October 15, 2011

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Show Report: PIX Has Some Growing Pains

Erica and I attended both days of the Pittsburgh Indy Comics Expo last weekend, partly because we like comics and partly because it was a great excuse to come up to Pittsburgh and hang out with friends.

I'm glad we had something else to do besides the show, because, to be honest, we both left the expo a bit disappointed.  We had heard really good things about last year's show, and opted to make the hard choice to skip our friends at the Richmond Zine Fest.  Based on our experience, I do not think we'll be doing that again next year if the dates conflict again.

Overall, the biggest problem with the show was attendance.  The show's organizer spoke with Erica on Sunday and estimated attendance at about 250.  If that was for a one-day show, it wouldn't be bad.  However, that was across both days of the expo.  For a show to be successful, it needs people walking around, browsing and buying.  There simply were not enough people going to the show, leading to extensive down time where the only people walking around were other creators, shooting the breeze.

I think the biggest issue with attendance came from the location.  PIX is held on the 6th floor of a Guardian storage building, in a part of a Pittsburgh neighborhood where there is nothing nearby to draw attention for several blocks in either direction.  While the price may be right, it's killer for attendance.  If you even know the show exists, you have to navigate the Guardian maze and take a service elevator to the 6th floor, with no stairs, second elevator, or fire pole to get to the comics.  When I went out for lunch, I saw several people wandering aimlessly trying to find the show, looking about ready to give up.

I know Pittsburgh very well, having lived in and around it most of my life.  There are plenty of potential places to hold a show there, and unfortunately, where PIX is located is one of the least likely to get people to stop by.  You have to make a conscious decision to go to that part of town.  I think the show would have been better to go to East Liberty, where several other shows with similar themes were occurring.  I bet their foot traffic, which is aided by being part of a bus hub, was much higher.

If you are going to use a more secluded location, then at least put out signs!  There were only a few signs in hard-to-see locations for the show and none at all near the high-traffic areas that were within a short drive or bike ride away, such as the heart of the Strip District, Bloomfield, Shadyside, or even Squirrel Hill.  I don't know if there were radio spots, or a newspaper ad, but it sure looked to me like you had to know the show existed in order to get there.  That's no way to help your tablers get sales.  PIX needs to get signs out, anywhere and everywhere.  It's not like Pittsburgh is militant about posters, fliers, and the like, unless it's changed in the past few years.

Overall, my impression of the show was that it was by and for people in the local Pittsburgh comics scene.  I  saw lots of creators talking to each other, seemingly indifferent to whether or not they sold anything, marking time till the after-show party on Saturday.  A few mentioned how cool it was to hang out together.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it's NOT a comics expo.  That's a club meeting.  If you are going to do that, don't bill it as a show.  Call it a gathering or something similar, and pick a place where you can have an open bar and a bit of room to put out some comics.  As someone who is not part of the Pittsburgh community any longer, it felt very off-putting that we'd driven up, paid for a table and gas, and ended up at an over-sized swap meet.

Again, I have no problem with PIX as a way for local creators to meet, but it's not billed as such.  But it was never so clear to me that if you weren't part of the 'Burgh crowd, you were missing out as when a panel was held without it being clearly communicated to the attendees.  All of a sudden, people were in a corner, talking to each other.  It felt like being at a school lunchroom and having no one want to sit at your table.

My experience with the show was rather negative, but there were a few good points.  I thought the space itself was nice and roomy, with plenty of room for each creator to spread out and not feel cramped.  Everyone I talked to was very nice, and I had great conversations.  Had that been the main purpose of my going to the show, I would have left pleased.  We picked up some comics, mostly from Bill Volk and Bob Corby, and several people talked to us about the virtues of going to SPACE in Columbus, if we can find a way to do it.  It was nice to see that Pittsburgh has a vibrant group of creators, even if most of what I looked at were shock value comics that don't do much for me personally.

Generally speaking, however, I don't think PIX is ready to be a show of note just yet.  It needs to advertise better on the day of the show, consider a location that lends itself to foot traffic, and decide whether it's more interested in being a gathering of creators and fans or a place to look for and buy comics.  Once it does that, I would be prepared to come back.  As of now, however, I think I'll find another reason to stop in Pittsburgh next time.  Trust me, that's not very hard for us to do!