By Todd Allen
Retailer: Were you here when this was WonderCon? There were lines all over the place and people couldn’t even get in.
Pro: That’s the new WonderCon. I remember the old ones where there were more pro’s than attendees. This is great!
And that really sums up the attitudes towards the show. Half-full or half-empty. Were you expecting a new show to be WonderCon?
The reality of the situation is, Image Expo was a new show that was rolled out on a very short schedule. As far as I know, it was conceived 2-3 months from opening day and with that short of a runway, you’re talking about a regional show, not a national one. Image Expo was about what you should expect, attendance-wise, from a first-time regional show. Sunday was pretty sparsely attended and it probably should’ve been two days, instead of three, but Saturday’s crowd was almost exactly what I was expecting.
Moreover, it was a well organized show. There wasn’t a lot of confusion finding things. Signs were posted, so you knew what was going on. Amazingly, especially if you’re used to Javitz, McCormick Place or the Rosemont Convention Center, the security was really polite. No surly people demanding to see your badge. The panel lines seemed to be handled firmly, but politely and didn’t look like they had any glitches while I was around.
On the creator side of things, I was hearing mixed results. The vast majority of the money changed hands on Saturday, that much was agreed upon. Some of the creators did OK and made some money. Some of them didn’t. You’re going to have a few factors like booth placement and there really is a personality component to convention sales. I don’t think there was an overwhelming trend towards large profits, but losses weren’t across the board, either.
The big winner was probably John Layman. The Chew booth was busy enough to be deemed “under siege.” Layman had decided there were too many books going on eBay for inflated sums, so if you wanted his signature and *not* have him personalize it to you, he’d charge you $10 instead of $5. There was very little, if any, resistance to this. Shortly after the con opened on Friday, I observed two guys drop $150 on non-personalized variant covers. Multiple copies that were very likely headed straight for eBay. Where I grew up, we’d refer to the extra $5 not to personalize the autograph as “free money,” and Layman found some.
From a fan perspective, this was an ideal convention. It wasn’t too crowded. It was astonishing how many creators you could get access to with a wait of five minutes or less. For the most part, the main signing area would have a big line. Chew had a scrum of people in front of them the whole time. Whilce Portacio looked like he had a pretty good line whenever he was at his booth at the front of artist’s alley. Besides that, small lines would come and go and if you picked your time right, you could just walk up and say hello to Erik Larsen or Jonathan Hickman or Brian K. Vaughan. You can’t ask for more if you’re a fan.
It didn’t look to me like the retailers were getting a ton of business, but the trend in conventions I’ve been to has been more direct purchases from the creators and that seemed to be the case here.
If they do another Image Expo, and I’m under the impression they’re waiting to see what’s going to happen with WonderCon next year before making a decision, the next one will probably be a little bigger.
Bottom line, great fan experience and surprisingly smoothly run for an event that was put together in a short time frame. The nice thing about regional shows is a level of creator access you just can’t get with something the size of SDCC and Image Expo had an abundance of that.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.