On Business: The Big Cons

By | Monday, August 24, 2015 2 comments
One of the complaints I've heard from creators the past few years is that it's next to impossible to make money tabling at some of the larger pop culture conventions, like those that Wizard World puts on. A quick traipsing through Artist Alley will let you find a few comic creators, but there's a much greater percentage of what amounts to fan art. Not to dismiss the talent of any of the individuals back there, mind you -- many of them are exceptionally talented -- but they're selling almost nothing but works derivative of someone else's intellectual property.

This past weekend at Wizard World Chicago, there was an average of about one comic creator per row in Artists Alley. (Although the comics folks that were there seemed to be primarily in the first two ailses of Artists Alley, with the back half relegated to mostly artists just selling prints.) I only attended on Saturday, so I didn't get a chance to talk to everyone, but those that I did talk to basically said that they were doing okay financially. But only because they had some kind of deal set up where they weren't actually paying the full set of fees themselves anyway; someone was sponsoring them by covering the table fee and at least part of their travel expenses. In some cases, that seemed to be Wizard World itself! This jives with my observations last year.

Skeksis cosplay
What also struck me this year over previous ones was that cosplaying seemed down significantly. I only saw two costumes of any real note, one of them - a Skeksis - pictured here. One of the guys I was with was counting Harley Quinns, and didn't even get to twenty; he saw considerably more at Denver Comic Con back in May. Another friend went earlier, and was disappointed at how she saw almost none at all. (Granted, Thursday and Friday aren't big for cosplay in the first place.) I was also struck that, despite photos and footage floating around for a couple months, I saw zero movie-costume Deadpools; every Deadpool I saw was of the more traditional zentai variety.

The folks I talked to at the show all seemed to indicate that Wizard World was treating them well, acting on complaints and accomodating requests. But the traffic on the floor seemed... well, not light, but not overly crowded either. Now it could be that, in years past, congestion was caused by cosplayers stopping to have their photos taken and the lighter turnout there may have helped mitigate traffic issues. It's also possible that the show floor itself was rearranged to make wider ailses.

I'm reminder of the "holding pen" notion that another friend of mine floated last year. He pointed out that Wizard's making their money off the celebrity and actor autographs; everything on the show floor is basically a holding pen for people to wait (and spend money!) in between autograph sessions. So Wizard fills that with a flea market of pop culture ephemera.

I think Wizard realizes that this is indeed what it looks like and, for the past couple years, has been making overtures back to the comics community to try to alleviate the direction that they took themselves in. But they don't seem to be doing nearly enough as there seemed to be fewer comics folks this year than last. My guess that their approach, strategically, was very cynical as the holding pen idea suggests, but that they saw/heard what was happening from guests and retailers and started trying to compensate for that three or four years ago. But their approach seems to have been of the too-little-too-late variety, and they've got a show now with decreasing expectations for everyone attending. I'm sure the shows are still profitable for Wizard, but if they are sincere in their desire to attract more comics folks again, they're going to need to put a LOT more work into that!
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Unknown said...

I was the person in the Skeksis costume. Thank you so much for the mention and photo.

Admittedly, I was only there for the one day, but yours was by far the best costume I saw at the show! Fantastic work!