LTC's Convention Phase Out

I occasionally peer into Comicdom to see what is happening. Not often, mind you, and I always keep it brief. For me, Comicdom can be a cliquey, unwelcoming and unsupportive place. (Long before I wandered too far in, I sometimes had genuine friendships with genuine people where there was mutual liking and trust...sometimes).

It looks like the convention scene has gotten going for 2019. Some of you will already know that LTC used to be a largely convention trading comic dealer. I used to have spreadsheets and calendars tracking every UK con and I would check regularly for announcements of new ones. I have no clue what is going on now. Once I jettison stuff (which I do - a lot) I don’t then run to the window to see if it is still there.

It was by necessity that I gradually reduced the conventions that LTC traded at until we cut down to just three last year and none booked for this year. It is possible we will do some again in the future but only possible; I’m not planning for it. To be well stocked and to mobilise for con merchandising and selling, at least in the style I chose for LTC, requires a lot to be devoted completely to it in terms of time, energy, equipment and, of course, comics and merchandise that have to stay dormant and in storage waiting for the next show.  Not to mention the massive financial gamble where the odds just keep getting uglier. I have already dismantled much of our convention set up and squared up to the much greater devotion and risk involved with making LTC an ecommerce retailer.

There were things that I really enjoyed about convention selling.

Did I love hefting dozens of 15+kg boxes in an out of vans and houses, up and down stairs, across streets and car parks? Hmmmnn...No! Last con we traded at I had a massive nose bleed loading the van before we set off and another one after we came back and unloaded. I am lucky that I currently only have the regular amount of back and joint pain all women in their early 40s have and not an actual back injury.

Did I love watching people rough-paw degrade all my comics and graphic novels, pull 30 of them out of their boxes, put 29 of them back in the wrong place and then ask me for a discount on one £5 item? Nah. Never loved that!

I absolutely hated watching my white, male friends happily getting schmoozed on by event organisers, venue staff, van hire staff, other exhibitors and lots of con-goers because they all assumed that I could not possibly be the one running a comic business or even be worth talking to. (I could rant about that one for hours).

I did really enjoy travelling to different cities, even if it was only ever in the UK. I have always had at least one friend with me at every con (I need someone to drive the van and cover the stall for toilet breaks). Evening food and drinks with a buddy in a different city is my idea of fun (hangovers aside). Glasgow was my favourite.

I really enjoyed being inside the atmosphere at a successful convention. When a roomful of people were excited to be at an event and part of that excitement involved buying comics from my stall, it made the long hours of bagging, pricing, grading, making display boards, and everything else feel worthwhile. Getting up exhausted on a Monday to bank a big amount of cash was nice too. Yes, there was a lot of cash but I am Steve Rogers honest and I despise tax evaders so, trust me, it always got declared. Also, it usually had to last me months and mostly went on rent, restocking and booking more events so, I never actually got very comfortable and I have not had a holiday abroad for well over a decade.

One of the things I loved most was going to those rare events where I could find new stuff to buy and put into LTC stock. It would maybe be a little event with someone selling their collection or a big show with another trader liquidating some of their warehouse stock. That is when comic dealer knowledge and a retailer’s understanding of her own customer base can really shine. Stock buying can be a lot of fun and both the buyer and the seller go away having gotten what they wanted out of the exchange. That is one of the reasons I have always discouraged people coming to me and demanding that I make them an offer on their collections. Decide what you want out of the exchange and bring that info to the table!

I had a few years of trading at London Super Comic Con which always involved a little phase on the Sunday where I would take some of the cash we made, leave my buddy to look after the stall, and run around buying signed prints from artists. I loved it. Meeting artists from all different eras, buying beautiful art direct from them and having all the prints hand signed. Fantastic. The great thing was that I could then put those prints out for sale at small provincial events, to people who would never go to a London Con, in towns that pro creators would probably never get to visit. It diversified my comic stall in the best possible way and in a way that made sense.

It was the most pronounced thing to go when the convention scene declined. We went from real excitement from people about buying hand signed limited prints to almost total indifference. At small town shows I am guessing it was not so much that con-goers stopped appreciating lovely art and the chance of having something signed that they could not find in a shop or online. There were just fewer con-goers altogether and the ones that were there either had no intention of buying anything or wanted anything they bought to be under £10. At the big multi-media shows, some would muse over a signed print for £20-25 but then wander away and buy a mystery box for £20. Or worse, spend £10 on a mass-produced, unlicensed silhouette image of a big franchise character with so sig and no artistic merit at all.

It was hard to watch but these things always happens in times of economic difficulty. Comic Con audiences are not made up from the wealthiest sections of society. I have no idea where the wealthiest sections do hang out. Golf courses and Audi showrooms, perhaps?  In the last few years a lot of people in the UK have less money. Many probably have the same amount of money but have shifted their view of what they will use it for. Sometimes you see people wander into discount stores and spend £20 on impractical crap because they feel like they got a lot for their cash. It is understandable if not entirely logical.

There are a number of factors that made me shift LTC in the opposite direction to convention trading. The economy is the big over-arching factor but the attitude of many convention organisers and venue landlords never helped and most of them are still operating in the same bubble they were in four years ago. From a retailer point of view it has always seemed that the majority of profit-based events are funded by trader space booking fees. The whole system is predicated on the notion that the costs of trading are justified because concentrated footfall means high turnover. When a trader spends £1000 to exhibit at a show and then finds there is really no money in the room...well then a convention really is just a con.

We don’t have a huge number of signed prints left, especially considering the number that I bought and put out for sale over the years. The selection we have are now in the Art and Posters section of the website. Some of them are very pretty. Take a look.

Want to ask me something about convention trading or our move away from it? Hit the comments.