Tagged: comic book conventions

Mike Gold: Hot Town, Summer In The Cities

I’m going to ramble a bit about an annual phenomenon. In many important ways, New York City and San Diego are about to trade places.

Even with DC Comics having moved its flat drawers and some of its staff from the Right Coast to the Left, New York City remains inundated with comics people. Marvel, Archie, Dynamite, and Valiant remain in the Baked Apple, as does King Features Syndicate and sundry Internet outfits such as comiXology and ComicMix. We’ve still got the only weekly magazine venerable enough to publish single-panel cartoons, The New Yorker. You’d be familiar with this publication if you went to the doctor more often. Overall, the Greater Comics Racket continues to dance to the beat of east coast drummers.

Except for next week.

Next week, New York goes to San Diego to participate in the annual “how many college freshmen can you stuff in a phone booth” contest, a.k.a. the San Diego Comic-Con. They prefer to call themselves just “Comicon,” maybe with two c’s, but there are a lot of tradespeople who consider this something akin to theft of intellectual property. We’ve got a ton of ComicMixers there, including Glenn Hauman, Adriane Nash, Ayna Ernst, Maddy Ernst, Jen Ernst (do you detect a theme here?), Ed Catto, Emily Whitten, Bob Ingersoll, Michael Davis, Arthur Tebbel, and whomever I forgot because my memory is like a well-tuned car – as long as that car is a Stanley Steamer.

That leaves Martha Thomases, Joe Corallo and me in Manhattan watching a double-feature. I’m not sure what Denny and Molly and John and Marc will be up to, but at least I’ll be seeing Marc in Kokomo this fall. How can I pass that one up?

So, for some reason I’ll be spending time wandering the hot, summery streets of Manhattan, coping with high humidity, high temperatures, pissed-off Long Islanders and the pervasive smell of rat urine, the stench that shouts “welcome to our subways!” During SDCC week, San Diego is overcrowded, overpriced, and over-partied but with perfect weather (except, oddly, when I’m there). I’ll be happy to be here. Besides, I try not to fly anymore. In airplanes, I mean.

I’ve dedicated my current travel schedule to the “smaller” conventions (of course, by comparison to SDCC the Roman Coliseum held “smaller” conventions). You know, the shows where I can talk with the fans, find out what people like and don’t like and might like, talk with the retailers and guests, and never have to wait more than five minutes to get through the bathroom line. I’ve been doing comic book conventions for 49 years, back when our product was printed on papyrus. The late and deeply lamented Phil Seuling held his first “big” convention in New York City in 1968. There were 300 people there, and all of them were thinking the same thought: “Holy crap! There are 299 other people who are just like me.”

Well, it was 1968, so “just like me” meant possessing a Y chromosome. It also helped if you were white but, then again, it usually does.

We’ve come a long way. SDCC dumps about a quarter of a billion dollars into the San Diego economy. Comic book conventions attract several million fans and professionals. Much of Hollywood moves down to San Diego for the week, and we see equivalent attendees in places such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Finland, France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia… I think I may have received an invite from Togo last year.

And to think it all started out as a hobby. 300 geeks in a hotel ballroom who never, ever thought the word “geek” would become a badge of honor.


David Gerrold: What Were You Doing, Nerd Year’s Eve?

David Gerrold, the writer best known for his script for the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”, for creating the Sleestak race on the TV series Land of the Lost, and for his novelette “The Martian Child”, which won both Hugo and Nebula awards and was adapted into a 2007 film, contributes a guest column about the trainwreck that was Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve. For more, read the coverage at The Beat.

I was an invited guest at the “Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve” Comic-Con held in Dallas over New Year’s weekend.

Apparently, it was a disaster of biblical proportions. Not just dogs and cats living together, but suing each other for palimony and custody of the kittens.

The convention organizers over-promised, under-budgeted, over-extended, under-performed, and committed what I consider acts of “criminal incompetence.”

Why do I use the adjective “criminal?”

Because people were hurt. Not just by the incompetence, but by the deliberate incompetence.

Many of the guests — not necessarily the A-listers — depend on the sales of autographs and photographs as part of their income between gigs. They are not all millionaires. Many actors and celebrities, especially those from TV shows of yore, have some income from royalties and residuals, but often depend on convention appearances to give them a little bit of a cushion — or even cover the mortgage.

So when a convention signs a contract, makes a commitment — such as, “We guarantee that you will make $5000 in autograph and photo sales, or we will make up the difference” and then fails to provide enough attendees to make those sales and then fails to cover the guarantee as well — that’s criminal incompetence.

Even worse, the company formed to put on the convention is dissolving itself, so there will be no one to sue.

Most of the other guests had their air fare covered and meals covered by a per diem. So at least their basic travel expenses were covered.

I drove.

After four days of promises, I had nothing but four days of promises. My travel expenses were never covered.

Based on their promises, I had expected $2500 and travel expenses as the bare minimum, and I budgeted for that.

Instead, I’m out my travel expenses. Nearly $800.

Did I sell enough books and tribbles and scripts to make it worthwhile? No.

Because first, they didn’t have a dealer’s table for me, and the woman who was supposed to arrange it was more interested in talking about how busy she was than in actually making arrangements for the table. Not a bad person, but not really focused on the job.

When I finally did get a sales table, it wasn’t in the dealer’s room, it was in a second room that was carefully hidden from most of the convention membership. I did not sell enough to cover my expenses.

I am particularly angry at the CFO of the convention who lied to my face, three times — that he had a check for me for my travel expenses (I’d already turned in my receipts) — when he already knew damn well that the convention was so far in the hole that the hotel was about to lock all of the guests out of their rooms because the convention couldn’t cover the lodging bills.

Any other convention, I would have made enough to justify the effort. Instead, I have a hole in my budget that is going to create a problem for the next month or two. I had planned to spend the money on paying for the kids’ wedding pictures. Now I have to generate that cash somewhere else. (January book sale starts momentarily.)

So yes, “criminal incompetence.” People were hurt. Not just me — but every celebrity guest (over 40 of them) and every vendor (at least as many) who invested his or her weekend on the promises of this criminally incompetent group of people.

I’ve had nearly a half century of convention experience. Most of the cons I’ve attended, whether professional or fan run, have been managed well enough that fans and guests were taken care of. I have never been caught up in a disaster as big as this one. (Which is why I didn’t recognize my personal alarm bells when they went off.)

I would hope that the individuals responsible for this particular train wreck have enough class and courage to issue a public apology — but more than that, I hope they get out of the convention business, because, based on the evidence, they are a danger to the well-being of everyone who trusts them.

The other bad news coming out of that cluster-fuck in Dallas is that after a celebrity gets burned by one convention, he or she is a lot less likely to say yes to the next few conventions who invite.

So both the celebrity and the fans are deprived. The fans lose the chance to meet the star, the celeb loses the possibility of income.

Therefore: Seven lessons that a certain con-committee should have learned ahead of time.

1) First, don’t call it a Comic-Con if it’s not about comics and comic artists. Call it Okla-Con or Dallas-Con or something that identifies it for the specific region.

2) Don’t over-promise. You only need one or two big name celebs. And maybe three B-listers. Then, as you get more pre-attending memberships, enough that you know you can afford more celebs, you can add more. Being able to announce that you’ve just added another special guest builds momentum.

But don’t start by promising 40 with the expectation that the fans will come flocking. They won’t. Because fans have a loyalty to existing conventions. They’re not going to come to a new convention, just because you promised it’ll be great. They’re skeptical and they’re already saving their pennies for the cons they attended last year.

3) If you don’t have enough money up front to pay your bills, cancel the con. Be honest with everyone. That’s a lot better than the disaster of bankruptcy and embarrassment.

4) Be honest with your guests. If you know you can’t afford them, tell them so before they get on the airplane. Have enough class to treat them like people, not commodities to be marketed.

5) And for those who drove — COVER THEIR FUCKING TRAVEL EXPENSES, send them a check ahead of time — or tell them not to come before they waste their time.

6) MOST IMPORTANT — get people on your committee who have been part of successful conventions and listen to what they have to tell you. They will be your best asset.

7) Train your volunteers to do something more than suck up oxygen. Most volunteers are happy to be on staff. Most are eager to help. Most are competent enough to get the job done. But don’t hand out those “volunteer” T-shirts to people who couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.

BONUS HINT — most of your celebs view cons as a specific kind of job. Sit, be pleasant, sign autographs, pose for photos — and be paid for each autograph and photo. Make sure they have opportunities.

Most of your dealers are there to make money too. Set up the fucking dealer’s room so that fans are exposed to as many dealers as possible. Set up the dealer’s room so that dealers are exposed to as many fans as possible. You’re not doing anyone a favor putting dealers in a place where there is no traffic. Those dealers won’t come back.

SECOND BONUS HINT — If you bring in writers and artists, they are likely to be overlooked as the fans rush to meet the A-list actors. You need to find ways to bring them to the attention of the great majority of fans, so they don’t end up sitting alone at a table or speaking to an empty room with only three attendees. (Despite all the creebing about Creation Con, they are set up to make sure that writers and other behind-the-scenes people are speaking to a full house. And they pay their bills.)

THIRD BONUS HINT — Don’t lie to anyone. Tell the truth to your guests. Keep your promises. Especially the ones that are on your signed contracts. And if you can’t keep your promises, be honest about where you fucked up. Take responsibility like a grownup.

(If the Con Chair will send me a cashier’s check for my travel expenses, I will delete this post. Otherwise, you are all invited to google the various news reports about who else got stiffed in Dallas.)

Martha Thomases: Convention This!

1876 Democratic National Convention

What do you think about when you think about conventions?

If you’re a pedant like me, you might think a convention is a social norm.

If you’re a corporate type (sometimes like me), you think a convention is a trade show where industry insiders get together to discuss current developments in their field, while a variety of vendors try to interest potential new customers in their products.

If you’re a political junkie (also like me), you might think a convention is an event at which a political party nominates its candidates.

And if you’re a geek (again, I self-identify), you think a convention is a long weekend of panels, exhibits, cosplay and shopping.

As it happens, I enjoy all but the first of these conventions. My dad took me to a few shopping center conventions and I loved walking through the exhibit halls, considering new kinds of fixtures to put in the stores I imagined I owned. Once I went to a television convention where various studios shilled their programs for syndication, and I met Pat Robertson and Alan Thicke. And I used to love ABA, the convention for the American Booksellers Association, where bookstore owners planned their fall purchases.

This year, the political conventions of our two main political parties wrap around the San Diego Comic Convention. Can we tell them apart?

  • Both political conventions and SDCC involve huge numbers of people who have traveled great distances to be there. Some people are there because it’s their job, but most are just fans who aren’t involved in any of the decision-making.
  • Both star celebrities who are paid to be there. Both feature people marketing a current project and, maybe, auditioning for the next one.
  • Both disrupt normal city life for residents, who put up with it because the celebrants spend a lot of money.
  • Both seem to encourage people to dress up in outlandish costumes or, at the very least, funny hats. In both cases, some people do this more successfully than others. A lot of them do this well enough that strangers want to take photographs. Nobody does it well enough for me to want to give them any money.
  • Both feature mostly straight cis white Christian men, many of whom are thrilled to be part of the majority for a change.

There are significant differences, however.

  • Comic book conventions don’t have boring speeches that monopolize the entire space. Instead, there are several parallel programming streams, so that if a speaker can’t hold the attention of the audience, the audience will leave. As a result, comic book conventions are more entertaining.
  • Comic book conventions don’t attract protesters who carry guns. Not yet.
  • Many people who attend comic book conventions are thrilled to discover comic books that are new and different from what they expect.
  • Political conventions have a lot more places to sit.
  • Political conventions don’t have long lines at the bathrooms because people are using the stalls to change into more spectacular outfits.
  • The only late-night television host who makes jokes at Comic-Con is Conan.

I won’t be at any of these events, but I look forward to bitching about them from the comfort of my living room.


Emily S. Whitten: Awesome Con Round-Up & A Look Ahead

Con season has well and truly slid into gear now; with Awesome Con kicking things off a few weeks ago and SDCC and NerdHQ fast approaching. Of course, con season is really year-round these days; but for me, it starts with Awesome Con and ends with New York Comic Con.

This year’s Awesome Con was, as usual, a great start to the season for me. What I like about the con is that despite only being four years old, it’s managed to integrate various fun aspects of different flavors of cons into a fairly seamless whole – meaning that if you aren’t there for one particular facet of the offerings, there are plenty of others to experience. Here were some of the highlights for me:

The media guests:

Awesome Con has consistently done well in getting big names to a young con. This year’s lineup included everyone from screen actors Robin Lord Taylor, Morena Baccarin, Summer Glau, Karl Urban, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Matthew Lewis, Jon Barrowman, Brett Dalton, Adam West, and Burt Ward to popular voice actors like Phil LaMarr, Grey DeLisle, Billy West, John DiMaggio, Will Friedle, and Charles Martinet; and also brought folks like professor and writer Carole Barrowman, popular scientist Bill Nye, animator/voice actor C. Martin Croker, and writer/director Kevin Smith to round out the collection.

I had a great time seeing old friends, meeting new amazing, talented folks, and interviewing the fantastic Robin Lord Taylor for ComicMix (and what a delight that man is in person. Seriously. So nice!). I also got a huge kick out of the dichotomy of the two autographs I picked up– Zoidberg (Billy West) was “sooo into” me, but Azula (Grey DeLisle) banished me. Hah! I kind of want to hang them up together.


For the last couple of years I’ve been a panel moderator at Awesome Con (a job that can mean anything from being prepared with questions and conversation to excitedly listing off a few guest names and then sitting back and watching the show), which means those are generally the panels I get a chance to see. This year started out with Saturday’s Futurama panel, featuring voice actors Billy West, Phil LaMarr, and John DiMaggio. The room was packed, the crowd was excited, and the panelists were on fire, making the hour fly by with tons of laughter (and reinforcing my firm belief that you cannot possibly be bored at a voice actor panel). Man, I wish they’d bring Futurama back (again) (another time) (Zombie Futurama, Hi-yoooo!).

The next panel I moderated was for the Discovery Channel’s Destination America: A Haunting, a show that examines real people’s paranormal experiences. The panel featured actor and narrator Tony Call, ghost hunter John Drenner, Jr., show runner Cecile Weiland, and executive producer Cathy Garland, along with clips from the show and new season, and a cool Q&A with the audience, most of whom were True Believers. That made for a pretty cool Q&A with the panelists, who are passionate about their show and creating the best experience for viewers. I learned more than I even expected about the process of making the show, aaaand got a little creeped out while watching the clips. *shiver*

On Sunday, I got to moderate writer and English professor Carole Barrowman’s second panel. That panel was pretty much like attending an interactive workshop on writing techniques and tips, and was a great learning experience. Carole shared stories about her life and working with her brother John Barrowman as well as guidance on writing and her own creative process, and was a blast to listen to (and a super-cool, nice person, too!).

Although moderating kept me busy, one panel I didn’t want to miss was Bill Nye’s Star Talk Live! with Bill Nye, Eugene Mirman, Hari Kondabolu, Dr. Dava Newman, Dr. David Grinspoon, and Jo Firestone. It was the headliner for Awesome Con’s Science Fair, which was another great facet of the con.  I got to hear most of the talk before I had to rush off, and it was epic. The panelists discussed the possibility of getting “boots on Mars” in the relatively near future; and made me want to join The Planetary Society and also go read The Martian Chronicles again. Dava Newman, the Deputy Administrator of NASA and a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Dr. David Grinspoon, astrobiologist and Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, were particularly interesting. And the addition of comedians to the mix of scientists made it an amusing as well as exciting talk. I’m so glad I didn’t miss that one!

Artist Alley:

I always love Artist Alley; and this year, I felt Awesome Con’s had gotten more robust, with a good collection of big-name and major company creators along with newer talents and independent creators. Among other things I was finally able to meet Skottie Young, albeit briefly as he was only in town for the day (but I always seem to miss him at cons, so was glad to catch him). I also picked up his I Hate Fairyland, which is about a snarky gal with a battle axe (!) who’s trapped in Fairyland. I got to chat with Fred Van Lente, who had, among other things at his table, a stack of Assassin’s Creed issues with a little sign that said, “Ask me why this comic is weird;” and because I can never resist such things, I ended up asking and then buying an issue that has no page 1 and two page 18s! I visited with Joe Harris and Matthew Dow Smith, and picked up the X-Files Christmas Special, as recommended by Matt. I also got to say a quick hi to Franco Aureliani and Marc Hempel (although I somehow missed getting to Mark Waid and Mark Wheatley, thus utterly failing in my goal to See All The Mar(c)ks).

Another fun thing I did while in Artist Alley was walk around with my coworker, and her daughter who is getting interested in creating comics. I had so much fun taking them around and introducing her daughter to the likes of Jim Calafiore (from whom I also picked up Leaving Megalopolis, his project with Gail Simone, which I’ve been wanting to read), Mike McKone, Daniel Govar, and Andrew Aydin so that she could ask them about how they got into comics and what tips they might have for an aspiring creator. It was great to watch these professionals take the time to encourage her and give her advice.

While in Artist Alley I also began a “project” I meant to start ages ago, when I bought a little Canson spiral sketchbook; which is to collect sketches from favorite artists. I started the collection with Tony Moy (from whom I also finally acquired this Vitruvian Totoro on a wood block, which I’ve been coveting for several conventions) and Daniel Govar. Such great pieces to start off my book!

Shopping & the Exhibit Floor:

The exhibition floor, with its booths and shopping, was crowded but great fun. In terms of merchandise it offered everything from comics and big-ticket collectibles to toys and handmade crafts. I, of course, can never resist a bit of shopping no matter how I try (really, I tried!!) which is how I ended going home with  a stuffed and mounted narwhal head for my bathroom (what? It’s perfectly normal to have fictional creature heads mounted in your bathroom!); a tiny happy pancakes magnet (it’s so happyyyyy! And the magnet is strong); a cuddly crocheted Companion Cube (so squishable!!); and a little green keychain Kirby (for luck! Green Kirbys are lucky, right? I feel that they must be).

While wandering the floor, I also happened upon just a couple of the many fun display or educational exhibits set up. One was the Department of Energy’s booth (which apparently Awesome Con provides for free because it’s a government agency – good for Awesome Con!) at which a gal from Aftershock Comix was demonstrating DOE’s super-cool interactive energy display; and the Geppi Museum’s immensely fun traveling museum, which was literally awesome; as in, I was awestruck by some of the great pieces they had on view in this very well-set up, professional and attractive display – all the more impressive because it was the very first time they’ve displayed this traveling exhibit, despite having had the idea to do it for some time. If you’ve been to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, you will know that Steve Geppi’s collection of comics and pop-culture memorabilia is overwhelming and awe-inspiring, and that it’s a lot of fun to wander through the myriad rooms in the building, reminiscing about things you recognize, and coveting pieces you might never think you’d see in person. And even though obviously they couldn’t bring the whole collection to Awesome Con, the pieces in the mini-museum had been carefully selected to represent a broad variety of really, really cool stuff – from extremely early Mickey Mouse art to rare Spider-Man comics, and more. The mini-museum also featured several video screen displays, one of which showed parts of the full museum and another of which was interactive and allowed you to read some of the comics on display. The display also featured a very old working television playing early films, and other nifty pieces. The plan is for the traveling museum to go to cons all over the country; and if it’s at one you’re going to, I highly recommend you check it out.

And of course, while walking around the floor and con, I encountered some fun cosplay, which is always neat. One particularly fun photo I got was of Aquawoman with the voice of Aquaman (Phil LaMarr); but I also enjoyed this extremely good Winter Soldier who posed with my friend Tom as Captain America; this Squirtle that my friend Rachel was delighted to see; these genderbent Captain America: The First Avenger gals; and the most adorable (and age appropriate, thank goodness!) Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy you’ve ever seen.

And that pretty much wrapped up the con for me. Except, of course, for the “afterparty,” which for me means finding a chill bar nearby for a drink and dessert (the best way to round out your convention experience!). This year, the bar wind-down also included two guys arting (finishing up some commissions before going on their way) which made it way, way cooler than it would otherwise have been. You’re good peoples, Dan Govar and Tony Moy. Also, I want all of your art.

But the fun isn’t over, you guys. Because in just three weeks, I’ll be heading off to San Diego Comic Con and Nerd HQ, two concurrent and fantastic events that I can’t wait to attend. The exclusives, guest news, and other things to look forward to have already started appearing all over the internets, and I’m hearing great things about this year’s NerdHQ. So stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll have more fun con news, interviews, and round-ups for you soon.

Until next time, Servo Lectio!

Molly Jackson: It’s Con and Flu Season!

con and fluNot to sound whiny, but I am miserably sick. I’ve been sniffling and coughing for the past few days. It’s not all bad; I’ve got Star Trek episodes running non-stop and plenty of hot beverages and soup to keep me sated. Still, I just can’t be sick because this weekend holds so much to do!

Amongst other things happening in the city, almost everyone has a chance to attend the In-Store Convention! Despite needing a much better name, it is actually a very cool concept. Comic book stores all over the country simultaneously broadcast a live stream of panels and interviews from the top comic book companies. There are also some celebrities taking part for a full eight-hour day of events.

Now if you are like me and in a major city, then you probably get to go to conventions all the time. However, that is the beauty of in-store con (that is such an awful name!). You get the chance to see every panel, probably much closer than if you were in the audience. And unlike just watching the panels a few days later on youtube, this way you are getting the full con experience. You get to stand on line to get into a crowded space, with poor amenities like bathrooms or food, and spend more money than you would have wanted on cool stuff. Not to mention you will be meeting all these new people who you don’t talk to normally because it’s Wednesday and you just need to grab your comic pull before/after work.

I am willing to bet that this convention was created to help out retailers with another way to drive customers to their stores. And this worse-title ever con can do it. I’ve seen Facebook invites calling people to come to stores and also mentioning sales for that day. I’m betting that other stores might have some other events happening to help drum up foot traffic.

Are you feeling the convention bug again? So go and check out the panel schedule. You won’t have to pick or choose which panels to attend, you can stay there for all of them. Just beware the con flu or end up sniffling like me.

Molly Jackson: Autograph Dilemmas

autographsIt’s the fall con season! I love this time of year. It seems like there is a con every weekend and I can finally wear hoodies again. I really love wearing my hoodie while hanging with people on con lines. This past weekend was Baltimore Comic-Con, where I was sadly not hoodie in attendance but check out Emily Whitten’s recap! Over the weekend at BCC, what seemingly started as a small conversation eventually grew into a larger one on the Internet: Should comic creators be charging for their autographs?

It is a tricky conversation. A lot of people, including fans and creators, have very strong opinions on the matter. Many creators and fans think that charging is asking too much of fans, while others remark that charging for autographs is wildly done by many celebrities and no one complains.

The big argument seems to be that the creator already got paid when the book was bought and asking for autographs is too much. However, unless the book was bought at the show, the creator still needs to pay for a table and for attendance.

The other issue in all of this is the monetary gain for fans. Autographs add value to the book for the owners. Some creators only charge if they are signing for a CGC graded book; others charge for a large stack. In either case, the books signed might be resold for a higher price.

If I want their signature, it will cost me in some way. Every time I run for a signing ticket or sit in a line for multiple hours, it is costing me something. Time or money; I prioritize what it is worth to me. The same goes for the creator. They do not have to spend their time at a table in a smelly, loud, poorly ventilated, non-temperature-controlled convention hall. They determined why it was important for them to miss out on other things to pay for a table to be there.

Creators and fans have a symbiotic relationship. Creators give fans entertainment and fans give creators support. Yes, there is a monetary aspect. Fans buy product from creators. In fact, this is something I strive to do. If there is a book I want and I know I’ll see the writer or artist at a con, I do wait to buy the book. It seems like the right thing to do, plus I get the added bonus of telling someone how much I appreciate their work.

In the end, I guess I’m taking the non-committal way out from this conversation. Each creator should do what works best for them. As a fan, I will find a way to make it work for me. I am curious on everyone’s take though; what side of the fence are you on?

Marc Alan Fishman: Defending Wizard World


Last weekend, Unshaven Comics were the guests of ComicMix, sitting in their booth at Wizard World Chicago. ComicMix was more than generous to allow the squatting, and I figure it behooves me to publicly thank them here.

So, after treating an insane bout of con crud upon coming home, I’ve had some time to troll social media to see what the world thought of the 39th variation on the original Chicago Comicon. The consensus amongst most of my friends was largely positive. But a few folks took to their feeds to take Wizard to task and dog-pile on the once crown-jewel of Chicago-based comic conventions. Perhaps it’s the massive dehydration I’m working myself off of, but I’ll be damned… I feel compelled to defend Wizard World Chicago.

First, let it be said: I myself have taken to putting Wizard World on blast before. I’ve also given them helpful advice. Suffice to say, WWC is my home show. This was the first con I ever attended as a fan. This was the first con I ever showed in as a creator. I have a love/hate relationship with it, as it is for so many cherished memories of our youth that don’t hold up upon later scrutiny. But somehow, within reading the dour thoughts of a random Facebook friend left me desiring to stand over the limp body of WWC and shout “leave her alone!”

Let’s be honest with ourselves: The advent of the Mega Con has mutated what was once the Comic Con. The big publishers now save their budget for San Diego, New York, and maybe a small handful of others. Why the Chicago snub? Same reason I assume they aren’t showing in Austin, Seattle, Baltimore, or a handful of other large metropolitan shows: It’s expensive, and thanks to the marketing of the TV and movie brands, the need to remind people they publish comic books isn’t as needed as it once was. Erecting a large booth, paying the travel and hotel costs of big named talent, and hosting panels with executives (who should be back bean-counting, and figuring out ways to enrage the internet) just doesn’t make sense when balancing the books at the end of the year. Obviously I could argue that the millions of dollars of profit earned for those TV and movie licenses might otherwise bankroll a larger convention showing – especially in America’s third largest city – but even if that were true, the big boys would sooner show up at C2E2.

So, without the big named publishers (or, really, any named publishers), Wizard World Chicago has opted instead to promote its contractually obligated appearances of a litany of celebrity guests. Because of this, my wife got to meet Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Renner, and Brett Dalton – all of whom were super nice and gave my wife lasting memories and keepsakes. A large showing of fans making their way to WWC come primarily for these meet-n-greets. I was once amongst those who bashed this concept. Spending potentially hundreds of dollars for an opportunity to take a picture with someone, to me personally, seems like a complete waste. But on the same token, taking into account how many hundreds of dollars I once used to purchase comics, graphic novels, statues, and other miscellanea leaves me at a stalemate. Autograph seekers are a part of pop culture as much as comic book collectors. And as much as it pains me to say it: Nathan Fillion will bring far more paid attendees to a convention than the promise of that one penciler on that book you like.

Wizard World Chicago has been a show in flux over the last few years. Call it growing pains, if you will. The shift from being a show that celebrated comic books first and foremost to the more general pop culture has left some in a state of bitterness. I myself was one of them for a long time. But hindsight is always 20/20. Comic books are a part of pop culture. Wizard is a business, and as such, pop culture is larger than comics alone. The shift to truly becoming a pop culture show means larger attendance. More vendors. More exhibitors. More panelists and programs. To decry the death of the Chicago Comicon because of Wizard is to blame San Diego, Reed, and the other convention giants around the country.

Wizard World Chicago is many things to many people. So long as comic books are at least some of those things? Then, leave WWC alone. It will never be what it once was. But if it continues to draw a large crowd willing to checkout the always-expanding Artist Alley, then who are we to judge? For those seeking the old-school Comic Cons of yesteryear, well, there’s still plenty of fantastic one day shows. Wizard, simply no longer is one of them.


Martha Thomases: The Big Cons

women cosplaySo far this summer, it has been my privilege to only go to one comic book convention, one that was conveniently situated in my home town. I may have to go to more, because that’s what the job is, and I’m okay with that.

It’s become so much easier to be a woman at a comic convention. Sure, the lines at the bathrooms are a drag, but that’s a small price to pay for being an accepted, sometimes even welcomed part of the crowd. As I write this, I’ve read several accounts (none of which I can find now, naturally) that suggest that attendance at the major shows is at least 50 percent female.

They need us. All of them: show organizers, retailers, other exhibitors. Without us, they make so much less money.

A lot of people have done a lot of work for decades to get us to this point. We should thank them and savor their success.

And then we should try for more.

Among the women who work in comics that I’m linked to online, this article made the rounds last week. It tells how women in the tech industry, infuriated that so few women were ever asked to speak at industry conferences as anything but tokens, and what women decided to do about it. They want full parity with men on all panels at conventions and conferences.

So do we.

Quite often, convention programmers will say they don’t know any women in the industry, nor do they know how to find them. The women in the link are assembling such a list.

Women in comics are doing the same.

I realize that it will take some time for women to get equal seating on panels with men. Comic book companies are going to have to send more women. Convention organizers are going to have to invite more women. They’re going to have to think about including more women on panels of general interest, and adding women to those who star in spotlight panels.

It might not be possible, at this exact moment, to get as many women writers and artists who attract fans as men. I get that. It’s kind of circular: If women were hired more frequently, there would be more top-tier women creators. And I think that day is closer than most imagine.

However …

There have always been a lot of women working in comics. We are in the legal departments and the licensing departments and the marketing departments and the international publishing departments. We know a lot about the business of comics, and we have a lot of interesting stories to tell about the backstage part of the business.

More recently, there has been an increase in the number of women working for distributors, libraries, and opening their own stores. Again, lots and lots of good conversation.

Just because it’s going to be difficult doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy goal, meriting our time and effort. We’ve shown that women add to the fun of a convention, and add to the bottom line as well. We should use the power of our purses to push for more.


Dennis O’Neil: San Diego Comic-Con – The Once and Only?

San Diego Comic Con

Big sigh of relief, right? It’s history. Again. I wasn’t there, but you were, and your sigh of relief may be mixed with fondness, disappointment, frustration, triumph… maybe plain old-fashioned jet lag. Depends on the kind of con you had. Expectations fulfilled? Thwarted? A little of both?

I refer, of course, to the just concluded San Diego Comic Con. I didn’t attend the 2015 edition, but I’ve gone to the show often in the past, so hey, I know a little of whereof I speak. That guy over in the corner is saying that, matter of fact, he hasn’t attended the con, ever. Okay, try to make it next year. It’s an experience everyone should have –once. Twice? Well, depends on your tolerance for huge crowds, noise, and a vast arena filed with manic energy. For some, this is tonic. For others, maybe not so much. You decide after that first visit.

The con has become, among other things, a gathering of the tribes. You can expect to run into colleagues and fellow enthusiasts from all over and maybe some deals get made, and maybe a romance is kindled, or maybe you’ll just enjoy meeting people you’d forgotten existed, but are glad they do, and surely that’s pleasure enough.

You’ll also have the opportunity to share oxygen with celebrities, if you’ve a mind to, and stand in line to pay them real money in exchange for their autographs. Or you can just attend their events and learn of their latest projects and for some, that is pleasure enough.

Am I forgetting anything?

Oh yeah. Comics. It is a comic con, after all, and there is plenty of comic book action. Old issues for sale, and plenty of comics-related merchandize. (I own a hoodie with a bat symbol emblazoned across the front and another that kind of looks like Dr. Who’s Tardis. Didn’t get ‘em in San Diego, but I did buy them at comic conventions.) And there is a generous number of panels and talks devoted to comics, so if funny books are your joy, buy a ticket and find a seat in the ballroom.

The complaint here might be that the comics activities are eclipsed by the celebrity stuff, and while that’s true, I don’t think it’s worth getting fussy about. As noted in the paragraph perched atop this one, there’s no shortage of comic book material, at San Diego or any of the other cons I’ve attended. That could change, I guess, but for now, the needs of us print lovers – call us fossils if you must – are being met.

When I first became aware of the San Diego show, I had doubts. The city was stuck way at the western end of the country, just a few miles from the Mexican border that has Mr. Trump so fretful, and who’s going to make that trek just for a convention if they live in the east or midwest? This year, the answer… according to published estimates, is 130,000 attendees. A lot. And the success of the affair has helped haul that step-child of publishing, the comic book, up into respectability.

See you next year?

Martha Thomases: Cat Con?

Bass Weejuns

When circumstances prevented me from attending a comics convention in my hometown this past weekend, I felt a little guilty. These are my people. My clan. Don’t I have just as much of an obligation to attend these gatherings as I have to attend Thanksgiving dinner with my family?

(Side note: Just like when I miss a family dinner, I worry that everyone was talking about me.)

And then I found out about this happening the same weekend, a cat convention in Los Angeles. Not a convention attended by cats (which would be awesome, if only for the bar scene), but an assembly of cat lovers, cat fans and cat nerds.

That is amazing.

Because I wasn’t there, I don’t know how much CatCon was like the San Diego Comic Con. I mean, there were panels and people selling merchandise to fans, and even some celebrities. No one dressed up like their favorite cats – at least not according to the article – but lots of people wore t-shirts and socks and probably other items with pictures of cats on them.

Lots of people wore cat-ear headbands. So I guess it was a lot like the San Diego Comic Con ten years ago or so.

Naturally, I wondered if other geek communities had their own gatherings. Not conventions, really, because usually a convention is an industry event, not a recreational outing. Comic conventions have expanded to include other pop culture fandom, such as movies and television and animation and even radio, sometimes, so I’m not wondering about pop culture cons.

I know that we knitters and fiber nerds have places to go, and there are antique auto shows for people who like antique autos. There are garden shows for people with lawns, or at least decent window boxes.

There are certainly political conventions, but those are mostly for professionals, not fans. Some political activities (like LGBTQ Pride parades and NRA conventions) have street fairs or indoor marketplaces for fans. I’ve seen ads for festivals extolling environmental issues and vegan lifestyles, but I’ve never seen any news coverage of them.

What other kinds of conventions could we have? What subjects attract enough of an audience to profitably sell merchandise, to allow for fun assemblages and room for geeky outbursts?

I collect lenticular, and I sincerely doubt there are enough of us to support a marketplace, because otherwise lenticulars would cost too much and it wouldn’t be fun to collect them anymore. More people collect cookie jars and salt-and-pepper shakers, but I’ve never seen a show for them.

And what would the panels be like: What kind of cookies maintain the value of your collection? Pink Sea Salt: Design Choice or Sexual Preference?

I think we need more events like these. I think every sub-group should find a way to get together and celebrate their quirky affections. Here’s a smattering of some I might consider attending:

  • Silly Putty (can be combined with any comic book convention as long as it doesn’t mar vintage books)
  • Bass Weejuns (panels can include discussion of which coins are coolest in penny loafers, and which bandages work best on heels during the break-in period)
  • Soap (Bar or Liquid — which is most authentic; New Trends in Smells)
  • Umbrellas (Threat or Menace?)

The more we celebrate our individual passions, the more people will share them. And the more people who share them, the more we’ll look for other things to enjoy together. It’s not impossible to think that we might achieve peace in our time over a mutual affection for the new Airboy.

Let’s do it, people!