MIND MELD: What Can Worldcon and Comic-Con Learn From Each Other?

San Diego Comic-Con attracts between 125,000 to 140,000 attendees over a four-day weekend, whereas the World Science Fiction Convention draws anywhere from 4000 to 7000 attendees over a four-day weekend, depending on location. SDCC stays in one city and operates with a fairly stable staff structure from year to year, while Worldcon changes cities and staff lineups every year and is essentially a wholly volunteer, fan-organized effort. The two are almost impossible to compare, but we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What are the lessons that Comic-Con and Worldcon can learn from the other? Is there in fact a generational migration of professionals and fans that are choosing to attend large, catch-all media cons like SDCC instead of Worldcon, and if so, why?

Read on to see the responses…

Diana Gill
Executive Editor Diana Gill runs Eos, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of William Morrow. She is the editor of New York Times bestselling authors Kim Harrison and Vicki Pettersson. Other authors with whom she has worked include Mario Acevedo, Jonathan Barnes, Trudi Canavan, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Mary Stewart, Karen Traviss, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

For the first time this year, I went to the San Diego Comic-con instead of Worldcon. I’d never been to Comic-con before, and while I’d been warned, the scale is truly beyond belief and has to be seen to be believed, from the hordes waiting to enter, the lines for anything and everything, and the mass of people and exhibits to the sheer spectacle.

Unlike Worldcon, attendees are younger–primarily teens up to 40s-somethings, including numerous families–and of all races.

And the joy and energy and excitement of the attendees reminded me of the first con I ever went to-a tiny Star Trek con outside of Philly, simply because it was there-where everything was new and so exciting and cool. I’m not ashamed to say that I had an absolute blast-being a geek is truly celebrated and welcomed there, and every turn had something fabulous to look at or explore. In the first couple of hours I saw Adama from Battlestar Galactica, amazing (and horrifying costumes), and ran into several people and authors I didn’t expect to-tons of fun!

What can Worldcon learn from Comic-con? Ignoring budgets, which simply cannot be compared, having a fixed location, timeframe, and many of the same staff and volunteers each year means Comic-con can focus on attracting stars (of all sorts), building their presence in re publicity/exposure/attendance, and constantly improving the overall experience (for example, selling all of the attendance badges beforehand, thus shortening the entrance lines), rather than having to start from scratch every time. Further, Comiccon’s constant location and timeframe makes it much easier for attendees to plan (and budget) for, versus the constantly shifting Worldcon (which this year was in Montreal and next year is in Australia).


In contrast, the dedicated Worldcon volunteers have just two years to plan their convention, and each year is a different set of staff, which means a lot of duplicated effort.

And the wider focus on sf/f/h in all venues at Comic-con means a huge number of attendees and potential readers. Granted, most are not interested in books, but some are-our panel had over 200 people at it-and even 5% of Comic-con attendees is more people than any but the absolute largest Worldcon (where not all the attendees are interested in books or authors, either). This is a huge pool of possible new readers for our authors, which is every publisher’s goal. Where Worldcon focuses on science fiction and some fantasy, many fans at Comic-con adored urban fantasy and paranormal romance-the largest, bestselling part of sf/f today–and were either fans of our authors or happy to try them. Plus there’s the chance for author exposure on a level you can’t guarantee and can only hope for, as when Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim was chosen as one of the top 10 Comic-con buzz-winners.

What can Comic-con learn from Worldcon? I’d love a return to a stronger focus on books and authors and the written format, which apparently was supplanted once Hollywood found Comic-con. The fans and pros at Worldcon truly love science fiction and fantasy, and there’s a history and dedication there that cannot be matched or found anywhere else. (I still remember Robert Silverberg’s story of the first Worldcon banquets with awe).

And Worldcon’s smaller scale means you aren’t overwhelmed from the first instant, and can meet people without a completely tactical plan (without cell phones, meeting anyone at CC would be a nightmare, and as it was I missed people I wanted to see or played aisle-tag). It’s harder to meet authors and fans, and you can’t have the late-night, middle of the hotel-hallway (or, well, the bar) conversations on everything and anything that are some of the best parts of Worldcon and World Fantasy.

But in terms of reaching new readers and growing the field in a difficult economy, I have to say Comic-con definitely has the greater appeal.

Not to mention Boba Fett in a leisure suit.

Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman is the author of Warp, Codex, and The Magicians. He is also a book critic at Time magazine and co-blogs at their Nerd World blog.

I went to both Comic-Con and Worldcon this year, and they were very different animals. As in, Comic-Con was sort of a massive brainless leviathan crushing all that is good and true under its hypertrophied bulk. Worldcon was more like a shy, noble gazelle … actually, never mind. Bad metaphor.

What can Comic-Con teach Worldcon? That the rapid expansion and mainstreaming of — for want of a better term — nerd culture is a dangerous thing. It has driven movie studios into a frothing feeding frenzy, and theyhave seized on Comic-Con, hijacked it and turned it into a marketing expo through which they now annually herd hundreds of thousands of brainless consumers in hopes of getting a few promotional tweets out of it.

There were undeniable bright spots at Comic-Con. I was on a wonderful, well-attended panel on the evolution of fantasy this year, with some really amazing writers, and another really successful one on Harry Potter. But those bright spots were hard to find and often critically over-subscribed. The line for the Steampunk meet-up was literally a quarter-mile long, for a room that held 50 people.

If there’s a lesson for Worldcon here, it’s that there’s a lot of corporate money out there, so if you’re tired of relying on volunteer labor, or want to add more glitziness to the Hugos, you might look into siphoning some of it off. But careful how you siphon. Increase your mass too rapidly and you will run afoul of the square-cube law and collapse under your own weight and become a rotting beached whale, the noxious corpse of the authentic sub-cultural haven you once were.

Worldcon to Comic-Con: Gosh, where to begin. Worldcon is good in so many ways that Comic-Con is ungood. I think the most important thing for Comic-Con to do would be to drastically reduce its size. Split into four or five regional conventions, maybe. Return to its roots and minimize promotional and non-comics-related programming. Either that or hurl itself into the purifying fire of Mt. Doom before its corruption infects us all.

Cheryl Morgan
Cheryl has been active in the science fiction community for many years with her Emerald City magazine. She can currently be found writing at Cheryl’s Mewsings and at SF Awards Watch.

I’d like to start with the second question. I don’t have any hard data, but anecdotally it is very much the case, and hardly surprising. If you want to get your name known, you go where the people are. Writers go to Worldcon because they have always gone, because they like the traditions, or because they are up for Hugos. Going to Worldcon instead of Comic-Con does not make any sort of economic sense.

Far more obviously, all of the major US publishing houses except Tor have abandoned Worldcon. They think it is a waste of their PR budget. I can’t think of any good argument against that.

So, what can the two conventions learn from each other? I think to start with it is worth noting that they are two very different events. What works for one may not work for the other. In particular Worldcon is committed to being a traveling event, whereas Comic-Con is in the same place each year. Worldcon is fan run, while Comic-Con has full-time staff. So the two conventions cannot always work in the same way, nor should they aim to. The argument that if Worldcon tries to appeal to a wider audience it will inevitably become like Comic-Con is, I think, silly — another example of the classic Internet nonsense that things can only ever be one extreme or the other.

Personally I have never been to Comic-Con, so I’m not sure what it can learn from Worldcon. However, my good friend Gigi Gridley did attend this year and she had some interesting comments. A particular point she noted was the lack of any pocket program or easily manageable program grid. That ought to be easy for them to do. Lines were another problem, though that may be a cultural issue. I am forever seeing people online talking about events and saying, “it can’t have been any good, there were no lines.” I think maybe you have to get old before you learn that standing in line is something that you shouldn’t have to do. Despite the lines, crowd control was something Gigi felt that Comic-Con was good at. She made particular mention of their use of separate “entry” and “exit” doors for popular panels, which is something Worldcon rarely does, though it is much harder if you are new to the venue each year and may not always be possible. Her main complaint, however, was that being at Comic-Con was like spending 4 days on the London Underground at rush hour. The trouble with being committed to the same venue every year is that if you outgrow it you can’t fix that easily.

What can Worldcon learn from Comic-Con? I think that lesson #1 has to be “kids do read books”. The average age of attendees at Comic-Con is, by all reports, much lower than at Worldcon. And those kids do buy books.

Lesson #2 should be that lower costs do not necessarily mean lower revenue. One of the reasons that Worldcon is so small is because it is so expensive. Charge less money and more people will come, provided of course that you have something for them to do and you let them know about it.

Lesson #3: get some program online early. Comic-Con 2010 is still a long way off, but the same people run APE (http://www.comic-con.org/ape/) which is in San Francisco in October. There is already program information online. You don’t need the whole thing – just your major events, but you do have to give people a reason to go.

Lesson #4: take note of popular culture. Being a Worldcon Guest of Honor is akin to a lifetime achievement award, but there is no reason why Worldcons can’t have other guests. The designation “special guest” has often been used as an excuse to bring in someone who is currently hot news but does not have the stature to be a GoH. You also want to make sure you cover all of what is popular. If that includes anime and vampire romances, so be it. If you don’t appeal to the people who like such things they won’t attend your event.

Lesson #5: use all of your big name attendees in your marketing. Worldcons have a fabulous attendance list, but they hardly ever make use of it. When they do it is almost as an apology. Worldcon should get details of well-known program participants online early. (Yes, inevitably one or two may cancel. That’s much less of a disaster than not advertising them.)

There’s lots more I could say. Worldcons market themselves really, really badly. But I’ve gone on for long enough and in any case this Mind Meld is specifically about a comparison with Comic-Con, not a general piece about Worldcon. I talk about these issues regularly on my blog.

Pablo Defendini
Pablo Defendini is the producer of Tor.com, and a general rabble-rouser. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico (one of the most SFnal places on Earth), he worked in advertising and media production before becoming Mass Market Designer for Tor Books, from which he made the jump to his current position at Tor.com. He is secretly a Cylon.

As someone who’s only attended one Worldcon (this year’s Anticipation in MontrĂ©al), I’m not sure that I’m the best person to weigh in on Worldcon, but I can draw some cursory comparisons between it and the four Comic Cons I’ve attended (the last two years, both New York and San Diego). So with that caveat firmly in place, I do have some comments about one aspect of the cons in particular. Information services.

Both cons offer copious online tools and information on their respective websites before you get to the cons, from hotel-booking services to maps of the convention center. But much of today’s technology is actually useful and accessible when you’re on the ground, and sucking down information that’s being updated in real time. The people who put on the circus that is Comic Con leverage RSS feeds, Twitter accounts, online programming calendars, and even a surprisingly useful iPhone app in order to make the madness of Comic Con remarkably easy to navigate.

Unfortunately, the people behind Worldcon seem stuck in a previous decade, using large paper grids in a centralized location of the convention center for any changes to the programming (and there were many-I ended up running around looking for a panel that had been cancelled at least three times), scrawling out ad-hoc signs hastily pinned to walls, and distributing large and unwieldy broadsheets with changes to the schedule (not to mention the so-called ‘voodoo message board’, a wonderful concept that was a useful and inventive solution for a problem before the advent of mobile phones, but seems quaint and more trouble than it’s worth now). While this is all perfectly fine to have, the fact that there’s more efficient ways to disseminate this information seems to have gone completely unnoticed. Granted, maintaining those feeds is a full-time, ’round the clock job, and I’m aware that Worldcon is run by volunteers. I’m not saying that they should be doing everything that an organization the size of Comic Con can do, but at the very least, a shared Google Calendar and a Twitter account for constant updates (not just ten tweets during the whole con!) is certainly do-able. The need is for these services is there, and it’s being partly filled by sites like Conreporter.com, which did an admirable job of aggregating attendees’ various information feeds and chronicling some of the major goings-on at Worldcon. However, it’s not the same as having a dedicated stream of information free from commentary and direct from the source, as it were. Having this information made the gargantuan Comic Con much easier to navigate than the smaller, more intimate Worldcon, ironically.

The ad-hoc networks formed by the con-goers, however, was in full effect, and one of the things I really enjoyed about Worldcon was the intimate atmosphere, which allowed me to spend more time hanging out and meeting up with people repeatedly (updates about who was doing what mostly happened via Twitter and text message for me, and many others). That’s something that would be very hard to replicate with a con that’s big enough to take over a city, like San Diego Comic Con.

Jeremy Lassen
Jeremy Lassen is the Editor in Chief of the Night Shade Books, an independent publisher of Science fiction, fantasy and horror. He is also the best dressed editor in Science Fiction. Pictures that prove this, along with rants on science fiction, politics, and other sundry items can be found on his blog at jlassen.livejournal.com

I think San Diego Comicon represents the “mainstreaming” of fandom. It is sort of a secondary result of “Science fiction conquering the world,” ala Thomas Disch’s famous thesis that one no longer needs to self identify as a science fiction reader in order to get the kinds of things that Science Fiction traditionally delivers and that formerly were only available in things specifically marketed as science fiction.

Worldcon comes from a tradition of Science fiction fandom…from the fandom of the written form that goes all the way back to 1937, and The Futurians. The fans who come to worldcon, for the most part, are self conscious that they are taking part in a long tradition of SF fandom, even if they are not aware the specific lineages of that fandom.

San Diego Comicon attendees are participating in a fandom that is focused on a broader meadia based culture…a fandom that is wider in scope (video games, manga, anime, comics) then that of the kind found at worldcon, but it is also one that is a relatively new phenomenon, with a history that is still being written. Additionally, it is one that is just as likely to draw its cues from the various types of Otaku fandom in Japan, as it is to being informed by Mid 20th century U.S. Science fiction fandom.

I’m reminded of the kinds of cultural appropriating and cross cultural pollination of motion pictures. The Hollywood studio films of the 30’s and 40’s greatly influenced French new wave directors of the late 50’s and 60’s, who in turn influenced many Japanese and Hong Kong directors of the 70’s and 80’s, who in turn helped redefine what 1990 and 21st century Hollywood thrillers and actions movies could be. It’s a big circle of life, with different niches and spheres of influence, but it leads to richer experiences all around.

Thus I think that the broader cultural appropriation of things that used to be solely the purvey of Science Fiction is a good thing, and huge media conventions like San Diego Comicon are a good thing. The vast majority of the 200,000+ attendees may only be “tourists” but that’s fine too. Enough of them continue to find their way traditional Science fiction fandom, and enough of them choose to stay, and make it their home, such that the catch-as-catch can semi-professional nature of science fiction fandom and its associated conventions will continue to thrive and grow, even as their activities are dwarfed by the more commercially and media driven enterprises like The San Diego Comicon. These types of conventions serve different niches, even though there is significant cross over. And it is the people and the elements of culture at the center of that cross over, where the future of science fiction will be defined.

Charlie Jane Anders
Charlie Jane Anders is a news editor at io9.com

I would like to see Comic Con try something like the Paul Krugman – Charles Stross conversation that happened at WorldCon. Usually at Comic Con when two famous people interview each other, it’s two big film directors or something similar. It would be great to see Bill Clinton interview J.J. Abrams, or something similar.

John R. Douglas
John R. Douglas was born in 1948 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, started reading SF in his teens, went to his first SF convention in 1969 and worked on a number of conventions in various capacities until 1978 when he became a publishing professional and discovered that he needed to spend his convention-attending time pursuing publishing-related activities. He has appeared on many panels at conventions, both as participant and as moderator, on a wide range of fan-related, SF-related and publishing-related topics. He has been a publishing professional for more than 30 years which included more than 20 years as a staff editor for four different publishers. For almost the last ten years he has been a freelancer, handling all sorts of editorially-related work of genre interest with, most recently, a serious concentration on web-based publishing operations and digital publications. He still loves working with words and seeing them in print but has learned that the definition of “print” can be very elastic.

I have never been to a Comic-Con and don’t think I’m ever likely to attend one. I’ve been to more than thirty Worldcons, a good number of which I’ve paid my own way to and many of which I went to at the expense of the various publishers that employed me at the time. If I were still a staff editor, the odds of my ending up at a Comic-Con would probably be significantly higher than they are of me doing it on my own dime. I consider myself to be both an SF fan, in the classic, convention-related sense that applies in this context, and a publishing professional.

I’m not sure there are lessons that the one convention can teach the other. Both seem to be very successful at doing what they intend to do but what their purposes are is very different, although they started out with very similar goals–to draw like-minded people together, both fan and professional, to share common enthusiasms, discuss forthcoming and current publications (in all senses of the word) of interest to the attendees and to make sure that attendees have a good time. The first Worldcon was in 1939 and many or most of the people who started Comic-Con had attended at least a few Worldcons and/or other smaller SF conventions so the roots of the two conventions share a common point of origin.

Over the years the Worldcon, as directed by the individual committees that organize it on an annual basis and by the many long-term repeat attendees who have participated in and continue to participate in thinking about and planning the convention, has evolved and maintained the focus of the convention’s efforts to draw attendees who will understand the purpose of the convention and who see it and appreciate it for what it is. Worldcon attempts to be all things to all people in terms of addressing a very wide variety of interests from games to costuming to Georgette Heyer aficionados to you-name-it–with the generalized understanding that any and all of those interests are subsumed by and ancillary to an interest in science fiction (very broadly defined), primarily but not exclusively in printed form. Year by year, the convention takes place in many different cities around the world yet manages to re-create a recognizable and consistent atmosphere of openness and a focus on appealing to and accommodating fans of science fiction. The convention has, on occasion, chosen to manage the size of attendance by emphasizing and de-emphasizing certain sections of the “audience” for the genre that it appeals to and caters to with programming efforts and special events.

Comic-Con has a standing committee of developers and advisers, operates ever year in the same facility and city and has shown a continuing willingness and desire to expand its attendance and to incorporate larger and more varied groups of attendees with a developing emphasis on media-related programming that appeals to a very broadly-based audience that only marginally relates to the comic business that formed the initial core of interested attendees.

I think the lesson the Worldcon might be learning from Comic-Con is that maintaining the initial focus of interest is a key element in controlling the size of the convention and maintaining the “feel” of what a Worldcon is. The lesson that Comic-Con may have learned from Woldcon is that starting with a common interest and accreting all sorts of marginally-related additional interest groups opens up amazing growth opportunities at the expense of a coherent audience focus and a requirement for massive efforts at crowd control and a consciousness of the practical limits of growth associated with physical facilities. Worldcons can vary in size year-to-year and can flourish in many different situations. Comic-Con may be approaching an absolute growth limit that could only be exceeded by a radical re-conception and/or re-location to a completely different set of facilities, probably in a different city–which seems unlikely since the Southern California location is probably essential to maintain the huge and ever-increasing participation by media (Movie, TV and Game) promoters.

Professionals chose to attend Comic-Con because it has become a major launching platform for media-related properties which contain genre elements. Professionals attend Worldcons because it’s a place to have some fun and also pursue business objectives in an environment that draws a significant percentage of fellow professionals as attendees which can and does lead to a sort of convention-within-a-convention feeling at least part of the time.

John Picacio
John Picacio has illustrated covers for books by Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl, Jeffrey Ford, Charles Stross, Robert Heinlein, Joe R. Lansdale, L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and many, many more. A five-time Hugo Award nominee for Best Professional Artist, he has won the Locus Award, two International Horror Guild Awards, the Chesley Award, and the much-coveted World Fantasy Award – all in the Artist category. He recently won a 2009 Chesley Award for Best Paperback Cover Illustration and is a 2009 World Fantasy Award finalist. He and his wife, Traci, live in San Antonio, Texas. For more info and pictures, please visit http://johnpicacio.com/blog.html.

Here are two favorite things that I think Worldcon does really well, and this was true this year in Montreal at Anticipation:

  1. Accessibility: Pros and fans can actually talk to each other and easily interact at a Worldcon. By contrast, the sheer, overwhelming force of 140,000+ people in one building at SDCC makes this harder and harder to do. No one is inaccessible at a Worldcon. Ideas can be exchanged one on one. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing attendances increase at Worldcon. If that happened, I don’t think accessibility would diminish because Worldcon’s annual attendance is so relatively small (well under 10,000) over the last decade or so. Worldcon has the advantage of being able to make a lot of improvements and expand, if it chooses, and yet not lose its current intimacy. That’s good news.
  2. Hollywood doesn’t rule: The fans do. If Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wants to interview Hugo Award-nominated author Charles Stross in front of a large audience (which happened at this year’s Worldcon in Montreal), it becomes a buzz item. Ideas are exchanged. Minds are expanded. It becomes a news item in the larger world and doesn’t get lost in the murk of the latest movie studio dog-and-pony show, Entertainment Tonight cameo, or Final-Crisis-Mutant-Massacre-Someone’s-Gonna-Die crossover cashgrab announcement. Krugman/Stross was a one-off, idea-centric event that brought the con together while demonstrating how interconnected sf and the world-at-large are. Worldcon garnered widespread media attention and looked great in the process. I wish there were more “summit” events like this that cross-pollinate the sf/fantasy art and literary world with the world-at-large. Worldcon is the perfect venue for this, and props to Farah Mendelsohn and the Anticipation programming team for recognizing it. I hope future programming teams continue to advance the dialogue between Worldcon and the larger world.

OK. So what about Comic-Con? Gosh, this con does so many things well, and has been such a well-oiled machine for so many years. There’s nothing like it. My first one was in 1992 when the con’s attendance was around 50,000 people. Crowds were huge and happy, but not overwhelming. Hotel rooms were plentiful. Helmets and protective padding were not required on Saturdays. No one was too big for the show. Back then, the scale of the event didn’t prohibit any fan or pro from having their moment with mega-popular creators like Frank Miller, Jack Kirby, or Will Eisner. Over the years though, it feels like it’s become a victim of its titanic success. I’ve attended nine or ten SDCCs since (most recently in 2006) and it’s now a 150,000+ all-consuming behemoth where it’s more about what you miss, rather than what you experience. As a professional, if you’re not selling product, or pimping loud and large at SDCC, (and both require very deep pockets), then you don’t exist, and I think that’s a shame. That said, I’ve gotta tip my hat to the people that built SDCC into what it is: fans with a dream who worked year-in and year-out to make it bigger and better, and they’re to be commended for building the ultimate convention machine. They’ve got the biggest concentration of fan money, media, marketing, and inertia at a scale that just can’t be rivaled. I understand why it’s the fan mecca for so many worldwide attendees.

Here’s the most impressive thing to me about SDCC, year after year:

They understand the value of visual artists and put a priority on using the art of each year’s special guests to explosively and effectively market to new audiences. Comic-Con long ago realized how expensive it is for artists to attend so it allows them a waiver of registration fees, if they can prove professional status. It CELEBRATES the visual artist with huge printed banners of its special guests’ artwork. It builds big programming events around them. It markets the visual artist to not only true believer art fans, but to the media at-large. It excites the artist community across all age groups. SDCC knows how to use the art of its special guests to garner attention and build community. It just flat-out knows how to create buzz with sf/f art.

With that said, here are three common-sense suggestions that would improve the Worldcon experience, in my opinion, and increase artist participation:

  1. Maximize the Artist Guest of Honor — Heck, I think the first thing is to actually NAME a professional Artist Guest of Honor every year and market that name with the same vigor as the rest of the GoHs. I say that because the art community at-large thought this year’s Worldcon fumbled that one. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that an Artist Guest of Honor wasn’t named until well after the other GoHs were announced. That name was eventually revealed to be Ralph Bakshi. The signal that pitched to the artist community was that Worldcon: 1) didn’t place a high priority on marketing the Artist GoH spot with the same vigor as the rest of the GoHs, and 2) with the choice of Ralph Bakshi (who eventually withdrew from the position, with no replacement given), that it wasn’t a relevant event for the current artist marketplace. No need to take my word for it. Look at the attending artist roster and compare it to previous Worldcon artist rosters (including the 2007 Worldcon in Japan). Most American and UK artists stayed home en masse from Worldcon this year. The better Worldcon handles the Artist GoH, the better the turnouts from the artist community.
  2. Think Big Pictures – Think Giant Signage. Think “wow factor!” Use the Artist GoH’s work as a marketing beacon every year. Yes, Worldcon annually uses it on program covers, badges, and t-shirts. That’s terrific, but I’m talking about big, propagandistic banners. If used properly, the Artist GoH can be a more potent marketing resource than any other GoH. Signage can make or break a convention experience’s unity and presence. This was never more apparent than at the 2008 Worldcon. The con shared a cavernous convention facility with two other gatherings — a John Deere convention and a statisticians’ convention – and both had signage that was bigger, more graphically compelling, and just more visible than Worldcon’s. Let that sink in for a moment: science fiction art is some of the most compelling, evocative imagery anywhere. Who could believe then that a farm equipment con and a statisticians’ con would visually own THE World Science Fiction Convention in a side-by-side comparison? I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see if with my own eyes. I love Worldcon and the people who run it, but that should never, ever happen. Our signage should be so giant, so powerful, and so eye-grabbing that it says unequivocally — “We’re Worldcon. We’re science fiction. And we own this place for the next five days.”

    Here’s a suggestion: perhaps future Worldcon committees might consider concerted attention toward big, bold professionally-printed vinyl or cloth signage not only within the show, but outside of it. In 2010, the Artist GoH is Shaun Tan. In 2011, it’s Boris Vallejo. Both artists’ work have terrific visual presence. Every year, each Worldcon city could use the Artist GoH’s artwork on huge banners that help orient the attendees within the venue (to the dealers’ room, art show, exhibits, etc.). This not only serves functional purpose, but it visually “owns” the venue and unites the convention’s attendees into feeling like they’ve arrived and belong to something special. Here’s an example:

    http://z.about.com/d/manga/1/0/H/Y/-/-/SDCC08_KuboBanner_500.jpg

    Worldcon can push that notion of visual ownership even further by visually owning the host city with banners like this along the street, again using the Artist GoH’s artwork on these banners. It attracts eyeballs, generates buzz, and invites newcomers to come check out what Worldcon has to offer.

    http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1117/1143610283_49f7b38296.jpg?v=0

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/76/197200075_db5785bc2c.jpg?v=1153758031

    If Worldcon invests more value in the visibility of its Artist GoH, then that cache can only improve the perception of the show within artist circles.

  3. Worldcon’s Art Show Should Be An Annual Must-See: And it should be marketed as such. I wonder if the Art Show could, in fact, be the centerpiece of an expanded art experience at future Worldcons. For instance, Worldcon is currently missing out on an entire generation of sf/fantasy artists and audience that would be a great commercial asset. Take a look at ConceptArt.org for example, an online worldwide community of 148,000+ registered users dedicated to sf/fantasy. Almost none of them attend Worldcon. These folks attend SDCC and other cons because there’s just not enough art opportunity for them at Worldcon.

    In addition, ConceptArt.org holds multi-day conventions of their own aimed at sf/fantasy artists of all varieties, and Worldcon’s current structure completely misses out on this entire social network of artists that could enrich and invigorate the con. The ConceptArt.org events have the following in common with Worldcon: 4-to-5 day event, lots of panelists over a running schedule, happens in a different city every year all around the world; large registration fee. However, unlike Worldcon, it attracts hundreds of pro and up-and-coming illustrators every time; provides continuous programming targeted directly at improving skills; celebrates traditional and digital approaches; celebrates opportunity in the video-game, film, and book industries, amongst others; attracts many potential employers for those attendees. Bottom line – Worldcon attracts current and future authors and many of them come for the social/professional networking/potential job opportunities. The same is completely missing right now for the sf/f art community, and that’s a whole revenue stream of money and attention that would make Worldcon more reflective of the 21st century science fiction scene and provide uncharted enjoyment for pros and fans alike.

Times change, and all things must pass, but I don’t want to see Worldcon abandoned by the professional sf/f community. I admit it’s becoming harder to justify attending the show as fewer pros attend. I’m a Worldcon believer though, and I’m gonna stick it out and hope that the con finds new ground in the next few years. I hope the show can attempt to become more inclusive rather than exclusive, and attract more people under the age of thirty. I don’t think Worldcon ever needs to worry about being anything other than itself, but if it’s going to be a viable destination for sf/f professionals in coming years, it’ll need smarter marketing, and better usage of the resources currently at its disposal, including and especially its artists and art attractions. We’ll see. It’ll be in Melbourne, Reno, and possibly Chicago and San Antonio in the years to come. Wherever it is, I’m rooting for it to live long and prosper.

Lou Anders
A 2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2008/2006 Chesley Award winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as seven critically-acclaimed anthologies, the latest being Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008) and Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008). He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, DeathRay, free inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. Visit him online at http://louanders.blogspot.com/

This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, particularly as I’ve been wondering which cons to attend each year on behalf of Pyr books. This year, I attended both the San Diego Comic Con and the World Science Fiction Convention, within weeks of each other, so the strengths of both and the contrast between the two was front and center in my mind.

Two things impressed me tremendously about this year’s Comic Con:

One, that the attendees were largely in their teens and twenties, reportedly 40% female, and were very excited about all things speculative, including books. That a great many of them were in costume and weren’t paid to be so impressed me as well, as I think we are now firmly in the post cosplay age where costuming is mainstream. Secondly, that I was able to spend real time with the head SF&F buyers for both Borders and Barnes & Noble, neither of whom attend the World Science Fiction Convention. As someone whose primary interest in conventions is to sell books, that large a demographic and that access to the buyers makes Comic Con essential to me professionally.

Two things impressed me about the recent World Science Fiction convention:

One, the strength of the programming this year was exceptional. The discussion between Charles Stross and Nobel-prize winning economist and Time magazine columnist Paul Krugman was a perfect example of the type of event that World Con is uniquely positioned to take advantage of. It drew in well over 1,000 people; was respectfully reported in media coverage; was funny, intelligent, and interesting; and presented an example of how science fiction can interact with, speak to and about, and be relevant for today’s world.

The second thing that impressed me about World Con was how many big name professionals from outside the literary world were there. From the world of television, we had Doctor Who scriptwriter Paul Cornell and Star Trek: The Next Generation scriptwriter Melinda Snodgrass. From the world of comic books we had the aforementioned Paul Cornell (who writes many Marvel titles), Bill Willingham (whose Fables comic is huge for DC/Vertigo), and Pia Guerra (co-creator and penciller for DC/Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man). We also had Time magazine book critic Lev Grossman (who, with the publication of the bestselling The Magicians is now a fantasy author as well.) Add these to Krugman, and you have a really interesting, eye-catching, and impressive list of people. Time columnist, famous television authors, famous comic book people…All there already.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to a) better reach the demographic serviced by the San Diego Comic Con, and b) better utilize the most-already-available resources of WorldCon to enhance its core strengths.

Now, I had a marvelous time at both conventions-the best I’ve had at either in a long time-so I don’t really want to criticize either of them right now. Rather, I’m going to talk about what I would do if, hypothetically, all power fell into my lap from out of the sky. And we won’t set this at either convention, but in a hypothetical new venue that we’ll name something clever like “American Fantasy Expo,” or, perhaps more to my liking, “Lou Con 2010.”

So, to begin with, Lou Con isn’t a media con looking to be co-opted by Hollywood the way that Comic Con has been. But what Lou Con is, is a con that understands that today’s fan enjoys a wide variety of entertainment, from books to comics to games to film and TV, and thus Lou Con wants to cater to the full spectrum of 21st century tastes. Lou Con doesn’t want to be a big, 100,000+ behemoth. But Lou Con would be very happy if it could pull in 10,000 to 15,000 people. Therefore, Lou Con works like this:

  1. Every Lou Con has a YA guest of honor. In addition to the usual Best Writer, Best Editor, and Best Artist, Lou Con always has Best Young Adult Writer. There seems no better way to address the so-called “graying of fandom” than to bring in those who will constitute tomorrow’s fans. Last January, the NEA reported the largest rise in reading in a quarter century, with the largest single demographic increase falling in the 18 to 24 year olds. All those who said that the kids who grew up reading Harry Potter wouldn’t read anything other than Harry Potter were wrong. This generation grew up on Potter and is now entering its 20s, and looking for more to read. Not only does Lou Con reach out to them, but it also looks at today’s teens and what they are growing up on. Lou Con seriously considers having Day Passes for young people and investigating what can be done in cooperation with schools to bring in tomorrow’s fans.
  2. Every Lou Con has a Comic Book / Graphic Novel guest of honor. Neil Gaiman can’t shoulder the burden alone, and as I pointed out above, comic book giants are already attending literary conventions. To walk around with Bill Willingham at a convention as I did is to be constantly accosted by people who say, “Oh. My. God. Are you Bill Willingham?!? What are you doing here? You are amazing!” It is a non-stop experience of stunned exultation. Lou Con is interested in bringing in the really interesting writers and artists who work in this sister industry, and according them love and respect with a GoH position.
  3. Lou Con also has a “Media” Guest of Honor. Now, before you react in horror, see the above-mentioned assertion that Lou Con is not aiming to be Comic Con II (or IV, now that there is already a II and III in NYC and Chicago). Lou Con wants to keep the focus on creative, dynamic individuals, and on writers and artists, so we suggest inviting writers from Hollywood as our Media Guest of Honor. Someone like Joseph Mallozzi, who is not only the executive producer of many of the Stargate television series, but is also a very big advocate of the written word, hosting a monthly book club on his blog and bringing in SF&F authors on a regular basis for online Q&A sessions would be perfect. Stargate recently hired our own John Scalzi as a series consultant, and Mallozzi is a smart and articulate fellow with a firm knowledge of our field who is already reaching out to embrace the literary aspects of SF&F. He is also a damn fine prose writer, as the world will see next year when With Great Power hits shelves. Other potential media guests include other writer/producers of genre television, screenwriters, and even the game designers of those videogames noted for the complexity of their narratives. James Ohlen, one of BioWare’s leading designers, would be a wonderful guest. And including him reaches out to the gaming world, while keeping the focus of Lou Con on narrative.
  4. Lou Con is undecided if it needs a manga/anime Guest of Honor, or if this can be serviced under Comics and Media. However, Lou Con is certainly manga/anime-friendly. A manga/anime GoH might be something to consider for Lou Con 2011 or 2012, depending on how Lou Con grows. For now, Lou Con will have manga/anime tracks.
  5. Lou Con does more with the artists than just putting them in the art show. I have been very impressed with reports of how painting demonstrations hosted by the Society of Illustrators that aren’t even associated with any other event can pull in hundreds of eager spectators willing to watch and learn from the very same people who regularly attend World Con. Artists like Donato Giancola, Stephan Martiniere, Dan Dos Santos, Gregory Manchess and John Picacio are an incredible resource. These people, when not gracing our conventions, are working as lead art directors in videogames, providing concept art for top Hollywood blockbuster films, executing commissions for magazines as prestigious as National Geographic, and generally manifesting their brilliance across all spectrums of the SF&F world. Look at Deviant Art -which has over 10 million members and receives over 105,000 submissions a day. Look at ConceptArt.org -which art directors regularly surf when looking for new illustrators to hire. There is an unprecedented enthusiasm for illustration that isn’t being fully serviced. Lou Con wants to maximize the presence of these incredible artists by celebrating their work as co-equal to the writers who attend our convention. Lou Con wants to connect these illustrators with their millions of hungry young artists eager to learn from these masters. Lou Con envisions hosting workshops and demonstrations throughout the convention and to publicize same in advance. How do you plan to do this, you might ask. Lou Con plans to get down on Lou Con’s knees and beg the wonderful Irene Gallo, art director for Tor and Society of Illustrators member and advocate, and regularly convention attendee, to help Lou Con work all this out. Lou Con probably doesn’t charge its artists a membership fee to attend. Lou Con might donate a percentage of revenue to the Society of Illustrators and will certainly give them advertising.
  6. Lou Con has recently been impressed by the number of fantasy authors who are RPG “pen and paper” gamers. Lou Con is amazed by the overlap between swords & sorcery and gaming. Lou Con knows we are in a resurgence of S&S in this era of “new gritty fantasy.” Lou Con will investigate how best to maximize this connection between RPG gaming and fantasy literature. Lou Con suspects this involves more than giving gamers a room, sticking them in there and hoping they stay put.
  7. Lou Con plans to do real outreach to the media, and if that means taking out paid advertising, Lou Con will do it. Lou Con is happy to give up his nice tote bag in 2010 if that means another 1,000 attendees. When Lou Con reaches 15,000 members our tote bags can come with built in mp3 players or whatever.

Okay, that’s it. As ego-centric as I am, I’m getting tired of referring to myself as a third person amalgamation, and I’m 3 seconds away from typing “Lou Con Smash!” But the gist of this, if you haven’t gotten it already, is that I want to find a way to address the full spectrum of speculative entertainment, while keeping the focus on the writing and artistry of it, and the level of interaction between creator and fan. I want to find a way to maximize the talent that already attends our conventions, providing that talent with the best use of their own time and the best convention for their needs. And I want to find new and better ways to connect those creatives with the larger audience that already exists and exhibits great enthusiasm for what they do, but may not be aware of the traditional convention circuits.

Lou Con Smash!

64 thoughts on “MIND MELD: What Can Worldcon and Comic-Con Learn From Each Other?”

  1. It seems to me there are fundamental differences in the two events. Worldcon is the annual meeting of the World Science Fiction Society, and is organized and run by volunteers who are not trying to make money. Admittedly, they’re not trying to lose it, either, but the goal is not to make a profit but rather to provide a meeting place for fans of science fiction so that they can talk to each other and meet the people– writers, editors, artists– who produce the work they admire and enjoy (all the things Diana Gill described). It has some media events, but it’s still primarily driven by a love of the printed word (even though “printed” no longer means paper has to be involved). ComicCon is very much media-driven, and I am willing to bet (a small amount, anyway) that it does make money for its organizers; it certainly covers the costs of a lot of paid staff. I confess I have never been to a ComicCon, but it gets so much press coverage, I do feel I know something about it. It seems to have achieved a critical mass of money, size, and energy so that it is now self-fulfilling. Everyone who can goes to ComicCon because it’s now the place to be. As to how it achieved that critical mass, look no farther than the Hollywood connection. Science fiction in media is exponentially bigger as a market than science fiction in literary form.

    I don’t see Worldcon as learning a lot from ComicCon, or vice versa, because ComicCon’s sucess comes from things that don’t apply to Worldcon. I like John Picacio’s suggestions for making Worldcon more visual, and Lou Anders’ idea of making more use of well known folks who share our love of our genre. Paul Krugman looked like he enjoyed himself at Worldcon. There must be other people out there who are smart, well spoken, and well known who could get us some good press.

  2. The short answer is an ‘aweful lot’

    There are among the above comments some helpful comments, so there is no point my repeating these here.

     

    One erroneous point is that Comicon has the same organisers and Worldcon does not.  This is not strictly true in that there are those who have worked on several Worldcons as well as many more who have helped out at dozens of Worldcons.

     

    The key point surely is that Comicon is both larger and attracts the young blood.  With this in mind what is there to learn?

     

    Now do not get me wrong, I like the Worldcon and have been to every one held in Europe since 1979 plus one in N.America and I am registered for Australia.  So it really makes me sad to see youngsters get pissed off attending Worldcon and going back to their fan groups reporting that because they liked films and TV SF that they were looked down upon, and that because they were young and that this was their first con that they were dismissed as ‘neos’ and not welcomed and encouraged.

     

    Now I know that some of you may not recognise this portrayal of Worldcon but trust me I have heard it all too often…  OK, so don’t trust me: I let the numbers and age profile speak for themselves!

     

    Have a look at Worldcon websites and see what is there to attract yongsters who are into film and TV  and comics SF first and written SF second.

     

    How many Worldcons have a truly inovative TV and film programme? (And puleaze do not give me all the old excuses of copyright or the ready availability of home cinema.  There is stacks of stuff available free or at low cost and there is stacks of brilliant SF outside of Hollywood and that does not have N.American/British Isles cinematic and DVD release that you simply cannot get to easily see.)

    All too often the film programme and TV programme is tucked away in some far-flung part of the conference centre, is poorly thought out (in fact boring), and more often than not is not included in the formal programme schedule.

     

    If Worldcons want a larger attendance and to showcase written SF to a younger generation then Worldcons 1) must provide some of the SF youngsters, 2) must actually and genuinely positively welcome them, and 3) actually market the Worldcon with these elements positively in mind.  (Here please do not misunderstand me — I do _not_ mean dispensing with the existing Worldcon book focus.)

     

    However do I think Worldcon fandom will learn.  Nope.  Not until the current generation of Worldcon organisers have gone.  Then the Worldcon will re-invent itself (because today’s youngster will do it).  Of course if it happens sooner then I will be happily surprised, but I won’t hold my breath.

     

    Meanwhile irrespective of what happens I will continue to enjoy Worldcon as I get my young SF fandom and SF film jollies elsewhere.

    Hugs.   XXX

     

  3. In defense of Comic-Con and the implication that “it makes money for its organizers:” While the organization does have a handful of full-time, paid staff, the convention is organized by a non-profit organization. (The corporate entity is still called “San Diego Comic Convention“. It is not a profit-making entity organized for the purpose of private gain for its organizers, but a California non-profit corporation. That doesn’t mean that it can’t have employees; lots of non-profit organizations have paid staff. The organization’s financial details are available from Guidestar.org (free registration required). That doesn’t mean that they lose money; for the most recent fiscal year on file (FY ending August 31, 2006), their surplus of about $1.1 million (on $7.2 million revenue) was more than the total turnover (about $0.9 million) of the 2002 Worldcon in San Jose that I co-chaired. But this wasn’t a profit paid out to shareholders; it would have been spent on the convention’s charitable purposes and to improve the convention.

    On the other hand, while “there are those who have worked on several Worldcons as well as many more who have helped out at dozens of Worldcons,” the convention entity itself is different every year, and the institutional memory is poor. It’s a different corporate entity. The senior managers are different each year. The facility is new and is usually unfamiliar with our event. The only places you see much continuity are areas where the same people have been recruited (separately by each event) to run that area each year. And so on. Such continuity as Worldcon has is almost coincidental.

  4. I love Lou Anders’ idea of a YA author guest of honor.  I think teens whose favorite author is going to be only a few hours away could succesfully badger their parents into taking them, thus drawing in more than the usual number of local fans.

    I also don’t think it would hurt to have an actor as a Media GoH.  It would be great to focus more on media writers as well, but having one main actor guest does not turn Worldcon into ComicCon, and might draw in some folks who wouldn’t otherwise attend.

    I also agree with everyone who says the Krugman/Stross thing (and the Krugman solo talk) are terrific opportunities (that is, if the schedule changes are reasonably made known!).  The Krugman solo talk was a real highlight of the con for me.

    I don’t disagree that the voodoo board seems a little outmoded, but it sure came in handy this year for all those of us whose cellphones didn’t work in Canada.  I agree, though, that tweeting, a Google calendars, and/or other more advanced methods of communicating would be beneficial.

  5. Where can I send my forty bucks to become a supporting member of Lou Con?  I want to cast by ballot for the Lougos, starting with the Best Most Awesome Con award.

    On the one hand, I like the way Worldcon moves around the world.  I was at Yokohama two years ago, and it was an exciting opportunity to a) meet other fans from around the world and b) have an excuse to go to Japan.  I made some very good friends, had some very good meals, and appreciated all the hard work the organziers did. The look of pride on Hiroaki Inoue’s face when he gavelled the end of the con was a wonderful thing to behold.

    On the other…Reno in 2011?  In <i>August</i>?

  6. In short, WorldCon could do the following:

    • Paid staff
    • Greater continuity, so there is less reinventing the wheel each WorldCon
    • Get some corporate money in
    • More and better use of modern media technology
    • Agendas and schedules up earlier and quicker
    • Sell badges, etc. on line.
    • Possibility of one spot from year to year. Compromise might be spots it rotates through from year to year.
  7. Adam:

    Note that nobody else bid for the 2011 Worldcon. The choices on the ballot were Reno and None of the Above.

    Don’t worry too much about it. I’ve been there on the eqivalent weekend. The hotel and convention center are connected by a skywalk. It’s possible to spend the entire weekend in air-conditioned comfort aside from getting in and out of the airport shuttle or taxi.

  8. Trey:

    • Paid staff – Would require an enormous increase in membership to support — an order of magnitude more attendees. Also, you’d have to deal with the fact that a bunch of people who currently do volunteer their time and effort would stop doing so if someone started Getting Paid.
    • Greater continuity, so there is less reinventing the wheel each WorldCon – Very tricky because individual committees are notoriously independent-minded. Check American history and reference the way the USA was governed between the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution of 1787.
    • Get some corporate money in – We do a little bit of this, erratically and depending on the talents of individual committees.
    • More and better use of modern media technology – Should be more doable.
    • Agendas and schedules up earlier and quicker – Very much agree. It would help if people weren’t so skittish about the fact that changes happen and people drop out. You have to include a subject-to-change disclaimer and be prepared to listen to yammering from people who made plans based on a specific item or attendee and then were hosed by that item being cancelled or person pulling out.
    • Sell badges, etc. on line. – Worldcons already sell memberships online.
    • Possibility of one spot from year to year. Compromise might be spots it rotates through from year to year. What places do you pick? Who do you choose to disenfranchise? Whatever place or places you pick will make the people who no longer even have a chance of holding a Worldcon angry. Such a rotation scheme — even assuming you got groups to run it — probably limits Worldcon to a tiny number of places, most or all of them in the USA, and means we’ll never have another Worldcon in places like Japan (who have announced a bid for 2017) or Australia. People already complain that Worldcon is just a big American convention

      (This assertion that Worldcon is an exclusively American convention — encountered in particuar while trying to market the Glasgow Worldcon to UK SF publishers — conveniently ignores the fact that it’s been outside the USA a lot more often these past 10-15 years. I note that when I cite Winnipeg 1994, Toronto 2003, and Montreal 2009, people say, “that doesn’t count — Canada is the the same as the USA,” something that riles me up, and I’m a Californian, not a Canadian.)

    I think it’s possible within the current structure to grow the Worldcon back up toward its historical peak attendance of just over 8,000 people, at least at American sites. Even 10K isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. That would make the convention work better and make more economical use of very expensive convention facilities. But attempting two-orders-of-magnitude growth is IMO a Bad Idea and would basically drive away most of the people who currently attend it.

  9. 10k is a very nice number that would keep WorldCon as a viable venue for publishers, certainly this publisher. Shrinking much below 3k frightens me, as I very much love WorldCon and very much want to keep attending. Lou Con notwithstanding.

  10. I’m very much opposed to Worldcon having the same spot from year to year. I’ve never been to Worldcon yet, but it being in a different place each time is part of the appeal. If anything, I’d like it to be in countries other than the US more often (which is already happening, I guess).  I’d love to see Worldcon in Poland someday (for now, we’re getting Eurocon next year, together with Czechs and Slovaks).

  11. There is a bit of comedy in San Diego Comic-Con’s 2007 IRS Form 990: The highest paid employee was Dona Fae Desmond, executive director, at $77,000. The fifth highest paid employee was Maija Gates, talent relation, at $50,000. While the form discloses that “Maija Gates is the daughter of Fae Desmond, executive director,” this is not exactly nonprofit Best Practices.

    Unrelated, I agree, Lou Con is an excellent idea.

  12. I agree with Lou–10K attendees or a bit higher would make it much more viable from a publishing standpoint. I don’t want to drop Worldcon, but economically it’s becoming less feasible, especially when 6 of the last 10 were international, as is next year’s.  

    In terms of the schedules/programming, etc., this year’s Comiccon had a downloadble app with the schedule/maps, etc., which I found extremely useful.  Perhaps something like that would help?

  13. Cheryl, there is a program grid at San Diego, although I understand why your friend didn’t find it. It’s in the Daily Newsletter, which is placed in open front boxes next to most of the main front doors into the Dealer/Exhibit floor. If you know about it, it’s easy to grab one on your way in in the morning, but, particularly with the size and crowds, I can see how it’d be easy to miss if one didn’t already know about it. San Diego probably should mention it on the website at the top of each day’s Program listing when they put those up.

    As for what the real difference between Worldcon and Comic-Con is (and I speak as someone who’s attended 20 or so of each), what I noticed pretty much universally in Worldcon writeups by newbies this year was amazement and satisfaction at the level of conversation and people meeting. Not just meeting big name pros, but meeting and talking with a lot of interesting people. And, due to its size, that’s just not that likely to happen as much at Comic-Con any more.  And I recall Terry Pratchett once saying something like “Cons are the only place I can go where I can get into a knowledgable debate about the history of typography while waiting for an elevator” (from memory, so probably not exact, but that was the spirit of it). That’s Worldcon’s real strength, and something that should be played up, IMO.

     

     

  14. Would love to go to Lou-Con…let us know when, Lou! 

    For those who want a taste of the Comic-Con experience, without being overwhelmed, I highly, strongly, always will suggest you attend WonderCon or APE – both younger siblings of Comic-Con.  They are both held in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the info can be found off the Comic-Con site.  I’ve been attending Wondercon for over twenty years – it’s a fabulous convention with most of the bells & whistles of Comic-Con, but with less than half the crowds, the cost is lower, and you can actually get through it all in the best part of a weekend.  Lots of attention paid to books and literature there as well, witness the many many book dealers like Altair, Last Gasp, Bud Plant, etc – not to mention tons of comic books, originial artwork, ash cans, zines, and related merch for sale and display.  Artists Alley is a great part of it. 

    APE – the Alternative Press Expo – is even crazier and more fun.  Cutting edge stuff, and even more accessible than Wondercon.

    I’ve been to eight WorldCons now – but would never miss a Wondercon.  I love John’s idea about putting the Artist GoH front and center, having been HIGHLY disappointed that Bakshi was a no-show about three months out, and yet they didn’t replace him.  Bad.  After all, for many people, it’s the images and artwork that got them charged up about SFFH lit, as well as the words.

    I don’t think you could pay me to go to Comic-Con – what I hear from friends, participants, etc. it sounds like a big noisy crowded sensory and extremely expensive overload.  Possibly I am no longer young enough to fully appreciate it though! 

  15. Diana Gill: “…having a fixed location, timeframe, and many of the same staff and volunteers each year….”

    If a horse had wings, it would be a pegasus.

    A Worldcon that doesn’t move around, including around the world, isn’t a Worldcon.  A Worldcon that isn’t run entirely by volunteers, as a non-profit, isn’t a Worldcon.

    These are defining elements.  There’s no way around them.

    Pablo Defendini: “Unfortunately, the people behind Worldcon” change every year.  See previous point.

    Ever since 1976, when Worldcon began to require a staff larger than the local city could provide, there has been a tension between the two sets of committee and staff: those who are local and have little or no Worldcon-running experience, and the people from elsewhere who have years, if not decades, of experience in working on Worldcons, as either high-level staff or committee.

    On occasion, in later years, these tensions exploded to a point where the convention nearly did not occur.  There’s a lot of history here.

    A lot of these tensions have revolved around the fact that the experienced outsiders know what needs to be done to not reinvent a perfectly sound wheel into a triangle, and the local committee members don’t want outsiders telling them what to do.

    This is now, to one degree or another, inherent in the structure of Worldcons.

    And WSFS has a lot of history, and very specific ways of doing things.  Discussion without a reasonable amount of knowledge of this stuff, unfortunately, is pretty much a lot of theory that has little practical application to the reality.  It can be interesting, but it’s helpful to know the difference between what can be changed, and what can’t, and why.

    Meanwhile, yep, there are lots of frustrating things about the way a given Worldcon will fail on stuff that others know perfectly well how to do, and did well in years, or even decades, past.

    And the only cure is more volunteers.  Worldcon isn’t just volunteer run, it’s, in essence, DIY.  If you want to change anything, the only method is to commit to joining a committee, or a Worldcon staff, and volunteer to get the things done, yourself.

    And so Worldcons can also only change as much as people — anyone — are willing to step up and make the effort.

    Which is a lot of effort.  Which is another reason Worldcons don’t have as much change as one might like.

    Running a con at one location every year, with mostly the same people, would be endlessly easier.

    It just wouldn’t be a Worldcon, but some other beast entirely.

    Jeremy Lassen: “Worldcon comes from a tradition of Science fiction fandom…from the fandom of the written form that goes all the way back to 1937, and The Futurians.”

    No, from the fandom of the written form that goes back to the lettercolum of Amazing Stories in 1926, and the correspondences that started, which led to the first sf fan clubs, and the first fanzine in 1930, and also the subsequent founding by Gernsback of the “Science Fiction League” in 1934.  The Futurians came years after all this.

    John R. Douglas: Hi, John!

    If my memory isn’t too confused, aside from his mere professional career, John  — and I do hope I’m not outing him here — was a member of the Convention Committee for the 1973 Worldcon in Toronto, Torcon II.  He knows whereof he speaks.

    Lou Anders: for each additional Guest of Honor you add, you divide the Honor by that much more.

    Finding, promoting, publicizing, and making use of, wonderful, super-qualified, even famous, program participants is something every Worldcon (and every other sf convention) should do.  Guest of Honor is — or used to be — a particular thing done to honor individuals.

    That worked terrifically when the Worldcon had two Guests of Honor.  For each additional GOH added the amount of honoring possible was further divided.  It’s already gotten to the point where the “honoring” part is a third, or a quarter, of what it once was.  Further lessening would leave the phrase “Guest of Honor,” but the concept would be gone.

    Some would argue that it’s already much too diminished, starting by reaching a point where you have counter-programming against the main GOH event/speech/presentation, and when you have six of those, you can’t stop the rest of the con six times, versus the previously possible once or twice, so the fractionated proportion of “honoring” left is even worse than a third or a quarter of what it was for decades.

    Others, of course, would argue against this, but if you have no experience of what conventions used to do to honor a single, or dual, set of Guests of Honor — which is to say, either one or two people were the primary focus of the formal convention, you don’t have an experience, or knowledge-set, to compare the current system to.

    Realistically speaking, although theoretically the fan guest of honor and the professional guest of honor were equals, in practice, of course, the majority of attendees would pay far more attention to the pro GOH than to the fan; this meant that for many attendees the convention effectively had a single focus on who it was honoring; the difference here is the difference between using “unique” as a singular adjective, or as something that can be modified.

    There are, of course, uh, pro, and, er, con, arguments to be made in favor of the Worldcon bestowing what was once considered to be the highest honor the field could offer amongst more people before they get too old, die off, leave the field, or otherwise can be honored, versus the argument I’ve just briefly summarized.  But the two arguments are also now several decades old, as well.

    There aren’t, practically speaking, many new arguments left to be had in the science fiction community, after eighty-three years of existence.  There are only people new to the arguments.

    The same is true of arguments about the Worldcon, after seventy years of existence (noting, of course, the absence of Worldcons from 1942-45.)

    Also, you kids get off of my lawn!  And stop playing that music!  It’s just noise, I tell you!

    Where’s my damned walker? 

    (I’ve tried to post this several times, and gotten an error message each time; I’m now trying to post having removed all links, and hand-written HTML, to see if that works.  Okay, no, it didn’t; maybe IE will work better than Firefox?)

  16. “What can Comic-con learn from Worldcon? I’d love a return to a stronger focus on books and authors and the written format, which apparently was supplanted once Hollywood found Comic-con.”

     

    Comicon used to be about comics, and their artists and writers, not books or sf/fantasy writers, before Hollywood, and all the various other interest groups, found it.

     

    “I still remember Robert Silverberg’s story of the first Worldcon banquets with awe)”

     

    The first Worldcon banquet was in 1939, when  Robert Silverberg was four years old.

     

    He didn’t attend a Worldcon until the early fifties.  You’d have to check back with him as to which was his first, as I don’t have that info handy here, but he did his first fanzine, Spaceship,  which I used to have most of the run of, circa 1952-53, when he was 17-18, and I’m certain he didn’t attend a Worldcon at an earlier age.  I’m afraid you’re off by about a decade.

     

    Lev Grossman: “I think the most important thing for Comic-Con to do would be to drastically reduce its size.”

     

    I know about a thousandth as much about SDCC (as it was once called) than I do about Worldcon, but there’s no way that’s going to ever happen, either, for what it’s worth. 

     

    San Diego is right now considering a significant new addition to their Convention Center, so the only direction Comic-Con is going to go in scale is up. 

     

    Cheryl: “The trouble with being committed to the same venue every year is that if you outgrow it you can’t fix that easily.”

     

    They just fix the number of attendees at a given number, and quit selling at that number. You have to get your membership months in advance, before they sell out. 

     

    It might be worth pointing out that one difference between Comic Con and Worldcon is that Comic Con puts on what they call a “show,” and Worldcon does not.  This is not a minor distinction, either in theory or practice. 

  17. Sorry, I’ve been rather hasty in going through this somewhat lengthy set of pieces.  I missed the description of  “John R. Douglas was born in 1948 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, started reading SF in his teens, went to his first SF convention in 1969 and worked on a number of conventions in various capacities until 1978,” so obviously my mention of Torcon II was superfluous.

    Lou Anders: “The second thing that impressed me about World Con was how many big name professionals from outside the literary world were there. From the world of television, we had Doctor Who scriptwriter Paul Cornell and Star Trek: The Next Generation scriptwriter Melinda Snodgrass.”

    Melinda Snodgrass was a reasonably well-known sf writer (of books) long before she was hired to write for Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Setting aside her original Circuit series in the mid-Eighties, and other work, she did a Star Trek novel for Pocket Books in 1984.

    I think there may be some confusion over the historic purpose of naming Guest of Honors: the idea has historically been for the convention to choose someone, or several someones, to honor as being the among the best the field has ever produced, and doing many things to  educate the attendees about the work of the GOH, provide a showcase for the GOH, and honor them for their lifetime body of work.

    Some Worldcons have chosen people earlier in their careers than others; that’s fine, because they’ve generally, at least in the past, largely been people who generally significantly affected and influenced the field early in their career; there’s no necessity to wait until someone is Very Old for them to be a GOH.

    But the purpose is supposed to be to honor them, not to use them as attractions.

    Ralph Bakshi strikes me as a somewhat eccentric choice.

    This comment of Cheryl’s is a good point: “The designation ‘special guest’ has often been used as an excuse to bring in someone who is currently hot news but does not have the stature to be a GoH.”

    That’s absolutely a preferable option to reconceiving the actual Guests of Honor to primarily act as devices to draw memberships.   That’s using someone, not honoring them. 

  18. Agreed, Comic Con and, Dragoncon to throw that into th mix(it’s attendance is on the order of  40,000 or so, which is what Comic Con was waaaaay back in the 90’s.)

    The focus of both is multi-media-films, media, comics, art, costumes and as has been said the general mainstreaming. Both are outreaching to their local communities and are non-profit to the degree that after expenses and employees(both run offices year round) much is donated to hospitals and causes.

    The resentment (and there is some with Dragoncon) is that they’ve stolen the thunder out from the Worldcon.  And it may be true this has happened.

    Way back in the 1980’s the Worldcons did have a feel of books,art,movies, and even comics. Studios sponsored major premieres of films, and promotionals(recall the Buckaroo Banzai headbands and Jim Henson appearing at Chicon IV in 1982 to pimp THE DARK CRYSTAL). The L.A. WOrldcon of 1984 had an unofficial attendance topping 10,000. At the time, it rivaled Comic Con. As we got into the 90’s a kind of schism started to happen. There were smaller factions of fandom who resented the presence of media related items at the Worldcon. In 1995 organizers in Atlanta who did Dragoncon held the NASFiC there and the it wound up being seen as roughly 1000 of the “traditional” fans and 9000 of “the others”.  The more conservative fans(and there are many) were reportedly shocked at the open presence of weaponry, bondage gear, risque subjects and so on. Later, the same people were attempting to mount a “Worldcon” bid for 1998 which didn’t win, but I can remember it galvanized alot of the die-hard fans.  Since then, Worldcons really weren’t the same. Movies being shown(which when you think STAR WARS was shown at NOreascon 2 on the BIG screen in 35mm..) became relegated to small DVD rooms or, non-existant. I found a definate pull back from media related stuff  right about the time of the latter 90’s on. Attendance also began to fall off from it’s 80’s highs. And there are some who would like to see a return to the 1000 persons or less Worldcon, similiar to a World Fantasy Con which limits attendance. The Worldcon is ever evolving. Sometimes into something more than it was, sometimes into something less.

    Conversely, the Comic Con and Dragoncon exponentially increased. I think the term mainstreaming is very true, and I think, and this is just observation, the Worldcon has retrenched to a more traditional venue, as someone said, in lineage with The Futurians, and such. And a great deal has to do with the fact that Comic Con and Dragoncon are ongoing businesses/companies that do the same location each year and have it down to an art. I have also met fans who consider Dragoncon and Comic Con to be sheerly commercial and resent them on that alone. Worldcons are all volunteers and re-learn everything all over again. And there is also location politics “These fans in the west, don’t like how those fans back east did this..” etc and so on. Which on some occasions, is warranted and others, sheer ego. And in a few instances, I can tell you on personal experience, artists have had to suffer.

    Years ago, when I was AGoH at Chicon 2000, I remember at the last minute Tom Veal sent around a letter to everyone(I was on the list) and he said something like “Remember, we are amatuers,running a million dollar company, and every year we start out that way and once we have it down, it starts all over again from scratch the next year”. And that summed it all up, really. So it could be the nature of the beast(s) and in some ways, comparing apples and oranges.

  19. I love Worldcons. I’ve been attending them since 1963. I’ll keep going as long as there are worldcons to attend, but with an increasingly heavy heart, because I think Worldcon is needlessly becoming irrelevant, and I hope it can change while there’s still time.

    As someone above pointed out, the publishers are deserting Worldcon, and that’s an indisputable fact. And of course the authors will follow, because while parties are fun and panels and readings are ego-gratifying, most writers — especially those who came after me and contemporaries like Joe Haldeman and Greg Benford who grew up in fandom — go to Worldcon for the same reason they go to any other major con: to do business. And if the publishers don’t support it, and don’t send their editors — and each year less of them do — there’s very little business to be done.

    Moving around the calendar doesn’t help. Incompetent volunteer labor helps even less, especially when one sees what professional help can do at ComicCon, DragonCon, A-Kon, and others. My own feeling is that the greatest damage lately has been done by leaving the country 5 times in 8 years (Toronto in 2003, Glasgow in 2005, Japan in 2007, Montreal in 2009, and Australia in 2010). It not only severely hurt attendance, but it gave fans who might otherwise stick with Worldcon a reason to try other summer cons — including the professionally-run DragonCon and ComicCon, with bigger names and more publisher support each year.

    The problem is that Worldcon is for all practical purposes run by a small coterie of old-time fans, who either don’t see the handwriting on the wall or (just as likely) are not troubled by it. Me, I’m troubled enugh for all of them.

    – Mike Resnick

     

  20. “My own feeling is that the greatest damage lately has been done by leaving the country 5 times in 8 years (Toronto in 2003, Glasgow in 2005, Japan in 2007, Montreal in 2009, and Australia in 2010).”

    If you think that leaving “the country” is damaging Worldcon, why not rename it to “AmeriCon” or “UScon”, then? For me, it’s not much of a *World*con if it’s in just one country more than half the time.

  21. You can call it Worldcon or anything else you want, but the fact remains that attendance plummets every time Worldcon goes beyond the US boirders. Always has, back to LonCon I in 1957.

    I hope Kevin Standlee is right, and that we’ll see 8,000 or more again…but that requires the SMOFs who essentially run Worldcon to wake up and smell the coffee, and -do- something. Just look at this mind meld. Eos sees no advantage in attending — so most of their authors won’t. Pyr says if attendance dips any lower they won’t be able to justify attending, and of course ditto for their authors. Look at Montreal’s art show. Scarcely a single piece by any Hugo nominee from this decade. Look at the publishers who didn’t this Worldcon was important enough to bother attending: Bantam, Ballantine, Eos, F&SF, Solaris, Golden Gryphon, etc etc etc. Look at the ones where an editor attended but had no professional presence, no parties, no displays: Ace, DAW, Subterranean, etc etc etc. Of course Tor was there: they had two of the Guests of Honor. 

    All I’m saying is that this isn’t something that -might- happen. It’s happening -now-. (And not just to Montreal. Last year in Denver -one- Hugo winner showed up in person at the ceremony.)

    I look at Gary Farber’s comments, and I’m convinced nothing will be done; he likes it just the way it is, and his name is Legion among the SMOFs. I read Kevin’s, and I see where he -wants- to do something, but has no suggestions as to -how- to grow attendance back. Then I read the editors’, writer’s, artists’, and publishers’ comments, and I hope someone starts doing something soon, because I think Worldcon’s running out of time. Oh, it’ll outlive me…but I have a 27-year-old collabiorator, and I’d like to think it’ll still be around when she hits retirement age. I’m starting to doubt it like all hell.

    – Mike Resnick

  22. You can call it Worldcon or anything else you want, but the fact remains that attendance plummets every time Worldcon goes beyond the US boirders. Always has, back to LonCon I in 1957. But when it happens every other year, we don’t grow our attendance back.

    I hope Kevin Standlee is right, and that we’ll see 8,000 or more again…but that requires the SMOFs who essentially run Worldcon to wake up and smell the coffee, and -do- something. Just look at this mind meld. Eos sees no advantage in attending — so most of their authors won’t. Pyr says if attendance dips any lower they won’t be able to justify attending, and of course ditto for their authors. Look at Montreal’s art show. Scarcely a single piece by any Hugo nominee from this decade. Look at the publishers who didn’t this Worldcon was important enough to bother attending: Bantam, Ballantine, Eos, F&SF, Solaris, Golden Gryphon, etc etc etc. Look at the ones where an editor attended but had no professional presence, no parties, no displays: Ace, DAW, Subterranean, etc etc etc. Of course Tor was there: they had two of the Guests of Honor. 

    All I’m saying is that this isn’t something that -might- happen. It’s happening -now-. (And not just to Montreal. Last year in Denver -one- Hugo winner showed up in person at the ceremony.)

    I look at Gary Farber’s comments, and I’m convinced nothing will be done; he likes it just the way it is, and his name is Legion among the SMOFs. I read Kevin’s, and I see where he -wants- to do something, but has no suggestions as to -how- to grow attendance back. Then I read the editors’, writer’s, artists’, and publishers’ comments, and I hope someone starts doing something soon, because I think Worldcon’s running out of time. Oh, it’ll outlive me…but I have a 27-year-old collabiorator, and I’d like to think it’ll still be around when she hits retirement age. I’m starting to doubt it like all hell.

    – Mike Resnick

  23. Of course, the  US fandom is the biggest one out there, so it’s no wonder that attendance is higher at US Worldcons. But science fiction fandom is not something exclusively American anymore, nor do I think it should be.

    Worldcon is the convention of the fans, not the publishers, and it’s the fans that vote on the venue each year. And, of course, you are free to convince people to vote for US venues only, or for the same venue each year, if people at such a venue want to organize it in the same place year after year.

    Sure, American publishers and (at least some) writers might not like the idea of Worldcon taking place abroad. But you talk as if American publishers were the only ones that matter, and European, Japanese, etc. publishers didn’t. And I’m pretty sure e.g. UK genre publishers were not absent from the Glasgow Worldcon.

    For me, it’s a bit puzzling that Americans think that something called the World Science Fiction Convention should be exclusively held in the US just because it started there (same applies to e.g. the World Series). Maybe there should be a national American convention set up, just like in many other countries (or like the Europe-wide Eurocon), which will be held in a different American city each year and and be merged with Worldcon every time the latter is held in the US (just like every time Worldcon is held in Europe, it’s also merged with Eurocon)?

  24. No one said “exclusively”. When Worldcon went out of the US every 4th year or so, nothing much happened to the attendance of future conventions. It’s when it goes 5 times in 8 years that attendance starts nose-diving…and not just the attendance of pros.

    It wouldn’t hurt to get real for a minute. How many sf pros can make a full-time living without selling to US markets? I’m not responsible for the situation; I’m merely noting it. I think it’s shameful that, according to Jean-Claude Dunyach, perhaps the leading French sf writer, the average French mass market paperback prints about 2,000 copies…but the question isn’t whether it’s shameful or unshameful, but rather whether it’s true or false.

    I’ve been a guest at conventions all over Europe, and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the fans, but I’d have to think twice and probably decline to pay my way to a worldcon in a country that paid $500 a book, as many of them do; it’s simply not cost-productive. I know a lot of pros have deserted Worldcon for World Fantasy Con, and more and more are going to DragonCon (as I am in about 2 hours). I realize you don’t much care about any particular pro deserting worldcon…but as more of them leave, the fans follow them, and I think worldcon -should- care about that. At my first DragonCon a few years ago I felt the media fans outnumbered the literature fans about 40,000 to 1,000. Now, because of the plethora of Name writers who have decided they prefer this venue, I’d say it’s 40,000 to maybr 5,000 — and I can tell you exactly where most of those extra 4,000 are coming from.

    – Mike Resnick

     

     

     

  25. “I look at Gary Farber’s comments, and I’m convinced nothing will be done; he likes it just the way it is, and his name is Legion among the SMOFs.”

    For what it’s worth, Mike, I haven’t had anything to do with smoffing since, depending on how you measure, my last high level job at a Worldcon in 1982, the last time I worked even as low-level staff at a Worldcon in 1986, the last time I attended a Worldcon in 1989 (the most plausible date to pick), or, at most, when I dropped off the “smofs” email list sometime in 2000 or 2001.

    Whole generations of smofs have since come and gone who have never heard of me (and glad they should be, many other smofs will tell them).

    So, really, you shouldn’t worry about my opinion having any influence, because I have zero influence on current Worldcon runners, or any of them in the past decade or far longer.  Any of them can verify this.

    And lastly, you misread me if you think I was saying there’s anything inherently wrong with Worldcon growing to, say, 10,000 attendees, or 20,000 attendees.  I hold no such opinion. Neither do I in the least want a Worldcon where editors quit attending, nor do I think it’s a good thing that Worldcons have been seen as less and less worthwhile by publishers, and neither do I desire to see Worldcon act in ways that encourage or cause such trends.

    Pinky-swear.

    “Look at Montreal’s art show.”

    Customs are always a huge issue regarding shipping both art, and things to be sold.

    “But science fiction fandom is not something exclusively American anymore, nor do I think it should be.”

    However, that I do agree with.

    “But you talk as if American publishers were the only ones that matter, and European, Japanese, etc. publishers didn’t.”

    They don’t, however, matter very much to American authors, as a rule, because American authors, as a rule, get very little money out of such sales.

    “For me, it’s a bit puzzling that Americans think that something called the World Science Fiction Convention should be exclusively held in the US just because it started there”

    You’re confusing “some Americans” with “Americans.”

    “Maybe there should be a national American convention set up, just like in many other countries”

    This is another evergreen.

    “How many sf pros can make a full-time living without selling to US markets?”

    I’d ask some Chinese sf authors and publishers, myself.

    I can’t seem to get posting here to play nicely with Firefox, by the way.  I have to switch to IE.  Maybe that’s just me.

  26. Mike Resnick: You mean that at Denvention 3 in 2008, only one of the Hugo winners for written fiction showed up to accept their award.

    As indicated at http://pl745.pairlitesite.com/events/hugos.php there were a total of 5 Hugos accepted by their winners — fanzine (Mike Glyer), fan writer (John Scalzi), semiprozine (the Locus team), professional editor long form (David G. Hartwell), and novella (Connie Willis). Also, the Campbell Award (which is Not a Hugo) winner was there (Mary Robinette Kowal).

    Admittedly, that still seems like a low number out of the 14 categories, but I don’t have other years’ numbers for comparison.

  27. “…the last time I worked even as low-level staff at a Worldcon in 1986….”

    Come to think of it, and for the record, this didn’t happen; I was working for Avon Books as John’s assistant at that year’s worldcon, and during the next year’s Worldcon (when it was, as you note, out of the U.S., and which I also was not up to afford attending, and neither did Avon feel like paying my way).   I walked around the Atlanta worldcon in a suit.  It’s possible I walked one or two Operations rover shifts out of nostalgia, but that’d be as far as it went, and I frankly don’t remember clearly twenty-three years later, absent a memory jog.

    Anyone know if there are any full-time Japanese sf authors making a living in Japan?

  28. Gary, if you haven’t worked on a worldcon in 20 years, then of course I apologize. I just find it very frustrating that a goodly number of old-time fans either don’t acknowledge that a problem exists, or eyknowledge it but care about it. I want the worldcon I know and love to far outlive me; I get the distinct impression, not that fans want it to die, but that they haven”t given a thought to what is happening to it, -why- it is getting smaller and less relevant, -why- publishers and editors are choosing other cons, and what heppens to the fan base when the writers follow the publishers and editors, as of course they will.

    The comment about Chinese science fiction writers is well-made, given the circulation (but not the pay rates) of my Chinese publishers. But it doesn’t apply to any European, South American, or most Asian countries, nor to Australia.

    Also, American authors -do- care about foreign markets. Most books will make more money from the rest of the world than from America…but they don’t care that mich about any individual foreign market.

    Yes, I meant one fiction winner…though I have to agree that 5 out of 14 for our highest honor is  pretty unimpressive.

    I took the liberty of sending the link to this discussion to 8 long-time fans and SMOFs. Three don’t really care, as long as they enjoy their worldcon, which is pretty much the answer I expected. The others agree that something most be done, but point out that doing it requires consensus, and it would be almost impossible to get the membership of SMOFcon to agree that we were living in the 21st Century without a 3-day argument and subsequent flame war.

    I usually disagree with about half of what Kevin Standlee says, but he’s an honorable man, an incredibly hard worker, and I know he -wants- attendance to hit 8,000 again. i agree and approve — I see the same problem, and want attendance back to where it was in Worldcon’s halcyon days — but based on what I’ve seen and heard (it’s a prime topic among writers and editors here at DragonCon this weekend, almost none of whom are aware of Mind Meld) I do not envy him his task.

    – Mike Resnick

     

     

     

  29. “You’re confusing “some Americans” with “Americans.””

    I meant some Americans, of course. My apologies.

    “Anyone know if there are any full-time Japanese sf authors making a living in Japan?”

    Not sure about Japan, but I know a few here in Poland that do. Most authors here don’t make a living out of just writing books, I’ll give you that.

    “They don’t, however, matter very much to American authors, as a rule, because American authors, as a rule, get very little money out of such sales.”

    They do, however, matter to European, Japanese, etc. authors. Americans aren’t the only ones writing sf. It’s quite a shame that some great authors like Jacek Dukaj haven’t yet been translated into English, though.

    “No one said “exclusively”.”

    Some people did, actually. E.g. the ones that want Worldcon to be tied to a single venue every year.

  30. “Gary, if you haven’t worked on a worldcon in 20 years, then of course I apologize.”

    No problem, Mike;  I was highly amused at the idea that my power among contemporary smofs might be so awesome.

    What made me scratch my head was wondering what I wrote in this thread that would lead to anyone’s conclusion that, speaking of me and contemporary Worldcons, “he likes it just the way it is.”

    That seems quite a leap of logic from anything I wrote here.  But I may have overlooked something I wrote above that led you to that conclusion.

    Regardless, rest assured that I’m not bent out of shape in the slightest.

    No matter that I almost fell out of my chair laughing.

    “I just find it very frustrating that a goodly number of old-time fans either don’t acknowledge that a problem exists, or eyknowledge it but care about it.”

    I’ll assume those are typos for “acknowledge it, but don’t care about it,” and say that I understand, and sympathize with, your frustration.

    It’s always been an extraordinary paradox that so many sf fans are so damned (and I don’t mean this in a political sense, though of course some are that, too) conservative about their ways of doing things.  It’s never been a quality I found endearing about fandom.

    In point of fact, one of the many factors that led me to quit the “smofs” email list at the turn of this century was frustration with that fact.  Hell, at that point I was still having constant idiotic arguments with people who were still mystified by this new “internet” thing, and resentful that they might have to use it, or adjust any of their writing habits to conform to its best methods of communicating.

    That if you put three fans together you get thirty opinions, on the other hand, has been a defining element of science fiction fandom since before the Great Exclusion Act of 1939.  Fans were, as you know, already arguing about everything from politics, to whether fanzines should promoting science or science fiction, and everything else that could possibly be argued with, by the early Thirties. 

    By the Fifties, this was such a recognized trait, fans were parodying it with mock feuds about whether fanzines had to have two staples, or three.

    Nothing has changed since then.  And so we’re back to the conservative ways of The People With Cosmic Minds who can Timebind With The Future.  But prefer to keep doing things they were they were done thirty or forty or fifty years ago.

    It’s funny at a distance, but goddamned annoying up close.

    Which, curiously enough, has a lot to do with why I’ve been largely gafiated in the past decade or so, although it’s by no means the only factor.  But I digress.

  31. “It’s quite a shame that some great authors like Jacek Dukaj haven’t yet been translated into English, though.”

    It’s quite a shame that more American sf readers don’t tend to be more interested in sf from other countries and other science fiction traditions/modes than the ones that they find comfortable and familiar, I agree.  It’s a shame that so many Americans in general tend to be so parochial. 

    But having worked on the publishing of books in translation (not science fiction), I’ll note that one problem is that a translator almost has to be as good a writer in the language they’re translating into as the original writer is in the original language, to be truly successful. 

    Or to put the problem another way, the translator also has to be almost as good a writer in the language, and field, and idiom, that they’re writing in, as the best of the other writers in that field in that language, as well as extraordinarily good readers in the language they’re translating from, if their work is going to stand out in the translated language.

    And if they were able to do that, they’d probably be capable of writing original science fiction of their own that was that successful in the first place.

    These are not talents that are frequently found in people who are also proficient in the modes and idioms and tropes of science fiction in one language, let alone two.  So it’s problematic for that reason, as well as the conservatism of the reading habits of American sf readers. 

    I’m dubious that Stanislaw Lem’s translators always did the best possible job of translating him into English.  But it’s always impossible to judge if you don’t know both languages, and like most Americans, I, too, am shamefully monolingual.

  32. “I’m dubious that Stanislaw Lem’s translators always did the best possible job of translating him into English. “

    Some of Lem’s translations into English are pretty bad, like that of Solaris, which was translated from the French translation. However, translations done by Michael Kandel are excellent. Kandel has also translated excerpts of Jacek Dukaj’s works in order to pitch them to publishers, but so far to no avail.

  33. Mike Resnick:  Thanks for the kind words.

    For all that you rail against Worldcon being outside of the US as often as it has been in this past decade, I still see people — possibly people who haven’t actually paid attention for ten years or more — complaining that the Worldcon is simply a Big American Convention.  And indeed, for 2005, UK publishers expressed little interest in the Glasgow Worldcon or the Hugo Awards, because as far as they were concerned, it was just an American convention of some sort.  So for everyone saying that “Worldcon should be in the US more often,” you can find people saying, “Worldcon is in the USA every year, it seems to me.”  Yes, people are stupid that way.

    Ironically, I encountered someone not too long ago who earnestly complained that Australia’s Worldcon bid was illegal because, “Worldcon is required to be in the USA every other year,” and outside the USAon the odd-numbered years.  That’s because she’d only found Worldcon around 2002, obeserved this pattern: 2002 San Jose, 2003 Toronto, 2004 Boston, 2005 Glasgow, 2006 Anaheim, 2007 Yokohama, 2008 Denver, 2009 Montreal,… and concluded that “the rules” required the Worldcon to alternate between the USA and other countries every other year.  Ironically, WSFS passed such a rule in 1969 (except the alternation was with North America and not-North America) but repealed it after only one non-North American convention.  It’s only a cooincidence that we had a run of eight years where this US/not-US alternation was the voters’ choice. And looking ahead, it would appear that the years 2011-13 at least will probably be a run of US Worldcons.  Expect by 2013 to hear people complaining about how awful it is the Americans won’t let the Worldcon go anywhere else.

    Of course, you have to have people willing to run the convention or it’s moot. I’ve read people complaining about the 2011 Worldcon being in Reno. Well, folks, Reno was the only candidate on the ballot! (Another bid for Seattle had to withdraw on account of losing their facilities.) If the choice was between Reno and None of the Above and a handful of hoax bids like Aberdeen Proving Ground, well, what do you expect the voters to pick?

    Worldcons’ members vote on where to hold Worldcons. Consequently, when they have any choice, the voters tend to vote for “more of the same.” Were someone to launch a “blow up the boxes” bid, announcing lots of planned changes to “tradition” in an attempt to increase membership and revitalize the con, they would almost certainly lose to a bid that said, “We’ll give you the same thing you’ve been getting for the past twenty years.”

    Having been inside a number of Worldcon committees, including co-chairing one, the biggest issue locking us up is financial. Because of our business structure, Worldcons can’t afford to take any risks. Sure, you could reduce membership prices significantly in an attempt to draw in the more casual fans who are being driven away by the eye-watering over-$200 cost. But if you do that and the projected extra attendees do not appear, you’ve bankrupted yourself and have no way out of the hole. Until you find a Worldcon committee willing to take on a half-million-dollar risk like that, you can expect every Worldcon to follow the known, safe path.

    Ironically, if it shrinks too much more, it will start fitting into hotels again, and the price could drop dramatically (by around 50%), at which point it seems likely to me that the membership would shoot back up again unless you imposed a membership cap (which some people would like — World Fantasy Con has such a cap, after all).

    I really don’t know what exactly we can do, unless someone wins the Lottery and is willing to guarantee the risk of a financial crater for a Worldcon in one of the large metro areas that has a sufficient population base within a one-day and commuting-distance travel to justify the push for 10K members. There would have been little point in such a push for Denver or Winnipeg, for instance, because the catchment area didn’t have enough people in it; however, Boston-Washington corridor/Chicagoland/California conventions could do it.

    The only other changes that could allow the growth would require a restructuring of WSFS in a way that I don’t see the existing membership every accepting. All you have to do to increase turnout at an existing WSFS Business Meeting is to announce, “WSFS Inc.! To the barricades, comrades!”

    As I’ve said before, WSFS is governed like the United States was governed under the Articles of Confederation — weak central government and independent states jealous of the slightest infringement of their idependence. And if you think the USA would have become a major world power and expanded across North America and beyond under the Articles of Confederation, you’re dreaming.

  34. I have heard comic cons reffered to as “Butts to Nuts”.

    I went to a “small” one.

    Pretty much proved it.

  35. “Were someone to launch a ‘blow up the boxes’ bid, announcing lots of planned changes to ‘tradition’ in an attempt to increase membership and revitalize the con, they would almost certainly lose to a bid that said, “We’ll give you the same thing you’ve been getting for the past twenty years.'”

    Both the 1976 and 1977 Worldcons blew up boxes, though my memory fades just now on how many of MidAmeriCon’s changes were announced before the vote. 

    But:
    a) Those were unique years of transition, since almost everyone recognized that the previous NA Worldcon in DC in 1974 had shown that the then-existing model for how to run a Worldcon the traditional way — a handful of local fans doing it out of their living rooms — was entirely broken; and;
    b) Much of fandom reamed out both committees unendingly, in any case. 

    The “7 for 77 Committee” was a radical change in organizing Worldcons, though. 

    Finally:
    c) The radical changes MidAmeriCon in Kansas City, Missouri, implemented in 1976, including dramatically raising the membership price from the then high of — I think $20 — to an unbelievable, at the time, $50, plus putting a lid on total memberships, plus going to too-much-trouble-to-counterfeit wrist-band IDs, were done because the Worldcon couldn’t grow larger under the Worldcon-running model in use up to then without breaking down.  Discon II in ’74, with 3,587 members, was held together by baling wire, tape, and an exhausted Jay Haldeman, Ron Bounds, and a few others.  

    And thus the beginnings of the transition to the new model of Worldcon-running from 1976 and pretty well completed by Boston’s Noreascon III in 1980, which enabled Worldon to grow again, to a significant degree, without breaking down. 

    1977 and 1978 were, meanwhile, periods of, ah, great learning. 

    If Worldcon again hit a point of Seldon Crisis of some sort, the groundwork would be there for WSFS to contemplate some radical-seeming change (which probably wouldn’t be all that radical).  But it’s apt to take a perceived crisis of some sort, I suspect.

  36. The “7 for 77 Committee” was a radical change in organizing Worldcons, though.

    A radical change perceived as a failure, though, wasn’t it? Now, in recent years, there has been less reluctance to accept “non-local” committees — Reno, whose chair lives in Portland OR, being the most-recent example — but otherwise, not having “locals” on your committee appears to be a drawback.

    But it’s apt to take a perceived crisis of some sort, I suspect.

    Agreed. But we don’t necessarily need a change in the structure of how we run the individual conventions. Our existing management system — which, as you point out, was created before my entry into fandom in 1984 — is probably good enough to manage conventions up to around 10K people or so.  (It’s a span-of-control issue — our current four-layer management model can probably deal with it.  Tom Whitmore’s “powers of five” model predicts that if the convention grows beyond 13,500, you need another layer of management, but everyone seems to agree that this is not a hard-and-fast boundary.)

  37. No one wants Worldcon to die. Kevin and Gary are addressing the structural and fannish problems, and they certainly need addressing. To me, a profan who walks on both sides of the street, I think that potentially the most serious problem is the desertion of publishers and editors, which will of course lead to the departure of writers and artists — all of which are happening now, not predicted to happen in the future — and that of course will lead to a desertion by fans. I know it’s unfannish to suggest it, but I don’t think thousands of fans will fly halfway across the country (or halfway around the world) just to rub shoulders with other fans, with no professional presence, panels, autographings, etc.

    I enjoy Midwestcon, and I enjoyed some of the other relaxacons when they existed…but I don’t think Worldcon wants to become one, and I see it trending that way if someone doesn’t address and fix this particular problem. And -that- is the problem I don’t see anyone considering or addressing, though it’s the primarily topic of conversation among all the pros and editors I’ve run into at DragonCon, where I’m writing this.

    – Mike Resnick

  38. Mike:  I understand that problem. What I don’t see is some way to convince the people who manage Worldcons each year that they need to Do Something or else the Worldcon will drift down into the under-2000 range and become meaningless.

    Here’s another angle: The change from any particular Worldcon to another is relatively small, ignoring the fact that if you go to Australia, only about 1500-2000 people will turn up no matter what you do and things like that. Thus, no particular convention sees any justification in making significant changes.

    Also, in my experience, no Worldcon has any particular reason to take any actions that will only help future Worldcons. “Why bother doing promotions during the current Worldcon?  We aren’t running one next year, so nothing we do now will benefit us.”

    Basically, I agree with you, Mike. But any restrictions like, “Only on Labor Day Weekend” or “Only in one of three major American markets” would also lead to “No Worldcon this year due to lack of bids.

    In essence, Worldcon has a structural flaw and cannot possibly compete with fixed-location, professionally-staffed, ongoing conventions on their own terms. I don’t see a solution that doesn’t boil down to “We’d have to destroy the convention to save it.”  A Worldcon that happened only in (say) Anaheim wouldn’t me much of a Worldcon, would it?

  39. I enjoy Midwestcon, and I enjoyed some of the other relaxacons when they existed…but I don’t think Worldcon wants to become one,….

    It will take more than a few years for that to happen. Even now, I continue to hear complaints of, “It’s too big, too crowded, too busy, and you can never find your friends.” There are mutually-incompatible desires in play here.

    But you have a point, and if you want to see the future of Worldcon, you can look at Westercon, which has shrunk from a high attendance in the high 2000s to around 500, partially because it stayed away from its core constituency (the San Francisco-Los Angeles) axis for so long that lots of the regular attendees drifted away because they didn’t/couldn’t fly off to El Paso, Honolulu, Spokane, Calgary, etc.

     

  40. >> But you have a point, and if you want to see the future of Worldcon, you can look at Westercon, which has shrunk from a high attendance in the high 2000s to around 500, partially because it stayed away from its core constituency (the San Francisco-Los Angeles) axis for so long that lots of the regular attendees drifted away because they didn’t/couldn’t fly off to El Paso, Honolulu, Spokane, Calgary, etc <<

    That’s what I foresee, and it saddens me. I have been going to worldcon, as a fan and a pro, for 46 years. I will continue going as long as there is a worldcon…but most of the writers and editors I know don’t have my history, and don’t feel a sense of loyalty to a con that hasn’t given them as many years of pleasure as it’s given me. Oh, I’ll also go where the business gets done, be it DragonCon or WFC or ComicCon or something not currently in my sights…but I hate to see worldcon becoming a little less relevant, a little less important, every year. I don’t know if the trend can be stopped; I realize you can’t hold a gun to the collective head of a fan group from a major city and say “Bid or else!” You can’t hold one to the head of a mass market house or a smaller press and say, “Spend your money here when you know it can be better spent elsewhere.” And you can’t hold one to the writers and say, “We want and need you. Stop following the editors in their exodus.”

    But I think it can be slowed down. My fear now is that after all these less-than-sterling venues and incompetent committees, Chicago will draw 6,500 and all the SMOFs will say, “See? There wasn’t a problem after all.” Then we’ll go out of the country in 2014 and 2017, and a second-rate venue in between, and we’ll be having this discussion again…but there will be less of us left to have it.

    – Mike Resnick

     

  41. I tried posting this yesterday, and thought it worked, but clearly it didn’t; trying again, digressive as it is.

    “A radical change perceived as a failure, though, wasn’t it?”

    Clearly that depends who you ask.  Not by the people who put on the con, of whom I was one (though not one of “Seven” which ended up with three splitting with the other four and quitting).

    I could go into tremendous lengths on all the things that did and didn’t work about SunCon, as well as the politics of it, but obviously this isn’t the time or place.  I think the con itself, overall, came off extremely well, from my POV.

    If you’re saying that the idea of gathering together some “expert” con-runners of high reputation to join together to form a committee who would then pick a site,  and then put the combination forward as a bid, was a failure, it’s true that, so far as I know, no one tried doing that again, but I don’t think there was anything wrong about the idea then, or since.  (And I do think I’m fairly unbiased in this, because I had nothing to do with the bid other than being a supporter.)

    The major kerfuffle, to be short, happened when the hotel in Orlando unexpectedly went bankrupt after the bid was won, and the concom was forced to move elsewhere, picking Miami Beach as the best alternative.  (Atlanta was the next closest alternative.)

    This Plunged Half OF Fandom Into War, in outrage that the committee didn’t… well, we never did hear a coherent argument as to what else should have been done.  Reopen the hotel with the committee’s own money?  Build a new hotel in Orlando?  Some were outraged that the move hadn’t been “authorized” by the voters, and therefore the committee should have… held a new vote, which would have offered a choice between… what?  Orlando and Atlanta?  Holding a Worldcon or not at all?

    But you know how fandom can be.

    Anyway, that, and some some personality conflicts that emerged between the Seven, were what caused all the kerfuffling.  I suppose some may have, from a distance, somehow conceived that therefore there was an inherent flaw in the model of outside fans bidding with a Worldcon site that many of them didn’t live near, but I don’t see how that logically follows.  Neither have subsequent Worldcons, of course, followed a model that required all major department heads to be local to the city where the con has been held.  There were no problems at SunCon that I can recall (perhaps I’m forgetting some, which is certainly possibly after more than thirty years) that resulted from having most of the committee living elsewhere than Miami Beach.

    But this is a discussion we should have some other time and place.

    Last point, though: “…but otherwise, not having ‘locals’ on your committee appears to be a drawback.”

    It can be a problem if you’re outsiders coming in over the heads of a local fandom, but there was no local active fandom at the time in either Orlando or Miami Beach.  (Now, Phoenix, the following year, that was an entirely different story.)

    “What I don’t see is some way to convince the people who manage Worldcons each year that they need to Do Something or else the Worldcon will drift down into the under-2000 range and become meaningless.”

    If that happens one or two years in a row, or there’s a significantly low enough attendance of writers, artists, and other professionals, presumably at some point the problem would become distinct enough for a majority of voters to be open-minded about considering a bid that proposed some major changes — and as we know, anything done at a Worldcon twice tends to become A Tradition.

    Or maybe the concerns Mike — and even at my level of out-of-touchness, I’ve certainly seen others expressing similar concerns in recent years — is writing about will indeed lead to the decline and fall of Worldcon.  Maybe the graying and inhererent conservatism of longtime fandom will lead Worldcon into a spiral of collapse.  Things change, things fall apart; sometimes the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the center of innocence is drowned.

    But if you take the long view, despite traditional fandom’s overall conservatism, the Worldcon really has evolved significantly as required to, when forced to, over the decades, and sometimes with some fairly dramatic punctuated evolution, so although I say this at a great remove from contemporary smoffing, and only entirely second-hand, and limited, scattershot, knowledge of Worldcons in recent years from written con reports, I wouldn’t be hopelessly pessimistic that Worldcon Is Doomed, Doomed, I tells ya!, either. 

    Not yet. 

    But from my distant perch, it does seem certainly seem that the sort of concerns many besides Mike have been expressing for a number of years definitely shouldn’t be brushed off.  Which I take you to fully acknowledge, Kevin.

     

  42. Hi, Gary,

    Apologies for the trouble you seem to be having with the comments system.  Your last comment was in our system, but was marked as spam for some reason.  I went ahead and “trusted” you as a commenter which theoretically should prevent your comments from being marked as spam.  

  43. Just back from DragonCon. Very interesting time. Forget the 30,000-40,000 plus attendees or whatever it was.  I was more impressed by the number of publishing professionals there. Authors like Kevin J Anderson, Michael Stackpole, Gene Wolfe, Walter Jon Williams, Eric Flint, John Ringo, Alan Dean Foster, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mike Resnick, Aleathea Kontis, Todd McCaffrey, Scott Sigler, Josepha Sherman, James Maxey, Catherine Asaro, Gail Z Martin, SM Stirling. And many more I didn’t run into, such as Peter S Beagle, JF Lewis, Jody Lynn Nye, Christopher Golden, Diana Gabaldon, Charlaine Harris, Cherie Priest, Susan Sizemore, CL Wilson, Janny Wurts, Timothy Zahn, and Lois McMaster Bujold. (Do you see how many big name and bestselling authors are there? I’m leaving people out too.)

    Then there was the art show – in a HUGE and very HIGH CEILINGED space, and featuring artists like Bob Eggleton, Don Maitz, Rick Sternbach, William Stout. 

    And then the publishers that were there – Editors like Ginger Buchanan (Ace/Roc), Pablo Defendini (Tor.com), Stacy Hague Hill (Tor), Paul Stevens (Tor),  Jennifer Heddle (Pocket), Toni Weisskopf (Baen), Steven H Segal (Weird Tales), Jason M Watlz (Rogue Blades), and of course Yours Truly representing Pyr books.

    Assessment: Go read that list of names again. 

  44. “And many more I didn’t run into,”

    That would seem to be a key element.  If you can’t run into people at quiet enough parties or situations to have a relaxed chat with them, or make a lunch/dinner/drink date with them, and you’re not there to do business with them, from the standpoint of some people, there’s no attraction to how many editors and writers attend.  If all you can do is see them as an audience at a show, or on an autograph line, that’s appealing to some, but not to all.

    The primary purpose of a Worldcon is not to provide an opportunity for people to promote themselves and their commericial interests.  It’s fine for a Worldcon to help encourage that and provide opportuniities, but it’s not its purpose, and nor should it be its primary purpose.  

    World Fantasy and the Sfwa annual shmooze and booze in NYC, and the Nebulas, are better for that, and if DragonCon or SDCC are too, more power to them.

    I say this as someone who used to have commercial reasons for showing up at Worldcons, and made use of the networking/professional aspects.  It’s a good thing, but it’s not why anyone volunteers to put in the effort to put on the Worldcon.

  45. I said elsewhere but feel I should repeat here that there are always people at any convention that I fail to hook up with. At Worldcon, I tried to hook up with Mur Lafferty and was utterly unable to, so Mur and I managed to find time to meet and go to lunch at Dragoncon. With the exception of JF Lewis, the people I listed as “also there” are not people I know and while I am sure they are fine people, I wasn’t trying to seek them out either. I had no trouble connecting with the people I did seek out. What’s more, I’d say attendees had no trouble connecting with me, given the amount of quality conversations I had with readers and would-be writers at this convention.

     

    As Mike Resnick has said, if more publishers migrate to other cons, so will the authors. You cannot connect with your favorite writer in an intimate setting if said writer choses not to attend.

  46. Clearly Gary has a point. There were 40 major writers at DragonCon, and Lou Anders, who was there doing business, only met 30. Obviously this is no con for fans.

    Right. And it was so easy to meet all the writers who were spread out over a mile in 7 hotels in Denver and 10 hotels in Montreal.

    I’m sure there are logical defenses of Worldcon staying exactly the way it is…but I’m not running into  them here.

    – Mike Resnick

  47. “I’m sure there are logical defenses of Worldcon staying exactly the way it is…but I’m not running into  them here.”

    I’m not sure who here is making such defenses.  Certainly not me.  I think Worldcon should try to get back to the 10,000 – 12,000 attendee range, do a lot more to promote itself, do a lot more to attract many more of these modern fans who have sprung up and are going to anime conventions, fanfiction conventions, media conventions, and are active on the internet as readers and fans of various others. 

    I want to see as many sf/fantasy writers, and editors, and artists, and publishers, and employees of publishers, and pros in general, at Worldcon, along with fans.  I want to see Worldcon be the center of the world of text sf, and of great importance to all aspects of sf.

    Having gotten to the 10,000-12,000 range, I’d advocate then re-examing the situation, and considering if Worldcon could or should grow further, and if so, how. 

    I simply don’t want to see Worldcon lose its essential character in the process of doing this, and that’s all.  I want to see Worldcon assimilate these people with our values of community and volunteerism, and a sense of the historical thread of science fiction history, rather than simply grow without regard to maintaining these values. 

    That’s hardly a defense of “Worldcon staying exactly the way it is,” so if you want to find someone to argue that with, Mike, you’ll have to find someone who isn’t me.  Thanks.

  48. Worldcon can’t “get back” to 10,000-12,000. It was never there. Not once.

    Both the fannish and professional cultures have changed. I’m probably in the last generation of pros who came up through fandom, who still consider themselves fans, who feel worldcon ought to be the center of the sf universe — and I’m on Medicare. Most pros who have entered the field in the past quarter century are happy to talk to fans…but they’ll talk to them in the most pro-cordial venues. They don’t have a shared history with fandom. They go where it makes the most pofessional sense to go: where they meet the most editors, where they network with writers, where they’re comped.

    And fandom isn’t the same as it was either. I think Kevin Standlee is about the last Trufan to enter the field. When I went to my first dozen worldcons in the 1960s and 1970s, the place was filled with young people, with new fans wanting to learn about the field and meet their heros. Look today. There’s almost no one under the age of 30…and when you find one, the odds are that he’s a second-generation fan or pro.

    But I see tens of thousands of enthused, energetic young people at DragonCon and the others I’ve discussed. They want to meet pros — and they know where to find the biggest ones, the ones they all read. They want programming that caters to their interests, not programming that forces them to share the interests of a bunch of fans who are mired in the way it was and not the way it is. As the pros find worldcon less congenial and less useful, they leave…and shortly thereafter, the fans find out where they’ve gone and follow them. 

    Understand: I do not want Worldcon to become another media circus. There are some fine suggestions in this Mind Meld, from Bob Eggleton, from John Picacio, from Lou Anders, about how to increase interest and attendance without it becoming ComicCon 2.

    I think that’s what you want too, Gary. You’ve stated it clearly enough. I just don’t think you’re going to get it until the powers-that-be see the light. I just want that lilght to dawn while there’s still someone left.

    – Mike

     

  49. “Worldcon can’t “get back” to 10,000-12,000. It was never there. Not once.”

    No, but it wasn’t that far off. Noreascon 3 was thought to have 7,795 until the numbers were revised downwards slightly.  LACon II hit 8,365.  Magicon’s initial figure was 6,368 until revised down slightly from members to actually attending.  Confrancisco the same from  7,725.  Even Intervention in Scotland had  6,524 members and 4,173 reported attendees.  And i’m not sure how attendees were counted, or if the same methods were used year to year.  Continuing, LACon III had 6,703, Bucconeer 6,572, Chicon 2000 5,794 / 6,57, Millenium Philcon 4,840 / 6,269, Noreascon IV 6,008 / 7,485, and so on.

    It shouldn’t be that hard to get a con in a good location up to 10,000 if that’s desired.  Another two thousand could probably be done, if you prioritized it.

    “Both the fannish and professional cultures have changed.”

    Indeed.  I wrote an article about how fan culture had changed and was going to continue to change, in 1980.  I wrote about it a lot on Usenet in the mid-nineties.  I watched the pro culture going through change in the Eighties.  I agree.  Things change.

    “I just want that lilght to dawn while there’s still someone left.”

    I’d promise to use my mighty smoffing powers for good, but the fact is that, as I said, last I looked, most of the current generation wouldn’t know me from a black hole in the wall (wait, if only I can obtain some “red matter”!), and those from earlier generations often remember me with some considerable amount of irritation because I used to bang on about stuff like using this “internet” thing, and otherwise wasn’t entirely withdrawn about opining.

  50. Mike Resnick said, “Look at Montreal’s art show. Scarcely a single piece by any Hugo nominee from this decade.”

    Ahem!  I’ve been nominagted 8 times for a Hugo and had a nice big display right at the front of the artshow that you could’t help see when you walked in.  I was also the Fan GoH, which may expain the lacunae… Mike probably meant “pro” artist.  We all know how little fans matter…

  51. I find the concept of the larger circle of fandom and the worldcon to be too complex to
    really agree or disagree about any agenda.  I can argue about bits of it, small details, but the whole picture is too big.

    As best I can reduce the issues to is “what does the worldcon want to be?”  If it want’s 10 or 20 thousand kids, teenagers, and young adults, then it will have to feature ‘Kill Bill” and “Warhammer” as major attractions.  Maybe it should have Tom Cruise or Robert Downey Jr. Feature Guests, if not exactly Guest of Honour.  But then it would be largey indistinguishable from other media cons.  Why bother? There are enough of them already.  But if the worldcon wants to focus on something with less broad appeal than the lowest common denominator, it will necessarily be smaller than San Diego Comics Con.  There’s no escaping the logic.  The best answer is to decide on what balance of size and range of attractions is best for the Worldcon.

    In a way, it’s not even a good time to be even discussing it, just after Anticipation.  As a matter of course, Anticipation was considerably smaller than American worldcons, as are worldcons held in Britain or Australia.  The problem of the worldcon’s smaller size doesn’t look like such a big problem when you look at those held in LA or Chicago, where around 6,000 attending members is the norm.  Just how big does anyone want the worldcon to be?  If for some reason the magic number is
    8,000 then you might have to work a little harder to get it.  If 15,000 I think you need to examine your goals and consider whether this would be in the best interest of habitual worldcon goers before you make the changes.  If 30,000 then you should probably have your head examined…

    In other words, I’m not sure there really is much of a problem for the average Worldcon.  I’d worry more about the greying of the people who run it.

  52. Re: John Picacio.

    It’s seductive to think that one of the answers is to treat the artists as royalty, but I don’t think it will produce the results John expects.  As an artist, and knowing other genre artists, pro and fan, it seems clear than the SF community at large doesn’t treat artists on the same level as writers.  It’s a written genre.  Movies are popular with SF readers, of course, and many of them read graphic novels.  But movies are also a corporate creation, and few SF fans are that knowledgeable or that concerned with matt painters and prop designers.  They read graphic novels but also don’t consider comics to be quite part of the genre.  So there is a corresponding diffidence about the Artist GoH at the worldcon.

    That said, most worldcons do have an Artist GoH these days and he or she is given as much promotion as far as I can see as the writers and editors who are the other GoH.

    Anticipation was rather an odd case.  They chose an animator as Artist GoH.  I don’t think it had that much effect that Ralph Bakshi was announced later than the other guests.  Although the concom chose Bakshi with no influence from me whatever, I myself suggested an animator.  Why not?  Animators are as much artists as cover painters?  I admit that Bakshi wouldn’t have been my choice, but someone like Brad Bird would certainly as been as strong a GoH as Michel Whelan or Don Maitz.

    For better or worse, Bakshi pulled out, citing reasons of health.  (He also didn’t attend SDCC this year.)  The con wanted to honour him in absentia, but unfortunately Bakshi didn’t get back to them on that, leaving Anticipation in limbo.

    In a way, that left me as the official artist for the con, though Quebec pro Jean-Pierre Normand could also claim that distinction.  Neither of us could possibly be the same draw that Bakshi was, mind you.  So promoting us to the hilt would have done little good.

    To be honest, I don’t think any artist would be a major draw for a worldcon, not compared to the writers or editors.  To bring people to worldcon for an artist would be to change its make-up radically.  Only comics or movie fans will come to see Frank Miller.  The worldcon would have to adapt to making those people want to come, which would take a lot more change than putting an artist’s name at the top of flyers.  And if the promotion worked?  Then what do you do with the 5,000 extra bodies there because they expect to see the special effects guy from Star Wars, the model maker from Stargate, and whatever hot young artist is pencilling Iron Man these days?  They’re going to want a whole program catering to this.  It would be a different worldcon, that’s for sure.

  53. I wonder if Mike Resnick’s concerns about the decline of publishers at the Worldcon is really caused by its size, or whether the worldcon’s size is only another symptom of why publishers aren’t going to them.  The economy.  True, worldcons outside the US are less well attended.  Americans are rather lazy, and get flustered about leaving a country, even if its only Canada.  I have to have pass-port?  There are customs?  I need to exchange my dollars for strange colourful money called “loonies?”  Quelle horreur!  There are even people who don’t speak English (just like in Brooklyn).

    But putting aside the humour, worldcons in the US have declined in size as well, and frankly I think its the cost of attending that’s mainly behind the decline.  The membership fee is high, but that’s only a small part of the overall cost.  There’s hotel bills.  Air fare.  And a daily budget for food, taxis, and whatever else you need while away from home.  Plus what you spend on books and gee-gaws in the dealer’s room.  And don’t forget bidding in the artshow.  Finally, some people participate in the costume events.  This can add up to a couple of thousand dollars for a couple, or more, easily.

    Now when did the decline in worldcon memberships become apparent?  I think it was about the time that the economy became a little dicey, in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  You might find that as the econmy picked up a little in subsequent years, so did US worldcon membership levels.  But just as the economy was on a trend toward decline, so were memberships.  And now that the bottom has falle out of the economy, I think smaller worldcons are inevitable for a while.  If and when times are better, maybe we will see 8,000 + worldcons again.  In LA or other major centers at least.

    It’s a truism too, that publishers have fallen on harder times.  They aren’t just cutting back on the worldcon, they don’t send out as many review books either, their mid-list has been pruned back like a unloved hedge, and seasoned writers worry about their next two-book contract.  And probably worldcons don’t see very many books on the face of it.  The value of an appearance at a worldcon may well be intangeable, but the bottom line is most people who would buy a Neil Gaiman or Robert J. Sawyer book at a worldcon, would buy it at home otherwise.  When (and again if) the American economy improves, the publishers may well start going back to worldcons.

    If not, I don’t see them doing well trying to market the latest Greg Bear novel at SDCC.  Maybe if he writes the novelization for the next Paramont Star Trek movie, or if Sony films “Moving Mars.”  Otherwise, forget it.  The absence of publishers at worldcon is because sales are poor, not because they’re to be found elsewhere.

  54. Gary Farber tells me (by private email) that I come across knowing more about what happens in publishers’ offices than the publishers themselves.  My apologies if any one is irritated, and if anyone is amused then I figure I’ve done my good deed for the day.

    But I do keep my ears open and listen to people in the trade before I go and irresponsibly *think* about the issues.

  55. Taral, I’ve said enough on the subject; I’d just be repeating myself. I do want to point out, though, that just about every pro writer, editor and artist who has addressed the subject here disagrees with you.

    – Mike Resnick

  56. We talk to different people, you and I, Mike.  I do know a few pros in the field and I don’t think any of them are agitating for any radical changes.  But what the hey… if pros go their separate ways, maybe the Worldcon will just have to learn to live with it, rather than just submit to being a resource to be exploited by professional writers and editors.  I suspect there will be pros who like the ambiance of the Worldcon enough to come anyway, and won’t be tempted by a weekend of selling themselves to strangers.

  57. Well, this is an interesting message thread.  For the fandom community (IOW, I’m speaking here of SMOFs, fanzine runners, BNFs, filkers), one of whom has yelled at me during convention discussion sessions, with the following words ‘Comicbook shows have NOTHING to do with FANDOM'; FYI, at the time I was comparing Chicago’s WizardWorld show with local SF/F conventions.  So, for that group, there’s really nothing mass media shows like SDCC, WizardWorld shows, or even Creation’s shows have to teach runners of fan SF/F conventions.  I seems, and this will sound a little harsh, but their interests, which include a lot of smoozing with their friends at room parties or around the hotel’s bar, are not congruent with a SDCC or WizardWorld, and there’s this whole not for profit structure that exists in fandom (I understand why it exists and what its purpose is) that might not work when putting on a mass event like SDCC, NYCC or WizardWorld shows.  Perhaps a more pertinent comparison to WorldCon would be DragaonCon in Atlanta.  And maybe WorldCon could lear some lessons from DragonCon, because as far as I know DragonCon retains many of its original fan run convention roots that it started with.  I know this message is not very useful or even helpful to the discussion.

     

  58. Economic factors have had a very pertinent effect upon publishing as has the rapid explosion of e venues. It isn’t just the WorldCon that has been detrimentally struck by this.

    The Canadian Booksellers event for 2009 was cancelled due to insufficient commitments from publishers. Within the SF & F genres a number of the publishers (at least those remaining) have decided to cut back drastically upon what they support. They will attend professional events within a certain distance (such as the World fantasy type event, if it is held close enough to thier offices.) It is of course understandable also that this is a business decision on the part of authors to go where they may find the editors and the publishers.

    There is absolutely NOTHING that WorldCon committees can do to force the publishers, editors , and authors to attend, that would not be in contravention of the Society’s constitution either in the letter or it’s spirit.

    There is an ethical commitment that various WorldCon committees take on, a sort of ‘everyone pays and everyone plays’ concept which has been intergral to pretty much every Worldcon I have been on staff with. I laud this equalizing effect, and mourn at the same time that our size means we need to have the level of fees we do. However, higher numbers short of getting into true 5 digit size actual attendance, will not make it any better in the foreseable future.

    I bless Larry Niven every single time I hear a just published author demand free membership since he/she is now a ‘Pro’. I can point to Larry and say”See that man? He is Larry Niven, and unless he has been invited as a Guest of a convention He pays for his membership, just like the rest of us do. There is no Gawd-given entitlement that comes with be published.” TANSTAFL! Bless those who work and/or present with out the guarantee of membership reimbursement or other financial remuneration. Bless the pros who autograph some times for more than one hour, for FREE!

    Programming Participation at an SF&F type convention is usually a mixture of professionals and amateurs, and a good program director doesn’t differentiate or stratify participants by saying ‘ pros don’t have to pay, but amateurs do.”  The facility, the food and beverages in the consuite, the mikes even, all cost the convention money and surprise, surprise, the Hotel or Convention Centre, and the AV people all really want cold hard cash (or the plastic equivalent)  for what they provide.

    The only Revenue stream that a convention can count on is its memberships, even more so now when publishers and book stores are reluctant to do any advertising in program books or to sponsor anything. So giving away lots of memberships, or lowering fees below a reasonable expense/ratio requirement is a sure way to kill a convention. Every SF Convention that fails to pay its bills puts a black mark on any others in the region, related to them or not.

    From time to time I have seen ‘out-of-community’ passes that allow local area professionals from fields outside the specific purvue of our community to enter in order to make a presentation to our members.  This is in effect a barter – here is a 3 hour pass so you can come in and present a 1 hour talk on a subject of interest to our members, and if you wish have a look around.’

    It is a fine balance, and I have seen some conventions get themselves into trouble because they have 700 attendees there fore the whole week-end, but only 300 paid to get in.

    Wolrdcons have attempted to ameliorate the risk by doing pass along funds, but it is still a very big risk each committee takes on, and the risk can become exponential when it comes to the contracts that happen with a convention facility. There is a lot of fine print, and woe betide those who don’t read it carefully and get certain kinds of clauses deleted – Niggly little things such as: if a larger event wants the space the facility has the right to move you to different facilities. OR change your dates, OR cancel your ‘hold space’ because you haven’t made your financial deposit yet, because the site vote hasn’t happened yet.

    There is a lot of time and money spent in frustration for bid committees and we have seen bids forced out by loss of facilities. It is one thing to lose an election because the other bid got more votes, but losing your site and being forced out really hurts. It is one of the many reasons there are arguments to get away from the Labor Day week-end for dates.

    Yes those who have taken part in organizing WorldCons are often seen vociferously discussing the ups and downs of numbers, facilities, and site selection options. There are a lot of ‘traditions’ that come with Worldcon bids, including not revealing who has been asked to be guests, who has accepted (before the vote takes place at least), and who should be considered as of enough stature to be a guest. And of course the courtesy of never saying who was asked before but refused the honour for whatever reason). Never mind what types of facilities are acceptable and what persons/locations should or should not be allowed to host.

    However the one really important thing I have noticed that truly affects any Worldcon, is how many people are willing to serve the convention. Whether as organizers, or Program participants, or guests, or staff. without those who volunteer to work and complete thier initial commitments, and in some cases go above and beyond, WorldCons run on thier efforts and thier attendance. The fewer there are to do the work, and pay to attend, the smaller the Worldcon will be. Making the commitment and effort to attend and take part is essential to the success of this event. Worldocn does not have huge media support (except when it is held just down the road in Anaheim) and now it gets less and less publisher support. Yet Iwould suggest that the average WordlCon attendee has 4 to5 times the numbers of books in thier home than the average attendee at a Comic Con. The publishers have us hooked already. they are hunting new customers at Comic-Con, and that is no one’s fault. It simply is the current reality.

    -Linda Ross-Mansfield

    -Linda Ross-Mansfield

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