It’s been a bit of time since I have been to a convention as a ‘fan’. Since I became a vendor I tend to not want to go unless I am vending or, well, behind the scenes. I don’t have the sort of available funds to buy up all the awesome things I want or to pay the generally outrageous prices for photos or autographs. It’s usually fun to go to them because I will see vendors I often know and it’s just nice to be in the ‘scene’. Outside of Covid World, I sorta love cons, I just don’t do great in crowds and Covid has exacerbated that, unfortunately. Yesterday was a rare occasion where I went to a local comic convention to check it out and to see who I knew there and…there were regrets.
The show was held at a local sports arena that fancies itself as an all purpose event center but which is so outdated and uncomfortable it’s really only suited for the hockey games it houses and the occasional basketball game. While I tend not to be of the Tear It Down camp that thinks anything twenty years or older should be bulldozed for something new, I will say that this place is showing its age all over the place. The event spaces are flooded with WHITE FLUORESCENT LIGHTS, which is great to see but man alive is it overpowering. Even draining. The space itself was humid, and I am sure there was some sort of air on or fans, but it was rough during a late summer day and it was worse the day before I guess. I can’t imagine how hard that was on the guests and vendors.
To a degree though I do understand that our area just doesn’t have convention space. When we did our shows way back when we used a Masonic that isn’t available any longer and then an event center that a local University took over and has no interest in renting out.
So it’s not easy finding space anymore.
ON TOP OF THAT the places that have space won’t work with event folks as much as they should. You’d think that as long as they were filling the space and getting paid that you’d want to make sure their event was as successful as possible so you can get them back or just show folks how great the space is.
So many of these places make it miserable to try to work with them to get things done that you wonder why the heck you are doing it in the first place.
For this event though, phew, what a mess. We were lucky enough to have someone on our team that has a head for space and could really lay out our shows wonderfully. I am of the – we’ll make it work school – and that’s fine, but it’s not great. It works, but it can be terribly awkward. Last fall we did a show and I overestimated the size of the space and underestimated the space people would take up and phew, it was tight. It worked, but it wasn’t as comfortable as one would like.
Getting the layout for a convention is SO important and I think we don’t honor that enough as guests or as event creators.
People need to be able to move about safely and comfortably. You have to allow folks with disabilities to move around safely and comfortably. You want to give the vendors space to show and sell their wares. You need to give your ‘guests’, whomever they might be, space to spread out and not be crowded. And you want an easy flow to everything.
Yesterday’s show we went to was a painful reminder how hard layout is to get right.
You walked into the event center and they only had one guard checking people, leaving a long line in blistering heat to get inside. Inside you could get tickets, which was pain free, but after that it was just chaos. There was a large stage in that entry space – a decent sized room to be sure – where costume contests were being held. It was a packed house for these but it created an immediate choke point and tons of confusion for arriving fans. We got in and had no idea where to go. They had put tape arrows on the floor but with no one to direct people you had to push through the crowd and past overflow booths to get to an area where you could go to the main space.
TO ME, coming in as someone who’s been to and done these things before, I’d have put the contest stage nearer to the main event space, where they had cosplay booths. You want to entice people, tease them in, but not give away everything OR block off areas people need to use to get to where they want to be going. You want people to come in and to get excited about what is going on but you don’t want them interrupting things or getting overwhelmed immediately. It’s about the tease and the welcome.
For the space they had for this show there was probably no ‘perfect’ space for them but there was BETTER space, to be sure.
From there you need more visible volunteers. You need them to have shirts, or lanyards or SOMETHING that denotes their station so people can get help and assistance. These are your guests, as it were, and you need to treat them that way because they paid to be there.
You also needed people directing traffic. It’s a convention so people mill around, loiter, and just get in the way, it’s their nature. It’s a convention’s nature. Give them space to do that then. Get them out of the path of people. That’s why it helps to have someone directing them to better areas. Heck, the layout of the facility is awful – the restrooms are right across from the concessions, creating a BIG chokepoint during busy times! – but sometimes you have to overcome the place you’re in. Taking the space into consideration as you lay things out is crucial and a lesson we learned the hard way. We had a space in a Masonic Temple and it had several floors. We decided to use them! We put some vendors – for less money – on an off floor and it sounded great until we realized most folks didn’t go to them because it was an off floor. No matter what we did, people are people and just have the things they do and we never full overcame it.
The main convention space was literally muggy, with as busy as traffic was. Good foot traffic – GREAT! – mugginess during a nasty summer day, not so much. The showrunners should have tried to get more fans or SOMETHING to offset the heat. Maybe they couldn’t. Maybe. If not, what about creating a water station?
On this one, it’s easy to point fingers but not so easy to have workable solutions. SAYING that though, they were making a LOT of money at the door so it feels like they could drop a couple hundred bucks on a big fan or two they can use in the future.
The show layout had plenty of walking room, and space to move around, but it still somehow felt…cluttered. Which is weird. It felt like a haphazard show and I am not sure why. It may have been that we were late in the day on the second day of a HOT two day show so people are running out of steam. I have lived that life. The vendors looked worn out though and there was an overall ‘dead’ energy to the show.
Again, this is where showrunners that are visible and omnipresent are so crucial. You need someone to run and get vendors a water if they need it, or to sit at their booth if they need to go to the bathroom, or just need someone there that is an ear that will hear you.
I have always said and will always say – treat the vendors well and they, the ones that matter at least, will treat you well.
I won’t criticize celebrity guests because you get what you can get sometimes and what you can afford. I get that completely. I WILL say you need variety though, and need to look not just far but near as well to see if there are any folks that are local or regional that you could get to come out to join the show. This takes some thinking and some legwork but you never know who is nearby unless you check.
I never want to demean shows unless they are done SO poorly as to be detrimental to a scene or an area, and this was not the case here. This feels like it was a show that wants to be bigger than it’s able to be and is going through growing pains. I absolutely disagree with their pricing – they were too high for what they were offering, even if it’s what other shows charge. Charge what YOUR show is – but there was nothing ‘wrong’ with the show itself. I didn’t love it, to say the least, I just simply hated how they put it all together. Again, easy to say from the cheap seats, but I do have a history of having put on pretty decent sized shows in the past. Part of the problem too was there was no personality here. There was nothing to make you feel like THIS was…this show. Nothing that reflected the area, the region, or even the show itself. It just felt like Generic Comic Show. Completely. And there’s nothing wrong with that, really. And for this area, it sadly does feel like we get what we get.
We have had other shows though, other comic shows, and they went well.
There’s a hunger for this stuff.
Heck, if you did an anime show here, PHEW, it’d be a huge hit.
There have been other shows though that aimed a little higher as far as guests and put on some pretty cool shows.
It can be done.
A lot of it though is WHY are you doing it?
I started the horror shows because I love horror, love this area, and wanted to fill a void that existed.
I didn’t start it to make money and we really never did.
We maintained though.
For me, these shows are special, and SHOULD be special. They are rare and bring together so many wonderful things and are a chance for fans to meet one another and to hang out together and we need to honor that.
Shows aren’t easy to put together though.
And bigger shows are a headache. The logistics are a nightmare.
Booking space, booking guests, booking flights, booking vendors. Dealing with the problems, big and little, that arise. We dealt with the bratty kid of a vendor and their friend and they acted like the spoiled brats they were and it sucked. We dealt with a guest that was barely there because he was out screwing the twenty + year younger girl who had her mom bring her up to the show to see him. We dealt with a late arriving guest because of a flight delay. We dealt with no show vendors and guests. We dealt with obnoxious fans. We dealt with obnoxious guests. We dealt with a celebrity that wanted to do a show with us only for them to decide they weren’t our partner but that we were footing a pricey bill for their ego trip. There is no end to the issues that can come up.
The thing is though that you keep at it and keep doing it because you love that ‘scene’ and love the fandom and want to create something for them.
You want to build something for the vendors, a cool place they can sell some of their stuff.
It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.
Like getting to book the CHRISTINE movie car a day before your convention via a load of calls between people to make it work.
There are as many ways to run an event and a show as there are varieties of shows out there. There is definitely no ONE right way to do it. If no one is hurt, no one is cheated, and people have a good time, it’s probably a successful show.
No one should ever know about the behind the scenes drama, the stress from guests or vendors, or how frustrated you were with how it all came together.
Showrunners are like parents, and like our children shouldn’t have to see how upset they make us sometimes, or how hard we work to get them the things they may not appreciate as much as we hope, they shouldn’t have to see our drama. They should just see the thing we created for them.
Every show is a learning experience and all you can do is take those lessons and move forward.
But if you aren’t willing to learn then your show won’t evolve and neither will you.