Comic-Con 101: The Top 10 Comic-Cons!

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I know, I know, many cons have been left off of this list. I’ve only listed the ten here I’ve actually done. I’ve heard great things about MegaCon in Orlando, Rhode Island, Boston, and, of course, Detroit’s Motor City Con. There are also cons outside the continental U.S., like one in Hawaii and Essen in Germany.

I’ve also left out gaming cons, like Gen Con, even though fantasy comics would do very well there. However, gaming cons are a different animal, and we’re focusing on comic-cons or cons that at least have both.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Cons (for the most part), I’ve left off the list. Depending on which one you’re talking about, their focus tends to be more on books, cosplay, and fandom. You can include Horror Cons in that mix. They’re often good for comic creators if you have a specific comic that appeals to that genre.

But these ten cons have a focus that is comic book related or, at least, so welcoming to comic books and creators, it doesn’t matter. So let’s take a look and determine whether or not you want to spend the time and resources to do them. Here, they are in backward ranking of importance.

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10: Small Press Expo

Where: Rockville, MD

In the past, the Small Press Expo has been very affordable, and it sort of has to be. It’s aimed at small creators and tries to bring out the weird and wonderful in comics. I’ve been there at least twice, and here are my thoughts.

If you have a very niche, obscure comic whose audience is hipsters who read what passes for underground comics these days— The same audience of the Comics Journal— Then it’s a must-stop for you. There are several small press events like this all over the country, so this one is one of the largest of the small press expos.

There are no retailers or collectors other than collectors of obscure comics. It’s very much a one-on-one-to-fans kind of situation.

My Take: The atmosphere is very pretentious. Even for my comic, Jersey Devil, based on a 288-year-old folktale, it was a little too mainstream for the hipster fans that flock to this event.

It tends to be a very fan-poor con, too, meaning the fans just don’t have a lot of money. In fact, if a con could embody the feeling of an artist who disdains monetary gain because it compromises his art— It would be this con. Some artists are outright hostile to fans who don’t immediately acknowledge their artistic superiority and start griping about mainstream comics. I have lots to say on that subject, to be sure, but jeez.

Should you do it: If you have one of those obscure, personal comics that’s printed in ‘zine format and don’t care about making money— Then this is your show. If you have a more traditional superhero or Manga comic, there are better places to sell. But if you’re within driving distance and don’t have to get a hotel room, it had been very affordable in the past, but I haven’t been back since Dave Sim was a guest.

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9: Heroes Con

Where: Charlotte, NC

Set in this college town, the show is a very traditional comic book convention. Over the years, it leaned more and more into the art, and when I was there ten years ago, it had become almost all comic book art. They auction off original comic book art for charity, so if you’re an artist looking for exposure or to do a good deed, be prepared to bring some pieces to donate.

My Take: The founder, Shelton, and his staff are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met in comics, and when I attended with my crew, we usually had a pretty good time. In previous years, the show felt too big for the hotel space but too small for a major convention space. These days, it’s in a big convention space, so be prepared for a large audience.

Should You Do It: This show is best for artists and artist-creators. As a writer/publisher, I found myself struggling to sell comics since most of the fans were saving their money to buy art (and believe it or not, buying a three-dollar comic was not on the menu when you have to bid on a charity piece.) Although I enjoyed my time there greatly and loved the people, I could no longer justify the trip due to moderate sales the last time I did it. If you’re a comic book artist, make a bunch of showpieces, and I say, go.

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8: Emerald City Comic-Con

Where: Seattle, WA

I did this show before Seattle turned into the Communist Hellscape it appears to be today. And even then, the brand new mass transit system that went from the airport right to the venue with its cloth seats smelled like urine. It was also on the honor system to pay, so I suspect the locals ride it for free. Do you see where I’m going with this?

My Take: When I did the show, it was pretty good. Webcomics were hot, and some of the local comic book superstars did very well for themselves. There seemed to be very little to do outside the con and the convention center back then, so if I were to do it now, I’d go right back to my hotel.

I would describe the fans as halfway between the hipsters from the Small Press Expo and the standard comic book fan from a large convention center con. It’s Seattle, so it tends to lean more hipster, but comic book stores and dealers are also in attendance.

Should You Do It: Safety is a concern in any major city, but in Seattle, who knows what could happen? Leaving original art, laptops, or any other valuables in even a locked car would be an inviting disaster. This can be a logistic nightmare if you’re trying to get artwork and inventory to and from the convention.

On the upside, the people who will attend will absolutely have money because they have to pay to get in. Because the gap between the rich and poor is probably very high now, the customers are going to have more disposable cash. The problem is, how many locals want to risk coming to the convention at all?

If you’re a young crew of comic book dreamers with a car that’s a POS, I’d say you can risk driving in every day if you don’t leave anything in the car. If you’re flying in, maybe, if money is no object for you and you stay in the host hotel.

As far as the subject matter of your comic, I think the personal, esoteric stuff will probably do best, but we did okay at the show with Dracula vs. King Arthur and my fantasy comic, The Travelers.

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7: Phoenix Fan Fusion

Where: Phoenix, AZ

Ever do a comic-con on the surface of the sun? Fortunately, Arizona is rife with some of the finest air-conditioning money can buy. But if you do go outside to walk around, please take a bottle of water with you. (It was 98 degrees at nighttime while I was there.)

This con started more comic book-centric but rapidly absorbed some of the other local fandoms to expand, including the Anime/Manga crowd and gaming. Expect cosplay and the usual craziness. I found the organizers very nice people indeed, and they were especially kind to us, out-of-towners.

My Take: I remember us doing very well at this show. The fans were energetic and enthusiastic. Bring you’re A-game because there are going to be a lot of other creators with comics just like you. Anime and Manga tend to bring out more female fans, but gaming-related comics (like fantasy) are also on the menu.

Should You Do It: Yes. It’s a large con, but the prices are moderate, and the organizers were top-notch. The con has got light energy, so I feel the best comics to sell won’t be the darker ones (although the fandom was pretty much everything). If you can afford it, get your butt out to Phoenix.

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6: San Diego Comic-Con

Where: San Diego, CA

Yes, it’s the big show, but I put it at number six because it’s so damned expensive. Its size is so massive you can get lost inside the convention center. However, the place is so jam-packed if you get a good spot on the floor, you’re going to be busy all day.

My Take: I couldn’t make any money at this show if I hadn’t been bankrolled by a publisher or shared the expenses with other creators. And add the plane ride and hotel, and I probably just about broke even.

If you’re going to get a booth, you’re going to need at least three other people to handle the volume of fans. If you’re in the artists’ alley, you’ll still be fairly busy all day. Don’t expect to have a lot of time to walk around. You can’t possibly walk around in ten minutes. It’s too big and too crowded. Plan on being at your table the whole show and seeing what you can on the way out in the afternoon or on the way in during the morning.

Should You Do It: Yeah, if you can afford it! It is not easy to do San Diego on the cheap, and if you cut every corner, you’ll still have to do a few grand just to break even. That means you’ll need a ton of inventory and multiple people selling your book.

It’s a good show to network with other creators and publishers if you can get invited to the right parties or find people at the various hotel bars and restaurants. Can you justify going if you know you won’t break even? Sure, if you prepare to network. Lay the groundwork, try to contact anyone else who’s going, and find out what parties and get-togethers are happening.

If you’re a poor creator who can barely scrape together the airfare, hotel, and table rental, you probably should wait. Be warned, some of the fans are poor too. I met dozens of fans who would tell me they barely afford to get in and spent the whole con going to panels and collecting freebies.

Went I went with Kenzerco, we made some money. However, it wasn’t their top con because of the massive overhead of table fees and the loading dock fees, along with everything else.

As an alternative, it is possible to go to the show and just network all day. Without a table, you’ll be free to roam the con, find out what’s happening after hours, and talk to editors on the floor. It’ll be a zoo, but it will probably be more rewarding than trying to sell comics and art just to break even.

If you’re a local or have a friend or relative in the area, you might be able to save some bucks if you can drive in for the day. Just remember, doing the San Diego Con is a lot of work.

Literally, any comic can do well here. I mean, this is the comic-con.

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5: New York Comic-Con

Where: New York, New York

Logistics are a bit of a nightmare at this show, depending on how much inventory you intend to bring. There was a time when you could park on the street a few blocks away for a reasonable rate, but not anymore.

And while it is a packed show (it was nearly shut down one year because it was so full, despite the immense size of the Javitz Center), like San Diego, you’re going to need a staff, a bankroll, and possibly some local contacts to cut your costs. Like San Diego, you can go to network, but I’ve found getting invited to an event post-con is much tougher here. In San Diego, the post-events usually happen in nearby hotels and bars, but in NYC, people scatter into the four winds of the city.

My Take: I was able to do this show because I had friends in the city I could stay with and found free or cheap parking. The only time I made any money was when one of my publishers paid for the space and got me a badge.

The Artist Alley space was far from the main venue and felt like a completely separate con unto itself. As I’ve said in previous columns, conventions this big can’t be monetized without more money, staff, and inventory. You will talk to fans all day, but even if you make a sale every five minutes, it probably won’t be enough to cover your weekend unless you also have some high-end items that sell well.

Crime is also now a bigger issue in the Big Apple. Like Seattle, you have to watch your back. I wouldn’t trust my car on the street there now, and I wouldn’t exactly relish walking several blocks to the cheaper parking lot with my cart full of merchandise.

Should You Do It: It’s a big show, and you will be busy every minute you are there. That being said unless you can somehow save on hotel and travel while braving the crime-ridden streets— You’ll essentially be doing this show for the exposure. If you have a big bankroll, it won’t be a problem for you. If you are a struggling creator, there are dozens of smaller cons that are cheaper, safer, and that have easier access in the region around the city. Sometimes, the NYC fans can be a little intense, but they usually have money. Your call, fanboy.

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4: Steel City Comic-Con

Monroeville, PA

Formerly the Pittsburg Comic-Con, this Western Pennsylvania comic book event has had its ups and downs. It’s pretty classic comic-con in terms of an audience, so traditional comics should get a warm reception.

My Take: For many years, I made the trek out west with my crew and had a great time. The organizers in the past even fed us in artist alley, and one year, I sold everything on my table to a local comic book store that wanted to stock up on comics.

Monroeville was relatively safe, the parking was free, and staying at the host hotel wasn’t that expensive back in the 90s. It’s changed hands and locations a few times, but I’ve heard it’s basically the same show.

Should You Do It: Unless you have some kind of comic that’s way out there on the fringe, absolutely. It’s now held in December, so you run the risk of getting snowed in or worse— The fans get snowed out after you schlep all the way out there. Overall, I think it’s a solid show. Definitely worth the drive if you’re in striking distance. The store owners in the area were very nice as well.

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3: Fan Expo Chicago Comic-Con

Where: Rosemont, Ill

Before you ask, no, it’s not really located in Chicago. It’s more on the outskirts in an area that’s more suburban industrial park than a crime-ridden city. Unlike Seattle and NYC, you’re unlikely to have to deal with worrying about the crime. Additionally, it doesn’t really have big city prices either.

This show has everything: Comics, Anime, Games, Cosplay— You name it. It’s a huge show with lots of fans. Other than the logistics and travel to get there, we always did very well at this show.

My Take: The hotels are a little pricey, and you probably need to stay nearby so you can walk over. There isn’t much within walking distance of the convention space, but there are a few stores and restaurants. If you share a hotel with some other creators, as we did in previous years, it’s not too bad.

This is one of the few shows where I sold literally everything I brought to fans. We covered our expenses that year! But like all big shows, get ready to work and stay at your table the whole show. If you have a crew, make sure they’re ready to work the room or space you get.

Should You Do It: For me, the travel costs are too high unless I drive out from New Jersey in a rental. These days, I stay local because I do The Pineys, but if you’re trying to push your comic nationally and you want to do a big con— I say put this on your list if you can afford it. Never got a great networking vibe there, but there were some opportunities. The fans were top-notch, and I think part of the reason is this— Rosemont is on the transit line, but it’s far out from the city. Anyone who goes to the con doesn’t just drift in so they are there to buy.

I also have a weird theory that Midwesterners spend more on their hobbies than people on the coasts because they don’t have good access to a beach in the summer, so they tend to do things at home and locally. Just a theory.

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2: L.A. Comic-Con

Where: Los Angeles, CA

Kind of a mixed bag of everything here: On the one hand, Los Angeles does have some crime, especially now. However, the immediate area is relatively safe. You take your chances with the local hotels and their locations, but everyone drives in L.A.

The hotels are expensive, though. I mean, the entire trip is probably going to run you a grand or two— That’s a lot of comic sales to break even. Again, if you have friends and relatives locally that can hook you up with a room and ride— Or if you are a local, this con can be totally affordable.

My Take: People complain about the movie industry dominating San Diego, but this con is where they actually go. I sold everything at my table— Mostly to producer assistants looking to develop a TV show or movie, but still. Sales! It has tons of fans of everything, but there’s also a real love for the comic book medium here.

The networking was crazy, too. I collected dozens of business cards. If you want to start the ball rolling on a movie deal, this would be the place. However, you have to look legit. Don’t show up in ripped clothes and an old t-shirt. In L.A., image is everything. Don’t be afraid to suggest a meeting with a potential contact “while you’re in town,” as they say. Nothing is likely to come of it (as everyone there is obsessed with having meetings), but you never know. Just don’t agree to anything, even verbally. If someone wants to do a deal with you, tell them to send you a contract and tell them you’ll have your lawyer or agent look it over (even if you don’t have one).

If you have pitches for new projects, bring them. Make sure you’ve copyrighted something before you go passing around your ideas, but having a pile of portfolios and/or pitches with illustrations isn’t a bad idea for this show.

Should You Do It: It’s probably way too expensive for any one-man creator team unless he’s within driving distance and has a friend that will loan him a couch for the weekend. However, if you want to try and make some movie industry contacts and you have the funds, I’d pick this con any day of the week over San Diego. Just make sure you drive everywhere you can. Walking on the street, especially at night, is ill-advised unless you’re with a local.

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1: Dragon Con

Atlanta, GA

I love this con, and it’s my all-time favorite. It was a cosplay con long before cosplay became fashionable and has large swaths of comics and games at the massive hotels in the middle of town. The con rolls all night long in some spaces because events run very late, so you can literally stay at your table selling until 4 a.m. if you’re in one of the hotel hallways instead of in the dealer’s room.

There are hundreds of panels, so it’s easy to get one to promote yourself. There’s an excellent green room where you can relax with other guests, network, drink and eat. If you do one big con, I highly recommend this one.

My Take: If you fly in, you can take the transit right to the hotel and never go outside. If you drive in, as I did for many years, you can stay outside Atlanta and save some bucks. However, you’ll have to drive in every day, and the parking lots are a little sketchy at night. As crime has risen in all major cities, watch yourself going to and from your car.

In the past, I would load out every day and put the inventory in the car. These days, if I went, I’d probably fly in, stay in one of the host hotels, and keep the inventory in my room. That’s a lot more expensive, but that’s the fun way of doing the show. If the con gods smile upon me one day, I hope to be a guest with my travel and hotel paid.

The fans are awesome. You’ll do especially well with fantasy and sci-fi comics since it’s a sci-fi and fantasy con. The art show is also something to get involved in if you’re an artist, but the art show is held in a separate hotel from the comics. There’s a main hotel where the comics and dealers have tables, a hotel for the art show, and one for gaming. It’s big. Be prepared for a long walk if you decide to walk the show.

Should You Do It: Again, it’s about your location and whether or not you can afford it. But if you can, I’d say yes, definitely. The show is packed all day, and things shift at night, so staying at your table in the wee hours will depend upon where you’re located. Definitely, if you have a sci-fi, fantasy, or horror project. You won’t necessarily need multiple people operating your table or booth since it’s more geared toward individual creators anyway. You should do a panel if you do have an extra hand to run the table while you answer questions.

There are some opportunities to network at the parties, but the parties are a lot of fun. I wouldn’t expect to get too much business done or to get too much sleep if you go.

Honorable Mentions: Baltimore and Philadelphia shows were left off the list. They’re pretty good, but the cities they are located in have terrible crime problems. And despite the fact they are both in driving distance for me, I tend to stay away because the sales there were only moderate. In the past, I did them on the cheap because I had places to stay or I drove in, but now I wouldn’t trust my car in either city.

Still, if you’re doing a major city tour, you can definitely add them to your list. Flying in, taking cars or mass transit to the host hotel and staying in the immediate area is your safest bet, but it’s way more expensive. With enough sales, you can cover anything, but I’m assuming you’re a young, struggling creator if you’re reading this.

Conclusion: Big cons can provide a lot of exposure, sales, and networking opportunities. It depends on your goals and your budget. For small creators that can afford it, it’s probably worth doing at least once a year. I would rotate around with different ones since comic book conventions tend to prefer you do that anyway to keep the guest list fresh. (You’ll probably sell more in the long run this way.)

That’s it for this week, fanboys. Speaking of cons, see you at the con!

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Tony DiGerolamo

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