Yesterday, I attended the Calgary Comix Expo. No, I did not see Signourney. I did see R.L. Stine. I did not say hello, though I could have. I was early, there was no one at his table and he was chatting with another writer whose name I didn't know.
I have not been to a fa-boy Expo in many years. There have been some changes. The cosplay is impressive to those people impressed by cosplay (not me, but that's not important). There used to be a lot of arrogance at these things, a sort of we-are-the-table-masters sort of vibe, where the important people were those who hosted the tables and the visitors were expected to genuflect before speaking. That's gone, and I think its gone because the cosplayers are the ones in control now. And they're friendly. They want you to get your picture taken with them (no, I have no pictures) and they want to be praised . . . so, overall, the atmosphere is much friendlier than my recollections.
The tables, and the displays, have become a sad cavalcade of mediocrity, productive after-thinking and neediness, powdered with depression and boredom. It was possible to stand in one spot and see four or five solitary figures behind their tables, faces slack, eyes glassy, lost in their thoughts. All one needed to do was pause at a table and meet the vendor's eyes to see a sick kind of gratefulness steal over their faces, which washed away the moment one moved on. It isn't as though I did this intentionally; it was impossible to walk through the displays to see what was there, without occasionally catching the displayer's eye - making it hard to endure that disappointment over and over again as the time progressed. There was little upon their tables to interest me.
On several occasions my partner Tamara and I stood against the wall where we could survey as much of the room as possible, to see what would appeal from a distance and thus compel us to be interested. There was very little. The signs and banners people posted were too small; many of them were pinned to the table skirts, where they were hidden by people's legs or bodies, rather than high up where they could be seen easily. I was astounded by how little the vendors employed the verticality of their spaces - though it was clear from those few that did that this was an option. Throughout, many of the vendors created displays two or three feet high that sat on top of the tables - obscuring the vendors themselves, so that they seemed like defenders behind fortresses designed to keep people out.
Perhaps, after I do this myself, setting out to sell my own book, I will hire out an expensive consultant to teach people how to market their wares in a public setting. Much of what I saw was simply appalling.
The best display is the seller. The seller's open, pleasing countenance, the sense of wishing to meet others, the encouragement of visitors themselves who want to talk and express themselves. I could estimate there was easily twenty, thirty million dollars on the floor in the hands of the visitors flowing past the booths, like casting a line into a school of fish.
Once, when I was a boy about nine, I went fishing on a creek near Crimson Lake, west of Caroline Alberta, a river I wouldn't know where to find now. On the river was a little twenty five foot waterfall, just a splatter of water dropping over a ledge from a watercourse that was ten-feet wide, that had made a deep hole at its base that was about 30 feet wide. There were four of us who set to fish that hole, my father, my brother and I, and a friend of my father's named Jim Smith. That day, I had one of the best fishing memories I've ever had, as that hole was full of rainbow trout. It only took three or four casts to hook one, so we caught and released for a couple hours, keeping six that over a pound for breakfast the next day, and about fifty more between the four of us we didn't keep. Perhaps we caught fish we had caught before.
To me, that's what a convention would be like.
It was clear, however, that many of the vendors - particularly the artists - were painfully short of talent; the lack of any training was evident. People displayed art on simple foolscap paper. I talked to one such fellow, who claimed that this was his fifth expo; and it became clear after talking to him and his partner, affable as they were, that the table price was an excuse to be at the expo all weekend, and in order to have a chair to which they could return between sightseeing. The 'art' was an excuse. The artist wasn't serious about it at all.
I felt a boost of confidence from this. I felt comfortable talking with the people, discussing their set-ups and motivations, and took an opportunity to sit with a friend behind one of the tables and pitch a little to the visitors on her behalf. I have no doubt I will control the space in Toronto. I have a dominant personality, a very friendly one when I wish to suppress my politics or my beliefs, and I have long known how to perform. Things should be very good come August.