Tuesday, February 6, 2007

A Little Con-fusion

In response to my recent review of my trip to Phoenix, Arizona for Cactus Comicon, curious reader Rick asks:
I'm not a con-goer, so can I ask a silly question? Why do you go? Do they pay you? Do you have something to sell at your table? I understand that con sketches can be lucrative for illustrators, but I'm not sure why the writers give up their weekends. ("C'mon, please? Just a little character sketch? Y'know, just 300 words?" "Oh, all right. 'Robin held his breath as he gaped at the mysterious costumed figure. It reminded him of the first time he had encountered...'")
Actually, there are a lot of reasons I go to conventions. As a rule, I only go when my expenses, travel, hotel, and the like, are being paid for by the con. When they give me a table to sit behind between panels, I usually bring along copies of some of my old scripts to sell for pocket money. Autographs I do for free. Unless, of course, as has sometimes been the case, somebody comes up with literally hundreds of my books they expect me to sign. At that point, after a certain number of free autographs, I charge for the rest. But I really don't go to conventions to make money. I go to connect with my audience, to get feedback from the folks who actually buy my books, to get a feel for what's going on out there in Comic Book Reader Land.

I go to conventions because that's where I belong, that's where I came from.

Back in 1964, just weeks out of my mother's womb, I helped organize the very first comic book convention alongside fellow fans Ron Fradkin and Bernie Bubnis. I am in fact, he humbly states, the guy who coined the word ComiCon.

The convention was held in downtown New York City, at (I think) the Workman's Circle Center, a building long since carried away piece by piece by the cockroaches who overran the place. The first membership was sold to my old friend and now bestselling fantasy author George R.R. Martin. The invited guests included Lone Ranger newspaper strip artist Tom Gill, Stan Lee's personal secretary, Fabulous Flo Steinberg, and some artist guy named Steve Ditko. For reasons I honestly no longer even remember, I was excluded from the committee a few weeks before the con, though I showed up and elbowed my way in anyway. Nothing was going to stop me from seeing what my efforts had wrought. The entire convention was one day long, but it was clearly an idea whose time had come.

The following year, the con was organized by Dave Kaler, then John Benson, then the late Phil Seuling chaired it for a number of years. I have been to Lord alone knows how many other comic book conventions around the country since. I went to every NY convention while I lived there, and I haven't missed a San Diego Comic Con since the third or fourth. I just love the excitement, the energy, and the overwhelming sense of community I get at conventions.

I go to conventions because they're fun, Rick, and because it's always nice to come home again.


Kevin Standlee said...

Good for you! I can understand why, in general, if you have to travel to a convention these days, you want your travel expenses paid. (That's why I didn't ask you if you wanted to be a panelist for Match Game at BayCon or Westercon up in the Bay Area.) But you have not forgotten your roots as a fan. "I go to conventions because they're fun" is one of the best answers I've ever seen to the question.

As you know, there are large numbers of people out there (I'm one of them) putting in vast amounts of unpaid volunteer time to organize these events. From time to time I've encountered people who assume that we must be "raking it in under the table," because they'd never do all that work just because it's a hobby. As far as they're concerned, nobody would ever do anything, even things they enjoy doing, unless they were Getting Paid.

Len Wein said...

I agree completely, Kevin. Sort of sad, isn't it?