Monday, October 19, 2015

Grand Rapids ComicCon and other Cons

Just got back from the Grand Rapids Comic Con.  I planned to post this on Facebook but figured that since it was more than a paragraph, might as well make it a blog since I’m failing so miserably at keeping up with that.

No idea what the attendance was but the show was at the Devos Place which is a great facility.  I went solely with the Deadworld Zombie Soda and I’ll explain that decision in a minute but first just wanted to thank all the fans in attendance for the great reaction to the soda.

At first, I was a bit put off as we were placed in the lobby as we were considered a “food” vendor.  Not only that, we were put at the very far end so there was no reason for anyone to walk all the way down to where we were.  On Saturday, the Speaker’s Room opened next to us so that brought more of a flow towards us but it didn’t seem like we had anything to worry about.

I was there with Eric Reichert who is not only part of Caprice but also Caliber.  The soda company is small and we had one person in Las Vegas for a trade show and another person in Florida for a Zombie Fest (no, not the one with the shooting).  So, I decided to go to Grand Rapids with Eric as I know how busy the cons can be.

We had some intermittent periods of lull when the speaker room was full but when it emptied out, it was sheer madness.  Sometimes we had 3-4 lines going 5 deep for people to check out the soda.  We were servicing some 40-50 customers per hour during the peak periods and sometimes that would go on for three or four hours straight.  It might have been the most exhausting show I’ve ever done.  It was about the same as Cincinnati Expo but there, we had four people manning the booth instead of just the two of us.  The credit cards took up a lot of time so in the future, we’ll have to establish a separate line for cash versus credit.

So, we sold out of everything except I think we had a couple of bottles of Grape Soda left when the con closed.  We pushed the soda to local stores that carried it so customers could get more so it will be interesting to see if our distributor in that area gets more reorders for the product.

I mentioned that I decided to forego Caliber and just concentrate on the soda line and that is something that I have to evaluate each convention.  It’s hard to do Caliber unless there is enough room, after all, we have about 100 graphic novels released and that takes up room.  My feeling is that if I can’t do Caliber right, I’d rather not set up at a show and try to squeeze into a small space where I can’t even display most of the books. 

And I’ve also noticed the direction that cons are heading to and comics aren’t the focus area, even for these “comic cons”.  Of course, there are still some that are comic-centric but so many of them now are the family affairs with cosplayers and celebrities.  No, I’m not heading into a rant about how the cons aren’t about comics anymore because I realize that for the most part, these huge attendance numbers are in addition to the comics, not replacing them.  But it does give a whole different vibe to the shows and I think it’s important to recognize that.

What I’m seeing now is that the bigger “small” shows (which means newer and less established ones) are hitting attendance figures of 20.000-40,000 and most of them are NOT centered on comics.  There are still some of the large comic shows, of course, but it seems that the comic centric shows are hitting the 3,000-5,000 mark and that’s where you’ll find all the independent comic artists as well as a sprinkling in of the more mainstream creators.

As I’m writing this, just saw a post from Master Plot Comics regarding the same thing as they review Grand Rapids Comic Con here.  They have the same response as I do.  It’s not a bad thing per se, but it is different.  I guess if it brings attention to the whole medium, overall that’s good.

One disturbing trend that I have noticed and of course, other people have been talking about this for a while, is the use of prints produced on company owned characters.  Of course, mostly it is Marvel and DC but when approaching these other shows, it seems like a lot of artist start producing prints of top level movies and television shows.  I know Marvel and DC have turned away from coming down on artists as it’s a tricky situation of restricting someone promoting your product but when it comes down to selling prints of licensed characters, I think with the expansion of the medium, the big guys are possibly looking to start clamping down on it.

I’ve always been ambivalent about it since I’m not an artist but I think I’d be pretty pissed off if I saw someone selling prints of King Zombie or other Deadworld characters or other creations like Saint Germaine, Baker Street, etc.  Usually when I work with artists, even on jam sessions, I generally let them make prints and they can keep all the revenue because they don’t get much of a rate for doing the initial job.  That is part of the package and if they can sell a print of the art they did for me, good for them and I also feel better that they’re getting some additional revenue.  But if it’s someone who didn’t do work for me or who I don’t even know, I have to admit, I don’t think I’m going to feel too happy about that.

It should be interesting to see how all that shakes out with the growth of the characters into the mainstream (even though it really hasn’t penetrated the comics themselves to any reliable and great extent).  I wonder if a crackdown will happen sooner than people expect.

In a related note, I do get asked a lot to attend shows as Caliber…as well as Deadworld Zombie Soda.  Although time is the main concern, I do have to think about expenses.  I pretty much won’t do a show unless we are given space and that’s the main priority.  Travel and lodgings…that’s all negotiable but I’m not one to expect a full ride to most shows but I have to have the space.  And of course, the time factor.  Shows just eat up a lot of time and I am always at a show wondering how much I’m not getting down because I’m at a particular show but I do recognize the importance of doing shows at the same time.  So, it’s always something I have to take everything into consideration.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Year Ending Odds and Ends

Figured I’d cover a lot of misc. stuff on a year’s end blog.

First off, 2014 saw the announcement that Caliber was returning and its been a really busy year getting that going. So much of it isn’t evident on the surface but we spent a lot of time and effort on the digital side of things. I think we’re close to 500 issues/books on various digital formats and many of them are just now rolling out. There’s a lot of formatting for the various platforms and of course, we keep adding to the list. Hard to say at this point how impactful the digital sales will be but some titles move briskly and others…well, not so much. We have some promotional plans and hopefully, but mid year, we'll have a much better idea of what the digital market actually is for Caliber.

Of course, it hasn’t just been digital as we’ve also added to the original Transfuzion line that converted over to Caliber. This year we had a number of titles go through Diamond and the comic shops such as Rocky Horror Picture Show, Carbon, Strange Detective Mysteries, Knights of the Skull, and Storyville. Plus, we had a few collections released outside of the traditional comics market. The market determines the strategy, of course, and while the Diamond route brings much awareness to the titles, because of the hefty discount we have to offer, going through Diamond and the comic shops is not necessarily the most profitable method. Not complaining about it as I fully understand the logistics but we have quite a few books that don’t go through Diamond and are more profitable than the ones that do. But anything to do with comics, of course, we want it in the comic shops and ideally, those will pay off in the long term.

There is a backlog of titles scheduled for release in early 2015 and these include Velda: Girl Detective, Horror City, Ballad of Rory Hawkins, Talismen, and Nain Rouge. All these are set for January release. Lots of titles to follow such as God Child, Squalor, Counterparts, The Prophet, and more collections from the original Caliber including The entire Realm and Legendlore series.

Outside of Caliber, my focus has been on Deadworld quite a bit. Of course, I had the Deadworld: Restoration series released from IDW. The first issue came out late December of 2013 but the other four issues hit in 2014. I was also involved with Caprice Beverages that announced in November, the Deadworld Premium Soda, which is a line of soda beverages based on Deadworld. That line is scheduled for a full release in late January or February and should be available at various outlets around the country. Deadworld has also been licensed for wall scrolls in addition to the t-shirts and collector cards and we hope to have information about the board game shortly.

Another publishing company I’m involved with is Binary Publications which has published books on Jack Davis and Rocky Horror Picture Show in addition to a number of art books. I think we had 6-8 releases this year and have a few more scheduled for next year already. These tap into a whole different market and the dynamics of that keeps things interesting.

I see this year as focusing more on the “business” side of things, especially with Caliber which means less emphasis on writing. In 2014, I had the Deadworld series and Storyville come out plus there was another mini-series that I was working on that the artist bailed out on after the first issue. So, I probably wrote the equivalent of 14-15 issues last year. Of course, there’s some other stuff in the works but for the most part, I will limit my writing this year to concentrate on the growing Caliber line. I will announce the plans for more Deadworld comic material shortly as obviously, that is a major title for me. There's a couple of directions it could go.  Surprisingly, a title that I get a lot of requests to come back to is A Murder of Scarecrows. I’m used to the questions about Saint Germaine but Scarecrow fans proved to be enthusiastic even though the original book didn’t sell as well as I would have liked.

I also cut back a little back on my teaching schedule as that was becoming a bit over-whelming. This last semester saw many of my classes getting new or revised text books and that called for a major revamping of my lecture material. Also, the classes I teach, Evolution and some General Biology courses, had a lot happening in the scientific world and it is important to stay up on all the new changes being discovered almost daily. I still teach full time, just not as much.

One thing I don’t have to deal with this year is Detroit Fanfare as the convention has been shelved. That was incredibly time consuming, especially the 4-6 weeks prior. The cancellation was due to a number of reasons which I touched on in the last post, but I find it amazing how many people who have nothing to do with conventions, “think” they know.  I guess on the surface, it seemed like we weren’t close because of the lack of announcements and that there was a Kickstarter program.   But that's a superficial glance as there was a lot of guests ready to announce and the Kickstarter was actually irrelevant to the actual con. The Kickstarter was just a tool, it wasn’t a necessity by any means. But there were some ominous signs over the last month before the announcement so we held back on committing to things. I’m not going to miss the work behind it but I will miss that there won’t be a Detroit Fanfare and I mean that, not just as a co-organizer, but as a creator and fan. I hope that something in the area replaces it.

Overall, I find that I’m just not as efficient as I used to be. In the earlier Caliber days, I had the publishing company, wrote a couple of issues on a monthly basis, had my four comic shops, was Vice President of McFarlane Toys, and raising four daughters. Somehow, I managed to juggle it all but now I find it a bit harder. I deal with over 100 emails daily and that sucks up a lot of time just answering those plus once Caliber returned, I get an incredible number of submissions and I try to respond to most of them. I feel that if someone who puts together a good package, that they’re at least owed a legitimate reason on why it wasn’t accepted.

On a personal level, Jennifer and I are contemplating our plans. Three of our four daughters are gone (two in California, one is Japan) and our youngest is heading towards the final year of college and plans to move out of state as well. I find myself less tolerant of the Michigan winters and so we’re evaluating where we might want to go. California is an obvious choice but we want to give other areas a proper look. Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina are contenders so far but we still have to check out more places. I’ve been to 46 states but never Washington or Oregon so have to visit those. We have a couple of years to see so the plan is to find what feels right.

That about covers things as I know, even with the best of intentions, I’m not likely to update the blog as often as I should or plan to, so figured I get things brought up to date. You know, just in case I forget about it again.

Friday, December 26, 2014

On Detroit Fanfare Ending

For those who care about Detroit Fanfare, you have probably heard that it has been cancelled and probably not just for this year but for good. I wanted to address that since I was one of the co-organizers.

First off, there needs to be a distinction about that. Yes, I was a co-organizer but it wasn’t an equal partnership. The convention was the brainchild of Dennis Barger and Tony Miello and they had a much larger role in it than I did. Not only did they generate the idea and set the stage for it but they were the two main principles. They were the ones that spent months prior to the convention meeting almost every day and going through every detail. They were the ones that were spending the money for guests, down payments, promotion, printing, and everything else. I was invited in at the first show but the foundation was already set.

Initially, my primary addition was to help secure some guests and then they invited me to participate in a more expanded role. Of course, I was involved in all of the activities to some extent but it was still primarily Dennis and Tony that had to configure everything. They always had to deal with things such as the planning, the accommodations, the equipment, the financing, appearance fees, travel arrangements, the banks, the accounting, etc.  I dealt mostly with getting guests, the program guide, and the programming.

I got the fun stuff, they got the headaches.

 In meetings, I would be aware of it but I didn’t have to deal with it as they did. While I always appreciated that they involved me as much as they did, it was definitely their show. They may have asked my advice or thoughts but ultimately, they had to find a way to deal with it.

Although the show had some problems, as they all do, overall the response to Fanfare was extremely positive and I have to say it was probably the most enjoyable show to go to as a creator and/or fan. It was structured primarily around comics and artists as even the celebrities were tied into comics in some way.

But fans, for as much bitching as they do about the lack of comic shows, still flock to the multi-media shows at 4-5 times the cost. We all realized that Detroit Fanfare would never be a massively large show unless we followed that formula but that’s not why Fanfare was started and changing into that kind of show was not something any of us wanted to do. I think the last year or so, Fanfare was defining itself on what kind of show it would be and that was one centered on comics and artists.

So, why is it ending? Well, it started off as something that might be able to continue even with lowered expectations but frankly, it just became too much work. Like myself, Dennis and Tony also have their careers outside of the convention. To all three of us, it was a side job, not a full time one. Anything dealing with the convention was time away from our primary careers. I teach college full time plus spend a great deal of time with the publishing and my writing, so, I was always a part time contributor. Tony’s art career has been growing, at first steadily, and then blossoming, that it became increasingly difficult to find enough time to spend with Fanfare. Dennis, being an owner of a comic shop, also has one of the largest comic mail order houses in the country.

That means to work on Fanfare, they had to forego opportunities that would earn them money. In fact, Dennis usually paid for his store employees to staff Fanfare and closed his store during the convention weekend. Also, Dennis is a single parent of two kids and Tony has his family commitments. Fanfare took a lot of time away from family and revenue generating work.

You also have to realize that when you’re dealing with a couple of hundred creators, staff members, guests, etc., that is a lot of unique personalities you have to contend with. Everyone has their situation yet as an organizer, you have hundreds of them. The convention also faced a number of problems dealing with the hosting sites. The Hyatt transferring to the Adoba caused all kinds of problems as well as the move to Detroit at Cobo Hall. And while Detroit is overcoming its bad reputation and graft, based on our experiences there, it’s easy to see why they developed such a bad reputation. Then the Adoba went into foreclosure---but we had decided to move from there because we knew something was coming.

I know a lot of people are going to be pissed off that the show cancelled, especially with less than two months before the event. But circumstances changed quickly…for one, the Sterling Heights Inn,, the new place, was a Best Western hotel when the agreement was signed, but they have just announced that they are no longer affiliated with Best Western. That changes the dynamics and relationship considerably and we already went through that with Hyatt to Adoba. It was decided to forego dealing with some potential problems outside of our control, to just end it. While it was a decision made just now, it was because of an accumulation of things.

Of course, some people will say that this news is unexpected because of the Kickstarter process which signaled problems. That isn’t the case at all. The idea of a Kickstarter started with the last convention as we saw other conventions doing it and we evaluated the logic behind it. It was a strategy that was working because about half of the artist alley tables sold via Kickstarter, were from artists who had never attended Fanfare before and became aware of the show because of the Kickstarter. It was doing exactly what was it was supposed to do.

Undoubtedly, there will be criticism for cancelling the show and Dennis and Tony, being the two primaries of the convention, will likely get the brunt of it, but I think instead they should be commended for embarking on the venture in the first place and providing four years of a fun convention.

On a personal level, the convention served as an opportunity for me to meet so many of the local artists which is quite a large and talented lot. And of course, some not so local creators. I also think Fanfare allowed them to cross paths a bit more with each other as well.

So, my feeling is that it is a bit sad that the run is over, but I’m deeply appreciative of the time and relationships that it offered.

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