Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Planet Comicon and Wizard World St. Louis 2014

I attended two big comic book conventions this last month, Planet Comicon in Kansasy City and Wizard World St. Louis (I think you can guess where that one was held).  I had very positive, but different experiences at each of the cons.  I don't have the hard numbers of attendance, but from my position behind a table in Artist Alley, I'd say that the two conventions are very comparable to each other, but there are some key differences that offer up slightly different con experiences.

Tim, Sergio, Aaron, and Sara at Planet Comicon
First up was Planet Comicon.  I decided to do Planet Comicon pretty big this year (big for me, at any rate) and bought two tables for this convention.  I wasn't doing this convention alone, in fact, I had three other people with me.  Sara (Zero's Heroes Colorist), Tim (Celestial Writer), and Sergio (Zero's Heroes and Smitten Penciler) all came to this convention.  With all four of us manning two tables, we had a nice, wide set up fully displaying all our comics, as well as shirts and original art.

I really enjoy Planet Comicon because it's a large con that seems to have equal representation for Celebrity pop culture and independent comic book creators.  The Artist Alley is huge, with lots of indy books and pro creators.  It seems like PC really goes out of their way to get top industry creators at their con.  Off the top of my head, this year I noticed Scott Snyder, Darwyn Cooke, Jason Aaron, Neal Adams, Tony Moore, and Rick Remender (among many others).  And for every pro writer and artist, there were two indie writers and artists.  But PC doesn't skimp on the media guests either.  This year, for example, they practically had the entire cast of Star Trek:  The Next Generation and William Shatner, as well as a gaggle of Syfy channel TV actors, Power Rangers, and even a Doctor (Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor).

A few weeks after wrapping up Planet Comicon, I was all geared up for Wizard World St. Louis.  WWSTL was really big this year, much bigger than last year, and when it comes to media guests there is no competing with them.  This year they really brought in the nerdgasm celebrities such as Matt Smith and Karen Gillen (Doctor Who), Bruce Campbell, Adam West, and William Shatner, as well as many other minor TV and movie stars, including Wizard World regular, Lou Ferrigno .

"It's a tiny piece of paper."
For those of you who have been to a Wizard World show, this one was really not much different than any of their other shows (although this year it was one of their bigger shows, I think).  The Artist Alley is woefully under represented, and the majority of the people in Artist Alley are artists selling prints of various pop culture trends.  Most of them have never, and have no interest in, actually producing a book.  There were a handful of Comics "professionals" present, and when I say handful I mean, like, five (okay maybe a few more).  Matt Kindt and Chris Samnee were there (both local St. Louis guys), as well as Greg Capulo, Neal Adams, David Mack, and about five or six other pro artists.  Cullen Bunn and Jai Nitz were the only pro published writers at the convention, and Bunn must have cancelled at the last minute because he was nowhere to be seen all weekend.  So, yeah, fans of actual comic creators didn't have many options.

Even with all the celebrities, toys, costumes, and panel events, I think that Wizard World is vastly overpriced.  I will go so far as to say that WW gouges everybody involved.  A table in the Artist Alley costs very close to double what a table at Planet Comicon costs (185 at PC, 325 at WW).  It's not just exhibitors that get gouged on the prices, it's the fans, too.  A single day Saturday ticket at Planet Comicon costs $35.  That's a pretty fair price, especially when you compare it to Wizard World's Saturday ticket cost of $50.  For comparison's sake, a Saturday ticket at Emerald City Comicon costs $40 and a Saturday ticket at C2E2 costs $35.  Emerald City and C2E2 are both bigger and better conventions than Wizard World (and by extension Planet Comicon), and while it may cost an exhibitor quite a bit more to table at either of those cons, the ticket prices for convention goers remain pretty consistent.  The point is, WW gouges the fans, which I think trickles down to an overall lesser convention experience.  While at Wizard World St. Louis, I had two people (who had never been to a convention before) comment to me about the cost of entry versus the things to actually do (that didn't cost more money).  One guy, who was walking around with a 10 year old kid said to me, "I spent $50 just to come in here and shop?"

Now, there are free things to do.  There are costume contests, panels where people (actors, creators, etc) talk about things and answer questions from fans, and probably some third thing I can't think of at the moment.  And of course, there are a bunch of attention starved comic book creators willing to talk to you about comics (although, they really would like to sell you something, too).  But I suppose you have to really look to find all this stuff, because it's not easy to see in the ocean of vendors, convention goers, and T-shirt displays.

The one thing I find repeatedly frustrating about Wizard World is that their conventions seem to be under managed, despite being such huge events.  I never saw a program schedule, because I guess WW didn't think the exhibitors needed to know what was going on at all during the weekend.  My exhibitor package only contained the load in/load out times, a tax form, and a name tag (but no lanyard or pin to hold it).  Also, since all of their info papers and emails are form letters that they use for every convention, they frequently have typos where somebody forgot to delete the previous city's name and add "St. Louis".  (Also, while I'm nitpicking, the chairs at WW were plastic folding chairs, where as PC provided cushioned chairs.  Three days sitting in a chair and your butt knows which one it prefers).

Alternately, Planet Comicon provided the exhibitors with a full program schedule in the form of a comic book sized, full color, stapled pamphlet that contained a full floor map with a list of exhibitors and their locations, a list of the media guests, a list of the panels and their locations, and a list of the after party events.  It was a really nice package.  I also got a name tag (with lanyard!  Ironically, I didn't use the lanyard at PC, but fortunately saved it and used it at WW).

Aaron at Planet Comcion
The two conventions provide a similar, but different experience.  Personally, as a comic book fan who actually reads comics, I would rather spend $35 to talk with a wide variety of comic creators than spend $50 to stand in line for 4 hours only to then spend more money in order to get an actor's autograph (and heaven help your bank account if you want a photo op with them), but I'm always used to being in the minority.

As I stated earlier, we had a large table set up at Planet Comicon with four people manning the table.  This was wonderful.  Having four people really helped ease the pressure of the whole thing.  We all had plenty of time to walk the floor and actually enjoy the convention for ourselves.  I was able to go out and talk to a variety of other creators (pro and indie), though as usual, I really wish I would have to talked to more.

To be perfectly honest, we didn't sell as much as I thought we would at Planet Comicon.  Last year, I did pretty well and, being that I had a lot more books available, I expected to do even better, but that was not the case.  There were a lot of great people at PC, and I was very happy to meet (hopefully) new fans, but it seemed like we had a hard time getting people to walk away with books.  Despite being unable to move many books, I had a great weekend.  Aside from networking with other creators and professionals, I got to spend the weekend with Sergio, Tim, and Sara.  We had a nice room at the Kansas City Marriott right next to the convention center which, while expensive, sure made the whole weekend a lot easier.  It was also the first time I got to meet Sergio, who flew in from Mexicali for the show.  We all had a great time hanging around Kansas City, eating good food, having a few beers, and we saw the new Studio Ghibli film, The Wind Rises.  All in all, it was a very fun and rewarding weekend, though I was incredibly exhausted and eager to see the end of it (I made the drive home from Kansas City to St. Louis in 3 and 1/2 hours).

Aaron at Wizard World St. Louis
Despite being a bigger convention, my set up for Wizard World was smaller than my set up at Planet Comicon.  I was by myself in St. Louis, and after working so much in Kansas (and a few work intense weeks at my day job), I really just wanted to sit back, relax, and let the convention happen however it was going to happen.  Despite the high cost to be there, I didn't really feel like working this con that hard.

So, I was quite surprised to find that I sold more at Wizard World St. Louis than I did at Planet Comicon.  There are a few specific reasons why I did well in St. Louis.  Firstly, the convention goers were all really great.  Everybody seemed to be just ecstatic that they were at a convention, (as a native to the area, I don't mind telling you that the city often seems entertainment starved if you're not a sports fan), and while obviously not everyone was there to buy indie comics, most people were receptive of the Artist Alley.

Secondly, there seems to be a large amount of people looking to support local talent.  Being that I'm local to the St. Louis area, I'm able to take advantage of that.

Thirdly, and there's no modest way to say this, but I had multiple people recognize me from other convention appearances and tell me how much they liked my comics and became repeat customers.  There was one fantastic fellow who bought a Zero's Heroes book from me at last year's Wizard World St. Louis.  He expressed to me in no uncertain terms how much he liked it and bought my new Zero's Heroes books as well as the first issue of Science Hero.  Then, the next day, having read Science Hero, he came back and bought the next two issues.  It was incredibly inspiring and humbling.  I wish I could remember his name so I could tell everybody how awesome he is, but alas, I cannot.

I also met a family of awesome cosplayers who saw me last year at Project: Comic Con and eagerly picked up more Science Hero and Zero's Heroes books.  I even had somebody recognize Zero's Heroes from Planet Comicon just a few weeks before!  Due to a printing error, all our copies of Zero's Heroes Annual #1 came in black & white instead of color.  Not wanting to sell the books (and not paying for them) we decided to just give them out to kids for free.  One little girl who received a free book at Planet Comicon also attended Wizard World St. Louis.  Her parents said she liked the book so much that they had to buy her some more.

Now, those of you who know me personally need not worry, my ego is still in check.  I'm far from having a enough fans to sell out and leave you all in the dust (not yet, anyway...just you wait).  But, even knowing that one person is digging what I do and coming back for more...well, that's what makes it all worthwhile.

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