On Sunday afternoon, the last day of Emerald City Comic-Con 2023, a five-person panel from showrunner ReedPop, headed up by Kristina Rogers, Vice President, Global Comics Portfolio shared their take on what worked, what didn’t, and what they hope to do next time at this Seattle pop culture convention, and responded to comments and questions from a relatively small, but engaged group of show attendees who came to the “Talk Back” session.
At the front of the room was Rogers, Chris D’Lando, Event Manager; Kylie Mason, Marketing Manager; Ryan Will, Senior Director, Global Sales, and Liz Jaite, Content Manager for ReedPop’s Comics Events. Each responded to comments about various aspects of this year’s show, including the smaller-than-usual roster of comics creators as guests and comics publishers in the exhibit halls, snafus with the escalators and elevators in the new Seattle Convention Center Summit Building, and the “anemic” presence of manga and anime panels or guests in this year’s show programming.
But that’s not to say that it was all complaints. As one attendee put it, “the difference between whining and complaining is being able to suggest a solution.” Several attendees offered constructive criticism and suggestions for improvements, along with a few kudos too. Here’s some of the highlights and key takeaways from the ECCC 2023 talk back session:
ATTENDANCE UP, BUT STILL NOT AT PRE-PANDEMIC LEVELS
When asked about ECCC 2023’s attendance numbers compared to years past, Rogers replied, “2023’s attendance is up 10% compared to 2022, and 2022 was up 9% compared to 2021, but we still haven’t hit our 2019 (pre-COVID) attendance.
NEW BUILDING, NEW PROBLEMS
This year’s show was the first major event held in the new Seattle Convention Center Summit Building. A dazzling six-story building with lots of thoughtful architectural touches like indoor steps/benches that look out onto Pine Street to the waterfront, fairly reliable free wi-fi, and more USB/electrical plugs than most airports. However, there were several problems with the building, including escalators that were shutdown during busy periods of the show, elevators that were slower than usual and sometimes too busy to accommodate attendees with wheelchairs or strollers.
Another pain point was that the main exhibit hall was on Floor 0, a fact that was missed by many attendees who instead went to Floor 2 where several booths and artists alley was located.
There were long lines for food concession stands, partly because there were so few of them. All of these issues and more were discussed, and Rogers and team promised to look into them and address them before next year’s show.
WHERE ARE THE COMICS PUBLISHERS?
One attendee at the ECCC Talk Back panel remarked, “I see the comics side of Comic-Con going downhill.” While there were a handful of publishers, including MadCave, Xenoscope and indies like ShortBox and Bulgilhan Press exhibiting this year, it’s true that the major US publishers DC and Marvel, as well as Pacific Northwest-based companies like Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics and Fantagraphics were missing from the exhibit hall floor.
“The relationships are still there, but staffing is an issue,” said Ryan Will, Senior Director, Global Sales for ReedPop. Exhibiting at a show like ECCC means that companies need to have people to staff the booth, as well as the manpower and budget to plan, design and bring creative talent to the show. “(Publishers) are eager and excited to come back, but for this year’s show, the timing just didn’t work out.”
But even for the publishers that were there, one big problem was the show maps, which lacked booth numbers on the printed maps and a few omissions that left exhibitors wondering if they missed out on sales because people didn’t know they were there or where they were located on the show floor.
First time exhibitors Zach Clemente of Boston-based Bulgilhan Press and Zainab Ahktar of UK small press publisher ShortBox had a few things to say about their ECCC experiences after the show:
Just landed back in Boston. We had a lovely time in Seattle meeting comics makers and showing off our books to new readers at ECCC. Unfortunately, our sales were rather poor – hopefully we’re able to work with ReedPop in the future to better include small press publishers.
— Bulgilhan Press (@bulgilhan) March 6, 2023
When we emailed @emeraldcitycon about a refund, they told us to feedback to them how things went and they’d make a decision after the con with our input. Received an email on Sat telling us someone had walked by our booth and it ‘looked busy’ so they wouldn’t be refunding us.
— ShortBox (@Short_Box) March 7, 2023
We’d love to do ECCC again and reliablely table at ReedPop shows when it makes sense to do so, but this issue needs to be addressed for all small press/comics collectives. It just won’t be economically viable for us otherwise.
— Bulgilhan Press (@bulgilhan) March 6, 2023
NEW AND POPULAR: LARPING AND K-POP
“We increased community programming because you asked us for more ways for attendees to interact with each other. We did LARPing for the first time, and our K-Pop dance programing was very popular too. We really want to expand gaming next year, especially tabletop gaming,” said Rogers. “We want to offer attendees value for their badges.”
The LARPING area on the third floor was spacious and gave fans who got the required wristband to register their ‘weapons’ space to cross swords and spar. It was quite the sight.
Other programs that were well received included the cosplay workshops, although one attendee was surprised to see that attendance required signing up in advance. “The cosplay workshops came in pretty last minute,” said Liz Jaite, Content Manager for ReedPop comics events. “They’re really awesome, so they’re definitely coming back next year, but we’ll try to make it easier for you to sign up through our website and app.”
Kudos were also shared for the various “lounges” for attendees, including the Pride Lounge, and just a Quiet Lounge to relax away from the show floor.
“ANEMIC” ANIME AND MANGA PROGRAMMING
One notable lack in the ECCC programming and exhibitor mix this year was anime and manga. On Floor 5, there was an ‘anemic’ Pop Asia area, with tables staffed by groups promoting Japanese culture and travel to Japan, a half-baked manga library with some beanbag chairs, cosplay meet-up areas and K-Pop dance sessions.
When asked about this state of affairs, Rogers replied, “We want to support the AAPI community here, but we also don’t want to come across as ‘othering.” I asked, “Why not work with Sakura-Con on this?” (Sakura-Con is the regional anime convention that’s traditionally held a few weeks after Emerald City Con in late March / early April). “They never answer our emails,” replied Rogers. “It’s not like we don’t want to work with them.”
Another factor that got in the way of inviting guests from Japan for this year’s show is that “the US/Japan travel restrictions only loosened up a few months ago, so that made it difficult to make travel plans for those guests,” said Rogers.
KUDOS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR THE ECCC MOBILE APP
The ECCC mobile app got some nice compliments for ease of use and features that made it easy to find the various events where the show’s special guests could be found. There were a few suggestions to add additional features to make it easier to navigate the show, but overall, it got more positive comments than “constructive criticism.”
YOU TOO CAN TALK BACK TO REEDPOP ABOUT ECCC
Want more comics publishers and comics creators at ECCC next year? Fil out the survey (link sent by email to all attendees). “Tell us who you want to see (as guests). The survey is how we plan our strategy for the show. It also helps us make a case to publishers about what you want,” said D’Lando.
“If you want to see your favorite comics creator at the show, tell us on the survey,” said Will. It helps us make a case to publishers when we can tell them 50 people told us they want to see someone here at the show next year.”
The survey arrived in ECCC attendee inboxes today, so if you were at the show this year, fill it out and make your voice heard about what you want to see at Emerald City Comic-Con 2024.
Ready to make plans for next year? 2024 dates were announced this week too: February 29 – March 3. Sign up at https://www.emeraldcitycomiccon.com/ to get notified first when tickets go on sale.
Did you go to Emerald City Comic-Con this year? What did you think? What were your highlights or thoughts about what you wish was different about this year’s show? Add your comments below!