Tips for covering Comic Conventions

As some of you know I go to comic book conventions and cover them, usually as a member of the press. My first convention was in the summer of 2002 which means I’m coming up on 15 years now. So I’ve been thinking about all of the stuff I’ve learned over the years covering conventions and decided I would share them for anybody who is either just starting to cover comic conventions or thinking about doing so.

 

If you are there to cover the con and have fun, remember that covering the con comes before having fun. This means if there are things you want to do as a fan conflict with things you should do as a member of the press, then do the press thing. Especially if you are working for another website and not for yourself. If the convention has given you a free ticket to get in, you should do the job that you’re there to do and not just have fun for “free.” There have been several conventions where pro-wrestlers I really liked were there and doing a panel, people whom I’ve always wanted to meet and ask questions. Sadly, doing so conflicted with covering comic related stuff so I wasn’t able to do it.

 

Just because the convention gave you a press pass doesn’t mean owe the convention a positive review. Some conventions are run badly or at least did not work out as well as they hoped. You can and should be the voice of the people who paid money to be at the con, both vendors and fans. When I was writing convention reports I’d talk to the exhibitors that were at the con. Sometimes exhibitors will tell you something completely different than they say to the convention organizers or what they say out loud when convention staff are nearby. They might do this in fear of petty retribution by the convention organization, be it getting kicked out other shows the organization is doing, getting a poor spot on the convention floor next show or something like that. Some people just don’t want to say negative things about somebody’s work to their face. Go with what they tell you, as they know you are press and they want the word to get out.

 

Some people very loudly complain about the convention and are not shy at all. It might be the same complaint every convention, every year. The market is evolving and they refuse to evolve with it and they get mad at the convention for it. For example, it was (and still is with some dealers) common practice to mix up the dollar bin books so that fans would need to look through all of them to find the books they want. In the old days die-hard fans would go through all the books and find some they want and maybe pick up something they didn’t originally plan on buying, which is why the dealers did it. It was also much less labour intensive to have them mixed up then putting them all in order. These days more and more fans just won’t spend the time to do that anymore. If the books aren’t sorted so they can quickly find if what they’re looking for is there, then they move on. Either another dealer will have them sorted (and they’ll pay $2 or $3 for the same book if it’s easy to find) or they’ll buy it on online. Vendors who don’t adapt see their sales falling and they blame it on the convention. It’s always best to get a variety of views and not let just one or two colour your view of the whole convention.

 

I get a number of people asking me the details about who I work for and the purpose of my coverage. Have business cards to give them. Some people will really appreciate them and it looks more professional. Sometimes you’ll get a business card back that will have a way to contact them that’s not public and can be useful down the line.

 

Look at how other professionals are dressed. Are they wearing Wolverine and Walking Dead t-shirts? With rare exceptions they’re not. Dress in normal clothes and not like a fan. Feel free to buy and wear those clothes when you’re at home, but while you’re at a convention, don’t pay money to be a walking billboard for a company’s product. It’s a subtle thing, but if you don’t want professionals to treat you like a fan, then don’t dress like a fan. The rare exceptions I’ve seen a professional dressed in fandom clothes are usually older creators wearing a t-shirt of a character they created. If you’re Len Wein and you co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing you’re totally permitted to wear a  t-shirt with them on it.

 

With many conventions you really need to pick and choose what you’re going to cover as conventions are multifaceted and have a mix of comics, gaming, celebrities and other stuff going on. When I first started covering conventions I tried to cover it all, but that quickly got frustrating. Especially when some parts of the conventions weren’t very receptive to the press. In my case it was covering the celebrities. They wanted everybody to pay for photos and often there were mechanisms to block anybody from taking a photo without paying for it, including the press. In one case a celebrity did a panel, but had the convention block access to anybody with a press pass from attending said panel. At that point I stopped covering celebrities and decided I was there for the comics so I would focus on the comic aspect of the convention.

 

Plan ahead and have backup plans. Have a schedule of what you’re going to do and when it’s happening. This means if there is panel you wish to cover, get there a head of time. If the convention doesn’t clear out the rooms, you might want to attend the panel prior to it while its ongoing so you’re in the room when the next panel starts. If you have to miss said panel (this always happens to me at least once per convention), think about what else is going on that you can cover and rearrange your schedule to compensate. Sometimes this is a bonus as you get something nobody else is covering, effectively giving you an exclusive and learn something new that’s really interesting or cool. Best part will be passing this along to your readers.

 

Not every creator is going to agree to what you want or even follow through on their promises. I’ve had creators skip out on doing scheduled interviews, then refuse to make alternative plans to do the interview at a different date (or even some other method after the convention). Some have agree to having their panel recorded at one convention, then refuse the same request at another.  I have even helped a lost creator find their room they’re doing a panel in and then said creator refused to have the panel recorded. It’s best to not take this stuff personally. For starters you’re not entitled the the professional’s time. It also  doesn’t do you any good to hold on to the anger. Let it go and just know that you can’t rely on that creator in the future. There are lots of people who want coverage and many that aren’t getting the coverage they ought to.

 

Assuming you use electronics, have spare charged batteries and/or chargers with you at all times. This is especially true for cameras and tablets/laptops. Sometimes things get left on or a battery that you thought was charged suddenly isn’t. It really sucks not having the tools you need to cover something. Also, bring a notepad and pen(s). It’s often just easier to pull it out of your back pocket and write stuff down. Especially if you are taking pictures of pro’s you’ve never seen before. I always make sure I write down their names in the order that I took the pictures, even if I know who the pro is. I also write down something about them to identify the picture. Something like green T-shirt and glasses, standing with book, etc.. This will really help when putting names to faces. The photos of people you know mixed in with these photo’s will help assure you that your putting the correct names to faces.

 

After the convention is over for the day, if you have any writing to do you should spend at least part of your evening writing. I know with most conventions there are parties at night and it’ll be tempting to go to said parties but again, if you’re there to do a job, then do that job. Otherwise, you’re going to need to make up the time somewhere else to meet your deadline which may involve missing sleep – which is never a good thing to do on purpose. Often I have a tablet (with keyboard) with me and when I’m getting dinner at a restaurant I’ll pull out the tablet and start writing while I’m waiting for food and my bill. Squeeze in your writing where you can. If you miss something you wanted to cover and there is nothing else between now and and the next thing you want to do, find the press room and use it to get some writing done. The less work there is to do after the convention is over the better it is for you.

 

If you ARE at a party with lots of professionals, know that your presence might be a downer at the party. Because you are press, people might be more guarded about what they talk about in fear of what they say getting spread online, even if you reassure them that’s not going to happen. Also if you are conversing with a pro at a party, don’t ask them the same fanboy questions they’ve probably been asked 2 dozen times that day.

 

Another thing you will notice is different press organizations get different levels of access. If it’s a TV show with a camera crew, they are probably going to be able to get the interviews with people you can’t just because of how large their audience is. Same goes for the more popular websites that cover comics. Don’t fret over what other people are doing as covering a convention isn’t a competition. If you have stuff you wanted to do, go and do that and be happy with it. Not everything at a convention gets coverage and often people/events that aren’t big names are very appreciative for the coverage you bring.

 

If you do this long enough, some creators who you’re used to seeing and chatting with are going to become very popular. Then you’re not going to be able to just walk up to their table and chat with them like you used to anymore. Chip Zdarsky and Agnes Garbowska are two examples for me right now. For years I would walk up to their tables, make small talk with them and ask them for a picture. Now their tables are usually surrounded with people and sometimes they just do signings at specific times. Be happy for their success. You may still see them at a panel or elsewhere outside the convention itself.

 

Beyond that, do try to enjoy your time at the convention. While you still need to work and focus your energies to that end, the work you are doing should still be enjoyable. Otherwise, why do it?

 

San Diego Comic Con 2016

Joker Trump

I went to San Diego Comic Con again and this year things went a little differently for me.

First, I got a direct non-stop flight from Toronto to San Diego, which was nice because normally I have at least 1 layover ever when I fly there. On the flight back I saw quite a few comic peeps I recognized. The flight was also significantly cheaper than what I normally pay.

I landed in San Diego on Tuesday and got around to do some things in San Diego before the con, like go to the Coronado Beach. The sand looked like gold and I saw small crabs in the barnacles. I also saw the hotel that was in the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot. I’m told it’s been used in a lot of TV shows and movies.

Normally I land in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon, go straight to my hotel, check and get lunch, unpack, relax for a bit, then head down to the convention to get my badge. All of this makes for a really long day, so coming in Tuesday made it much easier on me. The only problem is needing to find a Hotel for Tuesday only and having to pack up and leave on Wednesday to your comic con hotel. As I’ve learned a couple of years ago, even if you get the same hotel the staff will have a different room for you for the convention days and you’ll have to move to that room.

For the con itself what was different was that I didn’t spend that much time on the exhibit floor. There were days where I didn’t hit the exhibit floor at all. I didn’t go there on Thursday or Saturday. I was only on there for a bit on Friday and Sunday towards the very end. Normally I make it a point to walk every isle and see everything. This year I felt fine skipping about a 3rd of the exhibit floor.

In previous years in the non comic area’s you’d sometimes find booths with a couple long boxes of comics or trades. Often it would be a mix of odd stuff that they’re just trying to get rid of and you’d get a decent deal. The last couple of years I haven’t seen any comics at all in that area, so I skipped it. The publishers (big and small) and back issue dealers are primarily in Hall B & C then you find artists alley, some artists collective booths and original art dealers in Hall’s F.

I discovered some booths I normally shop at either had smaller spaces or reduced/changed what they had brought. Bud Plants booth was half of what it normally is. There were a couple of underground dealers that didn’t have much in the way of old underground collections like they normally did. I also noticed Mile High didn’t bring any GNs and was only selling back issues, which was a switch. As a result I bought less than I normally do there.

I don’t know how the publishers are doing when it comes to selling their books but I haven’t heard any complaints. When I typically walk by their booths I see lots of people in them. I did find it a little odd that the Image Comics booth didn’t have any Savage Dragon trades there. Considering Erik Larsen was an Image founder you’d think they’d bring something. It’s pretty sad when the publisher you help create decides to abandon you at the biggest show of the year.

The moment the con announced the show was closing in a half hour all the dealers started taking down their “wall” comics and packing up. I didn’t talk to many dealers about how the show went, but when dealers start packing up early (or at least as early as they’re allowed), that’s almost always a sign it was a bad show and they just want to cut their losses and get out of there ASAP.

I know dealers are increasingly unhappy with the con because they feel back issue buyers can’t get into the con because tickets sell out so quickly. I have no doubt that’s true, but I think there’s more to it. I think there are less people buying back issues than before. Those that do want a good deal (EG: below guide) and normally dealers that exhibit at San Diego can’t give them that deal due to the high costs of being there. Discounts don’t always pay for themselves with volume sadly.

I also suspect a lot back issue buyers are older and they don’t like the difficulty of getting tickets, a hotel room and the large crowds. Plus all that is really expensive. It’s much cheaper and more convenient for them to buy online and/or go to a closer, quieter convention. I’m wondering what a traditional comic convention might look like without any back issue dealers and I might actually see that within my lifetime.

The slower sales may also have something to do with the smaller crowds this year. It’s been said that San Diego’s switch to using badges with RFID chips made it harder for people to pass (or counterfeit) badges and get in. The less crowded exhibit floor was nicer for the attendee’s that were there. I suspect another reason the floor was less crowded was due to people playing Pokemon Go around the con. Even on Wednesday night I saw numerous people walking around in circles looking at their phones. One professional I talked during the day to told me his daughter was out playing Pokemon Go at that moment.

During my TCAF post I mentioned I was unhappy with my camera and was getting a new one. I got a Canon Powershot SX710 HS and am quite happy with it. There camera does not get the best rating on the various review websites, but it worked well for my purposes. I’m learning to not just blindly follow reviews & ratings and instead focus on what the pro’s and cons of the camera and applying that to what I’m using it for. I don’t think those reviewers have taking pictures at comic conventions and darkly lit award ceremonies in mind when doing their reviews.

I am especially happy with how using the sport scene worked on the Eisner Award pictures. I took a whole bunch of pictures in that mode (over 2,000 of them) but that allowed me to get better pics than usual. I’m typically in the pro seats behind the tables, which is quite a ways away from the stage. My camera ‘s 30X zoom was used to the fullest to get pics of people on stage and less than that was used on the big screens showing what’s happening on the stage.

Surprisingly I did not see any celebrities outside of the Eisner Awards. Normally San Diego is crawling with so many celebrities I end up seeing somebody somewhere even though I only focus on comics programming. For example, one year during a Ted Naifeh panel the back door opens up and Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy, etc..) walks out. He apparently just wanted to go outside for a smoke. He came back in after the panel was done and was giving an interview to a camera crew as the audience was leaving the room. Of course it’s entirely possible I did see one, but didn’t know it was a celebrity.

I was quite happy to be able to audio record some panels with creators whom I’ve never met in real life before like Christopher J Priest, Howard Chaykin and Mike Baron. I was only turned down by one creator but I knew in advance that was a strong possibility. I’m not bothered by it as I was able to record him at at another convention recently. The only disappointing situation I had was a creator who wouldn’t let you take a picture of him unless you bought a $15 print/sketch.

The panels I recorded can be found on the audio page of my other website. Also at that link is the Will Eisner Awards recording and pictures to both the convention and Eisner Awards. I should warn you that there is a bit of swearing of almost every panel. Off the top of my head the YA? Why Not? panel does not have swearing, but the rest I can’t vouch for. The saddest panel was the Darywn Cooke tribute, while you won’t hear this on audio I can tell you from being there that several panelists were in tears at the end. What’s also sad was that there was no tribute panel for Paul Ryan, who worked in the comics industry since the 1980s. I’m hoping a convention that’s local to where he used to live puts something on for him.

As always with San Diego there usually multiple panels I wanted to be at and record happening at the same time. I shockingly did not record a single panel that Mark Evanier was on.  The same goes for Paul Levitz except for a surprise appearance at the Fan vs Pro Comic Trivia challenge. I sometimes question the choices that I’ve made when it comes to which panels to cover, but in the end I’m very happy with all the panels I got. I just wish I had a 2nd person who could go to the panels I can’t be at and record them, despite the extra work that would bring.

The only panel I did not like that much was one about goal setting for creative people. I only came in part way through but it was clear to me that this was a rewording of a standard SMART goals course/lecture that almost everybody in business has to take at least once. The main difference was the presenter telling people to draw their goals instead of writing them down and an artist was demonstrating how to do so with large paper flip chart and markers.

There are official video recording of panels going on now. It’s something called Comic Con HQ but they are understandably only recording the panels with the widest commercial appeal thus far. Outside of the Will Eisner Awards which was live streamed online there is no overlapping between us that I know of. If they do decide to record everything I’ll have to decide if I want to keep recording or even if I can. Chances are they’ll want exclusive rights to the panels.

I also got to see and hang out with some friends which is always great, but there were many people whom I usually see that I missed this year or only saw very briefly / in passing. While that happens every year, it seemed more pronounced this year. I think I’ll have to make a more concerted effort to find and say Hi to people next year.

Of those that I did talk to Donald Trump’s name came up a lot when the conversion drifted outside of comics. Everybody was speaking about him in an “OMG how can anybody vote for this freaking lunatic?!?” type way. He was also the butt of many jokes when people were in front of a microphone.

I am very much looking forward to going back next year, where it’s the 100 year anniversary of Jack Kirby and Will Eisner. I learned that there are supposed to be extra panels on the two creators next year and that sounds great.

TCAF & DWA 2016

Steven Twigg at TCAF

Steven Twigg at TCAF

So I went to TCAF a week ago. I did my usual audio recording of panels and took some pictures of creators. Normally I try and get pics of all of the creators there, but I was unable to this time due to recovering from a cold and dealing with back pain.

This year’s TCAF was a little different in that the ground floor wasn’t so crammed with creators and publishers. One of the back rooms was being renovated so they weren’t able to use it. Other areas where they would normally have tables on both sides of the isle only had tables on the 1 side. This made walking around and browsing much more pleasurable. I also noticed a lot of new faces this year as well. I think having a bunch of different creators with new (thus more popular books) is good for the overall vibe of the convention. Seeing so many new/good things to buy I think gets people spending money and enjoying the event more. I imagine it leads a more positive conversations among creators after the event if they all sold a lot of books.

They were able to more effectively use the 2nd and 3rd floors in terms of putting creators up there. I doubt they got as much foot traffic as the usual places creators were but when I was there people were there browsing and shopping so I hope they did okay. They also put most of their big mainstream creators in a new spot (the Masonic Temple) which was about a block away from the Library. I never got to visit there but I’m told it was really nice. My understanding is the place was mainly used for signings and wasn’t a place where creators sat all day selling their stuff.

One panel I attended for myself was about dealing with back pain. It was aimed at creators who are at their drawing tables (or computers) all day. I did not record it because 1. I came in late after the panel started and 2. It was a very visual panel with lots of slides showing drawing of bodies and things you can do prevent and manage back pain. Personally it was a very useful panel and I’ll be seeking out Kriota Willberg for more information.

One of the oddest things I saw while in Toronto was a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk selling back issue sets of comics. I only got to do a bit of shopping myself and I did the majority of it in the last 10 minutes of the show. I bought Mary Wept at the Feet of Jesus by Chester Brown and Bernie by Ted Rall. I’m about half way through the Bernie book now and I’m enjoying it. The book is like comic version of a Bernie Sanders speech, but with historical and economic information to back up the points he makes. So far it’s covered income inequality and the move of the US Democratic Party to the Center/Right in the 1970s and how it doesn’t represent progressive Liberal voters.

I did something else I very rarely do at panels and that is ask questions. I did this at the Chester Brown panel that quickly went from being about the book to being about sex workers and how/why the Catholic church has worked to criminalize their profession. I don’t disagree with anything that was said but I think room started getting tense as not everybody was comfortable with the criticism of the Catholic church. I tried to steer the panel back to talking about the book. That said, Chester might want to consider making a book about the history of prostitution and how/why it’s illegal. I think much of what was said at the panel would make for some interesting reading.

The Doug Wright Awards were a bit different this year. For starters Brad Mackay wasn’t there due to a family emergency. Dustin Harbin stepped in to host the awards. Usually they get some celebrity involvement in the awards but there was none of that this year, which was fine as it wasn’t needed. The awards ran a bit quicker than usual which was good as they got off to a late start.

I feel I should note that I’m not that happy with my camera. Last year I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 that had multiple review sites saying it was the best point and shoot camera out there. Those sites are wrong. The biggest problem with the camera is the Auto Intelligent Scene picker setting. The camera examines the shot you want to take and then picks the scene mode best for that shot. Sounds great doesn’t it? Problem is, nearly half of all the scene modes say it should be used with the camera on a tripod. So when you’re taking pictures by hand you get blurry or bad pictures and you normally have no way of knowing what you’re going to get.

I took the majority of the pictures at the show at either Portrait or “Food” setting, but still wasn’t happy with the results. Some of it is because the camera takes the shot right when the flash is shooting, which leads to wicked shadows behind the people and flash light washed out faces.  I plan on buying a new camera before San Diego Comic Con and I think I’m going to sell this one on Ebay. My previous camera took much better pictures but I stopped using it because of increasing delays between pressing the shutter button and getting the shot and also inconsistent flash settings. Also, it took 4 AA batteries, which increased the cameras weight and my backpack weight due to me having spares.

King Con 2016

KingCon2016

I went to King Con and a related event from March 11 to 13th. King Con is a local comic/gaming convention. Originally King Con was just a gaming convention, I never attended it but my understanding is it was on hiatus for a while before our local public library took it over last year. Now it’s half gaming convention and half TCAF like convention, but on a very small scale.

On the 11th, I went to the Screening Room (local mainly indy movie theatre) for a showing of Seth’s Dominion, which is a documentary about the cartoonist Seth. They gave out tickets for a door price of the latest Palookaville book. Seth gave a small introduction explaining that they were going to start with two short animated cartoons done using Seth’s work. One was called the Great Machine, the other Kao-Kuk. Seth wanted it known that these stories were not typical of his work.

The documentary was a mix of Seth talking about his life, his work – both personal and commercial, it showed a number of his friends talking about him, Seth’s parents were discussed too. I was surprised to learn about some of the things Seth does for himself, this includes developing puppets and doing a show with them and his building a large model city. In between all this are animated short Seth stories.

After the show there was a question and answer with Seth himself. I counted 35 people in the theatre. Among the things Seth revealed is his puppet work is going to become it’s own movie. Seth talked about his relationship with Joe Matt and Chester Brown and said they’ve grown apart because they don’t see each other very often. He said when they all lived in Toronto they were constantly talking comics and sharing their work with each other for feedback, but now that they’ve grown more experienced in their cartooning they don’t need that feedback anymore.

Seth talked about the importance of establishing rules in comics and working within them, then breaking those rules. Seth said he really liked the animation of his work in the documentary and he had nothing to do with it. Seth gave all the credit to the person behind the documentary director and animator Luc Chamberland. He liked it so much he’s now thinking about doing some work in Animation.

Seth revealed that the next Clyde Fans is almost done. He needs to revisit what he’s done and he believes he’ll be making some changes to it. Seth also talked about his relationship with computers. He said he went from hating them to tolerating and using them, but he still keeps his computer on the 3rd floor of his house while he works in the basement so it’s not a distraction.

Seth’s Dominion can be rented or purchased here at the National Film Board of Canada’s website. A DVD will be coming out soon is my understanding.

On Saturday and Sunday I went to the King Con convention itself. There were 2 panels featuring comic creators on Saturday and I’ve audio recorded them. One was on Dan Parent and the other on Seth. I also took some pictures, which are a mix of cosplayers and creators.

On Sunday I came back to chit chat with some of the creators, which was nice. I also came across a pirate musical group called Capt’n Tor & The Naer Do Well Cads. They were going around and singing songs, drawing people to tables that weren’t getting much traffic on the first floor. Here are 2 of their songs. Personally I like the 2nd one better, but both are fun to watch.

 

I only got a couple of books for myself at the convention, one was Lucifer’s Sword by Phil Cross and Ronn Sutton and Epochs #1 by Cody Yeo, Greg Moser and Christian Wolf.

 

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