The Sunday just passed should be the last time that Vikki and I attend a ComicCon/similar as a seller of sweary merchandise. And it is not a moment too soon.
2008 was when we first started doing conventions. The credit crunch happened and our sales dropped. We needed more of that folding green stuff (which isn’t really green and you can’t fold the new-fangled plastic ones anyway) so hit the ComicCon circuit, along with tattoo shows and so on.
To begin with, it was fun. And eye-opening. We knew not of the world of the Cosplayer and I personally took great delight in seeing the geeks, nerds and misfits of the world unite on these occasional weekends, knowing that their life outside this cocoon was probably one filled with ridicule and bullying. They were safe and in their element. It really made me wish such things existed when I was a yoof.
The cons helped. They helped promote our t-shirts and the band and anything else we wanted to spread the word about. Over the years, we fine-tuned out banter and learned best how to convince people that they really absolutely did need another t-shirt with the word “cunt” on it. Who doesn’t? It was mostly fun, always exhausting. Living on rock n’ roll time, 7am wake-up calls are never welcome.
As with everything, things changed. Over the years, the friendly cons have gotten more corporate. The smaller sellers are being pushed out, the attendees are being pushed around and have more rules imposed upon them and, as a result of ever-increasing rents, we were making less and less money.
Once the band stopped and we settled into life up north, the impetus to do the conventions waned inexorably. Our hearts and souls were no longer in it and our efforts became less and less. During 2016, Vikki started her Buck You horse business and it went better than expected. She was able to grow it, and fast. The income was catching up with the t-shirt do$h so it seemed probable that it could one day replace it.
I forget the exact circumstances now but, back in late April/early May, the London ComicCon was approaching. For many, these are the highlights of the year. 120,000 people rammed into halls throwing money at vendors such as ourselves for three days. Since moving, the fun of these dissipated somewhat. It used to be an hour-long journey, followed by set-up, followed by a couple of days of money throwing. Now, however, it was a 6 hour journey, followed by set-up, followed by three torturous, long, tiring days ending with another long-ass drive home.
I did not want to do it. Adding in the extra cost of hotels and fuel, the profits were less. Stall rent had gotten ridiculous and the effort-reward ration had see-sawed in the wrong direction. Fuck it, let’s ditch this one and see how we get on.
It was scary. We had relied on these keystone events for almost ten years. The cash generated kept us going through the quiet summer months but I was convinced that Vikki was selling enough to keep us chugging along. And I was right.
So we ditched the next show, back in July, which was Manchester. We decided to keep the booking for Glasgow as it isn’t that far from us and, historically, it had been good. As it happens, the weekend just gone wasn’t so good and that has more than convinced me that we are doing the Right Thing.
There is no fun in more and more people having to fight for the same slice of pie. I experienced it before when I was among the first to import the new Star Wars range back in the late 90s. It was great at first, until every bugger started doing it. Margins were squeezed until no-one was making anything. The same thing is happening at ComicCon. More and more t-shirt sellers are being allowed to sell and there are only so many t-shirts a person wants to buy on one day. So we will let them scrap it out until there is fuck all left.
Some end-of-eras can be bitter-sweet. Others – like the end of the band – happen without one even realising; that is slightly frustrating as there is never an opportunity to savour the moment. Walking through the halls Sunday evening, dragging bags and boxes to the car at the end of a long weekend, I looked around the hall, trying to find some sense of momentousness. It didn’t happen. No bitter-sweetness. No “I’m going to miss this”. No “maybe we’ll be back if things don’t work out”. The only thing I felt was elation, relief and sympathy for those left behind.
Regardless of what happens with Vikki’s business, I know we won’t go back. If her thing doesn’t work out (which, unless horses are suddenly banned or become extinct, doesn’t seem likely), we would find something else. It is what we have always done. Ten years doing those shows is enough for anyone. There are more important things in life than money: happiness, sanity… two things that those shows had long since been sucking away.
I have no regrets, of course. It was a neccessity which, for a long while, was fun. But we grow and fun things become less-so and other interests pique. If we first encountered you at one of these things, it was a pleasure, and thank you for adding to our coffers. We hope you stay in touch.