ECCC: A Con with No Character
I’ve been hearing from many creators that the Emerald City Comic Convention is one of the last good “comic” conventions to grace the Pacific Northwest, that it still had “character.” On this, the 10th Annual ECCC, the only real characters flitting about were fictional: two designated convention superheroes, Emerald City Crusader and Crusaderette. If those names were any indication of how unique and how filled with character this “comic” convention was supposed to be, Seattle is in a world of hurt.
Having attended comic conventions for twenty-three years as a professional illustrator both in small press comics and award-nominated novels, as well as a fangirl (when such a title banished you into the dark lonely chasms of single life and eternal social damnation), I have some insight into the desire and necessity for comic publishing as well as the essential need to promote, inform and educate its sub-culture and the general public concerning comics as an art form and cultural mythos. Such local conventions, like ECCC, were originally utilized to showcase each U.S. and international region’s approach to the comic arts.
You heard me correctly: local and international. One must remember that the world’s largest comic convention is not, in fact, in San Diego, but in Angoulême, France. ECCC had originally focused on that unique Seattle flavor of independent publishers, local small press and big name artists, along with its strong Pacific Rim manga following in its earlier days while housed in its smaller, yet infinitely brighter and more intuitively laid out venue, the Seahawks Exhibition Center. ECCC 10 has taken the “comic” out of comic con and turned itself into a pop-culture scavenger hunt with an after party of costumed tarts. Manga, as opposed to anime and gaming, has been cast off by ECCC for Sakura-Con to pick up the pieces. (Bravo, Sakura-Con, for grabbing the ball and running with it.)
When I entered the Washington State Convention Center on Saturday, the busiest of days, it took four security staffers, one unrelated Ticket Counter and approximately fifteen minutes to discover the room to acquire tickets. Though The Seattle Star wasn’t provided coveted press passes, we were informed that we could pay for entry and not to speak or schedule any interviews with any of the artists or guests in venue. Good to know, because who really wishes to speak about art, culture, storytelling, styles and philosophies with comic artists anyway?
The first thing that could be heard even before you run the ribbon gauntlet for “comic” convention tickets was the Jay and Silent Bob Get Old podcast in progress (price: additional $20 – $30). Of the five-minute snippet that could be heard, not one word involved any mention of comic conventions, Kevin Smith’s graphic novel writings or even a brief reference to Chasing Amy.
This is a comic convention, correct?
After purchasing said tickets and getting a program and map, this fangirl and Mr. Phil Steyh, average comic fan and twice-christened comic convention attendee, reviewed the feature guest list and bore witness to the accompanying slough of Star Trek Red Shirts. At that moment, we realized we had walked into what seemed like a hodgepodge of pop culture merchandisers, sci-fi and cartoon celebrities and cosplayers. Upon referencing his map, my companion queried, “Where are the comics? Somewhere in here must be the graphic novels and comics artists.”
“Where is Artists’ Alley?” I rejoined.
Upon closer scrutiny, the map had outlined a designated area in green on the western section of the main floor near the back as Artists’ Alley. Gazing over to see the narrow paths blocked with humanity, either looking equally confused at the program book or negotiating deals with merchants for a coveted set of Star Wars action figures, we decided to take the scenic route. Shaking our heads, we worked our way east, hugging the wall as though walking through a maze attempting to avoid the throng of fans, their eyes glazed over in unnecessary bewilderment in the morass of extra-sensory overload.
“I want a shirt. Where can I find a comic shirt?” my wingman queried.
Good question. Not a book, a shirt. He had already given up on locating art half way down the second row. So had I, for that matter. We decided we needed a better plan. We set ourselves four goals:
- Find a unique comic t-shirt to purchase;
- Attend a comics panel;
- Find my friend and fellow artist, Ron McCain, Jr., to chat up, in apparent defiance of ECCC policy;
We struck out three out of four times.
We wandered in frustration through the room looking for a t-shirt for my companion. There were several major shirt merchants and even more small merchandise retailers. Yet we could find nothing to his liking. For me, luckily, we bumped into a corset booth (don’t ask) and the fangirl in me was seduced into purchasing a high quality corset. One might as well momentarily join the crowd as a hypocrite. It seemed to be the theme of the day: Come to the comic con and please purchase no comics.
We couldn’t get into any panel, at all, comic or otherwise. In fact, there was an average of two comic panels per hour. The rest were television or general media. After passing a yelling session/panel with the voice over artists from Pinky and The Brain, we eventually queued up for the Jhonen Vasquez panel. Once the staff turned people away, Castiel, a cosplayer, informed me that this was the third panel she had been turned away from. I asked her “How’d you know about it?”
“The only reason I knew about this panel was because my friend in San Francisco texted me about it 10 minutes ago,” she said.
When I asked if there was anything that might have helped, Castiel replied, “I wish they had an app to track and remind you of everything. Last year Sakura-Con started using one. You can schedule text reminders of things coming up that you wanna see.”
Score two for Sakura-Con.
We eventually found some comics artists, both in “Artists’ Alley” as well as scattered in undesignated areas which defied the map. Upon discovering the “Small Press” section, my friend Ron McCain, Jr. was nowhere to be seen. Another task left unchecked on the ECCC to-do list.
The map showed four levels of venue and yet no index, guide or clear signs to guide the uninitiated. My companion, Mr. Steyh, decided to strike out on his own for one last attempt to get his money’s worth. What used to be a cardinal sin at conventions still holds true: don’t split up, especially at this convention. It’s not because it is a large venue. San Diego International Comic Convention, ECCC’s very big brother, encompasses 460,000 square feet to ECCC’s 20,000. But in San Diego one can more or less get around. Its event scheduling, mapping and directions are more consistent and, in a pinch, one could text or call someone to locate one another.
Here: no such luck. While I was texting a request for a status check, my cell phone stalled and puttered. “You aren’t going to be able to text out,” an ivory-haired woman informed me as she sat perched in the corner on her red mobility scooter. “The network is slow because of all the stores using their phones to swipe credit cards. It’s taking seven minutes to process anything.” A half-hour later, a miracle text flashed across the phone.
In a 2008 interview ECCC creative director Jim Demonakos said, “We really try to put together a fun and entertaining show every year with the focus being squarely on comics. I still think that you can run an entire show dedicated to comics, but there is a reality in the fact that getting enough people through the door to continue to do the show means broadening your audience.” In 2006, the last year of ECCC that had a comic “focus” the attendance was approximately 6000 an average 41% increase year over year since its debut in 2003. One can only speculate that such an increase wasn’t fast enough. Such numbers do provide evidence that there is a definite following as well as an ever expanding base for a comics-centered convention providing a unique Seattle experience in this region’s flavor of graphic novels as well as a general taste of the industry. However, a fresh-faced comic convention attendee wouldn’t know about that now, looking at ECCC 2012. The Emerald City Comic Convention is but a diluted version of San Diego Comic-Con with a horrible case of possible growing pains or scattershot planning. Upon reuniting with my wingman and finally locating the exit, Mr. Steyh offered his thoughts: “It’s like San Diego Comic-Con…but not. There is absolutely no character at this con. It doesn’t even say Seattle.”