by Mike Scigliano
One of the biggest elements in the production of a comicon that attendees will never see is the show decorator. Once you are locked into doing your comicon you’ll absolutely need to have one. And they aren’t cheap either.
Before we get to deep into this let me explain what a decorator does. The biggest job they take care of for Show Management is setting up the floor in the exhibit hall. They take the floor plan you designed — with their input — and plot it in the real world. Using tape or chalk they mark out the floor well before the first exhibitor arrives to load in their materials. It needs to be done accurately as being off even one foot can cause issues and derail the hard work put into the floor plan design. The slightest shift could put a support pole dead center in a booth instead of in an aisle. An aisle could end up too tight. You get the idea. The best decorators measure out the floor using a measuring tape and the utmost precision.
Another key aspect of the service the decorators provide is setting the pipe and drape on the floor. This divides booths, sets booth sizes and gives a sense of cohesion throughout the exhibit hall. One of the worst things a decorator can do is show up with four different colors of the blue drape you requested. It just looks terrible.
One more major job assigned to the decorator is the setting of tables and chairs. At Long Beach Comic & Horror Con we supply one draped table and two chairs with each booth package. Artist Alley is also set with one table and two chairs as well. That’s a lot of tables and chairs. Having enough to cover the needs of the show AND an average to cover damages or on site exhibitor orders for extras is essential. Imagine walking through Artist Alley and seeing everyone standing. Not a good look at all.
Your decorator will also build your registration counters, hang banners, lay carpeting, help manage load in & load out, and other assorted jobs. It is vital to make sure that the contract you sign spells out every detail of what is expected from your decorator. You certainly don’t want to be in the middle of the exhibit hall on set up day and have your decorator tell you ‘That’s not in the contract.’ The good ones will get it done, but if it’s not in the contract, you’ll have to pay extra for it.
We’ve been fortunate to be able to work with one of the best decorators in the business when producing LBCHC. Metropolitan Exposition does an amazing job for us. We work with them extensively in the months before LBCHC to make sure that we are all on the same page.
As I explained in an earlier column, the floor plan is a very organic and fluid thing. We make changes to it regularly. Changing two 10×10’s into one 10×20, adding booths, moving booths and so on. So when we’re onsite at 5:00 am on set up day, I am confident that the floor plan Metropolitan is using to mark the floor is accurate and up to date. That’s not to say that I don’t check up on it. I check up on EVERYTHING — it’s part of my job. Remember those forty plus miles I walk each show?
Obviously it’s paramount to find a great decorator. They make your comicon that much better. The good ones take a bit of stress off Show Management and that’s a great thing. Hiring a decorator is going to be one of the biggest checks you have to write. Make sure you do your due diligence. Interview potential decorators. Ask questions and get answers. If you aren’t comfortable with the answers, the decorator likely isn’t going to be right for your comicon.
But what happens if you did your homework, researched decorators and settled on one you felt comfortable with, but when set up day arrives you begin to regret your choice? It’s very possible, so what do you do besides freak out and down a bottle of Pepto chased by a bottle of Tums? You adapt, roll up your sleeves and get involved. You’ll have to learn to let things go and focus on the solution not the problem. If you don’t you’re sunk.
Having been a comicon show runner for the last decade I’ve run into my share of problems which is why we appreciate Metropolitan Exposition and their work on LBCHC even more. In the past I’ve had a decorator show up with less than half the needed chairs. And that was after a myriad of approval emails confirming the table and chair count. How about dropping off the materials needed and only setting up half of it? It’s happened. One of the LBCHC show owners, Phil Lawrence, was on site and jumped in and set up dozens of Artist Alley tables and hundreds of chairs himself. How about a decorator not showing up with garbage cans or bins to empty those cans? They insisted it wasn’t in the contract. I’ll tell you this — LBCHC co-owner Martha Donato is a stickler for details. Garbage and cleaning services would never be left out. Obviously these are extreme circumstances. Take my advice. Hope for perfection; prepare for disaster.
Think of it this way. A decorator puts the lipstick and mascara on your comicon. They can make it look great but they can’t make up for a poorly designed floor plan. They enhance the look and feel of the comicon but ideally no attendee will ever notice it. If they do notice the job done by a decorator it’s likely not for good reasons. Keep in mind, as I said earlier, the check you cut your decorator will be one of the biggest you write so make sure you feel good about your choice.
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.