From the Other Side (Of the Convention Table)
A brief introduction. A few fans of the Sun Bros may have seen a small Asian girl popping up from time to time at a booth or two. My name is Bonnie Fan, and I’m an intern at Sun Bros Studios. But in answer to most inquiries, I am not:
1) A Sun Bro (though I can masquerade as one with Wesley’s fedora or Brad’s aviators)
2) Wesley’s wife
3) Brad’s wife
4) Anyone’s wife whatsoever
In fact, I can’t even claim as committed of a relationship to comics compared to most in the world of panel and ink–whether creator, distributor, or fan. I can’t quote to you the issue number of [work] when [character did something significant]. I couldn’t even begin to attempt the Stan Lee character naming poster challenge at Wizard World. I can’t even unmask an eight year old comics forum handle or a show off my wall of posters [etc].
The most I can claim is finding a connection to this world, one I guarded as my own–a private, almost “hide-it-in-your-drawer” kind of distraction that provided me escape. For other fans, I was a lurker. For creators, I was invisible–I never bought a single thing I couldn’t get my hands on for free. There were cartoons I watched as a kid, the strips I grabbed for on Sundays, the manga I’d sheepishly rip from the internet, the graphic novels I borrowed from libraries and friends, and the webcomics I found instead of my studies.
This is all to explain how I have found myself an attendee at only three conventions so far–two as a hybrid booth-buddy and booth-browser, and only one as a bona fide convention-goer. The question in writing about my perspective from my brief stints on both sides of the convention table (title drop!) is not only how my experience manning a booth has shaped my experience in buying from them (and vice-versa), but also how the hell you get any warm-blooded lurker such as myself to a convention to see and buy work from artists in the first place.
For freeloaders such as myself, comics-as-a-hobby is unique for two reasons:
1) It’s highly private.
The Rationale: Like with any interest that grows out of the sock drawer, I never aired comics out much in social settings. My appreciation for sequential art largely remained a private part of my life–not out of a sense of shame, but simply by virtue of relating to comics on a uniquely personal level. I remember trying to pass on a monthly comic I would read on a regular basis, Subnormality. I enjoyed the long form of the comic, which featured subtle essay-like what-if scenarios and existential explorations taking advantage of the infinite canvas of the web.“Too long, didn’t read,” would invariably be the response. (As advertised: the tagline is “Comix with too many words since 2007”). Discovering new comics and following comics were products of my own tastes and preferences. I enjoyed odd surreal humor, the visual realization of thoughts that were a reflection of my own. Like any good work I had to identify myself within the comics I read.
2) It’s narrow.
The Rationale: Anything discovered solo lends itself to developing on a certain level of niche interest. Given the explosion of new works available in the world of comics and given the accessibility of the internet and ease of creation using graphics programs, there is a tendency to stick to a specific range of creators and latch on. I blame my own relative ignorance of mainstream comics on this narrow sighted pick-and-choose process.
Without a comics community, I never felt compelled to build my own collection or connect with artists through buying their work. Chinatown came to me externally from my own private comics search, through the local Chicago Hyde Park community. It was a story I could connect to on a personal level, with wisps of a culture I knew from my childhood transplanted into a beautifully drawn, nightmarish landscape. At the same time, this personal relevance extended out into my wider social circles–I had friends and acquaintances who knew the Sun Bros and Wesley’s connections to the University ensured fellow students were aware of the work too. If there’s a first step to seeing the inside of my wallet, it’s in building a fan community I can exist in.
My evolution from freeloading is still in process. Though I may still be the kid scrounging for change and promising ten times to return to your booth, there’s a case to be made for trying to draw out the freeloading fan. I’ve discovered that as a con-goer, my world is entirely geared towards the newcomers. It’s all about fresh material. When I am at a convention, I’m not comparing for the lowest priced limited edition book with the least number of dog-eared pages. Original art is just as exciting to me as the Marvel and DC books, and in some sense, because I’m not dealing with a bristling long line, extended universes, and alternate storylines, I’m more drawn to the smaller name artist alley booths.
Without my lurking freeloading habits, I probably wouldn’t have been as drawn as I was to another story within Sun Bros Studios–the origins of their comic-making venture–and here I am today, still following that story.