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.


Becky Cousineau said...

I hope no one gives you or the other guys behind the convention any crap over this because running a convention isn't something easy. It's time-consuming, expensive, and headache-inducing. You guys managed to have a convention last for four years, which is longer than some of them get.

I'm sad to see it go. Yes, it was a smaller convention and yes, it tended to be focused on comic books rather than tv shows/movies like the bigger conventions, but it wasn't as crazy or chaotic. It was a great first convention for people who had never been to one previously.

That's the con where Adam Baldwin broke my sonic screwdriver when my nephew and I were both the 10th Doctor. It's one of the only cons I dressed as Sherlock with a harpoon. It's the con where my nephew was an awesome zombie and I got my Deadpooh design for my great tattoo. I got to meet Eric Powell, creator of The Goon, there and he was signing for free (something that still boggles me as he's a multi-award winning comic creator). It's the first place where I did my Axe Cop cosplay, and one of the first cons my nephew ever attended (and now he's hooked on them).

Thank you.

Gary Reed said...

Thanks Becky,
It is a lot more work than most people think but for the most part, it worked out well. Always some glitches but that's just the way it is.
Did you do your Axe-Cop cosplay when the creators were there?

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