I think over the years I have been writing in this blog that it’s clear enough that I love conventions. As far as I can figure, Fangoria’s WEEKEND OF HORRORS was my first (and second), with the Motor City Comic Conventions coming after and by then I was hooked. I loved conventions, the WEEKEND more than anything, because it did two things – it brought together all of these misfits that were into the fringe pop culture stuff (horror), and it let us meet the people who inspired and impassioned us. At their best, conventions are a place where dreams and passions come together. At their best they are a place for people to find that they are not alone in their weirdness, in their hobby, and that they can find the best friends they have ever known. At their best, cons give us opportunities to show off our talents, sell our wares, and become the next generation’s inspirations.
At their worst, conventions become an example of the shortened form of the name – a con. High vendor fees, high autograph and photo fees, high entry fees, high parking fees, lines, congestion, fees to enter this or that or those. The convention becomes a vampire, feeding on the fans ruthlessly. We are starting to see this more and more as cons have turned from fan gatherings to businesses with employees, CEOs, boards, and on and on. Too many voices, too many hands, and too much cost.
Having been to a few bigger shows, I am not going to damn them all because it’s only at these bigger shows that you see the bigger named guests. It’s only at the bigger shows that you get the wide variety of art, craft, comic, movie, and book. It’s only at these big shows that you find some of the cooler and weirder art and geek goodie. The thing though is that there are just too many huge shows. Everyone seems to want to have the huge show to bring in more money. Those shows have become their own worst enemies. They put a big show on to get bigger guests, which means more crowds, which means more money. But the thing is that there is always more, more, more. More guests, bigger guests, bigger space, bigger displays and the more you add the more you have to charge. It’s a beast that demands to be fed and is never full.
Which is not to say that I don’t love big shows. I do, but I think that in the push for these huge shows we are forgetting that it’s the smaller shows that keep fandom going. It’s the shows that get friends together and let people interact. The smaller shows let fans speak with people working in industries they may be interested in. The smaller shows showcase the foundational people that make the genres we love, the people that get left behind and forgotten. Sure, it’s boss to meet that guy in that thing that’s done other things and did OUR thing too but isn’t it better to show someone that actually cares about the genre you love some love of their own? Smaller shows let us get closer to the creators of our dreams and nightmares and there’s something special about that.
Ideally we’d have a mix of larger shows with smaller shows as the foundation. Now, saying that, that’s what I WISH but that’s not reality. Even as a fan I look for the bigger shows more than the smaller ones but part of that is that there aren’t that many small shows anymore. Small shows need funding that isn’t always there. Small shows need people who are willing to put the work in to make them happen and brother, that’s asking a lot of anyone. And let’s face it, as popular as comics and genre works are now they are still on the outer rim of the norm and as such will never be full embraced by the masses. Bigger shows the now the entry point for most folks now so that smaller shows serve to reinforce the fandom and inspire the casual fans.
We are forgetting, far too easily, that conventions were created for fans and as opportunities for fans to celebrate that fandom. Money is an integral part of these shows – they cost money put them on and it costs money to get autographs, pics, art, or what have you. There’s way to do all of it though that makes fans fee less like human ATMs and more like a part of something bigger. Those shows are out there, inclusive shows that serve the fans first, but they are getting harder and harder to find.
For the same of fandom, I hope those shows start taking over the discussion more and that the fans start to embrace the smaller shows for the good of us all.