Comic book convention season is officially underway with the launch of Comic-Con International in San Diego. (You may have seen some news to that effect elsewhere on this site.) Throughout the summer, there will be cons all across the country and they’ll vary in size and focus and demographics and just about every other variable you can think of.
The original reason for having a convention was to get like-minded individuals together. Ron Foss started this somewhat informally as he travelled across the country in the early 1960s by visiting the homes of other fans he had communicated with. Jerry Bails brought almost two dozen people together in his own home in 1964 for what was dubbed “the Alley Tally Party” and it was only a few short months after that when the first formal comic book convention was held in Detroit. It was small by today’s standards, but the basic elements we associate with a convention were in place; there were a dozen dealers, door prizes were handed out, and the H.G. Wells movie Things To Come was shown. In San Diego this year, there are hundreds of dealers, free goodies are handed out by the truckload, and dozens of films are screened, many of which are marking their public debut.
But how do webcomics fit into that? After all, webcomics by their very nature do not exist in a real space the way printed comics do. Webcomics aren’t tangible, and they’re generally given away for free online.
Interestingly, webcomic creators largely attend conventions with much the same intentions as large print publishers. They want to attract new readers who might not otherwise stumble upon their comic, and make a little extra money that’s not normally available to them through their normal channels.
Odds are that you’ve heard of Spider-Man and Batman. The really big comic publishers don’t really need to draw attention to their characters in the same way a webcomic creator does. But they’re still looking to bring in new sets of eyeballs. At Comic-Con this year, for example, Marvel is running demos of their upcoming new massively multiplayer online game (MMO) and is showcasing their upcoming deluxe boxed set of DVDs. These items might draw in people who don’t read comics, but still might be interested in Iron Man or Thor. Just like a webcomic creator, they’re building awareness and attracting new people to their characters; they just have multiple channels (movies, video games, comics, etc.) with which to do that.
Income is, of course, the other incentive. By attracting more people to a work, there’s a larger number of people who might be willing to spend money on it. In the case of webcomics, as I’ve noted before, this is usually through the sale of printed copies of the webcomic. Other options are, here again, strikingly similar to larger publishers -- selling shirts, plush animals, and other tangible representations of the comic.
The danger that webcomic creators run into, however, is one of quantity. Most comic centered conventions draw an audience that is most familiar with the superhero genre and/or the action/adventure style that’s often associated with it. Which is why you often seen comic cons in which you can readily find fans of The Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter. But many webcomics don’t follow those styles and, thus, attract a somewhat different type of audience. So does it make sense for a webcomic creator to attend a “regular” comic convention?
It’s a question I only started wondering a couple of weeks ago when I heard Alex Heberling note in a recent interview that she tends to do better at anime conventions than comic cons. Which isn’t surprising in retrospect as her work often shows a heavy anime influence. She has less of an inclination to attend a show that caters to action/adventure fans because she simply isn’t likely to sell as much.
Other creators have adopted a different approach and tried creating unique hybrid pieces that tie their normal work to the superhero genre that’s more frequently looked for. I’ve seen several creators simply sell prints of their Wolverine or Superman, but others dress up their own characters as more famous heroes in part to highlight the absurdity of the contrast. Indeed, Dave Kellett’s “Batpug” went over so well that he sold out on halfway through the first full day of Comic-Con.
Ultimately, it depends on the individual creator and how much they want to put in, and for what reward. If their personal style can connect with people who read X-Men, maybe it makes sense to hit those conventions. If their work is more attractive to Sailor Moon fans, maybe another option makes more sense. In any event, the key is knowing the audience of both the webcomic and the convention, and ensuring there’s at least some crossover.