I recently got to have the fun of desecrating some of my own books for the cause of creating some artwork for a flier for an upcoming event. I really had fun with it, despite having to sacrifice some books for the project. I took a bunch of pics but here are a few of the fun ones.
Pulling Down The Tents
The thing you never think about when you do your little dreaming is – what happens if you get to live that dream? What then?
Though first, let’s take a moment and appreciate the dreams when we can live them. It’s not all the time, unless you have very narrow focus and dream small, which is fine, but sometimes, SOMETIMES it’s the big dreams that really push you. Sometimes it’s the big dreams that make you stretch. If nothing else it’s the big dreams that keep our hope alive. Even if it’s a dim and distant hope. Hope’s what drives us through life, and without it things get awful bleak.
We recently decided to put an end to my baby, the Flint Horror Con. This was a decision made for many reasons but for now, and maybe for good, it seems that it’s an idea that has run its course.
I have had many dreams throughout my life but as an adult one of the ones I had was to see a horror convention in Downtown Flint. This is a story that anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows so I won’t go into it again. It was thanks to some amazing friends, the trust of some great folks, and a lot of hard work but we pulled it off and the Flint Horror Convention had four fantastic years. We had our bumps and bruises, we had our stress, but we did what very few manage to. We did it our way, and we did it following our rules.
For me, and for the group that did the show, we started things as fans and remained fans throughout. And as such, it was about the fans. Too many conventions focus on hanging out with the celebs or on everything but the fans. It’s the fans that are the reason to DO a show. It’s the fans that make horror so special. And in Flint, there are a lot of fans. The thing is, we were a one day show, with a limited budget, and we weren’t going to try to drain every last dime from those fans. I figured ten bucks was a good price to get in. It is low enough for casual attendees to try and leaves people money for celebrities and vendors. And the thing is that you can do as well as you want at the gate but if the celebs and vendors don’t do well you’re screwed and the show was a bust. It’s a hard line to walk. But if you don’t walk it you don’t do future shows. I am sure we could have charged more, but I am glad we didn’t. Same goes for vendor tables. I have vended shows for twenty years and the costs are outrageous. I get that most shows are huge these days and that you have to charge according to cost of the show and the size of the guest roster but for smaller folks like me there was just no way I could make the table cost back. I would love to say I could but two hundred and fifty to three hundred dollars for a small writer like me is a LOT of money. I still did the shows, so I am not complaining that loudly but I also was keen to that when we did our show. For many vendors this is their livelihood and they have to be able to make money. For us, by treating the vendors well we got a LOT of good will from them and in earning their trust and respect we earned a lot of allies. That’s worth much more than money. Each of the four years we had to turn vendors away, something you hate to do but which happens…if you are lucky.
We built a community, and I am happy about that.
Not everyone loved us. Not everyone was happy with us. But that’s the way of the world. We did things our way and we stuck to it.
We built a show that we hoped was family friendly and tried to stick to that because every monster kid has to get their inspiration from somewhere and from something and we hoped we’d be part of that inspiration for some kids.
I am really happy at the work we did in the community. From the start we wanted to partner with charities and people in need to help as much as we were able. I am not sure what kind of impact we made but for four years we did the best we were able to bring in some extra funds. We tried not to beat that drum too loudly because charity shouldn’t be about taking credit but about helping people in need. We tried our best.
Unfortunately in the kind of business like cons you have to beat the drum a little because you need the attention and the exposure. You need the help. We had a LOT of help from people. From fans, to celebrities, to vendors, to friends, and to some local sponsors we had a LOT of help. We were never able to bring in much sponsor money but that’s blame I’ll take because I am sure there’s more I could have done. What, I am not sure, but there had to be something. As it stands we had more support than I could ever have dreamed of having. This began as my dream and became a dream a lot of people began to share. That’s what’s so humbling to me – that so many people believed in what we were doing and supported it. We had never put anything on of that scale, I know I never had, and we did it. For four years.
For four years we put together shows large and small where were able to showcase artists, musicians, and movies many would never have seen. We had an outdoor movie night at a local park. We helped other events with their shows. More than anything we tried to create fun, inexpensive things for fans to do.
Doing the convention I learned a lot. We all did. Sometimes you can build it and ‘they’ don’t come. Just how it goes. Sometimes people don’t care, don’t have time, and don’t have the information they need to come out. Sometimes things don’t work. All you can do is learn, learn, learn and move forward.
I believe in conventions and more than that I believe in doing small shows like we did. Shows that can be intimate and affordable and fun and family friendly. I believe that you can do some amazing things with shows that size. I think the super shows have their place and have their importance but not everyone can make it to those, or afford them, and those fans still deserve to get the benefits of going to a show on a budget. Heck, small shows can build a love for conventions that makes them want to go to bigger shows. Sadly, I think the days of DIY shows like ours are coming to an end but if we can do it, anyone can do it. All it takes is a little money, a lot of heart, and a lot of trust.
I am honored that we got the opportunity to do our show for four years. I cannot believe we did it. It’s sad to let it go, but we’re not letting go completely.
We still plan to do locally produced shows focused on horror that will be smaller but just as fun and just as passionate. This will allow us to be more experimental and still remain active. We are no longer the Flint Horror Con but are the Flint Horror Collective and we aren’t done, not hardly.
If you supported our show, or me, or us, or even gave half of a damn about any of it we thank you. We truly couldn’t have done it without you.
It was on the second day of the Motorcity Comic Con that I realized that that show marked twenty years of doing conventions and indeed twenty years of doing the MCC.
Crazy, I know!
A lot has changed in those twenty years in that con, cons in general, and in me. SO this is sort of my further adventures and most recent thoughts. I am not going to dissect this show because it’s a well put together show and any issues I have are either minor or just come with doing these bigger All Encompassing shows and over the twenty years I have done their shows they have been consistently good with the rare hiccup. I mean, you can’t get upset if you don’t think people are coming by your table if 30K people came to the show. I mean, you can only do so much. But, having helped to put on a show for three years and having done shows for twenty, I do have my opinions on some things.
Every Show Is Different
For me, I have done comic shows, art shows, horror shows, and random shows in between and if there is one thing that is certain it’s that every show is different. Each one is run by different folks, for different reasons, and with different goals and it serves you well to know what the show is about before you do it. Know what to expect lets you plan accordingly, stock accordingly, and to have your expectations in check. The two biggest shows I have ever had was this past comic convention and the close runner up being a weekend long art festival. If you were to ask me I would say I would have done better at the horror shows but so far, that hasn’t been the case. Usually a lot of comic con folks don’t care much for books but I think the one I just did has reached so many people that more open minded folks are turning up, which is pretty great. It’s best to know what you’re getting into though so checking what the other vendors have, who the guests are, and how the show is being promoted will really help you get a feel for what to expect. There are always surprises but some surprises you can control.
Speaking as someone who does, has done, and has gone to cons no one likes a pushy merch bully. No one. Sure, you may be able to bully someone into buying your gear but do they really want it? And do you need the sale so badly that you want to become a carny barker? Really? I may not always sell when folks come check my stuff out but at least I know I didn’t pressure them and accepted that sometimes you just don’t have what someone is looking for and that’s how it works out sometimes. I’d rather someone leave curious about me and my books and with my name on their lips and the knowledge that I was polite and friendly than to badger someone and give them a poor impression of my work and myself. I have seen that time and again and it drives me batty. I have worked shows and have been stuck next to the loud mouthed barkers and it drove me up the wall. Sure, they got sales, but mostly it was to people familiar with their work…and people who just don’t have the ability to say ‘no’. Again, I’d rather not bully for sales. Just how I am. It’s disappointing to get someone that’s interested but won’t pull the trigger but welcome to the fun of putting your work out there for the world. Welcome to retail.
I Hate Convention Economics
This is just a personal aside and not meant to reflect any one con or all cons, just something I see and dislike. I am tired of conventions that load their shows with SO many guests that it increases their costs SO much that all other costs go up dramatically. I love going to shows with a lot of guests, I do, but not when it costs me money to park, a load of loot to get in, then a lot of money for autographs. It’s crazy. There is only SO much money to go around. As a vendor you have to factor in the cost to DO the show into what you have to make and then it makes the show that much more stressful. If you don’t make your initial investment back then you feel like you didn’t work hard enough.
I get that costs rise. Believe me, with the small-ish show we put on here in Flint I get how much things cost, can cost, and will cost, but there are ways to push back against that and dumping the expenses on fans and vendors just seems like a lousy way to do it.
The economics of a con, to me, is pretty simple –
It has to be inexpensive enough for you to be able to put it on, pay your bills, and have money for the next year.
It has to be affordable enough to DO the show that vendors can make their money back and hopefully a profit. Look, if you don’t set the table for vendors to at least have a chance to re-coup their money then they won’t come back and will not speak well of your show and that can be death to what you are doing.
Fans have to feel as if they can afford to not just come to the show but can get some things as well. The show is about them. They want to spend money. Let them. If the guests and vendors do well, even if you don’t do AS well, then it means you can do another show. Sure, you need to make enough to keep doing shows but if you make it so no one does well but you then no one will come back.
One thing you can never forget if you do shows – it isn’t about you. Ever.
I hate that autograph fees go up and down from show to show based on the show.
I hate that we are on the verge of pricing cons into oblivion. ESPECIALLY since so many celebs doing shows act as if doing a con is beneath them. Trust me – I am sure it pays more to do terrible film that embarrasses you but is it really that shameful to spend a couple days meeting fans of your work?
THOUGH…in saying that I will also say that the cattle call shows don’t really do much for actors past their prime. It really is sad when you see well like character or background actors at huge shows and NO ONE is going to see them, speak to them, or even acknowledge them. I cannot imagine how embarrassing that must be for them. Sure, they are being paid to be there but dang, no one likes to be ignored and when you are among a lot of your peers and you are ignored it has to hurt even worse. Me – I’d lower my prices and up my fun. Have fun, make sure the fans have fun, and if you are affordable enough – like ten bucks an autograph – then even the casual person is willing to pop for that signature and photo op. (Though as I write that I have to wonder if the reps decide on the prices for shows and keep them to that, hmm…)
Nothing makes a con more memorable than a celebrity that you really like and admire opening themselves up to you, having fun, and being kind. And nothing ruins a show faster than a rude, bored, or indifferent guest. It’s one of those things that can make or break an experience. I don’t get why guests would do a show they don’t want to do or will have no fun in doing but people don’t always make sense.
Bring change. Small bills. Lots of it. And keep it safe.
And bring signage. Clean, clear, and easy to read.
And bring personality. You don’t want TOO much going on at your table but you want enough to show your personality and your work’s personality. This is your store so treat it that way.
Have fun! If you aren’t having fun then why do it? And if you look miserable then no one will buy from you, just a fact.
Look at people. You’re there to work, so work.
Make friends! The people around you are usually pretty good folks that are in a similar boat as you. You are with each other for the duration of the show – get to know them.
Be clean. For the love of Pete, clean up after yourself. Seriously.
Look Out For Each Other
I never noticed, consciously noticed, how many straight up creepers are at cons until the last few years and it’s chilling. I think it’s fair to say that anyone – man or woman – who dresses in a revealing fashion is OK with being seen in that state. I think that’s fair to say. For SOME reason people at cons – again, men and women – take that when someone dresses in a costume, or is scantily clad, that they must really, truly want to be touched, fondled, and peeped at by strangers. Not quite sure where that thought comes from other than a broken view of people and a twisted way of looking at the world. I feel for the people that just went to a show to have fun, to dress up in an outfit, and to let their freak flags fly among peers only to have people make lewd comments, try to get grabby, or snap creepy pictures when they aren’t looking. Heck, I am still dumbfounded by the crazy things people just say to you at shows. Me, I just get the random insults to my art – which are infrequent, thankfully – so I cannot fathom what it’s like to be told you look like someone’s favorite porn star – which a vendor I know told me she has been told by a fellow vendor time and again.
What. The. Crap?
Aren’t we all supposed to be safe together?
At our first show we had a vendor who approached someone with the con in an elevator and propositioned them. This vendor was at the show with their wife. People are nuts. Absolutely nuts. The person who was propositioned came to me, told me, and I contacted the vendor to clear things up and they apologized…and disappeared. Never to be heard from again. But still…
We’re nuts, right?
It’s as if folks want to live down to the stereotype people hold of them.
But we gotta look out for one another and make sure we’re all safe. If we can’t take care of our ‘own’ then what the heck good are we?
Give A Damn
One last thing that I admire when it happens and hate when it doesn’t is when the con promoters, creators, and show runners are actively involved in the show. When they care about it and the folks who are part of it. Most focus their attention on the guests, and I get that because that’s where the money is and those are the ‘stars’. Some will even take into account the fans who are coming to support the show and will do their best to make sure they are happy. This year the MCC did just that and addressed what had been a huge issue in 2013 and made it much, much, much less of an issue. That shows they care. Very few shows indeed get so involved that they check on the vendors. Usually it’s a Green Room that may or may not have much to offer and that’s about it. To me if you wanna have not just a successful show but a great show you have to spin all three plates and keep all three factions happy.
Guests came here because they trusted you’d take care of them so you need to take care of them. It shouldn’t take a contractual obligation to do that.
Fans should always be in your mind when you build and populate your show. These are the folks that will drive you crazy with what they THINK you should do but who you need to take into consideration as far as what you really NEED to do. If the fans don’t like your show then why are you doing it in the first place?
Finally, and not lastly, come the vendors. Again, if they love your show they will tell everyone they meet and thus promote it more than you ever could. If they hate it they’ll make sure the circuit knows it. Treat them well, feed them well, and give a darn when they give you feedback. They are the spine of your show.
I cannot believe it’s been twenty years. I can’t. It’s crazy. I started doing shows with the ‘zine my friends and I did and I have done shows since. They are fun, frustrating, scary, and some of the best experiences I have ever had. I have made so many friends over the years and have seen some crazy, hilarious, and strange things. It’s funny because I have done shows long enough that I don’t take as much pleasure in just GOING to shows anymore. It isn’t nearly as much fun. I have had some crummy experiences at shows but many were because of my expectations, though some were due to the show runners. What matters was that, for me, I have kept at it. You learn a lot about yourself, your product, and how to sell and promote your product by doing shows and that sort of experience is more valuable than words can hope to capture.
My next scheduled show is in August. Wish me luck!
When I began writing as a teenager I didn’t really have an end-goal, didn’t have an agenda, and didn’t see anything but the words as they spun out before me. The older I got the more ambitious I got and the wider my view became. The words and stories still seem like magic, like a spell woven by someone else, something else, and I am but a conduit for it. I love telling stories and love writing. I love dark stories because they dip into worlds of imagination where a simple shadow can hold untold things and hidden worlds. I feel like I can tell the same sorts of stories that the ‘literary fiction’ wants to tell but can add an element to heighten things, and to emphasize things. And really, I just like to wander into the shadows from time to time.
These books, different as they all are, have one thing in common and that is hope in the darkness. Light in the abyss. Not every story can have a happy ending but there’s something pure and revelatory even in the bleakest of tales.
Why do I write? Because I love to tell stories and occasionally it’s fun to creep people out…or maybe make them smile.
These books are my worlds and I promise to take you places and show you things you have never seen before. These books are doorways and you hold the keys.
Enter if you dare.
There is a certain sort of madness that you need to suffer from (and give in to) to pursue art. You have to be willing to open yourself up, artistically and emotionally, to the world’s derision, judgment, and to the expertise of everyone who is a sudden expert on whatever it is you were trying to convey. There are definitely success stories in the arts but more often than not there are burned out remains and locked away books and pictures and songs that no one will ever see. And none of this is to say that the artist is some transcendent genius sent to lead the people to enlightenment.
Not at all.
Artists can be vain, selfish, delusional, and a half dozen other things that aren’t pretty to be but you do have to be a little mad to create something for the world (wide or small) and to hope that more people appreciate it than don’t. In that madness though, charming as it can be, is that pesky delusion, and that’s where we little artsy folk can get into trouble.
The notion of public art is awesome. Coming at it as layman, public art is a great thing. It brings beauty, a sense of place, and a sense of community to an area and gives people to admire and talk about. Now, you don’t often get controversial pieces as public art, as far as subject matter goes, and you really shouldn’t because by putting your art in the public you are taking on their trust that you won’t shove their nose into things that need a dialogue and not a lecture. No one likes to be told what to think or feel and by creating a public piece that is made for the purpose of controversy betrays the public trust and immediately closes off dialogue. Which isn’t to say that every piece of public art needs to be obvious and generic but that to make a piece for the public, to be displayed in a public place, is to be trusted that you won’t abuse your gift and the honor you’re being given. You have the opportunity to inspire thought, idea, discussion, and in some rare instances another artist. So don’t be a jerk!
As wonderful as public art is, there’s a notion that art can be more impactful and immediate if that public art is temporary. Now, again, I come at this as a layman and a very raw and questionably talented writer and artist, so I have no expertise on the socio-art ideas and such so hang in there with me for a moment. This sort of art can be very interesting. Look at some of the talented street art out there (a whole other dangerous topic for another person and another day), the art displays as simple as painted elephants and frogs and cars on street corners and as grand as a display in Central Park. In a weird way our holidays do the same thing – we decorate in lavish and exciting ways to celebrate an event over a generally short period of time. So temporary public art is a pretty fun thing and can definitely get people talking. There is something about that immediacy of knowing it isn’t there to stay that intensifies the experience and that can create a special experience. Heck, personally I think that if you could take a certain bunch of raw materials/’parts’ and artists and then make and re-make art from it so it’s an ever evolving piece that’d be fascinating as to the process of art and how art changes with the creator. But there is a definite beauty to temporary art. Simply looking at the Buddhist sand art you can see what amazing beauty can be created but too that all things are temporary in this life but that a feeling, an inspiration can live on.
Public art, done well, can be amazing. Alas, public art done poorly harms not only the artwork, the vision, and the artist but the community. Poorly planned and executed art and art that does not take the public trust into account serves nothing but to frustrate everyone involved. If you are going to undertake a public art project first and foremost you need, and I stress need, to take into account the public trust. You are putting art into a public place (even if it is on private property if it’s in a community and out in the open it’s still public art, ergo part of the public trust) then you have to take into account that people will see this all the time and have to live with it for the entirety of its stay. Depending on its placement this is something the public will have become a part of their lives, if even just temporarily, and that needs to be respected. So, the artist/s need to appreciate that when they create this art. You cannot push the public trust and take advantage of it and expect people to see the art through that frustration. Then you have to have an actionable plan to create, maintain, and then remove that art. You cannot place it and walk away unless it is made of such things that it can safely erode and not harm anything. You can’t just put the art up and leave though. The process isn’t that simple, nor is the public trust that forgiving. And here’s the rub, the more that’s spent on the art, reasonably, irrationally, or extravagantly, the more people will focus on the flaws of the art. Fair? Not always, but it’s reasonable because as soon as you put the word ‘public’ into the art it becomes something that a lot of people feel an entitlement towards and ownership of, and again, that doesn’t make it fair but it makes it so just the same.
I certainly don’t envy anyone who takes on a public art project because it’s an often thankless and hard task. To some you will appear (and with some groups fairly so) to be telling an area how they should see art, create art, and feel art so you need, need, NEED to take that into consideration. You cannot walk into an area which will have an established arts culture and scene and tell them they are wrong and that you can do what they do better. You need to go in with open arms and open mind and ask what the community needs, what the community wants, and see where you can all meet in your thinking. With funding comes responsibility and with public space comes trust and you cannot betray that trust. You can’t.
The arts have it bad enough. With funding cuts, and schools moving away from the arts, and as a culture we don’t appreciate the more classical forms of arts as we used to and so artists have a rough road to get positive notice and to create impactful pieces. It’s not enough to be controversial because controversy with no meaning, no reason, no dialogue is simply a sort of violence against the public and any who question it or don’t understand. But art doesn’t have to be safe, or gentle, or kind. It has to be passionate, and it has to be real in some way and if it’s public it has to stay true to the public and their trust or you’re just wasting time, money, and effort. And the arts have very little of all of those things.
I look at it this way – don’t create something you can’t stand behind, beside, upon and feel good about (even ‘ugly’ art about horrible things has beauty and truth if done well) and don’t create something you cannot take ownership of maintain, destroy, or let go of if that becomes necessary.
If you build a shiny castle, make sure the people are allowed inside or it’s just a tinfoil tenement with no purpose, use, or reason to exist.
I recently did a pretty neat interview with the folks from the Creative Alliance here in Flint. The audio is a bit echoey due to some limitations in where they had to film but it turned out a lot better than I had thought. AND there’s a nice interview with a local performer as well.
So, if you wanted to hear me ramble about my writing and the newer books and such give it a look. I am the first interview, about ten minutes in.
In the excitement of creation it’s really easy to forget that essentially you’re on your own with that excitement. Unless you are in a band or worked on a collaborative piece it’s pretty much you on your own that did the work, put in the time, and will usually take the risks and reap the benefits. It isn’t that friends, family, and loved ones don’t care and don’t support what you are doing but everyone has their own things going on, their own projects, and their own lives and in the world of social networking EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT! We have reached a point where we all have the means and ability to tell everyone everything at all times and suddenly everything is desperately important. And you know what, it is, but it isn’t always important to everyone. I know I have been inundated with so many event and rock show and craft show and jewelry party invites that I don’t even pay attention anymore. Too many people invite everyone they know to everything they do and it’s numbed us to things we may actually want to know about. We’re over saturated with information. And even we creators forget that, well, it’s pretty awesome that we did something but someone else feels exactly the same way about their child’s birthday, or an anniversary, or just the fact that they are going to the movies. Often it feels as if we’re all just trying to shout over one another to get heard. And it isn’t that we don’t care about what everyone else is doing but that we just want other people, people we care about and have in our lives, to get as excited about things as we do.
I know for me that I think there’s a bit of a disconnect with how excited people get about my books. Not because they don’t care but because I have put eight books out in a small matter of years. I did this because It took ten years just to get a second book out and now that I can get them out without anyone else having control over that. For me, a writer, that’s HUGE! And I get that to some it just isn’t that exciting anymore. A book a year (and a couple times two books in one year) and the excitement wears off, at least for them. It is old hat. For me though, each one represents something special, something precious. Part of the problem is that, for me, I know books are not my Future. They just are not. I don’t have the time or money to invest in them and their support – something that really does drive me crazy – so it may seem like a ‘hobby’ to some. Something I don’t take seriously. I take my writing seriously but it’s something I have been doing for so long that the lack of any momentum has really made it hard to want to throw parades all the time for my accomplishments. And I also realize that, as much as my friends and family love and support ME the writing isn’t always their cup of tea. And like I said, we all have stuff going on.
We do this for ourselves. Sort of. I write because I love telling stories. I paint because I like to paint. We all do the things we do because they calm us, let us express ourselves, and let us find joy and peace in the day to day madness of life. We do it for ourselves but…that’s not always enough. There is a point in the growth of your art, whatever it is, where you need to share it. For me, to keep focusing as much time on it as I have and want to I need to be able to show myself – OK, there’s a market for all of this weirdness, awesome, keep it up – otherwise I can just write when I have the time and post it on here. If people see it they see it, if not, whatevs. I have been writing long enough that I want people to see the stuff, need them to see it but I also need the validity of people WANTING to read it. Otherwise it’s vanity. I will blog it up like no one’s business out of vanity but to keep putting books out that no one is reading is too far even for me.
We do it for ourselves. We do it because sometimes we need to escape and sometimes we need to celebrate life’s beauty but it isn’t always about us because without sharing what we do it doesn’t mean as much. Art is meant to be shared. It’s the sharing that makes it special. And just like art, our lives are meant to be shared. Our support systems are not always going to understand the things that make us who we are and that make our hearts sing and we won’t always know the same about them. And it is disappointing that not everyone gets as excited about our triumphs as we may but it’s that these people are there at the very worst of times and not just the very best of times that makes them so crucial to our lives. These are the people that keep us grounded and remind us that art isn’t the only thing that matters and even when we’re all yelling at one another on social media it’s that we all care about one another enough to stick around to see past the bad, past the good, and to remain there that means something and sometimes the hardest art of all is mastering the art of being there when someone needs you most.