Have you started mapping out your convention schedule yet for this year? I’ve been frantically booking tables, Air BnB rentals, texting/emailing friends about new shows until… they aren’t my friends anymore, and over-analyzing which shows I should skip and which I should attend.
Over the past 7 years of doing these shows, I can only give the most basic, somewhat vague advice:
- It’s rare that a show is ALWAYS good. Give close ones a couple chances. Also, it’s rare that a show is good/bad for every person who exhibited.
- A cheap, small show may be more cost effective than a huge 3-4 day show that asks $400+.
- Finding that elusive comic-reader, indie-supporting crowd is an ongoing challenge. Some shows will cater to the “casual” fans who will spend on fanart & merch, but ignore the indie/lesser-known comics. Look at their guest list and past floor-plans to get a feel for the artist/celeb/merch/cosplay ratio.
- Pay attention to the neighborhood the show is in. Not that you have to stick to the wealthiest cities, but if in a struggling area it’s more likely you’ll get attendees looking for cosplay pics & free stuff, with little to spend. Also consider the ticket price!
- Look, it’s all a crapshoot. You cannot predict which new shows will take off, and if that terrific show last year will repeat itself this year. There’s just too many factors in play: table location, economics, geography, timing, etc.
Dawn’s 2015 Convention Report Card!
Lets first review my grading categories:
- Attendance: Almost always a good show is dictated by turnout in attendance. Crowd flow & pacing (not too much or too little) plays a key factor as well.
- Expense vs. Profit: Did that attendance spend? Was the total profit worth the table cost? Usually, this is what it all comes down to.
- Organizers & Staff: From the moment you sign up for a convention, you should have some contact with the organizer. Volunteers to help you load in/out, and staff to answer questions during the show, are what make vendors & artists feel welcome and want to return!
- Floor Layout: The venue matters. It directs the crowd flow, and the organization and placement can make or break your sales.
- Crowd Enthusiasm: It’s not just the numbers, but the KINDS of numbers. How much did the attendees interact with exhibitors? Did they spend? Did they prefer fanart, plushies, t-shirts… or comics & commissions?
All of these things factor in to my final grade for a show. Mind you, a little disclaimer: Obviously, this is MY OWN review of each show. As stated above, others may have had a different experience. Other personal factors, like table location, demographic of the attendees, or ability to pitch & sell, can really affect the outcome. With that in mind, let us BEGIN!
- A first year show. Judging from others’ reactions, I did pretty well considering the smaller crowds.
- A good alternative to the over-blown Wizard World Philly. At an expo center with free, easy parking lot. These things matter when compared to the hassles of the city.
- The organizers left something to be desired. Any contact after signing up was like pulling teeth for many. Few volunteers. Basically a sign up, show up, do it yourself type show. However, squeaky wheels get the grease; this year the organizers are much more receptive, as I’m giving this one another chance.
- This was always my best show in the past. This year it took a tumble. But some factors may have contributed.
- Some other all-ages creators and I decided to try an experiment, and book a few booths together under a “Comics are for Everyone” brand focused on selling our books. We had a streamlined design, a prize wheel, and tons of enthusiasm. The end result: right idea, wrong show. Wizard Philly has become a pop culture show, with a strong focus on celebrities and catering to the casual comic-book-movie/tv show fans. We heard “I don’t read comics” more than we care to admit.
- Placement issues abounded. We booked, paid, and selected our placement in a timely manner. Then, without any warning, we showed up and found we were moved to the VERY far corner, next to the beer garden. Not ideal for a kids comics booth. So, we raised hell, and the Senior VP of relations himself ushered us to our “newest location”, which turned out to be exactly where we specified originally.
- If you’re were curious how the prize wheel went over… well, depends on who is answered. The attendees loved it. Us, not so much. It was a necessary evil however, and it would magically attract crowds instantaneously. We had to put it away to get a break sometimes.
- From what I heard from most friends in artist alley, the layout was causing all sorts of issues. In the last couple years, Wizard has arranged this very wide showfloor in a way that hinders the artists, with AA shoved off to the side. The crowds dissipate quickly approaching artist alley, and are usually exiting the show by the time they get all the way over there. Some aisles even had long periods of being completely empty. Let’s just say I’m kind of happy Awesome Con DC is scheduled the same weekend as Wizard Philly this year, so I don’t have to deal with it.
- Speaking of Awesome…. yet again, Awesome Con’s 3rd year was pretty solid. The layout is key, in my opinion, as it’s not too narrow or too wide a show room, lending itself to wandering and seeing a bulk of the floor. Artist Alley isn’t in the back or shoved off to the side, but in the middle between the vendors and the celebrities, forcing crowds to wade through on their way to see the famous people.
- Again in the kids section, I was in a great area full of parents and kids looking for family-friendly comics, but since it was right in the front of artist alley, I also got a lot of non-ki traffic too, buying up my prints/coasters.
- I know the organizers well enough at this point, this show feels like home. A great success story of a guy who ran smaller shows, and this one in DC proper blew up fast and became a a huge competitor to the local Wizard shows…. but the artists and comics are still a major player in the experience.
- Ahh, Baltimore. You never do me wrong. A consistent show to say the least.
- It’s grown over the last few years but within reason. Now in the basement of the convention center, the waiting for an elevator (or trying to haul your stuff on the escalator, as I bravely did) gets to be a hassle.
- Layout is similar to Awesome Con, right down to the Kids section. No tv/movie celebs to contend with, this show is all about COMICS. Always has been.
- My best show financially in 2015, and record-breaking for this show overall. Need I say more?
- Little local show, run by a little local comic shop which is also a little local publisher…. with some big books under it’s wing.
- The festival takes place in the historical Rotunda…. which is crumbling & lacking in heat, but a really aesthetically interesting backdrop for a show. Wish it was in September instead of late October. I was frozen by the end of it.
- It was actually on Halloween itself which probably lead to smaller crowds.
- While I sold to a few excited families and chatted up others, for the most part the attendees were just browsing and hanging out, little money to buy anything. The organizers and volunteers were more enthusiastic than the attendees! So much so that despite it not earning me a ton, I wanna go back if it fits in my schedule. Good people.
- The comic shop recently closed, but the publishing aspect to their brand remains in tact and the festival will be an annual thing!
A Summary of Other Events:
- Arts/Music/Crafts Festivals: typically successful, enthusiastic, and a lot of extra work with having to bring/set up the tend/tables/chairs. Locals get very excited to meet an artist-author.
- Library Kids Comic Cons: SUPER enthusiastic. Parents and kids looking for comics and to meet local artists. Some are aspiring cartoonists too! A lotta fun and quite profitable.
- Holiday Craft Shows: A complete crapshoot. Best I can offer is that the bigger ones tend to bring in more sales, without costing too much more. Looks for the biggest in your area.
Year in Review: 2015
Despite not all the shows being “gangbusters” for me, and all the work I squeezed in for my Kickstarter and the final Zorphbert & Fred volume, I managed to beat my previous record and have the best year financially of my career. I think most of this is due to experience and being more selective about the shows I do. For instance, I have deemed New York Comic Con too lopsided in the expense vs. profit column to warrant going. I stick to reasonably priced shows, or shows that are proven profitable for myself, near friends I can crash with or cheap rentals from services like Air BnB.
I also debuted my coaster line which sold exceptionally well, coming close but not surpassing, my book sales. Also, any time you release a new book in a series, it’ll add to sales to your past customers, and only adds further credibility to your brand. Z&F Volume 4 added a little push at the end.
Want to Review These Shows as Well?
You can see your peer’s grades HERE.
Dawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.