On a chilly October day in 2012, Annie Stoll collected her portfolio, filled with CD package designs and poster art for several indie artists based in Buffalo, New York, as well as Star Wars fan art, and ventured into a portfolio review for pencil and ink illustrators at New York Comic Con.
A month later, she was working for Lucasfilm.
In just seven years, she has gone on to design "ugly" holiday sweaters for Lucasfilm, illustrate "Star Wars Rebels: Sabine: My Rebel Sketchbook," provide artwork for a compilation book called "Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy" and even won a Grammy for her design work on the packaging of "Squeeze Box: The Complete Works Of 'Weird Al' Yankovic."
"I had legit like $20 left in my account," Stoll said of her 2012 trip to New York Comic Con. "I spent my money getting prints and tickets."
Stoll is just one of many artists who have reaped the benefits of New York Comic Con's Artist Alley, a space within the convention where approved artists and writers can sell their prints, pins, books and stickers, as well as meet fans and sign autographs.
During the four-day convention this year, more than 200,000 people ventured through the Jacob Javits Center in New York — and that's not counting the hundreds of industry professionals roaming the halls between panels.
Almost all the major comic conventions have a dedicated location like Artist Alley for creators. While the area may get overshadowed by panels for "The Walking Dead," "Watchmen" and "Star Trek," it's a massively popular destination for fans.
"Artist Alley has always been one of the most popular features of New York Comic Con," said Mike Negin, global comic talent manager at ReedPop, the company behind the convention. "Fans look forward to spending their time walking up and down the aisle either meeting their favorite creators or discovering someone new."
Artist Alley has been a part of NYCC since it began, in 2006. The goal over the last 14 conventions has been to bring in diverse talent, artists who dabble in anime, traditional comics, caricatures or the abstract, and connect them to fans and their peers.
"Over the years, we've had new creators get noticed by editors and other professionals as they go through the aisles of Artist Alley looking for talent, which has led those creators to projects which allowed them to become superstars in the industry," Negin said.
"When placing creators at tables in Artist Alley, we've seen complete strangers meet for the first time and go on to become friends and collaborators on best-selling titles," he said. "Two creators who met in NYCC Artist Alley [have even] gone on to get engaged."