John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey
the_gneech

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So, About Conventions 'n' Stuff... (Long Post!)

For those of you who only read LiveJournal on weekdays, I posted a poll the other day about whether or not I should go to FC 2012. This question is part of a larger evaluation of my role in the comics and/or furry community, as well as its role in my own creative career, which has been going on quietly in the background since around the time I brought Suburban Jungle to a close.

Y'see, the thing is that there is a complex and interwoven relationship between my ability to actually go to the conventions, my interest in going to conventions, and how well I do at a table there. I don't do the cons just to make money, that would be a recipe for disaster. But I do need the cons to cover most if not all of their own expenses in order for me to be able to go. And when my sales are sluggish, as they have been increasingly over the past few years, besides threatening my ability to afford the con, it also largely diminishes my enjoyment and interest in the convention.

I want people to want my work, basically, and when they don't, it becomes much harder to justify the effort behind it.

Now, there are all sorts of potential reasons why I'm not in demand the way I once was. The fandom is much larger than it used to be, for starters, and with size comes fragmentation. The phenomenon by which the artists at the top of the "popularity pyramid" outdistance those on every other level increases geometrically as the size of the fandom does, hence "this year's hot new thing" selling out within hours, while everybody else just gets ignored. This is true in every field of creative endeavor, not just comics and/or furry ... this is why everybody's heard of and seen, say, Avatar, but any number of small-studio films are virtually unheard-of except perhaps by a cult following. (Ever seen or even heard of Spaulding Gray's Terrors of Pleasure? It's a great little film! But it's also obscure and doomed to remain so. It's just the way the industry works.)

I've seen it in action first-hand: despite being multiple-time GOH at various cons and even having somebody on FurAffinity just yesterday call me a "fandom mainstay," when I was announced as guest for CFz the audience reaction was, "Who?" On the other hand, somebody like Kyell Gold or Blotch, who more or less popped up out of nowhere a few years ago, are well known to most people in the fandom. No dig against them, they've obviously created something that really resonates with their audience, and more power to 'em. But it's a little disconcerting to watch "the new guys" go rocketing past in public awareness, and after ten years of late nights at the drawing table have person after person at last FC tell me, "No, I've never heard of Suburban Jungle, what is it?"

This phenomenon is also why movie stars, writers, etc., "reinvent themselves." Every personality in the public eye has a career lifespan, during which they go from "unknown" to "the new thing" to "established star" to "veteran" to "has been" to "unknown again." Again, it's just the nature of the business. The people who remain "evergreen" in this environment have basically two options: the first is to find a formula that really works and stick with it forever (see also, "Garfield"), or to keep radically changing themselves so that they're always "the new thing" (see also, "Madonna").

The first option (stick with a solid formula) only works if it really is a rock-solid formula. Mondays will always be annoying; snarky comments about idiots will always be funny. Thus, Garfield remains a solid player in the newspaper comics biz. But it's also risky: there may come a time when our culture really turns against snarky comments about idiots -- or worse, the newspaper comics biz may implode (oops), leaving you in the lurch unless you've successfully expanded to other markets.

I, for better or worse, have never found that rock-solid formula. I've enjoyed some success with my comics, yes, but a lot of that was a matter of being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. So that leaves me more-or-less stuck with the "reinvention" option, and this is the direction I've been working towards. By concentrating on my writing, trying to break into new venues such as the podcast, and so on, I've been trying to go from "Gneech the webcomics guy" to "Gneech the writer." I'm also keeping an eye on other directions I might be able to go ... working up art for shows, perhaps? Moving away from the merchandise table and towards the artist alley?

One other major thing I've been considering is the idea of cutting back on cons and such to sort of "lie fallow" for a while and come back fresh later. It may well be as simple as, "almost everybody who wants a Gneech con badge/sketchbook pic has already got one," because I do so many shows. FC, being the furthest and most expensive con I do as a regular thing, thus ends up as the prime candidate for one to cut back on for a while. Maybe stick with smaller, closer cons and build up a new fanbase, as so much of my previous fanbase has moved on to other things.

The universe is, after all, in a constant state of change, and you have to change with it or get left behind. The fandom of 2011 is not the same fandom of 2001 or even 2006, and there's no point in acting like it is. What would I do if I was coming at all of this as a newbie now? How would I go about building an audience from zero? And how would I choose whether or not to go to any particular con, or even decide if I really wanted to? These are all factors that are going into my decision. But lest you think that's a lot of thought to put into whether or not to go to one freakin' con, I just wanted to establish how much more there is going on than just that one question. It's a symptom, not a cause, so to speak.

-The Gneech
Tags: comics, conventions, deep thoughts, furry, writing life
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