Tuesday, May 20, 2014

River City Comic Expo Con Recap

When Heidi first pitched River City Comic Expo to me after her trip to ICE, I was intrigued.  A charity convention held in a mall?  That could either be horrible or fantastic.  At $30 a table, and within driving distance, I thought it'd be worth a shot.

It's this sort of thinking that's lead me to believe that maybe my ability to choose conventions is questionable. Perhaps if more information had been made available at the onset, I would've known to veto River City Comic Expo as a convention to attend.

I'll argue that my rational wasn't totally off base.  When I was told 'mall', I thought it would be an actual mall, not a stripmall.  I assumed it'd be a bustling Saturday mall, full of teenagers with a little extra money to burn on fast food and impulse buys.  I thought there'd be parents there and I thought there'd be plenty of foot traffic.  I assumed the conventions organizer would have the artists and exhibitors best interests in mind, rather than prioritizing the charity of his choice over our ability to make costs.  I really need to stop making stupid assumptions.

Saturday was a gross, rainy day, so there wasn't a lot of 'killin' time' foot traffic either.  Not this mall would attract much of the loitering crowd, and without a food court, there's nothing to attract teenagers either.  We were informed, however, that this venue was free to the con, which didn't really inspire much enthusiasm on our part.   How about charging us a little more, but having a decent venue?

River City Comic Con, in Louisville, Kentucky, was located in one of the deadest inside strip malls I've ever seen.  We shared proximity with a Family Dollar, a Thrift Mart, a dying cinema, a poorly maintained library branch, an H&R Block, and a Jazzercise studio, and a good half of these locations were closed for Saturday.  We were in the main thoroughfare, a dark hallway that didn't attract any attention, and there was no exterior signage to hint that a convention of any sort was going on.  While inside the library using the bathroom, I saw one very boring sign advertising River City Comic Expo on the back wall with no through traffic, but I saw no other advertising while at various other locations in the city.  Nothing in coffee shops.  Nothing in restaurants.  What few people came by exclaimed that they didn't even know an event was taking place in the Mid City Mall beforehand.


The 'convention' was just one long alley of tables, and the meeting room inside the library.


I faced this unadorned library wall the entire convention.  Maybe they could've solicited comic pages to borrow in preparation for the con, to help get people interested in the event.

Though the library was open and saw a few families, they were in the borrowing, not buying mindset.

Panels were located in the branch library's single meeting room, and rather hand out a schedule or have a signboard of events, the loudmouthed organizer just announced everything.  This happened several times throughout the convention- he demanded our attention, talked over our sales, and even encouraged artists to ditch their tables to attend these panels.  I found this to be extremely disrespectful.

The convention opened to the public at 10:00, and setup for artists opened at 9:00.  Heidi and I were surprised to see that we had 8' tables, we were expecting the standard 6'x2'.  While I was happy for the extra space, my 3 yard tablecloth was almost not long enough, and it was a bit of a fun challenge figuring out a new layout to take advantage of this extra room.  Unfortunately, I think the layout I went with still needs tweaking as customers checking out my watercolors were out of my peripheral vision while I sketched, meaning I may have lost some sales.

A table this large would be ideal for at-con watercolors, I could have an entire station dedicated to their production.  This wasn't even a GOOD utilization of space, there's lots of room behind the wire cubes.  I even had room behind me.  The store behind me was closed the entire con.
Heidi's lovely setup.  Check out those sweet art deco hand lettered signs.  Photo courtesy of Heidi Black, and used with permission.


Photo taken by Heidi Black and used with permission.

It seemed that the focus of this little convention was steampunk- most of the tables at the 'front' of the con (the only tables that received decent lighting from the large windows)  were steampunk, about five tables in a row.  Scattered through the rest of the 'convention' were more steampunk tables.  There was also a focus on steampunk for a few of the panels.  While I have nothing against steampunkers in general, I find that the sort of art I offer doesn't appeal to them in the least.  I generally sell much better to anime kids, which this convention didn't really attract.  The majority of tables were held by artists with more mainstream American comics styles, or by vendors reselling stock sold at a markup.  I'm really not a fan of mixed vendor conventions like this, as a lot of customers can't really tell the difference between tables full of resold merchandise and tables with original stock.

Photo taken by Heidi Black and used with permission.  I sorta like the Sterilite shelves the guy next to us used to display his merchandise.  As you can see, I'm wasting a lot of space with my mesh shelves in this configuration.

Photo taken by Heidi Black and used with permission.


Heidi told me that River City Comics Expo had advertised on the radio, and I can't confirm or deny this.  I will say that other than their Facebook page and their late-to-the-scene, difficult to navigate website, I didn't see any information about River City Comic Expo.  I had such a hard time finding information about this convention that I never bothered to add it to my sidebar convention list, lest I put the wrong information.  If this event is to continue, it definitely needs better publicity and possibly a volunteer outreach team to man social media.  The organizers need to consider what actually attracts attendees to conventions, rather than assuming that Louisville has a large enough population of dedicated indie comic fans to support a convention.  While I appreciate that the proceeds from this convention were donated to charity, I feel like this event was held at the expense of the artists attending.  Some of us had to travel some distance to be at that convention, and no matter how good the cause, it's not worth it to me to lose money to a poorly advertised, shoddily run convention.

In the future, I really need to nix one day conventions that are further than an hour away.  One day cons just aren't big enough to attract much of a crowd, and its very difficult for me to feel motivated to make sales when the ceiling is so low.

With these complaints in mind, I was surprised that anything sold.  By 6 o'clock, closing time, I'd sold two 7" Kara books and several $5 sketches, although I was by no means booked solid the entire day.  With conventions like these, its important that the artists support each other, and I feel like most of my sales were to other artists.  Unfortunately, we're all so broke that it's not like anyone is making any money.

At Con Sketches







What I Learned:

I believe it's the convention organizer's obligation to make sure the con is promoted and attended well enough that the artists have the opportunity to recoup their costs.  I realize this review may sound a bit harsh and that I may sound a bit bitter.  As I continue to do conventions, I realize how low a priority the artists often are.  At an event of this size, we ARE the convention, and I still felt like we weren't any sort of a priority.  I didn't see any promotional art for this convention, nothing that would attract a younger audience.  The images selected for the website weren't particularly exciting, nor did they really showcase what the artists had to offer.  Although several artists were selling original comics and sketches, it didn't seem like anyone was really making any money.  At a convention of this size, the only way it'd be worthwhile is if it were local- less than an hour drive total.

It would be nice if a convention took its artists seriously enough to offer a guarantee- you'll make your table costs back or they'll refund the difference.  This would require conventions making the artist alley a point of pride and actually advertising it, but a convention that offered this would have the artists' undying loyalty.  I do understand that a convention like this would have to be juried.

Unfortunately, River City Comic Expo's priority was The Fund for the Eyes, and rather than raising funds for this cause through admission, it was the artists who paid.  While I appreciate that this convention was organized without compensation, I also know that at MANY anime conventions, the AA staff is volunteer as well, and many of these alleys are more profitable for the artists in attendance.  In addition, I know that at many anime cons, the panelling is ALSO volunteer (or comped admission/comped table cost), and is a bit more exciting than the offerings at River City Comic Con.  A convention like this, with the right publicity and outreach, could attract a respectable little crowd.

I think that reaching out to local high schools with the promise of comic-craft panels (I believe a couple were offered) might help bring in a younger crowd with their parents.  While many artists may write off such a crowd, I've always had good experiences with them.  A crowd like this is eager and enthusiastic, excited about comics and full of questions.  Even if sales stayed the same, a crowd like this would make the convention much more lively, and they'd be sure to tell their friends if they had a good time.  If River City Comic Con had affiliated closely with another convention or nerdy organization, they could've joined forces and shared an audience (for example, Mechacon has joined forces with the local 501st chapter, bringing in a lot of Star Wars fans who might not otherwise attend). By requesting that artists donate a piece of original art to the charity auction to help offset table costs, River City Comic Expo would've had a unique auction with a special draw- items that wouldn't be for sale anywhere else.  Even asking The Fund for the Eyes to spread the word that River City Comics Expo was a charity convention in their benefit may have brought in attendees eager to help support a cause near and dear to their heart.

This convention may have warmed the hearts of local artists, but as a travelling artist, I wasn't around to see the benefit.  An ending ceremony where the convention organizer presented a check to a representative from Fund for the Eyes would have been a lovely way to end a long day, and would've made some of us feel like maybe our sacrifice was worth it.

The Numbers

Total Sold: $96

Expenses:

My share of hotel: $80
Gas: $50
Table: $30
Food: Friday dinner- $30, Saturday breakfast- $10 (smoothie and mocha), Saturday dinner $40, Sunday breakfast $30 (covered myself and Heidi)

Total: $260

Pros:



Cons:

  • Donated venue was dark, dated, and didn't attract any foot traffic
  • Convention organizer announced panels every hour, was loud and demanded attention, extremely distracting
  • Panels were not posted in an accessible place
  • Terrible sales to rival Interventioncon, only people really buying were other artists
  • Vendor (resale) tables were mixed with artist tables
  • Convention only lasted one day, not enough time to recoup sales
  • Not enough publicity to draw people to the location, people passing through said they didn't even know this event was going on
  • Was too long of a drive for me to attempt to make it in one day, so I booked a hotel room.  This added to the costs.
  • No food venue near enough to justify Heidi or I leaving the table to make the trek, so we didn't eat until dinner and then ended up spending a lot of money.
  • Outside of other artists, the crowd it did attract wasn't the sort of crowd my work has ever really sold to.