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Final Thoughts On Image Expo


By Todd Allen

There seemed to be some mixed thoughts going around about Image Expo and that seems to be best summed up by a conversation between a local retailer and a pro who’d been to a lot of shows in Oakland.

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.

  1. I will echo everything Todd noted.

    Also, while my booth wasn’t crushed by mobs I had a good number of folks stop by (depending on the time as Todd said) and some of them dropped a decent amount of funds that not only paid my fees but also put me solidly in the black. And I was only there for 2 of the 3 days. So it was a good show for me. However, I am also local to the event so I had no travel or hotel fees.

    In short, the audience that did show was fairly dedicated to the product on the floor — and that’s something you can’t value right out the box. In my opinion the glass was half full — especially on such short notice.

    I’m one of those old school guys who grew up on WonderCon when it was in the same size and space as the Image Expo is now. In fact, it was in that very room that I attended my *first* comic convention and where I also got my first break. So it was somewhat of a homecoming for me. I HOPE they continue this, but as noted above that may hinge on what SDCC does with the LA site vs. the SF site in the future.

    Bottomline: it was a good show, good access to creators, good focus on the comic art form and at the proper scale that won’t drive you to pull your hair out.

  2. It was easy to fall into the trap of comparing this to Wonder Con (which I sometimes did) since this was the replacement con for those not wanting to travel to Anaheim. But that really isn’t fair at all. They did good for their first time around.

    I’m not really into the old Image founders so I was curious if there would be enough to keep me busy. If I didn’t run into many friends, yes, I would have troubling filling one day. You are correct in that a 2nd show depends on what they do with Wonder Con. If there is an ICE II, I’m hoping more companies besides Archaia, Image, and IDW make the trip.

    I did go hoping to try some of the newer Image books. The Image table did have some deals but many of the other retailers didn’t and I’m a savvy enough shopper to know I can get 35-50% off online so trades at full price or only 25% off were not going to do it.

    I was curious to see the fallout at the con after the recent Marvel/Friedrich decision. Apparently a couple artists refused to draw Marvel characters. Meanwhile, some other artists displayed their prints of the Big 2 characters proudly with one defiantly erecting a 10 foot high wall of his art featuring many Marvel characters.

    The lines were not bad. For Saturday, the popular panel was the Walking Dead TV panel (as much as we gripe about the Hollywood panels, it does bring in the foot traffic). Tickets for this were gone for me and my late-arriving group but we still managed to get some standing room only spots after the stink bomb cleared.

    I was glad that some retailers still had Marvel and DC books to go with the independents. A con completely scrubbed of the Big 2 would really limit many back issue retailer’s inventory.

    Oakland frequently lives in the shadow of San Francisco across the bay but there was an abundance of great restaurants and pubs near the con and some of downtown Oakland is quite nice at night.

    My only grip really was some of the Artist Alley aisles were too tight, especially with such a large area open in the middle of the room.

  3. Yes, artist alley aisles were kinda narrow.

    Also, I’m just now realizing that the acronym for Image Comics Expo is indeed, ICE.

    As for the con-sketch controversy… I was asked to do a DC character (Zatanna). However, I didn’t charge for the sketch so I didn’t profit off of the big two. It came out kinda nice, too. I should have taken a picture of it. Hahah!

  4. The people who really seemed to clean up in artist’s alley were people selling full-color prints of Marvel and DC characters, which was frustrating on many levels at a convention dedicated to independent publishing. Mike Friedrich gets a cease and desist when selling prints from a book that he wrote, but illustrators with no comics credentials whatsoever are selling Harley Quinn prints by the dozens.

    Setting up in that kind of environment gives me a renewed appreciation for Stumptown’s “if you don’t make comics, you don’t get to table here” approach.

  5. There were a lot of positives, though. Off the top of my head, ticketing for panels was a great idea, freeing people up to stay on the convention floor instead of camping out all day to see Walking Dead-related programming.

  6. One of the differences was Friedrich called attention to himself by suing Marvel. But those selling those prints are probably on borrowed time.

    It is a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it? It would be fantastic to see more creators making their own creations, promoting their own characters, and nurturing their own signature series that defines them and yet the masses, in general, want the popular, established, and known tried and true Big 2 characters.

  7. And let’s not conflate the Friedrich fellows, shall we? It was Gary who sued Marvel over the Ghost Rider thing, while Mike was one of the founders of WonderCon (at the Oakland Convention Center, just to bring things full circle).

  8. I went to the Image Expo on Sunday. It was great the vendors were not pushy into having you buy something and people all around seemed super happy. A lot of free swag which is always nice. I especially like the more independent creators of their own artwork and comics that was a plus. Matt Wagner was a really down to earth guy. I look forward to next years show I am hoping its still small.

  9. I really appreciated seeing Joe Field – one of the WonderCon founders – at Image Expo. The comparison to what WonderCon has become is inappropriate, but as an Oakland native, someone who strongly believes in creator rights, an Image employee who used to work in the retail side of things, and someone who appreciates those who paved the way, I just thought that having Joe Field there was the cherry on top of an overall great weekend.

    Thank you so, so much to everyone who made it possible! A lot of people busted ass to make Image Expo happen, and a lot of creators, vendors, and fans took a chance on it. You are all the greatest!

  10. Thanks for that link. That was an interesting read.

    Just to confirm what we are discussing and since the Academy Awards just happened, I’m sure many movie fans have not heard of many of the films nominated for the Oscars that are the best that the industry has to offer. And yet, if you look at the most profitable movies of the past decade, most were sequels and franchise movies. We like our familiar, our comfortable, especially in bad times. But, like the author suggests, perhaps one way to successfully merge Art & Business is to use those familiar characters as conduits for the unfamiliar and new. But even that can backfire with the fans if one goes too far.

  11. No, Layman was NOT signing for signatures. Of course not! I was REDUCING PRICES for anybody who wanted a personalized copy from the standard $10 variant fee. Anybody who wanted a copy personalized is unlikely to flip it, so they got the cover for $5. It was an interesting experiment, and seemed to be successful.

    It forced an honesty to con transactions that are sometimes otherwise lacking.

  12. I am not so much into the Image and indie stuff so I didn’t attend. If they had got Marvel and DC to attend, I’d probably attend. I miss the old Oakland WonderCon. They were so much fun and everything was so much more accessible. However, it looks like WonderCon is moving to Anaheim.

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