I realize, for those of you who are hundreds of miles away from the nearest convention, an article like this may make you insanely jealous. I am quite lucky to live where I do. The upper east coast is LITTERED with conventions big and small, along with book fairs, art festivals, craft shows, sci-fi and similarly-themed shows, and more. I have a plethora of options available to me, and each year try to reach out beyond comic cons to search out a different audience. This year, I have added an arts festival, an anime convention, and (hopefully) a sci-fi convention. Yep, there are OTHER options outside of comic cons to promote your work, see THIS older article for ideas. But, for the purposes of this article, I am reviewing the comic cons I have done. Mind you, these report cards ONLY reflect MY OWN experiences there. Others may have had a better, or worst experience, and I encourage further reviews in the comments. One type of artist/creator may do well at a show, and another may poorly at the very same show. So, if you happen to have a cute, humorous comic strip that’s kid-friendly yet still sophisticated enough to draw adult readers…. you just might have the same experience at these cons in the future. But even then, things like placement and economy can affect sales and exposure, too…. but at least you have have some odds in your favor!
My first ever anime convention. Nope, my comic is not in any way manga, or even anime-influenced… but almost any comics-related show is worth a try! Right next to Chris Flick (which is becoming quite the “norm” lately), we represented the Alliance and our own brands too.
By far, the ratio of cosplayers vs. non-cosplayers blew any other comic con out of the water. Far MORE were dressed up, and it wasn’t necessarily anime/manga characters. Webcomics were very much welcomed and recognized. The massive hotel that housed the event was like nothing I have seen: an indoor city, complete with trees, shops, mini-buildings and walkways. The ballrooms were divided up into the merch room and the creators/artist alley room. This was a 3-day party… some events never closing, a DJ and clubbing room going through the wee hours. It was a comic con with a 3-day music festival feel to it.
I did well enough to make the show worthwhile, but not so worthwhile to return next year. My demographic wasn’t well-represented, and too many people simply liked to browse. But hey, I tried an anime convention!
A small show run by the podcast show CGS, this show definitely had a “lets get our friends together and have a fun comic con” feel to it. Some of us felt like we crashed a party by having a table there. The attendance was disappointing, considering past shows had seemingly drew a larger crowd. The venue was hard to find and didn’t have enough signage. The show didn’t seem to be very well promoted over all. Despite all this, I managed to earn enough to make the show a “success” financially, mainly because the expense was minor. The only real reason I would consider this show again is because its only an hour from my house.
The good news with these smaller shows is you have the time and space to have a more intimate interaction with potential readers. They really get to meet YOU, beyond the pitch and your work. Since this show, I have had many repeat customers I met here who found me at other local shows near Philly, bought more books or merch… so this show was not a complete waste of time by any means. A good “starter” con I probably have out-grown.
The name aptly describes the entire experience for me. A first-year con run by Ben Penrod, a passionate and business-savvy comics fan, it blew the hype out of the water. It was a great size- that elusive balance that’s not overwhelming, but you definitely get a bang for your buck. The crowds were the same; VERY well-attended but not so jammed the enjoyment of wandering the convention is hindered. Best of all, people were BUYING. A lot. It was like the people of DC proper were just waiting all these years for a comic book convention so they could spend their savings. This was the show where I finally got up the nerve to get involved in a fun game-show panel for kids, Mark Mariano’s Doodle Scribble Draw… which was a LOT of fun and drove traffic to my table afterwards too! I don’t recall volunteers or staff asking if we needed anything, not that I did… but it certainly was well-run. I only rated the networking aspect as “meh” because I had NO TIME… the sales were coming left, right and center and I didn’t get a moment’s break. Put it this way: In just 2 days, I earned what I did from my usual #1 convention, which is FOUR days. Highly, highly recommended.
Sidenote: Ben has taken a clever and creative approach to next year’s Awesome Con… Kickstarter. It’s already fully funded, raising over $50k, and the clever part was artists were allowed to “donate” by signing up in advance for a table (at a discount!) Awesome Con 2014 should be even better!
I knew going into this show that it was going to be a smaller event. It didn’t cost a lot to reserve a table… but in the end I didn’t earn a ton from it. Staying with a friend in Manhattan offset some costs, which is what kept it a financial success. It is a kid-centric show which is great for me, but the crowds were sparse and most families were just scoping out free stuff to take home. The guys who started up and run the show were super helpful and friendly, it’s a close-knit type show, where everyone introduces you to everyone else, and you have a chance to network. What would keep me from doing it next year is simply the hassle of driving to and from NYC. And that simple expense: tolls, gas and overnight parking in Manhattan… is enough to tip the scales for me.
I know, I know. I hear all about how poorly other Wizard shows are for artists. How it’s not even a comic book show, but a B-celeb and autograph pop culture show. It is, I agree. However, for whatever the reason, this is consistently my best show financially. I think I have 2 things in my favor: this show boasts a LOT of families/kids (and runs some inclusive activities on Kids Sunday), and it’s my “home” show. One thing that made me happy this year was the rearrangement of the show floor. Instead of burying artist alley in the back, the autographs and celeb section was pushed back there. The crowds had to walk through AA to get to see/stand in line for the big shots. The volunteers were VERY attentive, dropping by twice a day or so, asking what I needed. One complaint: I had asked multiple times to be apart of the kids day activities, yet was ignored. For the second year. But I make lemonade: since I wasn’t put on the scavenger hunt list of kid-friendly artists, I tracked down the organizer, demanded a stamp, and made a BIG “Kids Day Stamps!” sign. I will not be denied my traffic!
This is an ode to how awesome small local shows can be. My little town’s library has a young comic-lover events planner. She decided to start up a library comic con, in the basement of the the library. Judging from the turn-out, I’m not sure if the library could host it next year! A whopping dozen of us artists and guests drew a huge crowd and press attention! There was even a bunch of panels in a make-shift area, microphones, videos and all. Volunteers were abundant and helpful. The kids submitted their own superhero drawings to be voted on, with raffle prizes. It was all-out ADORABLE! The earnings were pretty good for a tiny shows well. This is a perfect example for those who don’t have a big comic con in their area; talk to libraries, small book stores, event managers… a little bit of work and promotion and you could be involved with starting up a local show!
This was my second year doing this show. Truly, the best hotel show I have seen. Practically taking over every nook and cranny of the hotels ballrooms, conference rooms, with even the cafeteria getting involved with comic-themed menu items, it’s a funhouse comic con in the comfort of a hotel. The organizer himself showed me to my table, and the show went smoothly. The crowds lined up down the street to get in for this one-day 10+ hour show, tons of families and costumes and excitement. While the earnings weren’t tremendous, they easily paid off the table and travel. I like this show mainly because it’s FUN, and is an opportunity to network with fellow creators north of NYC, a rarity for me. Any hey, I had the easy opportunity to meet the voice of Lion-O, Larry Kenny, by simply walking around the corner to his table. On the downside, I found out from other creators that there were “good rooms” and “bad rooms” and I happened to be in one of the “good” ones that got more traffic. So, sometimes the funhouse wasn’t that much fun– placement can make or break this show.
Much like the Philly Wizard World show, this is a staple for me. I’ll do it every year. I have so many contacts in the area, places to crash, and the convention center being right on Inner Harbor makes the whole experience a lot of fun. Usually a 2-day show (next year it’s expanding to 3) the attendance is solid, never uncomfortably packed and the pace of the crowd is perfect: browsing, meandering, upbeat and open-minded. I did exceptionally well this year, and I think I know why. #1. Along with Chris Flick and Lilith Dark’s Charlie Dowd, we split 4 six foot tables 3-ways, so we each got an expansive 8 foot space each. Plus, in dealing with the same contact over the course of 4 years, our group landed a good spot, facing out towards the main show floor and (for me) right near the Kids Love Comics section, which I may actually try out next year. One thing to note about the floor layout however: some of the AA tables lined the main show floor and I RARELY hear that any artists stuck there do very well. This ties to my theory that there are 2 different mindsets at a comic con, discussed below. Baltimore is known as the “Antidote to SDCC” because it is STRICTLY comics-related. The headline is always Stan Lee and other comic artists, not some TV or movie star. This definitely aids us aspiring creators, since people are there FOR comics, to discover new stuff, not to stand in line for 3 hours to get an autograph. The panels, costume contests and overall experience is just fantastic.
It’s pretty much official at this point: NYCC is the San Diego of the east. And I’m not sure I’ll be going back as an exhibitor. There is such a thing as a con that has out-grown the indie artist. Boasting 150,000+, all 4 days were swamped, Saturday and Sunday out-right INSANE. For how expensive NYC is, the attendees sure were broke. $10 prints were too much to ask, and without a little note attached to my tip jar, all I would get was pennies for my buttons (really? REALLY?). Every sale had to be a knock-down, drag-out battle. Despite the fact that I didn’t make a profit, I had a blast with friends and fellow-creators. A drink-and-draw after event proved to be a highlight, hanging with Grand PooBah Byron was great, and when possible I networked with publishers and submitted my books. I think NYCC may deserve an entire article in itself, but I’ll try to bullet-point some closing thoughts:
- Byron and I were in small press, under the Alliance, we would have done better in Artist Alley but we were rejected along with about everyone else we know in our circles. The jury for AA acceptance has gotten a lot more stingy, and they seem to stick with the mainstream artists over indie more and more.
- There is definitely 2 different mindsets at a comic con. The main showfloor is for the things you already know and love (“Look- Hult tshirts! Hulk plushes! Hulk mugs!”). Artist Alley forces you to look for new things, with a style you like, where you buy new comics or commissions, meet the actual artists. Small Press section is similar, but without the direct contact with the artists usually. Being that we were along the outside of Small Press, but right across from Marvel, we often had to explain who we are, what we do, and sometimes why were weren’t in artist alley.
- In NYC, with the accommodations, the food, the tolls, gas and everything else, making a profit off a con that charges nearly a grand for a booth and $600 for an AA table is always going to be difficult. Networking and fun needs to be apart of the package in terms of goals.
- Hotel rooms start at $300 a night in NYC. But, there’s other options. Rent-by-owner apartments, if you pack in a bunch of friends, utilizing a pull-out couch and maybe an air mattress, can cut your cost by 2/3rds. Plus, having a full kitchen & fridge is quiet helpful for making sandwiches for lunch, or cereal for breakfast.
- I really had to be open to new things in terms of selling my work. My prints of recognizable characters (Ghostbusters, Big bang Theory, Avengers, etc) saved my butt. The humor and style drew people in, and I was able to sell books if I offered a print for free. Many spur of the moment signs were made, table rearranged, pitched altered. Sunday proved to be the best day as people were buying (finally) and there were more kids.
- There is such a thing as TOO much foot traffic. When stopping at a table means you get mowed over by the crowd pushing behind you, you don’t even have the option to stop really.
- Marvel did a GREAT job of keeping their lines wrapped around their booth and not blocking the aisle or our booths. But we didn’t get away scott-free either. At the end of each show day, the last hour was madness as Marvel tossed out giveaways to the hungry-for-free-stuff masses. This also entailed blaring music, screaming, and absolutely no traffic for the booths across the way, looking sad and neglected. We stared at the back of a lot of people’s heads.
- In the end, unless I find a way to both get into Artist Alley and cut even more expenses, NYCC will have to be a weekend vacation to see friends and maybe network a little. It’s simply too expensive and overwhelmingly crowded to earn enough back, even in 4 days. Maybe I’m too much of a small-fry, maybe Marvel/DC are just too big, or maybe there’s just too many dang people and things to see. We felt like ants competing with grasshoppers… and unlike that Pixar movie… there’s FAR more grasshoppers to keep the ants in line.
NYCC was my last “real” comic con for 2013 (unless I stumble on another, not unlikely). As we enter the later autumn months, I am staring down a sci-fi show, a comics-based First Friday art show and the sporadic holiday craft shows. Which can be hit-or-miss…. hopefully I earn a chunk more from those and make 2013 an even bigger SUCCESS than it already has been. Each year, I am further and further into “the black” and making a profit at all is a great first step. After that it’s tweaking and trying new things..while still endlessly searching out your elusive potential audience. Trying to determine who they are and where they go is an ongoing battle that will never end… which is why you just have to LOVE the ride!
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Dawn Griffin is a self-described “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her high school years either playing street ball, 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 the illustrator of the Abby’s Adventures kids book series. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.