As Comic-Cons Start To Ramp Up, Comics Creators Discuss #Barcon

With the return of large comic conventions on the horizon, with ReedPOP and Comic-Con International bringing back big shows, as well as the likes of Thought Bubble and Lakes International starting up, so we have had the return of the #Barcon discussion. Barcon is the idea that at comic book conventions, there are later night bars where comic book creators and editors can hang out and network. With the idea that those who don't attend, or don't know about it, are excluded. As well as the place where bad behaviour can happen, with accusations of harassment which we have reported on in the past. And over the 4th of July weekend, comics creators took to social media to discuss the issue. Dodge City, Over The Garden Wall, and Black Canary's Cara McGee, referred to a thread about this from a former Marvel Talent Bon Alimagno manager from last year. and tweeted out her observations, concerns, and requests;

Cara McGee: this was discussed a lot last summer, but as cons slowly start coming back, can we NOT bring back the culture of feeling pressured to make all your industry connections at bars over drinks after show hours? Consider instead: meeting lots of people for breakfast! At big group dinners! Taking time to visit other tables if/when you can! Or simply: not relying/expecting/offering everyone to drink!

Taylor Esposito: I like barcon/breakfast/dinner to catch up with friends, not think about work. The second I stopped treating it as a way to get work (I was young), I had more fun, was more relaxed, and it seemed to me, like more work was coming in anyway. So let's just have fun and be normal ppl… Took me a bit to learn. I went from a staff job to unemployed two weeks before a con and I was scared. I went with the intent of getting work as quickly as possible. I think everyone felt my desperation. It was a good lesson to learn, though. And let me loosen up.

Ari Yarwood: Are we talking about BarCon? Hi, I'm an editor. You do not have to go to BarCon to network in comics. I have actually *never* ended up working with anyone I met at the hotel bar after a convention. Frankly, if an editor is using BarCon as their main way of meeting new creatives, they're bad at their job. I started working in editorial when I was 23. I did not feel safe going to BarCon, and I still don't like it. It's an unfair expectation for new and upcoming creatives to put themselves in a potentially hazardous situation in order to break into the industry. So if I'm not at BarCon, how do I meet creatives? I spent hours in artist alley at each convention I attend. I go to panels, meet-ups, and networking events. People I've worked with introduce their friends. I spend a lot of time online and in bookstores, reading new material. So if BarCon doesn't sound like your thing, please don't make yourself go! In my opinion, your time is better spent making comics you're excited to share and building your network of peers.

Barcon: The Society Photos of Thought Bubble Launch Party 2019
Barcon: Thought Bubble 2019, photo by me.

Donny Cates: I would argue that NO ONE truly "breaks in" at BarCon. It's not what it's there for.

Pat Brousseau: I don't think I've ever gone to a real Barcon at a con, although I've been to a few private con parties and when I was on staff at DC there was usually a weekly bar thing after work with staff and creators. I never went to them to network though…I just wanted a beer!

Ram V: Things of note I've managed at Barcons- a) I once accidentally drank someone else's drink & then said, "What the f*ck is this sh*t?" b) met my comics fam @RyanOSullivan @DanPGWatters @AlexPaknadel & @Casparnova at a barcon. If that's not a cautionary tale, I don't know what is.

Mike Donachie: All the comics people talking about #barcon: at a Scottish convention, the bar IS the convention.

Mitch Gerads: Ah, Bar-Con. It was fun as a wide eyed comic hopeful pup, and I did form a lot of relationships from it, but was it any way integral to professional success? Not that I ever witnessed. Back then, Bar-Con was mostly @DocShaner and I saying "OMG, that's MARK WAID!"

Julian Lytle: I've always been very cynical about bar-con. It always felt gatekeepery or it is.

Khary Randolph: It kinda was, to a degree. I'm of two minds about BarCon. I don't think I ever made a worthwhile networking connection, but it certainly strengthened some of the bonds that I'd already had.

Doc Shaner: Everybody's experience is different but mine is like Khary said. I've made friends but work has never come out of it, personally.

Mitch Gerads: Realizing that I'm really wrapped up in my own semantics of the term "Bar-Con." I see Bar-Con as the central big gathering hotel bar. Also, realizing that there are different stages as to where BarCon is actually VERY beneficial to professional work. — also every industry networks over after hours drinks/food. Whether it's directly work related or just social gathering. That's just…part of it… Bar-Con is not where an editor will pat you on the back and say "You're drawing 3 issues of Spider-Man." It is where you advance on the VERY LONG game of developing relationships and community.

Paul Tobin: I think Bar-Con was VERY beneficial to me as a creator, but I don't think my generation's particular style of somewhat laid-back Bar-Con still exists. All the bars are SWARMED now. Impossible to just chat.

Dave Scheidt: Absolutely not. It's flooded with cosplayers and fans and exhibitors now too, which is fine but it's almost impossible to just chill with your friends and collogues now. I think this is a great point it being a generational thing. I think this is the one perk of one publishers have parties but also it's kind of weird and isolating for people who aren't friends with people in the bigger companies but I'd much rather go to a publisher party than sit in a lobby. I do love just hanging and drinking and eating pizza with friends in an actual room. That's the way to go.

Pete Woods: Our version of Barcon was to gather a very small group of good friends and take off to a local dive bar out of the reach of the con so we could hang out without worrying about work for 2 or 3 hours.

Barcon: The Society Photos of Thought Bubble Launch Party 2019
Barcon: Thought Bubble 2019, photo by me.

PJ Holden: Discussion on barcon, feels weird because I've never known an alternative in the UK. But also I barely drink, even at barcon til 4am I'd usually be sober. There was the bar where people would congregate near the con, then the hotel bar. The con itself and I think that's it. Those are where you'd meet up in the uk cons. The hotel bar was the good one for meeting friends. On the other hand I never felt I needed to "network" just hang out with pals and the pubs were where you'd go. I dunno what an alternative meeting/informal hang out place would look like. I'm not sure the UK has that sort of venue.

Gary Frank: Can people really think the best way to get work is to find an editor who has been working like a blue-arsed fly all weekend & is finally getting to relax with a drink, introduce yourself, shove your stuff under their nose & then reap the rewards of the resulting relationship?

Ibrahim Moustafa: , IMHO the best place to be at a convention for all things business, unequivocally, is *behind your table*.I know tabling is expensive as hell in addition to the trip itself, but if you're able to table at a con, do it, & stay there as much as possible. I've had far more interaction with editors that led to work from my being available @ my designated spot, rather than after hours. You also stand the best chance of making your overall cost back if you're there and selling your wares. Fans of your work or potential customers will often skip your table if you're not there, b/c they want to meet you, have their purchase signed, etc. Editors are busy, have meetings, lunches, dinners, panels, etc. If they're looking for you and you're not there, that may have been their only chance to stop by. There's nothing wrong with hanging and drinking after the show, but if it's not the right environment for you, or if you don't feel safe, here are a few things I enjoy as someone who is "straight edge", for lack of a better term. After-con meetups are great for cementing relationships. Usually the lobby of the main con hotel is a bit less boozy, as ppl are less inclined to wander from the bar if they have an open tab. Things are less-cramped and you can hear each other without shouting. The lobby is always a great option for me as a non-drinker. Group dinners are great (sometimes hard to manage), but if you eat at the same place as other comics folks you know, you can sometimes bounce around tables to say hi, mingle after the meal outside, etc. I often prefer to just hang out and draw with friends, and we'll usually do that in one of our rooms, order some pizza, and invite a handful of others to come by throughout the evening. I almost always meet a new person or 2 that a friend vouches for that way. I don't know that anyone at this point is perpetuating the idea that you *have* to drink, or you *have* be at the bar. Seems like we're all saying the opposite. But I just wanted to lend my $0.02 with some alternatives in hopes that someone finds them helpful.

The Society Photos of Thought Bubble Launch Party 2019
Thought Bubble 2019, photo by me.

Dave Scheidt: I don't know who started this barcon discourse but I've literally never gotten any work for hire gigs from after-hours convention parties. I got all my gigs the old-fashioned way: badgering editors with emails until I break their psyche into hiring me.

Ryan Kelly: Re:Barcon. I've been in comics 22 years. I never did "barcon" because I have no friends and no one tells where the parties are. I rarely go to cons, never had portfolio, never made a business card or a website. Scared to talk to editors. Actually no idea how I got to this point.

Mark Brooks: BarCon is/was definitely a thing. But if anyone thinks they're getting work there, they're fooling themselves. It's a relaxed and cut loose environment to see friends and hang out with our editors while decompressing. Gigs are gotten on the con floor and through email or online.

Steve Leiber: The most impressive Barcon hustle I've ever seen was a pair of dudes at the SDCC Hyatt surreptitiously selling shots from bottles they'd hid in their trenchcoats to people who were sick of the long wait at the bar. They told me it covered the printing bill for their next issue… I can't speak for anyone else, but in a 30-year career, I can't think of a single job I landed that way. My hearing is so-so & I have a stammer; bars don't work for me at all. All the networking that started my career was by snail mail, on the con floor, & online.

Wilfredo Torres: To be fair 'BarCon' is a good place to figure out who NOT to work with.

Brian Bendis: Truth! I NEVER went to barcon anywhere. just poking our heads in you could tell bar con is where more careers ended than started. me and my pals got pizza, went to a quiet room, chilled, laughed, sketched, developed our plans and collaborations. it worked.

Trish Mulvihill: BarCon was never about work for me – just decompressing. And since I also have trouble hearing in crowds, it's best on the fringes. Your small crew in a corner or on the back steps ;) Wow, I miss it. Been away too long.

Marc Laming: As a foreign visitor Barcon can be quite intimidating. You know people because of social media or having worked with them, but you don't know them. Party invites can be weird too and not getting invites to certain parties can lead to folk questioning their place in the industry

Jim Zub: When I started conventioneering in 2002 there was definitely a party hard culture that permeated comics and TTRPGs. I have some fond memories and bizarre anecdotes, but also recognize how destructive parts of it were. I'm thankful attitudes seem to be changing. I'd rather have a nice dinner with a few friends and chill than run the BarCon Gauntlet. And, if I am in the mood to party it up, gathering a group of like-minded pals for karaoke is much more our speed. Our group of friends actually started going to karaoke at Emerald City Comic Con because we couldn't get invites to pro parties or make headway at BarCon. Singing songs and celebrating was way more fun than feeling glum because we weren't the "cool kids". Now we still do karaoke even though we're established because it's way better than BarCon and has also become our little tradition. And that's the simple truth – smaller more focused meet-ups will probably serve you way better than the chaotic overpriced hotel bar. At ECCC 2019 someone asked if I'd be at the hotel bar that night and I told them I wouldn't because of karaoke. They said- "Oh yeah, I've heard about that pro private karaoke party. Must be nice…" We started it because we weren't pros and no one liked us! Build your own smaller networks with like-minded people at a similar point in their career. Spend time and make your own traditions. You may be surprised when they generate their own gravity. The 2nd year you do a con thing, slap the word "annual" in front of it and – just like that – it's a tradition. "The Annual Pre-Con Social at the Spaghetti Factory" "The Annual Board Game Night Blitz" "The Annual Indie Breakfast at Steak & Shake" Whatever it is. Make your own. Some out-of-town creators arrive for the con, hear about the "annual" something and then it generates even more gravity. Some pop by, have a good time and the "legend" grows.

Katie Cook: My favorite Barcon is when I wandered into the hotel bar, let a few people buy me a drink…. Gathered all the glasses in my arms… Then I politely excused myself to drink them alone in my hotel room while I worked on a script and watched Game of Thrones. THAT'S the way to do it.

Mike Costa: Here's my unasked for advice: if you're the guy (or gal) trying to hustle work while everyone else is trying to hang with their friends after a long day (con days are loooong for pros) you're the guy or gal no one wants to talk to. If you go out to a bar after a convention with friends and your only expectation is to relax and have fun, then you are maximizing your chances of not being disappointed. And I say this as a pro who experienced many years of what I came to call the "con crater." That's when, on either a Friday or Saturday night, I'd be gripped with a crushing hopelessness that I was not being included, that cool and important people were indifferent to me, that so-called-colleagues were excluding me and my career was a soon-to-end joke. This continued to happen long after I was already a working professional. In fact, being a working pro made it WORSE, because then I "should" be included in whatever dinner/hangout/meeting was boiling in my chagrined imagination. If I'd just been focusing on going out to a bar and having fun, like any normal person would, I could have saved myself a lot of dramatic angst. And eventually I did. I do conventions purely for fun now. If you take a fun thing and make it a job, you're doing Satan's work for him. Finally, I'll release some powerful secret technology to you, my slavish and faithful followers: if you see a pro out at the bar whose work you love, and you simply MUST talk to them, you can do it. Just DO NOT talk to them about the one seminal piece that they are known for. I once met Dave Gibbons at the Hilton Bar at Comicon. You can imagine what everyone was talking to him about. I shook his hand and then raved to him about The Originals. His entire posture changed and he literally steered me into a corner and talked to me for a half an hour. I never mentioned Watchmen once. Why would I? What could I say that he hasn't heard 10,000 times before? If you approach a pro and want to talk about a little-loved work of theirs that you suspect has personal value to them, you greatly improve your chances of a meaningful convo. However, this is an important caveat: if you see ME at the bar, DO NOT approach me. Even to try out this (otherwise powerful and effective) technique. I do not want to talk to you. There is nothing in this world I hate more than literally every person in it. Including myself.

Erica Schultz: Look, I'll be honest here: I've been told by colleagues that NOT doing BarCon is detrimental to my career. One colleague even said at a small panel, "Don't listen to her (me). BarCon is ESSENTIAL." I get the whole "relaxed atmosphere," & I get wanting to blow off steam, but going to a crowded/noisy bar to meet a potential colleague is not where I'm going to make a good impression. I'll be too worried about my surroundings & anxious about the server mixing up my drink order. And no shade to the server, but when I take a sip of what I think is a club soda and taste a vodka tonic, I'm physically shaken. And I don't expect someone to understand where I'm coming from. Not everyone is in recovery, and that's fine. I just wish people wouldn't try and shame me for not doing it (which has happened as recently as 2019, my last con). But the reaction to this short thread so far gives me hope, so I thank everyone for the support.

Dan Slott: Can count the times I drink in any one year on 1 hand. You *don't* need to ever share drinks or take part in bar culture to network in this industry. If (like me) that makes you uncomfortable, please know it's not necessary and no one will think less of you for avoiding it. I hate bars. I rarely drink. I've been told a 1000 times that I need to go to #barcon to network. I didn't. I don't. I never will. I still work in comics anyway.

Erik Larsen: I've certainly gone and hung out in bars after shows and had a great time with friends–but I can't think of a single time when networking at #barcon led to anything significant.

Alison Sampson: Speaking of #barcon, I'm not terribly good at that either. But I do love catching up with people -especially as a foreigner in the land of my work colleagues- artist alley, dinner, karaoke, the odd party, tea, cake, theatre trips, shopping, breakfast, lunch- all good alternatives and I have a deep abiding love for @ThoughtBubbleUK's bar culture. It is fair to say people talked me into comics in this space, and it is where I can catch up with people I haven't seen all year, and meet new friends.

Katie Cook: My favorite Barcon is when I wandered into the hotel bar, let a few people buy me a drink…. Gathered all the glasses in my arms… Then I politely excused myself to drink them alone in my hotel room while I worked on a script and watched Game of Thrones. THAT'S the way to do it.

Tony Lee:  There's a big #BarCon discussion right now, on whether comic creators need to hang out in the bar to make it in comics. In my opinion, you don't *need* to, but it can sometimes help. Let me explain. ( There's a song in HAMILTON called 'the room where it happens'. This for me is often #BarCon. Standing at a convention bar and looking around, you can see publishing deals being made and comic plans being considered. This doesn't mean you can interrupt that though. I've found that at many #Barcon catch ups, I'll sit with creator friends and put the world to rights. However, every now and then someone will come over and chat to one of my friends, and most likely be introduced to all of us. Often, that's an editor. This #BarCon meeting can help or hinder you though. If you sit with someone who's a dick, you can be tarred with the same brush. Usually though, it's a relaxed meeting. It might turn into a longer conversation. This is not pitch time. This is network time. And this is where the #Barcon debate gets messy. People think that 'getting work in bars' means 'hassling for work in bars'. It doesn't. But meeting someone there who can, down the line give you work is the start of the journey. It's what happens AFTER the #Barcon that's important. If you give a good impression, then when you contact that editor later – maybe the next day at the booth, or by email weeks after – they may remember you in a positive way. A 'friend of a friend' way. Any work you get will be in the office, through email etc – but that first meeting at a #Barcon will have helped, and therefore, for me, they're definitely a way to get noticed and considered. Also, editors like people buying them drinks ;) Of course, if goes without saying that being drunk at a #barcon and trying to gain work is a train wreck. I've been there and in my early days learned this the hard way. It's why I don't drink at cons now. You're there to get work, so be professional 24/7. Anyway, this is a long winded way to say that some people make hay at #barcon events, some are better by email, some in the room. These are all tools in the box you have, and it makes sense to utilise them all. Just stay professional. And don't be pushy. And don't pitch.

Russell Hillman: I do bars after cons but I don't do "BarCon". I tend to hang out with my tablemates at cons and catch up with old friends. I'm terrible at networking and I don't like to bother con guests. I've met more new people at cons through the dance floor than the bar anyway. At the last con I attended, I met about two new people who I didn't know before at the bar and ended up hanging out with a bunch of people whose names I couldn't remember at the time, let alone now, on a quest for a late night drink. That's not networking. None of that was any help to my career, it was just hanging out in a bar with like-minded people. Of the people I met last time, only one of them follows me on here. I'm not looking to get a job at the big two or anything, so I don't really try networking. I do need to work on selling myself and my books a bit better though. I'll have to try that more this year. Not if it gets in the way of my dancing though. I figure the more people who know me for my dancing, the more books I'll sell. I have no idea how that would work, but it seems to work well for @UmarDitta. He's better at dancing than I am, though. Better at making new friends too. Maybe I should just hang out with him more…I'm sure BarCon works for some people, ace networkers who can mix it with the pros and know how to talk themselves up. It's really not my kind of thing, so I've never really tried it. I will have to try it at some point. Anything to sell a few more of my books.



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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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