09 May 2010


It's Monday morning. After a relaxing Mother's Day yesterday at the folks', I'm sitting here drinking a cup of brown thunder, chewing on my Carman's muesli bar, and reflecting on the grueling Doujicon-4 convention that I (and other locals) exhibited at on Saturday.

Ok...

THE GOOD
On the whole, I had a LOT of fun with my fellow creators on Saturday. We chatted across tables and talked comics and made a good time of it. The Monash University venue is very nice. Clean and big and open. Top notch. Really.

Here are some photos I took at the start of the day:


All set up and ready for the crowd.


Brendan was manning Jason Franks' BLACK GLASS table.


Everyone was in good spirits that morning.


The List table manned by Paul Bedford.


Philip Bentley & Bruce Mutard's table.


Some other great local creators...


Matt's comics are killer. Really funny. Buy em.


Sitting next to my brother in arms, Paul Bedford, was a blast. Lots of laughs and fun.


One of the highlights of the day. A passer-by with a bright camera.


One major 'plus' for the day, was being able to ink the pinup that I'd promised Tom Bonin for his upcoming DICKS comic. (By the way, 'DICKS' stands for 'Detectives'... but that didn't stop me being juvenile, now did it).

And now...

THE BAD
After spending the last few months pushing to finish my comic for the event (that I used as my deadline, by the way)...

...and paying to get my banner designed & delivered...


... and working with my publisher Gestalt Publishing to make sure the book/s were created, printed, and delivered on time for Doujicon. (Thank you to them!)...

I now, feel somewhat suckered... Doujicon-4 was a let down.

Oh, I'm still as pig-headedly determined about creating my stories. That's solid. But man... Doujicon-4 sure did it's best to kick me in the nuts. I can really, really (and honestly) see how a more fragile person might (having been defeated on the day) just say, "Oh, fuck this comics thing. I give up... what the hell am I doing here?!", after such an experience. You question yourself, your work, and your passion for comics in the face of sitting behind a table... as you hear a cricket leg chirp in the distance.

And that's not what comics need.

It needs people creating work in confidence. Days like Saturday won't do it. Comics have only just started to grow in the last few years, and days like Saturday discourage comics publishers from attending, and possibly, producing work in the future.

Look, I've always championed this convention as my favorite in the past. Ask anyone in the local comics scene that knows me. When I first exhibited there a few years ago (Doujicon-2), I was blown away and officially named it my absolute favorite convention. Period. It even out classed the bigger cons like Armageddon and Supanova (in my estimation), as a wonderful pure comics/self-publisher event. But that was then... Now, Doujicon seems to have slid downhill. Fast. From my point-of-view, it was tepid on Saturday.

Basically, THE problem, was that there was almost NO traffic going through to buy our work.


This was the scene about half an hour after the doors opened...


... and this was as good as it got later in the afternoon. Most people packed up an hour before they needed to, just because they had better things to do than sit and yawn behind their tables. There were moments that loud crowds did roll past in hordes, but they were only the cosplayers that we attached to a co-event on this day. They were just passing through, and weren't really there to buy comics and stuff. They had their own agendas to take care of in the form of sword fighting, talking loudly, posing, and flashing a lot of body fat.

A saving grace was the table arrangements and University facility itself. It was damn good. The organiser did his best to situate us with fellow creators upon request, which was great.

But in the end, it fell very short of expectations. Most who secured the $100 tables (like I did), told me that they were disappointed with the convention, and didn't make a profit... or made way, way less than they had expected to. And yes, I know it's a monumental task in organising a convention. It's huge. I know Doujicon makes a loss most every time. I know almost no-one volunteers help or money. I can see the frustrations of the organiser. I feel for the organiser as he struggles and appologises for this and that every year. I know. I know... but as it's the 4th convention, a few of us had hoped some of the creases would have been ironed out by now. They haven't. It seems that more wrinkles are appearing each time Doujicon is held. As the convention experiments with format, venue, etc each year, it doesn't seem like a 'thing' that is being refined... but rather, it seems like a different dice is rolled each time and there are a lot of fingers crossed.

I say all this not to incite anger from the organiser or those that thought differently of the event. I admire what the convention is trying to do. I will still attend every time I can, just to support the event's intent and to get my book into another reader's hands... at the very least. We need more good conventions. We do. I really adore what the event was. I miss it. I want it to have it's strength back.

I know a few might say, "Why not help the organisers with the event instead of complaining?", to which I say, "I am. I'm spending every spare moment of my time producing comics and books to SELL at these conventions." I'm not creating a product that's quick to make. It takes a lot of time and effort. I'm not selling things I've just acquired (like pens, or trinkets) and have some time to offer. No, It sucks up all my time to squeeze each issue out before the fixed deadlines. You see, the way I see it, the better books and professionally driven authors we have 'booking' $100 or $200+ tables at conventions (because it's worth it for their time and effort behind the drawing board) - the better said conventions will 'reciprocally' do. It's a win-win situation.

Let me use an analogy closer to myself, in the hopes of conveying why I don't think I'm being too unreasonable;

Say I advertised to readers to pre-order my upcoming comic book for $50 (in good faith). I tell them that it should be about 400 pages long, in full glossy colour, and be about something (roughly) literary, like the human condition... but then, when the book is finally delivered to them - they end up holding a 16-page B&W children's book about bunnies and rainbows.

Shouldn't I (objectively) understand the readers' agitation?

You see, I can't (realistically) expect to charge people, upfront, $50 for a book in one context, and then hand them the value of a $5 book in another (and do it frequently), and then get perplexed at why the buyers don't understand the obstacles I faced in getting the book out. (ie: "That was all I could give you for $50... but thanks for your $50 dollars anyway.")

That's all I'm saying.

And yes, I know. Life's gotten in the way for me too when producing my books. I've missed the mark a few times, but that's not my readers' problem... it's mine. I know that if I've committed to something, and if I fall short, then it's ultimately on my shoulders. I do try to give people value for money each time they buy my books, and I know that if I don't... they have a valid reason not to buy my work in the future. I think that's reasonable.

If the organiser/s are content and found this weekend a success under their model, then fine. I'm glad for them. But for me, if Doujicon is on again next year I won't be paying for a table unless there seems to be an improvement in the organisation and advertising toward making a crowd-busy event (so I can at least make my table money back)... like it used to be.

Here's hoping.

-Bobby.N
www.bobbyn.com

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11 comments:

caanantheartboy said...

This is a total reversal of what I've just been through this weekend in Toronto, at TCAF, and yeah I know, Toronto has more comic shops than all of Australia combined, so it's a little unfair to compare, but here's my thoughts.

Doujicon. It's a weird word. It's not catchy. Once you figure out how it's pronounced, you're then hit with 'dodgy? Why would I want to go to something that's dodgy?' TCAF - The Toronto Comic ARTS Festival, while it does take itself a little too seriously at times, at least they're holding their heads high.

There's no disparity in the works between here and there, either. I saw plenty of people doing it hard at TCAF, with work on par with the Aussie talent I know of. Some worse, even. ;o) Sure, they get Cameron Stewart, Stuart Immonen, and a whole bunch of other high profile artists, but there's still all the little guys with their day jobs too. If you went and asked the big guns, too, if any of them would like to attend 'Doujicon', you might not get an enthusiastic response.

For comics to be taken seriously, it's got to start with the comic makers.

I sat in on a panel where they had librarians and teachers championing comics for kids. They got a librarian all the way up from California, who was an Eisner judge at one point. That was an interesting panel. People passionate about comics, who don't make them! OMG!

There needs to be less playing blindly in the sandpit, and more more inviting people to enjoy the entire playground. Make a grab for the educational component. Find out who these people are who are saying graphic novels are booming and get them involved.

Do they still do the Book week thing at Fed Square? Surely, Doujicon (under a new name) would be better served being attached to that event? Graphic novels are taking up more space in bookstores, why not book fairs?

Asking for all this help, and exploring the angles, might make more organising, or it could make less, if you find people who actually WANT to help. People not from the comic industry.

Bobby, you could compete on an international level with your comics, no problem. As could many other Aussie comickers. When that starts happening, maybe interest will rise? It sucks it may have to hinge on gaining work outside the country, but that's reality, isn't it? Comics only sell in the 10,000 - 100,000 range these days, out of billions of people!? That's a very small industry. And Australia is a very small country. Think big! Think outside the box! Think off the planet! I think I'm done!

I'd help, but I don't live there any more.

It's too hot.

(Sorry, Bobby. Joining you in "rant phase". ;o)

Bobby.N said...

CAANAN SAID...
"For comics to be taken seriously, it's got to start with the comic makers... There needs to be less playing blindly in the sandpit...."

Couldn't agree more. Well put.

-Bobby.N

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Douglas Holgate said...

I've questioned since Doujicon started, the name.

It sounds like nitpicking but it's no small thing.
If the point of the weekend is giving a specific platform for local comikers to gain exposure to a wider audience, keeping things accessible to that audience is pretty much vital. I fundamentally believe someone is more likely to go to something called the Australian Comics and Small Press Festival (Because they know right off the bat from the name what they can expect) than something called Doujicon.

We're already considered a niche art form. Doujicon smacks of a niche within a niche.
I'm in comics and i'm not even sure what it means.

Douglas Holgate said...

Further, i completely agree with Caanan. Investigating the possibility of attaching yourself to an already existing zine or book fair is probably a great place to start.

At the very least see how they organise and work, where they get sponsorship and promote themselves etc. and adapt those ideas to your own show. Imagine Doujicon if it was a part of the recent Wheeler Centre comics workshops?

Avi said...

Well, if we're all ranting...

The option to not pay for a table has always been there. You could have exercised it this year and not been out of pocket at all. The paid tables are basically a way of you saying you're supporting the event to the point of putting your money where your mouth is.

If you recall the first year, there were no paid tables, unless you were a commercial entity. The idea was that artists would get free tables because I was doing this to support the local community... But as the event ran at a minor loss, people actively suggested that I open those tables up so people could pull their weight and help support the event that supported them.

You want to talk about crickets chirping? That's the sound I've heard every year since the first one nearly every time I've asked for help, until after the event, when things go tits up.
And it's the same thing Troy hears. And it would have been the same thing that Danny and Will hear, except that they wised up, and have started charging what the space is worth. Perhaps if I charged everyone that came $300 for 180cm of space I'd actually have enough money to do something with the event too.

But then if I did that, everyone would bitch about the cost and how they can't compete with Naruto and Spiderman and then someone would have to go and start up comics con with free tables...

Avi said...

Actually, I've got a bit more on my mind.

I say all this not to incite anger from the organiser or those that thought differently of the event. I admire what the convention is trying to do. I will still attend every time I can, just to support the event's intent and to get my book into another reader's hands... at the very least. We need more good conventions. We do. I really adore what the event was. I miss it. I want it to have it's strength back.

I know a few might say, "Why not help the organisers with the event instead of complaining?", to which I say, "I am. I'm spending every spare moment of my time producing comics and books to SELL at these conventions."

You know what? That doesn't actually help organise, or run, or promote this event.
You say you want the event to get it's strength back? In the first two years of it, people actually helped.
I didn't have people tell me they'd help, and then pull out... I had people create posters, tell their readers and fans well in advance, link to it, talk about it, promote it, print out their own posters and fliers and put them in shops.

To use the comic making analogy, I looked to make a 24 page B&W, and I wrote the story. Then my penciller found an inker, who found a colourist, who then went and put an ad in Previews... all on their own steam.
As opposed to the last two events, where my penciller has gotten back to me late only to tell me he hasn't actually done any work, and he never bothered to actually call the inker in the first place.

The thing that made the first two DoujiCons the events they were was that the community actually pulled together and did something to help itself out.

Now, I've already had offers of help from people at the end of this year's show. That's great. Let's just hope those offers of help don't evaporate again next year, like they did this when I started asking for help last September

Bobby.N said...

AVI SAID...
"Well, if we're all ranting..."


No, not at all Avi... just giving our views & relaying perspectives. I've said most of what I wanted on the issue already, but let me clear up some points:

AVI SAID...
"The option to not pay for a table has always been there. You could have exercised it this year and not been out of pocket at all. The paid tables are basically a way of you saying you're supporting the event to the point of putting your money where your mouth is."


I have been supporting it Avi. A number of us did put our money where our mouth was. Last Doujicon & this Doujicon, we booked $100 tables. But we can't afford to keep throwing money at an event that (each time) continues to thin our pockets.

I'm sure your trust in someone would also fade if year after year they became less-&-less reliable.

AVI SAID...
"...Perhaps if I charged everyone that came $300 for 180cm of space I'd actually have enough money to do something with the event too."


The problem (THE problem, as I've already mentioned) is getting people there. That's basically it. Everything else is looking good (ie Venue), but all the facets concerning getting people there are failing. The advertising & marketing are lacking. Signage and direction at the venue was confusing. I barely knew how to find my way to the trade floor.

The free tables are a very strong selling point to the event Avi (I wouldn't lose that), but no trader is going to keep throwing money at 'paid' tables if the same thin crowds are coming. Or rather not coming.


BOBBY SAID...
"I know a few might say, "Why not help the organisers with the event instead of complaining?", to which I say, "I am. I'm spending every spare moment of my time producing comics and books to SELL at these conventions."

AVI SAID...
"You know what? That doesn't actually help organise, or run, or promote this event. You say you want the event to get it's strength back? In the first two years of it, people actually helped."


You're missing the point. I've never said I could help and then pulled out on you Avi. Those are the people & things you have to get right. I have no time to help. My focus is on producing books that can be sold at conventions. If I split my time to accommodate another important item (like helping to organise a convention), I wouldn't have a book to sell at the table.

But like you've mentioned, the analogy of creating a comic book with collaborators is no different. I know of a handful of local comics & anthologies with writer/artist collaborations where one (usually the artist as it takes more time), is the weak link in getting the material out on time, and makes the book's reputation suffer... but the writer/publisher who is usually the frontman for the book, has to hold the responsibility on their shoulders and smile and deal with the fans/crowd and keep giving them value for money. Excuses to the fans/public don't cut it time, after time, after time. They don't care. They'll walk away if they don't get value.

If the problem is unreliable people, then don't make the same mistake again. I don't. And I'm sure that those writers/publishers who have been bitten by lack-luster artists won't in the future too.

-Bobby.N
www.bobbyn.com

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Bobby.N said...

Basically the things I noticed were:

1. CROWD/Traffic focused. The venue was at a University... was it advertised there? If the marketing budget can't afford it, place the venue in the middle of traffic. Like some writer's festivals do.

2. There was no online banners available this time like last. Make each trader put it on their website or blog, etc as a minimum requisite.

3. The name 'Doujicon' (as Douglas mentioned) ostracizes anyone that doesn't know the 'secret handshake'. Something 'open' and generic might be the go? Something with the word 'festival', or 'fair', etc? I know there were a few suggestions on PF a while ago.

4. Twitter, new mascots, new themes and fancy technology don't do jack unless the old-fashioned grass roots promotion and 'general-public' focused stuff is done. Otherwise the event feels like a bunch of us getting together for a monthly comics meetup... with the difference being that we are paying $100 for it. I'd rather just get together for free... or as you mentioned, get a free table next time.

Aside from the lack of 'public & buyer' focused elements of the convention... the event looks pretty good to me when I'm actually THERE on the floor. All the elements before-hand are the issue to be looked at.

Again, I hope you're not peeved Avi. These are just perspectives, suggestions and reviews. When I get negative reviews on my books, I try to look at the merit of criticism, objectively, and then see if any of it can help and improve the next book. If you want to ignore the perspectives from people and think the D-4 was a success, then ok... keep doing what you're doing. That's cool.

I don't think any of us authors/traders are trying to slag the event. We want it to be a better event that we attend next time.

-Bobby.N
www.bobbyn.com

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Avi said...

No, I'm not peeved.
Now that you've elaborated your points, they're actually good ones. Before, with the minimal explanation, they just seemed like petty bitching, which is basically the level I dropped to and I apologise for it.

Marketing: The marketing side of things is always the hardest bridge to gap. The grass roots stuff was lacking this year... Clearly I'm incapable of getting this one done on my own, as my own reach is limited. Other than web banners, are there any other ideas?


Venue: Moving the venue elsewhere can't be done unless things get a lot more expensive for people attending.
ACMI/FedSquare is $4,000... per hour. Writers festivals & Zine fairs get them through grant processes which I've yet to get in on.

Name: This discussion came up during the first and second years. No one liked any of the names that each other came up with, except for the ones that were already well established American events, which would make it impossible to find locally if people looked online, with the one exception of "conSEQUENCE".

Bobby.N said...

The University is pretty good Avi. Fantastic and clean venue. Top notch. Getting people to it is the problem.

At the venue:

- Map/Sign at front directing people up the stairs? (there's no signage at event... no-one would even know it was on if they walked past.)


Prior event:

- Posters at University cafeterias, magazines, and train stations.

- Banners on forums, attendees' websites, blogs, etc. (also University's website in 'news' area.)

- Ask small radio shows (online & analogue) that promote it in a small soundbite.

- Finally, do the whole online thing of - Facebook, etc. (This shouldn't be the primary focus though as these new 'quick' technologies are very transient. People look & forget quickly.)

.... these are just some ideas, but I'm no expert at these things. Just throwing up ideas.

Anyway, I'd suggest opening a discussion on PF or somewhere to gauge more ideas and then filter those.

-Bobby.N
www.bobbyn.com

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Trev Wood said...

I think I had a little swipe at the event on Facebook in part because we got a little ragged on for leaving and not coming to the after-party and with no funds I wasn't in the mood. So things I said on Facebook i'd apologise for to Avi. No idea what i said but it was said without deliberate consideration and thus probably not constructive.

I'll now try and address the points I can comment on.

venue while it's a little out of the way it's probably no less inclusive than the showgrounds and there's a convenient train station nearby. So don't worry about moving the venue, i don't think.

pre-event promotion The web banners would have been great, I had every intention of linking to the site as well earlier but this years site felt a little half finished and so kept holding off thinking the proper site would be a better impression. I like Bobby's suggestion of making a banner link a requirement of registering a table. There'd be 2 or 3 people without websites but the majority of your traders would have sites giving you 20-30 links immediately. Printing and the real world things are tough, I wish I had answers for that. The cards were great to hand out at Supanova though so that was a great idea.
Also I said this on Facebook but charge the traders. I know it's admirable to not charge anything but an extra 10 dollars from the non-premium people doesn't really hurt them much but it may reduce the cost of a premium table. At $70 rather than $100 those people may feel a little better if they made a loss. Or if you keep the premium tables at $100 you've increased your advertising budget.

Also it may not hurt contacting uni or tafe PR courses. The students in those things often have to come up with a PR plan for a company or event, they might as well be doing it for real and claim some of the credit if they help increase attendance. Sawbones had a friend doing PR and we got multiple interviews and a really successful launch out of it.

On site promotion
The only thing I want to say about this was since Doujicon this year had such a poor brand recognition (the website didn't have the Octopus on it) I think the really good work the volunteers did with putting up pointer signs and spraying the paths were wasted because the logos didn't mean anything to someone looking for Doujicon. Text based option maybe next time?

Name Sure some of the names suggested may cause confusion but surely adding Melbourne in front of Small Press Expo or Comics Art Festival would be a nice delineation in web searches?

Volunteers Wow this is the hard one. I was in the same boat as Bobby. I'd rather keep my head down and work on some quality content than put my hand up and let you down Avi. It sounds as if others didn't do that, committing more than they could deliver. There's no solution for that other than noting who let you down and politely decline their offer next year. For the workshops I'll suggest actively seeking out specific people to talk on specific topics. I think it's a bit daunting and vague being asked to run a workshop about anything and faced with that people will think of nothing but ask Bobby to specifically to talk on scanning an image ready for digital clean up and his workshop will be impressive.

All in all even despite the poor turnout on the weekend I'm STILL positive about what Doujicon can be, I think with limited resources Avi did a great job.