CONNED BY THE CONS? THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF CONVENTION BUSINESS (PART N+1)

I’ll be the first to admit it, this is a controversial title. That said, controversy can lead to great things… sometimes (laughs). In this post, I’m going to talk about my most recent convention experience and put it in perspective with other convention memories that I have. Let’s say that nothing’s black or white. But greys can sometimes turn red. 

IMG_6884Last week-end, my new convention partner in crime, Will Torres, and I headed to the Great Philly Comic Con. We were a late addition to the party. Initially, we weren’t supposed to go and the artist alley was officially full. So when Will called me up last monday to tell me there was a possibility we could go, I said yes immediately, without even looking at the con’s website. That was my first mistake (we’ll get to that point later).

The last issue of my comic book series, Intertwined just came out in the stores. So I thought that attending a “big” show right after that would be a good opportunity to promote the book. Will convinced me easily that it was a good move. I was amped. Plus, I love Philadelphia where I was two weeks before for another very very small show. So it seemed all good.

Since we were late to the party, we weren’t offered to be guests. We were asked to pay to be in the Artist Alley. Let me clear that situation for you right now. I’m very rarely invited as a guest. Not that I would say no. I would love it. But promoters and con organizers don’t think of me as a potential crown pleaser. I agree to disagree, but I can’t force anyone to have any desire to invite me. So when I want to go to a convention and I’m not invited as a guest, which is almost always the case, I pay for my table. That’s alright.

The Great Philly Con charged $225 for a 6″ table. On paper, it’s not cheap but it’s not a rip off. Baltimore Comic Con charges $250. New York Comic Con charges $500. But those cons attract A LOT of people. About 20.000 for Baltimore (it’s a personal estimate) and 150.000 for NYCC. So, NYCC is in another league. But Baltimore, with a close price, is a good comparison.

FACILITY:

  • Baltimore Con is held in a convention center. Located on the basement level. Not the most comfortable one, but honestly, it’s okay. The Convention center is in town. Everything is at walking distance. And the marina is lovely with plenty of food options.
  • Great Philly Con is also in an Expo Center. But… Not in Philly. Like 35-40 miles from the city. In an area called Oaks-Phœnixville. There’s very little around. A  Target supermarket, a BJ center, a bowling and nothing can be reached by foot. You have to have a car or take the bus. Food options are limited too. Even at the con. There’s only ONE vendor. And, as always, it’s expensive, not really healthy nor very good.
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Team work! I drew and inked this Mary-Jane piece, Will colored it. We sold it to a lady dressed as MJ and named… Mary-Jane!

ATTENDANCE/BUSINESS:

 

  • I couldn’t find an official figure for the Baltimore Con. Based on my experience, I think were in the 20.000 people zone. It seems credible. Another fan event in the same city, OtakuCon, is said to draw 25.000 people and the last known numbers for Baltimore Con were around 15.000 in 2010. We know that, generally speaking, attendance at Comic book conventions has risen in the past 6-7 years. But of course, again, this number is based on my own experience. In 2016, the most recent edition, friday was a great day. Lots of people came and bought stuff from me. Saturday was also great, as expected. And sunday brought half the business of a Saturday (again, classic).
  • For the Great Expo comic con, it was definitely another story. The Friday was disappointing. Starting at an odd 3PM, we never saw a lot of people. And we made a ridiculous $20 total gross at the time door closed at 8PM. The Saturday was definitely better, with nearly $400 accumulated all day. And sunday was another disappointing day with only $140 added to our wallets. Attendance wasn’t crazy. Definitely under 10000 people over the week-end. At some point, the show was dead. With literally no one in the alleys.

 

ORGANIZATION/STAFF

  • At the Baltimore Con, staff is friendly but discreet. You don’t need them anyway. Organization runs smoothly. Volunteers know what they have to do. First day, you show up, you’re given an envelope with all you need to know and your badge. Then you set up your table and you’re on! Not much interaction. I would love to get to know them better, but everyone is busy doing their thing so I guess it’s the way it is.
  • Great Philly Con hasn’t been around for a long time and it shows. Organization is far from perfect. But staff is friendly and always tries to help. When we arrived at the show, on the friday, around 1PM, no one knew which table we were at. It was as much a result of us being a last minute addition to the show as a sign that understaffing was a reality. As we waited, we saw how they were trying to remodel the show to fit everyone. They placed us in a section that wasn’t Artist Alley (or it didn’t look like it). There were bloggers, a Pirate Ship, collectible artists and certainly very few comic book people. Not that it’s a problem, but it’s always better, for exposure to be among people who’re in the same business as you are. Will insisted that we had to move for Sat. and Sun. And he found a great spot, across the aisle from Zenescope Comics. Indeed, our sales went up. And people saw us.

 

IMG_5882OVERALL EXPERIENCE AND OTHER ISSUES

Let’s face it, we didn’t make any money. We even LOST money. With tolls, gas, hotel, food (and not fancy one) and… a Tow truck (Will’s car refused to start the second day of the con and we had to pay $270 to take care of it), we came back with a $330 loss. It’s not worth it. A couple of thoughts came to me while debriefing the show with Will:

A) Comic Cons are a gamble. Like about everything in the comic book business. You hope you’ll make money, but in the end, you rarely do. Some cons will be better than others. Some years will be better than others. You can’t predict. It’s a gamble.

B) At $225 a table and with very little promotion, it’s not sustainable. Artist Alleys have become very expensive. I mean, at Baltimore Con, I barely broke even and I was also sharing my table with another friend (Ramon Gil, hi Ramon!). I took an Airbnb instead of a Motel. Which was cheaper. But there wasn’t any Airbnb options in Phoenixville that week-end.

C) Comic Book creators, even pros like me, who’s been in this business for a long time, aren’t really attractive for Con organizers. I spoke with cosplayers who got tables for free and were guests. I understand that they often have a wider fan following and attract “new people” to the shows. But as I always say… In “comic con” you have “comic”, which is the medium that started all those cons. Surely, there were some bigger fishes than little French me. But still, no one in the staff took 20 seconds to come and be curious about my work. They were really great if we needed chairs, tables or anything, but that’s it. No bad blood or ranting. Just a thought.

D) Cosplayers are awesome. I knew some of them. I met new ones. And I feel really blessed when some choose to cosplay as characters I created, such as Spider-Man Noir (yes, Julio, I’m talking about you pal). The audience was good. Not a lot of comic book fans. Many curious people, which is great. Art lovers.

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My friend Will co-created Mr Venture with Stan Lee! He asked me to draw one of his blank covers. I happily did that at the Great Philadelphia Expo.

I don’t know if I’ll come back to the Great Philly Expo next year. I really think they have to work on some organizational issues (that I’m confident they’ll do, they seem like very good people). The total investment on the show is a factor I can’t ignore. If I’m not going to be a guest, I have to recoup my investment. In this case, we invested more than $700 and we didn’t get that money back. And it’s not even a show so far from my home in Brooklyn! It’s a 2h ride from New York.
Cons in the middle of nowhere are also a concern of mine. I know that many people have cars, but I don’t have one. I depend on my buddy Will to drive me and share booths with me (which is great). But it also structurally draws lesser crowds than shows located in city centers.

Doing a creator owned series, comic cons are an vital part of my marketing plan. But money isn’t going to come out of the Negative Zone. At one point, I’ll have to choose cons where I break even or, better, make money, to be able to continue going and meet the fans.

To be continued…

F.

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