Interview: Pat Broderick on Comic Cons, Cosplay, and all that Controversy
If you regularly pay attention to comic and cosplay blogs, you’ll no doubt have noticed a new “controversy” surrounding comments concerning the role of cosplay, and direction of “comic” conventions has cropped up over the past week. The story has been covered by numerous sites, and even some mainstream press like The Atlantic.
This latest round was spurred by the comments by comic artist Pat Broderick (known for his work on The Fury of Firestorm, Swamp Thing, Micronauts, Batman: Year Three, Doom 2099, among others) made through his Facebook account. The comments, which you can read to the left, concerns friend invites on the site from “cosplay personalities” and also invitations from “comic” convention promoters, where the convention is more focused on cosplay events and television and movie stars, instead of comic writers, artists, and the comics themselves.
This debate has cropped up numerous times in recent years as the focus on “comic” conventions have shifted from comics to more broad entertainment and fandoms. While some comic conventions still exist, (Baltimore, SPX, Heroes Con, are examples), conventions with “comic con” still in their names, like Comic-Con International (aka San Diego Comic Con) and New York Comic Con, have moved on to wider audiences. Other conventions have ditched the “comic con” label such as Wizard World who has found success in their dozens of shows a year that appeal to a wide fandom. Cosplay is an absolute draw, becoming more mainstream over the years, as evidenced by numerous televisions series involving it, some even being picked up for multiple seasons.
Like a bad game of telephone, Broderick’s post was interpreted and reinterpreted in numerous posts that twist and ignore what he was getting at. A lot of “comic cons” aren’t that. They’re entertainment or fandom shows. Also, with the shifting demographics in fandoms and focus, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for comic creators to make money at shows, and support themselves. This is an issue that’s been echoed by numerous creators, for some time now. They’re not just competing with each other, but also with that person that appeared on that one show in that one episode that one time.
Some have pointed out studies and surveys, like the one by Eventbrite, that dispel the notion these attendees aren’t spending money. While that particular survey doesn’t break out the cosplaying attendees, it also doesn’t say what they’re spending money on. The fact is, both sides can be right in this. Cosplayers are spending money, just not necessarily on comics or from the comic creators displaying at the show.
There’s also the issue of the “celebrity.” Lets face it, the comic creator has never been the real focus of comic publishers, the comics and the characters are. The creators rotate (sometimes pretty regularly) so to invest lots of money promoting non-exclusive writers or artists isn’t the most sound strategy. This is unlike movies where the actors are the promotion, there to talk up the movie, and make the rounds. Think about the last time you’ve seen a comic creator on a talk show to promote a comic release.
There’s also the different goals of convention promoter, and the creator. The promoter’s job is to get people in the door, and clearly cosplay and celebrities help make that happen. The creator’s job is to sell themselves and their products to those attendees, and at times it might not be the right audience at all.
What’s most egregious about all of this, is the fact no site reached out to Broderick to ask for clarification. Instead of treating it like a story, commentary and opinions (some times heated and pointed) were thrown out without talking to the source first.
I decided to do exactly that. I reached out, and asked him about his comments, the controversy, and conventions, and through email, Pat agreed to partake. Check out below for further details on what he has to say, and meant, and see why you shouldn’t always jump to conclusions without talking to someone first.
Graphic Policy: It seems like we should just dive right into it. What prompted your post about conventions and cosplay? How long had you been thinking about it all?
Pat Broderick: Well Brett, I had just finished about six conventions and all along I had seen where what should had been a great con based on attendance turned out to be shows plagued with problems. A general sense of aggravation underlining conversations with vendors and professionals. For the first show I wrote this off to inexperience, but by the third show I had to change my conclusion. So I was still scheduled for a show in south Florida this upcoming weekend. A small show trying to establish a presence. I had seen that this show seemed to be building itself on cosplay attractions and cosplay personalities. After many times inquiring why the artist seemed to be getting the back seat at the show and getting reassurances that it wasn’t the way it looked I decided to cut my losses. After all I do have pending work which is time sensitive. Now the very next morning when I got online and opened my friend requests I had noticed quite a few cosplay inquiries. I went to their pages and was faced with the same photos. Wonderful kids having a great time at shows. But nothing strangely enough was there about comics. Just them posing for the shots, rarely any of them with shots of them with different creators holding art. Or purchased comics. Or anything. I rarely accept cosplay friends at all. But that being said I do have cosplay friends. These are people who have photos of them with comics, and family, you know, the regular photo page items. So I decided that I should just go ahead and make a statement. It came off rather harsh, and was directed at the show promoters building large cosplay based shows combined with multiple media guest to just please don’t invite me as I probably will pass. That cosplay based shows really add no value to the industry. It took about an hour for this statement on my home page to get picked up and go viral…
GP: How many conventions have you been to in your career? What have you generally seen over that time?
PB: I’ve been going to conventions since 1974… I cut back on them back in ’96 and started again in ’99. I witnessed the change in the industry from video gaming to media guest and along the way from a few people in costume to what we call cosplay today
GP: So the big thing about your original post was this part, “You bring nothing of value to the shows, and if you’re a promoter pushing cosplay as your main attraction you’re not helping the industry or comics market..” Who was the “you” in “you bring” aimed towards?
PB: It was aimed at cosplay Facebook requests, and convention promoters who are developing their shows in the described direction.
GP: Did you expect your post to get picked up by sites like it did?
PB: Well obviously no, I woke up the next morning to quite the storm. But really when I reviewed the different blog sites I realized what was going on and how to handle it…. which is stay in front.
PB: No one has asked for any clarification of my comments. So I posted a second statement giving more detail and apologized to any cosplayer who my comments might have offended. It saw some pick up, but not to the degree of the first. I guess that one wasn’t “News worthy.”
(We’ve included that second statement to the right for you to read – The Management)
GP: What’s the reaction and feedback been like?
PB: Well how could I put this compared to how should I put this… I’ve had a huge turn out of negative response from cosplayers, loads of threats, and conventions uninviting me to their shows… I’ve also had an even larger turnout of support from fans and pros backing my position, and I’ve gotten convention invitations. So I guess that my original comment worked. But even more than that since I’m not the first comics pro to make such statements about these problems perhaps this attention will make some of these show promoters realize that there IS a problem out there which CAN be addressed in a positive way.
GP: What’s your thoughts on cosplay in general beyond the personalities/celebrities?
PB: I think they’re great. I also think that they have a responsibility to uphold a PG rating with their outfits. These are family shows and not nightclubs. Take some consideration for the family’s who attend. And also when someone asks if they can take your picture just ask the interested party to step with you to an area outside of the isles. You’re there for fun and to show off your costumes, artist and dealers are there to earn some rent.
GP: There’s comic conventions and then there’s general entertainment conventions. What do you see as defining the two?
PB: The direction it’s going will divide it itself. Its happening even now. There will eventually be a clear “comics” show controlled, and there will be media shows.
GP: What conventions today would you consider “comic” conventions?
PB: Right off of the top of my head is HeroesCon.
GP: You announced also on Facebook that you’ll be developing your own four show convention circuit. What can you tell us about that? What prompted it? Where are you looking to have them? How will your shows stand out?
PB: I started down this road about three months ago. These shows will first be in Florida, North, Central and South. These will be shows for the vendors and the public. I’m also an old adman so I know the power of not only promotion, but linked promotional events. We already have some exciting ideas which will bring in the public but also bring in people looking to discover a great find. pick up sketches, meet the creators. We will be bringing in media guest. but controlled and very limited in number. we will also be involving cosplay into our shows but in such a way as to satisfy both their needs and the shows direction. But first and fore most these will be shows for the industry. for the vendors and for the creators…