The nerd community has a big decision to make and not much time left to make it: To con or not to con — that is the question.
Emerald City Comic Con organizers Reedpop announced a refund option on Wednesday for fans who choose not to attend this year’s four-day pop-culture celebration, still scheduled for March 12-15 at the Washington State Convention Center, due to coronavirus concerns. The decision was made public shortly before city and county officials announced they were advising community groups against holding gatherings that would draw more than 10 people.
Organizers acknowledged that not everybody would agree with the decision, but “we feel we owe it to the customer to grant you the personal choice whether or not to attend,” they said in a statement.
(Those wishing to seek refunds for tickets already purchased can go here.)
Reedpop officials did not immediately respond to an email with a number of questions about the decision by Wednesday evening. Meanwhile, hand-wringing over the decision of whether to go, by creators, exhibitors and fans, continued behind the scenes and on social media platforms such as Twitter.
For many, ECCC is a rare opportunity to cash in for a community that makes its money in the unpredictable gig and creative economies. Unlike fans, ECCC has yet to release vendors and exhibitors from their financial obligations and many are waiting to see what will happen as more and more pull out.
DC, Dark Horse Comics, Oni Press and other publishers have already pulled out, as have several high-profile creators including DC publisher Jim Lee, “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola and “Wolverine” author Benjamin Percy, who said on Twitter he wouldn’t risk the health of his young child with respiratory issues.
Portland-based Oni Press plans to open an online pop-up store to sell convention exclusives their creators would have offered and other material.
“The decision not to attend Emerald City Comic Con was difficult for many reasons,” Oni Press Publisher James Lucas Jones said in a statement to The Seattle Times. “This has been, in many ways, a hometown show for Oni, with so many of our writers and artists here in the Pacific Northwest. For that same reason, one of our first considerations was supporting the creators and their books we had planned to promote there. We realize many of our creators depend on convention income, and want to do our part to help where we can through sales of their books and merchandise through the Oni website, and are working to ensure those still attending would have product on hand to sell.”
Others, like Image Comics, Ahoy Comics and Fantagraphics Books, said they are waiting for more input as the event approaches.
Garth Stein and Matthew Southworth are two creators who still plan to attend. Both are from the Seattle area, so they are deeply familiar with the risks. They have a panel scheduled on Sunday, March 15, to promote their forthcoming Fantagraphics collaboration, “The Cloven,” out in July.
“I’m a writer, so this concept of self-quarantining is not foreign to me,” Stein joked. “I know what it’s like to be isolated and to never leave the house and to not see people. I know that very intimately.”
Stein has been paying close attention to the debate whether to attend and feels like folks are beginning to get carried away.
“I’m following the recommendations of excessively washing my hands, always sneezing into my elbow, not touching any other human being, so there are precautions that we take and that’s good,” Stein said. “And then there’s the next level up, which is we become a little hysterical and we lock ourselves down and store toilet paper in our basement. I just think that if you take anything to the extreme, it can be absurd, right? I mean no bigger than groups of 10. I don’t even understand that.”
Southworth says he will be at ECCC all four days on Artists Alley. He doesn’t have quite as much resolve as Stein, but at this point he’s not pulling the plug.
“I could change my mind,” said Southworth, co-creator of “Stumptown.” “… This was the plan, and so I’m sticking with the plan at the moment. But I’m not 100% convinced that it’s a great idea.”
Finances, he said, as much as public health, can drive an exhibitor’s decision.
“It’s very complicated,” he said. “There’s so many people who this is a big part of their financial plan for the year. They’re going to go to the show, they’re going to rent their booth space. And they’re going to sell whatever, $1,200 worth of knickknacks and merchandise and everything else. And that’s going to make everything OK for the lean months between shows or whatever. It’s very hard for those people to cancel.”
One of those creators trying to make the hard decision is Portland author Chelsea Cain. She has a traveling party that includes three teenagers and had hoped to launch her new Dark Horse Comics book, “Spy Island,” at the event. The heart has been ripped out of that plan.
“So that entire project is cratered by this,” Cain said.