A different world.
We’ve been doing conventions for a long time. It’s been over a decade since Garth and I exhibited at our first shows, albeit separately. The landscape and atmosphere of the convention scene has shifted dramatically over the years, as communities are prone to do given enough time. This past handful of shows has taught us a few lessons and clearly illustrated what has changed since we began our lives as webcomickers.
The most dramatic change has been the content of Artist Alleys. When we began, webcomics had a heavy presence there, depending on the show. There was a solid mix of original content and material meant to please fellow fans of comics, video games, and other nerd loves. Nowadays, the webcomicker with an Artist Alley booth is both rare and swallowed up by nameless fan art booths. Booths with admittedly beautiful art of copyrighted characters, but there is no indication who the artist or their studio is. There’s usually a canopy of display prints featuring Overwatch characters, Marvel and DC heroes, the cast of the new Voltron series, or whatever happens to be popular for any given year. The diplomatic half of me understands. You do what you have to do to make a buck off your art, and if people are buying what they know instead of taking a chance on something original, you cater to what the crowd wants so you can pay your bills. The aggravated artist half of me thinks nameless fan art booths are a plague that panders to crowds and only avoid cease-and-desist orders from copyright holders by remaining conveniently anonymous.
As Garth said to me recently, “Fan art booths who brag about how many prints they’ve sold are like gamers who brag about their gold-medal scores while playing a game on Easy mode.” Turn the difficulty up to Hard and see how well you fare, I say.
With fewer webcomickers in Artist Alleys, that means there are fewer people I know at any given show. Back in the day, I could expect to see a crowd of my friends in an Alley, and we would scramble to figure out dinner plans either during or after the show. Nowadays, Garth and I sometimes feel like we’re “the last of the Old Guard.” With services like Patreon and Kickstarter, it’s easy for webcomics get the income of a convention weekend without having to leave their studios and worry about expenses like travel, hotels, and the cost of a booth. Garth and I are pushing our Patreon campaign so we can join the ranks of those webcomickers who do less conventions, but I don’t think we’ll ever give it up completely. We do conventions because we enjoy meeting people in person, having attendees discover us for the first time by having casual conversations with us, or any of the other advantages that social meetups have over staying at home all year.
Conventions can be difficult, expensive, and sometimes lonesome nowadays, but we choose to adapt to the times and see how we Old Guards can flourish in a New World.