Hello! Starting in July I came on board as an intern in Graphic Universe’s office in New York City. A few years ago I began writing professional convention coverage for Publishers Weekly Comics Week (online) and Otaku USA Magazine’s website. I’m also a manga and anime reviewer for both. You can read my convention reports on their respective websites.

Almost every weekend in North America there is at least one convention devoted to Japanese animation (anime) and comics (manga). Check AnimeCons.com for the yearly schedule. Last weekend, I went to Otakon, in Baltimore, Maryland, the second largest anime convention in the U.S.

When I told Carol about Otakon, she said, “Oh, good! You can look for artists in the Artist Alley for Graphic Universe.” I was sent off with a pocketful of petty cash.

Otakon Artist Alley

Otakon Artist Alley

One of Otakon’s most popular features is the Artist Alley. Nearly 200 amateur artists and fans purchase table space (about $80 per table) months in advance to sell their anime- and manga-related artwork, crafts, buttons, homemade T-shirts, handmade jewelry, and plush toys during the 3-day convention. Some artists also sell their self-published or amateur comics, but these homemade comics are a little harder to come by and can be a little pricey depending on the paper quality.

Carol had only one request for me: “Just make sure they’ve done sequential art before.” Some artists are great at drawing pin-ups but they have never tried to do comics. It is a different skill, and artists must show they can draw a whole story, not just terrific single images.

There were artists who tried to emulate manga, and those who went more for a superhero American comic look. Conventions often catch the crossover audience between the two comic worlds. Some attendees at Otakon dressed as Watchmen characters, just like how at San Diego Comic Con some attendees dress as Naruto characters.

Otakon attendees are a young crowd, from about age 13 to 30. Because Otakon does not sell one-day admissions and only expensive 3-day passes, the crowd skews older than smaller, more suburban conventions like MangaNext, where the average attendee is around 17. By contrast, the average San Diego Comic Con attendee is 25-35—unless they’re spending all their time in the anime rooms, in which case, they are much younger and more female.

Any Artist Alley is a good place to look for the next great undiscovered talent. You just have to keep your eyes open.