In the last few years, cosplayers have become a larger and larger part of the convention scene. There are now “celebrity cosplayers” whose hard work is so incredible that they become attractions unto themselves at conventions. This rubs a lot of people the same way. As one friend of mine put it, “costumes don’t have pockets”—in other words, cosplayers in general do not spend money at conventions. And this, in my experience, is true. But I wholeheartedly disagree that cosplayers are the reason artists can’t make money at conventions. There are a lot of other factors and I’d like to break down a few that I’ve noticed in my 8 years attending conventions, 4 of which have been spent as a “pro” behind the table.
1. THE SAN DIEGO/WIZARD WORLD EFFECT
PROBLEM: The two conventions that Mrs. Dorman specifically singles out are Comic Con International/San Diego Comic Con and Wizard World Chicago. I’ve been very vocal on Twitter regarding my issues with Wizard World’s anti-comic stance at their supposed “comic cons,” but let’s face it, SDCC and Wizard World are no longer comic book friendly shows. San Diego is a launching pad for media franchises and Wizard shows are where you go to get C-list celebrity autographs. Both shows are plagued with high table costs for artists, inflated hotel prices, and often ridiculous travel costs. When I attended Wizard World Chicago as a pro in 2012, I split a table with a friend and jammed as many people in my hotel room as possible. Between may table fee ($400/2—which has gone up since then—my hotel costs, food, and gas to drive in from Iowa, the show was easily a $600 investment on my part. All of this to sell my $5 self-published comic book collection.
SOLUTION: If you are a pro, don’t go to these shows. The audience is no longer interested in spending money on comic books. They want to meet Jonathan Frakes, not Jonathon Hickman, let alone Johnny Small Press. Wizard World is no longer comic book community friendly. San Diego hasn’t been in over a decade. If you want to make memories, go to these shows and try to enjoy yourself. If you want to make money, simply do not go. There are plenty of large regional conventions (Planet Comic Con in Kansas City, Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, etc) and even smaller regional conventions where you can make a killing from fans that want to attend a comic book show. Know your audience and go where they are.
2. CREATOR RESPONSIBILITY
PROBLEM: While I can’t say that this is Dorman’s problem, as I have never met Dave or Denise, but I have attended enough conventions to let you know a huge issue with guests not making money lies solely with the guests. Unless you are a big name creator working on a high profile book at that moment, chances are you won’t have a line in front of your booth. You just have to accept that and find a way to work around that. Too many creators are just a bit too focused on completing that commission, working on a page around deadline time, or too busy talking to their friends and neighbors to focus on potential customers. You are there to sell comics and art, but if you are not actively selling comics and art, you cannot complain when you don’t make money.
SOLUTION: At a convention a few years ago, I was accused by one of my table neighbors of being a “carnival barker” at my table because I actively engaged people walking by. At the end of the day, I had one of my biggest sales days ever and this person, whose nose was stuffed in his iPad the entire show, sold literally one book. Every single person that walks by their booth is a potential fan and a fan is a potential customer. Talk to people as they walk by your booth and invite them to check out your wares. I have sold more comics because I commented on the tshirt a passerby was wearing than I have by people who randomly meandered their way to my table. I find some way to connect with people and because of that, I do pretty well at conventions. If I have a friend sitting at my table with me, I try not to cause our conversations to prohibit people from approaching my table. If anything, I use those conversations to bring new fans in. If someone is “just chatting” in front of my table, I’ll politely ask them to stand to the side so I’m still open to people who want to flip through my comics. If a cosplayer is drawing a crowd in front of my table, I politely ask them to make room for people to come by (and I usually snap a picture, because I love cosplayers!). You are not entitled to the money of convention goers—you have to earn it and you cannot do that if you won’t engage them.
3. SHOWRUNNER RESPONSIBILITY
PROBLEM: Personal responsibility for comic book creators is huge when it comes to making money at conventions, but it isn’t everything. Some responsibility falls upon the convention organizers. Prohibitive ticket costs will keep attendees from spending money in Artist Alley. Poor layouts could mean that some creators are completely missed. Scheduling your convention against another convention or a major local event will mean low attendance. And promotion? You damn well better have promoted your comic book show or no one is going to show up. Even the greatest creators ever will not make any money if they are guests at a poorly run convention.
SOLUTION: If you are running a comic book convention, keep these things in mind. Make sure that your ticket prices will cover your expenses and keep your expenses relatively low, especially in your early years. If you are charging Wizard World prices for your convention that only has 20 guests, you won’t make any money and neither will the creators. Likewise, if you have 100 creators and you are charging hotel ballroom convention ticket prices, you won’t make enough money to continue throwing conventions. If you place the biggest name at the show in the middle of the aisle, their line will keep the people next to them from making any money. Don’t put comic creators next to the bathroom or in the darkest corner of the hall. Make sure you promote your comic show at local colleges and comic book shops. Do you r research by attending other more successful comic book conventions and emulate what makes them successful.
There you have it, three major problems with comic book conventions that are preventing creators from making money. These are important things to keep in mind when choosing what conventions you attend as a pro, how you conduct yourself at those shows, and whether or not you return to those shows in the future. You will notice that none of these items have much of anything to do with cosplayers.
What your thoughts? Post in the comments below, find me on Twitter, or shoot me an email.