Too much of a good thing or too little? Trying to get a handle on Toronto Con reports

When comics and pop culture meet you don't always get on the rainbow bridge to Asgard. Chris Hemsworth as Thor from the upcoming movie of the same name.

Last weekend we had three regional comics events in Canada, as well as one large  convention in the US. There are hardly any reports from the smaller one day comic shows, such as the ones that were held in Edmonton and Vancouver, but there have been a few reports from the 3-day Wizard Toronto Comic Con.

I didn’t go – I was at C2E2 in Chicago, so my impressions are drawn from what passes for the reports posted online (thanks to Sequential and Comic Book Daily for the most coverage) or from the people who I’ve spoken to about it that went. Loud annoying music and temperature issues aside, some patterns are emerging.

As with last year the pattern was Friday – slow, Saturday – busy, Sunday – moderately busy. It’s the same trend everywhere, really. At C2E2 it was busy Friday, crazy busy Saturday and slightly less busy than Saturday on Sunday. General consensus among most reports from people that went is that Wizard should just ditch the Friday and go to being a  2-day show, as that’s the way the attendance seems to be defining it.

This is a comics-themed site, not a pop culture one, and I personally have no interest in those areas of these events. So when reading these blog reports it’s been tough to discern what type of comic book show this was.

Generally the reports divide along three lines:

those that got in for free under media, fan table or dealer passes or as a volunteer for Paradise Comics. These people had a good time, with some caveats, but lack the perspective of a paying customer or paying exhibitor. Friday’s slowness aside, they got their sketches, they saw some celebrities and/or easily obtained the interviews they wanted to do, and those few who cared about comics wished there were more comic guests and noticed the absence of comic dealers*. They report a busy show in a smaller space on Saturday – the room capacity of Hall D at the DEC is 2300 people, so it’s no wonder the show looked busy.

those that paid for the event. These people divide along two lines as well: 1)  those there for comics – they felt ripped off and disappointed, and 2) those there for celebrity autographs – who were generally happy. In perspective – at $38 standard adult daily admission the show is more expensive than every other event of this type in the region, and I think that scares people away who just want to buy comics or get some items signed by the comic guests. The absence of new-to-Toronto comic pros for that price also hurt the event’s appeal to comic fans, as did the absence of almost all local and US comic dealers**. If you went to meet Star Wars and Buffy people you seem to be generally happy with what you paid, and if you dressed up you were not alone and people took pictures of you or oggled you, but if you went for comics creators or to buy back issues you were likely disappointed and maybe a little upset because there wasn’t much for you that you don’t get elsewhere (like TCAF or the other comic shows) for a lot less.

*There’s a legitimate reason why there are few comics dealers — at over $800 a booth (not incl. taxes) it’s the highest priced show in the region to exhibit at. So what if you can get 2 more boxes on a table, the bottom line is that the bottom line is too high and people are passing and watching to see what happens next. When you have to give away a thousand dollars worth of product to break even and your profit margins are tight as is, you tend to take these things into account, something your average blogger or opinionated fan doesn’t think about.

**The US dealers – an asset in the first year – chose to do Chicago’s C2E2, something I would probably have moved this show’s dates to avoid a conflict with and keep them, even though this show’s dates were announced first.

— finally, the many regular to the GTA creators recruited – some of whom reported deathly slow sales such as Tom Fowler, to some who had better than average sales such as Leonard Kirk. Kalman Andrasofszky, who I ran into on my way home on Monday, said it was better than he was expecting it to be. Sounds like it was a mixed bag.

If this show wants to improve: go to 2 days, lower the daily admission price, lower the table rates considerably, make sure it doesn’t conflict with other comics industry event dates (such as other March/April events in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Orlando) , get your US dealers back, better advertise to comic fans, get better new-to-Toronto comics pro guests as draws, try not to book so many guests who’ve been to Toronto in the last 3 years and try to get the support of the GTA retailers.


9 thoughts on “Too much of a good thing or too little? Trying to get a handle on Toronto Con reports

  1. Thanks goodness for the $5 student/faculty/military/firefighters/police officers ticket; otherwise, I would have gone for a single day.

    I am disappointed with the seating plans for this con. Also, the floorplan. With the floorplan the way it was set up, you have all the celebs right when you walk into the convention. Sure, it made the convention look busy from outside of the doors, but when you pass that, there was walking room. The aisles were definitely tighter near the front, which caused the slow moving traffic.

    Also, comic vets like Tom Fowler, Valentine De Landro, Ken Lashley, and others, were scattered near the middle or back of the Artist Alley, while other comic vets, were in the comic guests area. I don’t mean any disrespect to any creators, but there were quite a few in the comic guests area, that would normally be found in the AA, as they are not well known.

  2. Good on you for catching that was an option. It was not a well advertised incentive added a mere week before the show that wasn’t widely promoted. When I went to Wizard Chicago last August I noticed the same thing that you mention — celebrity booths right up front where the comic publishers used to be. These signing booths and the crowds around them clogged up the entrance and made it difficult to get through to the exhibitor area and the artist alley during peak times such as Saturday morning. I did notice a few Artists Alley people had been moved into central booths, probably because they were slotted for exhibitors and not sold, and they did not want the areas to be empty.

  3. Kevin, thanks for trying to synthesize all of those reports that I could do little more than speed-browse. Good point about the table pricing. As a business-owner myself who occasionally does trade shows, etc, the idea of rent/table space is always at the forefront of my thinking: “How much of my stock do I have to essentially give away before I make my rent?” Sure, if a dealer sells a $1000 comic then he makes his booth rent with one sale (not really –he may have paid between $500 to $900 for the book in the first place), but what if he has a booth-full of low and mid-range books? That’s a lot of $1 to $20 comics sales before you get to the point where you start making money/profit (also taking into account travel costs, hired help, etc) and you’re not going to get to that point without a crowd of comics lovers/collectors who haven’t spent their bucks on tickets to get in or Klingon weaponry or hockey masks or pricey autographs and photos from Chewbacca. Etc. I have no idea what’s going on the ground with the Wizard organization, how its organized/who are the comics people/organizers –you might have more insights through your work with WW’s predecessor Paradise and now with CGC and Hobbystar/FanExpo– but it seems like they may have dropped the ball in terms of the comics side of things. Awesome that Conundrum was there and that Artists Alley had a wide variety of local pros and people from the alt comics community, but what about other local publishing folks like Udon and Koyama? Didn’t Peter from The Beguiling used to do the Paradise show occasionally? The tons of other Toronto shops and dealers? Hamilton’s Big B Comics? etc etc. But I guess all that doesn’t matter if Wizard made money and can keep luring people in with its current format?

  4. Once you factor in renting a truck, gas, food and snacks as well as pay for your helpers… it ends up being a lot more than that basic booth charge.

    One fundamental reason for why the cost is exponentially higher seems to be that Wizard has their own decorator for the event from the US – and all exhibitor booths have pipe and drape behind them, dividing the booths. Paradise and Hobbystar both used the same Toronto-based decorator (when there was a Paradise show), and for $400-500 at the old Paradise con an exhibitor got a 10′ x 10′ space, an 8 foot table and two chairs. At Fan Expo exhibitors get an 8′ x 8′ space, plus pipe and drape, 8 foot table and 2 chairs for about $600 (during the 3 day show years). Eliminating the pipe and drape kept Paradise cost effective before, but now Wizard offers pipe and drape, a 10′ x 10′ space, 8′ table and 2 chairs for $800-900. More square footage per booth may end up being cheaper per square foot, and the pipe and drape may look nice, but for most exhibitors, when calculating expenses it’s the bottom line of how much space for the least amount of money.

    Paradise used to, and Hobbystar does, offer incentive discounts for those who book multiple booths (say, more than 4). I don’t know if Wizard does, but my impression from hearing the complaints from dealers is that they don’t. They did a lot of last minute deals last year when they were desperate to fill space – and this was probably another reason as to why so few local comic dealers were there this year – they were waiting for and did not get offered those same last minute massive discounts (a terrible precedent for Wizard to have set for themselves as it discourages rebookings for their high table prices). Wizard held the price line this year, so aside from Paradise (who gets their space for free as per the purchase deal), a dealer like Wes Hagen spent over $2K on the show before selling a single $3 book and had to bring in more expensive comics to offset his costs. In 2010 he got an island of booths for the same price as the two he had in 2011.

    One thing that I also learned is that exhibitors who got tables in Toronto were offered free space at the October Central Canada Comic Con in Winnipeg (I gather to convince them of the veracity of it). Winnipeg is a LONG drive for anyone to make from Toronto, especially if you want to avoid crossing in an out of the US to save money (avoiding customs would be a strong concern for any retailer). It’s an offer that may suit Danny Mancini who sells t-shirts all across the country, but I don’t see any GTA comic stores or dealers going to Winnipeg in October. It’s like offering dealers in Buffalo free space at a con in Minnesota with the justification that they are in the same country.

    Then of course there’s what kind of customer base the event draws in. Last year Wizard brought in deep pocket back issue customers (the type of people who shop at Paradise anyway, and get Harley Yee’s newsletter announcing his appearances) who spent with American dealers with expensive comics (making them happy) like High Grade Comics. They do not like crowds, so they were ecstatic last year about how much fun it was to shop in empty aisles with hungry dealers. It did not, and still does not, draw the types of customers that buy $1-3 comics in large volume. These people are penny-pinchers – their money goes on the comics – and they balk at the high admission costs. Paradise was successful in bringing in the comic art sketch-hounds, and those people did go this year to Wizard.

    The plan is to create a network of cons in an attempt to eliminate and/or co-opt the smaller barely profitable and dying one-off conventions that are held all over the continent every weekend, transform them into lowest common denominator pop culture ‘comic’ cons that appeal to people who watch the Big Bang Theory and learned about what a comic con is there or heard the term used on the news in conjunction with the San Diego event and all of it’s Hollywood trappings, and assume the hardcore group of fans will go anyway – which they often do, even if they voice complaints. If you control a ‘scene’ – bringing 20 similar events to the table, in theory you have a lot more to offer companies who want access to that 20-40 year old demographic that attends comic cons with disposable income. You may go for the celebrity autograph or to get a sketch, but the companies that partner up on the tour get access to YOU. It’s very Wal*Mart-y. They don’t have to produce the best show, they just need to attract the right people to expose to their partners and their products, including their own money-making ventures within the con such as merchandise, photos and so on.

    As for comics, my impression is, and sources say, that Paradise books the local comics guests, using their existing relationships built during their successful years (which explains why they keep bringing back the same pros they had before – like Phil Jimenez) before the 2008 disaster and the sale to Wizard. Then Wizard’s “Tour” includes some comic guests like Michael Golden, Bill Sienkiewicz, Ethan Van Sciver, Arthur Suydam and Mark Texeira that do almost all of their shows. I’m not sure who they approached locally and who turned them down, or who they just were and were not aware of.

    I spoke with Andy at Conundrum via email before the Wizard con and he was in Toronto for March break and was having some meetings here and decided to give it a try. Which is cool – I hope he did okay, I enjoyed the “comic” con report.

    As for the stores. I know why and appreciate why the Beguiling doesn’t do Fan Expo, so I can see why the same logic could be applied to Wizard — it’s not a good fit. Other GTA retailers have indicated that they just don’t feel that the cost justifies their participation for reasons we’ve discussed.

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