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The new model for comic book conventions

by  in Comic News Comment

Aiming to cut the fat from the bloated pop-culture extravaganzas, a new creator-branded model for comic conventions is drawing fans to a more curated and unique experience.

For decades, comic conventions have been building up (or “diversifying,” if you prefer) to include television shows, movies, video games, board games, toys, novels, scantily clad models, and new-media companies that used speech balloons in their marketing campaign that one time. Basically they’ve become magnets for any project with an air of geekery, regardless of the lack of any sequential art or cartooning. A number of cons can feel more like a pop-up strip mall in their efforts to be everything for as many people as possible. And con-goers feel it. You really haven’t had the full convention experience if you don’t hear someone grumble how the con used to be about the comics, man. It’s a chorus that seems to attract more voices each year.

Perhaps in response to the growing Grumble Choir, a number of event organizers have been testing more focused conventions branded under a single creator or identity. These conventions bring in vendors, guests and exhibitors that more directly reflect the name on the banners, resulting in a more authentic and cohesive experience. While it’s splicing a niche market to a niche within a niche, it’s also creating a more irresistible ticket item for people within that sub-niche. And those fans coming to see the name they recognize are probably super-fans eager to experience, sample and buy more at a deeper level than the more scattershot crowd under the general geek umbrella.

The strongest example of this is easily MorrisonCon, the recent high-priced exclusive event in Las Vegas that succeeded in giving attendees unique and unpredictable experiences with creators, such as an impromptu cover of the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson (if only Akira the Don had the same restraint as event organizer James Sime to not horn in on the moment). There’s also Mark Millar’s Kapow! Comic Convention in London, and Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles. While these two are closer to the traditional con model, they still must live up to the name on the marquee, and are surely influenced by their respective creator names. While not under a specific individual creator, the Image Expo early this year certainly used the Image Comics brand and their stable of creators to create an event reflective of the company and their focus on independence and creator ownership. While not using the creator’s name specifically in the name, FablesCon in Minnesota (or Fabletown and Beyond as it’s officially being called) is being put on by Bill Willingham to focus on what they’re terming mythic fiction in comics.

Will we see more of these types of cons? I hope so, as I think it’s a great way for conventions to stand out in an already-overcrowded market. But what creators have enough cache to their names to carry a specialized con? Naturally I have a few ideas:

KirkmanCon: Let’s not pretend that doesn’t roll right off the tongue (or is the villain in the next Star Trek movie). The Walking Dead is such a runaway hit, it’s an obvious choice. Just look at the excitement and buzz from “The Walking Dead Escape” at Comic-Con International. Remember, that zombie obstacle course was done not for the AMC show but to celebrate The Walking Dead #100 (at least, according to all of the press for it).

C for Convention: If Grant Morrison can get people to pay to see him perform an occult ritual set to music performed live by My Chemical Romance, then surely Alan Moore can get people to pay to see him perform “Mr. A” for a reunion of his former band The Emperors of Ice Cream, followed by a magical ritual paying tribute to Glycon, the ancient Roman snake god. Oh, and I guess some panels discussing Watchmen or whatever.

Gaiman Expo: Neil Gaiman will bring the crowds, no doubt. His convention would actually be a perfect arena for certain comic book creators and fantasy/horror novelists and their fans to all come together.

Who do you think could put on a great comic book convention unlike any other?