Comic conventions don’t really increase the profile of comic strips, to do that they would have to be far more innovative than they are currently. As with the direct sales market they are merely another way to squeeze more money out of the same fans that haunt comic shops. Once again it is the comic market expending the least amount of thought and effort and therefore getting the minimal returns which that effort deserves.
For a while UK comic cons were very different to US comic cons, as comic professionals charged for sketches in the US and also brought along original pages for fans to buy. UK pros now bring along original art for sale but they haven’t started charging for sketches yet. Perhaps comic pros should charge for sketches, because at the moment they are undercutting charities that charge £1 per sketch while comic pros have long lines of fans in front of them waiting for freebies.
Comic cons are aimed at the same captive market which comic shops service, therefore (most) publishers view comic cons as an opportunity to sell product. If comic cons actually attracted new people it would be in the publishers’ interest to give away promotional items to try and attract those new people to their product. Movie studios and game companies that attend cons don’t try and sell product they promote product, they let shops sell their DVDs or games, that’s what shops are for.
Comic cons used to be places where creators gave advance information about upcoming projects ( I remember sitting in a packed hall at an early UKCAC listening to Moore & Gibbons telling us about a new project called Watchmen), but now fans know about projects via blogs and news web sites almost instantly. Comic cons were a rare event where the comic community could come together, now that community is constantly linked thanks to on-line forums etc.
When movie and media conventions started including comic books in their line up one might have expected comic strips to reach a new audience that had ignored comics before, but these conventions have not found a way to integrate comics (instead creating a village or alley which is bypassed by those who are far more interested in tv, anime, movies or games). This is a problem that comics will always face as the other media are far more flashy, I’ve wondered if comics have to remain apart just to hold the attention of those who come to cons.
The more established comic creators often shy away from media cons as they can often be unknown there, and it’s a bit of a culture shock to go from a comic con where you can be one of the “guests of honour” to a media con where people are more interested in a supporting actor from a crap sci-fi tv show.
San Diego Comic Con has become a media con now, and while there are thousands of attendees one can still walk up to almost any comic booth and talk to an editor or publisher without having to wait too long. Those additional thousands are there for game, tv and movie previews, and the San Diego Comic Con has also become a tourist attraction! This is great for San Diego and great for the Comic Con but the comic companies are still catering to their entrenched comic fans and seem unable to reach out to the thousands who meander past their stalls all weekend. San Diego is still only the 4th largest Con as Japan, France and Italy all stage bigger events.
There are lots of comic cons in the US and UK now, and with web sites, discussion groups and blogs it is easy for comic fans to become totally immersed in the world and believe it is bigger than it actually is. I used to attend the Toy Fair at Olympia and it was like a huge comic con every day for a week, filled with people in the trade not customers. That should give you an idea of the scale of comics and should point to just how much our industry could grow.
If comic cons attracted new readers to the medium they would be a place where publishers could test new ideas and gauge the mood of the market. At the moment the industry is trapped in an incestuous relationship with its readers, both knowing what to expect from each other. Many smaller publishers feel they must attend comic cons to maintain their profile but one can see little benefit in doing so apart from seeing a portfolio or meeting a creator looking for work, but most creators will have sent their samples out already.
With comic cons catering exclusively to comic fans because the comics they promote are produced exclusively for comic fans it should come as no surprise that comic cons do not attract new readers. Admission prices have begun to drop but even at £5 a family of four has spent £20 before they’ve pushed their way to the first table. Because comic cons cater to that captive fan boy market, they always seem to take place in a venue that’s just too small for the number of people attending (and let’s not forget the traditional lack of air conditioning). Most comic cons are too crowded, too hot and too smelly. This is not going to attract new readers it’s only the die hard fan boys who put up with this kind of treatment.
If our hypothetical family did get into a comic con they would be lucky to find any material suitable for kids, and if those kids were girls they’d be in real trouble (unless those girls were already dyed in the wool manga fans).
Like the comic publishers and the direct sales market comic cons have focused on comic fans and are unwilling (or unable) to reach a market beyond that which it already services.