Contemplating what makes a good comic convention.

I am sitting in a hotel room in San Jose, contemplating the con I came down here for after awakening from a dream of Cthulhoid entities draining many of the better characteristics from my friends in the furry scene.

APE was too big. I want to give it a little slack for just having moved from San Francisco to San Jose and needing to attract a local audience. But to be honest, it was too big last year. The number of people I saw passing by my booth never really approached feeling like a bustling con.

I want to contrast it to SPX, since that’s fresh in my memory and I did much better than I normally do – I sold out of my usual pile of Rita 1 on the first day, while not even selling a dozen copies of it over APE.

In terms of vendors, one thing I realized was super unusual about SPX was its tight focus. There was nobody with a wall of unlicensed prints of Marvel and DC characters. Nobody with a bunch of still images. Every single table had comics on it. In most comics shows I go to these days, there’s a dilution from “people selling comics” to “people selling art”. (And to “corporations promoting their movies” but we’ll stay away from that issue.) I was across from a couple of people selling prints of super flat, cute art. I saw one person at APE whose booth was filled entirely with drawings of corporate superheros crying, all drawn in the style of a FunkoPop figure, all in pretty much the same pose.


Seriously, their whole booth was this. There was also someone with a print wall of corporate characters as Minions. I wish I was making that up, but I am not.

That person also had several people in front of their booth when I passed by, so I guess that shit sells, but geez. That is like the Platonic ideal of an SDCC artist alley booth. What’s that doing at the “Alternative Press Expo”? It’s spreading the money thinner, and increasing the cultural footprint of stuff owned by Warners and Disney. I’d say maybe a quarter to two fifths of the booths at APE were selling prints, rather than comics, with a lot of them having no small amount of corporate stuff.

If APE was stripped down to about, oh, two-thirds of its size, by removing everyone not selling comics, with the same attendance, I think it’d be a much healthier show. Of course all the people who were disinvited by doing this would bitch a blue streak! But really I think it needs to be stripped down to about two-thirds of its size anyway to better distribute the amount of money its attendees are willing to spend.

(I am, of course, biased. There is a part of me that wants to go to every single person with a wall of prints and say WHERE IS YOUR COMIC WHAT IS ALL THIS OTHER CRAP. Especially when they are someone doing flat art; seriously I am pretty much the only person I have ever seen with a flat, no-lines sign who actually has a comic for sale instead of a lot of standalone drawings. I really want to go shake those people because I want to read more comics that make my eyes happy.)

Anyway. I didn’t make enough money at APE to even pay my hotel, much less my other expenses. I don’t think I’ll be back for a few years until I hear it’s got a much better ratio of attendees to booths.

(There are also rumors that Disney is going to start cracking down on people selling unlicensed Marvel stuff at the big cons, which might have an overall cascade effect on the entire comic convention scene. It’d be nice. But I’m not going to hold my breath.)

But let’s contemplate some numbers and see if they match my intuition: ~200 exhibitors at APE2015; no attendance numbers yet. The only numbers I can find is 6100 in 2013. Although interestingly enough, SPX2015 had about 200 exhibitors as well, and the only attendance numbers I can find are “over 3000” in 2012. I’m pretty sure they had more in 2015, the place was pretty damn full, but I wish I had some actual numbers to compare. Because holy shit SPX sure is doing something right and I would love to see more non-megacons doing the same thing.

(Actually I think it would be pretty interesting to see what happens if a medium-sized comic con made the explicit rule of “no megacorp character stuff”. If your table has that stuff you’ll be asked to take it down. If you’ve got nothing but you’ll be asked to leave, with no refund. Again, I have an obvious bias here, what with having all of two prints of corporate properties in my body of largely original work.)

My verdict on APE: show there if you can drive in and stay at a friend’s place.

  1. APE has often seemed like it’s struggling to find its audience. They want to be Comic-Con Lite but they also want to be indie, and they seem to always end up in a “neither fish nor fowl” situation and nobody’s happy.

    Last time I went (2011, I think) the show had hit Peak Zombie and literally every other booth was zombie comics – which meant that everyone who was sick of zombies (like me) was just skipping over all the zombie-dense booths meaning that all of the non-zombie folks who had the misfortune of being wedged between zombie booths got overlooked. And everyone seemed to just be so detached, vendors and attendees alike. I heard that was a really bad year for it though.

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