I’m pretty sure it’s just an artist thing: no matter how much time we have before a deadline, the real work doesn’t happen until it’s the last minute.
So it was with preparations for the 2018 edition of Salem, Oregon’s Cherry City Comic Con. Two weeks out and I was feverishly preparing new art, my brain a super-annoying art-director constantly coming up with new ideas and pointing me every which way except in a productive direction. It was at this point that my crazy train jumped the tracks when news quickly spread throughout various online artist alley communities about Cherry City CC being canceled.
In a video posted on the ‘con’s Facebook page, the show owner, John Roach, announced that he was canceling the event, citing too-little help and too much work taking a toll on his personal life. This quickly caused a bit of a turmoil as he implied that not everyone would get a refund.
Now, this is kind of a big deal: those of us in the Artist Alleys are making a not-insignificant investment of time and money to attend comic cons; some travel from out of state and book hotels rooms which can be difficult to cancel. The merest hint of being left “holding the bag” is enough to instill a little panic and outrage. Initially, I didn’t know what to do— do I join the chorus of artists demanding their money back? Do I wait and see? What’s going to happen? How does this work? I’ve read far too many horror stories about ‘cons sinking at the last minute and taking all the money with them…
Still being new to the life of an Artist Alley vendor, I was still busy flipping and flopping on my plans when, maybe 24 hours later, Mr. Roach was back on Facebook with another video, this time announcing the show was back on. I don’t know the full details, beyond what John mentioned in his video, but it seems that a group of dedicated individuals rallied and pitched in to help the show proceed.
This was… good news? I supposed that at the very least I’d have a chance of getting my money back via sales. But I was greatly concerned about what this might do to attendance. There were already vendors proclaiming that they were canceling and were going to ask for a refund. A few others had apparently decided to cut their losses by canceling travel plans to Salem and absorbing the cost of the Artist Alley table fee! My mind was busy turning this over and over: How many people heard about the cancellation but not about the UN-cancellation? How many attendees won’t show up? How many Artist Alley vendors won’t be there? Sure… a rising tide lifts all ships but what about rats leaving a sinking ship? (Yeah, I know, terrible. But… the “Artist Brain” can be a jerk.)
Whatever. My work had an inertia of its own so I continued with my preparations for the coming show.
The weekend of Cherry City Comic Con arrived and it was bright and sunny. I wheeled my cart into the Oregon State Fair Expo Center and received my table assignment. I had been “upgraded” to a corner space (two tables!!) due to all the vacancies in my area. In a space that was designed to accommodate eight vendors… there were only four. The Expo floor was bustling with activity but the empty tables in Artist Alley were glaringly obvious.
Eventually, it was “Go Time” and the convention officially opened to the public. At this point I wasn’t sure what to expect: Would anybody show up? Would we be mobbed by crowds grateful that the convention was still on? Attendance wound up being somewhere in the middle with a trickle of folks wandering the aisles. Like a sign from Odin’s Son himself, the power cut out about an hour into the show and stayed out for about two hours. The visitors and
vendors alike were game and nothing much changed save for the number of people perusing tables of merch with the aid of their phone’s flashlights. Eventually, the power and lights returned to a roar of approval and applause. The day progressed without further drama and it looked like I might make back my table fee if traffic on Sunday stayed the same.
If anything the already scarce foot-traffic was maybe half what it was on Saturday. Some artists moved to close up ranks in the Alley. I didn’t make a single sale and my hopes of at least making table didn’t materialize. But that’s okay because like any artist in Artist Alley knows– when you’re not selling your art, you’re making your art. So I made a fair bit of art at my table on Sunday.
During the lulls in foot traffic, I ventured down the aisles (keeping my table in sight!) and spoke with my neighboring vendors and a few others throughout the Alley. Everyone, almost without fail, described the convention floor Sunday as a “ghost town.” The high point of the day was a visitor in one of those inflatable T-rex suits scaling the climbing wall and ringing the bell. (I don’t know what it is about those T-rex suits– put one on and almost anything one does is comedy gold.)
Eventually, it was all over, with many vendors starting to pack well before the formal close of the convention. I made one final trip around the Alley to say goodbyes and check on future convention plans and asked how the weekend went: as seems to be the case with selling one’s own art at conventions these things are somewhat unpredictable. A few artists recovered their costs and made a modest profit, others just made “table” and a few lost money. Considering the uncertainty just a couple of weeks ago and the possibility of not getting any money back, the prevailing attitude was “Hey, it coulda been worse!”
Overall, among the vendors, there is a disappointment with Cherry City Comic Con. It has the potential to be decent little ‘con. Attend a large convention and you’ll understand immediately the appeal of a smaller event: less hustle and bustle and a more “intimate” setting where you can take time to engage with visitors to your table in general geeky conversation. The visitors that I spoke with were enthusiastic enough and glad to have a comic con close to home. And the cosplayers were certainly equal to those at a larger convention. However, while Cherry City has its core of supporters, the event itself struggles with a lack of promotion and local awareness. I certainly hope that the organizers can pull it together for 2019 and the event can finally leave its troubles behind and take its place among Oregon’s worthy comic cons. We will see…