Thoughts on C42017: I Drove 14 Hours Each Way for This? / by Paul Keely

I've attended a lot of conventions in my time, both as an artist/vendor and as an attendee. There have been amazing conventions. There have been good conventions. There have been just okay conventions. And there have been mediocre and bad conventions.

And then there was C4, the Central Canada Comic Con in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I can honestly say that were I paid to go back, I would less than politely decline. This was by far the worst show I have attended. And I am not alone in that feeling. Other artists share my sentiment.

Setting aside any issues with sales as those are beyond the control of any convention, it's the issues with the show itself I wish to speak to. Those issues that are within the scope of control of the organizers.

The general lack of organization. The lack of any real leadership structure. The lack of answers when questions were posed. The frankly quite cheap production value (more on that later). The lack of any real... anything. It felt like a convention disinterested in itself. A show that did only the minimal amount required to be a "convention" without actually bothering to promote the things that make a comic convention a comic convention. 

It was the first show I considered tearing down early and abandoning, knowing full well I would not be coming back next year. It was the first show I felt like demanding my money back.

The move in day started on Thursday, wherein to sign in as an artist one had to make the trek to the south building. Upon which you were informed wristbands would be given out on Friday, so you could just head up to the loading bay in the north building. Where, handily enough, there was one freight elevator and one passenger elevator for use. That one elevator remained the only actual way for vendors to enter the convention outside of show hours. At least, according to what a couple volunteers told me, so take it with a grain of salt.

So you set up, head to your hotel/airbnb/car for the night, and return the next day. Head back to the south building to register, wherein they flip through... index cards... to find your information. I mean okay, index cards are pretty retro which is all the rage these days, but index cards should be used by kindly old ladies to store recipes, NOT by large scale conventions to manage vendor registrations. I also don't understand why artist registration had to be in an entirely different building, only for us to end up in the same elevator-bound mess as everyone else, but I digress.

So then you get your wrist band, which is not a vendor band. It's a 3 day pass. The same pass everyone else gets. Which means that not only do you have to hope no one stops you thinking you're an attendee, it means anyone who is an attendee has full run of the place. And no, no one seemed to be checking. If you walked like you had somewhere to be, that was good enough. This is the only show I've attended that this has happened at.

Most shows try to distinguish who is an artist/vendor from who is not for reasons including "who can access secure areas, who can enter prior to open and remain after close, who can and cannot enter loading areas or areas with equipment." You'd think for the liability alone they would ensure that people entering areas with forklifts and freight elevators would ONLY be the ones that are supposed to.

It also raises questions of where exactly the money I paid for my placement went. According to their website, my table fee pays for table & chair rental (I own my own table, cost me $60, and I could buy a chair for $15), wristband (a standard plastic hospital style wristband), and signage. Well, if you're saying 200-215 of each artist table fee went to signage, I laugh quite heartily. When I pay a show like Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo my table fee, I see exactly where it's gone. It's on Facebook, on Twitter, on the web, in guest announcements, in signage and banners at the event, in announcements, in guide books and art books. Every dollar you see at work.

When your guidebook, the thing that's supposed to, you know, guide people through your convention, is a poorly photocopied mess of crude and/or incomprehensible images that doesn't even feature the opening and closing times, then I suggest you find a new print shop. it shows a lack of interest in promoting your show. Which shows a lack of interest in supporting the people that MAKE your show. It shows me that you are collecting table fees and exhibitor fees, and that's it. If you don't care to promote your show, I sure as hell won't do the job for you.

Not that we received a package upon move in. We got a wrist band. No information sheet. No guide book. No "register for next year' info. Nothing. We got a wrist was no package for us. We got a wrist band. If we wanted to know something, we had to ask. And chances are we would be given no answers. Or incorrect ones.

By far the most hilarity came from the lack of knowledge on the part of the organizers as to when their convention ended.

Yes, you read that right. According to the Facebook event page and the official website, which along with the Twitter account was lacking updates for numerous months leading up to the show, the show ended at 5 pm. Pretty standard end time for a Sunday. So it makes sense that it would be listed in the move-in email sent to artists and vendors.

So as five o'clock rolls around, and people begin tearing down, one voice announces that the show closes at 6. And then another announce that people need to finish their purchases and head for the doors. And then another that no one can use dollies to tear down until 6. You'd better believe dollies were in play before 6. Some folks had to catch 4 hour flights or 20 hour bus rides. If in the space of three months, or six months, or a year, no one noticed that error? Then that's an inexcusable failing on the part of organizers. At the end of the day, no matter how much else goes wrong, if you don't know WHEN your convention is, then... I've got nothing, you are a joke with no punchline.

Oh, and be sure to sign up as a vendor/artist next year, says another voice.

I don't generally go negative on conventions. Even the bad ones are usually bad for a reason that is excusable, but this one is genuinely the worst convention I have attended. I will not be going back for a second year, and I know plenty of other artists who have echoed that sentiment. And I honestly hope a lot of others follow suit. Because we were charged hundreds of dollars for a space, to contribute to a show that barely felt like it wanted us there.

A show that would not exist without artists. Without vendors and exhibitors. Without the people that travel from around the country lugging boxes and bins and suitcases, to put on a show for the fans.

Sorry Winnipeg, you won't be seeing me next year.