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The Do’s and Don’ts of Anime Conventions - - OTAKU COMING HOME

With New York Comic-Con just days behind us, Nick takes you behind the other side of the Artist Alley table, sharing some war stories as well as some tips to help you get the most out of your con.

About 75% of my job is to write down the things that pop into my head and direct them to the various blogs, articles or books I'm working on. Where does the remaining 25% go? Socializing, networking, e-mails - - the "fluff" that can make or break a working creator. You could have the best comic in the world, but if you don’t let people know about it? Well, you won’t get far. Tweeting, Facebook posts, Tumblr links, message boards, skywriting, summoning an Elder God... you do what you have to, man.

And that’s why so many creators, be they grizzled veterans or nervous noobies, find themselves on the convention circuit each year. Myself, my wife (the illustrator Jackie Santiago) and our friends are no different. This past weekend's New York Comic-Con 2012 (recently merged with New York Anime Fest) was the latest such event, and it put me in a mind to talk about conventions.

It's not a convention if you don't find your best friend, dressed as a Ghostbuster, being assaulted by a Wookie.
It's not a convention if you don't find your best friend, dressed as a Ghostbuster, being assaulted by a Wookie.

The biggest difference between anime and comic conventions seems to lie in the exhibitors. By far, comic conventions feature more working professionals on both the show floor and in Artist Alley, while anime conventions focus more on dealers and fans. Even Artist Alley at an anime convention will feature fewer working professionals than the average comic con. For every mangaka, webcomic creator, and accomplished illustrator you’ll find ten earnest, excited fans behind tables, offering $5 sketches of your favorite character, just happy to have a badge that labels them as “professional.”

So this week, your Uncle Nick is doling out some protips for anime con-goers and professionals alike. If you’re a fan who loves anime conventions, hopefully you’ll learn a trick or two to get more out of the experience. If you’re an exhibitor, you might pick up some tips to help you sell more of your work, or at least not piss off your neighbors in Artist Alley....

"Blood, huh? I thought you colored it digitally...?" Professional fan, Zack Rosenberg, with professional artist, Alex Eckman-Lawn. This is how it&squot;s done, folks.
"Blood, huh? I thought you colored it digitally...?" Professional fan, Zack Rosenberg, with professional artist, Alex Eckman-Lawn. This is how it's done, folks.

DO: Make pleasant conversation when you stop at an exhibitor’s table.

DON’T: Set up camp there and keep other people from looking.

Every professional creator behind a table at a convention is there with the specific goal of talking to YOU. It’s true, you’re #1! Ichiban! Congratulations!

But we’re also at a con to talk to as many YOUs as possible. You have to remember that, for us, we’re at work. It’s a cool job, we’re lucky to have it, but it’s still a job, not a vacation. That means we need to pay for our travel, our hotel, our space at the show, our food while we’re there (not to mention the money we lose when we’re not at home working). To do that, we need to sell as many books/prints/commissions as possible, and it is really hard to do that with you blocking our whole table.

True story: I once had someone hang around my table for almost an hour. AN HOUR. Front and center, too, right in front of all my wares. Eventually I had to ask them to step off to the side because people were trying to look at books and this person kept moving in front of them. Even then they stuck around, talking over new people at the table. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident.

"Excuse me, sir, please don&squot;t get behind the ta - - STOP TOUCHING MY WIFE!"
"Excuse me, sir, please don't get behind the ta - - STOP TOUCHING MY WIFE!"

And because we want to talk to YOU and not make YOU feel bad, we let it happen. Don’t do that to the creators you’re coming to meet, discover, and support. Respect their time and their space, and don’t get mad if we politely ask you to step aside. It’s not personal! If you want to pass by later and have another chat, feel free. But also try to remember that if it comes down to the unfathomable choice of debating the thematic underpinnings of POKEMON or selling a book, we’ve got to sell that book or we can’t come back next year.

COSPLAYER ADDENDUM: Be aware of your surroundings! When you block a whole side of an aisle, or heaven forbid, the entire aisle, you’re not just hurting me but an entire collective of exhibitors (not to mention creating a safety hazard). We all want you to have fun, and I love seeing some of the costumes, but if you want to see professionals come back to the show you’ve got to make sure you’re not preventing them from doing what they came to do: talk to people and sell some stuff.

Unless you're dressed as Mifa. Then you can hang out where you want... FOREVER.
Unless you're dressed as Mifa. Then you can hang out where you want... FOREVER.

DO: Browse around before you spend your money on a commission/sketch/etc.

DON’T: Flip through a creator’s portfolio, then point to another table and say “That’s too expensive. THEY’LL do it for cheaper,” when you see their price list.

Just because something is too expensive for you doesn’t make it overpriced. It means you can’t afford it. Don’t demean the professional artist in front of you, or insult their ability, by saying they’re overvaluing it compared to somebody else’s underpriced work. Newsflash, kiddo: if they weren’t getting paid that for their work, they wouldn’t charge it. These numbers don’t get pulled from the ether - - artists factor in time, materials, and skill (more on this in a minute though).

Sadly, this has only ever happened to Jackie at anime conventions. And it’s happened at every single one.

So try to keep some etiquette in mind when you’re asking for a poster-sized piece of original art featuring the heroes of NARUTO fighting every cast member from DRAGON BALL Z.

"Believe it! That&squot;ll be five bucks."
"Believe it! That'll be five bucks."

DO: As an exhibitor at the show, feel free to price yourself fairly in accordance with your skill and materials as compared to your peers.

DON’T: Be a dick and price as low as possible just to get more people to come to your table.

This is gonna be a mean one. Sorry, kids. But take my advice and you’ll be one of the good guys. I hit because I love.

Whether you’re at a comic or anime convention, you’re going to find Artist Alley filled with all levels of creators: professionals, people looking to break in, and people who, frankly, shouldn’t be there. Artist Alley is a proving ground though, and open to all comers with enough gil, so even Johnny Cantdraw, whose mom always told him he’d make a great artist someday, can set up and accept your cash. But like I said above, there are fewer professionals at anime conventions, and that means far more Johnny Cantdraws.

The problem is, Johnny Cantdraw isn’t there to make a living. He’s not even there to “break in” to the industry. He’s there because too many people told him he was talented as a kid and he’s a huge fan. So what’s he do? He offers that poster-sized commission for $10 because that means more people will flock to his table. Will it be good? Nope. But at anime conventions, my experience has been that most folks are happier to get a better deal than better art. And that’s when they show up at Jackie’s table, insult her work, and saunter down the aisle to get their crappy $10 commission.

Maybe exhibiting at an anime convention is your dream. Hey, I love dreams. My dream is to keep my phone on, eat some decent meals, and eventually be able to put my hypothetical kid through college. If you’re gonna be there anyway, help me realize my dream by not creating a crap economy at shows.

"Thanks for the awesome feedback, Nick! I WILL wear pants from now on!"
"Thanks for the awesome feedback, Nick! I WILL wear pants from now on!"

DO: If you’re an artist, bring your portfolio around for critiques from the pros who illustrate for a living.

DON’T: Get angry when you get honest feedback and tips.

There are lots of tips on the internet about “breaking in” to comics.. Hell, I have a whole section of my website filled with tools to help you realize your dream of making comics. But at conventions we’re all in the trenches, and if you’re looking for tips from a professional you need to charge bravely into the breach, portfolio in hand.

The thing is, you need to try to be objective about your own work. Compare it to the books that you buy and read - - are you close to that level of quality? Maybe you only read the finest books and that isn’t a fair example, you’re just starting out after all, so instead try to find the ugliest book currently on shelves. Are you at least as good as that?

What I’m getting at is that it shouldn’t surprise you when a professional tells you that your crayon ONE PIECE drawings might not quite be up to snuff yet. Calm down, alright?

Yes, this really happened (though they weren’t ONE PIECE - the names have been changed to protect the blah blah blah).

Yes, they were an “adult.”

No, they did not have any obvious “special needs.”

"Kate, he didn&squot;t like my Naruto drawings! LET&squot;S GET &squot;EM!"
"Kate, he didn't like my Naruto drawings! LET'S GET 'EM!"

Look, a lot of it is common sense coupled with basic social etiquette, but between the excitement of being at a show and a lack of understanding of why we pros are on the other side of the table, some of that stuff falls by the wayside. And yeah, I know hearing that you or a friend may have unintentionally pissed off someone (or a lot of someones) sucks.

But hey, now you know better! At your next con you can even save your pal from getting throttled by an artist, and maybe make some new friends in the process. And knowing is half the battle.

Special thanks to all my pals who didn’t know they were appearing in this week’s article:

  • Marker Master, wife, pretty lady, Jackie Tapalansky
  • Comic Wizard, Alex Eckman-Lawn
  • Water Color Warrior, Kate Glasheen
  • Globetrotting Adventurer, Alexander Lewis (who keeps no online identities)
  • Comic writer/editor/pro fan, Zach Rosenberg
  • My Friendly Neighborhood Ghostbuster, Vinny Nordone
  • And an extra special thanks to “Mifa” from Anime Boston 2009... Wherever you are.

Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.

JiCion Oct. 16, 2012 at 4:02 p.m.

DO: Cosplay a character that you're comfortable with and that you won't feel annoying around people.

DON’T: Cosplay a character that doesn't fit you and have you been tagged as a troll or just a miscast. Case in point: a trap.

If you're a guy and want to cosplay a female character, make a gender-swapped version, make the costume as if you were cosplaying a male version of that character. I'm telling you: seeing a guy wearing a dress and fake boobs is downright disgraceful and shameful. You don't look like you cosplay because you want it, but you look like as if you lost a bet or something. You don't look the part. Unless you cosplay a female character that tries to actually pass as a man like Naoto Shirogane from Persona 4 or Sypha Belnades from Castlevania, stick to male characters.

You might be saying "what about girls who cosplay male characters". Well, I've seen 99% more girls cosplaying male characters way better than guys cosplaying female characters.

NickTapalansky staff on Oct. 17, 2012 at 5:29 a.m.


Disagree across the board. Sorry, man!

You don't like seeing dudes dress as chicks, and that's cool, but an opinion doesn't make it a rule. *I* don't like it when people put sweaters on their pets, but that doesn't mean they can't or shouldn't.

Do what works for you - oftentimes crossdressing in cosplay at LEAST gets a laugh, if nothing else. I mean, in a sea of thousands of grown adults dressed in costumes (not to mention all the kids) it seems silly to single out one subset as "disgraceful and shameful," doesn't it? THEY'RE GROWN-UPS DRESSING AS CARTOON CHARACTERS!

It's all silly, but it's good fun and those who do it enjoy the hell out of it, as do the fans who go to shows and snap pics all weekend. I wouldn't condemn any of that for all the world.

My only critique of cosplay comes in the form of safety for fellow guests and accessibility to exhibitor booths/tables - keep the aisles clear and try to take pics in safe, open areas to avoid backing up traffic. Otherwise, you have my enthusiastic permission to dress as whoever you like.

And I'll have my camera ready.

kwyrton Oct. 17, 2012 at 5:33 a.m.

Great article! I thoroughly enjoyed it and will keep these tips in mind when I hit my first anime convention this year. : )

NickTapalansky staff on Oct. 17, 2012 at 8:13 a.m.


Thanks! Enjoy your first show - they're a real experience, haha!

Which show are you going to?

kwyrton Oct. 17, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.

@NickTapalansky: I'm planning on going to Ohayocon in Columbus, OH. I figure I might as well hit the local one first!

JiCion Oct. 17, 2012 at 3:59 p.m.

@NickTapalansky: I found this on DeviantArt, coming from an experience convention photographer:

I quoted what hit me:

"6. It is best to stick to characters of your own gender.

Keeping mind the first objective, it does not often look right doing a character of the opposite gender. Granted it is still possible for girl to pull off a male character. However it is rare. It is even rarer for a guy to pull off a female character. If you intent to do a character of the opposite gender, make sure no one can tell you're not the gender you are dressing as. For girl dressing as a guy it's usually not that bad and is passed off as a gender bender version. For a guy dressing as a girl it is that bad. Ah the evil of double standards, but it is what it is. If you're hell bent on doing a character of the opposite gender, I would suggest a design change. Design your look for what the character would like as the opposite gender. I've seen people do male Panty and Stocking from "Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt." However they change the design to fit what a male version would look like, so they looked great. I've also seen a female Sora and Roxas. Once again they change the design to fit a female version and it looked great. Just keep in mind that cross-dressing rarely makes a good cosplay."

That's why I'm saying that cross-dressing male cosplayers is often considered wrong, just wrong. It's not funny, it's downright insulting.

NickTapalansky staff on Oct. 17, 2012 at 5:12 p.m.


Very cool! Always good to start local, make sure you dig what's going on before you hit the bigger shows you need to travel for (though admittedly, a lot of the bigger shows offer more to do in the way of panels, VA meet/greet, dealers, etc.).


What you're citing is one other person's opinion that happens to be the same as yours. That's still not a rule of the road, as we're defining them.

Your excerpt suggests that successful cosplaying is almost impossible in a male-to-female gender swap based on the quality of the costume and your appearance as that character. It says nothing about those who don't want to embody that character exactly but rather, for laughs or any other reason, want to be Princess Peach with a beard. Just because you personally don't enjoy it, or think its funny, doesn't mean that it doesn't serve a purpose to both the person doing it and others who do think it's funny.

And if you like, I can quote from that same article you've cited to support my point:

10. Balance is the most important thing.

You can always make up for failings in one area by perfecting other areas. It's a balancing act. However the most important part is to have fun with it.

Emphasis mine.

Also, your word choice is doing nothing to endear me to your point of view. Suggesting that something like this which, really, isn't so contentious, is "disgraceful and shameful," "wrong, just wrong," "not funny," and "downright insulting" tells me a lot about your personal feelings on the subject but not why I, or anybody else, should agree. Without context it just makes you sound closed-minded (I don't mean to suggest that you are, just that taking an opinion to the extreme of calling the behavior in question "shameful" without anything to back it up beyond saying it isn't effective cosplay doesn't jive).

But don't you worry, I'll toss some breadcrumbs out there for you:

  • Are you a professional cosplayer and feel that people who don't take it seriously demean your craft?
  • Were you once attacked by a mob of dudes dressed as the ladies from IKKITOUSEN?
  • Do you just hate dudes in dresses, in or out of cons?

All kidding aside, I would be curious to know why you're so passionate about this. I'm not going to suggest that there's a right answer here, you're as entitled to your opinions as I am mine, but it's an interesting discussion and you genuinely seem to feel strongly about it.

JiCion Oct. 18, 2012 at 10:07 a.m.

@NickTapalansky said:

All kidding aside, I would be curious to know why you're so passionate about this. I'm not going to suggest that there's a right answer here, you're as entitled to your opinions as I am mine, but it's an interesting discussion and you genuinely seem to feel strongly about it.

I'm a photographer myself and I'm looking for good cosplays to take pictures of, whether be because I like the character or I like the costume, if I don't know the character. When I see a male cross-dressing cosplayer, it just comes out as unnatural, where female cross-dressing cosplayers do. The face especiaslly sticks out like a sore thumb. I did meet an Ikkitousen male cosplayer, and the face screwed the whole concept, because he still looked like a regular guy. I also met a Euphemia di Britinna male cosplayer. His dress was awesome, but his face clashed with the entire costume. It breaks the illusion. How come girls go the extra mile to hide their gender when cosplaying as male characters, like bounding their breasts and put make-up to hide their facial features, while guys simply dress up like girls, add fake boobs and call it a day ? It's like they don't even care and make other cosplayers who worked hard look like workalcoholics or something. They literally mock the act of cosplay and most of the time, they don't take it seriously. Make-up ? Mask ? Shaving ? Anything to hide that you're a guy ?

If male cross-dressing cosplays want to earn my respect, they have to fool me, as if the illusion that he's a girl must be perfect, not half-baked. So far, one guy managed to fool me: there was a guy cosplaying as Ta'li from Mass Effect, and since he wore a helmet, I didn't notice. When I found out he was a guy, I didn't cringe, because he fooled me. I was like: "Dude, nicely done ^^". Then again, he was participating at the Masquerade with a male Shepard, and the joke was that when Shepard takes off Ta'li's helmet, it would be TF2's spy instead of Ta'li.

That's why I don't like traps, because most of them look unnatural, make people unease and their cosplays look half-baked and half-finished. They're also the ones who fool around the most at cons, which really gets on my nerves. Then again, they'd probably fool around if they were cosplaying male characters anyway, so I can't complain about it much.

NickTapalansky staff on Oct. 18, 2012 at 9:22 p.m.


Now I get you. You feel the gender-benders who go out of their way to display their true gender fail on the quality scale. It's a fair argument, and if you're critiquing the quality of the costumes with respect to the characters they're cosplaying, I can see where you'd put your foot down and condemn it. Also, if you take photographing these things seriously, you might find those who don't appear to respect the finer points of the practice as bordering on rude.

Like I've said, I'm on the other side of the fence. Cosplaying isn't something I've ever engaged in, and I find the act of judging a single segment of it as an indictment of the whole culture, so I try not to do it. But if I were involved in it as anything other than a casual spectator, I might feel differently. I have very strong opinions about how professional artistic types (like comic writers and illustrators) conduct themselves with fans, for instance.In that case, it's my culture, my career, my day-to-day life, and I'm going to be more involved in the minutiae of the community.

I enjoy cosplay, and those who do it, for a variety of factors: the quality of the costume is just one of those. I also dig creativity, seeing obscure characters, and humor. I don't pretend that my sense of humor is always sophisticated and, in this case it's just about in the basement, but seeing a guy with a 5'oclock shadow dressed as Rikku from Final Fantasy X/X-2 makes me laugh. Not in a mean "hey, look at that asshole" sort of way. It's a friendly laughter, usually followed by a picture and a smile from the dude in a skirt.

I appreciate you taking the time to chat this out with me, my friend. Next time lead with this kind of explanation and leave out all that "shameful" and "disgraceful" talk. You may not always convert folks to your point of view, but you'll make your point way more effectively.

(Also, I'd like to point out to the world at large that it's possible to have a disagreement on the internet and keep it both civil and informative. We deserve some kind of award!)

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