remember one con where we did so well that we decided to celebrate with sushi…and then ate one-sixth of our profits that night. Learn from Aunty Monica’s fail, kiddies. Don’t eat the money.

And then there are cons where I forget to eat, or sleep, or work so hard on drawing that I can’t talk much, except to say, “Meat….beer…now.” At the end of most conventions I’m a walking zombie and for the next few days I just want to sit on the couch and stare at the ceiling until my brain does a hard reset.

What are some of your goals for the future?

My immediate goal for the future is to get as many readers as we possibly can. We’re always needing more readers, especially vocal readers who like to interact online and spread the word. The more people out there who like us, the more interactive they get with us, the more we’re able to give back in what we do, the projects we work on, and the amount of content we can provide.

For example, we’re already branching into a few side projects. Our most wildly successful side project has been the CRIT! Handbooks. A while back we published a silly joke book for our fantasy series, titled “The Handbook for Saucy Bards” and at that very con we sold all of the copies we printed. And it didn’t stop there. We were consistently selling out of this magical book that seemed like a silly lark when we printed it. We since followed it up with the “Clerics Guide to Smiting,” which has been met with similar success. We hope to soon publish more class-related light reading featuring Rangers, Rogues, Wizards and Warriors.

Our other side projects are our game development ventures. Right now we’re working on the comprehensive “Skeleton Crew RPG” source book that will take place in the universe of our supernatural comedy Skeleton Crew. We’re currently accepting Beta testers interested in testing it. We’ll be launching some Kickstarters soon regarding our game interests...more on that to follow.

Again, all that can’t happen without readers who are willing to spread the word, get excited, share their love and maybe even be guinea pigs for us. We need their help.

The long-term pipe dream is to somehow monetize the whole system enough, and be so fan-supported that Tangent Artists can be our job. That would be a sweet gig, but that’s a tiny, tiny boat on a huge ocean. We’ll keep swimming for it, even if the odds are slim. All we can do is just keep swimming…just keep swimming…etc.

Be sure to check out these artists' personal pages! 

*Photo Credit: Daryll Morgan Photography