This week many comic book fans and industry-type folk have only one thing on their minds, which of course is New York Comic Con. The sights, the talent, the celebrities, the exclusives…and tons of parties! But increasingly, especially in the current economic environment, another type of comic convention has been picking up steam — the local show. We’re not just talking “local” as in one located in a major city, but truly local, serving the fans of a particular geographic area. Here is a quick snapshot of one such event, which happened last weekend in the Tioga Downs Casino in upstate New York: River Road Expo.
River Road Expo guest of honor Steve Ellis
Featuring a mix of comic book talent, retailers, and local craftspeople, River Road Expo was a family-friendly event that brought out both fans and the merely curious. Con organizer Jared Aiosa, who also runs the Heroes Your Mom Threw Out comic shop in nearby Elmira, brought together a network of artists including Guest Of Honor Steve Ellis (whose work most recently has graced AMC’s “Walking Dead” video game), DC Comics artist Aaron Kuder, “Crow” artist Kevin Colden, and “Tails” creator Ethan Young.
An “extreme perspective” shot of “New Guardians” and “Batman Inc.” artist Aaron Kuder
In an industry that can be notoriously competitive and tough to break into/stay in, the sort of support system a smaller show can bring to both established and new talent can’t be overstated. To my mind, these support systems are essential: a way to share information, give feedback and kudos, and open up readers to try new comics. For instance, when I visited Aaron Kuder’s booth, he also directed me to check out the work of his con “neighbor,” Ethan Young; I then started talking to Young, flipped through the collected edition of his webcomic “Tails,” and made a purchase. At a group dinner after the show, comic veterans gave advice to relatively newer talents on how to promote their work more effectively and what publishers are hiring. Without this sort of network — who often meet up at the same shows — it is easy to feel “alone” out there.
An F/X makeup booth lets attendees look like the living dead
One artist at the show made the point to me that at San Diego Comic Con or NYCC, the sheer size of the conventions often “swallow” up individual talent, unless connected to a big publisher. But a show like River Road has an extremely personal touch, with local fans making it a point to get out to each show and buy all the latest work of the con “regulars.” The strong sense of community such shows provide bestows an extra “value” to the comics and related merchandise being sold by the creators. And, to cut to the chase: comic book talent can end up making a lot of $ at these shows for exactly that reason.
“Crow” artist Kevin Colden
The venue itself, Tioga Downs, was very clean, spacious, and modern, with a very polite and attentive staff: no dreary church basement or sketchy hotel space here! And the choice of venue made all the difference in encouraging not just hardcore fans but entire families to attend. To my mind, these “micro-economies” of local shows/retailers/venues/talent are the key building-blocks in keeping the industry afloat — creating an atmosphere of infectious enthusiasm for Comics.
“Batgirl” gets judged in the costume contest
So while I heartily encourage you to attend New York Comic Con this year, as I will, also be sure to check out the local comic conventions and related events in your own backyard as well. Support those local retailers, and get to know that local talent. If you ever wanted to really feel a part of the excitement of actually being in the comic industry, this is definitely your chance!
Jared Aiosa’s next convention is Hero Bot Con, on October 27 in Elmira, NY: guests include Marc Silvestri, Jamal Igle, Steve Ellis, Ron Marz, Roger Stern, and more.