“It’s a completely free, inclusive event. All comic creators need are books, personality, a smartphone, and an internet connection!” We talk to Tom Ward about this weekend’s virtual comic con #KitchenCon
Even the world of indie comics is not immune to the effects of the Coronavirus. While for many the chance to self isolate and catch up on their reading list sounds like a great use of their time, bear a thought for those who rely on comic conventions and interactions with fans to make a living or finance their hobby. With major events like Birmingham’s MCM already postponed, and many more sure to follow, what can small press creators do in order to prevent the effects this will have on their work?
Tom Ward, creator of Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman may have just the answer – virtual comic cons! Having started running these ‘Kitchen Cons’ at the end of last year, the latest event #KitchenCon (a Corona themed special) ran on Saturday March 16th via the twitter live stream app Periscope, and saw a host of small press favourites live stream from convention tables in their own homes
We asked Tom what the inspiration for Kitchen Con was?
TM: I started it as a joke because just the idea of setting up all my con stuff at a table and live-streaming made me laugh. I would also say that I totally burnt out on conventions. For a good couple of years I was chasing cons up and down the country and I started to feel that that was taking up time, energy, and money that would be better spent on making comics, which was what I actually wanted to do.”
So what are the benefits for you as a a creator?
TW: If I live stream at Kitchencon and sell 1 book in an hour it’s probably about the equivalent of selling 20 books at a convention that would take up my whole weekend, with the first 19 sales money going towards the table costs, travel, a hotel, the printing of the books themselves etc. Cons can be pretty expensive, and I’m in the fortunate position of having enough books on my table that I’m likely to break even, but even if I make any money the return is generally poor, and most of the time, a total gamble.
With Kitchencon I can do my sales pitch once, with unlimited people at my table, rather than repeating myself all day. Because of the internet I can still get my stuff in front of new people and do the whole networking thing, just cutting out paying to participate and saving myself a whole bunch of time.
This weekend wasn’t the first, how has it developed?
TW: We’ve done 3 now and each time it’s grown with more people getting involved. Kitchencon is a completely free, inclusive event, any comic creators can get involved, all they need is their books, personality, a smartphone, and an internet connection, it’s as simple as that.
And that’s part of the beauty of it for ‘attendees’ too, so many people talk about how we need to get new people involved in comics, and then turn round and want to charge people substantial entrance fees to their ‘comic conventions’ which, in some cases, are just glorified markets, it’s crazy to me. With Kitchencon anyone, anywhere, can connect with creators, ask them questions, check out their comics, buy stuff. There’s absolutely no barriers to entry beyond a way to access the internet, there’s no hard sell, or pressure from over-zealous salespeople.
With event getting cancelled do think more people should get involved in events like this?
TW: Obviously with Corona Virus, which only seems likely to get worse, lots of conventions are cancelling or rescheduling, so virtual comiccons online are a natural alternative. As far as I know, Kitchencon is the first organised event of this type, which seems pretty crazy. Already I’ve seen talk of a few other similar events being planned, but that’s just what the internet was created for – to connect people and share ideas. In many ways I think comics has been slightly stuck in the past, this is just the natural progression. I think it’s going to open doors for a lot of people and level some playing fields, and as far as I’m concerned that can only be a good thing.
Some of the attendees of Kitchen Con agree:
Sarah Millman (@Heart_of_Time): “It was a lot of fun – it seemed like a good excuse to shout about some small press titles! It was a nice atmosphere, I ended up having about a thousand views and I think that people were moving between streams like at a real con too.”
Ken Reynolds (@ReynoldsKR20): “I’ve never live streamed or done anything like it before. When Tom started doing them last year I loved the idea, mostly because I’ve always found traveling to and from cons the most stressful part of it all. This solution seemed quirky and fun, and if I’m honest, pretty low effort on a few fronts. Hard to gauge ‘success’ it’s a bit of a loaded word. I did have someone sign back up to my Patreon as a result of it. But I never expected anything from it. This is a chance for a new way to promote myself online, and a more direct way to interact with anyone that is interested in my work. It’s all the great stuff you get from cons if you get rid of the sales part. It’s inspired me to make live streams a part of my activities on Patreon and I’ll definitely be doing more events like this going forward.”
Gareth Hopkins (@grthink): “It went OK, I think? I didn’t sell anything, but that wasn’t really the point, it was more about joining in on something fun and doing something different. It was really fun, and I’d deffo do it again. The last one I did I had my kids with me and that was a different experience, because I had people to bounce off of and to check if there were any messages. I can’t see it replacing cons, at least not right away. But it’s a good way to promote yourself using the language of the comics culture. It’s like doing Twitch or YouTube but a very comics-version of that?”