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July 11, 2016

Festivals Extra: A Few Notes On HeroesCon 2016



I thought this year's HeroesCon deserved a few notes before it recedes in the rearview mirror any further than it already has, and it already has a significant amount by now. The nature of shows is that they're anticipated widely but processed individually. I think the best ones do have a lingering effect, but that they're not publicly expressed in the same way a standard publicity build-up might have a presence in your various social media feeds for a month or so preceding an event. Here are a bunch of thoughts. Please keep in mind I help with a show now, so what follows is probably just vengeful nonsense.


1. I thought it was a really good show. I had a good time. I always have a good time at Heroes.

2. I limited my exposure to the show, which is going to be a thing for me for a while. There just isn't enough money to go to all of the shows, particularly as I'm not set up to make money at them. Nor does there seem enough time in anyone's work schedule to make a commitment to three, four, five days as an attendee at the number of shows that might be of interest. It sure doesn't work for me. I attend SDCC for three days and two nights now. I'll go to SPX Saturday morning to Sunday evening now except for rare exceptions. I attended HeroesCon 2016 for about 36 hours, encompassing all of Sunday and the show's famous post-show event out at the Heroes store. I suppose that partial attendance could be more of a thing moving forward. I know as a festival director I'm getting a lot of requests from attending guests to leave early. Linework NW builds this into their structure, with rotating exhibitors.

3. My initial impression on both Saturday night at the longtime social hub the Westin and on the floor Sunday is that Heroes 2016 seemed somewhat subdued, or at least super-mellow. I wasn't the only person to make that observation; in fact, I didn't run into anyone who thought this was a high-energy show. Some of that is how late in the weekend I attended, some is that the show continues to expand its exhibition space and clarifies its use of it in a way that may thwart the kind of jostling and crowds that can give a show a kind of furtive energy it may not deserve.

I think for a lot of people there is some general show burnout, and that the nature of shows has moved past this thing from about five years ago where they were swelling like mad and we were starting to see a lot of the comics-school graduates making professional headway and everything felt optimistic for the first time since the brief and inexplicable mainstream book publishing deals of twelve, thirteen years ago. In comics it isn't always good news or bad news, it's how one can project oneself onto either. There was a moment for cons and festivals where a lot of people felt like the shows' successes was good news for themselves. This particular show didn't seem to have any knockout guests. A lot of the talk I heard Saturday night was about people that weren't in attendance.

4. Now, that said, if you want to bank on any show working from its core strengths, HeroesCon is one of them. Shelton Drum's show is in an exclusive club in terms of the solidity of its base -- I'd say it's right there with San Diego, SPX and TCAF. It is a comics-forward show. It is a deeply friendly show. Downtown Charlotte is compact and boasts hotels and restaurants perfectly suited for convention-goers. There's a drawing culture at Heroes in which a wider-than-usual gamut of artists can participate. They have endearing regular staff like Andrew Mansell and a fine crew of regular participants like Craig Fischer, people you tend not to see a lot of other places. Recurring features like the yearly art auction and the charitable work in Richard Thompson's name give the show a really old-school, pitch-in feel. Even the retailers are people you may not see anyplace else.

5. Attendance was up.

6. Basil Gogos was there.

image7. That was a good-looking convention t-shirt, that Black Panther t-shirt they did. Con t-shirts are a tough game, and even more so when corporate characters are involved (that may just be my opinion) but that one looked pretty cool and its all-black nature made it feel like an old-school mid '90s funnybook shirt. I got one for my brother.

8. Not a lot of exhibitors to whom I spoke directly performed ahead of expectations, but there were a few that killed, and the ones that did were across a range of experience levels, which is nice to hear. I imagine Heroes could be in a bit of a transitional phase with what sells because of the show's expansion. Original art seemed to do well, particularly higher-end material that might hook in one or two devoted fans of an artist or work.

9. Top three items of discussion were money, money and money. "Younger cartoonists and how they make me feel" by older cartoonists may have come in at #7. One pro mentioned his new agent enough times that it might have cracked the top dozen discussion subjects for the entire show.

10. The panels I went to were solid and again, very old-fashioned: not a lot of power-point presentations like I'll see in a few weeks at San Diego. These were mostly broad-topic gatherings of artists doing extended Q&A sessions. One thing that was super-interesting to me is that I looked in on like 10 panels total, covering a huge range of subject matter, and they all had about the same attendance, at least in the "sense of the room" way. The highest attendance moments I saw, table-line and panel, were both for Kelly Sue DeConnick. Nothing really jumped out at me in terms of any content I saw at the panels. Two panels I saw were all white men, which is thankfully rare enough these days for me to notice when it happens.

11. Had a nice conversation with Tom Heintjes, who's in the "Former Editors Of TCJ" club with me. We're a smaller group than astronauts or Heisman Trophy winners, bigger than living former US presidents. One day we're all going to Milo's house for waffles. Heintjes' magazine is up for an Eisner this year.

12. The best part of the after-show party was William Stout holding forth on weird stories of early 1970s Los Angeles.

I think the next few years are going to be really important for how conventions and festivals will work going forward. The bloom is off the rose a bit, but it's not like we'll lose a bunch of shows. I think we'll actually gain several. I also think that what shows do well will intensify -- this San Diego feels like a big party blowout more than usual, which is certainly something San Diego can do, NYCC gets a bit more crazy-eyed every time out, and SPX with all the Fantagraphics artists this year feels like an old-school hang for the ages. At the same time, I think that anyone looking at the shows, or looking at a circuit of shows, as a replacement for solid industry infrastructure may have a harder time of it as the novelty factor goes down event to event. Managing expectations has never been a strong suit for comics' professional community, but maybe it's time. The idea of a growing professional base and an audience that comes nowhere near matching it, that's a problem to which great shows call attention but maybe don't solve.

What Heroes 2016 reminds us is that the most important part of any show exists in terms of an interaction between a self-selected culture and a show's attendees. As peak events slip back into being dependable ones, in more and more locations all over the country, on every weekend in April, May, September and October, it should be interesting to see if there's a corresponding reinvigoration in all the other ways that customers and artists can have their interests meet. There's just enough despair at any comics show, always one person or two people that made no money and saw nothing they liked, for us to question any claim any festival or con may make to all-encompassing value. What will shows look like five years into our being disabused of the notion that they're going to save everything? I don't know. I imagine that people having dinner at Mert's and trading stories about life and art will look pretty much the same.
posted 12:25 am PST | Permalink

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