Attending my first big con in 2002 (Wizard World Philly) was the beginning of what I always knew would be a big part of my life. I’ve cosplayed at many and met a lot of fantastic artists and creators! When my husband and I moved to a smaller town in Wisconsin, celebrating the new comic Wednesday ritual became tedious with the next nearest comic shop being an hour away. Wizard World had conventions this year in Madison and Minneapolis (which we attended both), but it seems they won’t be returning next year. It was with that news I decided that it was time for me to create my own con – the very FIRST of it’s kind in this area.
For those of you that have any interest in creating your own con, I urge to do so. This was a lot of planning, but in the end was completely worth it to see the amount of people that came to cosplay, meet new friends, buy new comics, and play MTG. The vendors were happy, the attendees were happy, and many muggles were converted – which is always a plus for me! The con ended with most people asking when the next one was!
So, if you’re ready to create your own con, check out venues in your area to start with. I chose to have my con in our local mall, which is smaller, but by doing so I avoided charging admission and kept the vendor fees down. Free admission keeps the money in the hands of the attendees, and money in the hands of the attendees is more money to the vendors. This was really important to me because I know when I attend Wizard World I spend the majority of my budget on photo ops and autographs. For this reason I also chose to make my cons strictly activities and vendors, but never a celebrity guest. When you choose a venue, check with your local mall, armory, VFW, or hotel ballrooms. When you compare these venues, try to be flexible with the dates, as wedding season can dictate the availability and pricing.
After you’ve secured a location, you have to decide how to gain your investment back and that’s through vendor fees and admission cost. Your investment is going to be more than just venue cost, it’s also going to be the cost of advertising, equipment rental, security, and any other miscellaneous costs. My decision to use a mall, again, was a play to my advantage when it came to costs. Using the mall was free, so vendors were only charged $35/space (which was 8×10) and were free to bring their own tables, or rent the mall’s 6×2 tables for $5 each. The vendor fees helped cover the cost of printing posters, designed by the mall manager.
With printing, venue, and vendor fees covered, the next step was getting the word out for vendors to start signing up. If you’re going to add vendors for a first time con, you can easily post to every single group on Facebook and even make a fan page for it to spread the word for free. I attended other cons with flyers and registration forms in hand, hoping to do a bit of head hunting for my con. It definitely helped considering it’s hard to get the word out when it’s your first con. I attended multiple cons and even found fantastic contacts! They even spread the word to their fellow vendors!
With vendors signing up slowly, I started to plan activities. I wanted to make sure that all of the activities were free so that, again, money went to the vendors. I wanted to include younger childrens activities to give parents an excuse to shop comics and figures without having to find a sitter. I cosplay as Elsa, with my friend cosplaying as Anna, so we decided to do free photo ops, princess sing alongs, and face painting. For the photo ops, I set up a fun backdrop and a volunteer took photos to upload to the Facebook fan page for people, as well as people taking their own pictures with their phones. I even repurposed pool noodles to create lightsabers for kids to do a lightsaber training (which was also run by a volunteer, and diehard Star Wars fan)!
Aside from vendors and activities, I also organized a costume/cosplay contest. I called it a costume contest because in this smaller town, not everyone knows what “cosplay” means. I used the words interchangeably to help people start to understand that when you google image search “cosplay” its not always what it seems (less than clothed at times). The prizes were mall gift certificates ($10, $20, and $30) and free passes to Tactical Escape, which they graciously donated, in addition to discount passes for all participants. I had registration for the contest end 2 hours before the contest to keep more people in the con for a longer period of time, mostly to keep them around the vendors again.
With the activities, vendors, contest, and long hours, the con was a success overall. Having a Facebook page allowed me to share the pictures from day one with everyone, and the second day was surprisingly bigger than I thought it was going to be! The page is still active and I’m getting more likes daily from people asking when the next one is! I do intend on having two cons per year and I’m glad that I gained the experience. I hope one day I can make cons and cosplay a career!
If you have any questions about creating your own con, please feel free to reach out to me. I’d be happy to help anyone start their own con! Let’s spread the con love and get these going everywhere! Check out some of the photos from mine, and visit the Facebook page if you’d like to see more!
Article: The Small Town Con
News Coverage: WEAU News