C2E2, Stumptown, Calgary and beyond: comics culture takes over North America

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dalek C2E2, Stumptown, Calgary and beyond: comics culture takes over North America
C2E2, Stumptown and the Calgary Expo are all far behind in our rearview mirror, and I meant to write this up last week, but even as everyone is scrambling to get ready for TCAF, I felt like this year’s C2E2 in Chicago—the fourth one—finally defined it as a show that serves a local need and belongs on the comics calendar, and the confluence of a weekend when two other major shows in other categories were taking place demonstrated the strength of not only fandom but the creator contingent.

I had a fairly lengthy and frank assessment of last year’s C2E2, and to be honest most of the comics publishers I talked to didn’t know if the show would survive; several of them really didn’t CARE if it did. Although four years ago publishers wanted a full scale show to take advantage of Chicago’s centralized access to huge numbers of fans, after experiencing the outrageous drayage costs and intimidating dimensions of McCormick Place—and, let’s be frank, uneven to crappy sales— they quickly lost enthusiasm. Despite Diamond holding their retailer show—attended by most of the front of the catalog publishers—in Chicago four years running, fewer and fewer publishers set up every year. This year, DC pulled “a Marvel” and didn’t even set up a booth, although they still held all their panels and contributed key art for ads and posters. The absence left an aching void in veteran con goers. Checking in with DC’s Bob Wayne on one matter, I ended with a jaunty “Well, I’ll ask you about it tomorrow at the booth.” To which he replied “Heidi we don’t have a booth,” in the way only Bob Wayne can.

The reasons for the boothlessness I was given ranged from DC reassessing with their marketing plan to them wanting to show ReedPOP, the group which throws both C2E2 and NYCC, that there were things they didn’t like about the way the show was run. (Some speculated that DC might even pull out of NYCC, although I didn’t find any support for that rumor.) Whatever the reason, I think DC was ahead of the curve here. As I suggested in my write-up for Publishers Weekly, the 53,000 fans who attended the show seemed to be more set on having a personal engagement with some aspect of “comics culture” and stopping by publisher booths wasn’t as personal as they wanted it to be. It must be said that a shortage of A-listers at the publisher booths probably didn’t help. A Geoff Johns or Scott Snyder enthroned at a mighty DC booth would have sent a very different message…but that didn’t happen.

I found myself more fascinated by this year’s C2E2 than by any recent show, and read as many con reports as I could. I’ll get back with my findings on that in a bit, but first, here’s what else was happening across the continent.

201305070304 C2E2, Stumptown, Calgary and beyond: comics culture takes over North America

The same weekend hosted the Calgary Expo, where last year the first ever reunion of the entire Star Trek the Next Generation cast caused a near riot among fans. This year’s show had a huge guest list of both nerdlebrities and comics guests—it was better than C2E2’s to be honest— and there was a lot of grousing about lines and such which organizers responded to on Facebook. No need to rehash the whole thing at this late date but there were still a lot of fans and a lot of people who wanted to meet the guy who played that elf that time.

A writer named Brittany for Comics The Blog wrote of her experiences:

After the boondoggle that was last year’s expo, it was nice to see some improvements. Not quite good enough to make a Good ranking, but not Bad enough to criticize, line management still needs some work. Going Friday night to pick up badges for the weekend was a good idea, things were moving smoothly and there were volunteers at every step of the way, ushering people to the area they needed to be in. It reminded me a lot of San Diego Comic Con and the way badge pick up is done there. It would be nice to see badges individualized with peoples names/where they’re from on them, like San Diego does, but that might be just wishful thinking. It sure makes chatting with others in line a bit easier, and the more lines begin to form in Calgary, the more we need ways to temper frustrations.

Show runners responded to her complaints and she responded to that in this post.

That does not excuse the way I, and others, were treated by other staff. Nor do I feel much better regarding a lack of Expo interviews. However, having discussed this and hearing more from the other side, I now have a greater appreciation of what they do, and am looking forward to the changes being made. I hope that we will be more transparent and communicative in the future, which will solve some of our issues.

I also want to make clear, that despite not always agreeing or being happy with how things are handled doesn’t make me any less respect or appreciate the work they do. As I said earlier, they have a very difficult job. They are wrangling stars, dealing with agents, and trying to keep the more zealous press at bay. Managing media for an Expo of this size is no easy feat, but I look forward to working with them again in the future.

I couldn’t find an attendance figure for the Expo (and organizers haven’t yet responded to my request,) but it was obviously a huge pop culture fest that has expanded rapidly in the space. I’ve heard comics creators talk about the show being a lucrative one, as well.

201305070300 C2E2, Stumptown, Calgary and beyond: comics culture takes over North America
[Photo © greyaenigma]

Then there was Stumptown, the comics show in the heart of comicstown that should be a crowning event on the indie circuit and yet seems plagued by a lack of the kind of explosive sales you often see at SPX of BCGF. For this show you need only read Tom Spurgeon’s 7,000 word report. mostly because it’s kinda the only report on the show. Afterwards Portlandians did not have time to write blog posts about their hijinks, due to being so busy being laid back.

* I don’t get the sense that anyone killed at the show. Traffic was slow both mornings, pretty decent by late afternoon. Some folks were comparing traffic to the old days and the smaller space, which probably distorts things a bit. I was told in passing by different festival people that they felt attendance was slightly up by their count. This was not the mood of the room. It seemed okay to me, not dire, and maybe at its most busy later in the day on Saturday.

* a lot of individual reports I got from folks were positive with qualification: “This is about what I expected to do because the book I hoped to have here wasn’t here” or “I did fine, but I was a guest/am local and that helped greatly with costs” and even one “I love Portland too much to care.” However, I checked with about a half-dozen vendors of the kind that would keep records they could check and other than the CBLDF — Charles Brownstein said they were slightly down — all of them said they did roughly the same as last year; two were surprised when they mentioned this, but mention this they did.

 


After reading Tom’s report of his time in PDX, I’m guessing that maybe Stumptown doesn’t kill because everyone is just so jaded from seeing cartoonists everywhere all the time. He also said that local awareness of the show wasn’t great however so…who knows.
But wait, here’s another report from Stumptown from comedian and fledgeling comics creatorBrett White

But that leads me to my bigger point about Portland, and what it taught me. Comics really aren’t just about superheroes, and there is plenty of joy to be found outside of the narrow scope of the Big Two. Yes, I knew this already. And yes, I read plenty of non-superhero comics on a monthly basis. But being in the midst of a town and a convention that so thoroughly celebrates independent publishing with as much fanfare as C2E2 celebrated the fights and tights genre made me really take notice.

As a guy taking his first, cautious steps into the world of comic book making, it was downright inspirational to see so many people at Stumptown who just did it. People have comics inside of them and they made them happen. I’m currently in the “how do I what do I how much do I oh no” phase of creating a comic; after talking with people who went through the exact doubt-spiral, who then pulled themselves out of that spiral with a comic book firmly clutched in hand, I feel more confident than ever that I can do it too.

Okay so when you’re unjaded you have a good time.

I’ve never been to Stumptown (although I would love to go someday) so I’ll have to leave its peculiar problems to the locals who have a better grasp on why it has something of a mixed rep.

Anyway, back to C2E2. ReedPOP’s Lance Fensterman gives his debrief at ICv2 here and confirms that it was the biggest C2E2 yet up 13,000 in attendance and 30% in show floor. I can confirm that this is the first time that the fans at C2E2 weren’t just swallowed up by the vastness of McCormick Place. You could tell that a con was going on a few blocks away even! A friend who trains in from Milwaukee every year told me that for the first time, people on the bus from the train station all looked like they were going to a con; in previous years he couldn’t even tell something was going on from his fellow passengers.

Despite worries over making money on the floor, the show definitely caught fire in the imaginations of those who went, as the excerpts on this page show. Unlike NYCC, which is dangerously crowded and, frankly, just a terrifying place to be most of the time, C2E2 had enough room to spread wayyyyy out, and the vibe was mellow, as Michael Sangiacomo wrote:

I won’t go on about the hundreds of cool guests there. Check out the usual comic review websites for complete information on that. The good thing about Chicago versus other cons was the organization. There were not ridiculously long lines snaking through the place making it hard to navigate. They put all the superstars on one side of the auditorium so the folks waiting in line were out of the way.

BUT oh that drayage:

There was some criticism leveled against Reed Pop, the promoters of C2E2, for their stinginess with tables and chairs. I asked for an extra chair for my table and was told I would have to go through the head office and rent an extra chair for up to $50. When I balked, I was told an extra chair cost $75 at the Reed Pop con in New York. It seems to me if someone is paying $450 to rent a table in Artist’s Alley, they should be able to get as many chairs as they need. Some people went out and bought a cheap chair at a local Kmart, rather than pay the extra $50. I just swiped one from a table where no one was sitting.

The extra costs of McCormick Place will always mitigate against it being a place consumer shows want to set up—I understand that’s all part of local politics but they have made some concessions to reality — the free wifi was a nice touch, and you could always find some spot where it wasn’t jammed, unlike Javits.

I had a lot of C2E2 blog posts linked up—I enjoyed reading them because people had good times, not just dressing up but meeting artists and writers and listening to Patton Oswalt. I do have a soft spot for Sierra Nicole Rhoden who dressed up as Bandette, from the delightful Colleen Coover comic of the same name, and he above photo of Bandette and a Dalek presents the essence of Fandom 2013 in a nutshell. Anyway, she had a fine time at the show and went to many interesting panels and did see a He-Man doing odd things at an after party but didn’t let it dampen her spirits.

I also liked this newbie report because it’s always someone’s first issue.

As this was my first convention, the crowds and lines gave me a sense of scale and the kind of impact that the comic book industry has.  Sure you get a taste of this through photos, videos, and online forums, but I’m sure that (like me) there is a large portion of the comic book reading audience whose entire social experience surrounding comic books has been limited to their room, their local comic shop, and a group of friends that share the interest. So you can imagine that for me, a socially introverted comic convention newbie, the experience was a little overwhelming at first.

 

There’s also this annoyed report on not getting into the Fake Geek Girl panel because it was held in a teeny 800 sq ft room.:

As a long time Geek Girl, and as a first time Con-goer, this was a huge slap in the face. Chicago Nerd Social Club were offering an intelligent discussion on the obsession with Fake Geek Girls, gate keeping, and general discrimination in the geek culture, but the organizers at C2E2 made it very clear that they didn’t think anyone would be interested in such a thing. And if they were, well, it was only going to be girls, and how many girls go to cons anyway? Considering we make up over half of the population, I think it’s safe to say that at least half of the attendees this past weekend identify as female.

If I were to mention one thing ReedPOP needs to work on it’s still having more diversity in the guests. I’ve told them this publicly and privately for years, and they’ve talked about it for years, but nothing ever changes. I don’t think it’s a deliberate thing, just a detail that doesn’t get addressed. I think this is a topic for another whole column—and ReedPOP is far from the only offender in this area.

But yeah, in general, nerd culture is here and comic cons or expos or whatever you want to call them, are the place to meet artists writers and celebrities that you like and admire, and C2E2 is one of those places. That is established and this time ReedPOP did a great job of advertising and outreach and got a great audience. While a few smaller publishers were slow in Artist Alley, most of the established artists were raving about how great the show was. So yeah.

Some more observations and notes:

Paul Cornell is a gentleman! Hanging out with him, Mike Molcher and Andy Diggle after the 2000 AD panel and listening to different theories on Judge Dredd was a treat.

• Chicago is really developing into a party con. Maybe it’s because everyone is holed up at the same hotel. Maybe it’s the special con beer at the Hyatt bar. Maybe it’s the publisher who bought 25 bottles of beer at last call. It was all good fun but there was a recovery curve for sure.

• Although this year we returned to a hotel on Grant Park, and that was great because you got to wake up and BE SOMEWHERE and eat breakfast at a real diner and so on. Cabs were a little pricey but it all came out the same in the end.

• Had an awesome breakfast with Amy Chu, Ellie Pyle, Carol Tilley, Brigid Alverson and Tina Coleman. We actually brainstormed a few ideas to save comics.

• The Athleta Comics launch party on Saturday was more like a bar mitzvah than a comics launch party and it was charming. I guess it’s kind of a Chicago thing, but instead of inviting tons of comics nerdlebrities, local sports celebrity Isreal Idonije’s just invited his friends and family to celebrate him publishing a comic book. Nice. I guarantee you will never see a party like that again at San Diego.

• As I alluded to in my PW report, the presence of SF and fantasy authors and book publishers could be a significant direction for the show to go in. I think if comics publishers don’t set up, other exhibitors will just step in. Despite the logistical obstacles, C2E2 is becoming a consumer lifestyle show. And I’m not saying that comics publishers NEED to justify the expense of a booth. Maybe just having some panels and other clever promotions are the way to go in the future.

• I greatly enjoyed the music of DJ JFX316 in the lobby. Arriving at the show on Saturday morning, I was greeted by the strains of Primus’ “My Name is Mudd” echoing through the halls, and watching the costumed throng arrive from a balcony, I felt very peaceful and at home. I’d found my own fan experience, and that’s what comic con culture is all about.

Comments

  1. Jim Sheridan says:

    Interesting stuff. Any captions for the pictures? The first one is a Hit Girl person kissing a Dr. Who critter, I think, and the bottom one is of people looking at Jack Nicholson for undetermined purposes. Who is in the middle picture? Are those actors, fans, comic creators?

  2. Torsten Adair says:

    https://plus.google.com/117462142413910487288/posts/TsV4SNAX4kw?hl=en

    Calgary sold out before the show opened!
    “But it’s not just about those latecomers who seem oddly confident they will make it through the doors of an event where all 56,000 tickets have been sold that he finds “interesting.””

  3. Torsten Adair says:

    Interesting…. NYCC will have RFID nametags!

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    For those keeping score:
    C2E2 attendance figures:
    2010 27500
    2011 34000
    2012 41000
    2013 53000
    Attendance doubled in four years.
    An average increase of 6,375 a year. At this rate, the show will hit 100K in 2021. (San Diego took 35 years, NYCC hit it in six.)

    Any attendance numbers for WonderCon? 2012 and 2013 would be helpful.

  5. At C2E2 it seemed that most female oriented panels were put in the smaller rooms. Both Fake Geek Girls and I Must Cosplay! panels filled up quickly and they turned away as many that got in.

  6. Shawn H says:

    I went to Stumptown this year and it did seem like attendance was down, but then again I was only there for a few hours. I can say that there was hardly any advertising leading up to the event. I only saw one ad for it, and that was from the Stumptown page on Facebook. I talked to a couple people that were on panels and they told me that communication between panelists and organizers was very lackluster. Apparently one panelist didn’t learn that they were scheduled for a panel until the morning of the show. I had a great time and saw and bought fun things, but it didn’t seem as exciting as it was last year.

  7. likefunbutnot says:

    I was really, really disappointed with the panel content at C2E2 this year. The floor managed to be awesome without being the giant autograph and swap meet-fest that Wizard’s con is, but the combination of interesting panels in rooms that filled up and very few interesting panels in the first place left me wandering around the show floor for far, far too long.

    I feel like C2E2 took a wrong turn this year by de-emphasizing the geeky cultural stuff that characterized earlier panel content.

  8. Big Jon says:

    Thank you… SO MUCH for this article.

    I’ve volunteered for c2e2, and I do staff work for WW, and contribute to all the other local cons, so I research a lot of this stuff.

    This article highlights one of our city’s serious problems. That our own costs are KILLING our convention scene. Many folks around here speculate about the reasons for such absences from our shows. Last year, Image, Dark Horse, Aspen, Dynamite, Alex Ross, all of them… had no booth presence at a show they had just recently championed. Once c2e2 has passed the honeymoon stage in this city, even with such great growth, it is going to be faced with much difficulty in a convention center that insanely expensive.

    But this lays it all out. I ducked into c2e2’s Q&A panel that weekend, and they spoke of how DC had to reassess their marketing situation because of tight budgets. DC had to choose between c2e2 and Wondercon. So, they chose Wondercon. The c2e2 staff even went so far as to say if not for Diamond, Dark Horse would not have shown up again.

    Meanwhile, Chicago TARDIS is still $50 a day, and they have a small space out in Lombard. ACEN is all volunteer, but still over $60 for the weekend. And to finally be able to pay for the Con, WW had to raise the price of a 4-day wristband to $90.

    Locals assume that the costs of our conventions are too high for nefarious reasons. But, as it turns out, it seems that our fine city is just as expensive for everyone. I wish this whole city would stop doing that, so our cons could grow.

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