Hope Nicholson’s latest anthology, Pros and (Comic) Cons from Dark Horse Comics, features several industry professionals sharing stories and anecdotes about their convention experiences, which she talks about in an earlier interview with WWAC. Here we’re asking Nicholson and her contributors to share her “Three Stars and a Wish” about comic conventions. That is, read on to find out the three things each one really loves about conventions and the one thing they wish they could change.
1. Seeing dealers, fans and general friends that I have known for going on 50 years now. And that includes the rare treat of meeting pros, old friends like Sergio Aragones, Bill Stout, Scott Shaw, and getting introduced to guys I’ve never met before: recently at Terrificon, Joe Sinnott and Joe Giella, for heaven’s sakes. And hearing anecdotes from them, holy smoke!
2. Finding Golden Age and Silver Age comics to add to my collection. It’s still the best place to score great old comics you can pick up and examine, many I may have never seen before. Even San Diego remains a mecca for the best in old comics.
3. As a collector myself working as a dealer, I really enjoy sharing my passion for some of the art books and collections I handle with friends and collectors, turning them on to new books and new artists they haven’t seen before. That hasn’t changed since my first conventions in the early 1970s, when I would put out on my table the latest new fanzines, underground comics, and books about comics. This was before there were many comic book stores, so this was the one chance to find these for many fans, if they weren’t seeing my catalogs, or a chance to look closer and discover.
To go away: The mass media aspect of the biggest shows, like San Diego Comic-Con, with just too many people who have little or no interest in comics. That’s why my favorite shows are the little ones, such as the old-boys OAF-Con in Oklahoma City, with about 400 or 500 attendees. Emerald City in Seattle was like this before it grew larger, with an outstanding artist’s alley, better than San Diego’s in my opinion. Terry O’Neill’s California Con is a pure old comics show; its fun to visit with dealer buddies and a joy to look through comic boxes without being elbowed to death.
1. At cons I get to see and catch up with friends, both pros and fans, that I often only get to see once or twice a year.
2. I also love being on panels, discussing various aspects of comics with other pros and with the audience.
What I don’t like: cons that are simply too large and are hardly about comics anymore, cons that still have not caught up to this century and still think comics are only about superheroes, and cons that don’t invite enough women.
Deandra Tan (aka “Nika” in the anthology)
1. I really love being in the space of the convention, just taking in the presence of like-minded fans and feeling like I can be my true geeky self.
2. Browsing artist alleys is the BEST. If you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. You’ll also, of course, find tons of stuff you didn’t even know you needed. Going with friends is dangerous, because chances are they’ll only enable you to indulge in that sweet merman T-shirt…
3. So many of my friends in comics are people I met online who live in other cities (and countries). Conventions are really one of the only ways we get to hang out together in person and goof off.
I second Hope’s point about more resources for new comic creators. A lot of conventions require you to travel, and I’ve seen many talented creators have to cross themselves off the list due to limited funds. Conventions can be pretty risky if you don’t know whether you can make your money back! Between travel, meals, table fees, and cost of creating things to sell, it really starts to add up.
1. I love seeing the art on display. I spend the majority of my money on art when I attend cons.
2. The Christmas-like atmosphere. The majority of the people at a con are just happy to be there and let their nerd flag fly and it is extremely infectious.
3. How easily you can become friends. Since I attended a lot of panels at SDCC alone, I’ve made a lot of friendships and struck up conversations with people in line and within the panels themselves.
I wish the Negative Nancies who do nothing but complain about topics while standing in line for that topic would pipe down. They really bring down the atmosphere. Negativity has no place at my con!
1. I love meeting readers that you would just never find online, who wander past your table and are immediately drawn to something. It’s exciting to be able to talk about your work with a new fan.
2. Being on group panels is almost always really great, I end up learning a lot more about how other people approach the industry; it’s like a crash course.
3. Meeting other people in the industry that you immediately bond with, and later go to be friends or colleagues is the main reason I go.
I really do think more conventions and festivals ought to have bursaries for up and coming creators. It can be incredibly expensive for a lot of newcomers entering the industry to attend a con, and those are the voices that usually need promotion the most.
1. Conventions are a great place to meet other writers and artists in your field so you can not only bond over creative goals, but also compare notes on everything from writers’ block to dealing with fans.
2. The hustle and bustle of conventions makes for an electric kind of energy that can be infectious. It’s fun to see how excited people get over the geeky things they love, whether it be Stormtroopers or zombies. Conventions feel like a fun nerd camp where it’s perfectly fine to wave your geek flag.
3. Meeting your heroes. I’m not talking about celebrities. I mean meeting the writers and artists who inspired you to follow your creative dreams in the first place. Sometimes it can mean the world to say thank you to someone whose work not only sparked your imagination, but kept you going when life seems at its darkest.
Conventions like San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con are getting way too big. Feeling trapped in a giant non-moving crowd can be not only feel claustrophobic, but it also defeats the purpose of connecting with other fans and creators. The bigger the convention gets, the less personal the experience can become.
1. My three favorite things about conventions are the camaraderie between comics pros while at conventions, last day sales as exhibitors try to lighten their load home, and the general feeling of acceptance fans and pros seem to have at conventions.
What do I wish conventions would have? More comics at “comic” conventions.
1. Cons to me are the reminder of WHY I DO THIS. I love interacting with readers, and seeing how the work is landing with them. I love hanging out with other pros. And I love the travel to cities all over the planet. Because of comic conventions I’ve been to pretty much every state, and a variety of countries I’d never have been to otherwise.
My only complaint recently is that I feel like there should be more comics in artist alley. Artist alleys used to be where up and comers would display their new indie books, and that’s largely been replaced by prints and cloisonne buttons. That stuff has its place, but not in the high percentages I see now.
1. Experiencing the ways other fans express their creativity, especially through cosplay. Pictures are great, but seeing intricate costumes up close is something else altogether!
2. The opportunity to catch up with creators I admire or friends I haven’t seen in a while. We all have the common ground of loving comics and/or pop culture, so there’s always something to talk about. Having face to face access is really meaningful! It contributes to a sense of community and family that is precious to me and carries me through the other, convention-free weeks.
3. Panels panels panels. I learn so much at panels, even the ones I moderate or speak on. They offer the chance to discuss hot issues in a space (mostly) free of judgment, and the back-and-forth is so different when you can see the speaker and their emotional investment when compared to Twitter threads, for example.
Conventions can be overwhelming. Some have begun to designate quiet spaces for attendees who need a place to sit and recharge, fix their costumes, etc., and I desperately wish that was the standard for conventions everywhere.
1. Artist alley. Art will always be my one true love. Before comics, I was an art historian and spent all my time studying the work of dead artists. Now, nothing makes me happier than actually talking to artists about their work in person, without the aid of a Ouija board. I also love buying art, commissioning work, and discovering new comics. The immediacy of artist alley is thrilling to someone who spent so much time in the decorous, removed environments of academia and art museums.
2. Friends. I have made so many friends at cons. And we mostly don’t live near one another, so it’s usually the only time I get to see any of them. I want to also say networking here, but that’s too clinical a way to describe the way we look out for one another and support each other’s work.
3. Panels. They feel like seminars, where we can have focused discussions about interesting and important topics in comics with one another, and with people in the audience. I always come away from panels—whether I’m moderating, speaking, or just listening—feeling like I’ve learned a lot and connected with people in a meaningful way.
Going to cons is so expensive. I worry that it excludes a lot of people who should be there. I wish there was a way to get them sponsored or supported to attend, even if they aren’t there representing a big company.
1. I learn something new each time. There’s a routine to some aspects of it—the packing, the traveling, the load in times, the setups, the bad arena/hotel food—but all the other countless variables of human existence seem to tumble together in a unique way for each show. Weather, table-mates and neighbors, the crowd of attendees, the organizers and their staff—each a distinct element that mixes and combusts differently each convention. I’ve yet to have two go exactly the same way.
2. I’m a writer, but comics for me are all about the art, and I love seeing the variety of talent and artistry on display. Meeting artists who produce incredible work and are also funny and engaging people is the best.
3. The fans. The strange snake-charming dance between something I’ve toiled to create and a random person walking by my table… there’s nothing like it when that tractor beam clicks on and they wander over. Once they pick up my work, it’s all over, of course. (LAUGHS). But yeah, obviously it is an incredible experience as a writer and creator to meet and engage with people who pick up on the groovy tunes I’m laying down.
There’s so much that I could say here, and in fact my piece in Pros and (Comics) Cons spends a lot of time on what could be classified as cons (NERVOUS LAUGHTER). As I think about it now though, I feel like the overarching thing is this strange way the comic community seems to limit itself and place a kind of dogmatic classification on things. What I mean is there seems to be self-applied cliques and categories, like “indie comics” should be black and white manifestos taking place entirely in a coffee shop, and anything else is “super hero” or “manga” or whatever. I feel like there’s a lot of self projecting that onto ourselves, and the public in turn expects that sort of fast and rigid classification of things. I’d like to see more of a crossover and ambassadorship for the fact that comics can be anything, both in the community and in those coming to a comic con. I grew up reading X-Force and also Berlin. You can come to a con for a sick Venom print and also check out a black and white indie book. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Explore the medium, both fans and creators!
Alternative answer: Money. You ever walk by a creator at a con and they look miserable? It’s because they just spent a small vacation fund to sit at a table for eight hours and have people disdainfully glance at their life’s work for 15 seconds on their way to a signing booth.
1. I’ve been tabling at conventions for about 15 years now. When I started, I mostly just had other queer and trans adults at my table. Over time, straight cis people with queer and trans friends would come over to buy gifts. In the last two to three years, the big shift has been supportive parents of queer and trans kids looking for age-appropriate QT comics. Knowing those kids are able to come out so young to such a loving family has been really heartwarming for me.
2. Queer & trans comics creators are really supportive of each other overall, and many of my friends in comics are other QT creators I met at conventions.
3. I really enjoy getting to do panels at various shows. Since these are usually focused on queer and trans comics, it’s a good way for potential new readers to find you amidst the chaos. Also, nerding out about queer comics is just fun any old time.
I’d like to see more support from convention organizers for trans creators. It’s extremely rare for us to get featured or invited guest slots, even at indie-focused conventions, and some shows seem to think having one trans creator anywhere on the floor is sufficient.
1. I love conventions that give us a space to remember that we are all people. I live so much of my life on the internet, where assumption and misunderstanding (both benign and malicious) run rampant, that it’s a true gift to connect with my readers and fellow pros on common physical ground. I want fans to remember that I’m a human being, doing something they can also learn to do, and I want comics pros to remember that the highlights reel we all broadcast on social media is never the whole story. And I need to remind myself that the people who follow and enjoy my work online are REAL PEOPLE and not some self-soothing construct I made up in a daydream.
2. The way the people who are meant to find your work naturally gravitate toward it. Even at the least on-brand (for me) show I ever tabled at, a young woman who made comics about long-distance backpacking found my work. There’s always at least one person who makes any event worthwhile. (My very favorite conventions are free library shows like TCAF and A2CAF, where folks can wander in off the street and you get a far wider range of people to talk to.)
3. Giving other creators a leg up. Whether appearing on panels, buying something from someone tabling for their first time, or just making conversation with a newer creator, acts of kindness add up. I remember every established pro who took the time to share a kind word or a tip at a con, and I love the feeling of paying that forward.
The lack of a lunch hour. This feels kind of wacky when I write it down, but as someone who always struggles to make time to go eat when I could be tabling, a mandatory mid-day break would make a world of difference, especially at big shows where creators are expected to be working the floor for ten hours at a stretch.
1. I love the sense of community. I adore reconnecting with old friends and making new ones
2. I love the creativity I see on display. The professional creations, the swag, but also the way fans engage with media: cosplay, mashups, and really surprising and unique questions during Q&As.
3. Getting to sit on panels and speak about my passion, but even more than that, I adore the chance to learn from my fellow panelists.
Someway to make a convention less daunting for new people. They are wonderfully welcoming places, but if you arrive on your own and know no one, they can at first glance feel overwhelming and alienating. I wish there was a way to create a kind of convention mentorship program or something. Where first timers would be paired up with a volunteer to hang out with them and show them the ropes etc.
This is just a taste of the insights Dark Horse Comics’ Pros and (Comic) Cons has to offer. You can pre-order the TPB now to read more from other industry professionals about their convention experiences.