State of the Con
I realized something this year.
I did about my average number of conventions, and managed to squeeze in two or three I’ve never been to before as well as a few that haven’t been to in a while. I did a bunch of costume contests with a reasonable showing (So did my daughter actually). I crossed several big names I’d wanted to meet off my bucket list in the process. But like I said, I realized something along the way.
This isn’t fun anymore.
I’m not talking about every show or every meeting, but it is an overall feeling brought on by a few diffrent factors. I can feel myself stressing too much about costume contests – I need to do fewer of those honestly, and scale back my cosplay involvement. But there are other factors. Cost is a big one, but to understand this you may need a little history first.
Back when I started on the con scene as a kid, you met the guests for free. You waited in a long line, but you got to see them and get something signed (You had to bring your own stuff, there wouldn’t be anything at the table). Some would talk and some wouldn’t. As time went on, you’d see some people charging a fee or selling photos they could sign. I understood that and was cool with it. It was still a deal for me to be able to buy a photo from Walter Konieg that he signed for me and for me to meet Chekov while he still had hair. The folks charging were usually people who weren’t on the air anymore. If you had a current show on TV, you showed up to promote it and signed for free. Indeed, back in the early days of Star Trek : The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry noticed that people were having a bad reaction to Counselor Troi. His solution was to get Marina Sirtis on the con circuit and in heavy rotation so she could meet as many people as possible. Marina is a fun lady and charming as can be. As people got to know her and see her panels, it made a difference in how they saw her character. Panels. That was a big thing. Back in those days the focus was on programming – panels , blooper reels, upcoming films, author talks, episode discussion. The focus in conventions was on programming. As things changed, the focus drifted away and became guests. All of a sudden, shows like Chiller in New Jersey didn’t have any programming any more, just guests.
One night, a bunch of the guests at Chiller Theater met up in the bar. They decided that from now on, autographs would cost $20; and the price was set. Some folks would go under that, Some, like Edward James Olmos or Erin Grey would charge a little more. Some, like Lou Ferigno, William Shatner, or Adam West would charge a LOT more, but it was manageable, and they were in the minority – you could just skip them. Besides, everyone could get a picture at the table for free anyhow. And doing things this way, with the prospect of a payday, conventions were able to draw more guests. Then Flashback weekend set up Robert Englund with a $10,000.00 guarantee. He’d make that or they’d pay the difference. His price went up. Both in person and online (In the last six years or so, autographs from his online store have increased from $30 to now $100). Other actors prices started to creep further up (not to mention other guests demanding guarantees themselves) and you had to buy something to get that table photo or it was extra. Then it was extra everywhere. Then the handlers became gatekeepers, with thier hands on the velvet rope and you weren’t getting near these b or c list celebrities without flashing some cash. Now prices average $40-$60 with extra (“Combos”!) charges for photos. Now it’s trickling down to the comic world too, with more and more artists and writers charging to sign books – and those fees keep climbing rapidly too, from free to one dollar to three, to five. Forget about multiple issues signed. There are some superstars like Kevin Eastman and Rob Lifield charging movie star prices, $20 and up.
And when I pay it I feel bad. I feel guilty…it feels like a waste – for thirty seconds before we’re shuffled away so the next punter in line gets through. It’s not longer getting that moment with your favorite actor – it’s more mercenary, more transactional; like buying a loaf of bread off the shelf at the grocery store. It’s stopped feeling special. Even worse, I feel bad for the people who get hit with those fees that didn’t realize how much it was going to cost. Kiefer Sutherland all over every poster for Horrorhound, but you better pre-order that photo and autograph (for $80 each) or you won’t even be allowed in the room with him. Or the Flashback weekend where the only way to meet Freddy Kruger was to purchase the $400 package that included the photo and autograph and after party (wether you could stay that late or not). Or the folks that saw commercials for comic con advertising “Meet the stars of the Avengers!” only to arrive and discover that to get a photo with the Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans costs a thousand dollars.
Truth is, I think I might just be done. The high costs, the impersonal nature, the cosplay stress – it all made me reluctant to get out of bed and go to conventions this year. I forced myself up and pushed past my anxiety to go. I’m exhausted doing that, just to feel bad about how much I’m spending or worry about where I place in the costume contest or if enough people recognize the character I’m dressed as, and need time alone to recharge from the oversocilization that so drains introverts like me.
Here’s the thing; comics and horror used to be the domain of the Blue collar guy. The common working man who only had a couple bucks in his pocket. But that’s exactly the kind of guy who’s priced out of this current market. I have a Horror Hostess frined who suggested to me that the prices are what the market will bear. I don’t think I agree with that. I think the market is flooded and overextended. I think it’ll soon crash (I already watched it happen in the Star Trek con circuit. Thanks Creation Entertainment.) and I think this kind of stuff will be the reason. Still, when it comes to horror and film, there’s not much left on my bucket list. I’ve hit all the icons that I grew up with (Though I’d love to get Tony Todd on my Crow poster – but his price has gone up too much for me to afford it. I’ll be content with my Candyman and Wishmaster prints) and all that’s really left are a handful supporting cast to finish a poster or two. I’m glad I got most of them before the con scene turned into a Wal-Mart like corporate industry. The thing is, I’ve heard more than a few actors like Dean Cain talk about how their manager set the prices and it makes them uncomfortable. That’s fine, and I respect that, but… You’re not doing anything to stop it either are you? Same is true of the conventions themselves who vociferously claim they don’t have any power to set or effect pricing. A cap or a suggested rate is within your power. That won’t happen though, because for now it’s making them money – even though it will ultimately be the destruction of the convention scene. The thing is, it’ll be the demise of the small cons first. The sort of unsustainable inflation that the big guys create and tread water in, have the effect of crushing smaller, more personal shows who just can’t absorb the expense. A guest who looks around at the twenty other guests at Wizard World and realizes he can charge more but then brings that same inflated price to a smaller show like the Grafton backwoods comicon where he’s the only guest and the micro economy of the smaller show won’t sustain it. Yet those smaller shows shoulder the expense lest they be completely overshadowed by the giant corporate cash grabs and wiped out of existence. And then, that’s what happens anyhow. The large ones doing the damage will be the last to die. That’s a shame because those mid size and smaller shows have a lot to offer that you won’t find in the bigger, glitzier conventions.
So what does this mean going forward? The thing is, I still enjoy cons as entertainment – when that component is still there that is. Next year, I’ll be focusing on that, and dramatically reducing my appearances. I’m cutting a LOT of cons out, including Horrorhound, Days of the Dead, Geekfest, Lake Effect Comic Con, Fantasticon and Great Lakes Comic Con, and Weplcon. There’s a number of others on the chopping block like Motor City Nightmares, Hall of Fame City Comic Con, Youngstown Comic Con, Cleveland Comic Con and Akron Comic Con depending on what the guest lineup looks like. Zipcon and Woocon probably only if my daughter wants to go and cosplay. Not all of these are bad shows. But something has to give. If MULTIPLE bucket list guests show up at one of these, I may attend (Low key, in and out), but a review is unlikely. However, even though I’m not going to be attending all of the shows, I still plan on promoting A lot of them. Shows like Youngstown and Akron and Great Lakes are sound conventions run by folks who love the genre and I’d still like to see people heading out to shows like this.
I want to try a couple of new ones next year – Dark X-Mas, Retro Invasion and Ohio Who, as well as returning to Monster Bash and perhaps to an Oddmall. But I think I need this list to stay under ten. No more 18-20 shows in a year, and my bigger focus should be shows with great programming, not just interesting guests. If I wake up stressed about crowds, costs or cosplay, I’m not going to go. I can renew my efforts to get autographs through the mail and give myself something to look forward to in the post box.
That said, my tentative lineup for 2019 is:
Neo Comic Con
I only plan on dressing up for NEO and ConCoction. Possibly Ohio WHO or any shows Maddie asks to go to. I may or may not hit a couple more cons than this, but we’ll see. you never know what the new year will bring.