by Mike Scigliano
There’s a point in every comicon production process where things get real. The utter insanity of what you have undertaken becomes concrete. Booking your first exhibitor is a great high. Each subsequent booking continues that awesome feeling of things going well. That is until you get your first email or phone call from an attendee. Once that happens there is NO going back. The cat’s out of the bag so to speak. It’s at that point that you come to the realization that what you’ve been working so hard on for the last few months is now out there for public consumption. It was a very surreal moment for Martha, Phil and I for sure.
At that point you shift your thoughts to what exactly it is that you are providing an attendee. Some comicons struggle with this. Others know the second they sign their exhibit hall contract. Simply put, it is Show Management’s job to provide the best experience possible. That’s right. You’re not just selling a ticket to a comicon; you are selling an entire experience. Fans can get news about comics, movies, games and much more instantaneously on the internet any time of the day. They can pick up the newest issue of most comics while sitting on a bus or train. They can find that one silver age back issue they need to complete a run on eBay. I could go on, but I suspect you get the picture I’m painting here. Bottom line is that people, fans, go to comicons because they WANT to, not because they NEED to. They WANT to be around other fans enjoying themselves. They WANT to have a great experience and be part of something that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. What makes providing this experience complicated is the fact that each attendee’s expectations are going to be as unique as the attendees themselves.
Armed with this knowledge it’s your job to go about building a comicon that will provide your attendees with that desired experience. It’s actually not as tough as you may think. Remember a few weeks ago when I said to do your job right in building a comicon you need to love your job? This is where that passion and dedication shines through. I can’t tell you how many hours the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con team has logged working to this end. Virtually every decision we make comes back to one thing—how will this enhance the experience we are creating? Think of Show Management as a curator of sorts. It’s your job to bring together different aspects of what makes a comicon a great experience and then present that to your attendees.
Artist Alley at Long Beach Comic & Horror Con is one of my favorite places to be all weekend. Every year I walk over forty miles from the first time I walk into the building until the last step out the door. I’ll be honest — I am probably being conservative. I keep moving. I keep an eye on everything. But I always end up back in Artist Alley. I love seeing that fan meet his or her favorite comic book creator. Artist Alley at LBCHC is full of professionals and up and comers alike. It’s just as much fun to thumb through sketchbooks by well-known talents as it is someone I have never heard of before. Frankly, those tend to be the ones I bring home more of, and there’s not a chance that can happen anywhere but in Artist Alley.
The rest of the exhibit hall is full of publishers, studios, retailers, fan groups, and more. You’ve more than likely shopped at or browsed Amazon.com. The exhibit floor at a good comicon is like a live Amazon for comic fans. Comics, graphic novels, art, toys, games, movies, props, things you never knew you wanted but now can’t leave the hall without and so on. It’s all there. Even if the attendees can’t buy everything they want they sure had a great time looking at it all and wishing they could. And unlike browsing online, there’s just no substitute for actually holding that comic or print in your hands. Again, does this sound like an everyday occurrence?
LBCHC’s programming schedule includes panels and screenings that appeal to a wide variety of attendees. That’s by design of course. As I noted earlier, you can get your news on the web as it’s happening. But can you replicate the feeling of being in a panel room filled with fans like yourself listening to and sometimes being a part of a discussion by some of your favorite comic book creators? Not likely.
All these aspects add up to the overall experience an attendee has at your comicon. But you are not done just yet. One more key aspect is customer service. Every attendee that walks through that door deserves the absolute best customer service possible. Whether it’s getting an answer to a simple question or helping find their lost child. For that one weekend a year these people become your family in a sense. Treat them like you would treat your parents or children. They just paid you their hard earned money; they deserve it. Listen to what they have to say. Good and bad. You’d be amazed at how far great customer service can go to enhancing an attendee’s experience at your comicon. You want your attendees to go home and tell their family and friends about the great time they had. After all, you do want them to come back next year, right?
If you can do this right, mistakes and miscues can be forgiven and overlooked. Waiting a little too long on line to get in can be forgotten. A typo in the program guide can be chuckled at. It was one hell of a great experience so why worry about the little things? Just make sure you fix them for next year.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.