In fact, I’m in Pennsylvania having just completed my fourth convention in eight weeks. Yup: Chicago Wizard World, Baltimore Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and last – and best – the Kokomo (Indiana) Comic Con. That latter one came highly recommended by ComicMixers Denny O’Neil and Marc Alan Fishman… and they were absolutely right.
Whereas I am now completely exhausted, I had more fun than a monkey with whippits. I saw lots and lots of good friends and co-workers, made some new ones, and I seem to have managed to avoid pissing off the usual number of people. I guess I’m maturing a bit – as evidenced by my now being exhausted. Of course, because I avoid flying these days I had my car so I took a few side trips along the way, including a great lunch and great conversation with some great folks in Chicago – you might have seen the picture on FaceBook. And it’s always fun going back to the old homestead.
So, other than some sadly not-malicious gossip, I am woefully uninformed about what happened in the comics world this past week… if anything. Anything new, that is. So, no posturing and politicking from me this week.
The main reason I still go to comics conventions after – gasp – 49 years is to talk with the fans. Sure, I do some business when I have to and I sign a lot of comics, which is good for the ol’ self-esteem. But being able to get into one-on-one conversations with the folks who read the books, watch the movies and teevee shows, invest time in deploying our medium in educational and expansionist activities… you just can’t operate in the public media without having a clue what the “end-users” desire, and what they don’t care for.
As our audience has become more and more diverse, this quest for input becomes all the more important. Well, at least to me and those who are charged with putting up with me.
So, I thank everybody with whom I spoke these past eight weeks. You improve our work, and you feed my ego. Whereas the latter is virtually insatiable, it’s all good.
Thank you, comics fans, convention promotors, somewhat bewildered reporters and my companion denizens of the donut shop. I might be exhausted right now, but it’s a good type of exhaustion.
As I fully decompressed from Wizard World Chicago, I looked towards the end of the Unshaven event calendar. On it: the Cincinnati Comic Expo – competing against the Cincy Comic Con, Cincinnati Comic Con, and the Cin City Comic Massacre (I think two out of three of those are real). Then, onto the mammoth New York Comic Con, which will boast near San Diego level of attendance. And, finally, gracefully, completing at the Kokomo Comic Con, in Kokomo, Indiana. You’ll get there fast, but take it slow. Sorry, it had to be said. And with it being said, I’m elated that once again, Unshaven will return.
The show itself feels like the comic cons I only heard about from old timers (like everyone on this site minus the Tweeks, Emily, and myself, heh heh heh). It’s pop-culture D-lister, and flashy/trashy exhibitor free. In their place, small publishers (ahem), independent freelance artists and writers, comic book and toy dealers, and a great handful of truly unique artisans – like the educational toy makers Cogbots, and the Highwind Steamworks, steampunk jewelers extraordinaire. The best part? The guest of honor, one Denny O’Neil.
Perhaps I’m a bit jaded in my love for the show. I was a crucial stepping stone in introducing Mr. O’Neil (who I’ll be uncomfortable calling anything but, until perhaps we shake hands in person) to the show-runners. As Unshaven had previously been attendees at the show for four years running, we had become more than a table-fee to Shawn Hilton and his crew. I dare say we became friends. Sure, his store is always ready to stock our books. And sure, I may have ensured we got prime floor real estate for making introductions for way-more-well-known-legends, but at the core of it all, the Kokomo Comic Con and its purveyors are fans first. I respect that. Hell, I live that.
All buzz marketing aside, Kokomo Con represents something I am coming to cherish more and more: a convention that can be enjoyed in a single day; where comics and community trump blatant commercialism. Before I get too deep into that sentiment, let me make something clear: I’m not saying Wizard or Reed or the San Diego Comic Con (or whatever gigantic conglomerates exist in the comic book convention circuit) are bad for building their Frankenshows.
As a strict capitalist, Unshaven Comics couldn’t exist without them. But with this past Wizard show, there’s certainly an energy drain when you sit behind the same table for four days straight, and see an unending queue of potential customers. And those customers are always quick to denote that they “just got there”, and are “checking everything out.” Every sale is a war with their desire not to miss some unlit corner of the show before potentially returning for a purchase. But I digress.
The single-day community convention is devoid of such pretense. It exists to excite for one day, and one day alone (duh). Because of that, the attendees tend to enjoy all of the convention. There’s no need to arrive hours early for the potential of snagging that autograph by the third extra in that show you watched back in the eighties.
Even if the entirety of the Kokomo Conference and Event Center is packed to the nines with booths, a show-goer will be able to peruse everything with time to confer with every artist and dealer. The air of the show itself is that which I revert to when I think of comics and my ill-gotten youth: it’s all about discovery, discussion, and debate. Find me a swatch of NYCC floor space where someone is truly digging through a long-box for that Suicide Squad #18, and I’ll eat my beard. At the smaller shows, the fans that arrive at the door are there first and foremost for guys like me (and way more for guys like Mr. O’Neil). And while we’ll never sell as many books in a given day there versus a NecroNomiCon… the sales we do make tend to make us life-long fans in lieu of passersby giving us a pity purchase.
At the end of day, there’s room of course for both kinds of cons (and to be fair, I think the Cincinnati Comic Expo will reside somewhere between the two). But phaser to my forehead? Color me simply. The shock and awe of the major shows has worn me thin, and in their wake, I yearn for intimacy. A show where one need not shout to hold a conversation. A show where you’re invited to learn, to discuss, to debate, and to celebrate specificity. A show where you can get that cherished issue of Green Lantern / Green Arrow signed, and not have a security guard breathing down your neck to move it along. A show where a truer comic book fan may truly be themselves… all without having to drop significant coin on that selfie with the best friend of The Great American Hero.
And that, my friends, is a convention worth looking forward to.