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Interview: Denise Dorman Discusses the Current State of Conventions

Business owner, blogger, and wife of legendary artist Dave Dorman, Denise Dorman talks about her experiences after writing a blog about the where conventions are headed.

Earlier this week, Denise Dorman, wife of legendary artist Dave Dorman, wrote a blog about the state of comic book conventions entitled, "The Hidden TRUTH About Comic Book Convention Earnings: For Creators, Have Comic Book Conventions JUMPED THE SHARK?" Denise and Dave spend their time travelling from convention to convention, like most creators in the industry. She, like many creators, noticed that conventions have changed a lot in the past decade and because of this, the focus is less on the creators.

However, many other outlets reposted this blog while focusing on one singular line from the blog and accusing Denise of blaming the "downfall of conventions" entirely on the shoulders of cosplayers. What followed was an onslaught of attention and anger. Denise followed up the blog the next day with a blog entitled "Denise Dorman Does Not Blame Cosplayers for Low Convention Sales" in the hopes of clearing up the misunderstanding.

Conventions have changed and the focus isn't on creators. Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo released their numbers for 2013. Over $4 million was spent at last year's Los Angeles convention and 81% of the attendees spent at least $50 on the show floor. While there is a lot of merchandise to buy at these conventions, it doesn't seem to be trickling down to creators at many shows. Denise's story isn't the only one. Many creators have reported this same story of going into the hole every time they work at a show. We talked to Denise Dorman about her experiences with conventions and the response to her blogs.

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COMIC VINE: What prompted you to write the blog?

DD: The first blog I wrote was prompted by Dave calling me from GrandCon to tell me he was earning pennies per hour, which enraged me. Four days away from the studio for that?!? So...I blogged about it, because the blog is dedicated to telling the truth to the fans about what life's really like as a comic book wife - a backstage pass to our lives, if you will. Like sausage making, it's not always pretty.

CV: How did you feel when you started seeing other people reposting your blog?

DD: I realized that, for some, I hit a nerve and initiated a conversation long overdue. For others, it was a misunderstanding of my intent that they reacted to, and if that were my intent, rightfully so, but it was not.

CV: Did you feel they missed the point of the blog?

DD: Many "got" what I meant, as inelegantly as I may have phrased things initially during my intense rage with the first blog. With my more recent blog, they really should get what I meant. The idiots out there posting misogynistic s**t minimizing me as a woman having no right to an industry insider's opinion after 14 years of exhibiting at 8-10 shows a year and being Dave's business partner for that length of time, and those who question me having any marketing sense as the 20+ year-business owner of WriteBrain Media with a proven, multi-award-winning advertising, marketing, social media, PR and video production firm? That's very silly. Sure, there are things we could be doing better, and I welcome people's great ideas, but you also have to remember, we're like the cobbler's kids - some of these ideas require the sorts of budgets that my Fortune 500 clients might have, but we personally do not.

CV: You also wrote a follow-up blog which was a ton of venting about the response to the original post. How has the response to the blog affected you?

DD: Unfortunately, only 6,000 people have read it, as opposed to the 18,000 who read my initial blog, so I fear my true meaning is not getting out there as I had hoped. I haven't seen much backlash to the follow-up blog...yet.

CV: What were your firsts thoughts when people took the message away that you allegedly thought cosplay was the sole cause of the change in cons?

DD: My heart sank, because that was not what I mean at all. Also, as a women I understand how frustrating it is for the female Cosplayers to deal with all of the haters online, and the whole Cosplay is Not Consent issue. It makes me crazy FOR them. Molly McIsaac, for example, is a friend of ours, and when I see what she puts up with online, I worry for her, but she is very brave and she rises above it all. Secondarily, Cosplayers help us do our jobs better - Dave has Cosplayers pose for photo reference all of the time, especially the 501st, of which we are honorary members. They enhance the shows with their gorgeous costumes (I'm crazy for Steampunk of any kind) and we support them as best we can, letting them into our booth to rest their weary feet, eat and drink, and sometimes store their gear. For anyone to say we don't support Cosplay, they really know nothing about us except for one misleading headline.

CV: Regardless of that, cons have changed a lot in the past ten years, how has that affected Dave's income comparing 2004 until now?

DD: In terms of original art sales, it's almost completely not happening, unless it's pencil prelims or the smaller Magic: The Gathering originals, which go for about $250 or less. In terms of major $4k and $5k pieces? Not happening at all. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live Show in Kansas City is more of a show for and about the artists, and art sales are better there. IlluxCon is another show I'd like Dave to try at some point. As for show income as a whole, I'm guesstimating it's down 50% or more. I don't have an Excel spread sheet before me (they give me hives).

CV: Are you hearing these same types of stories from other creators and exhibitors?

DD: You would be astounded at the number of A-listers who are reaching out to me on the back channels, sending attaboys for having the balls to say what I did. They all agree with me, with some emphasizing one point over the other in terms of priority and importance, but none have disagreed with me and they've all thanked me for speaking out. As they say, milquetoast women rarely make history.

Denise's husband, Dave, in the truest meme on the Internet: Created by Mickey Thompson
Denise's husband, Dave, in the truest meme on the Internet: Created by Mickey Thompson

CV: While there is no single cause for cons changing, to you, what do you think are some of the key factors are in the change?

DD: They are multiple. Here's a list, in no particular order:

1) I think some publishers (not the ones Dave's involved with, thankfully) prefer to downplay the limelight cast upon the artists, inkers, writers, etc. so the creative talents have become persona non grata--interchangeable, making the I.P. the star, rather than the talented folks who create them.

2) I think the top-tier TV and film people appearances/autograph sessions (and pricing) detract from the comic book veterans. As much as we enjoy seeing them (because remember, we are not immune - we are fans, too), we definitely compete with them for dollars.

3) I think the over saturation of comic book conventions every weekend ends up hurting every comic book convention, in the final analysis.

4) I think someone at City Hall needs to police the hotels price gouging people, especially in San Diego. I heard a rumor that some crappy hotel, like a Motel (I'm leaving out the # so I don't get sued!) that likely had crystal meth residue, was charging $300 a night during SDCC. We pay way less than that for a beautiful European hotel. If this is true, how the hell is anyone supposed to afford to spend money at SDCC? Or get a good night's sleep and actually enjoy the show?

5) I think the conventions cost too much. Ticket prices are insane. People save up for a year to afford to attend SDCC and shows like it. Like us, the cost of the hotel, rental car, plane fare, and food makes it hard to have expendable income for the exhibitors. We understand what that's like. We're fans, too. We like to shop, too!

6) Here's the point I attempted to make in my first blog - the hipster invasion. People with no appreciation for comic book history are attending JUST to see their favorite Game of Thrones actor. These are the same people who are overtaking Burning Man and Coachella and the like because it's hipster cool to populate your selfies on Instagram at a place with such hard-to-get, coveted tickets. Once they invade, it's time to move on.

However, as many have pointed out to me via Twitter--and I am taking their thoughts very seriously--perhaps this is a "teachable moment" to engage a new fan base? I'm unsure if or how many we could actually convert to becoming fans of comics, but it sure would be nice. I think the future of comics depends upon it. I feel we don't treat comics here with the same level of love and respect that the Europeans do.

CV: Do you feel exhibitors and artists are treated fairly by those who run these cons?

DD: It depends on the Con. Most organizers like Mike Ensley at Pensacon, Larry Zore at Indy PopCon, and Sheldon at HeroesCon are lovely. They do everything they can to ensure the comfort and happiness of their exhibitors.

I see Artists Alley exhibitors treated like crap all of the time and in some shows, being squeezed out altogether. That saddens me.

By Dave Dorman
By Dave Dorman

CV: Taking a look at the positive side of things, has there been any good for you and Dave coming out of the the growing con culture?

DD: First of all, it's an excuse to have a yearly family reunion with the artists, writers, creators, and retailers we love. We would dearly miss these yearly get-togethers.

Secondly, the fans have become family to us. Some stay at our home during their trips to Chicago, or they visit us here while they're in town. You can't put a price tag on the lovely people you meet through these conventions. They are priceless. We would never have met them otherwise. Dave genuinely values their feedback more than they could ever know.

Thirdly, we consider SDCC our family "vacation." You probably won't believe this, but this is a fact - Dave and I have never, ever taken a real vacation together. We had no honeymoon. SDCC was it, and that was a month before our wedding in 2003. We dedicate our lives to doing these shows and satisfying the fans, and we just want to ensure we're doing a better job of it so in the end, everyone comes away happy.

Fourth, we definitely make connections at these shows that are invaluable. For example, meeting "Shoot 'em Up" director Michael Davis resulted in a long-term friendship, which has helped us enormously, and resulted in Dave signing with producer Scott Faye of Depth Entertainment and L.A. entertainment attorney Adam J. Sher as his representatives. Interviewing producer Michael Gross last year for our Heavy Metal Revisited documentary (about the 1981 animated film) we're producing with Bunbury Films was another highlight. Michael was there for only one day, and the details he revealed on film were stunning and have never before been heard by the fans. Dave Scroggy of Dark Horse helped make that happen for us, and we're eternally grateful to him and to Michael.

CV: In addition, has Dave's art done better in an online market or is selling his work at cons still the way to go?

DD: That's a great question. I think it does better in the online market in terms of sales, but the fan connection (in person) is so important to Dave. He wants their feedback. Emails and social media posts don't have eye brows, so gauging fan reaction to the work is always best done in person. It's a two-way relationship of give and take, and we'd like it to continue on that way.

Thanks to Denise for talking to us about this. Check her out on Twitter. Also, follow her husband, Dave on Twitter who does some amazing Star Wars art. Make sure to also check out Dave Dorman's WASTELANDS Omnibus as well!