Column: Building The Con–A Different Take

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by John Shableski

[Editor's note: here's another take on putting on a con from a first time show runner, and the lessons he learned.]

If you’ve been reading Mike Scigliano’s Comic-Conversations columns you get some really good insights on what’s involved in producing a major comic con. Thanks to an invite from Heidi, I get to share the experience of a different kind of con.

When it comes to making the decision to produce a con, this is not something for the weak at heart more like it’s a challenge for the mildly insane…and worth every ounce of effort.

My most recent experience in the con planning world comes from an event called the Wildcat Comic Con which was held on a college campus here in Williamsport, PA. Our approach to the Wildcat Comic Con was an entirely different take. We developed the programming first and then the sellers hall/artist alley followed. The main thrust of the programming is that we wanted every session to be about the craft of comics. Whether the speakers were artists, editors, publishers, educators or fans, our goal was to create a common language. This way the next gen creator in the room got the message just as well as that teacher sitting next to them.

Wildcat was also a different creature in that this was a con produced entirely by the campus staff. I served as a consultant and contractor as well as author/creator liaison.

When you plan a con, there are more than a few elements you need to deal with: Location, transportation of talent, and marketing, marketing, marketing.

If you are in a Class B or Class C city you have your work cut out for you. You will need some A list talent to pull fans in and your location probably means there are no direct flights to your location.

You also need to start working at least a year out to help create a buzz for your con. That means social media, working with local radio and news papers and posting flyers on telephone poles and bulletin board in every 7/11 or mini market for at least a 50 mile radius. IF YOU DONT market your event you wont get people to show. It’s really that simple.

Too often the folks closest to the con planning spend so much time talking about the con they assume the entire world knows about it. You have to develop a regular schedule of promotional efforts and publicity that stays consistent right up to the final day of your event.

Another major element to consider: There are now over 400 comic cons taking place across the country each year. Major cons in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Atlanta all have an impact on your con. They determine who is available for your show. Study the calendar and figure out the least challenging date to work with and you have a starting point…sort of.

Next time on Building the Con: Finding the venue and picking your team.

Comments

  1. I attended the Wildcat con (with my buddy Robert Berry, of Ulysses Seen fame, currently in Dublin for Bloomsday… end of cheap plug) and I had a great time. Looking forward to reading more of the series!

  2. As another example of “grass-roots convention-ing, The Olympia Comics Festival hosted by Danger Room Comics in Olympia, Washington has been doing this for over ten years and it’s a shame they don’t get more press! You should contact founder and Danger Room co-owner Frank Hussey for some of his do’s and don’ts to setting up a small, but impressive, comics festival. They had Mike Allred and Jason Shiga this year!

  3. John Shableski says:

    Hey Ryan,
    glad to see the support for the Olympia Comics Festival. There are a lot of great folks like Frank running cons all over the country and per one of my points, marketing is something that demands a lot. The marketing person’s role is one that requires a lot of communicating with local fans, local and national media. There are over 400 cons in North America each year now and that list is growing. A good and steady publicity campaign will not only help in the local market but help create a greater awareness with in the creator community as well.

    And Ken, I’m glad you were able to join us for the Wildcat!

    J

  4. Even though Anaheim, California had WonderCon this year, and WizardWorld last year, Anaheim still doesn’t have its own comic book convention. Are there any takers out there willing to create a permanent comic book convention for Anaheim? Or a separate comics only convention for San Diego since Comic Con sells out so fast and leaves out so many real comic book fans?

  5. @John:

    You are so right about the marketing aspect. As with most things, getting the word out as much as possible is probably the best chance a small con has for success. Looking forward to reading your next installment. This is a great idea for a series and I’m glad the Beat encouraged it!
    “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and ADVERTISE.” -Ted Turner (on the secret of his success)

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