It seems like I’ve seen a whole bunch of moans and gripes about cosplayers and about the MCM Expos recently, so for no reason I thought I’d write a looooong blog about it.
Expo is not a full on comic convention, and as long as I’ve been attending them it’s never pretended to be one, it’s a pop-culture event that has a growing comic element (mainly thanks to the hard work of the organisers of the Comic Village area). The public don’t attend just for the comics, they go because they are geeky and love comics just as much as games, movies etc. They love it all and Expo is their one stop shop for all that guff.
Without the fans and the cosplayers in particular, shows like Expo wouldn’t happen and therefore we wouldn’t have a chance to build on our existing audience and try and find new bright eyed readers. The majority of the 40k people that attend the London shows every six months are going to dress up and hang out but you shouldn’t ignore them or belittle them. These shows are successful because of the dedicated thousands that arrive en masse to every show.
I used to run a manga club at my day job, and a lot of the attendees at first were pretty socially inept, but when you got them all together in a room, they bounced off each other, they were happy and laughing and they really flourished. Now take that example and multiply it by a good thousand and you have Expo. It’s not just a convention for these guys, it’s once, maybe twice a year where they can all hang out and be themselves. It’s a festival, it’s their equivalent of Glastonbury. If anything Expo is their convention and us comickers play a very small part in that.
But boil it down, these cosplayers are passionate about something enough to dress up as a character from a series they love and for one weekend “become” that character. If someone came to a convention dressed as a character you invented, you’d be over the bloody moon. It would make your fucking MONTH, let alone day. Don’t begrudge them for “dressing up”, what would you rather they be? Apathetic? Okay, you can be enthusiastic without the need to put on a wig but if this is how they express themselves, eh so be it. I think maybe people gripe on cosplayers because they don’t understand it or they don’t have a clue who they’re dressed up as, or it’s just “manga bollocks, whatever”.
I don’t know if you’ve heard but comics are kind of in the shitter at the moment, we need to adapt and try and bring in new readers everywhere we can. Instead of griping about cosplayers and their free hugs signs, maybe try and get them to read your comic. Heck, you know what manga is right? OH YEAH COMICS! In a few years time these cosplayers will probably stop pretending to be in Sailor Moon or Fullmetal Alchemist and some of them might stop reading comics altogether but more often than not they drift off into other forms of comics. I’ve seen it happen at work, heck there’s a regular customer who used to buy nothing but manga but is now getting into Adrian Tomine, I Kill Giants and a whole variety of stuff not just down to me recommending books to her, but her asking me “what else is out there?”.
I would argue that the majority of the comic reading massive at one point or another got bored of reading Superhero stuff and drifted into Vertigo and from there into Fantagraphics and the like. Manga is that same starting ground, surely?
And you know what, at Expo I am finding I am selling more comics to people that have never come across my work or Chloe Noonan than ever before and people are coming back every time for the new issue or whatnot. Okay, my style obviously appeals more to manga fans than most comic fare as it’s “cartoony” but that’s not accidental. If there’s ever a place where “cartoony” isn’t met with sneered looks, it’s Expo.
Also, creators, not every convention is suitable for you to sell your comics. Are you taking your zines of introspection to an Expo event? Probably not the target audience for that mate, so don’t be moaning when you didn’t make any money. I try and steer clear of exhibiting at zine shows such as the fab Handmade and Bound and the Alternative Press Fairs, because, well heck my comics are too stylised and brimming with pop-culture references and totally not what the audience of these shows are looking to buy, I’ve tried them before and was met with utter disdain. I love going to them as a punter mind and encourage you to do the same - they’re brilliant shows. You’ve got to think of your audience, just because it’s a “comic show” doesn’t mean your comic should have a place there.
Expo, like every other show, is not without fault. The recent Manchester show only launched its website a month before the actual show, which left exhibitors wondering if it was actually happening. But, as detailed in Adam Cadwell’s excellent write up, it didn’t seem to harm it one bit. They’re also exhausting shows to do and more often than not there’s wrestling or robot wars going on near where you’re trying to shift comics or heck the tribal drums! Come the Monday after the show it feels like we’ve been collectively run over.
The only thing I’d like to see at Expo is maybe more professional artists exhibiting. I’m not talking about “Whoever Draws Spider-Man This Month” (although the more pros we get, the better) I’m just seeing too many kids selling their old “Bleach art books” or even cans of pop at their table. The UK has so much artistic talent at the moment and it’s a crying shame tables are being handed to time wasters who hardly look up from playing their DS. They’re not comic artists and they make a mockery of those of us who take this seriously. But when you have a system of “first come, first served” it’s hardly surprising that this would happen. Expo can afford to be a little more selective with who they let attend, the demand for tables is gigantic. Get the fans away from behind the counters and back on the other side.
The UK con scene is looking so much healthier than it was a few years back. We’re slowly and surely getting more varied shows around the country and I hope this continues. I was over the moon that Manchester finally got a comic con because you can’t keep selling the same comics to the same people if all you have are London based shows. (How many London comic shows have there been this year already? 5? 6? Why aren’t there more comic shows where there’s a dedicated fan base already in place, like Nottingham for instance?) I’m already looking forward to next year’s Expo’s, both in London and Manchester, if anything Expo has become the most important show I exhibit at.