Tom’s really, really crappy con

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As opposed to the people who had a fun time, Tom Spurgeon says NYCC 08 was “bland and pointless, the kind of event that calls into question the entire enterprise more than it makes a case for the ascendancy of a shining new example.”:

Trying to limit my time at the show to better enjoy New York forced me to make a concerted attempt to get what work I can do at a con out of the way rather than have work come to me at its own pace as I might in San Diego or at a Small Press Expo. Working the show rather than hanging out at one, I found a surprising number of booth workers and company employees to be outright unhelpful when it came to doing rudimentary things that is so easy to get people from other industries to do for you at their trade shows. You know, little things like talk to you, recognize you’re standing there, solicit a question, perhaps even agree to do something reasonable when you ask for it rather than send you to someone else. I was snubbed for photos by roughly a half-dozen professionals that chose to continue personal conversations (in a public space, badges not flipped) rather than take 10 seconds to help me cover them. I can recall three publisher representatives to whom I spoke that whiffed on basic questions like what might be coming out the next season. One benign request for help with a photo led to shrugged shoulders and a request to ask someone “in charge,” but no indication as to who that might be. I visited dozens of booths; I was welcomed and asked if I could be helped at exactly three of them. Two exhibitors picked at the legitimacy of this publication before deciding to answer rudimentary queries about future books, or, really, listen to me at all. It was a long day.


We won’t argue that perhaps there are horrible, negative undercurrents at the show that bespeak an industry in decline, but there is one message that screams out from this: People, please be nicer to Tom Spurgeon!

Comments

  1. No.

  2. hcduvall says:

    I couldn’t attend this the con this year, but went the two previous. And while I think it goes without saying that there’s a bunch of other takes that involve uniformly great experiences and friendly folks, I think a viewpoint like Tom’s is an important one because it points to some of the gaps and flaws of what has gone on. I especially remember the resounding echoes of industry backpatting for putting on a good show for our friends after the first year–and I was pretty forgiving of that back then. New show, growing pains and all that. But if one of the most professional and even-tempered of comics journalists is still getting that kinda vibe? Even if your personal calibration of the mix of comics coverage at the con is different than Tom’s, it sounds like the show has major work ahead that is/can be easily be ignored by what is hitting an audience.

  3. I just sounds like Tom got all the bad business people this year. Customer service is important to every company in every industry. It the people he tried to talk to at the show don’t know that, then it’s there loss. People remember how they were treated when they’re deciding where to spend their money.

  4. Michael says:

    I’ve been snubbed by Tom in many the same ways

  5. Working at sales and schmoozing while at a (let’s face it) SALES Convention is a whole different bag of tricks.

    This can be a tall order for owners of a (let’s face it) typical Small to Medium Sized Business.

    Unless a person does this kind of work for a livelihood, it’s possible they need Sales or Media Training. It is just not the same skill set that’s needed for writing, drawing, or chatting with colleagues.

  6. It’s great to have differing perspectives on this kind of thing. I think Al is right, a lot of these publishers don’t have personnel with sales/media training, which has a negative effect on people like Tom who are covering the convention.

    On the other hand, I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the purpose and role of the convention hasn’t really been clearly defined. Is it really a sales convention? A trade show? An opportunity for social gathering + networking? And for what audience? The fans? The retailers? The non-existent comics press?

    When you go to the convention for non-enthusiast purposes, this lack of direction becomes really obvious. And I wonder whether these problems are partially rooted in the undefined role of comics journalism. The question I really have is whether this was really any better in the past. Publishers are still only interested in promoting their product, and have no incentive to cooperate with journalists (or anyone purporting to be a journalist) and provide them with information for stories. Maybe they cared less in the past.

    And I don’t know whether the comparative presence of the various wings of comics represented a conscious choice by Reed, or just the willingness of publishers to invest money in making a serious appearance. I don’t know whether the con really “committed to a mainstream strategy”, it just seemed like other publishers made the business decision to have a smaller footprint at the con.

  7. It’s easy to joke and say that Tom needs a hug (who doesn’t?) but even the best conventions are lacking in some way or another. The bigger they are, the more so, in fact.

    Dunno what the solution is, but the smaller cons seem to be better places for more personal — and professional — interaction.

    (But boy, those 80s ChicagoCons were great, weren’t they? Yow!)

  8. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Heidi, that’s super unfair, and you know it. I spent two entire paragraphs emphasizing that it wasn’t about my treatment, but what that treatment said to me about the attitude people displayed at the show. I can see some people deciding I’m not convincing on that point, but I thought you knew me well enough and thought well enough of me not to take this kind of weird Dirk-on-a-bad-day shot at my motivations.

    Michael, I apologize if I snubbed you at a con. As I put forward in the piece, it does happen a lot, to everyone. If there’s anything I can do for you now, please e-mail.

    (Also, most people weren’t snubbing me, but some generic fat press guy — I never wrote my name on my press pass. I don’t need a hug; I had an awesome weekend!)

  9. Well, I need a hug. Anyone got one for me. :)

  10. The Beat says:

    Tom, believe it or not, I am not trying to be unfair to you! You were treated unprofessionally…not once or twice but constantly throughout the con. The fact that you had no name badge and no one know who you were make the fact just as disturbing. I do know you well enough to know that your experience — or at least your takeaway of your experience, since you did have a good time at the show — differed vastly from my own, but I think it’s very valid and a welcome reality check for a lot of people.

    If I may throw in my own 2 cents, I had my own gripes about the way news was presented at the show. However, if you were looking for the kind of indepth discussion of comics as an art form that takes place at an SPX or MoCCA, those, in my experience, do not happen on the show floor, where people are busy dealing with the potentially angry public, but after hours, kicking back and toking up, or whatever it is the kids do nowadays.

    Anyhoo, I apologize if you think I was trivializing or putting your comment in a bad light. Both you and Josh Neufeld had a completely differnet experience of the show, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of you and your dissenting voices need to be heard.

    But yeah, everyone should treat you more professionally. that’s for certain.

  11. Rakarich says:

    These glass half full posts are becoming tiresome. If I want negativity I’ll go to the Jinxworld forums.

  12. None of the press badges had names on them. Instead, it seems that Reed Expo sold the space to a company called Graphic Management Partners.

    I had a fine time, except for the crowds of people bashing me with their backpacks. The best was going to the Archie panel with Lillian Baker (http://www.comicmix.com/news/2008/04/23/nycc-kids-report-archie-comics-panel/)

  13. If press had stopped by our little booth (tucked behind the behemoth of DC), we would have welcomed them and given them cookies, but then, we’re a relatively new division of our company and still a very cheap and easy date. A nice man from a podcast called All Things Fun requested an interview, and he did such an excellent job putting me at ease, it’s made me very positive about connecting with journalists at a convention (and a lot less nervous). But part of the problem with connecting with anyone at NYCC was the massive din and press of people–the noise alone it could flatten even the friendliest person into unresponsiveness.

    I think we all need a few hugs after that weekend.

  14. Alan Coil says:

    Right on, Rakarich.

    I should be so lucky some day to be able to get to a New York or San Diego convention, yet those that get to go regularly cry about how they weren’t treated like royalty. Feh.

  15. Even though I spent a good deal of time cursing people under my breath that kept bumping into my injured left elbow, I still saw a better experience than Tom apparently did. I’ve seen the most obscure blogs and comic sites treated wonderfully by some of the bigger publishers out there.

    I know I saw DC have problems with sites that felt they could just jump in to interview creators while they were scheduled for autograph sessions at the DC booth. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the sort of thing that Spurgeon is talking about.

  16. Rakarich says:

    edit: I stated “glass half full posts” earlier rather than the correct “glass half empty posts”. I hope that my point didn’t get lost in my mix up. ;)

  17. Some publishers need publicists or have some publicity training. They should be courting the media instead of the other way around.

  18. Bring Back Zot says:

    My experience as a fan was very different. I took our 11 year old son on Saturday, and everyone was incredibly courteous and helpful. Special kudos to Nick Cardy, Joe Staton, Kyle Baker, and the helpful team at the Chaotic Card Game Booth. You made this con an unforgettable memory for my son.

  19. Peter David says:

    Well, I had a great time, but then again, I got a kick out of watching 2/3 of the attendees walking around with ads for my next novel on their badges.

    PAD

  20. It is the journalist’s duty to NOT be snubbed. If someone “snubs” you, you go right up to them anyway and start asking questions. And if that person cannot answer, you find the right person you can. Or you find out when the appropriate person will be at the booth. Of course, it helps if you have a portable podcasting setup and a relatively sanguine disposition. Because of this, I had a very fun time and I was able to ask some challenging questions. Although I will confess that one big name ran away from me! I did run after him, but he had successfully evaded me. He was the only one.

  21. Nora Rocket says:

    Jamaal Thomas, you’ve hit it over the wall: “I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the purpose and role of the convention hasn’t really been clearly defined. Is it really a sales convention? A trade show? An opportunity for social gathering + networking? And for what audience? The fans? The retailers? The non-existent comics press?”

    I couldn’t agree more. Because it was my first Con, further, I definitely didn’t know what to expect. It seems to be (and need to be?) all of these things, for all of these audiences, but maybe with an eye to doing some things a little better (marketing info, product info, media). Maybe a little more BEA-type influence (but not too much)?

  22. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Heidi, I’ll of course take you at your word that you didn’t intend for that to be an insult. It’s kind of frustrating that most of the posters on here don’t seem to get that despite my spending about 1/7 of the essay saying that my individual treatment wasn’t the point at which I was getting. Look, comics has always been a hostile place to be a press person; I’ve had far more hostile and unpleasant experiences. I don’t give a shit about that stuff. I’d just never seen that level of disconnect between mission and industry before, and my experience there trying to work the show a bit just happened to be my window on it. From the amount of mail I’ve received, a lot of people had a similarly disheartening experience along the exact same lines. I don’t care if people are nice to me, but I was concerned that no one seemed connected into what was going on and why they were there. And of course there were exceptions.

    I do, however, appreciate the lessons on how to be a journalist. Thanks, guys!

  23. Alan Coil says:

    Tom Said:

    “…I’ve had far more hostile and unpleasant experiences.”

    It may have to do with you being associated for so long with The Comics Journal/Fantagraphics.

    It obviously doesn’t make it right, but people have long memories.

  24. Just to clarify: Not offering any hugs. But next time I see Dr. Spurge, will be happy to buy an ale or two.

  25. I certainly don’t think Heidi’s post makes you look bad or self-centered, Tom. I think it simply re-states some legitimate concerns in your own words. Your sincerity certainly comes through in the quoted bits.

    I find simply being polite at cons to be almost impossible at times and it makes me terribly frustrated and sad. People often come a long way for something as simple as a hello or a book signing, or a long-time email friend may want nothing more complicated than a hug and a moment of face-to-face time, but the mere act of trying to attend every panel and signing you’re scheduled for often leaves no time even for those small niceties. At some point, just doing what you’ve agreed to do on the schedule means leaving some people disappointed, either as you’re departing or arriving.

    I am far from the biggest name in comics and at this con, I often had four or more separate people talking to me at once even while simply walking to the restroom or rushing to a panel. I attempted a few meetings with some fairly high-powered people but still made every effort to be nice to those other people who came up to say hello during such times. But I’m certain I missed some people just through the sheer din and velocity of the convention.

    I think most of us long ago gave up the idea of getting much actual business done at the better-attended cons, preferring instead to take the breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings away from the convention halls. It may be getting that way for even the semi-business of taking photos and answering journo questions outside of signing lines and podcast alleys. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what can really be done about it. I feel terribly guilty when I have to cut someone short, politely, or can’t really even say a proper hello for whatever reason, but it’s never because I’m mean or selfish, it’s simply me trying to keep my con commitments. I remember once, I was terribly sick at a con, but I felt that cancelling my appearance might disappoint some folks, so I went and did the very best I could to be as nice as I could to everyone. Sure enough, someone wrote that I was harsh and cold because I wasn’t able to speak much. I guess the answer is just to try to do the best you can and hope people understand when not everything goes perfectly.

    That said, I don’t quite get the no photographs thing. It seems a pretty small thing to allow, especially for a noted and long-time journalist and commentator. Maybe people are simply too harried, but it seems almost the least one could do under the circumstances.

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