In the runup to King Con, the Brooklyn-based comics show held at the Lyceum in Park Slope this weekend, it was asked many times, “Do we NEED another New York comics show?” Starting with the Big Apple Con back on October 1, running through New York Comic Con the next week and on to the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Fest on December 4, King Con made a total of four cons in three months, not really a heavy workload for a comics town as huge as NYC, but definitely a strain on the wallets of attendees, especially after the NYCC epic. (New York’s fifth show is MoCCA Fest in April.) So from the outset you have a show with big questions hanging over it.
Friends had asked me to come out for various events and I was slotted for the Kids Comics panel on Sunday morning so I ended up going out on three out of four days. What I saw was a scene with enough energy to overcome logistical mistakes and misconceptions to still create a fun and informative afternoon activity. But it didn’t answer the fundamental question of what King Con’s mission should be.
King Con started out with a pair of panels on Thursday night that, perhaps due to rain or lack of promotion, were so poorly attended that the second one was canceled. Not a good start.
Friday night was a big comics reading/rock fest party. I arrived habitually fashionably late only to discover that I had missed a lot of cool comics readings — none of the press materials had bothered to include a schedule. I was definitely “non plussed” by that. Luckily a few beers next door led to a lively discussion on a frigid roofdeck with Paul Pope, Charles Orr, Sean Pryor and others. One big plus for King Con — an excellent bar/restaurant next door with a lot of outdoor space and a weird deck covered with mysterious junk in the back.
I returned later the next day to catch some panels, arriving at what seems to have been the apex of attendance. King Con is held in the Brooklyn Lyceum, a former bathhouse that now houses stage productions and craft fairs. Last year, the people who run the facility thought it might be fun to put on a comics show, thus the genesis. The Lyceum has no heating or cooling facilities; a cafe in the front serves food made by heating them in a tiny toaster oven. The venue itself is large (not cavernous) and crumbling, but in a funky bohemian way that sets off the indie comics vibe.
The exhibitors room was small and traversed in a few minutes; schmoozing time took much longer. Secret Acres was probably the biggest real “publisher” at the show. Proprietors Barry Matthews and Leon Avelino said the day had been “okay.” Matthews expounded on how important the convention circuit now is to indie publishers — it’s like the craft fair circuit in a way. Secret Acres and others we spoke with had a lot of good stuff to say about the recent Philadelphia Alternative Comic Con, which was gangbusters. An emerging show in an underserved market? With events like this and the recent Pittsburgh show, among others, the indie circuit is expanding into a network of local shows where small publishers can meet their audiences face to face, and sell them precious objects.
I caught the live taping of the Daily Cross Hatch podcast with hosts Brian Heater and Alex Cox, and guests Bob Sikoryak, Lisa Hanawalt and Julia Wertz. This was very odd and the sort of thing that made me notice how much fun it was to fiddle with the settings on my phone and take pictures with the late afternoon autumn light streaming through the huge windows.
Earlier I mentioned that the Lyceum has no heating or cooling. It was a very chilly 50 degrees or so, and everyone was very cold. Steam was rising out of cups of cocoa. “I lost the feeling in my hand midway through my panel,” one person told me. I discovered that you can use your iPhone touch screen if you are wearing leather gloves because they are, after all, made of skin.
Later I caught the second half of the Carousel live comics reading. These events are always a pleasure and Sikoryak, Wertz, and Michael Kupperman did not disappoint, but I am ashamed to confess I had never seen the work of Emily Flake before, and she was frigging hilarious. I snapped a pic of one of her drawings of two horrible dogs she had to dog sit — Flake is one of those artists who just “draws funny” — no wonder she’s in The New Yorker!
Artwork ©2010 Emily Flake!
Between this and the previous spotlight on “Bored to Death” with Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel, I did note that the room had excellent AV — including a HUGE white screen. Comics looked great projected on it. That was a big plus.
There were no evening events planned, so I split for home and more hot cocoa. The next morning I had to get up early for my 12:30 kids panel, meaning I had to cross the New York Marathon itself just to get to the Lyceum. When I arrived the streets were JAMMED with runners so you had to wait for a lull or jog across the street Timing the show with the biggest public event in NYC seemed odd, but it was the first time I’d ever actually seen the Marathon so that was cool.
After seeing the AV on Saturday, I thought to throw together some slides for the participants before going on and that made a GREAT difference. Generally speaking, I get asked to do three different kinds of panels:
Women in comics panels
Kids comics panels
Of the three, the kids comics panels are the toughest, because invariably parents bring their KIDS to the panel thinking it’s going to be something that amuses them, whereas I usually ask panelists about contracts and marketing plans. Invariably the kids begin to squirm, I guiltily endure their looks of absolute boredom, and there are walkouts. Panelist Raina Telgemeier, another convention vet, suggested that a way to make them palatable to kids is to do actual comics readings, a suggestion I will look into in the future.
Anyway, Comicsgirl has an EXHAUSTIVE write-up of the panel!
Everyone basically agreed that comics can be great gateways to reading. Telgemeier said she’s had a lot of parents say that Smile was one of the first books their children read voluntarily. Roman praised teachers for taking the initiative in introducing comics into the classroom. Abadzis agreed with all of this, but said that comics still need to get past “gatekeepers” — people who may doubt their value.
I tried to record the panel with my phone, but the audio was caught between ambient and the speakers with bad results. In general the panels at King Con, curated by Brian Heater, had much merit — more of them should have been recorded. The New York comics scene is full of interesting, smart people. A group of young teen boys arrived just for the Chris Claremont panel and that was not expected.
After that I schmoozed a tiny bit more but everyone seemed to be having very very slow sales and there really wasn’t anyone who I hadn’t seen a dozen times on the circuit , so I headed for the Target down the street which was a horrible mess. Should have known better.
So what to make of King Con? It was a pleasant afternoon’s activity but NOT a four-day epic fest. In retrospect I’m bummed that I spent all weekend there instead of going to the New York Art Book Fair at PS.1. I did discover a few cute things which I’ll get to, but in general the show was unnecessary as presented.
And yet, online, reviews were VERY POSITIVE!
when i got there it was way more exciting than i’d thought it would be. in fact, even though it’s was an all day event—all weekend, actually—i showed up only 15 minutes before the panel started. i’m usually early to things but by the time the main part starts i’ve been hanging around so long i’m already antsy. only now, when i walked in i wished id given myself more time to check out the booths on the main floor. i was thrown back into my adolescent days when i thought comic books were beyond awesome. i started young, thanks to my comic-drawing grandpa. there was a time when i’d get three new archie comics a week. then, as i got older, more angsty, i found Oni Press, jim mahfood and johnny the homicidal maniac. comics had a way of energizing my brain and motivating me to create. i fell in love with ink pens, bold lines, and white space.
WARMACHINE is thinking about the circuit thing I mentioned above:
The show was pretty good, modest turnout of customers and I even made sales of my books, shirts, and prints. It could always be better, but I left satisfied. Things learned, until the economy turns around or at least better than it is sales for this kinda of stuff will be limited. I also have to figure out where and when I will buy a table at these conventions. I talked to Shawn and Carl about pooling our resources for road trips to other conventions next year. I also talked to a guy who is convinced that the Ipad/Kindle/others will revolutionize the field. He maybe right. I will have to research that more, I think the potential is vast. Another Con more experience.
It’s a small, laid-back show. The Brooklyn Lyceum has a pleasantly rough industrial aesthetic and I think it lends itself well to DIY culture. The space for exhibitors wasn’t very big so there wasn’t that many of them, but I liked that it was small.
I’ve been to a bunch of comic-related shows this year so I’ve seen many of the same people multiple times, so I sought those I hadn’t. Among them were Alisa Harris and Allan Norico, a fun, artistic couple.
Allan Norico himself had a SWELL time:
This weekend Alisa and I exhibited and debuted new comics at Brooklyn’s first annual King Con. Hopefully other exhibitors are remarking about how EXCELLENTLY we were treated. I’ve never been to a con where the organizers: 1. welcomed you at the door and escorted you to your table. 2. delivered bottled water to your table every few hours to keep you hydrated (and happy!) 3. played modest mouse while you waited for coffee at the upstairs cafe. 4. rocked this TOTALLY EXCLUSIVE red velvet security rope service for the exhibitors. 5.made announcements every few minutes (albeit a little too loudly on the speaker system) about general going-ons and con-news. 6.had their sh*t together, and if/when issues came up, made sincere efforts to accommodate and happify. 7. came to their senses and gave Steve Flack a megaphone.
Valerie D’Orazio singled out the Brooklyn esthetic itself:
The second annual King Con, held at the Brooklyn Lyceum last weekend, was a celebration of all things comix from Brooklyn and its surrounding areas. As a native Brooklynite, seeing everything my borough has to offer in terms of comic creators and related art was a real treat. The panels, which included an in-depth interview with Chris Claremont, a discussion on the intersection between comics and female sexuality, and a special presentation of Dr. Sketchy’s featuring artist Paige Pumphrey, were great, and convention organizer Regan Jaye Fishman skillfully kept all of the activities moving along. Would definitely attend next year!
In all honesty, all of this good will comes DESPITE the fact that the show wasn’t very well thought out. A lot of the con vets I talked to thought the show had many problems. $200 for a table? In a room that BARELY could hold 150 people? I doubt there were more than a few hundred attendees all weekend, and most exhibitors I spoke with did not make any money. In fact, there was more of the puppy dog “please look at me!” vibe in the room than I’ve felt in many a moon.
Plus the venue is either charming or decrepit, depending on whether you think an abstract statue of the sandworms from DUNE functions as an air duct or not. The bathroom was unisex, meaning men and women had to make wee (or…worse) in adjoining stalls — some people were seriously creeped out by that. I personally held it in the whole time.
The first King Con last year did well because it was held in the 22-month gap between the 2009 and 2010 New York Comic-Cons. It arrived in a show-starved environment and did well. Now, it is jammed into a packed schedule and needs some serious rethinking. I spoke briefly with Regan Jaye Fishman, the show runner, who acknowledged the learning curve but seemed to be gung ho for doing a show next year. She said that due to the lack of heating or cooling, the timing is an issue — the show could only be held in the fall or spring, but any earlier and it will conflict with MoCCA, which is similarly held to a spring date by an antique venue without air conditioning.
Wandering around the room I found a few people I had never seen before, or had time to see before anyway. Another cute comics couple? YES. Laura Galbraith and Nate Bear. Where do they all come from?? They have a t-shirt.
Also the aforementioned Alisa Harris and Allan Norico. (Above photo nicked from Allan’s con report.) I picked up one of Harris’s minis, Urban Nomad, a cartoony slice of life comic about New York with haunted bathrooms and exciting Chinese grocery stores. She also does books of cute cat cartoons, and I’m just a sucker for that.
This guy, Mike Lapinski, has just done a book from Archaia, and just about every professional editor at the show had signed up for his mailing list. Watch out for him.
So that’s it. It wasn’t so exhausting that I wasn’t left eager for BCGF, which promises a fantastic guest list and all the great books I missed a chance to buy during the year.
Bottom line? I could see the concept working as a one-day craft fair kind of thing. The modest charms of a scaled back King Con with more direction could still have something to add to the New York scene, provided it could nail down a situation that allowed people the chance to make some money. It’s a big town with big ideas and big comics.
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.