I've seen a few bloggers link to my comicon post yesterday and say it's a huge red flag for the future of indie comics at the con. Re-reading my post, it probably sounds more dire than it could have. We actually had a pretty successful show. Not our best ever, but a solid one. I think last year was our most successful ever, and you simply can't repeat that every year. I had been steeling myself in advance for a major downturn this year given the economy and it simply didn't happen. We saw a minor dip, and although the economy likely played a small part in that, it was nothing like I was prepared for.
One thing I neglected to mention yesterday was that any talk of "downsizing" has as much to do with the increased costs of attending the show from year to year as our actual sales at the show. Every year, booth prices are raised, and with a waiting list of exhibitors that probably stretches as long as the lines for any of this year's Twilight panels, there's little incentive for Comicon to keep booth prices down, and I understand that and don't expect them to keep costs down for Fantagraphics' or anyone's sake if they don't need to.
Throughout most of the 1990s, Fantagraphics had eight booths at the con. Some time around the turn of the century, we cut that down to four due to the increase in booth prices. We also started to more tightly track sales, enabling us to prepare a better inventory, and reconfigure the space in such a way that allowed us to reduce our booth space by 50% without reducing the amount of inventory proportionally -- it was probably something closer to 25%, and the things we didn't bring were things we weren't really selling much of anyway. In doing so, we improved our bottom-line considerably. So we might talk about doing something similar next year, perhaps going down to three spaces instead of four, but it would be a minimal difference, and one that most attendees probably wouldn't even notice.
Why am I talking about this? I'm not sure, except that I think it's healthy to have some honest talk about how this year's show went, and what it means for the future, instead of hearing everyone jostle for position in the hype machine and meaninglessly declare the show a raging success ("bigger and better still!"). I know that this was the first year where I spoke to many of my peers in the small press who openly wondered whether they could afford to exhibit next year. This included publishers, artists, and retailers. I also noticed appreciably fewer cartoonists that I admire attending the show this year, simply due to hype surrounding the show's sellout status, hotel occupancy, and the fact that you have to register further and further in advance.
One suggestion that Tom Spurgeon made this morning that I wholeheartedly agree with is the idea to fold Artist's Alley back over to the North side of the convention hall, near the small press area we inhabit. This seems like a no-brainer to me. Having Artist's Alley at the opposite end of the floor makes little sense, especially when so many of the small press stands are essentially self-published artists. If you buy a 10' x 10' space, you are put in the north end with the rest of the comics. If you simply buy a table, you're in the south end near the toys (I think -- I actually never even remotely made it down that far on the floor). It's an arbitrary distinction that means many attendees completely miss one area or the other. When they moved Artists Alley a couple of years back, the Hernandez Brothers had a table. They ended up virtually abandoning it all weekend because it was so far away from Fantagraphics and its ilk; no one knew they were there.
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