The other day I was out for lunch and had a wee chat with former UKCAC organiser Frank Plowright about a number of things but the state of comic conventions came up, in particular how over the last decade or so a ‘comic convention’ can often have little or nothing to do with comics outwith of film or TV related material. In effect the source material, and an entire medium is being relegated to feed the film/TV industry not to mention giving cosplayers something to do.
We’d both agreed that back in the distant past conventions where as much about hanging out with mates you may only see at cons or marts than it was about running a business, and indeed, I find it hard for people to get dewy-eyed about someone of the San Diego styled cons that have sprung up in the last decade as having attended some of these cons, it’s clear the organisers are looking only to capitalise on the current bubble we’re living in.
Which brings me to this article on Bleeding Cool. Titled Putting the Comics Back Into Comic Conventions, makes a crucial point early on.
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!
It doesn’t. I’ve done thousands of marts/cons over the decades as punter/trader/organiser and the one’s where it’s being run as a cash-grab are the ones that tend to be terrible. Then there’s the lack of comics at marts/cons. Now I get that the current bubble means both traders, organisers and punters will come into the scene but again for the last decade, comics have been relegated down the ranking behind the cosplayers and bubble tea sellers.
Then again the type of person going to cons have changed. Back in the day we’d work our tables then drink the bar dry and in the cases when Titan used to run a free bar at UKCAC, people would ensure Mike Lake would have a small heart attack at the bill. These events would in effect be 48 to 72 hour marathons and indeed even up to the mid 2000’s at the Bristol Expo’s there’d be folk in the bar til whatever hours in the morning. Part of this change in culture is down to the fact that the entire scene has grown so the core of British fandom isn’t effectively there for the comics or they just do buy into the culture we had in the 80’s to 2000’s. Then again that drinking culture was uniquely British as Frank told me the story of how one A List American comic book writer from the 90’s found it incredible that we’d drink ourselves to death while running/attending conventions.
Change tough is good. I’m enjoying in my older age how several organisers are professional so you don’t have the sense they’re winging it, or even though these are operations which are run as full-time business’s there’s no sense that they’ve no love for the medium at all. There are organisers who could not give a fuck and are clearly just interested in charging silly money for punters and dealers in order to cash in while the bubble is still unburst.
But bubbles do burst. In my 35 years plus in the industry I’ve seen at least three come and go with the one constant being that if you’re selling comics and your con/mart is built round comics, and you’ve got a love of what you’re doing then you’ve got a better chance of riding the bad times out than someone just throwing an event into a poor venue and ramming it full of cosplayers. So I appreciate where things are and how things have changed but it’d be nice to introduce a new generation to how it used to be…