Comic Culture: Little Con, or Big Con? That is the Question.
Comic Book Conventions. They can be the greatest experience of your life, or the worst weekend you’ve ever had. Coming in all shapes and sizes, as well as having different reasons to excite fans, they are what we look forward to every year. But, is there one type of convention that’s better than the other? Let’s examine my experiences with them for a moment and you can be the judge.
In high school my whole family traveled to Chicago twice to attend the Wizard World Chicago convention. This was back when Wizard was at the top of its game, and their magazine was the preeminent publication for comic coverage. They sponsored and hosted these shows (and still do to this day, but on a smaller scale), and even gave away hot exclusives to attract attendees to splurge and buy their coveted VIP packages. This form of “mind magic” worked on us because we bought the VIP packages both times, and with it, were able to get into the show for all three days including the pre con preview. Both shows were phenomenal experiences that created great and long-lasting memories. It was here I got to meet Jeph Loeb, Michael Turner (RIP), Greg Horn, Brian Michael Bendis, Greg Rucka, Brian Azzarello and Joe Quesada just to name a few. I got signatures from a lot of these well-known creators, as well as the chance to praise them for their work face-to-face. It was also here that I learned about graded comics, and even spent a little extra to get a few of my books CGC graded. Lastly, I got to see a private screening of Batman: Gotham Knight before it was on sale to the public. And of course, I bought A LOT of stuff (these were my first cons of course)!
This was a good 10 or so years ago, and back then the focus was squarely on comics. The lines weren’t outrageous and everyone was very courteous and polite to each other. This was also “pre” digital comics and many of the online coverage sites also didn’t exist. Looking back, the absence of these two items probably fueled the creators even more to make that connection with their fans because this was their best way to talk to them and thank them for supporting their work. Today it’s a little easier for fans and creators to interact with services like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Vine. Many comic sites, including this one, also keep everyone in the loop on what’s happening in the world of comics. There’s no question that it’s much easier now to get the word out about comics, but that is only one good thing while a few bad still remain.
In today’s convention scene, the tide has definitely changed. Large conventions have become more about creating a multimedia experience for the “casual” fan as opposed to a comic experience for the “true” fan. They are no longer simply about comics. TV, movies, video games, cartoons and toys have all been incorporated into these large shows. It is for this fact that I have become more and more apprehensive about attending these “mega” shows. When you have to spend hours in line to meet just one creator, as well as wade through a proverbial sea of people just to get to the bathroom, I begin to wonder if it’s even worth it. When I can just go to a smaller show and skirt all the hassle, where’s the draw to these big shows? Also, the price tag of attending these large shows continues to skyrocket, and are showing no signs of slowing down. Perhaps we’ll reach a point some day where fans won’t be able to afford these shows and everything will revert back to smaller, intimate shows. Somehow, I doubt it, but it’s a novel thought at least.
Also, the number of creators at these “mega” shows is astronomically large, and it can’t be cheap for them to be there. Expenses like airfare, lodging, meals, transportation and the cost of the booth alone can all add up quickly. When there are hundreds of creators at one show, what is the probability that all of them recoup their expenses? I highly doubt that everyone does. Obviously this hinges on the popularity of the creator, as well as booth placement, and a slew of other factors, but that is beside the fact. My point is that these large shows continue to cram more and more people in when it’s hard enough for fans to see what and who they want to see. Has no one ever heard of the phrase less is more?
Smaller, local conventions are the epitome of “less is more.” For my brother’s bachelor party I took him to a small convention (specifically the MCBA FallCon), mostly showcasing local creators and businesses. It was a completely different atmosphere from your normal over-bloated convention. While it was small and you could walk the whole show floor (depending on your pace) in 15-20 minutes, it was still spectacular. This gave us ample time to peruse all of the booths and not feel like we had to rush to make sure we saw everything. The cost to get in was very reasonable, maybe $20, and while there weren’t a ton of creators slated I felt like it was money well spent. Some guests still cos-played and there were also your typical grab bags for people to take. In the end, we left with some great finds as well as feeding our comic fix. For the most part, unless something about a big show really hooks me in, this is the end of the pool I will be swimming in from now on.
Comic Book Conventions seem to be on a resurgence as of late. With shows like New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con, Long Beach Comic Con and the mecca of them all, San Diego Comic Con it seems like nerd culture couldn’t be more popular at this moment in time. Whatever it is about these nerdy things that seem to intrigue more and more people I will leave to greater minds, however, one thing remains constant. Even though these large shows are usually the ones that get all the press, there are still plenty of smaller shows out there to whet your appetite on. And in the end, both ends of the spectrum have their positives and negatives. All I can say is, know what you’re getting into and be prepared. That includes mentally, physically and financially. These days Comic Book Conventions are a beast of their own, and if you don’t go in prepared they can eat you up in a second. So, big or small, pick your poison and try to make the most of it.