I can’t say I wasn’t motivated. But the first ever New Jersey Comic Expo was not what I expected. Far from that. I never really shared my experiences at cons before, but I feel it’s something I should do now. Not only to give everyone my impressions, from a creator’s POV, but also, maybe, humbly, give leads for future editions.
Every comic book creator would agree that conventions come and go. Editions are very different from each other. And you can’t predict if a show is going to be a success or not. Especially when it’s a new show.
The New Jersey Comic Expo is a new show. It came from the experienced minds behind the critically acclaimed Long Beach Expo in California. But Cali and Jersey are very different beasts. And what works on the West Coast doesn’t necessarily work in the East.
Let me state that I like and support very much new cons. It’s a gamble. It can be wonderful (sometimes against all odds, see what happened at the Paris Comic Con a month ago) or it can suck. But I’ll never stop encouraging people who want to create events for comic book creators to showcase their work. Of course, my ‘Autopsy’ is partial and just reflects my opinion, but I’ve tried to be fair. Let’s get to it…
– The crew: the NJCE team has been nothing but friendly and helpful, before and during the con. That’s really something important for creators. You know… We’re always worried by something. 😉 So thank you NJCE team!
– The other creators: that may be lame to say it, but as most creators, I work from home. So going to conventions is like going to Prom. You meet other creators, realize they have the same issues you have and you laugh about yourselves. And you make new friends. This year, I had the pleasure to meet people like Will Torres (a very talented artist whose table was in front of mine and was immediately warm and friendly to me) or Justin Gray (the half of the Palmiotti/Gray dynamic duo that I didn’t know), a very very nice person, or Frank Tieri, who happens to speak French! I also got to chat with Brooklyn based creators I really like : David Gallagher and Jamal Igle.
– The fans: of course they’re great. When you’re a relatively unknown creator like I am, every person that stops at your booth, browses your work and leaves with something they bought from you, is a blessing! That’s the part that I love the most. Pitching my stuff to the audience. Convincing them that they may have never heard about my comics but that they might like it. Especially with the ONE HIT WONDER series. People are intrigued, they want to buy issue #1 and I talk them into buying issue #2 also. Because the first issue is just an introduction. A ‘Hors-d’œuvre”. And when they show up on a Saturday, I challenge them to come back and buy the rest of the series on Sunday. 99% of the time, they come back. 🙂
– Location: New Jersey maybe close to New York, but it couldn’t be more different. The Convention Center, located in Edison, is literally built in the middle of nowhere. That’s not the only one in the world, for sure. But what’s problematic, is that there are no train station nearby, no shuttle, no special car service to bring people to the con. Either you have your own car or you have to take the train (from NY) to the Metuchen station and call a cab or a Uber to get to the con. That’s a HUGE turn off for all people from New York who don’t always have a car (like me… Who needs a car in NY?). The NJCE website doesn’t even give specific indications on how to come to the show by public transportation. It just says : “The New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center is convenient to all major transportation centers with public transportation available from New York City provided by AMTRAK to both New Brunswick and Islen/Metropark.” Hello! This is not information. This is an encrypted message for “Hey, you don’t have a car? We’re sorry for you, good luck trying to get there.”
Honestly, it took me 3hrs to get there (and back) from my home in Brooklyn. A In Europe, I could’ve gone to another country like the Netherlands by train for less transit time. Going to London from Paris is even less than that (2.15 hrs). Some creators who, like me, live in New York, chose to go to friends in the area or book a room at the Sheraton hotel (the closest one to the Con). But at $110 a night, you have to sell a lot of stuff to break even. Which leads me to the second ‘Con’ of the Con…
-Attendance: Sure, this is a new show. But promotion is the key for shows. I wasn’t really aware of how much effort was put into promoting NJCE (because I was in Paris the month before), but even if I give the team the benefit of the doubt, it clearly didn’t pay off. Never once over the week-end the Con appeared to be packed. Some exhibitors who paid their booths even bailed out before the end of the first day or very early on Sunday.
– Breaking even: Cons are such a great thing. You come there an optimist. Then you realize you’re not going to recoup your investment because either you suck, your products aren’t attractive or there’s simply not enough people to feed every creator. In this case, that’s the latter.
Let’s make calculations here while we’re among friends… I spent :
• Booth $225
• Transportation $90
• Food $20
• Promo material $50
Now… I made $107 at the show. So I lost $278.
Bad. Very bad.
But that’s the thing. You know you won’t be able to break even at every show (except if you’re an A-List talent).
Comparatively, I spent $500 at the Baltimore Comic Con, back in September and “only” lost $180. And at the Paris Comic Con in October, I spent very little (I was invited by the show and they even fed us!) and made 400€. Go figure… Again, every con is different and you can’t expect to “make it” every time. But it’s certainly sad to lose money.
In the NJCE case, attendance (or lack thereof) is really the issue. Let’s hope next year will be better. This show deserves greatness.
I have ZERO regrets. I really hope New Jersey Comic Expo learns from their mistakes (especially the transportation problem) and continues to bring comics to NJ fans and more. I’ll certainly consider going back if things go in the right direction.
To be continued!