Video: Exhibitors Talk About Comic-Con
A View From Inside The Booths Of North America’s Largest Pop Culture Convention
Originally published July 12, 2013 at 5 p.m., updated July 17, 2013 at 3:59 a.m.
David Glanzer, spokesperson for Comic-Con
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando spoke with veteran exhibitors last year about the changes they have seen at Comic-Con over the years.
Comic-Con has capped attendance at 130,000 for the last few years. It also has to limit the number of dealers and artists who have booths on the exhibit floor to about a thousand with at least a 3-year waiting period to get in. I spoke with exhibitors last year to get their perspective on Comic-Con and how it’s changed.
Most news stories about Comic-Con focus attendees who either can't get in or who dress up in superhero costumes. Or they focus on the big Hollywood studios that invade the Con each year. Hollywood may have the flashiest booths and give away the best swag but many of people running booths on quarter-mile long floor are artists, comic book dealers, comics companies, and small press. It's a diverse lot worthy of lengthy exploration by anyone attending the Con. Back in the day, I used to start at one end of the Convention floor in the morning and wind my way through every aisle to make sure I didn't miss anything amazing, like a three-foot Godzilla or long sought after 12-inch Chewy. Nowadays, though, it's hard to traverse the entire Con floor during the four-day show.
Rick Geary is a cartoonist and illustrator who has had a booth (F-06 this year) for decades. He said, "The past several years it’s just been intense. I haven’t noticed any crowds are drawn away from traditional comics and art, I think this is large enough to accommodate everyone."
Brad Sloan is withTerry’s Comics (Booths 705, 707, and 709) of Orange, California. "We get fans here that are so wound up about comics, even if they are buying a $5 book, they’re so excited to get it and you can’t take the passion away from comic book owners, it’s one of the things that they might scrimp and save for buying a certain brand of toothpaste but when it comes down to their passion, they are going to buy that comic," said Sloan.
Sandra Chang-Adair is an illustrator and designer who runs Banzai Chicks (Booth E-06). She's still amazed by the Con: "When you come to Comic-Con, it’s like sensory overload, you don’t know what you are looking at, there’s just so many things to look at."
"Since I came here in 1999," Hunter said, "the first year I remember I came it was 30,000 people, biggest one in the world. It’s just grown and grown and grown, and back then no one from Hollywood wanted to touch anything to do with comic books and now it’s switched over and Hollywood’s taking over but at the end of it, the Convention Center did grow by twice as large so there probably is still the same amount of space for comic books as there was it just doesn’t seem like it."
But Sloan said, "The dealer consensus for vintage comic books and the real thing, is that we should have two different Comic-Cons."
San Diego-based Rebecca Hicks is the creator of "Little Vampires." She's at Booth 1831 again this year.
"I do think indie comics and original art work are not nearly as popular as they were like let’s say the late 90s, early 2000s," said Hicks.
Paul Wee lives in Los Angeles. He is a Simpsons animator as well as illustrator and painter. He will be at the Red Eye Art table, Booth D-4 at Comic-Con this year.
"It’s a little harder for independents to get noticed amid all the cacophony of Spiderman, Batman, Superman and all that stuff," said Wee.
Chang-Adair has proven that adaptability is an artist's best defense.
"I actually tried to shift and do something that was cutesy and more for like girls, so my art work changed a little bit. I noticed that when I started making jewelry that I was getting a lot more sales. So I noticed selling comics at $3 and you’re paying $1.50 for printing, you’re not making a lot of money. But if you make handmade jewelry where your costs are less you can actually make a little more," Chang-Adair said.
Hicks says you can't just sit in your booth and expect people to come to you, "You gotta work it at this show and if you work it, I believe, it pays off."
Dan Bois is an artist who runs Dan Bois Graphics (Booth G-05) at Comic-Con.
"I sell my original art," said Bois, "The ability for somebody not to be able to walk up from the street and buy a ticket and come in and look, I think that hurts the Con a little bit but there’s like 300,000 people that want to be here and they can only let in 125,000 at a time."
"The crowds have changed remarkably over the years," added Geary, "from back in the early days at the El Cortez Hotel when it was mostly white and male crowds and now it’s everyone, every age group, and race, creed, color, gender, you can imagine."
Another change is the increased presence of Hollywood movie and TV studios. They entice people to their booths with promotional swag.
"I think a lot of people are looking for freebies," explained Chang-Adair, "and so when big companies are giving away like I think 'Fringe' gave away Fedoras, I mean you can’t compete with that."
"I think people are a little more hesitant to spend a lot of money nowadays, so they want to get a lot of swag. So a lot of business cards and postcards get taken but they aren’t willing to drop a lot of money," added Wee.
Sloan pointed out that "We’ve got books as high as $45,000, we probably have ten that equal $200,000. We can sell books here that we can’t sell anywhere else. People really come her from all over the world, I’ve sold books to Australia, Canada, Germany, London."
"I don’t know, I’ve always done very well here, I can’t complain, it’s a very successful venue for me every year," said veteran Con-goer Rick Geary.
But no matter what challenges the Con might serve up, all the exhibitors I spoke with will be back this year.
"There’s a seven year wait on these tables, we’re definitely coming back," says Sandra Chang-Adair.
"Oh I’ll be back," exclaimed Bois, "I’ll be back until I can’t walk or draw any more."
You can find a map of the exhibit hall here.
If you do not have tickets to Comic-Con, you can find all these artists and exhibitors online. If you do have a Comic-Con badge, I hope you will make time to visit these smaller booths and support indie artists and exhibitors.
Thanks to Comic-Con for use of their archival footage.