“…A Republic, if you can keep it.”
This weekend is the MCBA Fall Comic-con in St.Paul, MN. I will, for the first time in about ten years, not be attending.
I had intended to not say much of anything about why, (an unusual show of restraint by me) but it appears that…people being what they are…me shutting up is, instead of leaving the matter rest, only opening the door for others to run their mouths. So..Fine…let’s break this all down out in the open.
This show had been, up to last year, for the entirety of my career been run by the Mid West Comic Book Association (MCBA)…or more accurately Nick Post, who took it from a small show in several rooms of an absurd hotel to a Midwest juggernaut overflowing the largest building in the MN State fairgrounds. Nick, was a juggernaut himself, full of vision and energy, a powerful, enthusiastic personality that one would be inclined to follow on even a menial errand because an air of excitement that swirled around him at all times. It was no surprise he was able to grow the show so well, aside from/ in large part because of the traits I mentioned, he had that town wired. He could probably have had the local police force direct traffic right to the show if he wanted to…them being willing to just based on the diabolical wry grin on his face when he proposed the idea. He passed away just a little over a year ago. It is now run equally by three different people.
At this point anyone who has been involved in large project is shaking their heads in wonderment as to why anyone would think having three people equally in charge is a good idea. I’ll get to that shortly. ANYWAYS, I offered whatever help they needed sincerely and forthrightly. Being that I have attended well over a hundred different comic book conventions across the U.S. and have insight and connections in every aspect of this industry…and the three men in tri-charge have little to no experience besides volunteering at the two MCBA shows in St.Paul, and seeing as how these shows helped launch my career, and because I have been part of this show since it’s early stages helping it grow, and because I know how special this con WAS and how important is WAS to have such a show exist amid the growing glut of franchise/soulless/corporate run comic cons, I was all in on aiding this show and helping it continue to move forward.
I got them a handful of new guests of considerable clout, and helped tweek a few things, tried to help them avoid obvious pitfalls, and keep the show moving in a direction worthy of the efforts of everyone who has been involved with the show over it’s 25 plus year history. Some of the advice was taken, some was not, that’s all fine…I say my piece and people can agree or disagree on it having value, I don’t take things like that personally, after all, I have been known to argue as much for fun as for progress.
I made ONE request. ONE. A simple request of one head of the three headed leadership which would help me help the show, he agreed, and then went back on his word. Pure and simple. This was not a case of promising more than he ended up being able to do, or biting off more than he could chew, or trying and failing, or having a bunch of variables pop up that impeded him following through. It literally took more effort and expense to the show to go back on his word than to keep it. He just flat out went back on his word for the sake of looking like a big shot convention operator to the handful of people who were paying attention …none of whom seemed all that impressed. I don’t know about you, but I try to avoid being associated with people who put attempting to look cool ahead of keeping their word…I’m funny that way. I sent A… as is ONE… brief email withdrawing my offer for assistance. That is all. I didn’t yell, or rant and rave at anyone, there was no altercation, there was no heated argument, there was no screaming match. I didn’t so much as have one conversation with the dope at the show, as he never came by my booth to apologize, say f*ck you, thank me for the substantial help I did provide or even make sure I was in the right place. He simply made a big horseshoe shaped path around me several times. Classy.
One of the other tri-leaders did come by and said hello, and the other…to be completely honest…just seemed too preoccupied to talk to anyone. Anything beyond that, that alleged to have happened between me and either of the three guys on the subject, is pure fiction. “Fiction” as in a fabricated story not based in reality. What possible conceived benefit such fictions were meant to create…I have no earthly idea, it certainly wouldn’t harm my mystique any, or create any shock, for people to think I lost my temper. I am no stranger to controversy, have no qualms about making an ass out of someone, or admitting I made an ass out of myself, as either scenario is often very entertaining for my readers. If there was anything more that happened between me and either of these guys, I would gladly mention it, or at the very least, if it was a private conversation, say that there was a conversation that went on that was private.
NOW THEN, as long as things have already taken an ugly turn…
The dope going back on his word is not by itself cause enough for me to take a pass on a lucrative show. Especially one that helped launch my career, and that I helped grow into the show that it is (since FIRST exhibiting in 1997). Make no mistake about that last point either because much of my ire and dismay is based on seeing my own efforts in peril. I put considerable effort into helping grow this show, via my website, social media, my column on Comic related, countless interviews I was asked to do as I grew from obscure independent to contributor to Mad magazine, to certified T.V. comedy writer (okay, it’s just shorts on basic cable…but that still counts), my considerable fan base in the midwest, and my own reputation. As over the years I have stuck my neck out, and voiced my earnest opinion regardless of whom I may piss off, my word matters. The many smoldering bridges I have left in my wake have given me unquestionable credibility even amongst those who hate my ass. If I say a convention, a publisher, a book, a comic book pro is worthwhile…people pay attention, even if they personally think I am a jackass…they know I mean what I say and am astute, insightful and check my facts. So, me throwing my weight and reputation into this show year after year, has in fact helped it grow in attendees, AND guests it would not otherwise have been lured to St.Paul MN. I have no illusions about my clout mind you, at a show like New york comic-con or Comic-Con International me being there/raising hell about it doesn’t really make a sneeze worth of difference, but at a medium sized show my weight does help pad the margins. My weight behind a show that started in the back rooms of a hotel is an even more considerable jolt. I took great pride in being one of those who helped it grow because this show was special and was a needed example of what a comic-con can/should be in to other franchises or shows in an era where so many new ones are popping up.
I find it personally irritating when something I helped grow gets jacked up. Irritating when someone who I respect has something they worked hard to build gets jacked up, and irritating when something that is a positive element in the world gets jacked up. I find myself in the position where being irritated is about all I can do, that and look out for myself. That, despite years of work and attendance, are the only roads open to me. The one man who is currently a legitimate shareholder in the MCBA seems content to let well meaning, yet unqualified men drive the wheels off this thing. A phrase comes to mind here…”the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It is my opinion that at least two of the three heads had good intentions. Good intentions make you a good person, it does not make you a good leader.
You cannot simply inherit leadership. Leadership is partly disposition that some people have and some people don’t and partly earned. Leadership is about courage, results, experience, decision making, and understanding people. Leadership is different than “being in charge”, anyone can end up “in charge” through any number of circumstances, but if people don’t see you busting your ass (different than talking about all the work you do) and/or producing results (your own results as opposed to living off the diminishing returns of someone else’s labors) than you will not, in their eyes, have earned leadership, and people will be less likely to help you. Not just volunteers, but guests, exhibitors, local stores. A project like this, you need a lot of outside help, benefit of the doubt, and people doing more than asked because they are stoked about being part of something that matters, and have confidence in you.
Perhaps I should have been saying “leaders” since they have set it up so that THREE men are equally in charge….? Why? I don’t know, maybe they noticed we have three presidents, or the baseball team has three general managers, or the football team has three head coaches, or Apple rose to success with three equal CEO’s…oh…wait, none of that is true…BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS. Having three people equally in charge leads to confusion, slow decision making, and lack of motivation via lack of specific personal responsibility, counter productivity, redundancy, and slowness to adapt on the fly. When you are a small to medium sized entity competing with larger entities, the ability to make quick decisions and adapt on the fly are your greatest advantages. What’s that you say? “stop listing the reasons having three people equally in charge is asinine because anyone over twelve years old already understands this”…okay…sorry…I just thought I should list some reasons since three GROWN MEN thought it was a good idea.
It is possible that they set up a tri-leadership scenario because none of the three could legitimately lay claim to being qualified to run an entire show themself. None of the three men in charge have much experience with comic book conventions beyond the one they volunteered for on a semi yearly basis before deciding to hoist the entire said show onto their shoulders…and I don’t just mean no experience RUNNING a comic-con, I mean no experience even GOING to other comic-cons outside of St.Paul…except perhaps C2E2. For that matter none of them have much experience managing large groups of people AT ALL, much less managing people who are working for free (something that requires much more finesse, charm and people skills) . Saying they are not qualified is a accurate fair assessment by someone who has been to over 100 different Comic-cons, and not based on irritation. They are not qualified and there is no malice in that statement or two ways about it. Let’s all stop and understand that we are talking about a business that services upwards of 9000 customers via 300 different subcontractors (vendors, exhibitors , guests) in two days. This is NOT kid stuff. This is NOT an entry level position sized show (yet), this is NOT something in the competitive 2015 marketplace you can learn as you go and hope to survive.. Take a medium sized show, that’s 10,000 attendees at 20.00 a head = 200,000. Add to that the average of 300.00 a table for exhibitors x 300 tables =90,000. Add to that t-shirt sales or posters sold or whatever paraphernalia that con sells itself for it’s own benefit…a medium sized show generates real serious $$$. These are no longer glorified comic book clubs. This is a highly lucrative and competitive market place, no less complicated or ruthless than any other…despite the fact that many of it’s customers dress up like superheros.
When I say “not qualified” let me list the qualifications of David Wray who is in a leadership position at the Cincinnati Comic Expo as an example…
THOSE…are qualifications required to run a successful mid sized comic book convention in 2015. This job requires specific knowledge, organizational skills, logistical savy, relationships and connections in the industry for the very unique task of running a business that does 100% of it’s yearly business in one weekend. On top of that you are dealing with the unique situation of a room full of guests, exhibitors, vendors and attendees who ALL think they are the most important person in the room, ( a plumbers convention for example does not have the plumbers egos growing by the minute as they sign autographs) and who each have different needs and whom many are treating this weekend as though it is as critical from them as the D-Day landing. By and large the vendors, guest and exhibitors are counting on this weekend to make their month. they are stressed, self involved. You need to have enough clout or a personality overpowering enough to keep them all inline/pleased or it will be a clusterf*ck followed by a social media sh*tstorm at worst, and at the least lead to them being unhappy, that transferring onto the volunteers and attendees and ultimately making the show…less of a thrill and more of a choir for all involved..and that leads to decline. This is a job that takes a certain individual and years of experience. To offer an analogy, standing next to a guy preforming brain surgery every year does NOT qualify you to pick up the scalpel and have at it if he dies.
As far as I know, no one put a gun to these guys heads and said “run this show”, they just…decided they were in charge and were going to attempt to run this themselves. Based on WHAT reason honestly don’t know and neither do any of the all volunteer staff that talked to me about it. I know they took a pass on help from several people who were more qualified on specific tasks. PERSONALLY…I would have just hired someone who knows what they are doing to run the show, some second or third in charge from some other national convention…watched them for a couple years and then took over after his or her contract was up ( I don’t believe David is available but the are plenty of up and comers). But that’s just me…I know what I don’t know. If you are in the pit crew and the race car’s engine need overhauling, you find someone who knows how to overhaul an engine, you do not toss aside your tire iron and decide to give it a whirl yourself.
But give it a whirl they did. The spring show went on as planned riding the crest of the over 25 year track record of someone else. They made some changes to the floor plan, reduction of table space and prime locations usually given to some being assigned now to others seemed based on pettiness ( I am not talking about myself here, I had the same amount of space as usual, but, and it pains me to say this…there are other exhibits that draw a crowd and some of them who were dissenting voices got less space…classy), an addition of tables that had nothing what so ever to do with comic books seemed based on cronyism. Not a exactly signs, that they have creating a first class comic book convention in mind first and foremost.
You add that to a crowd that was somewhat less enthusiastic because they had to wait in in line for upwards of three hours in cold weather because none of the three in charge upon seeing the line stretched nearly off the fair grounds parking lot was inspired enough to open another set of doors with another card table in front of it to let people in faster. Remember that important ability to make decisions on the fly I mentioned? I have seen other shows simply adapt to crowd issues so that they don’t become a negative…hell, we’ve seen it at the grocery store, if a line gets too long a manager opens another register. There may be no greater sin to con attendees, nor one that gets spread across the internet faster than a long wait to get in. A long wait at comic-Con International or New york comic-con is one thing…waiting two to three hours in the cold to enter an airplane hanger in MN for a show that is only open for 7 hours is quite another. A more experienced promoter with sole claim to leadership would have ( and has at other shows) simply split up the grab bags and cash box and set up another folding table and opened another door. Not that show, I guess the dope who went back on his word to me to look like a big shot, also felt the need to look like a big shot by being the face of the show and greeting each and every person who walked in. I am sure they were all real impressed that he personally handed them a grab bag after they waited in line for two hours. The general malaise of volunteers who seemed to be less than impressed by ego trips, and confused by changes in duties made for the sake of making changes, the general level of confusion about the core points of running this show even 9 months after the passing of Nick, and the disheartening lack promotion online was not reassuring.
The online promotion that was done, was frankly…bizarre…The primary picture on the website leading up the the last show was not any of the featured guests or events, but an ad for a computer raffle…? THAT is not going to have people rounding up friends to road trip to your show. Nor is it going to sit well with guests who have agreed to travel from other parts of the country to find them selves getting second billing to a computer. On top of that, the inability to tell us if the attendance was up or down from the previous show for reasons I am still scratching my head over makes one weary of the direction the show is going.
I am, by and large, and independent creative entity, and margins are slim, and time is precious, I often have to make judgement calls on what is and is not going to be worth my time. I have to do this based not only on personal preference (displays of courage or lack there of, of the driving force of a project) but on pragmatism ( what the end results of the project may be ). So the lack of character displayed would not in and of itself be enough to have me take a pass on this show…IF I had faith in the upcoming results, some inkling that things would advance rather than recede…
As of writing this the MCBA FB page has tumbleweeds blowing across it, their twitter account has equally been underutilized since the end of the last show, save the times they are hash tagged by guests who are sparaticly doing their work for them. Someone should tell these guys how important social media is and that you have to stay very active on those sites or you fall off the newsfeeds of your followers and are replaced by more active accounts…oh wait…someone did try to tell them this, several people. The tried and true uniformed MCBA logo/profile pic that in years past all the volunteers and guests would use…seems to be missing even on the pages of people in charge. The main webpage has a few random pics of a show that looks like a glorified flea market with a few people in costumes rather than a nationally competitive comic book convention with top tier guests. I am on the mailing list under an alias and received an email about the show…TODAY ( the show is in three days). I hope they have town criers wandering St.Paul to grow attendance from locals because anyone from out of state who normally finds out on the internet hasn’t heard a peep. In fact this blog is likely to alert more people of the show via it’s subscribers than the online efforts of the actual promoters. Maybe this week they’ll fire off a huge salvo…which is going to do zero good to people who go the the show from out of state and need time to plan. Indy, Cincinnati, Baltimore, C2E2 Wizard World, NYCC, they started promoting…at the end of their shows last year. Then ramped up the online promotion starting three months out with daily and multi daily posts about who and what is going to be there and why you should go. As well as I do at these MCBA shows, after 15 years of building an audience in St.Paul, this show could be a total crap shoot as to how many people show up, and who shows up…have they figured out how to alert repeat attendees or are the just firing random shots into the comic book world darkness for any, all, or none to see?
As of this point there may still be someone out there who is overgenerous in their opinion of human nature and thinking “oh golly gee, they are doing their best, they are trying to keep the show afloat”. So allow me to beat the dead horse. Them running the show is about THEM. If they cared about the show they would have found someone qualified to run it. Someone you care about breaks their arm…do you try to set it yourself and mix up a batch of plaster in your sink and make up a homemade cast? Or do you find a doctor. There is a whole industry full of people who are actually qualified to do this who would have no learning curve. The ONLY reason to take this take on yourself is for your own ego. So you can say you are in charge of something or doing something or look what I did. I will give two of them the benefit of the doubt that they bit off more than they could chew…but that benefit of the doubt only covers the initial assessment of the task in front of them. After THAT…they kept going for themselves, to prove something, or they didn’t even realize that in 2015 comic-cons are an actual industry and you can simply search out someone with the required skills and hire them (if that is the case all the MORE evidence they are not qualified to run a show of this size) or who knows what. If it was about the show, they would have found the best person available to run the show…a show that has grown NOT because them all these years but them AND countless other who have invested time and effort….PERIOD. Is the show about these guys or is the show about the show?
I was sitting in a MCBA meeting some months before the spring show where a room full of volunteers with many useful specific skill sets eagerly awaited marching orders and basically got “we’re handling it…we’ll let you know”. I wasn’t too impressed by that, and didn’t think it went over too well…fast forward to now, I hear tell that as of this past weekend they were still trying to find volunteers to help run this fall show in a few days. That is a sign of impending mutiny or at the very least the all volunteer show that has thrived for over 25 years turning into an unrecognizable staff with a turnover rate worse than a Cinnabun at the mall, giving the leadership no credibility or claim to the MCBA title beyond no one else having a legal right to use it.
The MCBA has two share holders. The shares Nick owned are in limbo right now as lawyers decide. If I were one of his possible heirs, I would be very concerned about this entire mess and probably taking some action to make sure that there is a show left to inherit. It is very possible that the three men could become very adept at running a comic-con given some time, but they don’t have time. This isn’t 1997, comic-cons are big business. This show for example, in previous years generated over 150,000.00 dollars for two days of operation. That money and more is out there for the taking in the St.Paul area, and if MCBA can’t figure out how to do it, they will be plowed under by operators who can. Guests, volunteers, exhibitors, and attendees will be siphoned off, leaving nothing but the bones ,reducing the con back to being in the back room of a hotel…and probably not even that will be left. Their current main competition (no doubt more sharks will smell blood in the water) is Wizard World Ent. who is cut throat and likes to book their shows within a week of the competition. Most guests and vendors are not going to do two shows in the same city so close together, because they won’t have anything new to offer attendees in the area within a week, and so will not make any cash. They are going to pick ONE, and do so based on which one is going to bring in the most cash. This will leave the MCBA show with no other guests or attendees beyond whoever had the flu the week before.
Bottom line, despite my years of attendance and help, I don’t have the authority to do one damn thing about any of this, except not waste my weekend. I have a busy scheduled, a lot of work to do, and this has all the earmarks of a show that I am going to regret going to. Any allegiance I felt towards this crew went out the window when the goofball didn’t keep his word, and I have no reason to believe the usual fan base even knows it is going on. so it falls down to a business decision…and a pretty easy choice.
Three shows this year ended up being in a 30 day window. Cincinnati, which I know is well run and I make a killing at and is three days long, Baltimore which is well run, three days long, and I was confident I could do well at, and this show which is one day (the fall show is one day, the spring show is two days) and could be a success or a complete flop.
It would be a six hour drive to St.paul, and six hour drive back, for a six hour show two weeks after landing back home from a three day show in Baltimore, that was right after a three day show in Cincinnati. In years past I would have gone anyway, exhaustion and frantic schedule aside, because I was helping grow something and who could bear to tell Nick they weren’t going? He’d just tell you “yes your are”. This year…I said “meh”. I would go for the fans…but I have no confidence they have been INFORMED that there IS a show going on this weekend.
On a personal note, this is all a real bummer. I could be completely wrong of course, symptoms do not equal disease, everything could turn out great. Hopefully I am wrong for the sake of everyone involved with the show, but I’m usually not, especially when I have as much info on a subject as I do about this. The operators are of course encouraged to take any of my advice and criticism and alter the course, they can even pretend they thought of it on their own and never saw this blog, after all, this show may not be vital to me anymore but others look forward to it and even rely on it.
That’s it in a nutshell. As for being at their two day show in the spring…who knows. This blog sure ain’t a step in that direction is it? Anyways… They have my agents info and my agent has theirs. In years past I would just deal with booking this show personally but it’s my agents job to have people lie to him, he’ll deal with it more pragmatically than I. As for the A.L. fans…St. Paul is a big town and there are other shows to appear at. Hell, I hear Wizard World has a show there…and when you come right down to it, what was my problem all these years with Wizard World?…They jack around guests, their word is worthless, they falsify attendance numbers, their volunteers are unsure who to send you to when an issue comes up and unsure who to go to when a decision has to be made, the attendees are cranky because they always have to wait in line for hours to get in…
Pretty much apples to apples now, except that at least Wizard World has never PERSONALLY…SPECIFICALLY went back on their word to me. Their sins are the by product of incompetence or not giving a crap. So…I dunno I’ll be back in St.Paul soon one way or another. Stay tuned.
In the meantime…the online store is here, and I’ll have a sale starting today and going through the weekend, If you want I’ll even sign the stuff and write “mcba 2015!” on there. although future autograph experts may look at my con schedule that year and cry fraud.
coupon code – fallcon – 25% off