Putting the Comics Back Into Comic Conventions

Steve Wyatt writes:

I have been attending comic book conventions for well over 40 years now. I have had the privilege of meeting most of the top creators of all time in this amazing comic book world of ours from Frazetta, Kirby, Lee (both Stan and Jim), Williamson, Buscema… oh boy, could I keep going (and many are still my friends). I have also had the great privilege to meet and become friends with so many collectors… To enjoy art, comics, stories, and everything that goes within this crazy life of comic books.

Well, I understand "comic-cons" are now popping up everywhere, and this is my problem. Everyone thinks they will get rich doing this — well, unless you have money, great and loyal help, and luck, it just don't work that way!

Most people in CA know me as an exhibitor (been selling at San Diego since 1979) at most of the shows, but when I am not selling at them, I am putting them on or helping those who do. I started putting on Super-Con in Hayward CA in 1979 with my friend Brian Copeland, and I have never stopped. I have put on 200+ shows since then and still continue to do so.

To me, what makes a "comic-con" is the quality of the show, from the biggest show on down. I never begrudged Wizard or any other company for flooding the market and not caring about who else was doing a show when they moved into a town. That is, as long as they pay attention and work with the other promoters… not try to "jump the gun and beat them to it", as one of my competitors tried to do to me.

To let you know, I put on Bakersfield Comic Con (10 years), East Bay Comic Con (5 Years, and 20 years before as Hayward Con), South City Comic Con (2 years), Pasadena Comic Con (4 years), Bak-Anime (7 years), Sands/Reno Comic Con (5 years), Mouse-Con (3 years), and I work with a few other promoters to help put on Sac-Con (33 years), Sac-Anime (15 years), Silicon Valley Comic Con (was Super-Con, then Big Wow Comic Fest, so 22 years), and a few others.

Let's get back to quality and what it means to put on a "comic-con".

First and foremost, there needs to be comic books at a comic con, not just a toy dealer with three short boxes of dollar comics. For goodness' sake, don't use the name if you aren't going to have any comic book dealers… just use the word "con".

Second, you need something other than a "dealers room". Have guests. At least someone who has drawn or written a comic book that was sold in a comic book store. Most comic creators are happy to be guests at a show (especially if it's local), and they want to help their industry to grow. Also, have panels. Give the fans a place to go and something interesting and fun to see. I've done shows with museums, costume contests, sideshows, gaming, and anything else you can think of. You don't keep fans coming back if they are bored.

Third, make it affordable and make sure the fan gets their "five bucks' worth". I usually charge $5 to $8 a day for my shows, and am very proud to say that the fans get their money's worth.

This is where my issues with the modern-day "comic-con" are coming out. We are being inundated with new shows (like all areas are), and they are all calling themselves "comic con". They fill themselves up with toy dealers, print artists, jewelry dealers, craft dealers, insurance agents, local cosplayers selling pictures of themselves (not that I am against costume fun), and everything but comic books. They have $5 to $8 door entry with no panels, no giveaways, no guests… nothing.

I write this because we here in CA have had too many of these shows popping up, up and down the Central CA area. In the smallest towns. No comic dealers, mostly "Artist Alley" self-print artists (lots of photoshop), craft dealers, and dealers who sell toys and flea market-style stuff. This is starting to hurt the shows that are quality shows… and worst of all, one particular promoter here just doesn't care. He doesn't want guests, doesn't want panels — just the $4 profit from the 300–400 people coming into the show not knowing what they are going to (I know this because he has said it).

What's happening in our world makes it hard enough to get local stores to trust you — convincing them that you are trying to help them is becoming more difficult. Getting fans to trust you is hard, too — now when Frank and Mary see this and want to take little Billy and Jimmy to a "comic con" since they saw it on The Big Bang Theory, they walk out going, "That's it?" or, "What the f*** was that?" And then when someone like me brings in a few guests from the East Coast (or even closer), a cool celebrity from The Munsters or something, a day's worth of fun panels, a costume contest, and Frank and Mary see my flyer, they are going to think, "Eh, we went to one and it's a waste of time." And I say this from experience — I have seen it and heard it.

The industry, like the rest of the world, is hurting right now. What we need is a fun, worthwhile place for the family, to build interest in comics, and make fans want to walk out of the convention center and walk into a comic book store.

We don't need more places where another person is out to just get their money.

Don't get me wrong; I need to pay my mortgage, too. But I have never done any of this just for money —ever. I love this world, I try to protect this world, and I want to see this world flourish for the future. I have many friends who make their living in this world… be it artists, writers, exhibitors, or any other aspect you can think of. I want the best for them, but with these parasites in our world, it is making it harder for the legit comic cons to keep putting on quality shows.

However, I know will last through this — I did back in the '90s when shows were popping up everywhere. I feel these types of promoters will eventually go away, once the public realizes what they are doing. But it is going to take time, and like before, it will impact our comic book world in a negative way.

I'm sorry to vent, sorry to say I can't support this, sorry to wish it would all go away. The big shows are going to stay (and I will, as always, support most of them). I get it… the small show will, too. But at least they have quality to them. Doing a show every weekend within a 400-mile area is just stupid. Spread out, work with other promoters, spend some real money, put on a quality "product" (and that, like anything, is what a show is — we are selling it to the fans), and have some pride in what you are doing. But, alas, once you have milked the industry for what you can, not created new fans, and have left, I will be there to hopefully charge on and keep creating something that I, the exhibitors that follow me, the fans that support me, and the industry I love can all be proud of.

Putting the Comics Back Into Comic Conventions

About 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.