Like most large events, fan conventions including San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and Dragon Con, have shifted gears this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Some have been postponed or canceled; others have moved their programming online.
While the panels and screenings that take place at these conventions can easily be streamed from one’s home, the meet-and-greets and spontaneous connections made at the events have been harder to translate to a virtual environment. That includes interactions between attendees and retailers.
The artist alley is a hallmark of fan conventions, populated by people selling illustrations, paintings, patches, pins, figurines, comics and other goods that reference popular franchises. Most of those indie artists make the majority of their yearly sales at these events. And this year, all of them are feeling the crunch.
“It’s been tough! From a business perspective, conventions represent a significant portion of our income stream, so it has made me feel less secure generally,” Karen Hallion, 47, wrote in an email this week. She is a freelance illustrator and has produced work for entertainment clients including Marvel and Disney. She started a Patreon in 2015 to support her personal work, which includes character mash-ups (“Doctor Who” meets “Finding Nemo,” for example) and a forthcoming children’s book.
Now that these artists no longer have a captive audience of convention attendees, promoting and selling their work online is a must. Faina Lorah, a painter and illustrator who lives in Cincinnati, said that a few months ago, as it became clear that the conventions would not be taking place as usual, she began “overhauling my storefront and Etsy shop and redesigning my approach with print on-demand services,” such as Merch by Amazon.
Ms. Lorah, 30, began her career as a fine artist but shifted to folklore- and fairytale-inspired work after a few successful convention runs. She also makes fan art, some of it inspired by characters from the Super Mario franchise and Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.” In a normal year, Ms. Lorah estimated that 70 percent of her income comes from convention sales.
Her husband, Simon Tam, 39, a musician who is a frequent presenter and panelist at conventions including San Diego Comic-Con, Dragon Con, South by Southwest and Sakura-Con, has been hosting virtual events during the pandemic. He has also shifted some of his focus to philanthropy. Through the Slants Foundation, a nonprofit he formed with his bandmates in 2018, he is “providing grants to artists who are using their work to counter hate during the pandemic.”
Jenny Park, an illustrator in Cypress, Calif., whose work references video games like Overwatch and Fire Emblem, has been hosting virtual mini-conventions from her living room alongside other creators. She said she has seen her fellow indie artists band together during this time.
“I think there’s this greater sense of community and wanting to help each other succeed, because Covid has affected everyone across the board,” Ms. Park, 29, said.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated August 6, 2020
Why are bars linked to outbreaks?
- Think about a bar. Alcohol is flowing. It can be loud, but it’s definitely intimate, and you often need to lean in close to hear your friend. And strangers have way, way fewer reservations about coming up to people in a bar. That’s sort of the point of a bar. Feeling good and close to strangers. It’s no surprise, then, that bars have been linked to outbreaks in several states. Louisiana health officials have tied at least 100 coronavirus cases to bars in the Tigerland nightlife district in Baton Rouge. Minnesota has traced 328 recent cases to bars across the state. In Idaho, health officials shut down bars in Ada County after reporting clusters of infections among young adults who had visited several bars in downtown Boise. Governors in California, Texas and Arizona, where coronavirus cases are soaring, have ordered hundreds of newly reopened bars to shut down. Less than two weeks after Colorado’s bars reopened at limited capacity, Gov. Jared Polis ordered them to close.
I have antibodies. Am I now immune?
- As of right now, that seems likely, for at least several months. There have been frightening accounts of people suffering what seems to be a second bout of Covid-19. But experts say these patients may have a drawn-out course of infection, with the virus taking a slow toll weeks to months after initial exposure. People infected with the coronavirus typically produce immune molecules called antibodies, which are protective proteins made in response to an infection. These antibodies may last in the body only two to three months, which may seem worrisome, but that’s perfectly normal after an acute infection subsides, said Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist at Harvard University. It may be possible to get the coronavirus again, but it’s highly unlikely that it would be possible in a short window of time from initial infection or make people sicker the second time.
I’m a small-business owner. Can I get relief?
- The stimulus bills enacted in March offer help for the millions of American small businesses. Those eligible for aid are businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 500 workers, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and freelancers. Some larger companies in some industries are also eligible. The help being offered, which is being managed by the Small Business Administration, includes the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But lots of folks have not yet seen payouts. Even those who have received help are confused: The rules are draconian, and some are stuck sitting on money they don’t know how to use. Many small-business owners are getting less than they expected or not hearing anything at all.
What are my rights if I am worried about going back to work?
What is school going to look like in September?
- It is unlikely that many schools will return to a normal schedule this fall, requiring the grind of online learning, makeshift child care and stunted workdays to continue. California’s two largest public school districts — Los Angeles and San Diego — said on July 13, that instruction will be remote-only in the fall, citing concerns that surging coronavirus infections in their areas pose too dire a risk for students and teachers. Together, the two districts enroll some 825,000 students. They are the largest in the country so far to abandon plans for even a partial physical return to classrooms when they reopen in August. For other districts, the solution won’t be an all-or-nothing approach. Many systems, including the nation’s largest, New York City, are devising hybrid plans that involve spending some days in classrooms and other days online. There’s no national policy on this yet, so check with your municipal school system regularly to see what is happening in your community.
In recent years, fan artists have faced challenges from entertainment companies about intellectual property violations, as many of them use well-known, copyrighted and trademarked characters and iconography in their work. The artist alley is an area where their use of protected imagery can be especially visible, as artists booths appear near corporate vendors hawking their wares. But many of the artists who rent tables at conventions also make original art, using characters and images of their own invention.
Some artists have also made use of social media hashtags like #virtualartistalley and convention-specific tags such as #ECCCOnline (standing for “Emerald City Comic Con online”) to make their work more discoverable online.
In addition to the lost revenue, Ms. Hallion, who lives in Swampscott, Mass., said that she missed the feeling of gathering with other artists.
“I have a little ‘con family’ of fellow artist friends scattered all over the country, and these shows are the only time we get to see each other in real life and spend time together,” she said. “It can feel isolating working in my studio all the time, so conventions always were a welcome break from all of the alone time.”