Retropolis Special Report: I Think Pittsburgh Comicon and I are Breaking Up

Pittsburgh-Comicon2   This is a very special Retropolis, much more Pitt-centric than anything I have done before, but I needed to tell everybody in Retropolis about something that was once supercool but now has fallen on tough times. And thats what part of Retropolis is all about.

 

 

Dear Pittsburgh Comicon,

 

Look I know we’ve been seeing each other a long time, but I think it might be over. I just feel like I don’t know you anymore. And I feel like you could be so much more.

 

I remember all the good times,times when the old ExpoMart was chock full of artists dealers and most of all, Pittsburgh people. For a long time the Pittsburgh Comicon took place in April and was the kickoff for many artists and small presses and dealers of their con season. It was my hometown con and the first real comic book convention I ever went to. If I hadn’t gone to Pgh Comicon I never would have made some of the geeky friends that I have,  I would probably have never gotten into podcasting (going on 6 years now), and I wouldn’t have realized that there was a whole nation of geeks of every stripe who, just like me, were enthusiasts of obscure things. I even believed in Pgh. Comicon so much that when the Comic Geek Speak guys stopped coming to Pittsburgh Comicon in favor of organizing their own con (SuperShow) on the other side of Pa., I took over the dubious duty of hosting and asking the questions at the convention’s annual Trivia Contest. Pittsburgh Con was truly something special at one time but lately it seems like my hometown con has kind of lost its way in more ways than one.

 

First off, moving the con to its present spot in September is a terrible idea. Its scheduled right between Baltimore Comic-Con and NYCC, two of the biggest cons in the region and because of that the talent that is available to be booked for Pittsburgh is a more limited field. Dealers, artists and small press people are looking at the con season as their revenue stream and when forced to choose between the bigger shows and Pgh. pure economics dictates those booth-renters choose one of the other shows.There are fewer artists that are willing to include Pgh.in their schedules because of its crappy timing in relation to the two other bigger cons on the same region. The attraction for many of the con goers of the Pgh Comicon was that it was the beginning of their whole con “season” and thus more people looked forward to it and attended. Every single vendor and artist I spoke to said they had done not as well as they had expected to at this years Pgh. Comicon and would have to reconsider before returning.

    Next its not really a PITTSBURGH con is it? I know a lot of the cream-of-the-crop of local comics artists and writers who were not at the Pgh. Comicon (including Ed Piskor,Jim Rugg, Tom Scioli, Dave Wachter, Wayne Wise and Marcel Lamont Walker among others) who will all definitely be representing at PIX, the Pittsburgh Indy Comics Expo that actually takes place in Pittsburgh. Many of the biggest and best comics dealers in Pittsburgh were conspicuous by their absence as well.There is a giant convention center downtown and a lot of hotels with empty rooms, right? Cities like San Diego, Chicago and Charlotte have all benefitted from embracing the economic boost of out-of-town comic convention goers bring and Pittsburgh easily could do something similar. The con isn’t doing itself any favors by being out in Monroeville.

And along those lines why does no one in Pittsburgh even know we have a comicon going on? Pittsburgh is an extremely geeky city and yet no one in the city even knows when or where the comicon is every year. There was no notice in the local city paper or newspapers, no TV or radio ads, not even a “Good Morning Pittsburgh” appearance with some cosplayers, none of that. Unless you were already on the Comicon’s email list or FB page, or were driving out in Monroeville for the past few days and saw the lawn signs, you would’ve had no idea there was a comicon going on here at all. The Avengers movie made a billion dollars. New potential con-goers want to know about this kind of thing because they have heard about and seen comicons in other places. Even some sort of viral promotion or featured article on a local webzine like Pop City would’ve been something more than what was done. The web site looks like its a relic from Geocities as well. How hard would it be to set up a better-looking WordPress alternative that would be easily updateable and made current as guests were booked and events were announced?

Next I really have to call out the program’s cover. Stay with me here. The cover is a double page spread by Jim Balent, formerly of DC’s Catwoman and now of his own Broadsword Comics, featuring eight female characters all suggestively posed with enormous breasts as big as their heads. How am I supposed to bring my family to something that promotes its own program in such a crassly sexist manner? How do I explain that image to my son or daughter if I am trying to show them how great comics can be as a hobby? I’m no prude or anything but for the cover of the program of an event that is ostensibly selling itself to families and the ever-growing female geek demographic this cover art is just immature and unprofessional looking.

Much like the swag table, which held stacks of posters from Star Trek Nemesis and the first Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie, pins and buttons from the live action Scooby Doo movie of 2002 and a whole bunch of Spider-Man 3 trading cards.Can’t anybody in their organization shoot an email to any movie studio for promotional materials to give away that someone might actually want? Looking through the Pgh. Comicon swag table was like doing an archeology of old forgotten promos. People should be excited by what they see as they walk into the con not mildly amused by irony.

Another area the con is totally lacking in is a solid program beyond the real highlight of the show, the Quick Draw Auctions. A great example: at this years con they had two of the Doctor’s companions and another actor who had appeared on Doctor Who as well,(Jeremy Bulloch), plus a full size TARDIS to have your picture taken with, yet no panel scheduled about Doctor Who at all. Look, I have a lot of fun doing the trivia contest and I think somewhat if not too highly of myself,  but my one man dog-and-pony show should not be the main attraction at Noon on Saturday at the high point of the con. Thats when you schedule your Guest of Honor, or something with mass appeal among comics nerds, something that would draw the people into the other part of the con floor that they might not otherwise venture to. The “Q and A with Oscar the Grouch” was done with the legendary Carroll Spinney doing his Oscar voice with a bunny puppet instead of his iconic green Muppet. All these things could’ve been solved with better planning by a group that had some idea what would be popular with the con-goers and with some attention to detail.

And finally there is this:

‘Comic book’ murder figure loses appeal

 

   You can make up your own mind how you feel about that. Renee George owns and runs the Pittsburgh Comicon, and in the interest of full disclosure I must say that she has only ever treated me professionally, cordially and with respect.

    We had some great times together Pittsburgh Comicon. I will always remember them, but we’ve both changed I guess. I expect a little more than what it seems you are willing to do and I guess i have changed more than you. I would love to see Pittsburgh Comicon resurge and surpass its former glory and be on a par with Baltimore, C2E2 or HeroesCon, a source of civic and geek pride, moved to the big convention center downtown and inclusive of  all of the wonderful geeky resources and people that the Steel City has to offer instead of a shadow of its former self. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.

Jim Dietz

Jim Dietz is the cohost of “Nothing’s On’

 

 

2 thoughts on “Retropolis Special Report: I Think Pittsburgh Comicon and I are Breaking Up

  1. My friend called me last week and wanted to know if I was going to the show and I said, “There’s a con this weekend?” I had no idea. Then he asked “Didn’t you notice there wasn’t one in the spring?” Well no. The Pittsburgh Con is like the movie “Groundhog Day”. It’s the same thing over and over. They just blur together. I could go years without missing it.

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