By Emma Regan and Jordan Maxwell Ridgway
Comic Conventions are often seen as the gateway to ‘nerd heaven,’ with attendees dressing in their most creative cosplay outfits, a chance to meet actors who’ve contributed to pop culture, companies selling exclusive merchandise and collectables and, of course, comic books.
Comic conventions have always been a pivotal event for aspiring authors and cartoonists to attend, offering multiple benefits for their publishing journey. Yet the past two years have been extremely difficult for all aspects of the community – especially the independent artists that rely on comic cons as a platform for their work and to help them gain an audience. That is finally changing as more comic conventions than ever are taking place for the first time since before the pandemic.
Comic cons are the traditional place to launch new authors/cartoonists and their work into a more public domain. They provide major benefits, not only to the independent authors and their book sales, but also to the publishing industry as well. Comic cons help provide awareness of the industry, help connect creators to other creators/publishers and provide psychological health benefits through interactions with fellow peers. The pandemic made it impossible for comic conventions to take place, meaning authors missed out on the chance to expand their audience and be able to live their dreams. The convention world is only just starting up again, with in-person events happening for the first time without any restrictions, and creators are thriving once more by sharing their work.
Authors and cartoonists have always been invited to comic conventions. Ray Bradbury attended the very first convention in 1939 at WorldCon, which still takes place to this day. He also attended the first San Diego Comic Con, which is now the largest comic con in the world. Toronto Arts Festival, MCM Comic Con and FanExpo are some other internationally-acclaimed conventions that have gathered huge crowds throughout the years and have helped multiple authors launch their work into the world.
While there are now websites and apps such as Tapas and Webtoon that can promote upcoming cartoonists' work, being able to display their work in places such as the Artist Alley at MCM London Comic Con, the biggest artist gathering in Europe, gives them the opportunity to discuss their work with other attendees and showcase their work to a much broader audience. It can give them an opportunity to make connections with a publishing house or continue to fund their self-publishing materials. Some creators might have already published one or two of their works but prefer to visit comic cons to promote their work rather than going through corporate streams.
It’s plain to see the impact the pandemic has had on the comic industry – just take this article from Publishers Weekly on the cancellation of the Sandiego Comic Con in 2020 as an example. Doubtless the restrictions all over the world forced creatives in this industry to come up with inventive ways to stay connected to fans and try to gain some kind of revenue. Whilst web sales grew astronomically, some artists also turned to the selling of prints, t-shirts and even livestreaming the creation of their work on social media. As the world seems to open up further, the return of the convention must be a welcome buzz to fans and artists alike.
It should be said that though it may not feel like it, there is a difference between reading in print to reading digitally. It’s been suggested that digital reading promotes multitasking skills whilst reading in print helps develop deeper understanding, in turn helping the forming of new ideas. Comics are important to this concept as a potential combination of these two ways of reading, or a “bi-literacy,” through the simultaneous analysis of both images and texts combined, as well as the layout of panels.
It’s worth noting the importance of comics and graphic novels in our culture today, a medium that has crossed into multiple art forms in society. Not only have comic-based stories garnered huge success in film and TV, the benefits of reading comics is also being reassessed in education. A blog from the Dublin City council has discussed that children who insisted they hated reading have expressed a passion for reading comic books. The combination of texts and images not only proves less intimidating but helps develop the valuable skill of inference from images, or “reading between the lines.” American Born Chinese has been cited as a successful example.
There was a time when comic books weren’t thought of as “real reading.” It’s incredibly exciting to not only see growing awareness that this is not the case, but the return of an event where they can be celebrated and perhaps inspire new fans too.
Keep an eye out this summer for upcoming conventions such as the London Comic Mart this June and the London Film and Comic Con (also known as YALC, Young Adult Literature Convention) and St Albans Comic-Con both this July. And if you’ve already got your summer plans booked, fear not because there are more events happening later this year.