The Hidden TRUTH About Comic Book Convention Earnings: For Creators, Have Comic Book Conventions JUMPED THE SHARK?

I’m guessing you’re here because you want to hear all about how Denise Dorman hates cosplayers, n’est-ce pas? Unfortunately for all of the haters still out there perpetuating this myth, that data point remains totally untrue. So…if you’re going to be a hater, read elsewhere. In the words of the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, waving his hand, “There’s nothing to see here.”

So how did this insane myth come to light? On a misleading click-bait headline on Bleeding Cool News in September of 2014. That’s what kicked it all off. And today, two years and 8 months after I wrote that initial article, I’m still getting 200 hits a day on this blog, and having to defend myself to total strangers. One of my best friends, Heather, shared with me that the weekend of C2E2, some of her brother’s cosplay friends verbally accosted her recently at his 40th birthday party, incensed that she was close friends with me, as was indicated on Facebook. They actually sneered at Heather, “I see on Facebook that you’re not just friends, but close friends with Denise Dorman…” Sadly, these are the kind of people who reproduce and vote every four years, and yet they have no intellectual curiosity beyond hearing a rumor or reading a headline.

Hmmm...would a cosplay hater be in the foreground of the 501st? Stop. Think. Listen.

Hmmm…would a cosplay hater be in the foreground of this 501st photo AND be an honorary member of the 501st? Would his wife? Stop for a moment. Think. Listen. Use some logic.

Here are some TRUTHS you need to know:

#1. Neither Dave Dorman nor I hate cosplayers. Never have, never will. We are honorary members of the 501st, the largest cosplay organization in the world. Some of our closest friends are cosplayers. I cosplay. Cosplayers rest their weary feet in our booth at SDCC (or any other show where we’re exhibiting), they elicit my help in adjusting or fixing their costumes, hair, or makeup, and they pose for Dave. My niece Madyson is a dedicated cosplayer, model and actress in Albuquerque. Are the lie perpetuators out there suggesting I would hate or diss my own flesh and blood, or close friends?

My beautiful niece Madyson, cosplayer, actress, model.

My beautiful niece Madyson: Cosplayer, Actress, Model.

#2. Dave Dorman couldn’t do his amazing art work without the help of cosplayers. They pose for him. ALL. THE. TIME.

#3. We admire cosplayers and we understand firsthand the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into their work.

And here is the key interview I did on Yahoo! News with Mat Elfring to clarify my stance on cosplay:

http://bit.ly/DeniseDormanOnCosplay

And if that isn’t enough, as a business decision, Dave and I made the decision to actually invest in the promising New Orleans author MiMi Rawks, whose new geek erotic romance novel, “Cosplay Virgin” from the three-book “Cosplay Confidential Series” should be hitting the stands in the next couple of months. Dave is doing the cover art for her book series, which takes place in the cosplay community. The first cover illustration is breathtaking, and author MiMi Rawks serves up some HAWT geek erotica; her story is as compelling as it is suspenseful and entertaining.

Now…are we done YET with kicking the dead dog?

262 thoughts on “The Hidden TRUTH About Comic Book Convention Earnings: For Creators, Have Comic Book Conventions JUMPED THE SHARK?

  1. I’ve got all sorts of thoughts on this…

    I did a bit of scribbled math and the cost of attending a 3 day local con for 2 people was about $330, assuming we don’t spend any money inside the door. Given that, it’s no wonder that people are seeking whatever free entertainment they can get.

    Since most cons don’t even let you snap a camera phone pic with the celebrity guests, getting pics with the cosplayers is one of the few things you can do without spending more money. Of course, costumers are now getting in on the action and having booths, selling prints, etc… A bubble that I think (hope!) will burst soon.

    I feel like the scale of cons is changing too… 10 years ago you’d have one or two big name artists and a hand full of locals. Now you may have 20 well known creators at one con. At that rate there’s no way you can possibly get something from everyone.

    I find that I usually have a couple hundred dollars to spend over a weekend convention… spread out across the 200 vendors and artists, that doesn’t really go very far (especially if I want to eat!)

    I hope the artists out there can find ways to make it work, but in many ways I feel like some people starting to drop out might be the best thing for everyone. Less artists at an event gives each of them a better shot at the available cash circulating through the convention.

    Somewhat related: Another thing I’ve noticed is that many artists are letting their disillusionment show. I was at a convention recently and there was a well known artist there that I was very excited about. I sought out a particular book of his ahead of time to get signed. When I arrived at the con, he was engrossed in what he was doing, not interacting with people at all. If someone disturbed him to ask about a commission, get a signature, etc… he would gruffly acknowledge it but was very unfriendly. I ended up opting NOT to get my book signed. With so many other artists there, I didn’t want to give my money to someone who seemed annoyed at having to deal with me.

  2. The cult of celebrity has bypassed the comic-book artist – he is not flashy enough, not animated enough – to capture the attention of the newer generations of “fans”. I have been in the retail game for 20 years in this industry and can see the writing on the wall. The term “aging demographic” applies here. Guess what? I stopped doing shows ages ago since even when they were “good” we considered ourselves fortunate to make any money – ideally we would pay for the cost of a fun advertising expense and meet potential future customers. Now we can stack our comic collections next to our stamp collections in the basement. The comic book convention will never be profitable for us again – only people like William Shatner who charges “fans” willing and able to pay $80 for an autograph can make money at these things (and also the promoters – here in Toronto we have one of the most disgusting, disgraceful, even villainous conventions going run by Hobby Star – Toronto “FanExpo”. Keep well back, ye old-time fans! This fleecing is not for you.) Best thing Dave can do is keep a well maintained website and host video blogs and forums or whatnot for his fans – basically meet and schmooze with fans and sell them things directly using new media and cut the ham-fisted con-men out of the loop. This can include setting up meetings in bars/restaurants with a few other artists willing to travel and meet fans as a mini-con – like a flash mob.
    In short, while I sympathize – there is nothing that can change this trend. Adapt or die. The points made in this article are valid, but won’t change a thing. Anyone trying is wasting their time – like pissing into the wind. Check out Kevin Smith – he knows the last drops of profit to be squeezed out of the market are to be made shitting all over the dwindling comic fans – just watch his garbage “Comic Book Men” show if you don’t believe me.
    Peace. Anyone who wants to play “pin the tail on Stan Lee” let me know.

  3. Pingback: Cosplayers and the changing convention scene | Robot 6 @ Comic Book ResourcesRobot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

  4. What about the smaller fan-run shows?? They are still out there. Some struggling, but they will still be fanruns long after the big “mega-cons” have fleeced all the newbie fans out there.

  5. Hi,
    I read your paper on Comic events.
    While I understand that it becomes less and less interesting for comic artists to join the US/Canadian events you mentioned in your article, I just can’t agree when you say that it’s not worth to go to comics events anymore.

    I will only talk about what I know… my 2 events. One in Switzerland called Polymanga and another in Nantes called Art to Play (France).

    Artists can submit a form including their latest work to be chosen as featured artist during one or the other event.

    During the whole year, we helped no less than 100 comic artists.

    Once every form has been reviewed, best artists are given a free pro booth which is located in a very good place. Best artists earn about 3500 $ in 4 days by selling drawings.

    We organize many artistic contests providing over 10’000 $ to artists every year.
    Previous public art contest gathered over than 30’000 votes, helping the coming artists to be promoted.

    So people are still interested in comic artists and they are still willing to pay for artwork made by them (just multiply 2500 by 100 and you will get a rough idea of the artist area turnover on my events in less than a week). It’s just that people evolves with comics and it gets harder and harder if you deal with events just like what you used to do 10 years ago…

    However there is also a comic market crisis in Europe and Japan that both hits publishers and comic artists, but that’s another story.

    Kind Regards from Switzerland

    David

    • Hi David,
      I think the European market has a wonderful appreciation for the comic art form and for original art – we see that a lot – I really appreciate your writing to me. Those were the normal earnings here back in the day, but not anymore. Very interesting to compare notes on that. I hope we meet you one day.

  6. I am very sympathetic to your concerns about conventions. However, larger cons such as San Diego and Wizard World I would call “celebrity conventions.” As a comic fan myself I do not even consider attending those conventions because they seem too daunting, expensive, and VERY mainstream. I do not think many hardcore comic fans actually attend those frequently, I have talked to many who say they may go once but just for the experience. I attend smaller conventions such as Baltimore Comic Con. If there were no creators at conventions then I would not go, what would be the point? I think it is less about cosplayers, because honestly they are fun to look at but I would never go just for them. Half the time I really do not pay attention to them because I am busy trying to find a creator I want. If you are worried about issues with finances then I would not attend such large conventions, honestly I do not even understand why they call San Diego a “comic con” anymore. When you attend smaller conventions without a celebrity presence you get way more foot traffic because you know the people are here just for you. I have stood in line for hours and that is just for an artist or writer! To real comic fans meeting creators is very rewarding and I would not want the experience of large conventions to deter you away from having a real comic con experience. Message from all of this – cosplayers do not make a difference at smaller conventions & larger conventions are not creator focused.

  7. I’ll preface this by saying that my only experience is with New York Comic Con and Special Edition NYC. What I have to say may not apply to the Con circuit as a whole.

    I definitely see where you’re coming from… but I don’t think the issue is necessarily cosplayers.
    I think it is the general geek chic that has taken over cons, along with television, movies, anime, sci-fi and fantasy all taking some of the time and floor space.

    In the past few years I’ve overheard a lot of comments from other con-goers like “I don’t really read comics” or asking who people were dressed up as when it was well-known characters like Colossus and Nightwing. I understand if a con-goer doesn’t recognize a cosplay like Forbush Man or Cat Man or somebody from an independent comic book… but I just think “Really? You don’t know who Nightwing is?”

    Meanwhile, almost every cosplayer I didn’t recognize was from anime.

    These people who don’t read comics are then making it harder and harder to get tickets.
    In 2010 I was able to get a weekend pass to NYCC at a retailer on the Friday that the con started.
    This year, I know a lot of genuine comic fans who were unable to get tickets. So that’s less tickets to the people who actually read comics so that some person who doesn’t read comics can wear their attendance like a merit badge. “Yeah, I totally identify with the guys on The Big Bang. I went to Comic Con and everything. I’m a major geek.”

    I cosplay. I have spent some time wondering if my cosplay money would be better spent on more original art at cons… but cosplay is fun, too, and I spend a lot on original art at the cons, too. Now, I realize that I am likely an aberration among cosplayers, as a guy who spends most of his time and money at Artists Alley, but I’m confident that that also would make me an aberration among plainclothes Con attendees.

    • Hi Joe, Thanks for writing! I hope you read my more recent blog, because I think in that one, I did a better job of explaining that I definitely do not blame the Cosplayers, who are our friends and who help Dave in his career regularly – we are members of the 501st (honorary members) and we rely upon them for every Star Wars painting Dave does. I’ll say something that surprises most of my friends. We are not big fans of “Big Bang Theory.” It’s not that we don’t have a sense of humor, but we just don’t find it all that funny. I can’t put my finger on why that is, exactly.

      • Oh, me, me, I know this one! Big Bang Theory isn’t funny because it’s actually laughing AT geeks and only pretending to be laughing WITH them by liberally spraying their product with cultural references that make our brains tingle with glee. The geeks who enjoy Big Bang are, to my perception, really just enjoying a sort of reflected thrill from remembering the stuff they love that’s being referenced.

        Plus it’s really sexist.

  8. Hi there. I’m Tee Morris and I’m a writer and podcaster of steampunk.

    Your blog was pointed out to me yesterday, and someone asked my opinion of this piece. Since I started writing back in 2002, I earned a reputation of an aggressive marketer as far as writers go. I had secured, in my first two years as an author, a multitude of conventions. I was averaging a convention a month, some months free while others I would double (and even triple) up on appearances. I thought (optimistically) whatever costs I would not recoup from the event itself, I would gain back in my taxes. Within six months of this plan, I realized I needed to get space in the Dealers’ Room (I was with a small press at the time, and many book vendors wouldn’t carry my books, not even for the event) so I started investing in tables.

    After playing this strategy for three years, I wound up in five figures of debt. My name was out there, I’ll admit, but only to a certain degree. And in 2010, I managed to erase that debt, which inspired this blogpost.

    http://teemorris.com/2010/11/29/the-price-of-publicity/

    The closest I’ve ever come to having a booth similar to a ComicCon style event was when my fellow authors affiliated with our small press (not the small press, mind you, but the authors) decided to have a booth at Dragon*Con. It was an amazing and educational experience, and we sold books by the truckload. We, the authors, however, never “saw” any of the convention (unless we had panels) and made no profit off the event. Again, great face time for the writers. Great exposure for the publisher.

    People die from exposure, you know?

    I still get invitations to events, but now I have to ask for a little more in compensation. It’s a turn off for many events, but I understand that. Friends I have on convention staff offer to dig deep and offer more compensation, but even with that, my wife (also a professional author) and I have to weigh the pros and cons of an event. Sure, fans want us there, but that’s preaching to the converted. We want the NEW fans to buy our work, but at events like Dragon*Con and New York ComicCon (where we moved a metric crap-ton of books, but didn’t make a dime off it as it was a free giveaway) it’s not about the writers. And when we walked around the event, we noticed that at NYCC, the comic book artists were huddled off in their own section, far fro the main traffic which was dedicated to some feature films, publishers, and video game studios. Perhaps it is different at SDCC, but NYCC’s main focus (while cosplayers were everywhere, and pretty stunning) was video games.

    It was an educational experience, NYCC, but I doubt if I would ever do it again unless compensation was offered. A booth? Only if I had money to burn. I think this is a discussion authors have been holding for years now, and for a time I thought my humble blogpost from 2010 was merely shouting against the storm. Nice to know my voice isn’t alone.

    Thanks for sharing this, Denise. I think it is a discussion that needs to be held.

    • Of course I know you, Tee! Thank you for writing. Respect! All that you said here is true and brutally honest; I thank you for posting that link – I can’t wait to read it. I actually do a lot of book PR for clients – one of my clients had crazy good results (at very little cost – maybe $65 for dozens of online reviews that really helped drive her sales #s) with blog tours specific to her genre. I think I might give it a try with my own stuff when it’s ready to launch (I, too, am a professional writer.) I’m glad you agree that it’s a discussion that needs to be held.

  9. I honestly have no data or facts to back up my opinion, but I dont think it is the cosplayers that are killing conventions. I personally don’t go to conventions for the cosplayers, but to go and meet and hopefully purchase some of my favorite artists’ goods.

    I have only gone to one convention though and it was a minor one, AnimeNext in New Jersey. They had an artist alley and dealers room, which is where I spent most of my time in.

    I have been wanting to go to the NYCC and the PAXeast, but the tickets aren’t cheap and sell out really fast. Another problem, particularly with PAXeast is the location/distance. Have to pay for the travel and hotel fee. So just going to these events would take a big chunk out of my wallet. What little money i have left over, I would want to spend it without any regret later. So who should I spend it on?

    This is probably another problem. What a consumer should spend what little allotted money they have left. If I had to pay extra money to take a picture with some big name celeb, then I would just not take a picture. I would prob like to spend my money on a comic book or poster. But then there are a large number of publishers and individuals at these conventions. It would be really hard for me to choose just one. Probably take me the whole day to decide.

    So there is a lot of stuff the consumer is thinking and considering when at these conventions. I suggest going to smaller conventions with less big name celebs and to self advertise to your fans through any and all medium possible. I, for example, have a twitter, facebook, tumblr, and deviantart account. I spend most of my time only on facebook. So if u were to advertise only on twitter, it is highly likely i wont see it.

    Anyways good luck to you and your husband in the future with these conventions ^^

    • Thank you for your note – I actually don’t think Cosplayers are killing conventions – this new blog I posted yesterday does a better job of explaining my stance: http://comicbookwife.com. I agree that everything is costing way too much – I do post and Dave does post on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, etc.

  10. Maybe you could try cosplaying as Slave Leia to bring more traffic to your husband’s table?

  11. I think there are several issues with Comic Cons that don’t benefit the artists. Some of these are the artists fault and some of it is the convention’s fault.

    First part, artists are known for their art. That is what people see. The gruffy person with the smudges on their face and the unkempt hair doodling on a board is not what people come to see. The art is the selling point and it get’s noticed way before the person. So artists need to reinvent their position at conventions. Get out of the booth and teach some lessons, do some meet and greets, charge for photo ops, and give away items. Artists are just as valuable as the art they are distributing so charge for everything!

    I am also seeing artists under valuing their work. You see it all the time now. An artist gets upset for a fan selling a freebie on Ebay for $300. Note to artists, your work was worth $300! It was a one of a kind piece! Don’t let someone else take your money, and don’t give away something that is valuable! I don’t care if the POPE wants a drawing of himself with Batman! The Vatican has the money, so charge him double!

    Create value by limiting quantities, styles or designs that are going to be valuable in a year!

    Here, just to be hypocritical, I will give you all some free advice, (if you would like more help contact me at http://www.Jerrywitman.com and I will help you market your work better.)

    IDEA: Determine a style that you are going to draw this year! “This year I am only going to create art in the style of Steampunk!” Then only draw your work in that style. It will be instantly unique. Then to make it more valuable by only drawing one character per convention. If people what to get the whole set of drawings, that were only drawn that year, they have to go to the conventions and pay top dollar to get them. $300! Then only draw 50 of them. When they are gone they are gone! At the end of the year post prints on your website as a secondary way to make money off the art. The original will still be worth more than a smaller print.

    I am shocked that artists give their stuff away for free.

    Now if you are not making money, your products are priced wrong. You have to price your products for what they are worth and based on the cost to present them at a show. Show prices will make them cost more. But the value is in creating original works. If someone wants a cheaper version hand them a business card with a QR code to your online store. They want prints they can get them there and not have to worry about carrying it around the show and damaging it.

    You are a business owner not a charity!

    But enough with the artists.

    The conventions are set up to make money. Bottom line. They are not there to cater to the artist or to the cos-player or to the vendor or to the genre or to the guest stars… They are there to make money. They have costs to cover and profits to make and that is the bottom line. They are a business and they are not there to help anyone make money. The are organizing the event to make a profit and if you want to attend to try and sell your products then pay the fee and incorporate it into your business costs for attending the show and try to make your own damn money.

    It’s a harsh statement, I know, but I will continue to share this message with all the artists I come across. You are worth more than you are giving yourself credit for. So many of you have a talent that I can’t even attempt to understand and you should be paid for the awesomeness you create!

    SO RECAP:
    1) Highlight “YOU” as the artist
    2) Create a unique experience for your fans/guests
    3) Create supply and demand in your art work
    4) Price your products accordingly
    5) And don’t forget that the conventions are there to make money and so should you!

    Oh and final thought for you: You are not an artist! You are an entrepreneur in the field of Graphic Arts.

    Artists starve, entrepreneurs thrive!

    • This is all heat advice – thank you, Jerry, for this thoughtful post. If you’re ever at a show we’re attending, I’d like to talk with you in person, show you what we’re selling, and get your take on it.

      • I would love to help if I can. I don’t like to see talented people being exploited by fans or companies who have more money.

        Great topic BTW. I am seeing this sort of conversation from other artists happening more often lately and things need to change and that starts with the artists.

    • Jerry, you have nailed it. It’s not only illustrators, I see it with many other creative endeavors. They don’t teach marketing or sales in art school. I’ve been a Salesman, Pitchman, Customer Experience Representative, Account Manager, Agent, Marketer, Peddler, Showman, Closer you get the idea, for over 25 years. Value your work. Work your value. As soon as you walk out the door; answer the phone; reply to email/text, it’s business. I don’t leave home without business cards on my person. Tip of the day: when exchanging business cards with others, dog ear the ones you want to follow-up with…makes it easier to remember later when you have a pocket full of contacts.

  12. I host SC’s largest Comic Con – XCON and in the past decade we have grown our show steadily. However in the last 2 years we have noticed a boom of new shows. When we started a decade ago we were the only Comic Con in SC now there seems to be every other weekend. The fans are still coming out but they have much less money to spend. We track spending at our show and although we have had a steady 20-25% increase in attendance each year we noticed the last 2 years spending has gone down by 40%. We have not increased our prices for entry. We see the kids with barely enough money to get in the door. I think this is because they are no longer saving up to buy at their local show but are instead saving up to buy entry into the next show in a few weeks.
    Ultimately this hurts the vendors and the guests as the expenses to attend more shows increase but the sales are diluted over more shows. Essentially the vendors are making the same total sales in a region but they are getting over a greater number of shows increasing their expenses and squeezing profits if any.
    Cosplayers have increased but as a promoter I dont see them taking away sales or being a focus. I would counter that they increase attendance although not by much. The professional cos players (ones that run the circuit for a living) are seeing declines in sales as well.
    The only solution I can see for the near future is to limit yourself to one show per region per year. Don’t over fish the same pond. Eventually many of the newer shows will disappear as the vendors learn to limit themselves to a show per region per year.
    We are going to stay on our slow growth plan and remain the largest show in SC. Some of the things we do for our vendors is get a vendor sponsor hotel with great rates and keep our booth costs low. We also attempt to negotiate rates for electricity and wifi as low as the venue will tolerate.
    As far as travel expenses, etc. for guests we have to use a ROI formula to determine if that particular guest will increase attendance (ie more ticket sales to offset the costs associated). In this regard creators will have better luck getting travel expenses paid by smaller shows who need some “Name” recognition. But that is a double edged sword as they will not have the same attendance. However many of my friends in the industry are reporting to me that they are making better sales at smaller shows being one a few guests as opposed to being one of hundreds.

    I hope this helps. We are http://www.xconworld.com

    truly,
    Robin Roberts

    • Hi Robin, What a great and honest post. I like your metaphor about “overfishing in the same pond.” Perfectly said. We (Dave & I) need to be more scrutinizing about our ROI formula, for sure.

  13. Hello, as “comic book girlfriend” myself, I can totally relate to your post. I have been to a total of 5 cons with my boyfriend, who although is not a comic book artist, creates some pieces of original art based on a few comic book characters he is a fan of,. We first found out about this con life from a couple of friends who suggested we try it out. This is all they do (over 30 conventons per year), and they seem to do well, so we figured we should try. Last year we went to Baltimore and Austin. We did amazing in both, and actually made our money back plus a little extra. We figured it was worth it for the exposure alone at least. So, this year we signed up for 3 more cons, and what a difference… We barely made our money back, and lost money in the Chicago one, which being a 4 day long event, meant both of us didn’t work for all those days, spent a ton of money and got food poisoning (granted this last inconvenience was not the convention’s fault!!). We had not even realized that guest admission alone, with our exhibitor discount was $70+ bucks until my brother came by to visit us. In speaking with a neighbor exhibitor’s wife, we came to the conclusion that admission + celebrity photo-op+parking takes a big chunk of the money a regular attendee might have, and that leaves all of us there fighting for the publics $10-20 bucks they might have left, and most of them were pondering if they should buy a print or go get a snack!! It was rather disappointing. As someone mentioned in a post above, if it wasn’t for the regular clients who are loyal, it would have been a total miss for us.
    But we are going to give one more try in 2015. We are hopeful it will be better, if not, t least we still have our day jobs!

    • Like you, my new fellow Comic Book Girlfriend, I’ve always been the bright-eyed optimist and we will never give up, but we will definitely shift things around a bit and reprioritize. I’m sorry to hear you got food poisoning – how far did you travel from? I have a phobia about getting sick and being away from home.

      • We flew from Orlando, FL, and planned on checking out a bit of the Windy City for the first time, but that didn’t happen because we were too tired to go anywhere! Maybe next year:)

  14. Loved your article…. As an older member of the Sci-fi/fantasy comic/card artist community, I have seen this trend before…. in many other convention circles as well. But as it was pointed out, it is the task of the convention promoters to make a profit, and the task of each individual artist to try to make a profit of their own at the venue. Sometimes it is best to NOT attend the convention. I will often go as an attendee just to see the other folks and the COSPLAY costumes…. but most of the large scale multi-media conventions are not worth the time or expense for an artist or creator any longer. So that being said, select a few to attend as a vacation from your creating and art, and go as a fan…. it can be fun!

  15. I think a couple of introductory statements about me are in order before I comment. I’m fifty. I collect comics fairly seriously, although my primary focus is 1960s DC and a smattering of 70s DC & Marvel. I read current comics, albeit my current weekly pull is about 1/2 Image & BOOM, and 1/2 DC. I attend one comic convention per year, Emerald a City CC in Seattle and I have a half dozen serious comic friends that attend with me. We attend solely to meet creators, get books signed/sketched, and submit some of them to one of the grading & encapsulation companies. I am unfamiliar with your husband’s work, and I had no idea that a ‘Grand Con’ existed.

    All that being said, I watch my friends and myself drop a lot of money to creators for signatures, for sketches, and in my case for original artwork. Although I see a number of creators doing signatures for a donation to the Hero initiative, which I respect – I’ve also seen overflowing tip jars of ‘beer money’ and watched as people happily paid $200 for a pen sketch on their blank comic cover. If I’m not in line with my sketch request the first day of con for some of the super-heavy artists, then I’m S.O.L. For the weekend and trying to find another artist to blow my money on. What I generally don’t spend money on at con is comics, except for books that are graded and part of the limited group of books that I seriously collect, nor do I spend money on prints – with the sole exception that I bought one of Amanda Conner’s prints this last year because she was working her booth solo, she was obviously trying to please everyone, and I had stood in line for a signature only for which she was accepting a Hero Initiative donations.

    1. Charge for sigs, even if it’s only a buck or two.
    2. Charge more if the person is getting the book graded/encapsulated – we will pay, hell, we’re paying $10 bucks extra to have the signature ‘authenticated’ – get in on that.
    3. Have samples of blank/sketch covers at your booth, with obvious prices and turn around times posted. And focus on the characters that sell.
    4. Original art pages. These move slowly, but moving a couple good pages at $100-200 is better than moving none at $400.
    5. Chose which cons you attend wisely, nearly none of my comic friends attend any of the Wizard World cons, because they have so little to do with comics.
    6. Don’t quit.
    7. Good luck.

    Lee

    • Lee – what an awesome post – thank you so much for putting so much thought into this. Dave is stubborn about one thing – never charging for autographs. I think it stems from when he was a collector (actually, he still is, truth be told) and attended cons in his youth.

  16. Pingback: The economic reality of comic book conventions - Bent Corner

  17. Let me put it in perspective of a cosplayer for you.
    I have been cosplaying for over six years, cosplayers actually learn to budget their money because of the costuming costs.
    We are more likely to spend what is left of our con budget on sundays, unless it’s a limited edition item that you can only get on a certain day.
    I’ve made friends with a ton of different dealers and they seem to do fine, so i’m actually wondering if it’s more that your booth doesn’t stand out. Yes cosplayers can be hendrence, but don’t blame us for you not making money. Even cosplayers charge for their photos if they have a booth, and trust me there’s plenty of them.

    If you have a booth with little singage, or just a few books placed on it, i’m less likely to stop by, and i’m the type to stop at smaller booths to make small talk. even if i can’t afford the item, i still make talk with the booth runners and tend to tell friends about the booth if it’s something i think they’d be interested in.
    cosplayers are flashy, they tend to notice booths with pieces of art on the backdrop. or even something eye catching on the table, most of the older artists, go for simplicity, but with the con crowds getting younger you have to come up with a new draw in.

    yea we go for freebies, who doesn’t. But i will say that when the limited edition winx club dolls were being raffled at comic con two years ago, i paid for raffle tickets. just come up with some new crowd drawers, gimmicks, or even some kind of deal. Take a look at your business before blaming the cosplayers, because honestly, the cosplayers have nothing to do with 25,000 other attendees from stopping by your booth. the cosplayers are a minority these days, and the cosplay fans even less than them.

    But let me put this in perspective for you, my costumes i spend about. $140, making it over the course of months, i don’t get paid for wearing it. so i’m out money right there. if you don’t count my food budget, i tend to drop about $300 on goods and merch at a convention. This is not counting my food, ticket or hotel.

    Try going to a con as attendees and take a look at all the other small booths and see how they are drawing in people.

    Honestly, i’ve never heard of you guys ether, and i’m a huge star wars junkie, i grew up with it, and my family is friends with marks family as well. so the fact that some one who is a major star wars junkie has never heard of you guys, means your not marketing yourselves. i may sound harsh in my post, but this is from some ones perspective who feels attacked because your booth isn’t making money.

    partner up with some geek sites who run blogs, help get your business out there. sponsoring a review blog also won’t hurt you, that’s how a lot of people get business these days. they partner up with a popular review blog for their genre, send them a few freebies to review and bam, they get more traffic to the site from potential customers

  18. I’m sorry to hear about all of the negative feedback you’ve gotten for this post and the fact that so many people are forcing you to clarify your statements. I’m in total agreement with you that cosplayers, or rather, the new breed of convention attendee, are killing conventions. If things keep up the way they are, many artists, vendors and even industry guests will probably stop coming unless they’re paid for time, lodging, food, and travel. There will probably be a slimming of all of these things until there’s just a few hearty vendors and guests at each event. I see these mind-blowingly huge conventions start to slim down until there’s a balance again where they can make money at it. Eventually maybe they’ll just have a cosplay convention – a big event centered only on taking pictures of cosplayers and hanging out with friends. Most of the surveys I’ve taken of convention attendees say those are the number one reasons they even attend conventions!

    Thanks for putting it all out there though! ^_^

  19. The only ones to blame for SD Comic Con is SD Comic Con. The Con have become contaminated with pop culture (not that I have anything against a pop culture convention but I’d just like it separate from a comics convention). My first SD Con was in 1989 and it was a joy. It felt intimate, I was able to see my favorite artists and have conversations with them. Today’s SD Con is a pop culture event and I agree with the others that it should no longer be considered a comic con. It’s become who can grab the most swag or who will wait in line the longest, or find the best exclusives. For years I longed for a more intimate comics convention. Luckily we have such a convention here in San Diego. Two years ago the San Diego Comic Fest was created and promoted as an “old school” comic convention. And it is! I’ve had chats with science fiction writers, documentary directors and producers, comic artists and writers. Discovered new writers and artists, comics. Heard tales of ole of the beginnings of the SD Comic Con. I was able to attend every programming event I planned on attending. The Fest is still a very small convention and has the intimate feel of my first con. I cannot wait until the middle of October for the Fest!

      • The Fest could do with a few more named artists and I hope you and Dave can make it one day. I really do have much more fun at the SD Fest than I do at the SD Comic Con. On a side note, I was fortunate to meet Dave at the 1992 SD Con where he signed my copy of “Tribes”. A beautiful book and one of my prized possessions.

      • Thanks, Abel – that’s the one he won an Eisner and Bram Stoker Award for – it actually competed that year for a Bram Stoker with his other book, Dead Heat, a sentient motorcycle zombie tale (written with Del Stone Jr.).

  20. Hi Denise,

    Interesting blog post. I think the economics of being an artist is definitely changing, but the greater focus on cosplay is more a symptom than a cause. As they say in economics, correlation does not always equal causation.

    Let’s assume that the hypothesis that focus on cosplayers is taking away artists’ sales. If that’s true, then it would also be true that conventions focused on artists with little to zero cosplaying would be more profitable to artists. If such conventions existed, wouldn’t we see a lot more “artist-friendly” conventions pop-up? Now, the “artist-friendly” convention could very well be an untapped market, but considering the huge proliferation in conventions not just in comics but in all forms of media (games, cars, Star Wars, even Hello Kitty is having a convention), I find it unlikely that someone hasn’t tried the “artist-friendly” convention and found it any more profitable.

    I think the bigger culprit isn’t the cosplayers, but the INTERNET. Internet benefits cosplayers, because it’s easy for their image to get spread worldwide for just the cost of the convention & the costume, so economically it makes sense for them. But internet also has an adverse affect on commerce at conventions, simply because I can find most comics, toys, books, and other items at conventions on the internet for cheaper.

    So if I can do a lot of internet shopping at conventions, what am I spending my money on? Things I can’t get on the internet for cheaper: exclusives, signings, & artist commissions. I will also browse artists’ alley and support independent artists, but the competition is fierce, and often I may have $60 and 8 artists vying for my money. That decision is especially more difficult when it’s the first time I’ve met these artists and I already know there’s Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples there who already create something I love, so I’m more likely to spend that $60 on a signed Saga print, knowing I’m going to enjoy that rather than take my chances with an independent artist whose work I might or might not like.

    I think exhibiting at the Cons is still financially viable, but a lot of groundwork has to be done before to make it so. That groundwork involves exploiting the very beast that’s causing the problems: internet & social media. I’ve looked at Dave’s online profile and he has all the basics – home website, Twitter/Facebook, etc., but I think his home site tends to highlight the text as opposed to his art, so I think a revamped web design would help. Just to use Fiona Staples again, both her blog & her commerce site highlight her art:

    http://fionastaples.tumblr.com/
    http://www.essentialsequential.com/Fiona-Staples_c_37.html

    Daily tweets or instagram posts of art sketches would also be cool to see and keep reminding me of his art (my current favorite in this department is Chip Zdarsky (Sex Criminals) & James Silvani (Darkwing Duck, and he highlighted some affordable original sketches of Disney characters he’s selling at LBCC)). If I can recognize his art from online, then it’s easier for me to spot him in an artist’s alley and I’m more likely to spend some money on a sketchbook or a print.

    Your post is actually working on me now. It never even occurred to me that Dave did the covers on Dark Empire!!! If I’m constantly reminded of that on twitter, instagram, etc. and I know that at a local convention I can get a piece of that for less than $50, I’m totally buying in.

    • Thanks for your post, Randy – I hope you get a chance to read this post on Yahoo! News by Mat Elfring at Comic Vine, , because you’ll understand better from it that we do not blame cosplay for lowered sales at all. Yes, there are numerous things we are examine that we can do MUCH BETTER in executing, and I thank you for showing mess these great examples. We are working on redoing his website through StageBloc.com, so that will be a step in the right direction, too. Instagram and Pinterest are two areas where we definitely need to be more proactive. I wish we could afford to outsource his marketing, because my “real job” is the priority and Dave ends up being the “cobbler’s kid.”

  21. I would really suggest instead of doing just the “big shows,” you might consider doing small ones. I help promote small shows, and I can tell you that we treat out guests very well. We also appreciate having creators come to our shows. With a $5 – $10 admission fee, we keep our show affordable for everyone. This leaves more money in the attendees’ pockets to spend with our guests. This does limit our budget a bit, but with us, its not about raking in ridiculous amounts of money. Its about sharing our love of comics with others and trying to give people the opportunity to meet their favorite creators by doing a show in an area that isn’t necessarily near a huge city. People can’t afford to fly to San Diego or New York. But people CAN – and WILL – drive a few hours to see their favorite writer or artist. We include everyone and while we may not be able to bring in so called “A listers” we sure treat all our guests as if they were. Some creators won’t even respond to our invitations. We’re not big enough. But it’s us little guys that put our hearts into our shows. The huge cons charge ridiculous amounts of money for you guys to set up, where we would bring you in, put you up in a hotel, feed you and take good care of you. You might only make $500, but that’s $500 free and clear that you keep! No out of pocket expenses for you, you make money, and best of all, we give people access to you who may never be able to afford to go to a huge show. We try to make it so that everyone wins. Unfortunately, creators ignore our invitations a lot of times because they “only do big shows” or will only do 2 day shows. But give a little show a chance and you may find that appreciation you’re looking for and so very much deserve!

    • Thanks for your note, Tracy. We do small shows all of the time, like Comicpalooza at a local library in Elgin, Star Wars Day at the Joliet Public Library, etc. so we’ve never been averse to that. And no, we’re not all about making ridiculous amounts of money, but just being able to cover costs at the very least. Profit is icing on the cake!

  22. You know, as a longtime con goer who has seen conventions evolve into something less fulfilling than they once were, I’m waiting for the day when some entrepreneuring soul brings us a con which is basically just one big Artists Alley, with the focus on the creators and their wares. Now that’s a show I would love to drop money at!

  23. Pingback: The Stannex › Thoughts on Changes in Con Culture

  24. Hello Denise. I can totally sympathize with your dilemma. Granted I’m not a big name comic artist or anything but I used to attend conventions to promote my work and make sales to at least make my money back. I would say from 2008-2012 I tried doing the convention circuit at various anime and comic conventions and ended up spending nearly $1000+ to cover each show between travel, food, table fee, admission fee (most of the anime cons charge admission fee and table fee separately), producing goods for sale for the table, etc I would always end up in the hole. It was very frustrating to me despite trying different strategies and trying to improve my game plan at each show. There is nothing wrong with competition however when your packed in a room with 400 other artist, various panels happening at the same time, International guests, and so much more and then you realize there is only so many hours in the day thats when it hit me that this model isn’t working and I’m wasting my time and my money. I do understand what your saying with cosplayers. I also enjoy the craft of cosplay but when the cosplayers block my artist alley display for several minutes and I lose potential sales because no one can see my work then it becomes a problem. So basically with all that being said, my last con was in 2012, I just got tired of wasting time and money at these shows with little to no return when I could sit on the computer and make more sales online. I do like conventions and networking and meeting new people but for me to enjoy a convention I think getting an artist alley table is out of the question if I even want to just make my money back. I can see that there was a huge shift to commercialism at these shows and I decided to venture out and try something new myself. I still draw comic art of classic characters occasionally however I moved onto doing more live caricature work which I’m really excelling at. Please keep in mind that I have nearly no caricature experience but just tried it to see if anything could come of it. I now attend county fairs, carnivals, and festivals locally that have very little overhead cost and I usually make 10 times my investment back very easily. Its really fantastic! Eventually I would like to do out of state shows to display my caricature work and comic work. And you know what all that comic and anime related art I used to tote around at the conventions hoping that someone would buy I now just bring it with me to my caricature gigs and sell them there. And they do sell! There is fans of comics and anime everywhere, not just at these anime/comic related conventions. I’m starting to think that the comic/anime conventions are almost like a scam for artist as they cram 300 and 400 artist in a room and these promoters try to make as much money as possible while forgetting about the artist who helped to create these characters. It really is just greed and I got tired of it and started doing other things. Sorry for the long post but I hope it was helpful. I won’t say that I’ll never do a convention again but the way things are currently it really isn’t in my best interest to do them at the moment.

    • Hi Ana,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful note – I think it’s really fascinating how you’ve tapped into a new market that loves your previous stuff and it’s completely without the type of competition you’d find at a typical Con. I hope you continue to grow in your success. I think the idea of anyone being a “big name artist” really doesn’t have the cachet it once did, so please know that your value is just as important to the art world as anyone else’s.

      • Great, I’m glad my experience was helpful. I’m afraid that these shows like sdcc nycc, wizard world, etc. haven’t been comic related conventions for a very long time. Its almost like false advertising on their part by adding the “comic-con” at the end. Hopefully someone will make a convention that focuses on comic creators, artist, and writers, if there isn’t one already. I would experiment with other types of shows outside the comic convention arena or even some smaller comic conventions.

  25. Pingback: Adapt or Die: How to Earn Money at Comic Conventions | Pop Culture Uncovered

  26. I am a person who have an interest in literary Science Fiction arts, movies and Anime; I find comic books trivial at best. I rather read a chapter in a book than a the same story told in five panes on a page of a comic book. I would be not one of your husband’s customers.
    You are off base blaming Cosplyers for your husband’s lack of sales. It sound like bad business planning is the problem. You need to do your homework, researching the market, figuring out ROI than scapegoating cosplayers. San Diego Comic con needs to have a name changed, it more about pop culture than comics, that is why I want to attend. I only had one and now only experience in attending a Wizard’s World, in Portland. My feeling it only exist to pimping celebrities for a price of a photo or an autograph. The panels except for William Shatner were dismal and the only cosplayers held any interest for me. I would never attend again. If I was in the comic business I probably not attend on as a dealer. As for launches an publicity the internet has change marketing not only for comic business but also other markets . No longer a company has to go to a trade show or comic con but have a media streaming event. Two examples are Funamation did not go to an Anime convention to announce Attack on Titan part 2 or Microsoft did not go to a trade show to announce Windows 10 but both had a media steaming event on the net. Finally the market has changed; the younger generation are on the internet are more multi-media. Think of the decline of books stores. Comic book are a niche market not served in big media or celebrity centric cons. A true comic convention or show could fit in a hotel’s ball rooms with rooms to spare. You need to change your business strategy, more blogs and smaller shows, and social media.

  27. Pingback: New York Comic Con Expands Reach and Draws Criticism - Created by admin - In category: Business - Tagged with: - The News On Time - Minutes by minute following the worldwide news

  28. Hi
    I am from Europe and the con’s and events are getting bigger here too.
    In 2 weeks we have F.A.C.T.S one of the biggest events in my country Belgium. And I must admit I am one of the cosplayers.. It will be my second year I will join the cosplaycontest (previous years I wasnt confident enough)
    As cosplayers we put a lot of time in making our costume and every year I take lots of pictures and I love it when people recognize the character you are cosplaying..
    The thing is for us in our country it is still affordable to go to a con and most of my money goes to a photoshoot with one of my favorite actors or an autograph from a favorite artist or writer (got 3 nice autographed prints from Ann Stokes a few years ago for instance).
    Yes people that actually buy artwork and autographes and stuff already know you will be there and will search you… All the other people well you just have to be kinda lucky that they still have money on them after their own hunt of interests and that they get drawn to your booth.
    And for some people it is just a habbit for going after so many years and they just stroll around enjoying the atmosphere of the con…
    You also have to put in mind these days are not good for people in a financial way so hard choices are always made at cons by attendees and many dealers, writers, artists, actors, … to choose from…
    Every year I got my “loot” and yes it includes tons of awesome pictures of cosplays but they are artists too (well at least the ones that made their own) but I always end up with some artwork even if my budget is small or almost non-existent.
    It’s not that we do not appreciate the writers , artists ,…. it’s just we have to make choices at a con or we have to give up life for a year to be able to spend everything on 1 weekend.
    Just don’t give up, you being there still advertises your work so in an indirect way you still reach people even if the profit doesnt gets to you that instant moment.
    Best thing to do is to not go every year, because as attendees we sometimes have the notion of “oh we’ll get it next year, he’ll be here next year too”
    One year fullgear in a booth and another to join the con-fun as an attendee instead of being stuck in a booth:)
    Best advice I can give

    Cheers from the other side of the world
    Stefanie

  29. Pingback: Growing Pains at Popular New York Comic Con | New York news

Comments are closed.