Friday, October 16, 2009

Con Malaise

This week we're taking a critical look at some of our favorite flawed fandoms. We're proposing one change to each installment or aspect of the fandom in question that we feel would provide the most improvement.

In our final Fandom Fix, I'd like to take a look at the current state of the comics convention. And, really, what better time of year to do this than October, when there are four (yes, four) major conventions in the U.S. in a span of four weeks?

Think about that for a second.

Long Beach Comic ConFour major shows, in four weeks, back-to-back. Three of those shows are on the East Coast. Two of them are in New England. Two weeks ago, the first ever Long Beach Comic Con was doing its thing out West while the following week, the Baltimore Comic Con was doing its thing on the East, celebrating ten years of shows.

And today sees the start of the first Big Apple/Wizard-merging Big Apple Con in New York City. Followed next weekend by the Boston Comic Con.

Next year, the Baltimore Con is being muscled out of its October slot, and will instead take place in August, not even a month after Comic Con International in San Diego. Why? Because New York Comic Con (which has become San Diego East) has now moved to the second weekend of October, from its annual February slot.

It used to be (and when I say, "used to be," I mean as in, last year!) that Baltimore Con marked the end of the convention circuit, and everyone from dealers to fans to creators to editors could take a few months off before starting up again in the coming year.

Clearly, that is no longer the case. The recent glut of comic cons, and especially this October surge of big show after big show, is something that has me a bit worried.

This whole state of competing conventions is beginning to look like something out of a Daredevil comic. And I don't mean the ones when he wore yellow and smiled every now and then.

In the world of comic cons, there's a whole underbelly of corporate money-grabbing, dishonest guest stealing, and an all out promotional campaign that would make Presidential candidates jealous.

And it needs to stop.

Haven't we learned that, when you flood the market with the same type of product, consumers get sick of it? Obviously, since this is comics we're talking about, the answer is a four-color no. Remember that whole variant cover craze of the 90's that did its darndest to kill the industry?

And then remember when Marvel (then DC) started issuing all those "limited" variants a few years back? Some of those books were listing in price guides (Wizard Price Guide) for anywhere between $20 and $100!

And today?

Let's just say I saw more "hot" variant covers lining dealer's booths--not selling--than I cared to count at Baltimore. The day of the variant is dead (again). But, much like dead comics characters, the variant cover will be back and more ridiculous than ever one day.

That's just how it goes.

A type of book gets hot, stays hot, drops off the planet, then for whatever reason interest rises again five years down the road. It's cyclical, sure, but the cycle always ends in the quarter bins.

Long, rambling comparisons aside, the same situation is happening with comics conventions. By having so many of them, so close to one another, with virtually the same guest list...well, you see where I'm going with this.

It's just another example of the comics industry trying to punch itself in the face.

The Baltimore Con is an East Coast, autumn staple. It's known as one of the friendliest shows out there, and everyone knows you go to Baltimore to meet creators. Short lines, incredible guest lists, and an entire half of the convention center devoted to artist's alley.

Baltimore is exactly how to go about running an efficient, high-quality show. And its timing makes it a welcome site, after the crazy summer con season is over, and early enough as to not interfere with holiday shopping.

For me, it's been the perfect excuse to take a few days off, spend a little money, and talk with my favorite comics people.

Next year, though, I doubt I'll be going. August is typically a big wedding month, and I am in one the weekend right before the con. I'm just not a big fan of summer cons, I guess. Too much else to do.

As for Baltimore, there were several big name cancellations this year, and with the show being in August of 2010, so soon after San Diego, I wonder if they'll have trouble finding guests.

It has to be hard on creators to take so many weekends out of their time to hit up these shows. And more shows means more time creators need to be away from home. And, really, how long is that going to last? I'm willing to bet that many creators are going to look at the ominous list of 2010 cons and pick one or two shows to go to, and maybe decide against going to some of the smaller shows in favor of seeing the most fans possible at San Diego or NYCC.

Speaking of San Diego, I just read over on Mark Evanier's blog that the four-day ticket package that includes a ticket to Preview Night is already sold out. Yes. In October of the year before the show, tickets to San Diego have sold out.

So, clearly there's interest in comic conventions.

But, not to be all Chicken Little today, how widespread can that kind of interest be? Next year will be a big year for comics, and how conventions play out will mean a lot. Because there will be more shows, with less time between each, than ever before, will attendance suffer?

We'll see.

I say, less shows. Make them special occasions, not every-other-weekend occasions. Comic cons are like a little early Christmas each year, but how long will it be before there's a show planned on Christmas Day?

Hang on, I hear Gareb Shamus calling...

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