“Ottawa Comic Con”, words that when combined would have sounded unbelievable only a few years ago. The ‘Con though has just completed it’s sixth annual event and has grown from a two-day event with attendance of 22 000 to a three-day event recording over 42 000 attendees. Square footage dedicated solely to event requirements has also grown year over year – a food court has been established outside of the facility under tents, as has a demonstration area, allowing more space to be rented by vendors. It is conceivable that the site (The EY Centre) may one day no longer provide the space required, should the event continue its growth. Frankly, that day cannot arrive soon enough as the site may be the object of the most criticism from attendees and vendors. The EY Centre was a public/private partnership involving the City of Ottawa and private builders & companies. The idea was to develop a convention space located near the Ottawa International Airport. It was a need identified by Council as they believed the city was losing out on convention dollars to other cities that had mid sized convention space available (Ottawa has the large sized Convention Center located in the heart of the city which aided in the city hosting the NHL All-Star Game & Festivities). Here’s the problem though, it’s near the Ottawa International Airport! Airports are geographically isolated, meaning they require a commitment to travel, parking (for a fee) and tend to have little else near them. A convention centre nearby would also suffer the same shortcomings and the EY is no exception. Public transit is available but is limited to a single bus route, there is of course some paid public parking. If you desire food or drink, you’re obligated to pay for concessions because, as noted, the building is isolated. While those could be viewed solely as inconveniences, where it becomes unacceptable is for those that rely on wi-fi or cellular service. Before readers snicker about the audacity of complaining about something like poor cell service – keep in mind, this is a commercial event with substantial overhead for vendors. Many now rely on wireless capabilities (Square, for example) to allow customers freedom to make purchases with credit cards – especially spontaneous purchases. This concrete and steel bunker has amongst the worst reception I’ve ever experienced. Year after year organizers vow to correct the issue and yet it remains. As a consumer, I’ve had to walk away from purchases because the vendor couldn’t accommodate my credit card purchase – even after taking his Square unit outside the main hall to get better reception. As a vendor, I’ve had to regretfully turn away customers holding hundreds of dollars worth of comics because the internet was down. The venue has ATMs, of course but when the internet goes down so to can ATMs, or worse yet they run out of cash.
Venue aside, I do regret the slow erosion of “comic” in “Comic Con”. With each passing year, it seems that price forces out a few more comic book vendors, organizers offer up a single token “A list” artist in Artist Alley and Pop Culture becomes the prevalent face of the Con. This is by no means unique to Ottawa, this trend has been noticeable once movies & TV became the new face of San Diego Comic Con. I acknowledge it provides a deeper depth of product and experience for attendees – my complaint is strictly my own bias and representative of my interests. There is no denying Cosplay is currently a driving force and a massive draw for the paying public, the fact that I have minimal interest in it should not be held against the con – although I could do without professional paid cosplayers walking around the con floor. Emphasis should always be on the people that take the time to construct their own costumes. When looking at the pictures I’ve submitted, it’s fairly easy to identify the professionals versus the fans. Lest it be interpreted that I am a hater of Comic Con, let me say that I’ve been attending cons in this city since Capital City Cards & Comics was hosting them at the Civic Center in the 80’s. I’m a fan of the experience, the format and the access to product. That said, I believe that Ottawa can move past the “just happy to have a Con” phase and now expect or demand more of organizers.
A couple years ago I worked for a store from Toronto but didn’t commit to the full employee experience. This year, I made a commitment to work the full event. I reached out to a store in Montreal ( http://www.comicage.com/) Canada’s version of Mile High Comics) and offered my services. I wanted to use the opportunity to network and expand my connections within the comic community. The monthly shows I’ve been doing have allowed me access into The Club, but I was ambitious to test my skill set in a more intense environment. Our space was…. ambitious. I knew I was in for a challenge when our product came via an eighteen-wheeler and we need a forklift to move thirteen skids stacked 5 long boxes high. We set up 15 eight foot tables along with vertical racking and two five foot tables. It was grueling work for a staff of four (as the show moved forward we added two more staff members). By the end of the four days I’d put in nearly fifty hours of work.
Questions have been asked about how “much” money I must have made – the answer is, not much. That’s not a complaint mind you as I didn’t do this for the money. I took this on for the experience and access to product with the associated “employee discount”. I’ve moved into niche collecting now and items I’m seeking aren’t always easy to find – Harris & Marvel magazines from the mid to late 70’s & early 80’s, Bernie Wrightson books and Dave Stevens covers. As expected, Comicage had an excellent selection of items on my want list and I swapped out two thirds of my pay for a large stack of product. The gem of the weekend though was a trade I proposed to Georges that he accepted. Regular readers of the column know my feelings towards Variant Covers (spoiler alert, I hate them). That doesn’t mean I don’t acquire them in trades, errors by retailers when they price the books or at large discounts, so I have a small box of variants I have that I consider “assets”. Rather, I HAD a small box of variants. On the last day of the con I selected the top “valued” books and brought them to the show to see if I could broker a one-sided deal in Georges’ favor (I’ll always move stagnant variants for appreciable assets – even if it means doing three or four to one dollar, it’s a long-term play). He was keen on about half of them, but willing to take them all. I pointed out the two books I’d had my eye on – A New Teen Titans #2 (first Deathstroke) that was a bit beat up but I need the book to complete a run, and a Next Men #21 (a long sought after and desired Mike Mignola first appearance of Hellboy). The Next Men was no problem as he had multiples, but the Teen Titans was his only one and he wasn’t keen to trade it out rather than get cash. Beside the Next Men was a book I’d never seen before, a Dime Press #4 with a Hellboy-esque cover, it was priced beyond the range we’d been discussing but I knew he had other copies so I mentioned it (I later learned this is an incredibly rare book, especially in Canada as it was published in Italy and predates Hellboy’s appearance in the San Diego Comic Con published book). He offered me a copy in a lower grade, but I was happy to have it and the deal was struck (I’m a big Mignola fan and have been since his early Rocket Raccoon limited series).
Four days is a long time to be immersed in any one specific, intense environment and the Con is no different. Long hours, travel, physical demands (concrete is unforgiving to the body for long periods) – all take a toll. However, anytime you have moments where you get to legitimately help someone and do so by using a specific knowledge base you’ve acquired over a lifetime of pursuing a passion, you’re provided with a unique kind of reward. I had moments like that daily, either from co-workers seeking clarification to questions, customers looking for suggestions or the ability to answer questions from vendors themselves. Moments such as these should not be quickly dismissed, as you can’t know what you “know” until an opportunity presents itself to be tested. Those are moments that let you know if you “belong” in the club or if you’re simply posing.
The Con is obviously more than an employee or consumer experience – a good Con has guests that attendees clamor for (a history of Ottawa Comic Con guests can be found here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottawa_Comiccon). I have almost no interest in the movie or TV stars, the prices to see them are beyond the realm of comprehension ($60-$100 for an unautographed photo taken with them). Artists Alley is where I gravitate, a place where autographs are free and lingering to have a conversation isn’t frowned upon. I’ve had the good fortune to shake hands with Mike Zeck, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, James O’Barr, Ty Templeton and Richard Comley (the latter two being Canadian icons). It’s a special feeling to look these artists in the eyes and express to them the gratitude and respect you have for them and their work. Supporting them by spending a couple dollars on a signed print seems a privilege – especially when considering that today these giants are typically seeing little from the publishers, regardless of what characters they may have created. My editor asked what I meant by “little” – dollars? Respect? Both? My answer to her? “Yes”.
I don’t pretend that Pup Culture Pulpit doesn’t serve to primarily express a sole opinion, but I felt it best to concede the final word on this matter to a greater power, someone with tremendous experience and a person I hold in the highest of regards;
“Very nice show and especially well-run. Some US shows could learn something from Oscar, Marc and the crew about making load-in and load-out easy, managing a show floor, and setting up a “green room”. Thanks gentlemen!” – Mike Zeck
As always, thank you for reading and I welcome feedback, comments or suggestions for topics.
You can more photos from Ottawa Comic Con 2017 on our Facebook page.