Denise Dorman is the wife of famed comic book/sci-fi/fantasy illustrator Dave Dorman. She is a regular at comic conventions, accompanying her husband. And, for Bleeding Cool, she decided to lift the curtain on a conversation being had widely within the convention attending community.
Ms. Dorman writes:
Privately, famed comic book industry personalities everywhere are discussing with each other whether to stop exhibiting at comic book conventions. There's a fine line between being accessible to and pleasing the fans vs. LOSING MONEY at these conventions. Take Wizard World 2014 in Chicago, for example. Those were three miserable days of our lives we'll never get back. Time we could be spending with our family and friends. Time we could be actually earning money working from our studio and offices at home.
The Saturday of Wizard World that I sat in for Dave, I sat in a 1.5-hour traffic jam to get there (the convention center is a mere 30 minutes from our home), I sold $20 in books, and I paid $13 for parking. (Good thing I packed my own lunch!) You know, you start to get paranoid. You start to think, "Is it only us? Is Dave no longer relevant?" So I began covertly asking around. Asking artists equally in demand, equally famous. No one I interviewed made money at that show.
The same was true for San Diego Comic-Con. Normally, we at least cover our costs. This year we spent $7,000 to exhibit at #SDCC, between the booth space rental, hotel, car rental and food expenses. This year, we came home $1k in the hole. So I started asking around… again, I asked equally famous, equally in-demand artists, writers, and creators. The post-mortem was that everyone either lost money on this show or barely covered expenses, and some very famous artists–household names you would know–are questioning whether they will bother returning next year. Even the biggest comics exhibitor with several booths, Mile High Comics, announced they were pulling out next year, in a much-publicized story in the New York Times–admitting they suffered a $10,000 loss at the show this year. (Their status on exhibiting next year may have since changed – I haven't followed the story that closely, but it drives home my point.)
I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. I've seen it first-hand – the uber-famous artist who traveled all of the way from Japan, sitting at Comic-Con, drawing as no one even paid attention to him, while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers–rather than the famed industry household name – to pose for selfies.
The hard-working artists and creators who are the very foundation of this industry…the reason there even is an industry…. those creatives who have busted their asses and spent money they perhaps didn't have to spare in order to be there exhibiting for–and accessible to–the fans…have been reduced to being the background wallpaper against which the cosplayers pose in their selfies. At what point do you start to wonder if–other than your faithful, loyal regulars who are like family and who find you every time–the general fandom population even gives a shit about the creators more than they care about their Instagram profiles?
I'll be the first to admit I revel in the amazing, visually arresting costumes. I snap photos. I have cosplay friends who dedicate their lives to it. I admire the creativity, the expense, the time investment, and the sacrifice – especially the imaginative Steampunk cosplay. I just float the idea that maybe we've reached a tipping point. Have the expenses of dressing up, rising ticket prices, price gouged hotels, and parking costs to attend these costly conventions made it financially unfeasible for people to actually spend money on exhibitors anymore?
So…this morning I checked in with Dave, exhibiting since yesterday at GrandCon. Yesterday, he earned $40. Today–Saturday–by 12:30 p.m. Michigan time, which should be the busiest day of the show,he's earned $20 thus far. Luckily, he's a featured guest, so his hotel expenses are covered, but… this is time away from the studio. Time he could be earning money. Time he could be spending with our son. And since I am the primary bread winner and self-employed, this creates the burden for me of extra time away from the office managing his errands while Dave is out of town.
So I ask you…at what point would YOU cut bait and stop attending these shows? How do we satisfy the fans in a way that makes sound financial $ense ? ? ?