By Jesse Rubenfeld
First off, I want you all to know that I am writing this a bit out of order. Originally I was going to talk to you about promotion of your comic project. I was going to discuss the greatness of making a website, talking on comic forums, and eventually talk about what I feel is probably the most important form of promotion around for comics. Comic Conventions! This was always going to be a separate article, but I figure with C2E2 being this weekend, it was a prime opportunity to talk about it.
Comic conventions are wonderful places where industry pros meet up with the fans of comics. If you are at all a fan of comics, chances are you have attended one of these shows in the past, so you have some idea of what they are like. Crowds of people, all looking around for something that makes them happy; whether that be an action figure, a signed copy of the latest Action Comics, or some new book to try out and fall in love with. That last one should kinda be the one you should pay attention to. People come to comic conventions to find comics, and now, you make comics! Perfect!
So, how do you go about setting up at your first show? How should you behave to potential customers? What do you bring? What else can you sell?
First off, figure out what convention should be your first show. I recommend trying something close to home, as it will be less of an investment on your part to start off with. Once you get the hang of things, you will find yourself willing to travel further to these shows, but first off, I recommend trying to avoid hotel costs, and that sort of thing. Check out the convention's website, usually they have a forms section for pros to find contracts and such to fill out to get a table. Most convention tables will run you a couple of hundred bucks. If the website has no forms, chances are there will be a "contact us" section so you can start a dialogue with them that way.
Once it's official, it's time to prepare what your table is going to look like. Most tables are 2ft by 8ft, and usually come covered in a plastic table cloth with two chairs. Oh, almost forgot; do not do a convention by yourself if you can help it, having an assistant can be a life saver during the long hours of a show. They can cover for you if you need to use the bathroom, or if you are talking to another fan, and they can go get stuff for you like food or a drink when you need it. Ok, first off, go get a tablecloth, almost all the pros cover that cheap plastic one with something a little more stylish. Business cards are another must for a convention. You can get a thousand of 'em for under $20 (I get mine from gotprint.com) Make sure you have at the very least your name and email address on them, website too if you have one (more on websites next time) and it's up to you if you want your fans to have your phone number (I use my google voice number, so my personal number is still private). Business cards are essential for networking at conventions. Meeting and getting to know other professionals is a big part of these shows. You want to make yourself more visible at a show, so I also recommend getting a banner printed to place behind your table, retractable banners are all the rage these days, I bought mine from Imphotographics.com, but you can find other sources like ebay sellers that make them. Obviously you will also want to bring your book to sell. Keep track of every cent you spend and earn at these conventions, eventually you will want this info for taxes when you really make your new career official.
Now chances are, you will most likely lose money at your first show. And I have stated this before, if you are in this for the money, you are barking up the wrong tree. Now, with that in mind, there are plenty of other items that you can sell that are comic related that can help maximize your profits. My biggest seller is prints, (I get mine printed up from Rink printinG http://www.rinkprinting.com/art/comics/rink_comics.html Tell the comic guy, Terry Huddleson, that I sent you) but other options are bookmarks, trading cards or sketch cards, buttons, t-shirts, and original art. Lost of people will want "convention sketches" from you, when asked for a price I usually ask them what they are willing to pay for one. Since a lot of people come just to look and don't have much money, I usually have something for free at my table too.
Now on how to hold yourself at a show. First off, dress up a little bit. Leave the ratty t-shirt at home, and wear something a little more presentable. Remember, people are going to be looking at you like a pro, so look like one! Next, to quote Will Weaton: Don't be a Dick! These are your potential fans and customers, so be grateful that they are giving you the time of day. Talk to them, be friendly, and don't talk down to them. If someone buys something from me, I try to become their friend. They are helping me continue to have comics as a career, so I try to get to know them better. From experience I find that there are really 2 types of potential customers at cons: those that want to talk to the pros, and those who want to be more of a fly on the wall and observe. I cannot really tell you how to tell the difference, so all I can say is be prepared for both. I try to say hi to everyone who makes eye contact with me, if they say hi back, I continue some small talk (but I try to let them look at my stuff too). If they don't really say anything in return, I try to still be nice to them, but I usually go to plan B, which is working on some kind of unfinished artwork. Some people really like to watch an artist at work, and some are just shy and want to look and not be hounded by the artist or writer. As you continue to do shows, you will find you will have a few returning fans. These are the fans that you want to really get close to. I know most of my returning fans by name, and at the very least know what they bought last time they came by. If they come by time and time again, I try to find them on Facebook and friend them there. Finding people that enjoy my work is the greatest joy for me, so I want to keep them close to me.
As I said before comic cons are really the best place for networking. I tend to stay behind my table almost all weekend, so I try to go around in the morning before the show officially opens, and a bit on the last day of the show to meet and talk with other professionals. There is also usually some sort of after party or event that happens after a show is over on the Friday or Saturday. There is usually a lot of drinking involved, but it can also be a great time to actually sit down with other pros and get to know them (who knows you may make a connection that will get you some work later on)
Lastly, I want to leave you with an actual list of things you should bring to a show. Some brief explanations may follow certain items. I will include the items that we already discussed on the list too, so you could use this as a checklist for your first show if you want.
- Business Cards
- Tape (packing, duct, scotch, etc) for last minute hanging of things
- Twine or String to secure things that may end up toppling over like easels etc
- Mini Easels. Great to prop up books and artwork
- Scissors and/or a pocket knife
- Painkillers (whatever your favorite is)
- A healthy snack with protein (granola or a jar of PB with crackers) Con food can get expensive
- Something to hold your money (I use an envelope, cash boxes can be a bit bulky)
- Layers of clothing (cons can get very hot or cold depending on your location and the amount of people there
- A record book to keep track of your sales
- Scrap paper for last minute signs, Post-its work great too
- Pencils, pens, and art supplies to make art and sign stuff
- A phone for emergencies, to get in touch with your assistant, etc (I have a smart phone so I can look up things on the internet for reference for sketches, and so I can accept credit cards using Square www.squareup.com)
- Hand Sanitizer
- a refillable water bottle
- Plastic bags for merchandise and your trash
- It's also a good idea to have some sort of sign that has your prices laid out
Thanks to the folks on the Whitechapel Forums for helping me make this list a bit more complete.
Alright! Next up on Fan2Pro, more on Promotion!
A Student of the great Scott McCloud, Jesse Rubenfeld is the artist/writer of Tool Publication's comic series Into the Dust, a gritty realistic version of Wizard of Oz set in 1964 on Route 66. Jesse has also done artwork for international publications on topics such as nursing, performance, and magic tricks. Recently, Jesse has gotten into the habit of parodying famous works of art and other images, using familiar characters from popular culture like the Muppets, Superpets, and Nintendo characters
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