Just like a Huachuca to bring a knife to a gunfight. Well, technically first he brought a garrotte, but that didn’t work out well either.
So this article floated across my Facebook feed a few days ago. At first glance it was just another disgruntled exhibitor ranting about the latest failure in the comics convention circuit, but since I have a stake in keeping abreast of such tidings (as well as being given to the occasional rant of my own) I clicked through to have a read.
The introduction the author chose is interesting, equating the stand-up comedy boom of the early 1990s with today’s boom of comics and pop culture conventions. Truth to tell I wasn’t really aware there was a stand-up comedy boom in the early 1990s, but then again I was still a teenager at the time and probably wasn’t paying much attention to the nuts and bolts of such things. Honestly I’m surprised he didn’t make the comparison to the boom/bust cycle of comics that happened right around that time as well, but his main point was that a particular avenue of pop culture was seeing success and so he felt the bust came because a bunch of people piled on trying to echo that success, many of whom weren’t prepared or talented enough and so dragged everything down. He believes the same cycle is occurring now with comics conventions, as shows like San Diego have become so successful that every town wants its own version of Comic-Con, but so many of those are ending up failures that it may burst the whole bubble. The bandwagon’s axles are creaking under the strain.
Is he right? Well, there’s no question that a whole bunch of new shows have sprung up or greatly expanded in recent years, and a fair portion of those haven’t made it to year two, sometimes in disastrously public ways. A few weeks back I wrote about one of the more recent local ones, and this past weekend I got to hobnob with creators who attended another local failure a month before that, and heard about yet another start-up on the docket that I don’t have high hopes for based on knowing of some of the people involved. So I think the evidence points to definitely being correct that running a successful convention is no easy task. Heck, just running one that doesn’t dissolve into utter chaos seems to be beyond the capabilities of a lot of the hopefuls who put them together, and even experienced veterans can slip up.
I think the blog author is certainly onto something where advertising is concerned. A lot of the flak about Comic Excitement Con centered around that $10,000 cosplay prize they touted for a convention that reportedly hardly anyone showed up to. The author’s own target of ire which he refused to outright name (but did a poor enough job of lining out in one screenshot that I could sleuth it out as Brazos Valley Comic Con) apparently did a great job of advertising its special guests… to people already following the convention on Facebook. It’s happened more than once that Dawn and I have gone out for a post-convention beer and had our server be surprised that a comics convention was happening just down the street — and that’s sort of heartbreaking to contemplate, isn’t it? Not everyone who hears about a convention is going to show up, and not everyone who shows up is going to be spending money, but if you’re an exhibitor or guest faced with an empty hall all weekend, you can’t help but ponder how much advertising $10,000 could have bought.
Even a well-known, long-running convention can’t necessarily get away with running no ads, because the dates are always moving and the average person in the area isn’t going and checking on it and just has a vague idea of “Oh, that happens in September I think…” SDCC is SDCC and if you’re anywhere near the San Diego bayfront or Gaslamp District you’re not getting away from the fact it’s happening, but its sister show WonderCon is all over the radio and Internet in the weeks leading up to it.
Now all the ads in the world aren’t going to work if your show infrastructure is a complete mess, but yeah, when I think back on all my experiences, the most successful cons, or at least the ones that seem able to keep going from year to year, are the ones that consistently focus on getting the word out that they’re happening. No matter what guests you can land or what grandiose plans you have, that seems to make the most difference between earning a comfy spot on the bandwagon or being just another afterthought ground under its wheels.