I went to my first convention when I was just a kid. Two friends and I went to a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors show in Dearborn, Michigan and spent the weekend there. This was in 1990. We went back in 1991 and those were the only two times that Fango visited the Mighty Mitten. Those two conventions have stayed with me and are still a part of me.
I have been going to conventions on and off since that time and it inspired me to create a convention here in Flint. All of this is an old song that I have sung before. I have learned a lot of things over the course of these many years in going to these shows and putting them on. I have been behind in the lines, behind the tables, and behind the scenes. The one thing that stands truer than all things, the one thing that it seems that gets forgotten more times than most is that we’re all in it together. We are all part of a circle that needs each piece to be complete.
From the fans, to the vendors, to the talent, and to the people running the shows we all got in this because of our passion for something, be it horror, science fiction, comics, pop culture, or something else. We got involved because of a genuine love of these things. Sure, there are people, far too many, that get involved, got involved, out of a desire for money. They are business people first and foremost and if they are good business people they have made these shows work. I tell you what though, you can tell the difference between a show that is run as a corporation and a show that is run as a passion. Sure, we’d all love to make some money doing what we love, at every level. As a fan I want my fandom to lead to something bigger. As a creator I want my creations to pay my bills. As talent I want that talent to solidify my future and broaden it. As someone behind the scenes I want to be able to pay everyone working the show, appearing at the show, and have money enough to create future shows. We’d all love to do make a living doing what we love but some things just don’t allow that and…well, maybe they shouldn’t. Who am I to say? What I WILL say is that it is passion for the things we are honoring with our conventions that makes those shows special.
And we are forgetting that.
We are forgetting that once upon a time we were all just fans falling in love with worlds, characters, and ideas that we had never experienced before.
The fans have started monetizing their fandom. They are flipping autographs and because of that the cost of those things has gone up, up, and up. Just going to meet a celebrity has become an expensive proposition and one that isn’t nearly as impactful but is often impersonal and quick. The fans, and how ‘true’ these fans are is debatable, have gotten very demanding and rude. We are forgetting that these people are just folks like us who have been able to turn their talents and hard work into careers. We are forgetting that while they should appreciate our fandom, they don’t owe us anything. We never hired them, we never directly paid them for their work, and we don’t support them directly once the conventions are over.
The creators have begun ripping off not just the fandom but the fan culture itself with mimics of what is possible and imitations of existing things. Oftentimes we don’t create new worlds and new work, no, we lean on what is popular, what is making money, and what others have done before us and we forego new work. We are not creating the worlds that will inspire this generation of fans and the next and the next after that. We are simply assessing what will make us money and leaning on that. And as creators we need to be aware of what is out there, and need to work in worlds that are often familiar will earn us a check. That’s the job. But in doing JUST that we are selling our artistic souls. If you are an artist you cannot just do fan art of other characters. If you are a writer you cannot just write stories about what others are writing about. If you are a singer you can’t just sing covers. If you do that then you sell your soul for a check and some things you can’t buy, and integrity is one of those things. We are here to be dreamers, paid or unpaid, or desperate to BE paid. We are here to inspire others to dream. And whether those are dark dreams or sweet dreams matters not, but we are here to inspire dreams. We cannot forget that. Just as we cannot forget that when we do find people that connect with what we do we cannot take that for granted. We cannot abuse that. We cannot forget that we were fans once too.
The creative people, the talent, must remember too that they were once fans. They must remember that fans, the core fans, the true fans, just want that one moment with them. They want that memory. Sure, some will get out of line, some will get out of hand, and some will want you just because you have something they can sell, but not all of them. The core of them want to have a moment with you. You owe them nothing but thankfulness. Thankfulness for their support of your work, thankfulness for their support of your projects, and thankfulness for sharing their support with others. The sad fact is that some fans will always be there to try to make a dollar off or your work and many are only fans of the money itself. There’s no real escaping that. All you can do is be true to yourself, to your fans, and to be fair to them, and yourself, in what you charge and what you offer. If you don’t want to touch fans or take photos then don’t. Be clear. If you don’t want to sign autographs then be clear. Fans don’t have to like everything you do, but if you are not interested in those things then don’t don conventions. Save everyone some trouble. These are your fans, they are there to see you. Don’t forget that. Don’t take advantage of that. Make some money, that’s fair. Don’t rip them off though. Even if you feel like you may be taken for granted by the non-fans don’t let that jade you. Please. Remember the fan you once were and never forget that. If you can do that then sure, you will have bad days, bad shows, but overall you will love what you do and be shown time and again that what you do matters.
There is a problem with the people behind a lot of shows and that is their cold indifference to fandom. They follow the market to see what is popular but the fans that they are supposed to be serving get left behind in the drive for profits. And sure, without the profits there are no more shows but there can be a profit without ripping people off. And it isn’t just the show runners but it is the eco-system of conventions where it is about sales over experience. Even cosplayers, fans who loved something so much they wanted to create costumes to honor them, even they are being used as ways to draw more people to the shows so they can make more profits. Agents get involved. Creators get involved. More people than need to have a say in how a show is put together shout out how they want it done and you get a giant mess of a beast that is hard to manage and harder to connect to. This isn’t a bang on the walls of the larger shows but is a bang on the notion of higher and higher and higher prices that limit fans and what they can experience. No, not everyone can do every thing, nor should they, nor can they but they should have the opportunities to do things and experience them. We cannot make fandom for the rich and connected. We cannot let conventions lose their personality. Lose their fun. We fill them with so much to do distract the fan from noticing how impersonal the shows are. The fact is that a convention can only be so much. It cannot be all things. It should not be all things. Fans will get bored. That boredom can be an indictment of that show but it can also be a part of the expectations of those fans. Fans can expect too much. They can demand too much. Give them some fun, give them opportunities to make some memories. Let them interact with fans and creators and stars. Don’t charge them every last dime they have. If you can do that then it’s on them if they don’t have any fun. Conventions are a business and need to be handled like one but it’s more than just that. It’s more than dollars and numbers. Conventions are opportunities for fans to step behind the scenes of their dreams, to meet the people that inspire them, and to meet other fans and share their excitement. Cons have gotten impersonal though, and expensive, and can inspire as much apathy as they do excitement. You can never please everyone. You can never be everything to everyone. But you can be something special. Something unique. And something fun. Cons and their creators are forgetting that. They are forgetting that fans may make all manner of demands but in the end what they want is to have some fun and escape the world for a little bit. That’s it.
The thing with all of this, with fandom and conventions is that it’s all part of a circle and each part feeds into the others and everyone needs one another. Without the fans there are no cons and without the cons the fans have no place to meet the people that inspire them. The world doesn’t NEED cons. Fandom doesn’t need them. Conventions are special though. Are magical. And we can’t forget that. We can’t let them become about money and greed and mimicry. We can’t let them become places that are not safe for other fans or for the creators or talent. We can’t let apathy ruin something that fans, that WE fans, have loved for decades. We take so much for granted and that can be dangerous with the things we love. If we are not careful we will price the fans away from the shows. We will get so greedy and demanding that the talent won’t come out anymore. We’ll pen creators into cages where they are not allowed to do anything but copy the works of others. And if we can’t start respecting one another, respecting the people who inspire us, and the people behind the scenes then we’ll lose cons altogether.
We all started out as fans.
We are still all fans.
We are all part of the same family, the same ecosystem, and if we don’t start acting in concert, with one another instead of against one another, we’ll be throwing it all away. So many of us spent years feeling disconnected from the rest of our peers, lost in our imaginations, finally, with conventions, we have a place where we can all get together and meet. We are pricing ourselves into oblivion. We are becoming so greedy, so crass, and so nasty that places that should be seen as safe havens are becoming too stressful and too dangerous. We are at a tipping point and unless we work together we’ll lose these precious spaces where all of us fans can get together, safely, and share our fandoms. It’s an exciting time to be a fan but the hard work we all put in to get here can be destroyed a lot more easily than we realize and if we’re not careful, we’ll deserve it when it finally falls apart.