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DoKomi - Reflections and Practical Advice for Artist Alley (Part VI: Expectations vs. Reality)

Welcome to part VI of this series! The last post focused on pricing and now I'll be finally bringing this series to an end with the final evaluation of expectations vs. reality.

As a reminder for the division of this series, this is where we stand:

  1. The Table 

  2. The Merchandise 

  3. The Customers

  4. The Sitting

  5. The Prices

  6. Expectations vs. Reality

Originally I thought that in this part I would essentially deconstruct all the ways in which, ultimately, I was disappointed by tabling at DoKomi. With a bit more distance though, I can actually say that it was a worthwhile experience, even if it wasn't the experience I had hoped for.

I'll first start with a short description of why DoKomi did not meet my expectations and why I left feeling a bit down. Then, to end on a good note, I'll briefly discuss how it turned out to be a valuable learning opportunity.

So what were my initial expectations for DoKomi? Well, because DoKomi is huge, I thought I would get a good deal of everything: sales, exposure, fun, and contacts.

In reality, I made fewer sales than I hoped for and far fewer than necessary to cover all the costs associated with travel (train, hotel, food), stand fees (including for my two helpers), and production (printing as well as packaging). So sales were disappointing.

My exposure was also limited because it is so easy to get lost in the sea that is artist alley. Having a relatively different style and thematic focus (i.e. detailed line art and Sorbian) did not make me stand out, it just made me a bit weird and not necessarily appealing to a larger audience. So amidst literally hundreds of other artists, I didn't get much exposure and felt out of place.

The fun also didn't live up to the hype. Friends of mine have been going to DoKomi for years and always said it was fantastic. If you're not working a table and have a list of specific artists as well as publishers' stands that you want to see, then that may be true. In my case, I didn't feel comfortable leaving my table very often and when I did, it was hard to enjoy anything. Peak DoKomi is extremely crowded, and I don't like walking through crowds. That alone made everything harder. Many artists at DoKomi are also old hands with large fan bases, so envy crept in when I saw how well they did. Then there's also just seeing art that is so much more polished and stylistically consistent than what I produce. So instead of having a lot of fun, every venture away from the table made me feel less and less confident and like I shouldn't be tabling there at all.

And contacts... I thought I'd get to make acquaintances with a handful of other artists. Maybe even do some art trades. No. If you're new to the game, that is highly unlikely. In fact, at a con like DoKomi you can probably even remain pretty anonymous. The artists who know each other already know each other and unless you happen to have cool neighbors who want to chat, other artists probably don't have the time to make new artist friends. So making contacts is going to be hard if you are as introverted as I am.

In sum, I was super hyped for DoKomi but got wrecked by a pretty hard wave of reality. While DoKomi might give some budding artists the boost they need to "make" it, that wasn't what happened for me.

Nevertheless it wasn't all in vain. I DID make some sales, get some exposure, have some fun, and make some contacts. I learned a lot about what I can sell and what I should just leave at home. I was seen by a handful of people who have since come to my table numerous times at other cons. I realized that the fun that visitors get to have just shouldn't be a part of my expectations as a tabling artist. And I saw artists in person for the first time, then later again at another con and then again and again... and after tabling more frequently, the real "making contacts" magic happened.

And that last point leads to the takeaway I'd like to give to any beginning artist: think about the long term. The first con will be hard and then it will likely get better from there. Scoring a table at this or that major con probably won't make or break your career. Just get out there and try to have some fun while you're at it. After a while it gets easier to know what to pack, how to price, and how to interact with visitors and other artists. Once you no longer need to actively dwell on these questions before each con, everything becomes less stressful and things begin to just run themselves.

So good luck and make the best of it!

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