Emerald City Comicon has long been the Pacific Northwest’s most prominent comic book convention, growing exponentially larger each year under founder and director Jim Demonakos and hosting top talent like Mike Mignola, Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns, and Felicia Day. Last year, the show attracted more than 50,000 attendees to Seattle’s Washington Convention Center, as well as a raft of creators and exhibitors.
Portland’s Rose City Comic Con, on the other hand, is the new kid on the block-turned Cinderella story: founded by Ron Brister and Dave Brockway in 2012 and bankrolled with a mere $500 in startup costs, it wildly exceeded all expectations with more than 4,100 attendees — filling the Hilton DoubleTree Portland to capacity four times during the show.
As a longtime exhibitor at ECCC and a founding sponsor of RCCC, TFAW’s ears perked up when we heard these two organizations were teaming up. Fortunately, we were able to chat with Demonakos and Brister and get the inside scoop on what fans can expect from this partnership in 2013!
TFAW: Jim, why don’t you give us a brief overview of Emerald City Comicon?
Jim Demonakos: Emerald City Comicon is the largest comic book and pop culture convention in the Pacific Northwest, and we’re moving into our 11th year. 2013 is going to be our biggest show yet, as we’re doubling the amount of space we’re taking up at the convention center, so as of this year, we’re fully taking up the entire Washington State Convention Center. So we’re really excited. We’re expecting about 65,000 attendees, which is up from 53,000 in 2012.
We cover all aspects of pop culture. Our main focus is comic books and creators, so we have some amazing creators coming out to Emerald City this year. We also have celebrities, along with gaming, and a number of related events at the show, such as sci-fi speed dating, and really fun after-hours events: concerts, costume contests, you name it.
TFAW: Ron, why don’t you talk about founding Rose City Comic Con and your first year in 2012?
Ron Brister: We wanted to have something that emulated the experience that we were getting at other conventions, and Emerald City was our favorite. We decided to found something and give it a try, and we were pretty successful. In year one, we were hoping for between 800 and 1,100 attendees, and about 4,100 showed up. We’re also offering a variety of different things, but our primary focus is comic books. But there’s also the element of celebrities, sci-fi, and things of that nature.
TFAW: Portland already has at least two annual comic book conventions. Why do you think people responded so strongly to Rose City, especially in its first year?
RB: I think that can be answered in a couple of different ways. Primarily, the different events that have been taking place around town were somewhat narrow in their focus. Rose City appealed to a much broader audience, and I think that the way we marketed the event really was as a weekend-long, family-fun event. We really targeted families by trying reach outside of the normal comic-book culture and advertise directly to people who had residual income — people who would come spend money with our vendors, making them valuable.
TFAW: So how did the two of you connect?
RB: Jim and I emailed on and off — it’s probably been 24 months now. It started with us trying to make sure we weren’t interfering with other people’s dates, and seeking advice. Jim was very friendly, and that’s where the relationship started.
TFAW: Jim, so why did you and Ron decide to join forces?
JD: I think we have a real mutual love for the medium of comics. That’s one of the things we talking about throughout emerging friendship. But additionally, we see that there is, judging from the success of year one of Rose City, a market for the kind of really fun event that we bring to Seattle, and see about co-producing a show and bringing the same kind of experience to Portland. At the end of the day, what we really care about is that we want people to come through the door and have an absolutely fantastic time.
I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to me to have so many people think of Emerald City as one of the highlights of their year, because they have such a good time. We don’t take that reputation lightly, so we want to take that and bring a version of that down to Portland–bring our expertise and connections, and add them to Ron’s passion and knowledge of the local market. We don’t want this to feel like, Oh, some outsiders are coming and doing this. If you want to talk to someone, talk to Ron. We’re not some national company finding an opportunity to put a show in this market. We’re Northwest people, and we want great shows in the Northwest.
TFAW: So what are some of the concrete changes that are coming to Rose City this year? How is it going to be different from its first year?
RB: We’re definitely going to have a change, because we’re going to have air conditioning! Obviously we’re taking the show and moving to the Oregon Convention Center, and with that, there’s an expansion that’s taking place. I think we’re really expanding on everything that we did well, and a couple of the things we’re going to tweak are going to be minor. But I think our formula worked pretty well, and it’s going to be the same type of show on a grander scale. We’ll have more artists, more guests, more celebrities, possibly bring in more types of talent.
TFAW: So it’s in a new location; I heard it’s going to be 100,000 square feet this year?
RB: Yes, I believe if we total it all up, it will be more like 120,000.
TFAW: How does this compare to last year at the Portland Hilton DoubleTree, just for reference?
RB: We’re roughly going to be about four times larger this year; we were around 25,000 square feet last year.
TFAW: Jim, going back to Emerald City Comicon being the highlight of the year for many; I feel like it’s unusual for an independently owned and operated convention to grow so large and so popular, without getting out of control. Can you share your philosophy for organizing it every year?
JD: Listen, I am just as surprised as you are (laughs). I’ll be honest, at the end of the day — and this might sound cheesy — we’re fans. So what we’re doing is creating the convention that we want to attend, and then in the deepest irony in the universe, not being able to attend, because we’re too busy working. But that’s our philosophy with this show; whenever we look at something — and this is where I’m more a fan than a business person — when we consider adding something to the show, my first thought isn’t, “Hey, will this make any money?” I think, “Is this fun? Is this something our fans are gonna like?” And then we figure out the logistics.
This is really a convention for fans by fans. We think we’re pretty average fans — we like a little bit of everything. So when we create Emerald City, we bring little bits of everything we like. We like some celebrities, and we love comics. We love gaming — we have weekly tabletop gaming matches — so we thought, Why don’t we bring a cool tabletop and gaming aspect to the show? And that was successful last year, and it’s going to be even bigger this year. So, we try little things, and not everything flies, but that’s okay. As long as at the end of the day, people walk away from their experience at Emerald City and say, “Man, that was a fun time,” we’ve done our job.
TFAW: What were some of your favorite moments or guests over the past 10 years?
JD: From the celebrity angle, I would have to say Leonard Nimoy. I grew up watching the original Star Trek, so it was a real thrill to meet him, and sit down and have a conversation and find that he’s a real jovial, forward man. That was really cool, plus the fans loved him. But that was almost secondary to my personal experience with him.
As for comic creators, at this point we’ve probably had over a thousand, over the past decade. It’s really hard to choose — people have been super cool. Talking specifically about Dark Horse, I will say that Mike Mignola and Eric Powell were absolutely fantastic people, not only in their care and interest in Emerald City, but in their fan interaction, and interactions with us, from an organizational standpoint. Both of them have been awesome, in their support of the show.
TFAW: Ron, what do you think was your biggest surprise for your first year, or your biggest lesson?
RB: The biggest surprise was that there was a line outside the convention hall before I showed up the first morning! Besides that surprise, I think that one of the things we felt like we could do better, going forward, is that if you have a line like that, you’ve got a demand. You don’t want to disappoint fans before they even get in the door. So we want to get people in more quickly, so they can enjoy the event.
We did spot Q&As with a lot of our ticket holders during the event, and then after the event, and got some information back about what people wanted to see tweaked. I think the biggest complaint we got was the lack of air conditioning, and getting in on that first day, so that’s what we’re working on.
TFAW: So what are going to be the biggest advantages for the fans, with the two of you joining forces?
JD: I think the big advantage to us working together is being able to bring another fresh perspective to what we’re doing at Emerald City, and tailor it to an experience for the fans that are in Portland. We can create that with the connections we have and the industry inroads we’ve already established, while at the same time, keep it a Portland-centric show.
RB: Everything Jim has said is 100% of what we want. As the guys who started Rose City, we want it to be Portland-centric. But Jim and his team have learned a lot of lessons along the way, and now, being a part of Emerald City, that fresh perspective will save us time and maybe even money avoiding the kinds of mistakes they’ve already encountered. The experience they bring, there’s no way to summarize what that value is. You know, and I know, that Emerald City is one of the top shows in the nation, definitely my favorite show, so to have them wanting to work with us, and vice versa, and having this relationship maturing the way it is, is really inspiring.
Our thanks to Jim and Ron for chatting with us! Get more details for this year’s Emerald City Comicon and Rose City Comic Con, and make sure to stop by the Things From Another World booth at each to say hi and pick up some awesome deals.
Are you planning on going to ECCC or RCCC this year? Post your comments below!