Some thoughts about some cons I’ve been to recently

I’ve attended a bunch of comic cons the past month, some have been terrible, some have surpassed expectations and some were sadly disappointing. I thought I’d write a little about them, if only for my own amusement.

Note: This is kinda long, so sorry about that. I’ve put in some photos of Adam Hotwell Cadwell which should hopefully make things better, right?

You guys know about my new comic publishing venture with my bud Adam Cadwell right? It’s called Great Beast and one of our aims is to try and get our books into new hands, so I decided that in order to build an audience we need to start doing shows that we haven’t done for a while and also try brand new ones as we can’t keep selling to the same people again and again. New readers have to come from somewhere.

With that in mind, first up for the month was The Bristol Comic Expo. Or just “Bristol” to everyone else. One of the longest running comic conventions in the UK, at one point it stood tall amongst other shows bringing a wealth of talent and editors from across from the States and Europe. About 3/4 years ago the organisers could no longer afford to hold the event in the Old Passenger Shed it’s inhabited for years (we exhibited at the last one) and so split itself into two different hotel conference rooms and things weren’t quite the same. With the show returning to it’s roots I felt it would be a good show in order to reconnect with the audience and show off our hard work.

Honestly, we shouldn’t have even bothered.

There are figures floating around that the attendance barely reached 300 attendees over the weekend. The venue never felt busy and the attendees were there primarily for the long boxes and the merch fluff. We were trying to preach to The Old Guard who simply couldn’t give a toss.

When we set up we were right by the entrance and we grasped our hands in excitement - a great spot, the first thing you see when you come in is us! But as we found out on the Saturday morning we were actually facing the tradesman’s entrance and the attendee entrance was right at the other end. The door we were facing had to remain open all weekend, creating a wind trap that was blowing straight at us. We were facing the back wall overshadowed by retailers and merch suppliers and our comics were blowing in the wind. As shown by this photo, we weren’t visible anywhere thanks to some fucking doors some retailers were using to show off back issues on.

So, hidden from view and trapped in a cold breeze all weekend. Great. When people did actually notice our comics they were so freezing they carried on walking. Or they got to our table and what did they notice on that retailer table next to us? Superman Oven Gloves?! That was our competition all weekend and it summed up the whole show. Fucking. Superman. Oven. Gloves.

The organisation was all over the place too with a string of teenage cosplayers checking wrist bands all weekend. I don’t think I saw an adult once? No one even said hello to us.

Looking at our sales, I barely made my money back but Adam sold a mere handful of comics all weekend. We won’t be back to Bristol and honestly I can’t see it surviving. There were no “big name talent” to attract anyone from actually attending and with Kapow a mere week away in London I wouldn’t be surprised if Bristol was the first casualty of “con-wars”. Though looking at their site some people had a good time as they’re already planning a 2013 show. Which I won’t be at. Because it’s pointless.

(Saying all that though we did have a right laugh. We hung out with Mr Andrew Tunney and Dr Mark Penman all weekend and were crying with laughter. Thanks to those chaps for lifting the spirits)

Next was Kapow! in London, held at the spacious Business Design Museum. I’ll get this out the way first. No I do not agree with some of the show’s politics regarding female creators and have in the past called the event “a bit of a sausage-fest”. I am also getting increasingly fed up with the superhero comic industry (which is Kapow’s target audience), the monopoly it has on the industry as a whole and find it not only morally redundant but also for the most part creatively barren.

However in terms of us reaching a new audience there was probably no better show to attend than Kapow! The show attracted the sort of attendees we’ve been dying to interact with - the uninitiated. What was good about Kapow! was how it appealed to people who haven’t been to a comic show before. People who like the idea of comics but haven’t really delved into the world properly; the trendy graphic designers who like the visuals, the gang of 20 year old uni students who watch The Big Bang Theory every week and want to do that thing of going to Comic-Con, the dad and the kids who have just come out of seeing The Avengers and having their minds blown away (because Marvel’s Wait shouldn’t that be Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Simon’s The Avengers was fucking awesome you guys!)

Kapow worked because it was a comic-inspired convention and it celebrated comics in all different forms of media. Unlike the MCM Expos, comics wasn’t tapped on to the end of a long list of more important sub-cultures. People were there for comics so at no point did we have to explain that “yes we drew this ourselves” and “yes comics do still exist”. I was surprised how versatile the convention was and how embracing of various different types of comics there were on retailer and supplier stalls and also in the small press area.

And you know what was great? Women actually attended, because shock horror, women can like comics too! We sold loads of books to women all weekend and I’d say the split was probably 60/40 male/female. Regardless of sex the response we got throughout the day on Twitter from people saying they read and loved our books was gratifying and also unheard of before. We were kept busy, worked our arses off and got a slew of new readers out of it.

"But Bristol was a comic-convention" I hear you say, "Kapow! isn’t doing anything they didn’t do." Well here’s the thing, Kapow had a fanboy’s dream guest line up. It had the Marvels and the D.Cs and the Images and Bristol had a drafty hall that wasn’t full.

The table prices at Kapow are ridiculous but in fairness we made money at Kapow whereas at Bristol we just lost a bit of our pride. Sure, there were some faults with Kapow; the 10 hours it was open for on the Saturday was unbearable - longer than a shift at my day job! The Sunday never felt like it got going and doors closed at 3.30pm so changing up the times would make things a little evenly spread. The Artist Alley was also separated from the main convention floor which did hurt our footfall so in future it would be nice to have either more signage pointing people to the mezzanine level or host it all on one level.

I think we did well as our comics work with that pop culture loving crowd. I’m not convinced everyone would do well there but I’m definitely going to go back next year.

Last up was solo appearance at MCM Expo. Look, I have to get this out the way but I met Kevin Eastman and the 8 year old inside me died of happiness. That was pretty cool, okay?

So I’ve written about MCM Expo in the past. I like Expo, it seems to attract a bunch of potential new readers who yeah are in to manga, and video games and sure why wouldn’t they like my comics, I mean they have done in the past. I mean I wrote a big ol’ post about how important it is to me as a creator to attend and even defended it against whiny nay-sayers. I mean it’s my sure-thing show, y’know.

Sadly, this year my work attracted mostly indifferent glances from bored cosplayers who wondered into the comic section by accident and couldn’t wait to get back out of there.

Don’t get me wrong, there were people who actually did track me down to buy my comics and I’m really grateful, heck you know that right? But this year it felt like I was up against the tide. I think the problem may have to do with the Comic Village section getting far too big - there’s 140 tables now, and so 139 other stalls where people can spend their money. It’s spread out into three different islands too, so by the time people get to the second part they’ve probably already spent all their money or there’s so much on offer they just forget what they want. Also for a Comic Village the one item that seems the least popular is comics. Prints are key here. People like prints. Thousands and thousands of prints.

One thing I did notice was that the majority of people walking past my table saw my tote bag, laughed, said something to the extent of “Ere we should get this for Sarah as huhuhuhuh that is well her” and then cleared off. Every 3 minutes this would happen. Some utter shit was like “I’m gonna take a photo of this” to which I replied “or y’know you could actually buy it" to which he just said "pffft, I don’t like her that much.” I should have told him what I was thinkingbut then I guess that wouldn’t exactly be “audience building”.

The atmosphere felt all wrong, maybe it was because I was tired and exhausted from 2 other shows and had a nasty cold, but the whole show felt like a slog. In contrast to Kapow, it didn’t feel like I made that many new readers. Thinking about it, it’s a bit of a bummer and I don’t think I’ll be doing the October one in London and am slightly doubting next year’s May show. I still made a good amount of money, but something felt wrong. Maybe a year off is the key. I’m still massively looking forward to the Manchester MCM Expo in July.

So in terms of audience building, it was a bit of a mixed bag. In terms of good times hanging with pals that can’t be beaten. You know what though, I’m mostly looking forward to doing some work now and Getting On With It. For the rest of my con schedule please keep checking my main site (I’m probably going to add another 2-3 shows this year, so maybe see you there?)

Anthology Fear

Sol Pop panel

Image from my contribution to Solipsistic Pop #4

This post is probably going to make the most sense to the artists out there, but does anyone experience soul crushing fear when drawing their comic for an anthology? I do. God, always. Pretty much every time I get invited to submit work for an anthology it leaves me confused, grumpy, and self aware of all my faults.

Why? Well, with anthologies your strip is only as good as the one it follows or precedes. That’s a terrifying and perhaps an unfair prospect, especially when more often than not the work is so varied within anthologies. Your work is being judged against other people’s, literally from page to page. It’s unsettling to think that work that is good, funny and enjoyable in its own context can be torn down and dismissed because someone “liked the other dude’s work better” or “that person draws better houses” or whatever.

(I know that’s a little unfair; you read an anthology because you like the subject or the people behind it, not because you enjoy ripping into people’s work in some Simon Cowell-esque judgemental nightmare - but that’s how it feels to me as a creator.)

(oh god, you know I’ve just worked it out, I’m terrified that this guy…

…is reading everything I do.)

I bring this up as the past few days I’ve been working on my entry for the fourth issue of Solipsistic Pop, a brilliant comic anthology that I’ve appeared in twice already and still for the life of me can’t spell the title correctly on the first go. The line up is stupid good and full of young bright eyed talented types, it’s the sort of line up that makes you want to do your best work, y’know. You don’t want to be “the shit one” in a line up like that. So, naturally this week I’ve had a bit of a crisis of faith with my artistic abilities, second guessing my contribution to the anthology and having such a bad time drawing it I started over…twice. It’s only a one page strip, I’m sure if it was two pages I would have had a complete breakdown. I know deep down that this a good thing; that this fear is actually a desire to do good work and produce a strong strip and I am pleased with my comic, I just have no idea how it’ll fit within the context of the anthology. But I have faith in Editor Humbers that he wouldn’t let my strip get past the gate if it wasn’t good enough.