Allow me to hijack the ongoing controversy in the online comix communities about the evils of cosplayers and how they don’t spent enough at comic conventions to make a tangentially related point:
I think Denise Dorman’s railing against the ‘instagram’ generation is hilarious but actually has a point–she’s just not using the best terminology to describe what is an actual phenomenon–before 5 years ago, no one (in their right mind) would go to a show thinking that they were an ‘attraction’ without buying themselves an exhibition space, a booth, an artist alley table, something. However, in the last few years the number of people who think that a badge (whether paid for or comped) entitles them to an audience within a convention space is on the rise dramatically. It’s been pegged as cosplayers, and honestly there are more cosplayers at shows than ever, and more professional cosplayers who are going to shows to make money and build an audience. Cosplayers attending shows as businesspeople, who aren’t contributing to the economy of the show.
As you know Bob, comics cons started as spinoffs of existing sf fandom, by people who were steeped in the mores and history of fandom and the original comics cons were very much like the sf cons, by fans for fans, with little to no distinction between fans and pros and without looking to make a profit. Where comics fandom went wrong was that conventions went commercial in the first place, which started at the very latest in the mid eighties. As the comics industry itself collapsed but cons like San Diego grew year on year, that commercialisation just grew more blatant. It’s the same thing you see with niche cable channels: they may start out with all kind of lofty aspirations and call themselves The Learning Channel, but if the money’s in crappy reality shows, that’s what they’ll end up doing. There’s no money in selling comics, so you get expensive nerd toys instead.
Cosplay meanwhile, for all its “professional” cosplayers, is still pretty much done for the love of the characters and the art itself. At worst it’s a symptom, not a cause of the difficulties comics have in being visible at comics cons. Chris Butcher is right when he says that:
The changing convention landscape is inherently shitty for people who make comic books. Art comix, indy comics, mainstream comics, whatever comics, the changing makeup of conventions is hostile to people who want to make and sell comics at comic conventions. And let me be clear, this is comic books and graphic novels, as opposed to ‘prints’ or crafts or whatever manner of tchotchkes makeup most exhibitor tables these days. Basically, comic book conventions are aggressively attracting an audience who don’t necessarily value books, or comic books.
What seems to be missing in the (American) comics convention landscape is what you still have in science fiction: a thriving fan run, non-commercial con scene. There’s Dragoncon, but there’s also Worldcon. And whereas science fiction writers may drown in the media orientated atmosphere of the former, they can thrive in the latter. The fan conventions help build and retain an audience that might otherwise not exist.
But perhaps the dismal state of mainstream comics cons is due to the dismal state of the (supposedly mainstream) superhero comic. Superheroes are more popular than ever, but the actual comics seem to be bought only by an aging and shrinking fanbase. New fans meanwhile are drawn in by movies, tv shows and cartoons, anything but comics and hence are at best interested in comics as a tertiary activity. In such a climate it’s no wonder people like Dorman find themselves struggling. They’re cut off from their audience and the new people don’t know who they are nor why they should spent $50 or more on a sketch. That’s not going to change by banning cosplayers. That can only change if you get more comics cons not run for profit, not aiming to maximalise its audience at the expense of a focus on comics, have more people, pro and fan both, go there for the love of comics, not as a business.