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Con Report: Long Beach Comic Con, Keystone Comic Con, SPX and a little Fandemic

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Careful readers may have noted that I’ve been on the road for a while – three shows in 10 days, go me! – and I’ll have the blurry Hipstamatic photo gallery you all crave in a bit with the most enduring images from Long Beach Comic Con, Keystone Comic Con and SPX very very soon. But in the meantime, these three shows, far apart in aim and/or geography, present a nice snapshot of the con biz, and I’ll even throw in a little news from Fandemic Houston, the long postponed big time debut of a whole new line of cons.

Long Beach Comic Con

Disclosure I’m on the Advisory Board for this show and Long Beach Comic Expo – which means my travel is covered and I give these kind of thoughts but more in depth in private first. So take what I have to say with a grain of salt for that reason.

Anyhoo, I love the set-up in Long Beach – a good-sized convention center right on the water, close access to amazing food, shopping, a movie theater, hotels and transportation. Everything you need really – except that the Long Beach Convention Center has horrible horrible cel phone reception. Some vendors couldn’t use Square because there was no signal and that significantly impacted their sales.

That aside, this show kind of reinvented itself a bit after some smaller years. It was still a laid back regional con, but there seemed to be good crowds all the time and I didn’t hear any complaints, although it’s not a huge selling show – but everyone seems to get that. The show added a wrestling ring on the floor with Rikishi’s KnokX Pro wrestling school putting on matches.  Normally I don’t like extra curricular stuff like this, but somehow this worked. There were some matches with people in costume, and yes Rikishi came out and rubbed his butt on a guy dressed as the Joker. It was all in good fun and seemed to give the show floor some energy.

I went to a few panels including a one on one with Jaime Hernandez which I moderated that I recorded so I hope to run a transcript. There was a whole track of Latinx themed programming and it seemed to be wall attended.

All in all, this was a fun, well-rounded show with a lot of people popping down from LA for the day or the morning. I got to say hi to a lot of folks, and had a swell time.

KEYSTONE COMIC CON

This was the DEBUT of a new show from ReedPOP and something of a return to Philadelphia on the con circuit -Wizard World Philadelphia has been in decline for a while, although its one of the larger shows on their tour.

I hadn’t been to Philly in over a decade for a show and as I walked in I was flooded with memories: the time I tore my rotator cuff while breakdancing on the subway; the time I dropped my camera and broke the lens; the time Ray Park checked me out; the time I had an argument with Wizard’s **** ***** about Scott Pilgrim.

I was only there for Friday since I had to go down to SPX on Saturday morning. I will not lie: this was one of the slowest days at a con I have experienced in recent years. People in Artist Alley were complaining that they hadn’t made a single sale – which is very rare. I heard Saturday picked up quite a bit, although Sunday was quiet again. Like LBCC, there was a wrestling ring – this time run by Tommy Dreamer! – and a concert stage. I heard a few vendors complaining about the noise from these, but I imagine if there had been better sales they wouldn’t have cared as much.

Like Long Beach, the Philadelphia Convention Center is perfect for a con, but in this case it could be a decent sized one. There is ample transportation, hotels, food, square footage, meeting rooms, and so on. And proud New Yorker though I am,  I have to admit Philly is a great town to visit for a weekend.

The Reading Terminal Market across the street alone is a wonder. The farm fresh food was amazing. Maybe my favorite food market in America.

But the show itself was an underperformer. There were just not a lot of fans. Potential reasons: too close to NYCC and Baltimore Comic Con, kids just went back in school, con burnout.

That said, everything else about this con was stellar, from the signage to the organization. Amazingly,  this is only the third comics show that ReedPOP has launched – following NYCC in 2006 and C2E2 in 2010. While some were wondering if it was just an experiment, the show dates for next year have already been announced: August 22-25, the same dates as Wizard World Chicago and Fan Expo Canada. The show schedule is very crowded!

As this photo from FB shows, though, there was a good crowd for the big celebrity panels. And look at the size of that room – ah the potential.

I reached out to ReedPOP for some comment and event director Mike Armstrong acknowledged that it was a tough weekend timing wise but was upbeat. “We’re really happy with how Keystone turned out from a fan experience perspective,” he told the Beat. “We knew that we were walking into a competitive marketplace and we wanted to add some show features and experiences that could really set this Con apart from others. Obviously we are going to have to take a step back as a team and reevaluate how we get more people in the door because we need more fans to support our exhibitors and sponsors.

“Keystone year one felt very much like C2E2 year one wherein we had a great show floor but under delivered on attendance. Next year, we’re confident that word will have gotten out that Keystone is a must-attend event and we’ll continue to build from there.”

The C2E2 comparison is apt – the first year there was also a bit sparse. All of that said, Philadelphia is a strong market and has the potential to be a big east coast show that isn’t NYCC. I’m very glad to hear the show is coming back, and I will go again, even if it’s just to get some scrapple at the Reading Terminal Market.

SPX

I wrote quite a bit about this in the Beat newsletter – you did know it has original content right? – and I’ll quote a bit:

The 11 defendants were much on the minds of people at SPX this past weekend. In years past, SPX has been compared to Camp Comics and a lovefest and–honestly–it’s a fantastic weekend of comics and, more importantly, community. That word came up constantly at last year’s Ignatz Awards and constantly at this year’s. I honestly teared up a few times. I wasn’t alone as people talked about how comics and the community had helped them find a voice, overcome adversity and even save their lives. That the Ignatz winners were almost all women, queer or POC, was not lost on anyone. Inclusion, equity, listening, allyship – these are what SPX is good at! 

I urged a friend who has spent most of their time in the “superhero” comics world to go to the Ignatzes for the first time and, after the event, they were a little damp-eyed. “This brought back to me how I found my own community in comics,” they told me. “It was amazing.”

SPX was gangbusters again. I have no word on attendance but it was as much or more as past years.

From a logistical standpoint, though, the BIG BIG BIG news was the renovation at the Bethesda North Marriott. The whole facility is shifting over from the golden wood paneled look of 90s Marriotts to the new austere, charcoal industrial look of the Teens. I thought the new rooms – with lots of drawers and the biggest TVs I’ve seen in a hotel – were great – others thought they were cold. I really like charcoal. However, the switchover – which you can see happening before your eyes in the above photo –  will change the vibe quite a bit. And painting over wood is kind of gross.

Even more – the bar area will also be completely renovated. According to a waiter I chatted with, the old bar will be turned into some kind of club area for Marriott VIPs where they can order stuff with cards. The Starbucks will expand and move to the terrace. The bar will move to the restaurant area. And it will all be charcoal.

SPX has become a community ritual by now: everyone hangs in the bar and on the terrace and stands in line 20 minutes for Starbucks. In the new setup, there will still be terrace access, but the geography will be a little different – hopefully the vibe will survive.

SPX has survived other changes, from the loss of softball game of yore to the loss of the chocolate fountain. I noticed the chocolate fountain has been gone for two years now, and asking around I was told maybe it was a sanitation issue. Let’s not go there. There was still a lot of chocolate to eat and, basically, some things, like a chocolate fountain, are so wonderful that we cannot experience them more than a handful of times in a lifetime.

But the karaoke and the prom are not traditions of their own. The space themed prom was AWESOME and I’m kicking myself for not knowing about it before. I did not know that every item of clothing comes in a sparkly silver version, but I do now and I need to get them all.

Like I said in the newsletter, the state of the SPX is strong. Congrats to the team!

FANDEMIC HOUSTON

Okay I was not able to hop on a plane to go to the Fandemic show in Houston. As you may recall the show was all set to make its big debut a year ago before Hurricane Harvey turned the NRG Center into a refugee camp.

But I can still read Facebook postings. The first show – in Sacramento – was a bit of a dud from reports, and this one was OK by most accounts. Houston is one of the biggest markets in the US, and is currently lacking a major show aside from Comicpalooza which people don’t get too excited about for some reason. I’m not sure the celebrity-focused Fandemic is the show, but it’s a market with a lot of potential. I didn’t have a chance to reach out to showrunner John Macaluso post con, but he took to Instagram to thank the fans:

There’s a photo gallery from the Houston Press which shows some great cosplay and some wide open spaces on the show floor,  but it looks like it did okay, which could be sorta of good or sort of not as good. I wasn’t there! But if you were feel free to comment below.

Bottom line in all of this: we have reached peak con. There just isn’t any room on the show schedule and launching a new show — even in top ten markets like Houston and Philly – is hard work. I’m pretty sure Keystone will be a success eventually, but it’s not a gimme like it was 7 or 8 years ago when new cons routinely drew 50,000 people and got shut down by the fire marshal out of the gate.

It’s not much better in the indie show circuit either! Thought Bubble is this weekend, CXC is the weekend after (same weekend as Baltimore Comic Con) and then its NYCC.

No rest for the wicked! My travels were good and I spoke to many friends, old and new, but I’m now home for the remainder of the year.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Not only is the SPX hotel undergoing a renovation, the entire neighborhood is as well. Pike & Rose (one block north) is now a bustling, hip area full of bars and restaurants. Which means that people at SPX are not stuck in the hotel if they don’t want to be. Oh, and there’s a Starbucks in Pike & Rose as well.

  2. I was at Keystone Comic Con, and at the Journalism in Comics panel Friday evening. It was a fun convention. I know this isn’t good for business, but as an introvert I liked the small crowds, (which is why I avoid the really big conventions). I hope it does well next year, but August is bad timing for me business wise. Very difficult for me to get off from work as that’s the month everyone likes to take their vacations. We’ll see.

  3. Hey Heidi, it was great to sit on the panel with you at Keystone. And you’re right, we have reached market saturation. Now it’s on the convention planners to make their shows a better experience for vendors as well as for the fans. Just looking at the con schedule these days is exhausting. If your show has solid programming, and marquee events such as the NYCC NYPL programs, or the SDCC SDPL programs that create outreach into the educational world, that adds value to your show, from the publisher perspective. And, you need to invest in local, regional and national promotion and advertising. Word of mouth aint gonna do it any more.

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