BAT Cons – A Central Coast Comic Con Interview With Kris Blackburn On The Realities Of Con Running
By B. Alex Thompson
As I continue through the 2014 comic book convention season, I've discovered or been discovered by a lot of cool shows in the Southern California-ish area. One of those shows is the Central Coast Comic Con (or "C4" for short) which is celebrating its upcoming second year.
Kris Blackburn was kind enough to spend a few moments to tell us more about the show and their goals for this year's event (KB also provided the photos used in this interview).
B. Alex Thompson: As someone working in the comics industry, I like origin stories. What is the C4 Central Coast Comic Con and how did it begin?
Kris Blackburn: Central Coast Comic Con (or what we like to call it "C4") is Ventura Counties' comic con. Ventura, CA is a historic beach community that is rich in art, music, food and family. But even though the community as a whole is very artistic and supportive to the culture there was an absence of a comic or popular culture event. So that is why C4 happened. It took us two years to get this event in Ventura and the response of the first year was great. Heading into year two, we have teamed up with even more community groups including non profits (United Blood Services, Paw Works, and the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura County to name a few). This event is all about the community as a whole. This is for kids, adults, and families to celebrate popular culture, fandom, and everything geeky and nerdy.
BAT: Though there is ample room for all genre related shows, what makes C4 stand out amongst other Southern California shows?
KB: We are on the beach and we are actually for the community, not a profit. We want Ventura to shine, not only the stars that are the guests. This is an event that was created for the community by the community with the families as the main focus. Our Kids' Day last year brought nearly 3000 kids. We are so involved in the community that our 2014 Kid's Day program is teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club of Ventura County and we have worked with the city itself to promote local charities and important issues for the community
BAT: Many people take convention organizers for granted because they don't know how much work it takes behind the scenes to put events like this together. What are some of the nuts & bolts to convention organizing that might surprise people? What are some of the crazy things you wish people would know or understand about what you do?
KB: One big thing is that guests do not show up for free. Celebrities need to be paid in some way. When it is a SDCC type event, the movie studios covers the bill. But when it is a smaller event it is the promoters who do. A lot of the costs for events are to cover the travel, lodging, per diem's, and fees for the names to be there. Think of when you see someone like Norman Reedus of the Walking Dead at an event. Yes, he is a cool guy and will bend over backwards for the fans, but he is there performing a job. I have had people ask us to bring in the entire cast of Psych, the guys from Supernatural, and the entire WWE. Someone even asked if we could bring in Loki. Hell yeah, we would love to bring all of them, but we do not have a $500,000 budget or networks backing us. Until 2003 Comic Cons were just that. All about comics with the talented men and women sharing and connecting to their fans. Now comics play a smaller role to conventions. Which is very sad because the art and dynamics are what creates this unique environment that thrives to the multiverse.
BAT: Very true. I personally love all the multi-media related people and events at shows, but comics should have the spotlight at an event billing themselves as "comic cons." But, whew! That is a lot of time and money just for the talent part of the show alone!
KB: Promoting an event is easy, said nobody ever.
BAT: What else do you have to deal with, think about, or pre-plan for when setting up a show?
KB: You have logistics, rules, laws of the area, venue, the setting a floor plan, getting vendors, artists, costuming groups, community aspects, gaming, city, county/state inspectors, entertainment, hotels, after party venues, volunteers, money, marketing, promotions, street teams, radio adds, graphics, guests, deal with celebrity booking agents, transportation, the con Plague/s, websites, ticket agencies, printing companies, everyone wanting something free, the tax man, fire marshals, parking lots, horrible people who treat cosplayers wrongly, making sure you have something for everyone, an accountant who keeps in touch with reality…
BAT: Yowsa, that's a mouthful!
KB: … and that's a Tuesday six months before your little second year event.
BAT: Speaking of which, last year was the first year of the show. How was it and were your goals met or exceeded?
KB: When we first were setting it up, we thought it was going to be a really small show. You know, the type that have maybe 20 or so vendors, 20 or so artists, and a few other things to it. But as we got closer and closer it kept growing. By the time July hit we had nearly 50 vendors and 30 plus artists, so we had to move into a bigger building. The community outpour for our little event was mind boggling. Then people starting coming out of the wood work to be part of it. It was awesome. The only problem was we did not expect it and were not prepared for it.
BAT: Out of the problems to have, that's one of the better ones. Who were your guests and what did they think?
KB: Kid's Day was awesome and most of our guests were great. We brought out a lot for the event wondering if people would be jaded due to the bigger cons being so close. But the biggest surprise was that about 70% of our attendees were first time con goers. That was awesome yet horrifying at the same time. So in many aspects it met our goals.
BAT: Very nice! What are the show's plans for this year's second show? Any new goals, desires, or wishes for 2014?
KB: We have so many plans this year. A lot of which we cannot talk about quite yet. I can say we plan on more penetration into the community as a whole. More youth involvement, bigger guests, and most of all a more epic Kids' Day programming. One goal is to have at least 25 non profits from the area at the event. We also want to raise a bunch of money and blood for the community and to continue to grow as an event. A really big goal is to have a charity kids group host the kids' version of our costume contest. On a personal level, I have a goal of actually making it to an after party this year. I was not able to last year.
BAT: With all that going on, I see how you wouldn't have the energy to make an after party!
Your guest list is building, but you're already starting strong with names like Highlander's Adrian Paul, heavy makeup actor extraordinaire Doug Jones, and WWE legend Kevin Nash. How did you get these guys and who else do you have coming?
KB: Last year I pulled favors with people I knew and with people my friends knew. After years of building connections and networking, we called in a lot of favors. We went with some of our favorite pop culture people such as Sid Haig aka Captain Spaulding and Neil Grayston of Eureka fame.
This year we wanted to go more broad. Adrian Paul has a huge fandom while Doug Jones is one of the nicest guests you can have. He really is great.
BAT: I agree. Though I haven't had the opportunity to meet Mr. Jones in person yet, everything I've seen and heard about him has been stellar.
KB: Both Doug and Kevin we tried for last year. Doug was filming I believe. A friend put us in touch with his event booking agent. Doug, Adrian, and Camden Toy have the same agent. Again, Kevin is someone we wanted last year, being an icon in wrestling is one part. He's also an actor and has been in a few big pop culture films such as the Punisher. He just started doing conventions recently and was pretty simple to get.
BAT: That's a very nice stroke of luck combined with lots of preplanning. Who else do you have for us?
KB: We have also added Tyler Mane from the first X- Men movie and the Rob Zombie Halloween films. For the kids we have added six, yes six, cast members of the Power Rangers universe. Up and comer Joseph Gatt who was in the first Thor movie, the latest Star Trek film, and is going to be in this season's Game of Thrones. Screen writer of the original Friday the 13 film, Victor Miller. We'll have Keahu Kahuanui from the very popular MTV show Teen Wolf. The awesomely cool Fred Williamson of From Dusk Til Dawn, The Hammer, and about a hundred different films. We have cast members from Face Off, paranormal investigators, and tons of costumers. We also have the epic Nerd rapper Adam Warrock performing at our after party and maybe even at the convention itself.
BAT: That's a very nice roster and it's still very early in the game. Everyone knows I love horror stuff and Face Off is one of my favorite shows. Anyone else you care to mention?
KB: We have some more big guest surprises coming, but we can't release them quite yet. One hint is we are finalizing a deal for a guest who was in the indy changing film, the Outsiders, Red Dawn, Southland, and the Amazing Spider-man. We are also attempting to get possibly a cast member from the Walking Dead.
BAT: Very nice! I'm looking forward to the show and hope everyone will come out to validate all of this hard work and effort.
C4 will take place September 12-14, 2014 at the Ventura County Fair Grounds (10 West Harbor Blvd, Ventura, CA 93001)
Los Angeles born and Midwest raised, B. Alex Thompson is a comic book writer, screenwriter, and letterer who has done work for Alias Enterprises, Approbation Comics, Arcana Studios, Lion Forge Comics, and Graphic Planet. Thompson is mostly known for his experimental humor/horror title Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies which has over twenty-five issues released and more in the works. Discover more via www.AlexThompsonWriter.com and Tweet him directly @ApproBAT