There are days, like today, where I am glad I am out of the convention game.
For the five years that we did shows locally I loved them. I loved ALMOST the entire process.
But I loved it.
Now that it’s over I miss it, for sure, but I can live with missing it if it means distancing myself from the madness of the con-going mindset of some. Most fans I love, because I love the passion and I love the fandom, but there’s been a mindset that has only gotten worse as the shows have grown bigger and bigger. Greed. It’s greed of a strange sort. Fans want HUGE named guests from HUGE shows and movies at ROCK BOTTOM prices.
It’s the wish in one hand sort of thing that we did as kids but which we should know better about as adults.
As someone who vends at shows I am always looking to see who the guests are when I am going to book. I want to know for myself, in case there is someone I want to see, and to see if they’ll be a draw. Having done shows though I also appreciate the economics of guest booking. Where one guest may be X amount another will be XX and on and on. They don’t all want or ask for the same stuff. One will just need travel, another will just need hotel, some will need those things and a feed, some will even want special VIP treatment. And that’s all part of the show. It’s part of what you plan for but each guest eats up your budget. And if you eat up all of your budget on that then you won’t have money for other things – like venue rental etc.
It’s fair for fans to have wish lists of guests. That’s what we all do. And it makes sense that fans want guests that reflect what is popular at the moment. THE WOMBAT just came out so OF COURSE everyone wants to meet Dan Sloane, who plays said Wombat. Unfortunately, Sloane knows he’s in a huge movie and he’s in demand and so he can expect and get a large payday for appearing and will need VIP treatment. No problem. But fans want more than just Dan Sloane, they want several people from that film, and from its offshoot, and from the television series that is popular right know about the zombie dragons. The list of wants gets to be so long that a convention has to make hard decisions. You go after a few big stars, you go after some cult guests, some throw-back guests, some cheap-as-free people, and you fill in with props and movie replicas. It’s all a matter of working with what you have and finding ways to please as many people as you’re able along the way.
You will never please everyone.
And fans don’t want to be pleased.
They just want.
And again, I get it.
I am a fan too.
I want big name guests and I don’t want to pay tons of money meet them. That’s not the market though. The market dictates what they can get and they want what they can get. Believe me, I hate the market. I think it’s insane to ask more than $50 for a damned autograph but you can blame collectors for that. As soon as fans became sellers, flipping signed items and memorabilia for profit things changed drastically. Why would a celeb basically price things so that a fan can flip the item and make more money on it? It made the experience less about meeting someone you admire and more of a business transaction and thus, here we are.
It sucks, but we did it to ourselves.
We took fandom and made it about money, well, so did they
And the thing is that if you want to have a HUGE convention with TONS of guests well, that costs a lot of money, and that cost gets passed on to us – the fans and vendors. And believe me, as both, it sucks.
It really sucks.
We have taken conventions, which were about a fan experience where we shared our fandom with others, met people whose work we admired, and we got to buy things that we couldn’t find at a store. Since fandom has gone mainstream things have climbed in price. Hey, it’s the price of popularity. The thing is though that by everyone wanting and demanding these big shows it is killing off the smaller, regional shows that had less and more modestly famous guests and focused more on the artists behind the scenes and the fandom itself. Those small shows were what got all of it started and what kept fandom alive when things were barren. Yeah, the smaller shows are not as exciting but it’s where you can actually talk to someone whose work you admire, can meet working artists, can meet other fans, and can really savor your fandom. You don’t feel rushed or hustled. Large shows are great because there is literally something for everyone but it gets so crowded and can feel overwhelming. You’ll miss guests and artists and vendors you may have been interested in because you just didn’t have the time to slow down and take it all in.
The best part about fandom is that there is room for everyone.
If you are a cosplayer – welcome aboard.
If you are a comic fan – come on in.
If you love movies and television – enjoy!
If you love the artists and vendors – right this way.
If you love the moveis or the games that are on hand – have at it.
There’s room for everyone.
But we have to stop acting as if a convention is JUST for us. That’s what will kill all of it off. We get mad and frustrated when OUR guests aren’t being booked, forgetting that budget, availability, and overall fan interst dictates who is booked. It’s not about you. And the thing is that by demanding bigger and bigger guests and larger shows it means all the prices go up, which no one wants to see. It sucks. Having done a low-dough convention I know firsthand. Fans want big names but they don’t want to pay big prices.
That isn’t how it works though. And by letting the large shows crush the smaller ones we have killed off opportunities to check out other things that were being marginalized – more obscure properties, classic actors, and shows focused more on the core things about or fandom like comic creators or indie filmmakers. You’ll see fans carping about ‘the same vendors and same artists’ but the thing is that this is the livelihood of those folks. This is their store. I do shows because it gets me and my product in front of people. I always lose money but at least I can interact with folks and sell my work. I can take an ad out but where, and for the cost I mind as well do a show and have some fun. Most people gloss over advertising now so you have to ask if it’s really worth it to bother. The crummy thing is when vendors and artists are forced to be carnival barkers, pushing their wares on people as they try to ‘make table’, which is basically paying the basic cost of yourself being there. On the other end of the spectrum are the ones that act as if they are bothered by having to interact with people, preferring to chat with other vendors and friends or work on art.
The thing we forget about conventions is that this is a business, for everyone involved.
The con needs to make money by creating an event people HAVE to attend.
The guests need to make money to make it worth the time and effort they take to attend the shows.
For vendors and artists this is their livelihood – even if it’s a hobby, it’s still something you are passionate about and are trying to financially support.
It’s the vendors I will always feel the most sympathy for because I know very well that there is a day when you have to look yourself in the mirror and ask if it’s worth it anymore, and not just doing shows, but doing the art you are passionate about. Sure, you’ll always do it, but the drive is to share it, for it to be seen and read, and if it cannot sustain itself, it’s a hard decision to decide – that’s it.
The best way to look at a convention is as a chance to discover – new art, new artists, new writers, new friends, and to just revel in fandom. Go for the guests, absolutely, but take the time to look past that and to appreciate how lucky we are to get to meet people who inspire us. Other fandoms don’t get that sort of access. You may meet a band you love but it’s rare, same with a sports or political figure. I have lots of issues with conventions, how they are run, how they are funded, and how they have grown, but in the end I still love them and still know they are a huge part of fandom and keeping that fandom alive. I hope that we’ll see a resurgence of small shows again, and know that it will happen but until then, let’s reign in our expectations a little and appreciate what we have while we have it.