Hard to believe it, but this is the ninth year I've done the Boston show, which is usually the most profitable convention I table at.
This year was certainly the most exhausting Boston show I can ever remember, thanks to a heat wave in Boston.
I think we're in interesting times when it comes to the state of comic conventions and wanted to share a few quick-hit thoughts on cons for the independent creator while they are top of mind.
1.) The CON-solidation is Coming.
The big news coming out of Boston Comic Con was that the show was sold (reportedly for 10x its value) to the convention conglomerate Fan Expo. After tremendous year over year growth (I remember when Boston Comic Con was a hotel basement show) it grew to one of the biggest and best run shows on the East Coast. Of course, the bigger the show, the more logistics required to run it... I know there's a lot of concern among artists, who are largely happy with the current BCC regime, that the show will change under new management. Boston has always been more about the comics than the celebrities, which can't be said for many of the conventions out there... there is fear that this changes, and I think the fear that big conventions become more homogenized under the management of just a few mega-convention organizations is a valid one.
2.) Mystery Box: Fad or the New Thing That Takes Money Out of Small-Press Creators' Pockets?
The "hot" item at this year's Boston Comic Con that was never really much of a thing before was these "mystery boxes." Selling between $38-$60, themed mystery boxes (Super Mario, Star Wars, Minecraft, etc.) were all the rage at this years show. People were essentially buying a really cool box filled with random schwag, and doing it in massive numbers. Apparently, the Lootcratification of the comic convention has begun. Most people I asked who had a box said that their box was "totally worth it" and "awesome!" But I did have one kid offer to trade me his entire box for a single ComixTribe comic. (He was none too happy with his goodies.) My take: The boxes themselves are pretty cool, and the "surprise" factor is a part of the appeal. But I expect many small-press creators are going to see those boxes as another thing sucking up dollars that might otherwise be spent in artist alley.
3.) Placement is everything.
As I said, I've done Boston Comic Con about 9 times. The first 5 years, I was able to literally double my sales at the show every year over year. Last year's Boston Comic Con was the best sales show I've ever had. Unfortunately, this year's show was a slight step back for ComixTribe, and that had everything to do with placement. This year, we were on our own little island, pushed all the way against a back wall, and in a spot that was often blocked by lines or congregating cosplayers. (Also, a group of about 20 high school students who literally rapped the first Act of Hamilton for 15 minutes straight on Sunday. That was actually kind of cool... but didn't really help sales.) Now, I'm never one to put the blame elsewhere if I can help it, but this was the first year where placement really impacted sales adversely. I'd complain to management... but given the changing of the guard at Boston, not sure that'd do much of anything.
4.) Line Webtoons has my attention now.
Line Webtoons spread some money around at the Boston Comic Con floor this year. Not only did they sponsor a number of their most popular Webtoons creators' tables (many of whom had lines rivaling the hottest names in mainstream comics and dwarfing the lines for many industry legends), but they also dropped schwag-bags on the table of every creator in artist's alley, in an attempt to recruit more talent to their mobile-first comics app. Combined with their recently announced partnerships with DeviantArt and Patreon, Line Webtoons is a player I'll need to invest some time learning more about.
5.) A good pitch yesterday is a good pitch today and will be a good pitch tomorrow.
As creators, so often we finish a project and we've immediately moved on to the next one in our minds. But looking at sales history from the past several years, despite releasing many new comics, the ComixTribe series THE RED TEN continues to be our best seller. It was our best seller in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. And as many times as I've pitched the book, year after year, most of the people who come to our table have still never heard of the superhero murder mystery by Cesar Feliciano and myself... and as a result, the pitch (now honed to perfection) is just as effective today as it was when the series was "new."
6.) More product on the table means some will win and some will lose.
Six years of publishing under the ComixTribe banner has resulted in no shortage of products. Hardcovers, trades, board books, comics, prints, plush toys, t-shirts... you want stuff, we got stuff. But more stuff and more product inevitably means that some product will sell and some will sit there. I believe newer titles like CHUM and EXIT GENERATION (both excellent titles) would have done much better at Boston had they not been in competition with the likes of THE RED TEN and OXYMORON. People like to spread their money around at shows, and while we did have some fans buying multiple series at our tables this year, it was more common for fans to be choosing one series to give a shot. At shows like Boston, where table costs have traditionally been reasonable (more on that), table space wasn't an issue for us. But at a show like New York Comic Con, we simply can't afford to shelve product that won't move.
7.) Sadly, Boston is no longer a show for beginning creators.
When I first tabled at Boston Comic Con, the show cost $100. I remember that being a scary proposition for me at the time, but I was always able to make it work. Next year, artist alley tables at Boston will be $425 per creator. That's a tough nut to a convention newbie with just single issue comics and a couple of prints to sell. For writers, especially, cons like Boston continue to become more and more difficult to swing. Boston has consistently raised the artist alley table price $50 every year for the past several years, which is significantly higher than the rate of inflation. The $375 price point this year was a tough nut for many creators, and this year was the first year in a long time I that most of the creators I talked to were disappointed with their sales vs expenses.
8.) Crowdfunding and Kickstarter will continue to be even more crucial to making conventions feasible for independent creators.
As these conventions continue to get more expensive, it will be paramount that creators have product to sell at these shows. Kickstarter will continue to be a major source of funding for print runs. Where I might have earlier recommended creators get their feet wet on the convention circuit and apply those lessons to their Kickstarter campaigns after they've been at it for awhile, I think the reverse is the better course. I'd encourage creators today to focus on building a great product and an online audience for that product, launching Kickstarters one or more times to prove that there is an audience that is willing to pay for your creations and to get inventory, and only then hit the convention scene.
Given this, ComixLaunch.com only becomes a more pivotal resource for creators.
Those are my thoughts... granted, I've cut back on the number of shows I've been attending.
What are YOU seeing out there in the trenches of artist alley?