How to Host Your Dream Convention

There have been a lot of conventions and exhibitions cancelled this year. San Diego Comic-Con, BookExpo, BookCon, Unbound. All cancelled due to our new COVID-19 world. For me, it’s not the big conventions I mourn. Most of them, while they will struggle, will still have enough mass media to keep them going in 2021. Instead, spare a thought for the smaller events; those special treasures just starting out and ready to fill the precious book niche you have been dreaming of. Go ahead and google “how to host your dream convention” and then amp it up to the “2020” edition.

Yeah. It hurts me too.

Top of My List: Brazen Comics Festival 2020 (Sydney, Australia)

One of the conventions I was really looking forward to this year was the Brazen Comics Festival. Created by two amazing women from my monthly comic book meet-up (Siobhan Coombs and Meagan Date), Brazen Comics Festival is a brand new comics convention, originally scheduled for May 2020 in Sydney, Australia. Due to COVID-19 and lockdown laws on social distancing and big events, the Brazen Comics Festival has currently been suspended until later in the year. Fingers crossed.

The Brazen Comics Festival (Brazen) ticks all the boxes for the things we love about conventions (guests, panels, artist alleys, kids workshops) but it has an added twist. It is also a celebration of women, nonbinary, and gender diverse people in comics.

That’s right, people. Brazen was going to be one huge safe space for comic fans and creators to express themselves. Women, nonbinary, and gender-diverse comic fans want to be heard…and we will be!!

Where Did ‘Brazen’ Come From?

The idea of Brazen took form thanks to Meagan’s involvement in ‘Queens of Kings’, our Sydney-based comic book club. The Queen’s group are amazing; a bunch of women, nonbinary, and gender-diverse individuals getting together to talk about comics, graphic novels, movies, artists, and writers. I am not exaggerating when I say it is the highlight of my month. More recently, we have been meeting via Zoom, and it is still a joy when I see their faces fill the screen.

To be perfectly honest, the idea of organising my dream comic book convention sounds a little nightmarish. I wouldn’t know where to start!! So I went straight to the source: I asked Siobhan and Meagan how to host your dream convention. Now, Queens of Kings is the creation of Siobhan from Kings Comics. Between Meagan’s work in women’s rights and Siobhan’s extensive experience within the comic book industry, these two ladies put their heads together and came up with Brazen.

Meagan started me off with the foundation:

“Take everything you have ever loved about any convention or festival you have been too. Write that down first. That way you’re starting with the positive.”

Siobhan adds: “You also have to think of everything you have ever wanted at a con—the stuff that was missing and you know would have really made the event better for you. Add that to your list. That’s your starting point.”

How to Host Your Dream Convention

After a bit of water-cooler discussion, a look-back to our favourite conventions, and applying the Brazen Formula mentioned above, let’s narrow it down a bit. If you want to know how to host your dream convention, you’re going to need:

  • A Solid Theme
  • Special Guests
  • Artists Alley
  • Workshops

A Solid Theme

A theme gives a soul to your convention. For Brazen, the theme is the celebration of women, nonbinary, and gender-diverse individuals in the comic book industry. It seems fairly simple, right? Of course the festival is open to EVERYONE, however, the theme is to lift the voices of those often ignored. To give them a platform that is often marginalised in favour of mainstream creators.

Special Guests

The Cold Hard Truth is people will be looking at your guest list. However, there is a way to work with this. Talk to your local library or comic book store. There is always someone there who knows the local talent and that is the best starting point. Since Siobhan works at the local comic book store, she already knew the local talent. Keeping with the theme, it was fairly easy to make the wishlist of guests and then entice their interest.

If you’re going for local, make it local artists only. If you are aiming for women/NB/gender-diverse, then ensure your guests are happy to be part of the empowerment. This is important because guests cost money, and it is likely to be your personal money until investors or artist alley applications start rolling in. More on costs shortly.

Artists Alley

Now it’s time to open the floor to other interested parties, people who haven’t had the opportunity to showcase to the public. Artists Alley often becomes the major feature of any festival and convention. It is the first place you will bring in some money for the convention (which will pay for your guests and costs, more on that shortly). You have a theme, so stick with it. However, don’t be afraid of opening the floor to all. Having the accessibility and availability for all may be just the ticket to encourage a new burgeoning creator to step up and show their work.

Workshops

Anything you can do to involve the attendees is a GOOD thing. People who attend conventions and festivals want to be part of them. It’s not just a shopping fest; we find that in stores physically and online. Instead, festivals and conventions are a time to share our love with like-minded people. It can also be an opportunity to find something new.

For a festival like Brazen, this is an opportunity to see women/NB/gender-diverse creators sharing their stories. For example, having a kids workshop encourages kids to expand on their creativity in a safe-space without restraint. Every convention I have been to, kids workshops are always a hit but many of them are reduced to “let’s draw Spider-Man!”. The one workshop my kids really loved, the creator was all about encouraging kids to share their own creations and their own voices. When we heard of the workshop at Brazen, all three of my kids jumped in straight away.

How Much Money Are We Talking About?

Let’s set one thing straight: Do not think you are going into this to make money. Even if it is successful (and there’s always a chance it won’t be), this is not an opportunity for you to ‘start printing your own money’. The cost is purely dependent on your convention, and costs will vary greatly across the board.

As mentioned previously, you will most likely need at least one guest—and most guests will require money. Even if you do not have a guest, you will need a venue to hold the event. Check they have public liability insurance or if you will need it yourself. Then there’s advertising, promotion, and equipment. You can make a bit of money offering space in Artists Alley and exhibitioners but you will still need to provide some essential structure to support them. And a lot of these things are going to require upfront payment before you start selling tickets for entry.

Meagan and Siobhan were both fully aware of this before they jumped in, yet it still required some heavy investing of their private funds to start it off. Brazen was also helped along with a crowdfunding campaign held in March 2020. They successfully raised over $3,000 along with additional donations from people throughout the comic book industry who wanted to support their cause. If you are looking for financial support, spread the word through all of your like-minded friends and all of their like-minded friends. The more support you rally, the easier it will be for people to be part of your convention.

Is Now the Best Time for a Convention?

Honestly? Probably not. While COVID-19 lockdown is easing all around the world, there is still a hesitancy to engage in mass indoor gatherings. Every time I hear of an indoor event, it seems to be followed a week later with a rise in COVID-19 cases.

However, now would be a good time to start planning. Pick a theme for your dream convention. Make a list of guests. Brainstorm features you would love to see. And most of all, start the conversation with like-minded people. Find your support. Conventions like the Brazen Comic Festival may be temporarily suspended but our passion for reading still grows.

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