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I know you thought the “con kerfuffle” had faded away, but I think it’s definitely an ongoing burning issue for the industry, in a rapidly evolving field, and Chris Butcher, retailer and a show runner himself for TCAF, as well as booth runner for Udon, has posted a brilliant summation that puts all the eggs in one basket and then hits that basket out of the park:

Butcher identifies several trends, which I’ll list for argument:

1. The make-up of the attendees of comic book conventions is changing.
We got that.
2. The make-up of comic convention organizers is changing, too.
I’ve been covering that quite a bit here; people are getting into comic cons just to make money not because they like comic cons.
3. Professional Fans & ‘Personalities’, which is to say Youtubers, Professional Cosplayers, etc.
I alluded to this here with the news of Wizard’s “Social Con” concept. YouTube and Vine stars like the homophobic Nash Grier are coming to Wizard Worlds and drawing huge audiences of teenaged girls who are not there for comics. Sure these Justin Beiber-lites will be delivering Little Caesar and the anger to trivia questions in a few years but for now they are the biggest celebs at shows for a very young demographic.

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4. Comic Conventions Are Filling Up And Selling Out, Earlier and Earlier
Again, something The Beat has been harping on and watching for years.

While we may know all this is happening, Butcher goes ahead and ties a ribbon around the home run basket with this graph – emphasis his.

The changing convention landscape is inherently shitty for people who make comic books. Art comix, indy comics, mainstream comics, whatever comics, the changing makeup of conventions is hostile to people who want to make and sell comics at comic conventions. And let me be clear, this is comic books and graphic novels, as opposed to ‘prints’ or crafts or whatever manner of tchotchkes makeup most exhibitor tables these days. Basically, comic book conventions are aggressively attracting an audience who don’t necessarily value books, or comic books.

And here is the real problem. I had a long post set up that covered all the late breaking posts in the Denise Dorman affair, but I’ll forego long analysis for a simple but brutal truth: people who call their event a comic-con, invite comic book people to spend money on tables and then do not promote the comic aspect of the show are basically strangling the comics part for the equation.
I don’t mean to suggest that your average cartoonist calving away over a Howard the Duck commission is as big a draw as Norman Reedus, but unless the cartoonists in artist alley and elsewhere get some kind of promotion that includes them in the modern comic-con, they are eventually not going to want to go to shows any more.

I don’t propose that show runner who have spent a six figure guarantee on William Shatner promote him in the same breath as Dave Dorman. However, show runners need to give comics some play! I’ve seen too many con websites that only mention celebrities and don’t even throw the name of a comics guest up on the slider. PEOPLE, IT’S FREE, IT’S ADDITIVE.

As evidence of what I’m talking about, I’d like to point to this very very typical local news story about the recent Wizard World Nashville.

The focus is on a typical local news human interest story—a nice one about an autistic lad who contemplated suicide finding a superhero persona to give him hope—but not ONCE in the entire piece are comic book makers mentioned. Collectible card games, video games, the Green Power Ranger, cosplayers, everything EXCEPT ACTUAL COMICS AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THEM. Like, that’s why they call if COMIC-CON!

And to be brutally frank that’s most stories I see about cons that have a “media mix.” Costumes, celebrities and a cute kid or two. Actual comic book creators are not mentioned or else shuttled off to the side. (Occasionally a topical superstar like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman will get a call out, or someone else with a movie coming out. But that’s the exception to the rule.)

I’ve seen Wizard World’s PR man call out comics creators in his news blasts, and I realize that local news anchors are going to go for the most obvious stories—Captain Spectrum—but would it really HURT to introduce a telegenic or quotable comics creator to the press as well? Is it entirely impossible?

Cartoonists are being written out of the comic-con story at a very fast pace, and unless something is done, the entire culture of cons is going to be completely shifted to a “remember when there was a broadcast involved in broadcast TV?” narrative.

AND NOW just for the record more links, on the Matter of Selling at Cons:

• Denise Dorman clarifies she and husband Dave don’t hate Cosplayers

• And another follow up: How to Exhibit BETTER at Conventions

Denise and I went back on whether nerdlebrities and high autograph charges were ALSO impacting sales. Aside”Totes maggots!” should be the answer to every question ever.

• An interview with Dorman that has more background.

• An exhibitor named Marc Alan Fishman has an excellent round up on the “new breed of conger.”

Allow me to answer in kind. The general population – those Instagram-obsessed fans – gives more than just a shit for those creators who take the time to reach out and communicate. I say this admitting freely I’ve never seen Dave Dorman. And we’ve exhibited at the same shows more than once. I don’t know how specifically Dave exhibits. But if he is like others I’ve seen over the last seven years… he may sit, smiling, awaiting those loyal regulars to come with cash in hand. In short, it’s not enough anymore. It hasn’t been that way in a long time.

• Months ago, Gene Ha also looked at how to sell at conventions and suggested some links.

Artist Thom Zahler offers his thoughts:

To me, there are advertising shows where I set up and hope to break even, and selling shows, where I generate revenue. San Diego is definitely an advertising show. But by the article, it sounds as if the Dormans treat SDCC as a selling show. And she also mentions that they could make more money being in the studio rather than setting up at some shows. Let’s talk about that.

Using that paradigm, I’m shocked that San Diego would ever be a good show. If your setup costs are $7000, you’ve got to sell that to break even. So what would a good show have been? $10,000? $15,000? The amount of product you’d have to sell to generate isn’t something I can conceive of. I suppose it’s possible for someone with a body of work different than mine, but it still seems like a lot.

At San Diego, and shows in general, I do what I can to get my costs down. My booth is $2500, but I split it with someone to make that number more manageable. Same with my hotel. I go to Target and get a flat of water and snacks so I’m not living on five dollar coffee and three dollar pretzels. I even designed my own shelving system that would fit in my suitcase so I could save the significant cost of shipping racks to the show. The less you spend, the quicker you turn a profit.

So if the numbers don’t work on a show, or you’re not getting what you want out of it in terms of networking or exposure, it’s your duty as a businessperson to cut that loss. I do a hefty convention schedule, but there are one or two shows I’m dropping because the math doesn’t work. That’s my responsibility.

• Ryan L Schrodt has an excellent post on What is killing comic book conventions? that brings up what Butcher and I have been talking about.

3. SHOWRUNNER RESPONSIBILITY
PROBLEM: Personal responsibility for comic book creators is huge when it comes to making money at conventions, but it isn’t everything.  Some responsibility falls upon the convention organizers.  Prohibitive ticket costs will keep attendees from spending money in Artist Alley.  Poor layouts could mean that some creators are completely missed.  Scheduling your convention against another convention or a major local event will mean low attendance.  And promotion? You damn well better have promoted your comic book show or no one is going to show up.  Even the greatest creators ever will not make any money if they are guests at a poorly run convention.

SOLUTION: If you are running a comic book convention, keep these things in mind.  Make sure that your ticket prices will cover your expenses and keep your expenses relatively low, especially in your early years.  If you are charging Wizard World prices for your convention that only has 20 guests, you won’t make any money and neither will the creators.  Likewise, if you have 100 creators and you are charging hotel ballroom convention ticket prices, you won’t make enough money to continue throwing conventions.  If you place the biggest name at the show in the middle of the aisle, their line will keep the people next to them from making any money.  Don’t put comic creators next to the bathroom or in the darkest corner of the hall.  Make sure you promote your comic show at local colleges and comic book shops.  Do you r research by attending other more successful comic book conventions and emulate what makes them successful.

Finally, one guy gives up on wizard.

• And FINAL PLUG: Tomorrow at the ICv@ conference I will be moderating a panel on comic cons with an ALL STAR LINE-UP!!!!!

The Con Explosion
The rapidly expanding con scene is an important part of the changing audience for comics, a place where potential new customers are mingling with more committed fans, and the opportunities are great.  Who are these new attendees, and what does it mean for the medium?  Our speakers have data and personal experience to help us find the answers to these questions.
• Christine Bohle, Sr. Category Marketing Manager, Eventbrite
• Patrick Bradley, EVP Digital Media & Entertainment, Wizard World, Inc.
• Shelton Drum, CEO, Heroes Convention
• Lance Fensterman, Senior Vice President ReedPOP
• Meg Lemke, Chair, Comics & Graphic Novel Committee at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and Contributing Editor at MUTHA Magazine
• Rob Salkowitz, author, writer of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture
• Moderated by Heidi MacDonald, comic editor and commentator from The Beat


TOTES MAGOTES YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WANT TO MISS THIS.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I wouldn’t blame Reedus, he’s actually on a TV show based on a comic book. However, when they bring in Sean Patrick Flanery and market a Boondock Saints reunion, that’s the problem. Arguably, Shatner shouldn’t be there. yes, there were Star Trek cartoons, but only stuff that ORIGINATED as a comic should matter. No Buffy, No Xena, no Babylon Five. Not passionate about it, but in theory…

  2. I wonder if anyone has considered filing a lawsuit against, or a journalist calling out, conventions that call themselves “Comic-Cons” if they don’t focus mostly on “comics”.

    Even though the term is becoming generic, maybe we shouldn’t allow them to carry on like that. What if someone examined a convention’s: Guests, Exhibitors, Programs and Websites and said, “If you do not have MORE comic stuff than other stuff… you are guilty of false advertising. Call yourself something else.”

  3. Great post – lots to think about and consider. Thom Zahler’s thoughts seem solid – make it work somehow at the shows you want to display, or find shows that do work. I do think that artists, dealers, comic fans and publishers will increase voting with their wallets and avoiding comic cons that don’t work to attract a comics-buying audience.

  4. Interesting on the internet celebrities. ConnectiConn, which is a very young adult/college-age oriented Con, is very big on internet stars, like Team FourStar and the Nostalgia Critic, and voice actors are also a big draw. They also do a big “Cosplay Death Match” that fills an entire ballroom.

    The comic creators who make out are those who have a following with their *web* comics—known webcomic creators do better than any other creators at the Con.

    I like this con a lot but if I was an exhibitor, I’d only consider it if I fit their demographic.

  5. All of this taken together is probably one of the big reasons we’ve seen such an explosion of the CAF type shows. Those are the kinds of shows I want to exhibit at, and would rather go to as a comics fan than the pop-culture ‘comic cons.’

  6. This is exactly why we created MeCAF 7 years ago, and why our new show (the Portland Comic Expo) is a comics only show as well. Admission is only $5.00, and by all accounts most of our exhibiting creators do quite well. MeCAF is a pure comics festival with no dealers or cosplay, while the Portland Comic Expo is more traditional convention. Even so, our new show is all about the comics. We want to promote comics and provide a venue for fans and creators to interact.

  7. I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly, it’s not real heavy on the journalism but it keeps me abreast of books and films coming out. For the past several years they’ve run big Comic Con issues around the time of SDCC and never a mention of a comics creator but plenty of photos of TV and film stars.

    Big shows have become what they are but who’s really going for the back issues and quarter or dollar boxes anymore?

    Smaller comics oriented shows seem to be popping up everywhere. I bought a bunch of stuff at M.O.C.C.A. and didn’t spend all that much money trying out new comics.

    The big NYCC is a party I’ll attend for a day, say hello to old friends and catch up with former coworkers, then hopefully return home with something new to read.

  8. Or maybe we could grow up?
    Seriously, its wearying to keep trying to tell people who run an insanely profitable business that sells out in advance that they are somehow making a huge mistake by not promoting people they don’t care about (let’s be honest).
    Cons are changing and comic-con is now a generic term. That’s just the way it is. You can struggle and fight and whine but nobody goes to a con to see Dave Dorman in 2014.

  9. I have been fascinated by this topic since I read Ms. Dorman’s first blog post on the matter. The reason why she is experiencing smaller sales cannot be tied down to just one thing. It’s a perfect storm of a number of things.
    One reason I haven’t seen mentioned that I think also impacts artists sales is the sheer number of comic book guests some cons have, The imminent NYCC has over 500 comic book guests. Yes, the Dormans of the world are competing with the Hamills, the Shatners and the Reeduses of the world, but they are also competing with the Greg Horns, the Neal Adamses, and the Arthur Suydams of the world as well. Yes, cosplayers and celebrities make the convention pie slice smaller for the artists, but it doesn’t help that they have dozens, if not hundreds of other artists whose fanbases overlap theirs looking for the same piece of that pie that they are.
    Just a thought.

  10. I recently went to my very first comic-con to see none other than Norman reedus. I walked every isle and bought from several artists. If it wasn’t for Reedus I would not have been exposed to all the amazing talent. I think everyone benefits from celebrities being the draw to go to the convention.

  11. There is still a range of comics conventions that seem quite comic-y (at least in my limited recent sample and online coverage), most notably your alternative-y, APE-y, SPX-y, zine-y kind of cons. However, those cons don’t cover the full spectrum of comics; they were created in specific reaction to the very mainstream-comics-oriented cons of a couple decades back. It was those mainstream cons that have been particularly susceptible to the spectacle, to switching to being a General Pop Culture Nerddom event, it seems to me. That’s not to say that there aren’t still some conventions well suited to those who make and enjoy what is still the core of the comics business, but they get a little lost in the fog of conventions that are trying to deliver a the-things-about-San-Diego-Con-that-make-it-onto-the-news package.

  12. I think there’s a sort of alchemy to the balance between “pure” cons and “pop culture/anyone who buys space” cons. The problem is that with something like Reed, they are a for profit institution. When Craftsmen Tools throws a bunch of money at them to have a giant Craftsmen Tools booth, they have no incentive to say no and every incentive to say yes.

  13. @Christopher – I think that would be more valid if you didn’t know what you were getting until you got there, and were “buying” just on the name. But every con gives out a list of the names of the comics and media celebs who are going to be there. So the buyer doesn’t have any reason to say he is being “fooled.” The only thing I have found to be a problem is that they sometimes give the NAMES of vendors but that doesn’t often tell you much – each vendor should have a blurb about what kinds of stuff they are bringing to the con. But that’s really a different discussion.

  14. I am generally in agreement with Chris Butcher, Gene Ha, Thom Zahler, and Ryan L Schrodt’s views here. Exhibiting at cons is our marketing budget, and we use it as wisely as we can to gain new fans in small clutches.

    Convention organizers across the country must do more to ensure booth and table costs are a fair value proposition to exhibitors, but that’s another big conversation. All creators must own their responsibility as business owners to adapt their product to the market.

    If it’s more lucrative to create work for clients in the studio than selling art directly to fans, then yes, please do that! If one is using the convention circuit to make up for revenue that is not coming from other sources (new advances, online sales, publisher royalties, licenses, etc.), it’s time to rethink one’s exhibiting style.

    I worry that a generation gap is further aggravating the more established art and comics talents who have trouble connecting with attendees. I see a lot of loaded language and generalizations when people like the Dormans complain about the “new breed of attendees.” This happens in nearly every industry, and I’m curious to see others discuss it.

  15. You know that great club where they used to play all the best music and you used to be able to go and hang out with your friends, but now just plays crap music really loud and the drinks are over-priced and is filled with people who just don’t care about the scene you’re into? Stop going there, and create a new place to hang out.

    If “comic-con®” no longer means what it used to … well, neither does “literally”. It happens. So create a new term for events that are all about comics, and start using it to tag the events that fit it. Call them “panel panels” or “sequential pARTies” or “gutter gatherings” or “juxtapositions” and get the word out to the tribe that those are where comix creators and readers and collectors and fans can hook up most successfully.

  16. Let’s look at this another way. What should a comic-con goer look/behave like? Ideally, how should they spend their money?

  17. “You can struggle and fight and whine but nobody goes to a con to see Dave Dorman in 2014.”

    Yes they do. I do. I wouldn’t go to SDCC to see Dave Dorman, though.

    “If “comic-con®” no longer means what it used to … well, neither does “literally”.

    No, literally still means literally. Bad still means bad. Comic-con still means comic-con. Attempting to rebrand the convention would be futile, so as long as there are still comics at Comic-con, it still means it’s a comic-con.

    SDCC/CCI is getting out of hand because there’s no more room for it to grow safely. If I could walk between Dave Dorman, Double Day, DC, and Dimension Films without incident, it would be a pleasant experience. I can’t, so I don’t go. There are a lot of things that I feel don’t belong at comic conventions, but there are a lot of things that I enjoy at comic conventions that someone else would probably feel doesn’t belong there. I make my choices based on who is going to be where, and I am even more selective with my money.

    How many exhibitors/creators keep going to SDCC out of obligation rather than interest? If you go one year, it’s easier to go back. If you stop going, it’s difficult to get back on the list. Right? Don’t do this to yourselves. Set up an online store or get together with some fellow creators and agree on a third party retailer to sell your wares, and only attend conventions you WANT to attend. Figure out how many sketches you do at SDCC, and open up a list online once a year to do them. You save money, and you still maintain a connection with your fans. Hell, if you’re up for it, offer to skype with them as you draw it to make it even more personal/special or representative of the convention experience. Comic-con needs YOU; you don’t need Comic-con.

  18. I think a huge issue here is simply the title of the events. Comic Cons vs Pop Culture Cons. Reedus didn’t start the trend you speak of. I would take it a bit more seriously if it just didn’t come off sounding quite so sixth grade jealous.

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