Emerald City Comicon Joins The ReedPOP Family Of Conventions [Exclusive Interview]
Since its founding in 2003, Emerald City Comicon has grown to occupy a unique place in the echelon of comic book and pop culture conventions – it's high-profile without being high stress; it focuses largely on indie and small-press work; it's a show that's centered on the artistry of the comic medium. It has a well-deserved reputation for being not just a fan's convention, but a creator's convention. The atmosphere is friendly and casual, and it's full of cool things to see and do without being overwhelmed by the bombast and commercialization of most large-scale shows. It's about the comics community.
ReedPOP, on the other hand, is known for its huge entertainment events: New York Comic Con, Star Wars Celebration, C2E2, the UFC Fan Expo, the PAX family of shows. And while last year's launch of Special Edition: New York (a smaller, comic-focused compliment the all-inclusive San Diego-esque sensory overload of NYCC) was a critical and commercial success, Emerald City still seems like quite a different animal from anything else in Reed's family of conventions, which is why it will come as a surprise to many industry observers that ECCC has become part of the ReedPOP group.
That's right. Emerald City Comicon is now part of ReedPOP. ComicsAlliance has confirmed that as part of the acquisition of ECCC, director Jim Demonakos and his staff will remain not just with ECCC, but actually join ReedPOP in expanded roles that will see them involved with organizing and executing other conventions as well, both in the United States and internationally. Indeed, in this exclusive interview with Demonakos and ReedPOP vice present Lance Fensterman, the new union's stated goal is to find ways for " what makes Emerald City so much fun for creators to be infused into New York and C2E2."
ComicsAlliance: This is a pretty surprising announcement to me, and raises a whole lot of questions, both for fans and professionals. For starters, ECCC has a community vibe that sets it apart from most large-scale conventions: it almost feels like a giant family reunion for fans and creators, a big freewheeling weekend of friends catching up and talking about comic books. ReedPOP shows, on the other hand, can feel less like a casual party and more like a trip through a multimedia amusement park, with all manner of entertainment and tech and publishing and collectibles vying for your attention – and accordingly long lines for each of the most popular rides.
So I guess my immediate concern is that that uniquely personable vibe that ECCC is known for could get lost in this transition.
Jim Demonakos: I get that concern completely, and the initial conversation we had with ReedPOP was very much along the same lines. We have a certain feel to Emerald City that is hard to put into words. And one of the things that ReedPOP wants is us – not necessarily just Emerald City Comicon, but they want the people. So that's the big thing I want to convey: it's not just some corporate acquisition where we're just being swallowed up, but everybody who's working on Emerald City is going to not only continue to work on Emerald City, but actually start working on C2E2 and New York.
Lance Fensterman: Yeah, ReedPOP now has 24 shows around the world, and we're working in a lot of different markets with different partners. We're in a position where we're not looking to grow period, we're looking to grow sensibly, with great people. I've known Jim for ten years through various people and various things, and a year or so ago, we talked about this. I admire what he's done and what he's built, and he was just like "you're in India and Australia, you have Star Wars, you have PAX events, and how much fun would it be to have that broad a palate," and I was saying "how much fun would it be to be in business with a friend, and also somebody who I immensely respect for what he does."
I think any good deal is about having complimentary pieces, you know? There's some stuff that we do super well, and there's some stuff that they do amazingly well, and the best relationships are those where we compliment each other. And having known Jim for a long time, I think we've found that.
JD: They like what's going on over here, and what they'd like is more of that as part of their other shows. It's actually, weirdly the flip of that thing you talked about – they would like more of what makes Emerald City so much fun for creators to be infused into New York and C2E2.
CA: That's good, because a thing that concerned be about this news – probably the best example would be how the much-beloved Mid-Ohio Con got absorbed by Wizard World some years ago, and today is just another one of their innumerable shows around the country, each with a similar celebrity focus, and no particular connection to the surrounding community.
JD: Well, I think ReedPOP has a pretty good track record of making each of their shows individualistic, and making sure each has its own feel. And as I said, part of this whole thing is, we're all sticking around. I mean, I'm too young to retire! I want to keep working on these events, and that's exactly what I'm doing. And now, not only do I get to keep working on Emerald, I get to work on these other shows too! None of us have any plans to go anywhere anytime soon, and that's why they wanted us…not only to keep making Emerald City the show that it is, but to get our team on their shows.
We're excited about this. We think – we know it's a positive thing, because we get to keep working on Emerald, and now we also get to work on all these other ReedPOP events.
CA: How do you see this transition, this sort of melding of the two factions, going into effect? This year's Emerald City is coming up in just over ten weeks, so you're presumably well into planning the final details, and C2E2 follows just a few weeks later…
JD: Well, ReedPOP's visible influence on this year's Emerald City is going to be pretty minimal, because we're so deep into planning that there's just not a lot they could do. Our exhibit space has been sold out since August. I don't have exhibit space, I don't have Artist Alley tables, I don't have room for more guests, we can't really add anything. Most of our programming is nailed down. So ReedPOP is like "we're just going to support you this year, and anything we can do to help you out, let us know."
So, we're having ReedPOP handle our badge mailing, because they have that down. They have a team that does that for all their shows, and I've been going back and forth with them.
LF: Yeah, we're doing work on Emerald City that you won't notice. Like badge mailing – don't worry about it anymore, it's being taken care of, we'll take that on. And in turn, we're getting Jim and other people from his team to look at, y'know, some of the guest offerings in Chicago and some things in other parts of the world.
JD: Basically, Emerald City 2015 will look pretty much like Emerald City 2014. And even in 2016, I don't really see much visibly changing. The person curating the show floor is still doing that. It's all the same people, but with more infrastructure backing us up.
And for C2E2 2015, again, we're coming in pretty late in the process. So you may see us onsite, but I don't think you'll see much visible impact.
CA: So there will be an Emerald City delegation there in Chicago?
JD: Oh, I'll be there! And one of the things that will be great is actually getting to see that show. I guess it's been three years since I've gone, so it's exciting to go and see how it is, how it feels, the way it all works.
CA: And Lance, will there be any ReedPOP presence in Seattle?
LF: Oh yes. We'll be there, and we're excited to be there with these guys, watching and learning and figuring out how we work together. And then we'll take what we learn, and put it into effect bit by bit as we go from there.
CA: So this is going to be more of a gradual transition?
LF: Pretty much, yeah, this will be a few months to get to know each other, get to know how we each do things, so when we sit down in April or May or whenever and say, "I really liked what you did with this," whether it's the way an event was handled or the way someone structured their team, we can make it natural. We're not starting cold, we have a few months to get to know each other, and after that is when we'll really sit down. But really, our default is to not mess with things that work well. We don't want to change this wildly successful con that everybody loves, that's a pretty stupid idea. It's more "what can we learn, what can we apply?
JD: Yeah, that's where we're at. I don't think we'll really ramp up working full-scale on anything until New York Comic Con, and even then, I'm not sure how much work has already been done and how much we can do. Really, a lot of this stuff is gearing up for 2016, playing the long game, and looking ahead. I mean, we've really only been partners for a couple weeks, and we're only scratching the surface of the things we can do together.
CA: So Jim, how do you see this partnership affecting that identity that you and your team have built for the show over the years? Do you see ECCC taking on more elements, and expanding the focus beyond comics, to become more of a pop media show?
JD: It'll maintain its focus as a comics-centric show. I'm not saying there won't be additional entertainment aspects, but we're in a lucky position here in Seattle where we have things like the Paramount Theatre two blocks away from the convention center, so we can add aspects to the show after-hours, or outside the central convention center, without feeling like anything's changed. We have access to so many venues within a four-block radius that you can walk out the door and in less than ten minutes, you're at the next thing!
So I think that's a way that ReedPOP brings stuff to us – they have elements that enhance what we have, without changing the feel of the show.
LF: I imagine it could be something along the lines of what we do with PAX, where we almost build a campus around the convention enter, and we take different things and move them around the city. We have panel rooms at the Sheraton and the Hyatt. We take certain programs, we spread them out, and it gives you more room to breathe and lets you do more and different things.
And again, none of this is set in stone, we're still brainstorming and talking. But longterm, we want to make sure more fans can enjoy and utilize Emerald City. And we have the resources to do that, negotiate with these various venues, so we're trying to be the agents, the catalysts to broaden the experience and let more fans be a part of it.
CA: In 2014, Emerald City entered into a relationship with Rose City Comic Con in Portland, helping organize and promote that show – does ECCC's acquisition by ReedPOP mean that Rose City will be doing their own thing this year?
JD: Yes, Rose City will once again be operating as an independent organization, and they're getting bigger and better. They're an incredible show in a great city, and they're definitely ones to keep an eye on!
CA: There are also ways that ReedPOP and ECCC have differed over the years, in terms of rules and regulations, and how said rules are enforced. (And in fact, ECCC has been a leader in many ways, becoming the first major convention to post a hard and fast policy on harassment last March, an approach that was echoed at the most recent New York Comic Con.) So, while integrating your organizations, do you have any plans to go through and determine consistent practices and policies for all the shows?
JD: My short answer is that we haven't really discussed that at length. My immediate thought, however, is that at some point we'll sit down and do a best practices thing. Like: "Emerald City does X. You guys do X? Great! We're on the same page! And we do X for this thing. You do Y? Let's talk about it. Why do you do Y?" Because they may have reasons that we haven't thought about.
Basically, we're always open to having our minds changed. We want the best show, so if there's something we can do better, we want to hear it. And at the same time, we think we've built our good relationships through doing things well.
LF: Well, for us, we're just really excited to be a part of what they've built with Emerald City, and to incorporate that approach into what ReedPOP does. When Jim and I really started talking seriously about this, we realized we have similar philosophies of building things for fans, that fan-first mentality. And when you do that well, people respond, the event grows. We might have slightly different ways of doing that, but our focus is the same – so while I'm excited about joining forces with Emerald City, I'm even more excited to have these exceptional individuals joining this team, having them influence all these things we do around the world, and incorporating their experience and input.
JD: Yeah, we want to take all the best parts of our respective approaches, and fit them together. We'll fight for stuff that we think is right, but if something they're doing is better than what we've done, we'll be stoked. And we'll work it out.
CA: I think it's good to hear that you're not heading into this with an absolutist right-now approach, but you're considering it all a work in progress.
JD: Well, the thing is, we're not perfect. And there are a lot of things we continue to try, like "let's see what sticks against the wall." At ECCC, we've modified a lot of our policies, year after year, just so we can try to be better. Because we listen. If I hear something, I try not to dismiss it, I wonder if other people feel like that. If you say something, I'll go to someone and say, "Hey, how can we make this experience better?" We've always just tried to be open to as many perspectives as possible so we can give not just the best fan experience, but also work with the publishers and creators, and do the best shows we can for everyone.