Every fall, a comic convention unlike any other takes place within Glendale’s nondescript warehouse district. Local artists, writers, and publishers meet in an oak-shaded courtyard to sell, promote, and discuss their books and drink free beer. Sounds like a dream, right?
Welcome to Dream-Con, an employees-only comic convention hosted by DreamWorks Animation (DWA). And while this burgeoning show may only be limited to private, in-house attendees, Dream-Con still offers a model for a new breed of comic conventions from which everyone can benefit.
Conceived by the Production Manager of DreamWorks’ Education department, Angela Lepito, Dream-Con originally started in 2008 as a response to a little show that takes place about two hours south of L.A. each year – San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). Many of DWA’s employees moonlight as comics artists, but putting their day-jobs on hold only to endure the hectic schedule at SDCC leaves the DreamWorkers exhausted and, well, a little unfulfilled. To hear Angela tell it, “When our artists return from San Diego Comic-Con, they often have leftover copies of books and artwork. I thought the timing would be great to host our own event, so we could get to know the personal work of our own artists.”
But now, four years later, Dream-Con has expanded into a celebration of comics, animation, letter-press, and other Etsy-friendly arts. “Meeting fellow artists and seeing their talents beyond their work on our films is the real draw of Dream-Con. The art festival atmosphere has made the event very popular, and each year we try new table layouts, new special galleries, and promotions. Because it is a home-grown event, our employees feel invested in its success. I personally enjoy watching the wonderful interactions our employees have with one another as a result of our event,” says Angela.
To help facilitate those interactions, Dream-Con takes place al fresco on the Mediterranean-style campus, rather than indoors. And since Fall temperatures in Los Angeles can still hit the upper eighties, Dream-Con organizers provide kegs of beer as refreshment, some of which have been craft-brewed by DWA employees themselves, only adding to the show’s home-grown pedigree. Best of all? The tables are free to exhibitors, meaning that any money earned at Dream-Con becomes pure profit for the seller.
Although the show is only limited to DreamWorks employees and select vendors hand-picked by Angela’s group, including neighborhood art book store, Stuart Ng Books, don’t mistake the locals-only guest list for an amateur hour. While it is true than many in attendance (including yours truly) have gone the Small Press route, an equal number have seen their works carried by larger publishers, including Image Comics and the Flight series of graphic novels.
Now, it’s true that most people won’t be able to experience Dream-Con in person, unless they happen to be employed by DreamWorks Animation (and, hey, there are worse places to work), but what’s to stop others from co-opting this decidedly lo-fi, do-it-yourself approach to comics conventioneering? In an era when it’s near-impossible to snag an Artist Alley table at SDCC (let alone afford a hotel room) and when the dwindling number of brick-and-mortar stores has effectively evicted the customers who used those shops as forums to talk comics, perhaps now is the right time for creators and fans to grab their books, some lawn chairs, and a temporary seller’s permit and hold a few backyard cons of their own….
Richard A. Hamilton is a Los Angeles resident for 12 years running and the writer/publisher of Return of the Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards. In his free time, he seeks out new Indie comics, local beers, and –on good days — both.