As a collective, we are as over global pandemics as we are people claiming it is over. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) The truth is the last couple of years have been pretty crap. Not completely crap but crap enough to disrupt everyone’s life on some level. And while many, including myself, would argue that it is not over yet, we have been returning to some new level of normality in our lives.
This includes geeks going out at some point. Yes, we are slowly “geeking out” again: at comic book conventions, fan events, movie premieres, and book signings. Geeks have always congregated together and let’s face it: we throw the best parties. We simply had to tweak a few things, and I think it is time to take a quick look at how things have changed at some of my fave events so far (and a few upcoming). Today, we’re looking at comic book conventions.
Free Comic Book Day
There are plenty of comic book conventions around the world but only one truly brings the world together as a community: Free Comic Book Day. Celebrated on the first Saturday of May each year, FCBD fosters support for our local comic book stores and, of course, encourages people to read more comics. Fellow GeekMom Jenn shared a sweet personal story about FCBD back in 2019. The event has been going on for 20 years, starting as a promotional event for Diamond Comic Distributors and culminating in the mass marketing project it is today.
FCBD 2019 was the last FCBD before the COVID pandemic when comic book stores around the world closed—some temporarily due to lockdowns, some permanently out of business. COVID hit the world in more ways than simply a virus. It highlighted a range of flaws across various industries just waiting for a tap to shatter them. One of these was the publishing industry and the distribution monopoly held in the US by Diamond Comic Distributors. Yep, the same group behind FCBD, so you can see where this is going.
Our partner site, GeekDad, wrote about the impact in 2021. Between shipment delays, paper supplies, and the welfare of warehouse workers, Diamond Comic Distributors was one of the big ones to fall. Being the exclusive distributor of the major comic book publishers, comic book stores around the world did not receive any new products for a lot of 2020 and part of 2021. It was not a good time for comic books.
At the beginning of 2022, comic book sales started to pick up again and we saw a growing interest in the return of FCBD. Sure, it would be Free Comic Book Day, but for many local stores, it was going to be a celebration for surviving 2020/2021. Of course, we would have fun, but it was not the same as in previous years. Some things were obvious, like cosplayers incorporating masks into their creativity. *thumbs up* Comic book stores were less vigorous in their celebrations—either with staff shortages, capacity limits in-store, or simply not having the money available to spend on FCBD like they used to. (Note: FCBD costs comic book stores upfront to participate, though many say it is often their biggest event of the year.)
There were also subtle changes. Despite coinciding with Marvel’s biggest movie of the year, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, Marvel and DC’s presence amongst the free comics was… subdued? Yeah, that’s a good word. Both of the biggies were still there and had the stuff to share, but honestly, there was far more interest in the indies: the smaller publishing companies with stand-alone stories and fresh material.
Interestingly, there was very little chatter about the DC and Marvel comics offered during FCBD. Did we somehow hit our superhero limit during our lockdowns? Or has there been a social shift to smaller names and creations? Superheroes will always be the bread-and-butter of comic books, fuelled by the blockbusters in cinemas and streaming services. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the shift in comic preference if it wasn’t for the subtle nudge of everything else.
Manga had already gained a huge boost in popularity during the pandemic, so it was no surprise to see it featuring prominently amongst the FCBD offerings. Kaiju No.8 by Naoya Matsumoto and Yuto Suzuki was the first to run out at our local store in Sydney (Australia), and from what I hear on social media, it was the same across New Zealand, Canada, and the east coast of the USA. FCBD fans also loved Hollow #1 Special by Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, Berenice Nelle, and Naomi Franquiz.
A Brazen Approach to Comic Book Conventions
The Brazen Comics Festival was originally scheduled for 2020, but like everything else in the comic book industry, it was kicked out to 2022. Physical lockdowns stopped us from going out but distribution issues stopped us from reading in physical copies. Indie creators were the fastest to transition to new mediums and formats, gathering more support from geeks than ever before. Small convention ideas like Brazen gathered momentum over the years, and by 2022 people were aching for a chance to celebrate their fandoms.
Brazen Comics Festival was the love-child dream convention from Siobhan Coombs and Meagan Date, two of the amazing women behind my fave monthly comic book meet-up Queens. (Read more about that here.) It was a stand-alone convention created purely to support marginalized comic book creators: women, non-binary, gender-diverse, and indigenous people in comics. It was one huge safe space for comic fans and creators to express themselves. And it was glorious.
What struck me about Brazen Comics Festival was the support from both the creator community and the fans. This was always going to be a small event, but its strength was in its inclusivity. It was great to see those established in the industry cheering on those who were trying to break in. Big names like Nicola Scott, Queenie Chan, and Sas Milledge were there alongside indies like N.S. Kane and Annie Huang.
The key element here was the inclusive safe space. There was no toxicity or gatekeeping. It was like a breath of fresh air without the oppressive big crowds. Most of all, it really allowed, nay encouraged us to explore a wider range of creativity on offer. I picked up Mamo by Sas Milledge for some family-fairy vibes and was sorely tempted to buy Lore Olympus #1 by Rachel Smythe through Cockatoo Comics. I think the biggest surprise was Monsters: An Anthology of Short Comics for Children by Karen Beilharz. This one has been created in conjunction with children to give them autonomy over their nightmares and fears.
Brazen Comics Festival may end up being a one-off event, but it may be enough to show that some good came out of the quiet days in 2020/2021. Giving fans space to breathe and nurture a broader range of tastes and styles has also allowed creators to step into the light. While many of us are hesitant to return to big crowded events, we may be more inclined to throw our support behind smaller intimate settings where we can see the faces that had been hidden for too long.
That’s not to say larger comic book events don’t have a place in a post-COVID world. On the contrary, comic book conventions are coming back in all shapes and sizes. As with FCBD and Brazen Comics Festival, the larger conventions have had to adapt to the new environment.
Oz Comic-Con is one of the biggest geek conventions in Australia. Prior to COVID, Oz Comic-Con had multiple events throughout the year across six cities in Australia. This weekend (June 11-12), Oz Comic-Con returns to Melbourne with its first full-scale event in over two years. More are scheduled later in the year for Brisbane and Sydney.
The biggest pull for any comic convention is always the special guests. For Australia, this can be tricky because it takes so long to get here from everywhere else. Plus it’s kind of expensive—especially post-COVID. It’s hard enough recovering from financial loss during COVID restrictions without additional costs today. Like many conventions around the world, Oz Comic-Con is making the most of the awesome local talent and building the show from there. This weekend, the Melbourne event showcases comic book creators like C.S. Pascat and Dean Rankine along with TV stars including Rachel Skarsten (Batwoman) and Kevin Alejandro (Lucifer).
The big change for Oz Comic-Con comes from the partnership with Animaga, a premier event for anime and manga. While Oz Comic-Con has always had a big anime/manga scene, partnering with a specialty event like Animaga gives fans more opportunities to find their tribes and focus on their niche. As mentioned earlier, manga has experienced a boom in popularity, and many fans have used pandemic lockdowns to learn more about the specific sub-genres.
To be fair, we geeks will always love any opportunity to share our passion. Comic books are probably the most mainstream of them all, followed by gaming (both tabletop and video). The past three years have really nurtured our interests and helped us to find what honestly makes us happy. Gradually, geeks are returning to social physical events again and we can find people to connect with. Will it be exactly like before? No. But if FCBD, Brazen, and Oz Comic-Con are anything to go by, the changes are simply going to be in line with how society is changing. The biggest change is the room for us to personalize our fandoms. Mainstream isn’t mainstream anymore. Indies are cool. And we now have better ways to avoid the common Convention Crud.
Let us know about your geek outings on social media, big or small!