What Meetings Can Learn From Comics Can Learn From Meetings

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 4.22.18 PMFollowing up on Barbara’s post the other day about how communications technologies and face-to-face experiences are more complementary than people originally feared — this is a dynamic that plays out in other industries and other mediums as well, and the lessons learned are more or less the same. Mark Waid is a well-known and well-respected comic-book writer who in the last few years has become something of a pioneer in the creation and distribution of digital comics. Three years ago he delivered a controversial keynote address at his industry’s Harvey Awards dinner in which he urged the people in the audience — comic writers, artists, and publishers — to acknowledge the flaws and limitations of print, especially a stifling, outmoded system of copyright law, and to embrace the more flexible, adaptive mindset of digital publishing. A year or two later, he launched Thrillbent, a digital comic website that he funded in part by selling off his personal collection of classic comic books.

Since then Waid has become the public face of digital comics — even as he’s continued to do high-profile work writing for a variety of traditional publishers. And last week, he revisited his infamous keynote in a mea culpa of sorts published on the comics website 13th Dimension, writing:

Had you told me three years ago that comics sales in America would be up by significant numbers when all other forms of print media were shedding readers at a brutal pace, I’d have been the one to call you a heretic. Yet here we are. Print comics aren’t the business juggernaut they were in their heyday and may never be again, but no one can deny that there’s a sustained boom going on and no hint of an oncoming bust. And here’s what’s really cool: The same thing is happening with digital comics. They’re not only matching print’s growth, they’re exceeding it.

A year or two ago, when readers (new, old and lapsed) began reporting that reading comics online spurred them into stores, we considered that to be anecdotal evidence that there was a positive symbiotic relationship between the two. Today, we have hard data to back that up; every shred of evidence goes to show that one does not “steal” from the other. Not only can digital and print co-exist, they can feed one another. Digital is the outreach, but brick-and-mortar is the community gathering place, the sales platform, the pop-culture oasis.

Indeed, Waid is so convinced of this that last month he announced that he’d bought a comic shop in Muncie, Ind. His evolution is complete, and boy, does it ever sound familiar — mirroring the meetings industry’s own journey on virtual and hybrid events, from fear to cautious acceptance to strategic integration. Like with comics, all the evidence suggests that virtual programs make people more, not less, inclined to attend meetings and conferences in person. And, like comics, meetings have the advantage of being able to offer something across a variety of platforms: creative content and unique experiences. As Waid himself said during that keynote:

We are the smartest, most creative medium in America. We put out ideas on a periodical basis bam, bam, bam. We don’t put out a screenplay every three years. We don’t invent a TV show every ten years. There are more ideas in one Wednesday in one comic shop than in three years of Hollywood. We’re notoriously bad businessmen, but we are unmatched for creativity and inventiveness, and there are ways to make filesharing work for us rather than cower in fear that it’s going to destroy us.

I think he was talking about comic-book creators. But maybe he was actually talking about meeting planners.

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