Right on the heels of Geek Girl Con was Bellingham Comicon on October 18th, a small, one-day affair up near Bellingham, WA, though more accurately, it took place at the Ferndale Events Center in Ferndale, WA.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much out of it, especially since the other one-day comic show in the area I’ve done, Jet City Comic Show, has been thus far unimpressive. But hey, overhead was low and I’ll do most shows at least once… And I ended up being totally blown away by how amazing BCC was.
This report is 2,424 words long.
I don’t really remember how I first learned about the con, but it was some time in February/March when I was scouting all over the place for shows to do this year. The show is organized almost entirely by Eric Burris, who responded promptly to emails. An exhibitor application was emailed out to interested parties at the end of March. This was the same weekend as Emerald City Comic Con, and conveniently, Eric would be on-site at ECCC Sunday to accept completed applications and cash payments there.
Since the risks were very minimal, I jumped at the chance to get everything confirmed and finalized as soon as possible. I also mentioned the show to Laura and Dordji, who were also at ECCC, and who also ended up eagerly applying. Since I didn’t have a table to rush back to this year at ECCC, I spoke to Eric a fair bit about Bellingham to get a better idea of what it’d be like. He was very eager to promote the show and to reassure me that it’d be worthwhile, but I didn’t really need the convincing, honestly. I’m a fan of one-day shows in general and would like to see more of them around. They’re the perfect way to combat the unwieldy beasts that many conventions have become.
I got a physical receipt when I paid, but Eric followed up via email a few weeks after ECCC to re-confirm that he had my application and payment.
In early October, an email went out to check that everyone signed up was still interested, and to note that if anyone needs to cancel, they should do so ASAP so their spaces could go to eager waitlisters and so they could be refunded more promptly. A week before the show, an email with detailed information about policies, load-in, and other things came, and the day before the show, a final email went out with Eric’s phone contact information, as he wouldn’t be able to check email during the show itself.
All in all, a very pleasant pre-con experience. Eric made sure he was easy to get a hold of, was responsive to emails, and did well to keep everyone updated with the information they needed. It’s doubly impressive since it seems like Eric was handling basically everything by himself — this is the level of professionalism that all showrunners and con staff need to aspire to!
Bellingham is about an hour and forty minutes’ drive from Seattle. The show opened to the public at 10am, with exhibitor setup starting around 7:30am. I wanted to have around two hours for set up. And so, Jer, Laura, and I were up stupidly early so we could be on the road by 6:30. It was really, really nice of them to have agreed to that plan since Jer and Laura can set up in like, twenty minutes. ^_^;
The Ferndale Events Center is just two turns off of I-5, so it was very easy to find. We got there a little after 8am and the (free) parking lot was mostly deserted. The location seemed very nice though. Not only was it right off the freeway, but there were a lot of food options right across the street, and various other things within walking distance, including some banks and a grocery store.
Check-in was very painless, and our tables were easy to locate. It was just a one-room con, after all. Most of the “exhibitors” were ringed around the walls and outer circuit of the room and most of the “artists” were set down the center aisle. I put the terms in quotes because, as usual, there were a handful of artists who went ahead and got exhibitor spaces since the difference was just two feet of space.
It was good that there were food/bank/etc close by, as that meant Jer and Laura could go off and forage after they were done setting up their table. Jer stopped by the bank for change and picked up some snacks at the grocery store while Laura went and got a proper breakfast at Denny’s. Meanwhile, I set up my fortress of prints in a surprisingly short amount of time. I think it took just over an hour? Either I’ve gotten faster or I underestimated again how quickly I can work when not distracted.
In the time I had before opening, I made a slow circuit around the room. A lot of artists weren’t set up yet, so I mostly lingered around the exhibitors, which seemed comprised mostly of local comic shops.
I know longboxes with deep discounts are pretty normal at most comic cons, but I was still surprised at some of the prices. Out of print manga for $3 a pop? Man. I would’ve dug a little more through some bins if I wasn’t so strapped for shelf space at the moment. There was also a vendor with the Funko Pop figures from Disney’s Lion King and Robin Hood that I was really tempted for… (Scar!! Sir Hiss!!)
When Jer and Laura came back around 9:30, I was surprised to hear that there was actually a line of people outside waiting to come in.
My expectations for the show were pretty low, but that’s not no fault of BCC’s. I just tend towards skepticism, and in this case, it was particularly because JCCS has been historically underwhelming for me. I wasn’t sure about the expected attendance for BCC, but ~500 seems about on par with other one-day shows, including JCCS and ChibiChibiCon. And neither of those shows really had people raring to go.
Bellingham Comicon did open to quite the enthusiastic crowd though, and because the room was fairly small, things got busy pretty fast!
Compared to Jet City Comic Show’s venues, the venue for BCC was very small — probably half the size of the space JCCS had at Seattle Center, and an even smaller fraction of what they have now at the Tacoma Convention Center. This meant that even if BCC had half the attendance, it would have felt more crowded. Crowded doesn’t always mean busy, but in BCC’s case, it definitely did!
And the crowd was such a pleasant, eager, and friendly one too. There were a lot of first-time con-goers in the mix, a lot of families, a lot of kids, but also a lot of teens and twentysomethings. It was the perfect combo of basically everyone, and the best part was that they seemed fairly receptive to basically everything!
As I said, most of the exhibitors were comic shops, but the artists were incredibly diverse. The guest artists were primarily known for their contributions to mainstream, Big Two properties, but there were also some fantasy artists and a bunch of independent/small press folks as well, not to mention Jer and Laura, proponents of the indiest of indie, copybon/ashcan minicomics and zines, and me, weird hybrid anime person and fantasy creatures in Asian-inspired brushwork.
All of our stuff was different, but the attendees seemed interested in all of it. It was amazing.
Judging by the cosplayers, the crowd was still very much comics-focused/dominated — there weren’t many anime cosplayers in the lot and relatively few people talked to me about anime, but the ones that were there were very eager for anime content. I only have three tiny buttons to contribute to the Attack on Titan fandom and they take up a very tiny portion of my table, but I almost sold out of them. o_o With my telling fortress of prints, I was the only anime con regular at the show, so I guess it wasn’t hard for “my people” to find me. ;)
I’d meant to restock a few buttons between GGC and BCC — even though I didn’t actually have buttons out at GGC, I was running low on a bunch of things after the barrage of September cons. I ended up not getting around to it though, and I regretted that because in addition to the AoT buttons, I sold out of a lot of other designs at BCC! I also sold a surprising number of original and very old prints that I hadn’t moved in ages, which always a bit of a relief.
Commission interest at one-day shows tend to be very low, and I didn’t have a lot of room to display my commission sign anyway because of the space my new Animorphs zine took up… But I actually took down the sign at several points during the day because I was too busy handling continuous sales to actually work on the tiny handful of commissions I did get. o_o Amazing.
The intimate space meant pretty much everyone got equal attention. There weren’t any “dead zones,” and the aisles were fairly narrow. There were also a bunch of large, inconvenient pillars, but I think they actually helped divide by traffic nicely down the middle of the aisle. There weren’t many other events at the show either, so the primary attraction was just lots and lots of browsing and shopping. Perfect, especially since there was food nearby and attendees could leave and come back as they wanted — a stamped hand was their proof of admission; only vendors had badges.
This is kind of the opposite of what I felt the problem was at JCCS last year — there wasn’t much else other than the exhibit’s hall there either, but since JCCS is at an actual convention center with limited on-site food options, attendees had to leave for food, and I’m sure that many of them never came back.
In the setup email we got prior to the show, Eric mentioned that cell reception in the building was poor and provided a wifi network and password for vendors. I actually didn’t have any problems with cell reception and ran Square transactions smoothly all day, but it was great that the wifi was provided and I don’t think any of the other vendors had trouble connecting to it.
In the mid to late afternoon, things did slow down a fair bit. I got to finish up my commissions and talk to a few people for longer, since there weren’t others waiting on them. The busyness of the morning was never overwhelming, but the afternoon never felt dead or slow either. Bellingham Comicon was open for just seven hours, 10a-5p, but they were all lovely.
Bellingham Comicon ended up being my best one-day show ever.
Actually — it was the most I’d made in a single day after Saturday at Otakon 2012 and Friday at Rainfurrest this year, which is saying a lot because Otakon probably had 30x the attendees, and Rainfurrest was almost 70% commissions on Friday. BCC was just 3% commissions. I was absolutely floored by the amount of interest and support at the show. o_o
The downside of one-day shows is that I didn’t have much of a chance to talk to other artists and vendors while there. I didn’t want to bother people in the morning while they were still setting up, and there was really no chance at the end of the day to mingle. So I’m not sure how universal my experiences were, but Jer, Laura, and Dordji all seemed to have a pretty good day. Everyone enjoyed themselves.
I think that moving forward, I want to do more small and mid-sized conventions and fewer large ones. This was the direction I was going in anyway, especially where comic cons were concerned, because of shows like ECCC and Rose City Comic Con. Those shows have become less art-focused and their overwhelmingly large vendor halls mean it’s easy to get lost in the crowd, not to mention their high costs. Even the large conventions of other genres make me a bit wary these days. My one-time stint at Otakon wasn’t the best and Anime Central this year, while not terrible, was still a bit disappointing.
BCC is the perfect antithesis: it’s a tiny show run by one person, taking place in a one-room building over the course of one day. All of its guests are artists. Its primary attraction is artists. All the vendors are comic and book dealers. It’s very art-focused, no one gets lost in the crowd, and costs for everyone are very low.
I don’t know what the official attendance was for the show — I’d still guess around 500. But I will happily take 500 attendees that are very excited and enthusiastic about art and comics to 40,000 attendees that aren’t especially so.
This isn’t to say that ECCC and RCCC and other large shows aren’t still great in their own way, or that the attendees that go to them are lesser somehow — everyone wants something different out of their convention, and it’s great that there’s a variety to choose from. But as a vendor, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep doing shows that haven’t been receptive to me.
So yeah, I had a great time at BCC, and I really appreciate the time and effort Eric Burris has put into this show. Maybe I still have an audience with the comic crowd after all. I’m already looking forward to next year. :)