It’s Been a Difficult Week, to Say the Least

J. M. DeSantis Newark Comic Con 2016

As the title states, it’s been a rough week. On Wednesday, following a wonderful Boston Comic Con and vacationing a few days in Salem, MA, my girlfriend, her daughter and I rushed back to take care of one of our cats only to have him pass away that same night. I had planned to write an entire blog piece about him today, yet on the other hand, this past Saturday was an equally notable experience: the Newark Comic Con. Though the fans were great and I did well financially at the show, I can’t put it any other way than it was the worst show I’ve ever attended. I feel strongly that artists and vendors should not support it based on mine and others’ experience there, and I feel compelled to share that.

The only thing I can think to do is to write two blog posts this week (if I have it in me–I’ve been in something of a haze since Wednesday). I’m going to start with Newark, as I’d rather get this over with. So if you are thinking of exhibiting next year, I encourage you to read this, and if you did exhibit this past year and were unexpectedly placed outside, I encourage you to write to Mark D. Boulding (the show’s owner and promoter) about your experiences and (as I was told in some cases) your damages. Because when I approached him, he said I was “the only one” who seemed to have a problem with the show.

As I said, I did well at the show. The fans were great, when I could talk to them (having to compete with a stage three hundred feet away with amps cranked up to 11) and sales were good; in fact, I made a solid profit on the show, after all expenses. Also, despite its bad points, the show was a perfect distraction from the death of our cat. I was in the moment and not thinking about him too much. So in short, neither the cat’s death nor how I did at the show are factors in my dissatisfaction–just to be clear.

To quickly run through this: first there were no table assignments. I’ve been to shows like this, but usually they are very small in size. More, the con was giving out 4’ round tables to artists who came “late”. I’ve never seen this before–fortunately I got a normal rectangular table, so here I am appalled that they did this to other artists! I, however, waited three hours for a single chair for my table–at which point my neighbor gave me his since his wife brought two more from home. (Cheers, George Vega!) Artist alley was placed outside, with limited shade (in the form of a few large canopies), which was not disclosed beforehand. The sun and heat was oppressive, I was sweating profusely, I left severely sunburned, and many of my products that were on the table were warped from the sun and heat (and I’m told I wasn’t the only one). My products and displays kept knocking over from the wind (I also wasn’t the only one and saw it happen to others–some with more damage than me), resulting in one of the displays having a dented and scratched base because I had to anchor it down with my rolling cart to keep it from falling. In fact, at one point I was working on a con sketch while (simultaneously) with my left hand I had to cross over my body to hold down my tabletop banner. Never mind, again, the volume of speakers on the stage were so loud I couldn’t really talk to people who came to my table, and if it wasn’t for fan art prints and commissions, I wouldn’t have sold anything because I could barely pitch my comics and one of my neighbors had that happen to him, since all he had was his own self-published comics. Needless to say, this convention had too much going wrong not to be upset about it, regardless of sales or dead cats.

Around 1:00 (the show ran from 10 am until 8 pm) Mr. Boulding passed by my table, and when he asked me how I was doing, I told him sales were good but the wind was knocking my stuff all over the place and that I was pouring sweat out there (I didn’t even mention the stage volume). He responded by saying “That’s good. You’ll feel light tomorrow”, “cleansed” by sweating out all those toxins. Then he laughed and walked away. My jaw dropped. This guy couldn’t be for real…but he was!

Near the end of the day, my girlfriend came by. I had bought an extra badge for her earlier. Funny thing is they let her walk in without a badge. Usually I have to run one to the door for her–and understandably so. So when the convention was nearing the end and most everyone had packed up early (including myself, which I never do), I decided to ask for a refund on the badge; not the table (which I should have), just the badge. It seems petty, I know, but after all, they let her in for free (so why did I have to pay for the badge?) and after the horror show I experienced, it was the least they could do to compensate me. An apology, even, would have been good, some kind of affirmation that they messed up–just a little.

Instead, I wound up in an argument with Mark Boulding (I’ve never argued with a promoter) during which I could see that at first he was trying to imply that I snuck my girlfriend in. When I showed him the badge and that I paid for it, he then said I wasn’t getting anything from him. When I re-explained my experience at the show (in more detail now–as more had happened since 1:00), he not only tried to claim I waited until the end of the show to talk to him, should have said something earlier and then “maybe” he would have done something for me, but when I reminded him of our earlier “conversation” and his appalling response his exact words were “So what? So what, I said that. What now?” I was in shock. It was like arguing with a child.

Now every con is different and every promoter is different. There are some things that are in the promoter’s control and some things that are not. Whether or not people come and spend money at your table is not in the promoter’s control. Neither is the basic set up nor location of the venue–and promoters do their best to choose a venue that can accommodate the show at an affordable price (it’s a difficult balance, I’m sure). But all of the things that were a problem for me (and others) at the Newark Comic Con were completely in the promoter’s control and his reaction felt something like “Tough! Deal with it!”

Now I’m sure Mr. Boulding will try and claim I should be more professional and have e-mailed him about this quietly, but I already tried on two occasions to have him handle this in person. So, Mr. Boulding, tough shit. Your convention was the worst I’ve ever been to, by a long shot, and your treatment of me was subhuman.

I’m not a prima donna who expects you to roll out the red carpet. All I expect is what comes with the space I pay for (typically a six-foot table, chairs and a badge or two) and that the promoter does his or her best on their end to make the show a success. Actually I don’t even expect that, as the show is the promoter’s business, and it’s an assumed business risk on my part to sign up for any show. I don’t expect any special (or non-special) treatment; I don’t even expect anyone at the show (including the promoter) to even know who I am or buy anything from me–that part’s my job. But I do expect to be treated like a human being (that’s a God given right or whatever you want to call it) and this was appalling. I won’t stand for it.

I always give a show more than one shot before I decide whether or not it’s worth continuing to attend (and that is based on a number of factors–not just how much I earn at the show). Even when I’ve had a bad show, I try to find the silver lining. I’m always gracious. Because who really knows why the show did not go well and if I won’t be giving it or another of the promoter’s shows a chance again down the line? Plus, most of the promoters I’ve met really are great people.

But in a single stroke I am personally boycotting any of Mr. Boulding’s events, and I encourage anyone who reads this or knows an artist that had a similar experience to think about this before they sign up to exhibit at a Mark D. Boulding event. There are plenty of other cons out there. I talked to a couple of artists during and after the show, and though I don’t want to share their names or the words we exchanged (I feel that’s their place, not mine), I will say their stories or reactions were just as bad, in some cases worse. I’ve never ran a show before, but I’ve exhibited at many (large and small) over the course of the past seven years, and this is not how it’s done.

Thank you to the fans and attendees who helped make this show a financial success. I honestly hope you all enjoyed yourselves, but unfortunately I won’t be seeing you at this show again in the future–providing it’s actually still running in the future.

Also, don’t forget to catch me at Inbeon Con this Saturday, run by my friend Eric Hutchison, who knows how to run a good con.


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