On the weekend of May 17 and 18, I worked a table at the inaugural SC Comicon in Greenville, touted as “the first large-scale, family friendly comic book and gaming convention to the area.” I sell prints of my art work, some original pieces, small sketches, and my own comics. It’s a side gig, and, frankly, a profitable hobby.
I’ve worked tables at such conventions since 2010 starting with the late, great Fanaticon here in downtown Asheville. That show ran two years at the Asheville Art Museum before fading away, replaced by two separate annual shows GeekOut and ACE. There aren’t many towns that can claim and support two separate pop culture shows, and Asheville, so far, is pulling it off. That’s not so surprising.
Notice I wrote “pop culture shows.” That encompasses a wide spectrum of interests – everything from TV, movies, books, games, and online communities – and covers a healthy chunk of the population, certainly more than might attend just for comics. But, considering how prevalent comics are in pop culture, maybe not.
Maybe you heard of the Avengers, the third highest-grossing movie in history, and its family of interconnected film franchises: Iron Man (3 films), Captain America (two films) Thor (two films), Hulk (two films), and this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This year boasts sequels for Spider-Man, X-Men, Sin City, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and 300. People are losing their heads over Ben Affleck playing Batman in the follow-up to last year’s Superman movie. Arrow is big on TV. So is Agents of SHIELD. Even if you never read a comic, you’re awash in comic properties. So a convention that only concerns itself with comic characters stretches beyond comic books.
Now add to that the people who love Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Hannibal, Adventure Time, Homestuck, Orphan Black, Orange is the New Black, Attack on Titan, and a con becomes a party of people delighting in common interests, and the overlapping Venn diagram of genres becomes a sprawling fandom fractal.
It’s possible you’ve never gone to such a show. I understand. I smell your fear.
You’re thinking Comic Book Guy from Simpsons. Maybe you once happened to step inside a low-lighted cave of cracking drywall and musty odors with titling piles of comics and sun-faded toys. As a lifelong comic consumer, I have been there. I’m holding your hand and telling you in earnest tones that we can get past this. We’re strong, you and I.
You have to know right off that the old, accepted standards of conventions is a long-gone memory. The perception of those who attend those shows has changed. The actual demographics are different, to the benefit of everyone involved.
Nowadays, the variety of vendors and artists is a cheerful collection – more bazaar than bizarre – thanks to cheaper technology and options for distribution. They have democratized the production of crafts; it’s easier these days to make comics and accessories, and a convention reflects the expansion of those eager to sell and buy.
So. More diversity of people. More diversity of interests. Greater emphasis on welcoming families. Greater social cross-pollination. And you won’t believe how good the costumed attendees look.
When you go – and you are going, right? Good. – you should do the following:
1) Take pictures. The people who dress up are flattered to be asked. But be sure you ask first. You’ll get a good character pose, and your kids (or you) will love standing next to a superhero. Also ask before taking pictures of the artists’ work.
2) Consider dressing up the kids. They’ll be rock stars. Conventions love kids in costumes.
3) Say hi to the vendors. As someone who draws for the duration of the convention, I’m only glad to talk shop and give you my low-key sales pitch. I understand that you want to see all the tables before opening your wallet. I remember what it was like to be a big fan of a character, so we behind the tables will take time to chat up your kids (or you) about why, say, Wonder Woman is the best comic character of all time. We’re all fans. We’ve been your side of the table. The smart vendors remember what that was like, especially the first time we went to a convention. It can be overwhelming.
4) So take your time. There’s no rush (unless you’re walking in an hour before the con closes). Go at your own pace. If your kids (or you) are in costume, you might move slower as people ask for pictures. You can also always say no.
5) Speaking of saying no, jerk behavior is not allowed. You may see skimpy costumes. Mind your manners. Some conventions have clear rules about what they’ll allow for costumes, so you’re not likely to see something truly scandalous. If others can’t mind their manners about your costume, inform the convention staff immediately.
6) Check the programs. Cons offer workshops and celebrity signings. Check the event times and the floorplan to navigate your way around. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions, either from the con staff or the vendors.
7) Use the program as a souvenir book. Ask the artists for small sketches in the program. Maybe ask everyone for their take on Spider-Man or Batman. Something quick and simple. It’s good PR for folks like me, and we’re suckers for making kids smile.
8) Hit the ATM before you get to the con. They may not have one handy or it may be low later in the day. Also ask if the vendors take credit cards. Square Readers are small smartphone peripherals that scan your card. You sign your name on the screen and can have a receipt emailed to you.
9) Careful with the merchandise. That’s not some sort of Fonzie slang. I mean it literally. That’s our bread and butter.
10) If there’s a multiple-day ticket option, buy it. You might want to go back. That original Logan’s Run lunchbox or the handmade print of Robocop vs. Buffy the vampire Slayer will whisper a siren song to you while you sleep.
GeekOut is June 7-8 at the UNCA Sherrill Convention Center. ACE is September 20 at the US Cellular Center.
Go and enjoy yourselves.