Imagine a scenario where you haven’t seen your friends or family in years, so you decide to just throw a big party. Invite everyone, even your friends’ friends you don’t know, and why not, their friends’ friends. Heck, even have folks from nearby neighborhoods come, too. Make it a big ‘to-do.’ You’re just gonna celebrate the one thing you all have in common, a shared passion.
Oh, yeah, and that you were all lucky enough to survive a pandemic.
A pandemic that crippled your industry, and caused or contributed to nearly 5 million deaths worldwide.
A party that you just know won’t please everyone. A party that could very well be a logistical nightmare in some ways, a breeze in others.
A party that could have your email and phone blowing up with thousands upon thousands of complaints an hour, and maybe – if you’re lucky – a few dozen compliments in the same time period.
Would you do it?
Just to see that family? That extended family that gives you joy and energy – the lifeblood to carry on in your toughest time?
Running a comic convention is akin to putting on the Super Bowl. There will always be someone in the audience complaining about the participants on the field (show floor). There will always be complaints about pricing, parking, lines, all of which are seldom the responsibility of the convention organizers.
And in a pandemic, there will be cancelations, which will garner a separate, and possibly more visceral and angry round of complaints against the organizers.
So, it begs the question, are conventions – comic book conventions, video game conventions, political conventions, conventions of any kind – really necessary right now?
Very much so. But only when done right.
And I think Baltimore Comic Con was done right.
It is worth noting right up front that Shelly Nathan, wife of show owner Marc Nathan, and the smiling (beaming, really) face of the show to the creators, is a nurse. That medical knowledge and inherent sense of duty is what led to some very specific terms being set up before the convention.
My family had dealt with a medical issue in the months leading up to the show that no parents ever want to hear: tumor. We were lucky, and everything turned out okay, and Kidlet was cleared at the last minute for the whole family to attend Baltimore, but I was poised to withdraw from the show at any moment if there was any chance being around others could be a risk.
Fans, vendors, creators, and workers alike were not allowed in the center without either a proof of vaccination card, or a negative Covid test from the previous 72 hours. This seemed to cause a lot of problems for some fans, but I don’t know why. The Covid protocols were emailed to everyone on the BCC list weeks in advance – twice – and then posted on the website on its own section, AND restated in every email sent therein.
(Where it did become an issue was a lack of facilities support from the convention center, which did require show staff to be pulled from normal duties to pick up the slack in things like temperature checking, etc.)
The protocols also made it difficult for younger fans, and therefore families, to attend. This was likely the reason for having Kids Love Comics (aka KLC, where I am a regular exhibitor) placed at the back of the show. Based solely on visual scanning, there were at least half then number of kids under 12 at this show than in previous years. There were children and families in attendance, and KLC did respectable business.
This was not a normal show. These are not normal times. Or perhaps they are.
We simply do not know anymore, and we have to learn to adapt as well we can within our comfort zones.
For many creatives, that comfort zone is very, very strange.
We are insular, isolationist individuals. We more or less suffer from some level of anxiety, OCD, imposter syndrome, etc. There are folks in Artist Alley who wonder what we’re doing at a show. Wonder why we bother. There are others in KLC with me (me included) who wonder the same thing. And even more at tables and booths with names like King, Conley, or Nicholas.
Comic creators do fit a stereotype of never leaving their drawing board, except for meals and sleep. Maybe. We work in an industry that absolutely requires our input for its survival, yet rewards us with the crumbs and leftovers of its reapings.
We are the lowest individuals in the food chain, and we know that. Yet we persist, simply because creating is in our blood. It IS our blood. We fuel our existence by writing, drawing, coloring, lettering, by creating. By telling stories to the communities, to the world, that we hope will resonate, that will mean something to someone. Those people we hope to reach will someday find us at a show and talk with us about our work. Even something as simple as a “that was a cool story” can be emotionally gratifying. We all know that there is an inherent imbalance in the time we give to a story versus the time consumers give to read them.
But as long as people keep giving our work that chance, that’s a spark that compels us to continue. That is the fuel for our fire.
What fans that flame is the comic convention. Gatherings of like minded creators where we are able to sit with fellow creators and friends we have made in our industry and talk shop, or NOT talk shop, trade ideas, talk about our upcoming projects in private without fear of an idea getting swiped.
When a show is over, ask any creator and they will almost always tell you that they are feeling two very disparate things at the same time: extremely exhausted (no one sleeps well at a show – hotel beds always pale in comparison to home) and fully energized.
We are all ready to sleep for days, and at the same time, emotionally recharged from being with our friends and other creatives that we are all set to run home and pull all-nighters writing and drawing.
This is a weird time.
This pandemic is not normal.
And while arguments could be made about how and when and if it could have been prevented, we know now how to at least slow its spread, and we have vaccines and measures to prevent it. We have ways to keep people safe. We have ways now to allow gatherings to resume smartly and more often. My reticence at attending a show in June was much stronger then than it was last week.
But we did well, and saw a lot of friends we had not seen in years. Friends who gave the Kidlet art tutorials, or even art assignments! People who I could bounce ideas off of that helped me think of other ideas. Friends who would understand if all I saw of them was a quick “walk by wave.” (There’s a lot of that in a show of Baltimore’s size.)
Social media will never replace the intimacy of getting together with friends and just relaxing together, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company. It simply cannot do so when it’s just designed to datamine our secrets. Contact – real, healthy emotional contact – only comes though gatherings where you feel safe and cared for, and Baltimore did their absolute best to provide that for thousands of comic fans this weekend.
Was it perfect?
Could it have been?
Was it just what we all needed?
Now, if you excuse me, I have cows to draw.
A more involved and detailed look at how DFP performed at Baltimore Comic Con can be read by members at the “Behind the Scenes” level of our Patreon.