A lot of my friends went to MCM Comic Con this weekend, and I’ve seen a few reports of inconsiderate exhibitors and table neighbours that really frustrated me. We see a lot of talk about how indie comics has the best community, with the greatest and nicest people (which by and large tends to ring true) and then I see evidence of us screwing each other over with a pathetic “Me first!” attitude that just winds me up.

Before we begin, a disclaimer. I didn’t attend MCM this time around, it clashed with my 30th birthday so I stayed home and celebrated with my family. I didn’t see these things first hand, however there’s plenty of photographic evidence and these are all things I have personally witnessed and experienced at plenty of other shows.

As conventions get busier and the public’s spending power gets smaller, it’s more important than ever to stand out, however some displays are starting to get out of hand.

Dave Cook's tweet
Dave Cook’s tweet about displays blocking his stall.

Dave Cook tweeted to say his neighbours’ displays were actively blocking the public’s view of his table, harming visisbility, discovery, and sales. What’s really annoying here is that:

  • the grid wall is pushed all the way to the front rather than kept to the back of the table, purposefully maximising obstruction
  • the grid wall’s black and opaque, meaning you absolutely can’t see anything through it
  • the grid wall has sides, I can understand using one side piece for stability but creating a little corner wall is simply rude.

You could say I’m just being opinionated, should get off my high horse, and focus less on what other people are doing and more on my own stall. What takes this away from my subjective opinion and into objective rule breaking, however, are MCM’s terms and conditions for exhibiting which are displayed when you apply for a table. Specifically, it includes this rule:

“Displays on tables need to be inward facing and no taller than 4ft; no artwork should face out towards another creator’s table; displays cannot obstruct the visibility of other tables.”

This definitely infringes on that last part, “displays cannot obstruct the visibility of other tables”.

For something even simpler, let’s look at chairs. When you book a table you get two passes and two chairs. For some reason, MCM has always had chair thieves. Yes, people actually take chairs from other tables, sometimes to put their stock or cash box on, sometimes as a seat for customers they’re drawing portraits of. Chair theft is so common that veteran exhibitors who know what to expect make a point to turn up early and cable tie their chairs to their tables to prevent them from being stolen! That’s simply ridiculous and isn’t something that should still be happening.

These weren’t the first red flags that people weren’t being kind to each other. No, the first thing to catch my eye was this post from Comic Village’s official Facebook page:

Comic Village notice
Comic Village’s Facebook post

It read: “Notice to all Comic Village exhibitors. All selling / promotions need to be done from your table. Flyering is NOT allowed on the show floor.”

Photo evidence
TPub flyering in the aisles.

This has been a problem at previous events and I immediately had a good idea who they were referring to. A later Facebook post then confirmed it was TPub Comics, a group with a reputation for behaviour including:

  • ringing a bell every time they get a sale
  • having a whiteboard with their sales totals on it
  • flyering in the aisles
  • being in front of their tables rather than behind
  • poaching customers from other tables
  • having large teams that exceed the limits for Comic Village tables
  • excessive banner stand displays, boosted in height by being placed on top of boxes that have reportedly fallen on people before.

My personal experience with the group is that I’d heard some horror stories and then got placed directly opposite them at an MCM show a few years ago. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, after all their sales figures were supposedly some of the highest in UK indie comics, they’d had a lot of press coverage, and there was a chance people were simply jealous of their numbers.

What I witnessed sadly verified a lot of the rumours I’d heard. This was a large team employing pressured hard sell tactics and behaving as if they were in a call centre. I assume they have marketing or sales experience as they strongly reminded me of those people in the high street that try to get you to change your utilities provider or donate to a charity.

TPub's standees
TPub’s standees

This year they took their guerilla marketing tactics a step further by leaving standees promoting their work dotted around the convention floor. There are conflicting reports on whether they had MCM’s permission to do this or not.

What worries me is that people who follow the rules might see others consistently flouting them, might see a lack of enforcement, and adopt an “If you can’t beat them, join them.” approach. I don’t want to see exhibitors trying to one up each other. It’s like the criminals versus police debate where one side gets batons so the other side gets knives, then the first team grab pistols, so the other guys bring out machine guns.

Some of the behaviours are escalating in their cut-throat race to the top and what I find silly about that is there’s no real prize. There’s very little cash in comics, especially indie comics. If you’re here to make money, there are quicker and easier ways to do that. Comics should be about the passion, the artistry, and the desire to tell a story. It shouldn’t be a bunch of people scratching each others’ eyes out over some loose change on the floor.

What I’d like to see is people having faith in their work, letting the quality of their comics speak for themselves, and ditching the gimmicks, the selfish and over-the-top displays, and just being respectful to those around them.

Honestly? Not the way I wanted to open the new site, a blog post about disrespectful practices, and it’ll likely cause some people to dislike me but it felt like someone had to say it. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to talk about indie comics more positively going forward.