How much comic content does an event need to have before it can call itself a “Comic Con” and what should count as “comic content”? It’s a very heated discussion within the UK indie comic scene at the moment as we see more shows crop up than ever before.
Some of these events have heavily advertised TV and movie guests, as well as replica Batmobiles, DeLoreans and Game of Thrones… thrones, while having very few, if any, comic creators, back issue sellers and actual comic books and graphic novels. This has left a sour taste in the mouths of many creators who feel that the title “Comic Con” has become an umbrella term for nerd and geek culture events.
I can’t help but wonder why that seems to be the current state of play and I’ve certainly seen frustrations from both convention organisers and artists. Naturally, I am somewhat biased as a creator but I’m going to try and be as objective as possible.
What’s Gotten People Angry?
As previously mentioned, several events which have labelled themselves as Comic Cons have had very little to do with comics. I’m going to show some specific examples, though I have obscured usernames, avatars, etc. as I have no intention of starting a witch hunt. I must also stress that I am not commenting on the quality of these shows.
Here’s a convention organiser admitting, on their Twitter account, that they don’t read comics apart from the Beano. Their event has “Comic Con” in the title. As you can imagine, this caused quite a stir, with the main question simply being “How can you run a comic book convention if you’re not a fan?”
At the time of writing, there is an on-going discussion between this organiser and several members of the UK indie comics scene, partially because they feel this organiser also falls foul of another recurring issue – not advertising any comic elements on their promotional material.
This poster is from a separate event. Again, I’ve hidden the name of the event. The poster gives greater focus to guests from Eastenders, Only Fools & Horses and Grange Hill than it does comic creators. There are 3 comic artists on this poster, on the far right, about halfway down (I’ve drawn a red rectangle around them for your convenience).
What’s strange about this is that the convention featured here did have comic related guests. A lot of them! I’ve included their floor map, the comic area is the blue bit (again, I’ve highlighted it) and it’s clearly massive! I can’t stress enough that I’m not knocking the convention or doubting it’s quality.
So what’s going on here? Why are conventions that clearly have comic guests not shouting about it?
Myself, and many other artists, have noticed that many of the attendees at Comic Cons don’t actually read comics. If I had £1 for every time I’ve pitched my books to someone only to hear “I just watch the movies, mate. I don’t really read the comics.” I would easily triple my takings at most shows I visit. I’m not alone, as the Facebook post to the left illustrates.
In my article, The Economics of Indie Comics, I talked about the sheer difference between sales of superhero movie tickets in direct comparison to their comic book source material. To bring that up to date, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice has taken $700 million at the box office (according to Variety.com). If we assume the average cinema ticket costs $14, I know, I think movie tickets cost far too much as well, then approximately 50 million people saw that movie! Meanwhile, April’s Batman #51 only sold 101,922 copies (according to Comichron.com) with the same source stating Superman #51 sold a measly 38,103 copies.
Take a moment to let those figures sink in. According to MCM Comic Con’s own website, their London event that ran May 27th to May 29th 2016 saw an attendance of 133,156 people. That means that if everybody who attended MCM bought a single copy of either Batman or Superman #51 that would account for almost every copy of both books sold worldwide. These characters are DC’s biggest hitters, some of the most recognisable superheroes the world has ever known, and people aren’t picking up the books.
As a convention organiser, it makes sense to promote the attractions that will sell the most tickets and get people through the door and those attractions, sadly, aren’t comics.
How Do We Change That?
Just because I understand the situation and can empathise with convention organisers doesn’t mean that I’m not saddened by the current state of affairs. Independent comic creators offer unique products in the form of creator owned comic books, prints and on the day commissions. These are items that have had someone’s heart and soul poured into them, are typically hard to get outside of Comic Cons and you get to buy them directly from that passionate creator while having a good chat with them!
It baffles me that someone would rather pay £10 for a photograph of them sitting in a replica of what must be the world’s most uncomfortable chair than spend £5 on an actual comic from an artist who could become the next Greg Capullo, Jim Lee, Francis Manapul, Ed McGuinness, Marcus To, or Richard Elson (I’m not playing favourites with that list at all…) but that’s the status quo.
It’s even apparent that some convention attendees don’t realise we exist at conventions! MCM’s London show has over 200 tables dedicated to small press and indie artists, available at a third of the price of standard vendor stalls in order to provide a platform to, and promote, up and coming talent, yet I’ve personally known people who have attended for years and who still don’t really know what that area is or why it’s there!
Melksham Comic Con, organised by the fantastic Hayley Spencer who owns my favourite local comic store, Komix, also does an amazing job of showcasing indie talent, as does the behemoth of a show that is Thought Bubble!
Certain conventions are definitely pulling their weight and putting creators in the spotlight, front and centre, and we have a responsibility to reward that by praising and promoting those shows, helping them to grow with us and proving to other convention organisers that we’re not just a viable attraction, we’re the most unique and outstanding, the heart and soul of the scene!
Beyond that, I sometimes feel the UK indie comics scene can be quite insular. We’re all friends, we talk to each other through swapping phone numbers, Facebook, Twitter etc. but, in my personal opinion, those outside of that community don’t know we’re here or what they’re missing. Things like the deservedly titled Awesome Comics Podcast, A Place To Hang Your Cape and Pipedream Comics certainly help and act as sources of reviews, news and interviews but we need to get better at raising our collective profile and making convention attendees mark us down as the first place they want to visit when they get through those convention doors!
I know how incredibly frustrating it is to see Comic Cons advertising movie and TV guests before their actual comic guests, I know the lack of comics presence at certain events can make it feel like their use of the term “Comic Con” constitutes false advertising, but we need to take ownership of our own promotion. We need to get out to events, make an impression on attendees, make sure we’re the reason they want to come back next year and do everything we can to let the shows’ organisers know it (in a nice way, please don’t attack anyone, again I don’t condone witch hunts). Let’s bring about change through positive and proactive action!