Salt Lake Comic Con… Oh how I want to love you…. the show review.

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Salt Lake City’s 2nd Annual Comic Con has come and gone.   As I decompress and enjoy a quiet moment eating macaroni salad and hanging out with my family, who really just want to sit next me, I find myself thinking about our incredible adventure. There were a lot of things that were enjoyable about the show, but there are also many things that need to be addressed and fixed to make this show … an incredible show.

After 13 years of exhibiting at shows (about 10 to 12) a year, I have seen shows that have been an incredible adventure, shows that have been so-so, and some that well, they join the ranks of the show that will not be named.

So what makes a show a success? Well if you read what some shows say about themselves it’s all about the numbers? Or what a celeb might say- yet – that’s not really true. If you really want to get a vibe of show, talk to the exhibitors. Look at the vendor list. Who has table space? What many cons do not realize is that vendors talk and wield a lot of influence to other vendors. Yet we will talk about that in a moment.

Understanding that what makes a show successful is truly the overall experience that a vendor has, that an attendee has, and that the organizers of the con have. If one or two are out of balance it creates a show that will struggle until it finds balance.  Also what makes a show successful is how they bill themselves. Many shows on the west coast want to be San Diego Comic Con. That’s what they want to be, they want huge inflated attendance numbers, lots of celebs (which is ok) and to be billed as the best show in the west. I think that they are missing the point of what a con is and how to make a con grow to be a fantastic show that allows all 3 aspects (vendor, attendee, and con runners) to have an enjoyable aspect. In fact my first suggestion is to focus not on being San Diego, or competing against SDCC, or anything to do with SDCC or another con, and focus on being the most incredible experience for your community. They you will create a truly incredible show.

Phoenix, Emerald City, and Tucson understand this principal. Their shows are geared to their community, they talk with each other, they talk to their vendors and they make sure the experience for the attendee is as smooth as possible.  Their shows are not about them, but about creating an experience and though they are not perfect, they are succeeding.

So let’s break down the show. Remember – I am not dogging the show, I am just talking about observations, things that can be approved on and things that worked well. I am actually talking to exhibitors. They want to know, because there is a vibe about SLCC, if it will be worth their time. I have always hoped for another show in the Midwest. I think Salt Lake is perfect for it actually.

There are a lot of great people there. They were kind, many were shell shocked (first con experience) and they seemed to enjoy themselves for the most part. Having a very strong show in the fall, would be ideal for artist and exhibitors. Especially an art heavy show (with good art). There several smaller shows, but not one that helps cover some of the slowest times for artists. SLCC has that possibility.  If we could get one or two more – that would be awesome and there are some shows out there that are working on it. So what happened – what was good and what… well needs to be addressed.

the Good-

The people. I love the people. When I go a show, I enjoy the interaction. I understand that I am there for them – not for me. My whole goal is to make sure the attendees that visit my booth have an incredible experience. Because of that- that benefits us.

Like I said the people were awesome.

Artist alley was in the front- I actually liked that. It’s the first thing people see as they walk in –

kabobs – ok call me silly- but at $3 a kabob, it was quick and easy meal that didn’t break the bank.

The con organizers offering free passes to those that couldn’t get in Thursday. Thursday was a rough day it seemed for everyone. The line management was out of control. It was quite frustrating, yet the organizers figured it out and Friday and sat went very smooth.

A lot of people there, many for the first time, and many looked very overwhelmed.

Loading in and out- for us was awesome. Easiest load in and load out experience ever.

The cosplay was fantastic. I must say that is what I love about the shows… It’s like Halloween for three days, but the costumes are soooo much better.

Having the tax people there to get you the right forms! Huge plus for us out-of-state vendors. Made it very nice.

the Bad

I really want this con to be successful – but there were some issues that really need to be addressed. They actually in the long run, can be pretty disastrous if they are not looked into.  This is not to make the show look bad- I had a good time, but there were other vendors (veteran vendors) that had a miserable time.

The hall layout was weird- It was a shape of an L- Now that’s not the fault of the organizers. Most conventions have no control over the hall space they are given at their local convention hall. What Organizers do have control over is the layout. There were many dead zones created with the layout. Huge dead-zones. Long walkways don’t work with t-bone sections. It messes with flow.

Phoenix and Emerald solved this problem and if more cons looked at their layout to improve theirs it would completely change their shows for the better. They grid it. Every booth is a corner at those shows. Salt Lake struggles here and the layout was odd and confusing. It did not help that there was a wrestling match going on in the middle of the hall. If that had been a little more off to the side it would have allowed for a lot easier flow between the two sides of the hall.

Lack of respect towards premium booths by the show. One vendor paid for two corner spots (a huge chunk of change) and they were made to believe that they would have good visibility and an aisle. They did until the organizers placed and Air Force tractor trailer right in front of their booth. Creating only a 5 foot walk and completely blocking off there booth to the public, effectively shutting them down at the show. No-one could find them and they do some most incredible work. There were other vendors blocked out by other things as well. The wrestling made it hard for the vendors in front of it trying to talk over the announcer and the noise. It wasn’t a good experience. (We were not in that group either).

A lot of vendors were not media, comic, publishers, or artist… this is a problem, when insurance people and non-comic con vendors fill your show. The show becomes a bazaar and it’s not what the fans came to see. They can buy insurance somewhere else… the con floor space needs to be about comics, and media… especially if the show bills it’s self as a comic con. Best Buy? Really?

Several empty booths. This is not a good sign either. They need to sweeten the deal to publishers and creators… they are a lot cheaper than actors :).

Beer- ok this is touchy one… I don’t care if people drink, but open containers on the floor of a hall are a recipe for disaster. I have only been to 3 shows that have had alcohol on the floor.  New Mexico, APE and, I’m a little surprised… Salt Lake. The reason I don’t like booze on the floor is this- while in New Mexico someone dropped a 44 oz in front of the booth and the area smelled like stale beer for the rest of the day. At SLCC someone dropped an open beer all over a $400 original painting at my friends booth and the just walked off, leaving them with a ruined painting and out $400. That’s why I’m not a fan of drinking on the floor.

Panel information, aps and information in general. I understand they wanted to get people to use their app to find panels, but people just don’t. I was on two awesome panels. The problem was when trying to find my panels, we went to the guide to find them. PLEASE PRINT IN THE PROGRAM NEXT TO THE PANEL THE PANEL ROOMS AND THE TIMES AND DATES WHERE PANELS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE!!!!!! It made it really hard to get to our spots on time.

When I went to exhibitor information for important information- (twice) they shrugged and said they had no idea.

Security at the end. San Diego has this down to a t- Salt lake I would suggest to take notes. They clear the hall with their security. They start in the back and work their way to the front one aisle at a time. It’s the best way to do it. Asking people to politely leave, doesn’t work.

DJ’s next to vendor booths. They make it hard if not impossible for the vendor to interact. I know of several vendors that struggled here.

Lack of exhibitor information… this was frustrating-

the Weird Ok there are always a few things that I find weird.

Wrestling… I don’t know, a few cons have done it but I find them more as a distraction.

The overhead system asking for a licensed dentist in the house… Must have been due to the wrestling?

The overhead system asking for all lost children to go to the information desk… there seemed to be a lot of lost children.

Overall Feelings…

I enjoyed the experience at the show. My show was better than many of the vendors. This show is experience serious growing pains. Yet I believe the organizers want it to work. I saw that with the line issues on Thursday. They were on the ball. They tried really hard to make it up to the attendees. I applaud them for that.  They also seemed to want it to be fun for everyone.

I hope they reach out to exhibitors more especially the exhibitors that had the Air Force Trailer parked in front of their booth. They need to make that one right.

The main this is just the focus is a little off. Stop trying to be SDCC, stop focusing on numbers at the moment (focus a little on them) but don’t make that the priority, don’t be a comikaze (ugh), just focus on being a great show for your community. If you do that – if you make the vendors feel important as well, and organize the floor better so that it generates flow and not dead zone or blockages, you will have an incredible show.

I did enjoy myself. Like I said- I don’t expect a 2 year show to be like a 40 or 13 year show. There is a reason those shows are doing what they are doing. They figured out the balance of exhibitor, attendee and con…

Would I do the show again? Yeah, I would do it. I know what to expect and like I said I really really want to love and see this show be successful. It has a lot of potential and I look forward to what tweaks they will make.

Keep creating –

Keep adventuring and here’s to stronger show in the future.

trav-

17 Comments

Rhonda » 15 Sep 2014 » Reply

My kids and I were thrilled to see your booth and your work (and they were double thrilled to get their sketches – the dancing TARDIS and Pikachu eating marshmallows). I really like hearing what you have to say as a vendor 1 and I 100% agree about putting times and room numbers next to the classes in the paper program. The phone app kept killing my battery and I am a bit old school and would have loved to just use the lovely books they printed for us. I also love the idea of a space specifically for family friendly/oriented art… My kids are no longer scared of zombies, and I try to teach them to be very accepting of their bodies, but some of the sexy stuff I just kind of whistled as we went past…

One thing I do want to say, as an attendee, that you did exactly right – make the kids feel important! I spent more money at your booth than at any other location, because you had art they appreciated, and you paid attention to them! I wasn't really at the con to spend money on myself, I was there to give them a good experience, and the artists I patronized at the show all made my kids feel welcome. Many of the other booths either ignored my kids or stared at them if they lingered too long – I found that off putting, and walked away from some lovely art.

Mark Harmon » 9 Sep 2014 » Reply

Oh man, I agree so much with all of this. I was in Artist Alley right across from the X96 radio station booth. It was LOUD. And just down the way from them was another booth (the one with the car?) blaring music AT THE SAME TIME! Not a fun thing to listen to all day long.

My biggest issue that you didn't address was the Artist Alley setup. All of the tables were pushed together. There was NO SPACE in between the tables! For the artists in the middle of the aisle, they had to walk behind everyone else just to get out. Ridiculous. And since there wasn't any space in between tables everyone's work blended together. You couldn't tell where one artists' work ended and another begins. Denver Comic Con's Artist Alley is amazing. It's huge and open with like 2 feet of space in between each table. Every artist has their own identity and space. Also, Denver's walkways are WIDE in Artist Alley. There is plenty of room for people to be stopped at a table and to walk by. But, I understand if that's a venue/building limitation. But, you can always make Artist Alley smaller, or have less people in it in order to make it more spread out.

Also, the curtains everywhere drive me crazy! Sure, it's nice to have a place to hang your work. I get it. But, it creates a claustrophobic environment and blocks off the view. Again, Denver Comic Con is awesome in this regard. There are no curtains anywhere, so you can see across the entire convention. It makes it look open and easy to breath. Also, makes for less lost children if you can see everywhere. 😛

I want SLCC to succeed because it's a great con AND it's really close to where I live. Low travel and zero hotel costs are nice. 🙂

mysocalledchaos » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

I agree with you on most of it! I love having the beer there BUT I can 100% see where that is a problem with art and other goods out. Maybe having a designated area for drinking-or saying none in Artist's alley or something. Sad about that guys booth, the flow in the place was horrible and yeah-wrestling was weird. I also 100% agree on the insurance and stuff. I felt like there were a lot of booths like that this time and it pulls away from the experience.

I heard the dentist thing too-so weird!

Also a map that accurately tells where each booth is would be good. I looked for Ben Hansens booth so many times and when I asked Information they had no idea… They took a guess, a wrong guess, and sent us on another goose chase.

Elizabeth » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

This was a great write up and as a vendor/artist (we chose to upgrade to a corner booth for more space and easy entry/exit as I am 8 months pregnant and dont fit behind tables that well anymore) I can agree with most all of your points. I do find in interesting though that you mention PCC as a show they should look to but you have a problem with non-con related booths. PCC is most definitely guilty of this as much as SLCC is and as someone who was stuck next to the Cox Communications booth this past year I can completely agree that most conventions need to move to a juryed artist alley and vendor hall. To have a 300 person waiting list for a show and have that floor full of non industry related booths is unacceptable.

Erin » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

I am wrong, the call for a dentist wasn't for the person who had the seizure. It was for guest COLIN BAKER who broke his tooth on a chocolate covered blueberry! The story is on his Twitter.

Jessica Douglas » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

I was one of the vendors next to the wrestling booth. When they would start up? (which was every hour for half hour long sessions), the noise was so deafening that we actually could not be heard even if we yelled at the top of our lungs. It became a thing where the wrestlers would start up, our aisle would clear of any and all buyers, and it would become the secondary lane for people trying to get across the con to another area (since when the wrestlers started up, that area became impassable as a walkway also).

So that means for literally 50% of the con, we were unable to sell.

Also the vendors over by the wrestlers? Half of those were artists who were told that they could not buy artist's alley space becuase they had 3d elements (sculptures, jewelry, bookmarks, etc), and those booths cost a little more than double what the artist's alley booths cost. But when you walked the artist's alley? They didn't check the vendors, so it was full of jewelry, sculptures, etc. etc. Everything that we had to pay double, for the same amount of space, to be able to show.

I did about what I would for a con of 2 thousand people, not over 100 thousand. And it's not that people didn't have money. It's that the ability to sell was just taken out of our hands time and time again. Between the lack of competence in booth set up (we had to ask for chairs, ask for trash cans, ask for signs, and then were otld that it wasn't actually part of our contract to have those, even though it was), and the vendors being randomly shuffled around to other booths with no prior warning, set up alone was a migraine inducing disaster. I'm getting flooded with emails from fans who *could not find me* because they were directed to the artist's alley, when we were by the wrestling ring.

I could go on, but yeah. It was terrible.

Tyler » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

You've actually highlighted a number of things I found irritating as an attendee; The layout was difficult to navigate and didn't flow, the non-con vendors were irritating, etc.
The con organizers seem to be fairly receptive to constructive criticism, so I'm expecting them to make several improvements for next year.
It was great to see you, and please come back next year!

Erin » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

The call for the dentist, I believe, was due to a someone having a seizure and face planting into the floor. This happened across from the booth I was volunteering at. A few minutes after the paramedics wheeled him away the call for a dentist was made on the overhead. I believe the two are related.

@TNickPerkins » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

Travis, it was great to finally meet you in person at SLCC! This was my first time tabling at any con. I am a local, and the cost of a table in Artist Alley made it impossible not to finally make the leap. I didn't know what to expect, and have nothing to compare it to, but overall my experience was tremendously positive. The energy among the attendees and vendors was so palpable.

I, as well, hope I get asked for some feedback. I wish there was either a dedicated row in Artist Alley (or a separate artist's row set in the Kids Con section) for family-friendly material. The Artist Alley tables also made it extremely hard to get in and out. I've heard other cons leave some space between each table, which would have really been nice.

Either way, there's no way I'm not signing up to table at the next one in April. I made enough money to make it worth a return trip, and I was able to gather some great ideas to implement next time.

Again, I was glad to meet you, and appreciate the awesome sketch in my Bean book!

L.J. » 8 Sep 2014 » Reply

Well said. We attended this weekend and we also go to the Denver Comic Con. Even though the one in Denver is only a year older there is a huge difference in the layout and atmosphere. While we do enjoy what they are trying to accomplish in Salt lake, we are able to see and do more when we go to Denver. We too are hoping that Salt lake will improve and get things to run more smoothly. The toughest part was on the last day when there were 300 screaming teenagers ( not quite sure why guess I am to old ) at the same time the fire alarm was going off. But we will be back again next year with the hopes that they get better each time

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