A few weekends ago, my friend Dan Hale and I split a table at our local Long Beach Comic Expo. The weekend went as I expected it to go. But, I talked to lots of artists who were grumbling that the weekend wasn’t very good. I’d like to talk about Long Beach, Signings, and conventions in general.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Long Beach Expo/Comic Con because it was the first cons I ever went to. Something like… 5 or 6 years ago, I drove down to Long Beach and sat through a half dozen panels and spent too much money and left completely overwhelmed.
Since then, I have made a mini comic, and started a series, and tabled at Long Beach… I believe this was my third time (unless there is a 4th I’m forgetting). This was my first con with my new comic, Scared by the Bell. I live in LA and Ventura – so Long Beach is a fairly local con (with the exception of Stan Lee’s Comikazi/Comic Con). So, I figure why not go, meet people. If you apply ahead of time, you can get in, and I can drive back and forth or crash at a friend’s house and make a weekend of it.
With that touching backstory in mind, let’s talk about my thoughts on Conventions:
#1 People aren’t there to see you.
There are a few people who specifically come to be nice and support indie comics and/or want to buy an indie comic from the next Robert Kirkman.
But… for the most part, people are there to buy toys, dress up, see celebrity guests, and be seen. And that is totally cool. The thought and care that people put into their costumes is really something. I also love that families come out in costume and walk around the floor.
In the scheme of things, I am new to comics. But… I feel like there are a lot of leftover ideas in comics. Maybe conventions were the way to do it, back in the day (you know before the internet). But nowadays, it seems that comic conventions, while they have become bigger (more of them, more attendees), have become something besides comic conventions. They are no longer the place to just sell comics.
So, keep that in mind. Keep expectations low.
#2 People Don’t Want to Stop at your Booth
It’s kinda true. People walk down the center of the aisle looking at the booths with a hasty distance. They want to look, not be bothered, and stop when they feel like it. So, unless you have a cool piece of fan art from a character they love, they’re probably not going to think anything about your booth other than: “oh that’s cute.”
So, you have to engage with them. At cons, in my opinion, it’s easy. You just talk to them about your costume. I spent the whole day going, “Oh, I love Spirited Away” or calling out a costume “Hey No-Face” and then they love that you acknowledged them.
You see, their costume, is THEIR BOOTH. They want to be acknowledged just as much as you. So, I often would engage with people about their costume, they would step over and gab about what they were doing. And then the minute there was a lull, I would either:
- Go into my pitch
- Or hand them a flyer (because I could tell they were itching to leave)
My pitch was, “well we’re the monster booth.” And then I would gesture to my table with my book and Dan’s book. I would pitch Dan’s book, and then Pitch my book. “We have Donuts and Dinosaurs, and Monsters in Middle School.”
Then they would go, “oh cool.”
Then I would detail the pitch a little more — depending on what one they were looking at. If they were looking at mine, I would say: “Peter starts a new Middle School full of Monsters… because we all know Middle School is full of Monsters.”
And then I would kind of say the last part dead pan and look at them, so they know it’s a joke – and then they would go, “oh yeah that’s true” or laugh, etc.
Then I would say, “here go ahead and flip through it.”
That’s it. Once they’re flipping through the comic, I just make idle banter like. “So, how’s the convention so far?” Or “anything I should go check out? What’s good, we’re stuck here behind the table.?
Does two things:
- It engages them in a safe way. Now you’re just a couple of fans talking, and he or she happens to be holding your book.
- It kind of makes them a co-conspirator. By asking them what’s good, asking them to report back if there’s anything cool because you’re stuck behind the table, it’s a fun way to engage. Suddenly you’re kind of mini-con pals. Like, hey what’s good, what should I look at?
After that, they’re either going to buy the book, or they’re not. I’d say one in ten come and stop by when I engage in them, and one in 5 or one in 10 buy the book after looking at it.
#3 Selling Comics is completely different than making comics
It’s easy to get discouraged. Especially if you’re like, oh I’ve spent years working on this comic, now no one is buying it. Well, it’s going to take years to sell it. That whole bit about making a table and engaging with people as they walk by — that is a completely different skillset than drawing decent panels.
You might be the greatest boyfriend or girlfriend in the world, but that skillset is very different from going out and hitting on a girl or engaging with a guy at a bar.
Which is basically what a con is. This is not networking, this is not a friend’s dinner party. This is going to a bar, and hitting on girl after girl after girl.
The good thing is, once you look at it like that, it’s just a matter of numbers. It feels more in your control.
#4 It’s all who you know
This year, I had several people who knew me from before. One guy actually bought my mini comic, “To Catch a Tooth” 4 years earlier. But, now I had a new book, so he bought that one.
Some other people I knew from classes I took at Meltdown Univeristy.
Another guy I knew from a signing I did in Ventura at Hypno Comics.
So… it adds up. The more you go, the more people will see you. And if you have a new book, then it’s an easy sell for the next one.
#5 One Gym Visit doesn’t make you healthy
Making comics, selling comics. It’s about deciding, I’m the kind of person who goes to the gym on a regular basis… or I’m the kind of person who puts up a page a week… or I’m the kind of person who goes to two cons a year and gets as many signings at stores and various locations that I can.
It’s not about that specific convention. Sure, it’s nice to make money. But it’s about deciding on a lifestyle, a way of being.
I had a friend tell me, one play doesn’t make a theatre company. You don’t form a theatre company and put up one play and expect to be successful. You don’t play at one bar for one night as a band, and expect to get big. There is a long slog. But, if you acknowledge this as part of who you are, it’s better.
What about You?
What are your con experiences? What do you think?