|That's a lot of art supplies and bill money.|
Insecurity and an App
|Seriously one of the nicest hotels I've ever been in. Contrast this a few weeks later with the worst hotel I'd been in (but that's another, upcoming story).|
One of the stand out aspects of the show was a well designed app for mobile phones. The app was color-coded and had a significant amount of information for each entry. There were areas divided up into the general no cost presentations that anyone could attend so long as you were registered with ICON. There were workshops available for a fee, ranging around $45. What I really liked about the app was the ability to see all of the scheduled programming and workshops, and with a simple slide of a tab at the top, you were able to check out your own schedule specifically.
There was also a way to look up people who were attending the show, as well as a chat function that I didn't end up utilizing. One thing that I didn't understand was the lack of notifications from it for selected items on the schedule. It’s way too easy to get caught up looking around being somewhere else and not realizing that you have something coming up that you’d like to attend or see. Another aspect about the app that's been helpful even these weeks later, is that all of the course info and other details are still intact. So I am now left with a record of what courses and places I experienced and learned in, as well as who my instructors were. In the absence of much time to network, this was a happy discovery so I could follow up with instructors/presenters at a later date.
DAY ONE: Mantras, Paper, and Motion Commotion- Wed, June 29th
I got up early about 6 o’clock to make it to the registration table by 7 o’clock, not knowing, but anticipating, that I would end up having to search for it. That proved to be very accurate and if you follow me on TikTok, you saw the video where I ended up completely lost in the Marriott. I’m fairly comfortable asking other people for directions, so with some help I found my way there. A bit of stress was already in my mind though, because as anyone who has ever lived in Kansas City will tell you, the parking is absolute hell downtown at the best of times. Over the years I've found find certain areas that have free parking and no I'm not telling you where those are, but if you're diligent, you can find them.
After a while, I figured out I needed to traverse the skywalk that connected to the Marriott that led to another building I'd coincidentally parked near. I had not noticed in the email that a skywalk was mentioned, and I was slightly confused as to where the registration table was. In urban settings, I have the directional ability of a plastic bag caught in the wind. In my defense, the instructions might’ve been a little bit more clear. People from out of town, whom I spoke to, also had issues knowing where exactly the registration table was. I'm certain my suggestion of giant lit up arrows every 15 feet will be resoundingly ignored by the show runners. Please light the beacons, this Gondorian calls for aid.
|I was a skywalker for a few minutes each day I was here. Star Wars nerd moment.|
|[Left] Finally found the sign. [Right] This was a cool little sitting area at the bottom of the stairway.|
|This photo doesn't do it justice. The whole lobby is rather stunning.|
|The swag bag, and my badge. The design on the bag is pretty legit.|
The information I received on where and how the roadshow would be happening, was a little general, but not vague. I knew that it was starting on Thursday night at 7pm, thanks to both email and the app, and that setup was from noon to 5pm. Now, I've been doing shows for many years, mainly comic and anime shows. There’s a fairly standard way to set up these tables at the shows that I do, but this was functionally a pop-up event that would last from 7 PM until 11 PM. I had a bit of an awkward feeling that I was out of my wheelhouse, that maybe I'd made a mistake in paying to be part of the roadshow. I really had no idea what ICON would be like, but I did want to participate, no matter what, and maybe make some money while I was at it.
Doing my best to ignore the new itch of anxiety that was beginning to take hold, I refocused on other things. My first class wasn’t for another hour, at 9am. I walked out the front doors of the hotel onto the street level, past a few other attendees, about 15 or 20 of them, waiting for transportation to go back to the Nelson Atkins museum and Kansas City Art Institute area. I got to my truck, sat down for a moment, took a deep breath, and closed my eyes to just listen to the sounds of downtown, while quietly telling myself "don't let the anxiety get to you man, you can do this. it's no big deal.".
|[Left] Thankful for the signs that helped me not look like a clueless lost tourist. [Right] Early to the classroom seat I like best. Middle of the back row.|
|SO grateful for the maps in the ICON app!|
Now for my own issues and points of contention that involved Hallmark, I cannot say this enough, the issues I’ve had with Hallmark, do not extend to many of the wonderful people that I became friends with and have known from my years working there. Most of the people I met there were wonderful, and some of them are dear friends to this day.
The class projects were outside of my knowledge base of creating. The first exercise entailed developing a mantra which I was unfamiliar with (no seriously, I googled it while sitting there waiting for class to start). I took notes and attempted to absorb as much as I could of the information presented. I struggled coming up with a mantra. But with help, I was able to figure it out. After that, the class took a break for about 10 minutes, before we'd move into the second part of the class project.
|Eric Brace and Lynn Giunta talking about some aspects of the project.|
|This moment really made me miss some of my college days at UCM.|
It was the last time that I actively tried to cut paper letters out. I am not a crafter. If I want lettering I either buy it, get it manufactured for me, or design it and place it in a layout for either digital or print media output later.
|I only had my calligraphy pens on me, and I loved the distressed ink look I was able to get on the paper I was cutting the letters out of.|
So my mantra started out as "I am a part of my community I am not apart from my community". A take on a current situation I felt in dealing with hometown aspects and the communities I try to be part of. It was refined down to "a part, not apart".
I swear when I’m around a real writer, a real editor, it is humbling, and exactly what I needed. I have a mentality that over explanation is a necessity. I celebrate being verbose and using grand eloquent words. Perhaps these are elements of my ADHD. But I understand that had I gone with my initial original message I would still be there five or six days later cutting paper, gluing things down, and would probably have endured 2 to 3 emotional breakdowns.
|The final work. I still have to get it framed up.|
After some instruction, the classroom soon settled into a quiet yet busy mode of creation. Thankfully somebody decided to play some chill beats, and I sunk comfortably into this new creative effort. I was outside of my comfort zone, and I took this moment for all it was.
|Cat Hollyer presenting her completed mantra artwork.|
|The various mantras and distinct styles of the lettering everyone did, were fascinating to hear about.|
|Everyone packing up at the end of class.|
For those of you who've never been to the museum, there's a long street on one side of the main grounds, that cars will park along. It's shady sometimes, and a convenient place to park for free. So after getting my lunch, I found a parking spot, and sat for about 10 minutes with the truck running, my air conditioner on high, and ate.
I took the time to film a few more videos, post some photos, and assess what I had media wise. Then I headed back towards the Nelson, keeping to the shaded paths and areas as best as I could. Surprisingly, the museum was closed. Signs were posted stating they were not open today. I really thought that perhaps the museum would be open, just in case there was nothing in the programming that particularly interested someone, the museum galleries could gain new patrons who had never seen the museum before, and at the least, provided an amazing place to network and talk, in an air conditioned environment. But having worked security there, I understand how it was probably just easier to keep the museum closed and the attendees focused on the presentations.
|The presentations were pretty good, but the quiet warm room and padded chairs... man, sleep almost got to me a few times.|
I was beginning to think that ICON had a particular specificity within the Illustration world. One leaning into more corporate or very general editorial work, with educational underpinnings. As a rule I am not really a fan of lectures. As a visual and very hands on person, if somebody is just telling me what to do and not showing me what or HOW to do it, I'm not going to learn or retain much of anything. I know this, because I retained a good 90% of what the morning project entailed, and could not for the life of me tell you one thing I learned from the presentations I watched. I wondered if I was the only one that felt this way.
The lectures ended at 4:15, with transportation offered for people to get back to the Marriot, as well as a Happy Hour I didn't attend over at KCAI, so that was one networking aspect I did miss.
Since the museum was closed, I didn’t really know where to go until the Motion Commotion event at 6pm. Motion Commotion was a collection of assorted short films, gifs, and visual animated aspects, primarily student work from what I could tell.
The reel was filled with so many types of examples of animated motion elements. Some were stories. Many were animation runs. Some were gifs. After an hour and a half or so, my head was buzzing with new ideas and possibilities. It was a pretty good way end to the day.
|Attendees milling about after Motion Commotion, in front of the Nelson Atkins Museum.|
DAY TWO: Zines, Connections, and RoadShow Blues- Thurs, June 30th
Most shows I participate in, I find my feet by the second day and have an understanding what to expect. It was another scorcher of a day, and by 8 AM I was headed downtown to the Kansas City art Institute once again, for my next class, "This Zine Violates Terms and Conditions".
For anyone not familiar with "zines", I'll define them as best as I can. Zines are essentially a counterculture, and in some circles, a more traditional way to create literature that often has a revolutionary or alternative take on subjects ranging from self-sufficiency, to government reform, sexuality, censorship issues, comics, biographies and more, with a focus on open discussion and non censorship.
It’s about publishing anything across the spectrum they would normally never find an open channel or platform through traditional publishers or press houses. Many zines are supported by independent publishers and press houses that specifically started up to create outlets for them.
I managed to get into this course at the last minute late Friday night. I’d been checking the app and looked to see if there were any openings for some of the courses I was interested in. Much to my surprise there was a seat available in the zine course! So I got my credit card, paid the fee, and boom, I was in.
I have done a show here in Kansas City before called Zine Con which was an eye-opening experience and I loved it, so I wasn't going into this completely clueless.
I got to the classroom, and I was the second person there. As usual, I chose a seat toward the back in the center of the room. As more people came in, small conversations branched out among us. I mainly listened. Where were were from, who was the oldest, general chit chat. It's still a weird place for me to speak out, when I feel like I have nothing to add in a conversation. I’m grateful that I decided to start bringing a small sketchbook, I found a few on sale that were a combination of writing and drawing pages. It gave me something to doodle in, while I waited for the course to begin.
|Once again, center of the back of the class seating choice.|
I got a feeling we weren’t going to be making an actual zine of any kind, as there didn’t appear to be any art supplies or tools. About this time, our instructor finally realized they'd not introduced themselves, and gave us their name, Carta Monir. A cartoonist, publisher, and pornographer living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who owns and operates Diskette Press, who is one of the most fearless and forward speakers I've encountered in some time.
The first 20 to 25 minutes of the class were given to learning about some extreme subjects, and when I say extreme, I simply mean subject matter that in most circumstances or educational arenas might be considered inflammatory, deviant, or perhaps at the very least, highly uncomfortable. Carta had brought in a series of books and zines of exemplary range and subject, that were laid out at the front of the classroom on one of the tables for our perusal. Designs and books ranged in age from publication times in the mid-60s up to this current year. The subject matter delved into mainly either trans or homo erotic nature. I looked at a few of them, but there was one stand out that peaked my interest.
A work book of sorts, that dealt with the finality of life and death. How to deal with it, how to get your affairs together, and at least from the quick glimpse I got, almost seemed to parallel the ideologies of meditation. I’ve come to understand that meditation is not only a source of centering mental effort and physical relaxation, but a deeper aspect preparation of oneself for death.
The class also dealt with aspects of radicalization and delving into facing things that made you uncomfortable. The exercises we were challenged to do, involved creating two small four panel comics. I immediately felt the sweat break out in my hands. Not because of the subject aspect, but because I had not drawn anything of any real merit for the last few weeks. An issue that I knew was going to haunt me in public at some point. I found myself struggling a little bit,... actually that’s a lie. It was full blown panic for the first two minutes of opening my sketchbook and pulling out pens, pencils and an eraser.
First challenge was to first write something, that would make it a member of my family angry. For a lot of reasons, it's a frustrating and yet undeniable truth that family can be both an incredible system of support, but also an incorrigible source of stress, anger, nervousness, anxiety, you name it. I started to draw myself and my father, in his truck, driving. The art is shoddy, rough, lined in frustration and more than a little off in it’s execution. It revolved around generational differences, lack of understanding on his and my own views on living life, and real moments I experience with him as we drive places from time to time.
|I'd forgotten my normal pens, and had to draw out everything with calligraphic nib pens.|
I broke no new walls artistically. It was a circumstance where I had created something raw, a bit primal, maybe even remedial, because it was the first thing that fell out. Sharing our works made a sense of unease rise around the room for a number of us. There were a few people that had no problem at all, since the work they did professionally was far more blunt and shocking.
After discussion and review the second exercise, also a four panel comic strip, was another push into trying to be something audacious, experimental, or completely and totally offensive. It's an interesting feeling to sit in a room with varying degrees of emotions about what we were all creating, pulsating out. I wrote a small poem that was very personal, and I'll not posting that one up, but the gist of it was about the ideology that elected officials needed to be much more aware of what their constituents had elected them to do. The government has a massive responsibility for the welfare and well-being of its people. And I was surprised how quickly I pushed the second one out.
My mindset was reeling in some interesting ways. I broke some personal barriers and created in a safe zone without any worry of revenge, recourse, disgust or discomfort at the words that I had illustrated out in these small panel comics.
The class ended at noon. I always end up finding at least one person that I find common ground with to engage in conversation with, and thankfully each of the days I did the show, this was the case. I love hearing stories, experiences, just good mind enriching interactions. It's something that fueled a project some years back for me, and I found myself, rather enjoyably, back in that feeling. Life is so short, why would anyone not want to know more about everyone else's experiences and stories?
More presentations were held at the Folly theater near the Marriott. It got me to thinking, I’m not sure why the auditorium at the Nelson wasn’t used for the duration of the event. My guess? It was a contractual thing.
I had nothing to do from noon until 7 o’clock when the Roadshow would open. I take that back, I had to go set up, but I waited until later in the day.
Some of that, was a hesitance growing in me. I've been very frank in how for many months, I've been dealing with depression, and questioning my direction as a creative. Truthfully, ICON was having a weird affect on me, in that I started to feel a bit outdated, but also found wellsprings of new growth happening. I actually had a bad feeling about setting up for the show, but I'd already paid for it. and I needed to see it through.
Understand, all I am about to state is not a reflection on the Roadshow, it is my own take and what I went through. In a nutshell, it was a very eye opening, embarrassing, and isolating experience.
How, you may be asking?
What you see below is how I set up my table at the roadshow. I didn’t know what to bring, so I brought the least amount of things I could for what I had already convinced myself, was going to be something of a disaster of a show for me. Depression is a horrible companion. It robs you of self worth, esteem, and clear thinking, and it does not allow one to carry ego well.
|I built it tall enough for me to get some attention. It did not work.|
I couldn't help it.
Couldn't stop it.
The feeling I had was as if I'd dressed up for a casual rugby match, but instead attended a black tie affair at Buckingham Palace.
Upon walking into the showroom area, it was immediately a different feeling from any other show I'd ever done. Yes this was a pop up event and I knew that, but the majority of the art I saw looked as though it leaned towards modern non-science fiction, non-fantasy, editorial friendly, and technical spot illustration elements.
As I walked over to my table, and began setting up, that pit of despair in my gut opened up. It echoed out "you are not going to make any money at this. If you were lucky a few people may pick your stuff out of the sea of happy energetic fonts, light colors, white lettering, and wooden panels that you’re surrounded by."
It seemed like all the other table layouts were filled with bright, cheery, inspirational word signs, children's books, and ultra cute characters.
|The other tables during setup.|
I felt like Pugsley Addams attending a Disney Princess Pavilion Party.
The table I sat at was a shared one, and I secretly hoped that I would be left alone at the table. I thought "well the table cloths are black, my set up is primarily black, I am wearing dark clothing, maybe between sitting at the edge of this row, and also partially absconded behind a massive cement pillar, the embarrassment won’t be on display as bad."
I walked out into the hallway to gather my thoughts, and just calm myself. I was told only artists would be in the room up until 7 o’clock. This was at about 6:15pm. In that time the artist I shared my table with showed up and set up a resplendent display. "Okay," I thought, "my shame will have more company."
Minutes before 7pm, I could hear, and then see a crowd of people arriving early to get into the Roadshow.
Cue my internal panic.
I quickly made it to my table sat down counting out my bank, I don’t know why. I knew exactly how much was in there. I didn’t feel I was going to end up using any of it. I got my Square reader set up, and realized that the signal in that room was about as good as it would’ve been at the bottom of a missile silo in the Midwest.
"Surely," I thought, "I am over reacting! I’m a goddamn professional!"
The small voice in the back of my head once again cried out "bitch, you can’t struggle ALL the time!"
It turns out. I can.
The initial 35 minutes of the show,... I sat, quietly at my table with my art prints, my comics and business cards on display in front of me. I played with my phone nervously, doom scrolling, as wave after wave of people came in, and walked by my setup. Only to stop at the artist next to me, or really any other table.
I occasionally bear witness to moments of watching an artist sitting near me or sharing a table with me outsell me over the course of an event. This was a new landspeed record as the last time I saw that much money and card swipes happen, I was at Hy-Vee in the checkout lane and snow had been forecast for that week.
When witnessing that flurry of selling action and nothing is happening in your area, suddenly your phone demands you doom scroll, a far off piece of architecture needs your scrutiny, or the carpet you are already looking down at beneath your feet suddenly has the most compelling pattern to study.
There is no where you can go. In that moment the failure is personal, the moment burns, and it weakens you from within. Then self doubt and reasoning efforts begin. Maybe their Instagram game is amazing! Or they are a local favorite creator. Possibly they are an art director or someone who spoke on stage earlier so attendee want to buy some art and support them.
And the debilitating thoughts like "my god, what am I doing here?! Why am I here? This was a horrible mistake, these people are professionals!" get stuck on the mental replay.
As the night went on, it didn't get any better. It was a LONG night.
Holding my promise that I will be very frank with what I make at shows, after it was all said and done, I sold $64 of art. I'm happy I made that money. I clearly did not understand all the ins and outs of this particular show, or who I'd be selling to.
When 11 o’clock rolled around, I quietly gathered my things, packed up, and left. The drive home was quiet, sobering, and filled with thinking twice about professional life choices. Thankfully this is not my first big burn out at a show, so I was able to weather it okay. But man, real talk, I came close to not going back for the third day of the show. But at some point while staring up at the ceiling around 3 AM, I rallied myself, and had an attack of common sense.
Tomorrow would be a new day and I focused on what it would bring. I also got to wondering what exactly the difference was between this roadshow and the upcoming gallery show.
DAY THREE: Folly Theatre Camping and a Gallery Show- Fri, July 1st
Friday, the programming was held at the Folly Theatre. The weather was still humid and hot, but a pall of a rainstorm hung over the day for a while.
|[Left] The official poster art. [Right] A food truck just out front of the Folly entrance.|
After sitting in one of the seats for about five uncomfortable minutes, I decided to sit in the dead center, on the carpeted stair path. My shins were grateful.
|You have to have the build of a Tim Burton' Jack Skellington character to get your shins to fit.|
So during the lunch break, I quickly filmed and posted a TikTok video, and went back to my truck to get my water bottle and back up battery. I came back and plugged my battery in (I recommend getting one with a built in fold out plug aspect). I actually started writing this blog entry at that point, as well as figuring out what I needed for social media posts after the event was over.
As the last presentation began, I got my stuff together and left to find food. I tried to find a restaurant within walking distance. I managed to locate a nearby Jimmy John’s. So I set out and walked in the direction of the restaurant coming across an old favorite public sculpture of Mark Twain.
|Don't you ever change Mark Twain.|
With a few hours to spare, I imagine that the break in programming also allowed for people to get back to their hotel rooms get refreshed for socializing later that evening.
Back home I went once again. I hoped that the time in the gallery would bring some time for me to network and connect with people. Studio Inc was in a part of KC I'd not been to before, and if I didn't know exactly where it was, I'd never have found it on my own. It really seemed like an industrial area where it was located. I got there, but I was a little confused as to where the actual gallery was. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings, and I followed a few well dressed people that I assumed were going to this art gallery opening.
I walked in, up a few stairs, and down a hallway past what looked like a social bar (I didn't go in, it was way too crowded for me). I found the gallery as expected.
I think I was also expecting airflow.
The gallery was a box shape. I understand some galleries have no central air. I understand some galleries have the better amenities. The room was essentially a garage. I say that, because there was a massive metal garage door 1/3 of the way open with a single stand fan attempting with all of its might, to push air into an overstuffed room. Mad props, to the valiant fan. I’m sure it did its best. But it wasn't enough.
|This was the lightest density the amount of people got to be in the gallery.|
|I really enjoyed the work I saw, I just wish I'd had a chance to talk to the specific creators of some of these.|
|Two of my favorites from the gallery show. I regrettably didn't get the names of the creators for these. If any of you know, drop me a line or leave a comment so I can get the proper credit to these artists.|
Looking back on forward things.
Breaking into a new way that I'll be ending these show overviews, I will lay out what I spent as either an attendee or as part of the show so that people can have a good idea as to what the costs were, along with an overall experience review.
Is it worth it?
Let me explain. If you have a need to learn aspects about art education and history from fairly knowledgeable people, and you want to travel and possibly experience the city the show is hosted in, then it's a Yes.
But it is a conference that leans towards editorial and more corporate design aspects, in general.
The workshops that cost extra in some cases, ranged, from what I was able to experience and later find out from talking to others, from "well worth it", to "underwhelming". Thankfully both of mine were really great.
All of that said, this show was put together very well, and one that though I endured some humbling moments, I still very much liked the conference.
- One Ticket for ICON11: $648.19
- Cut Paper Mantra - Workshop: Free
- Motion Commotion: $10
- This Zine Violates Terms and Conditions - Workshop: $45
- Roadshow Table Cost: $160.59
- Food/Fuel/Misc: $52.19
Total expenses: 915.97 ($229 per day)
- An incredible amount of knowledge was on display in the presentations and workshops
- The conference is four days, which base ticket cost averages out to $162 per day
- Cost was high, but so is the worth of it as a tax write off/business expense!
- A remarkably diverse amount of art backgrounds are apparent in attendees.
- Some chances to network and speak about personal experiences in careers.
- If you have the right style, the Roadshow can be phenomenal.
- Swag bag with some actually cool items in it.
- Almost perfect App with so many bits of organizing and info. A great asset!
- The expense of the show seemed steep, in this current economy.
- If you've traveled to stay at the show, hotel, and other expenses can pile up quickly.
- The classrooms in the Nelson, if utilized, could have allowed for more workshops to be held.
- The Nelson galleries weren't available, such a missed networking and museum PR chance.
- If your focus in Illustration was not educational/editorial it might not be for you.
- If you have the wrong style, the Roadshow will be a therapy session subject later.
- Why no audible reminders from the App as an option, to ease scheduling your day?
The Final Evaluation
I'm on the fence about a solid recommendation to the show. SO much of it is done exceptionally well. But as it turned out, I was not the demographic for this show. Did I learn and expand my knowledge? Yes. In ways I had not expected.
Did I feel connected to the community? With a few individual exceptions of intriguing and great networking and moments of thought provoking conversation, as a whole, no, I did not.
I think ICON is something between the legendary Spectrum Fantastic Art Live shows from some years ago, and an Adobe conference. It fills a specific niche, but also expands out to more general illustration aspects and career areas if you know who to connect with.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the most part. Would I do it again?
No. Not even if it was held locally for me. I just cannot justify the cost involved.
It's a good conference, just not quite in my wheelhouse of where I want to be as a comic and fantasy illustrator.
Thank you so much for reading, I am Mario, the Artisan Rogue. If you want to find information about ICON and more, please check out the links below.
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist