At first, I was uncertain how to contribute to Speak Out With Your Geek Out – after all, this is already a pretty geeky blog – but after a but of thinking I realized I have a few other areas of geekery that might merit some discussion, so I’m taking my week back from break to run through them.
So, I’m a bit of a comic geek. Not as much of ones as I used to be (for which my wallet thanks me) but enough that I stay on top of what’s going on in the mainstream comics, follow some small ones, and read far too many webcomics on a regular basis. This lead to the interesting experience of my going to the Small Press Expo for the first time this past weekend.
For the unfamiliar, SPX is an expo for independent comic artists and companies. Originally, it was fairly underground, populated by comics you’ve never heard of and people’s hand-bound photocopies, but over the years it has also become a large venue for web comics. SPX is a DC are con, and I have wanted to attend it for years, but I always end up missing it. Thankfully, a friend who is an even bigger comic nerd than I was going, so I hitched a ride.
First off, it was weird as heck going to a convention where I’m _not_ a super nerd. When I hit a gaming convention, it’s very familiar territory for me. There are people I know in many places, and even when that’s not the case, I have enough familiarity with what’s going on to be able to comfortably engage with people about whatever they’re doing. Not so much here – it was like flashing back to my first conventions experiences in college, which is not a great sensation. The introvert instincts kicked in, and there was a lot of listening and avoiding eye contact while wiggling through the crowd, though I did manage to engage the one or two artists I really wanted to talk to.
Second, it was really interesting from a business perspective. As Oltheros has noted more than once, small press comics and game publishing have crazy amounts of overlap, and laid out in the expo hall, some issues are even more clear. Bear in mind that since this is an expo, every table is selling something, and that’s the primary things it’s doing. It’s one of the reasons engagement is rough because you don’t want to ask a question and get bombarded with upsell (or to feel guilty for not buying what is clearly a labor of love).
So within that context, you have the full gamut of products, from the $100 gorgeous hardcovers to the $1 staple bound, probably hand-cut photocopies. And you have a LOT of them. This definitely creates a divide when you have very small products contrasted with the Topatoco table which runs the length of the wall with nothing but high production value material, but the divide is not so clear as you might think. Topatoco does great because people came to convention already knowing what they wanted, so there’s no real discovery there. That’s the real divide between the haves and a the have-nots: for most every other booth there, the job was to help people passing by to understand what they were selling and why it might be interesting.
The degrees of success at this were crazy to behold. Certainly, there was a correlation between production values and presentation, but it was far from a true distinction. There were booths of incomprehensible (but highly polished) product, just as there were tables with rough product that was very clearly presented. As in gaming, there is no small contingent in comics who strive for what they consider authenticity over commercial success, and those are the ones most likely to equate polish with presentation, but at SPX they also seemed the ones most likely to fail in thier own presentation for entirely non-commercial reasons.
It does not take a lot of money to keep a tidy table, to present your products well and to choose what you present wisely. This is as true of comics as it is with games, though more pronounced in comics – a game producer is a little less likely to have a dozen ashcans.
To come back to the point, I think part of being a multi-pronged geek is that you start seeing where your areas of enthusiasm overlap. It’s a glass bead game where the parallels between Blues Rock and Japanese Animation become self evident once you love the both of them enough. I dig that, and its one of the reasons I love finding new things to get enthusiastic about.
One of the things that small press games have taught me is the difference in value between the digital and analog products. In some ways, a searchable rulebook in PDF format is more valuable than a paper book that you have to flip through. That tells me that people who buy paper do so because they like the experience – the content is not necessarily what drives the sale, presentation and convenience do.
In a room like SPX, presentation counts. There is so much visual stimuli that it’s easy to get lost or have to navigate by the known entities – “by the Fantagraphics table” is a common direction.