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Yesterday I attended the Newbo Con, a small comic book convention held in an upscale neighborhood called “The New Bohemian District”. I have been to the San Diego Comic Con and the Chicago Comic Con, so comic cons were far from new territory, but I had never been to something as small as this.
First things first. In the beginning, comic cons were very small. Things that you had in the ballroom of a hotel. A gathering of a few like minded individuals. Now, with the explosion of popularity, they’ve become gigantic tributes to pop culture. Monolithic showcases of past-present-and-future entertainment attended by hundreds of thousands.
I had never experienced something like the early days. Until Saturday, that is. That alone was my biggest motivation for attending. Getting a feel for the differences and seeing what my predecessors had witnessed. Oh also, to buy comics of course. Uncanny X-Men #221 — the first appearance of Mister Sinister? Yeah, I got it.
The obvious things come to mind first. Size, yeah. It’s much much smaller. Like, a dozen or so vendors as opposed to the usual hundreds. There are no studios there, no big name panels, no ground breaking news, no set pieces, or first looks. It was, in the simplest of terms, a gathering of like minded people.
At first, I admit it struck me as a negative. You could feel something was missing. The spectacle was gone. The grandiosity. It was just… people. And I panicked for a bit. What could I do with this? “I went to a small comic con and there were a few vendors and cosplayers and… and, uh, that’s pretty much it.” Yikes.
It wasn’t until I started to take a look at all the vendors that it struck me. This little con had something that I didn’t realize was missing from its giant counterparts. Something so small and easily faked that I had never considered it apart of the equation. Heart.
The giant comic cons are amazing for their own reasons, but I don’t know if I’d really say they have heart. When a gathering takes on the type of spectacle that those usually do, they themselves become a kind of entertainment. Something that you kind of stand apart from and watch.
At this tiny comic con, you have these small-time vendors selling the usual wares, but they have time to stop and talk with you. It’s personal. You have a table of homemade Agents of SHIELD wallets of dubious legal status. You have people trading in old toys and board games. It’s less like a convention and more like a bizarre of fellow fans. The personal level makes for a much more involved experience than the bigger cons can offer.
That personal level also helped to change another big comic con staple. Creator tables. Everyone is familiar with the Artist Alley, but that’s usually an onslaught of dozens upon dozens of creators stacked up against each other. The big names there are usually the big names in the industry. The little guy can’t get a leg up.
Here, there were, like, three creator tables. That made it super different. They didn’t get lost in the kaleidoscope of artists and publishers. I could take in what they were selling. I could get a feel for each of them. It’s a huge advantage for little publishers. Sure, you’re not going to get the heads of the Big Two coming up to you with a job offer, but if you can sell ten more comics that’s ten more comics out there in the world building your brand.
Now, would I say that I enjoyed Newbo Con as much as the huge comic cons? I don’t know, I mean it’s not even really a fair question. By necessity they’re entirely two separate experiences. It’s like asking whether you liked going to a country fair better than the Superbowl. I mean, yeah, one’s bigger and more eventful than the other, but they’re not the same deal.
I liked the Newbo Con. I liked the small atmosphere and the heart behind it. It was kitschy, like a bunch of etsy pages and mom and pop shops that came to life and got together. Whoa. That actually might be an exact description. Anyway, it was very enjoyable and I’d go again in a heartbeat. I’d love to see it grow a bit still and include more of the community, but for what it is, it works.
Has it ruined big cons? Oh god no. I still want to get back to the San Diego comic con, I still think those giant show-stopping comic cons have a place. It’s just a different place than where they started from.