At the beginning of this week, Tom Spurgeon – purveyor of The Comics Reporter (TCR) and Executive Director of the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) comics festival – turned 50 and made a birthday post on TCR that largely focused on CXC, in which he said the following:
"Every dollar donated helps CXC put on our festival and give back directly to creators in attendance. We provide a first-rate experience to our hosted guests, and multiple teaching and celebratory events to everyone we can. We are a free show. We are just beginning to tackle the issue of exhibitor table refunds and a just staff/volunteer balance, which is very exciting."
While keeping in the back of our minds that CXC took in over $100,000 in 2017, let's evaluate each of these claims.
"Every dollar donated helps CXC put on our festival and give back directly to creators in attendance."
Two points here. Every dollar donated:
- Helps CXC put on their festival.
- Helps CXC give back directly to creators in attendance.
Unfortunately, these two things are already in conflict. Obviously #1 is correct: without money donated to CXC (it's a 501c3 non-profit org), it would not be able to put on a show. However, given the cost of tabling at CXC and the number of exhibitors, the vast majority of non-corporate-sponsorship money comes from the people tabling at CXC itself.
How can #2 possibly be true if the people shouldering a massive chunk of the cost of the show are the creators in attendance? There is no show without these people both because they are giving their time and their work to attract visitors and because they are the single biggest collective funders of the show itself.
"CXC pays honoraria for program preparation and a per diem to special guests."
If special guests are getting paid and exhibitors are paying table fees, this means that many creators are paying money to help subsidize specific "special guest" headliners. Why in the holy hell are Czap Books and Katie Skelly pitching into help pay for Brian Michael Bendis' per diem?? The dude is worth millions of dollars!
In general, the fact that special guests have their per diem paid is hardly indicative of the fact creators in attendance are "given back" to. If anything, it is evidence of the opposite: they are "taken from," regardless of whether or not they turn a profit at the show.
"We are just beginning to tackle the issue of exhibitor table refunds and a just staff/volunteer balance."
Why have dozens of artists already had to pay into a six figure sum – and this is just 2017 – in order for CXC to "just begin" to tackle the issue of exhibitor table refunds? If the show needs to get off the ground by sucking in money from artists who will be lucky to break even on food, travel, lodging, and hundreds of dollars in table rental, where is it so important that this money goes first before these things are hashed out?
I think this is a reasonable question. CXC is a non-profit. CXC uses public space and, according to its website, received at least $5000 dollars from the Columbus Metropolitan Library. It's unclear whether this figure is an additional cash sum or represents the cost of services rendered for space used and the like, but the fact that this is unclear is in itself unacceptable: why is it acceptable to throw around a city's tax dollars – which aren't exactly bursting at the seams for libraries – on events run by non-profits that:
- Don't clearly disclose how their money is spent.
- Use volunteer labor.
- Charge people to exhibit at the show.
If the city has an interest in tourism and only cares about having people come to stay for the event – even if it's just the exhibitors – the whole thing just looks like kind of a racket, albeit not a very profitable one.
I just don't understand why it's acceptable for the top subsidizer and cost-bearer of these events by-and-large to be the cartoonists themselves, who are made no guarantee of breaking even, especially not when the people running the show always, always, always walk away with more money than they started with.
It's unclear where any of that money goes, but it's staggering to think what a community of artists could do with six figures a year from even just a few of the shows they attend around the country that currently throw their money into the great unknown.