[Below is a note from San Francisco-based cartoonist/Cross Hatch contributor, Susie Cagle. While we had nothing but nice things to say in our writeup of the show, we feel that Cagle brings a fresh perspective to the proceedings, as a cartoonist--and a broke one at the (which, these, is perhaps something of a redundancy). With that in mind, we present the full, unedited text of Ms. Cagle's piece.--Ed.]
Dear Small Press Expo directors and committee,
This was my second year in attendance at the expo, and I enjoyed my time there greatly. Despite the fact that many of my West Coast peers were not able to make it this year due to slim wallets and high prices, I was lucky enough to obtain a ticket with frequent flier miles and a discounted room at the Hilton up the street. I didn’t have the funds to rent a table at SPX either, but I was lucky enough to work that out in my usual way, thanks to a less fortunate would-be convention goer. This was the same game plan as ’08, and were these financial boons not made on my part, SPX would never be possible for me. I certainly don’t make comics for the sweet, sweet cash (I can’t say I know anyone who does), but I was laid off in February and the commercial demand for journalists these days is about as profound as it is for cartoonists. A few more slips down this recession slope and I’m afraid it won’t be possible for many other tenuously employed cartoonists outside of NYC and the D.C.-metro either.
I understand the expo is meant as a fundraiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Actually, I only understand that after reading a well-buried footnote in the program–before I was wondering just where all that money went. Because really, the money! Presuming conservatively that maybe two-thirds of the 170 tables sold at the early bird rate of $300, and the rest at the late rate of $370, that’s upwards of $55,000 right there. Plus 1772 paid admissions–maybe half of those were $15 weekend passes, and half day passes? Another $22,000+. Add in some minor poster sales and we’re talking a grand total of somewhere around let’s say $80K. I can’t imagine the Marriott is charging upwards of three-quarters of that for the use of one large and two small meeting rooms for daytime hours on a weekend, plus the hall, cash bar and bartenders for the Ignatzes. And if they are, well, you might want to reconsider this plan.
I don’t aim to offend here, but I don’t really understand the benefits of having the show in Bethesda as opposed to D.C. A show in Baltimore could be strong, too–there’s an airport, the hotel space, the Atomic Books party that people are already driving 1.5 hours+ roundtrip to get to on Friday, and MICA nearby. Certainly both cities have more interested comics parties than Bethesda? The San Francisco Zine Fest, with only 100 exhibitors, pulled in about 2500 visitors–about the same as SPX. I actually sold more comics there than I did at SPX–perhaps in part because it was free? Ten bucks for the privilege of even setting foot in the exhibit hall is a little steep in this economy: that’s a movie, or a meal (or if you’re like me, two). It’s not a price one would pay were they interested in taking a chance on something new, and that creates a relatively closed economy when, in a city as big and diverse as D.C., and in a medium as marginalized as comics, we should be doing all we can to invite newcomers to the scene. Any sort of cross-pollinating programming, if only in regards to marketing, with the National Book Fair that happened on Saturday or local crafts fairs (there was a big one the following weekend) could have served to broaden the SPX audience. And even a curious, casual Bethesda pedestrian out for a stroll around the
condos wouldn’t have known about the show, buried in the bowels of the Marriott with nary a gorgeous Laura Park poster outside to let anyone know of its existence. (One girl I met who actually lives in Bethesda told me she’d gone to the wrong Marriott to begin with.)
Even if you’re really married to B-da, why not get competing bids from any of the other half-dozen nearby hotels with meeting space more than enough to accommodate the show? You’d then likely also be in a position to negotiate a genuinely reduced room rate instead of just getting the $119 Priceline offers year-round. Those hotels mostly cater to weekday business trips and have tons of empty space on the
weekends. Moreover, these are tough times for the travel industry–why not take advantage, and pass the savings along to cartoonists who are more often than not losing money just to be there in the first place? If the total cost comes down, I think you’d find more talent lining up for table space. (Hey, maybe some of these savings could be used to add a beer/wine and liquor store map to the program!)
I know you guys work hard, and I don’t mean to undercut any of your tireless efforts. I really like SPX and hope my personal finances and the will (or won’t) of the American economy might allow me to go in
the future; I also have no problem with you making money, especially for as worthy a cause as the CBLDF. All I know is I’d love to be able to afford an event like this without eating my dinner at the chocolate fountain, sponging drink tickets off Sam Gaskin and then walking a mile back to my $40 hotel in the rain.
All the best,