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VA Comicon EXCLUSIVE: A Con or a Comic Book Show?

Once a fringe event, Cons have become a mainstream event-and a very lucrative one. Some of the larger conventions have corporate ownership and are held not only in the United States but also abroad. There is a lot of revenue to be had if you hold an event and call it a ‘con’. But what are the elements that make an event a convention?

From where I stand, a con should, at it's most basic level have the following elements: it should be held-at minimum- over a two day period; it should have guests (from the world of comics, Film/TV, etc); it should have programming, mainly in the form of some type of panels (either with the guest or put together by attendees who have submitted an idea for a panel); it should have a cosplaying contest, held in a separate room, witnessed by those attending the con; it should have some vendors, prices charged by guests are mentioned upfront; it should be held only once a year. These are the elements that distinguish it from its close cousin event type known as comic books shows.

The VA Comicon was held over the weekend of June 9 and 10 at George Mason University. But was it a con or a comic book shop?

Two Day Event.

It was held for more than one day. Met the criteria.

It should have guests.

Virginia Comic Con did have one guest-Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld. And that was it. In order to meet the criteria of being a Con, you need to have multiple guests. It didn't meet the criteria.

It should have programming.

There was no talk held by the only guest, nor was there any original programming in the form of panels organized by either volunteers or people who were attending the event. It didn't meet the criteria.

It should have a Cosplay Contest.

There were two very small cosplay contests held at the end of each day. It met the criteria.

It should have some vendors.

There were vendors present, but they were overwhelmingly comic book vendors. A con should have a mix of not just comic book vendors, but a balanced ratio of people who sell other things than just comics. It didn't meet the criteria.

Prices charged by the guest.

While his presence of Rob Liefeld was heavily advertised, what was not mentioned anywhere were the prices being charged. The organizers of Virginia Comic Con can say they have no control over what the guest decide to charge, but many people who came to Virginia Comic Con because of the presence of Mr. Liefeld were in store for a large sticker shock. Instead of a flat fee, there was a sliding price scale according to the specific comic book issue.

Other artists such as J. Scott Campbell or even Deadpool co-creator Fabian Nicieza don’t engage in this practice. The more valuable the book, the more an attendee was charged. Now, let me say this, an artist by all means has the right to charge for his/her work, but most artists (if they charge) just charge a single fee for all their books they were involved with. In addition, there was also a charge if you wanted to have your book graded after having them signed. For example, the CGC table was right in front of Liefled's inside a small room, and if you wanted to have the book graded, you would be charged an additional $20, per book. Not even Stan Lee himself institutes a separate charge just because you wish to have a book graded after signing. Grading a comic book is not free and also involves its own charges. The price scale covered everything from book signings, to doodles ($50 for a Deadpool balloon) to photos $40. Again, while its well within an artist's right to charge whatever they like, the organizers should have been transparent about what these said charges would be. Therefore in terms of the 'guest's pricing' criteria mentioned above, it didn't meet the criteria.

It should be held once a year.

Cons are difficult and time consuming to organize. Because of the complexity of what is involved in organizing a Con, this is the one key aspect that separates it from its smaller and more nimble cousin, the Comic Book show. Virginia Comic con is already advertising another ‘con’ in six months. So I again would say that it didn't meet the criteria.

All in all, VA Comicon is a decent comic book show, but is misleading in branding itself as a ‘Con’. It is not a Con-at least not yet.

As a comic book show, I would give it a C. As a Con, I would give it an F.

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