This past weekend I was a guest at ACE Comic-Con in Glendale, Arizona. It’s a new show, run by an old hat at show running, Gareb Shamus, previously of Wizard Magazine and Wizard World shows. This was their second ever event and first in Arizona. I have a lot of appreciation for conventions in Arizona, from Phoenix Comic Fest to Tucson Comic Con to my own 1-day Free Comic Book Day show, The Arizona Comic Mini Expo. While each may have its flaws, they all provide something I look for in a positive convention going experience.
Phoenix Comic Fest, while focusing much on the media guests, has dozens of panels about comics and still tries to bring in as many top tier comic guests as they can, and that show is always a #1 or #2 top earner for me when I table there. They have a proper artists alley (I hate that term) filled with creative people and they treat their guests very well. I’ll be there every tear they are willing to have me.
Tucson Comic-Con is still growing and in a smaller and less economically diverse market, so there isn’t the same money to be made at that show, but what it does offer is a great experience for guests. They treat their guests well and I can spend time with other professionals, enjoy the city, and relax a bit. Tucson is a wonderful town. I’ll be there every year they are willing to have me. I’m not going to talk about ACME (the show I put together), because of course I can cater that directly to what I love, comic creators.
ACE Comic Con was a very mixed bag. They leaned ALL IN on media guests. Sure, there were 4 or 5 big name comic guests, and I heard they did fairly well, but I don’t know how well the rest of us fared. To bring out 12+ high profile media guests and rent out an arena for the weekend must cost a huge amount of money, so that dictates that tickets to the event were well above $50 for a single day (much like a Wizard show). The layout for artist/vendor alley was confusing, there were comic guests mixed in with people selling metal sculptures and wallets. Some vendors were in artist alley, while others were on the arena floor, while some were on yet another floor above us. It was dark, some booths were literally in little alcoves where if you were walking and only looking straight you would never see them. There were no signs telling you what area of artist alley you were in (typically these would be row number signs). There were beer vendors and a really annoying lemonade vendor making the rounds and loudly yelling. As far as I could hear, there was no mention over the sound system about directing people to artist alley at all, and only a couple signs indicating where to go. Half the attendees looked confused and a huge portion were there only for the media guests and photo opportunities. Most had ZERO interest in anything that wasn’t what they knew from the movies.
I won’t get into why I personally did not do well over the course of the 3-day show. I don’t have the flashy prints and I haven’t worked on Marvel or DC books, so I get it. I will address some reasons I think many of us had problems. The high cost of attending and parking, with outrageous food and drink costs that come with being in an arena left many people with little spending money. There were a fair amount of empty hands. The confusing layout and lack of education about the event left many people bewildered. There were no programs created for the event listing the comic guests or media panels. Attendees had a single page map telling them what was on each floor. Not every convention feeds it’s guests, but many do, and that goes a long way in making you feel welcome. I’m sure all the media guests were fed 3 square a day. They are the reason people buy tickets, but it still is a poor look to not take care of your comic guests. That is something common in Wizard shows, so it makes sense. Another thing that I noticed they have in common is that guests were only given plastic wristbands (don’t take it off for 3 days!), instead of lanyards and a badge. A badge, with the word “guest” on it and your name goes a long way. Our wristbands said “vendor” on it, and the media wristbands were much nicer. Another odd coincidence is that I made the same exact amount of money at this 3-day show as I did at a Wizard World show two years ago, the only one I’d done in the last decade.
To be fair, I will say that because I was a guest at ACE, I was allowed to set up a table and sell my work at the Coyotes hockey game the night before the convention started and I did well that night. I am a Coyotes fan and I have Coyotes art prints that sold well to hockey fans. I would not have had that opportunity without being a guest at ACE, but it was separate from the convention proper. All in all I had a good weekend in that regard, but the 3-day convention was a chore. I like the idea behind what ACE wants to do, and make it an event more than a comic con, but re-brand in that case and just make it a media guest convention.