Phoenix ComiCon is over and another convention with me in a JEFbot booth is now in the can! This marks only my second time out as an exhibitor, but I gotta say: I’m already addicted. I absolutely love being at cons, meeting readers, introducing new readers, selling merch and basically taking in the thrill and energy of a convention from the other side of the counter. I’ve been going to comic cons since I was a kid, so all of this is very much a dream of mine fulfilled, and I’m going to keep doing it for as long as possible. Here’s the lowdown on what happened at this one:

Although it was just the Cornfather (Michael Cornacchia) and I at my first con at Emerald City a few months back, this time not only did CF come along, but Mombot and Popbot did, too! After a sleepless night packing and getting stuff ready for the booth, I drove over to Michael’s condo early Wednesday morning to pick him up, only to find him unpacked and still asleep, and basically not ready for six days in Phoenix. I’m not sure who was more panicked: him or me. Actually, I’m sure it was me. Anyway, forty minutes later, we were on our way to my parental units’, and once we were there we crammed all our stuff in my dad’s Jeep, and began our six hour drive to Phoenix.

Once there, we checked into the hotel, got settled into our respective rooms, and all tried to take a brief nap, but I was too excited/anxious to get any sleep so I was up and about getting stuff ready for the booth before I was able to get too comfortable. We all met up within the hour and lugged my banners and some merch over to the Phoenix Convention Center across the street, and checked out the con floor and inspected my booth area. I was surprised to see that the place was pretty barren and this made me nervous since I always assume I’ve arrived to places on the wrong day or at the wrong time. I thought there would at least be a small bustle of activity, but aside from a few decked-out booths and big Ghostbuster and Star Wars set-ups, there was hardly anything or anyone around. This was almost certainly because the con didn’t start until 4pm the next day so most vendors weren’t feeling much pressure to get a whole lot done the day before. Since I didn’t want to leave my merch out overnight, the four of us put the JEFbot banners up, placed the table, and put some freebies out before going out to eat and then retiring. I spent the rest of the night bagging up shirts while watching a Mythbusters marathon before finally passing out.

I woke up on Thursday with the urgent need to change my booth buzzing around in my head. At my first convention, I had a corner booth with two tables. Here, I had a corner booth with only one table, so there was a side that was completely open and unused. I didn’t like this too much, so Michael and I quickly took my dad’s Jeep to a nearby Target, and I bought one of those metal “Cube Organizers” that you can assemble into a variety of shapes. I also bought a cheap 3DS charger, since I had somehow forgotten mine back in L.A. Once we were back at the convention, I brought over all the books, tees, BOTtons and freebies, then assembled the Cubes into a little tower on the empty side of my booth and displayed the shirts on it. I then got the rest of my booth ready to go and by then it was almost time for the first day of the convention to begin.

While I remember being totally nervous and a bit freaked the morning before the Seattle con opened, I was pretty chill for this one. Once the doors opened, it was a little anticlimactic, though: At the Emerald City con, they blew a trumpet or bugle before the start of the show each day – by the end of that weekend, we were all conditioned to get pumped whenever we heard that horn. Here, there was an announcement approximately ten minutes before the start of the show that we were going to open on time, and then, before we knew it, attendees were walking by.

Thursday was dubbed Preview Day as it opened late in the afternoon, and gave early con-goers a chance to check out the booths without the crush of the crowd that would show up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so it was expected that the crowd would be light. And although I sold some books and shirts, I was a bit worried that this was how the rest of the weekend would go, especially since it became apparent that I wasn’t in a very good spot on the convention floor: I was tucked away in a back corner, on the opposite side of where all the big booths were and from where the celebrities would be signing. Because I have no seniority or clout – this being my first time exhibiting at this convention – I was pretty much near the end of the list for picking tables. Hopefully that will change next year.

Aside from the light crowd, the first day of the convention was pretty cool. If I had any trepidation about my parents coming to a comic convention with me, that all dissolved when I saw my dad handing out JEFbot postcards and bookmarks, and my mom exploring the convention floor looking for cool stuff and getting excited that Bruce Boxleitner would be there (yes, she liked him in Scarecrow and Mrs. King but she’s also a big Babylon 5 fan). Also, someone recognized her as Mombot while she was wandering around! (Yes, she was wearing a JEFbot cap and she looks Japanese, so that might’ve been a giveaway, but still!!!)

Preview Day closed at 9pm, so the floor was only open for five hours but I was wiped out as the past weeks of preparation and the excitement from the past couple of days caught up with me. My mom and dad had left to visit my aunt and cousins somewhere near Phoenix and I could tell Michael was pretty exhausted, too, so the two of us made our way back to the hotel and I was almost ready to crash when I got a text from Denis, a buddy of mine you may know from his comic strip, L.A.W.L.S., asking if the Cornfather and I were up for drinks. Alcohol and shop talk? Not many things could’ve gotten me away from the allure of my hotel bed and sleep, but fortunately, those two things were enough to get me out of my room. Michael was initially up for it, too, but in the short amount of time it took me to splash some water on my face and get ready to go, he was down for the count and too tired to walk anywhere.

I met Denis and his buddy, Ali (check out his comic Rob the Bot), in the hotel lobby, and we were off looking for drinks and food. After meandering for a while around the block, we ended up at Matador, a Mexican restaurant that was right across the street from the hotel. I’d met Denis before at the Emerald City ComiCon, but felt I got to know him a lot more this time around, so I’m sure we’ll be hanging in the future since he lives in L.A. (and because I have a foam mattress of his that we carted back for him.) It’s become a joke between us that we only hang together when we’re out of town, as we’ve never actually hung out in L.A. – only at cons. Remains to be seen if we break that habit.

I woke up Friday with another idea for my booth, so showered and ran over to the convention floor as soon as it opened, and rented another table. I took apart the Cubes I had bought the day before and constructed two small towers out of them and placed one on my old table and one on the new table, and displayed shirts on them, hanging from the sides, with books on top. I then used the rest of the empty space on the new table for folded shirts that people could hunt through for their size. This gave me a lot more breathing room, and much more eye-level space for the shirts, and from the way people were now noticing the shirts, it seemed to work.

I was relieved that business and traffic picked up in comparison to the day before. I was also happier with my booth, so was able to relax more and interact with attendees and fans, handing out postcards and bookmarks (and special Phoenix Con mini BOTtons for JEFbot readers!) and selling books and tees with the help of the Cornfather. I met some awesome JEFbot readers, cosplayers and fellow geeks, and it definitely seemed like there were more people in costume (and more ornate costumes, at that) than at the Seattle con. Check out Hannah (pictured) as Maka from the manga/anime Soul Eater, who came by the booth almost every day with a new, amazing costume. Also must thank reader Daisy, who brought by a bag of holding filled with snacks and drinks to sustain the Cornfather and I, which was both a surprise and a godsend. Mom and dad also came by for a few hours, with dad helping to pass out freebies again and mom hanging out with Stormtroopers (see photo.)

By the end of the day, we had sold a bunch of books and a ton of BOTtons (we actually sold out of our supply of pretty much anything with Musashi and Abraxas on it, but fortunately, I had more back at the hotel) but only a few shirts and posters. I was beginning to get a little worried that I might not make a profit, or even break even at this con. Any worry went away, however, after the doors closed for the day, and I was back at Matador (Denis, Ali and I walked around the block before settling on it, again) with new friends, Roberto, Erfon and Erik, drinking and eating and talking about our day. We then met up with some more of Denis’s friends and partied at the nearby Sheraton hotel, which was hosting a reverse Happy Hour (we dubbed it “Sad Hour”) where the drinks were cheap from 9pm – 11pm vs. the normal 4pm – 7pm. Good times were had, but we closed out around midnight. I think. Time is even more relative during a convention. By the time it gets to 11pm, it feels like 2am on a normal day.

SATURDAY (The Geekiest Day. Perhaps of my life.)
My fears about breaking even on Friday were completely dashed on Saturday, when we sold at least three times as much BOTmerch as the first two days combined. We sold out of two poster styles (JEFbot on the Beach and Nerd Rage), a crazy amount of tees and BOTtons, and way more books than expected. We were also starting to run low on the postcard and bookmark freebies. It didn’t hurt that Bruce Boxleitner (TRON himself!) met someone (thank you!) in his signage queue with one of my TRON shirts, and essentially bought out what was left of my Medium, Large and XL tees, which included a few special, Navy Blue variants I brought to the con. I also dropped a free JEFbot book in Bruce’s bag for him to read later on.

So with the mega-meta-thought of TRON actually wearing one of my TRON tees (pictured), I assumed my day couldn’t get any geekier. I was wrong. Wil Wheaton and a friend dropped by my booth, and I was able to talk with jefbot’s-former-nemesis-now-fragile-ally a bit more than I did at the Emerald City Con, which was awesome. Turns out he’s a huge TRON fan, so I was able to geek out with him about the whole Bruce Boxleitner episode, and would’ve given him a shirt if I had any left in his size. He left with a BOTton, which he insisted on paying for (he actually threw the dollar in my booth and ran away after I threw the dollar at him as he was leaving.) I’ll throw that dollar back at him someday…

So, with that, I again assumed I’d been geek’d out, with no more geekery to be had. That’s when Rob Guillory, the talented artist behind the comic book Chew (a comic I had recently bought on my iPad, and which I suggest you check out immediately) dropped by, and we got to talk and ended up trading books.

I guess the lesson of the day was to never assume there is a limit to how much Geek one can experience. There is no limit.

My aunt and cousin showed up during the afternoon and I got to hang with them for too brief a time (I hadn’t seen them in possibly decades.) My cousin’s kids were there, too, and I gave the youngest a JEFbot shirt that was too big for him to wear, but he wore it proudly all over the convention (and all night, apparently, too. heheh.) They all got shirts, books and BOTtons, of course, some of them were given as gifts from my mom and dad. Was nice to see family, as us “Bots” don’t have any blood-relatives in L.A. so we don’t see many other Schuetzes that often.

Oh, I should mention that attendance was so high this day that they had to stop the line of people getting in until some of the people in attendance had left. They also extended the show by an extra hour so many of those waiting would be able to get in. Was pretty cool, and I was happy for those last attendees, but it would’ve been nice to have some notice.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I once again hung out with Denis and Ali, and as you might assume, we found ourselves at Matador, once again. I think. At this point, everything’s a blur.

During the last day of the convention, attendance was lower than Saturday, but still higher than Thursday and Friday, so we did quite well, and it was a nice way to end the con.

That night, after Matador (of course), we hoofed it over to the Hard Rock Cafe a few blocks from our hotel because the Cornfather had acquired coupons, only to find that, no, he was mistaken and the coupons were of no use to us, so we decided to walk over to Alice Cooper’s bar, Cooperstown. Well, that was already closed (places seem to close early in downtown Phoenix. The Starbucks coffee shops in and around the convention center close at 2 in the afternoon, much to my dismay) so we went back to our hotel, which we discovered also had a “Sad Hour.” So, Denis, Ali, the Cornfather and I made our way to the rotating bar at the top of the Hyatt and had drinks, and Joel Watson (Hijinks Ensue) joined us later, which was kinda awesome as we all talked about pageviews, book-printing, conventions and basically this whole crazy business of online comickery.

I think we all parted about half past midnight (again, the whole ComiCon relativity was in full effect ‘cuz it felt like 3am), and I barely even remember my head hitting the pillow before blacking out from exhaustion.

It’s Thursday now (and impossible for me to believe a week ago I was manning the JEFBOT booth at the con) and I’m just now starting to feel somewhat normal and rested again. (It didn’t help matters that I had to go to work the next day after getting back in town, although I feel lucky to have a job, so no complaints.)

In closing, a BIG OL’ THANK YOU to everybody who stopped by my booth. As I mentioned, I didn’t have a great space on the floor, so those who took the time to hunt me down, and even those that just happened by, you really made this convention an absolute joy to be at. Seriously, this could’ve been a disaster, and it’s only because of the JEFbot readers who showed up, and the people who weren’t acquainted with my strip but decided to take a chance on JEFbot anyway, that this con turned out as awesome as it did. In fact, once the show closed on Sunday, I ran over to apply for next year’s Phoenix ComiCon, and this time I’ll have some priority to get a better location! Anyway, once again, I owe everything to you readers, even the ones who weren’t able to come to the show, but sent encouraging comments, Tweets and emails my way during this whole event. Thanks, and I hope to see you at a convention someday to share in all this fun!

Also, thanks to Mombot, Popbot and the Cornfather for all their help and for just being there. Was awesome. Let’s do it again.