My Convention Table Set-up

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Over the years since I started Capes & Babes and began attending conventions, I’ve been very fortunate to receive many great compliments about my table set-up. I’d like to think part of that is due to my extensive graphic design background. In any case, there’s a lot of thought and planning that goes into setting up one’s table at a convention and I thought it might be fin to show you almost the step-by-step process I go through for most of the shows I attend.

I say that because every show is different – sometimes, you’ll have an end table… other times, you might be placed in a corner or you might be in the middle of an open island surrounded by other creators. In the end, you have to be flexible and able to modify your table set-up on the fly.

The following photos were taken during my set-up process for the two-day Allentown Comic Con I attended a few months ago in Allentown, Pennsylvania. For the most part, this is generally the table set-up process I go through for almost every show I attend.

Step1aMy main convention set-up consists of:

  • A 48” Rubbermaid tub
  • A smaller Rubbermaid tub
  • A compact, sturdy dolly
  • Two travel suitcases
  • A small fold-up table
  • A five foot tall fold-up stand-up of my werewolf character, Roy (not shown)

The 48” Rubbermaid tub contains 90% of all of my convention supplies. The smaller tub contains book displays and other materials for my table. One of the two suitcases contains all of my art supplies – mainly design markers for doing commissions. The other suitcase I use for books. The dolly has a handle that can be adjusted to fit as an elongated L (pictured) or remain as a vertical dolly. I found the pictured dolly online for around $50 a few years ago.

steps1-5

The first thing I do is cover up my table with two sheets – one is a black bed sheet and the other is a smaller red table cloth. I lay the black sheet down fist and put the red table cloth in the middle like a fancy racing stripe. I chose black and red because, traditionally, black and red are the two strongest colors in design and gives the table a bold look.

To help with transportation, my book suitcase can easily fit inside the 48” Rubbermaid tub. If I have extra books, boxes, postcards or anything of that nature, they can fit in the tub as well.

The smaller tub contains a plastic milk crate I use to prop up my sketch card display. Once I put my black and red table drapery over my convention table, I unload everything as I find that makes for a faster set up process and keeps the set up process from becoming too chaotic.

steps6-9

Usually, the first process is to organize the books. The book displays were bought from a local Borders as they were closing their store. I got four for $5 a piece. One broke so now I only have three. Sometimes, the book display will be on the far right or, in the case of the Allentown show, they’ll be placed on the far left.

steps16-19

Once the books are set up, I’ll move to the middle of the table and set up my display for commissions. After that, I’ll set up my sketch card display board. Because I sell a wide range of stuff at a convention, I try to organize my table into thirds: 1/3 of the table will be Books and Capes & babes related material, the middle third will be commissions and the last third will be sketch cards.

I do my best to try and maintain this concept but sometimes that’s not always possible. Again, you have to be flexible and willing to change your set-up on the fly.

steps10-13

steps14-15

After the top of the table is set up, I will then add my front table banner. The banner is a heavy, glossy vinyl banner I got printed at www.gotprint.com ($20) so I need to add it last – otherwise, the weight of the banner will cause the red and black sheets to slide off the table. I also have the banner secured with red duct tape. I use red duct tape so it blends in with the red table cloth.

To keep the banner straight – and to add some bottom weight – I bought a bunch of round heavy magnets from an office supply chain. I put two sets of magnets in front and behind the black bed sheet to add weight and to keep it flat against the table drapery.

Speaking of table drapery, I like to have both sheet cover as much of the front and sides of the table as possible. I don’t like anyone to have a view of what’s underneath my table as it can get messy or chaotic under there during a show. Keeping that hidden from people makes my table area look clean and organized even if it’s anything but! Also, some shows might already supply your table with a “skirt”. When that happens, I immediately remove the supplied “skirt” and replace it with my red and black sheets as I want to maintain a consistent look from show to show and I just think the red and black make the table stand out more than a single color “skirt”.

steps20-24

Once the front table banner is secured, I will then go to work on setting up Roy. Even though Roy is a foldable stand-up, I had to make a customized stand for him and that takes a few minutes to set-up properly. Once I have finished with Roy, I put him on the small foldable table in order to make him taller and stand out even more in a crowded convention floor.

Once all of this is done, I set up my pull-up banner, my banner is only 30 or so inches tall but to make it seem bigger, I put it on top of the smaller Rubbermaid tub and position it behind my table.

Also, not shown in any of these photos is the fact that I’ve also made it a habit of bringing two t-shirts to a show. Because the whole process I described above can be somewhat labor intensive, it can make me perspire quite a bit so once the set-up is complete, I’ll change t-shirts and then put on my Capes & Babes bowling shirt.

All in all, the entire process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour – that’s why it’s always important to get to a convention as early as possible. Even though I have my set-up process down pretty good, I still like to have at least an hour for set-up time before a show starts.

And now you know why!

Step24

Here is a gallery of larger versions of all the pictures in the blog post above:

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Posted in Business, Conventions, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Site News and tagged , .

23 Comments

    • Thanks, Melinda. I plan on doing a follow-article on just my sketch card displays at some point in the future. Glad you found my article very useful. It took a while to go through and organize all of the photos I took at Allentown in the correct step-by-step order and to try and figure out a way to make the article easy to read without inundating you all with tons of photos! 🙂

    • Rich, I got the banner from a guy who advertises them on ebay. I’ll have to check my bookmarks when I get home to see what the name of his company is.

      For my Roy stand-up, I got it made by a guy in Ohio. The print job is really nice and it’s pretty sweet that it folds in half but I wasn’t happy with the stand that came with it so i ended up taking it apart and building my own out of foam core and some medium size wood rods I got at Micheal’s Arts & Crafts.

      The stand-up was $90 but after buying the materials for my make-it-yourself stand, that was another $15-20 or so. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gone with a company in Florida that was going to do my stand for $150 (free shipping and handling).

      • Thanks so much Chris, I appreciate it! I’m gearing up for my first Con, nervous AND excited for it! I need all the advice I can get! Thanks again!

  1. Great piece, thanks Chris.

    Two observations:
    1) I guess the goal is to haul everything in in one trip… and then the reverse when you break down(?). Is that your practice.
    2) There’s a Capes & Babes bowling shirt!

    • Hey Tim, thanks for the compliments on the article. Okay, here are the answers to your observations:

      1) For some of the smaller shows I go to, you can generally park in walking distance to the showroom floor but for the bigger shows like Heroes Con and Baltimore Comic Con, sometimes you may have to park several blocks away from where ever the show is being held. And, when you’re a one-man operation like myself, I don’t have the time or resources to make several trips back and forth from convention to car so I try to consolidate everything as much as possible.

      Since I know you’re a musician, it’s kind of like hauling all of your musical gear to a gig. The better you pack, the easier it is to get to a show, set up, start playing and get out as fast as you can once the show is over. 🙂

      2) Yeah, there’s a Capes & Babes bowling shirt – but there’s only one! For all the shows, I wear a black and white bowling shirt with my name embroidered in the front and my Capes & Babes logo silk-screened on the back.

      I got the bowling shirt at http://www.bowlingshirts.com (great prices!) and my friend who is a silk-screener did the logo on the back for me in exchange for some graphic design and web work I did for him.

    • I have been seeing people use magnets for a lot of table set-up stuff. Brittney & Eric of Snow By Night have collapsible plastic cubes with thin surfaces, and use tiny-yet-strong magnets instead of clips to hang up their prints— no damage to the print!

      • Those stinkin’ Snow By Night THIEVES!!!!

        I kid! I kid! Eric and Brittney are good people and I think i suggested that idea to them a long time ago. of course, with the wire frame boxes, it’s a no brainer.

        But Carlo… for my next show, I’m going to be trying something different. Instead of putting my Capes & Babes front table banner up, I’m going to get 11×17″ prints made of my favorite commissions I’ve done over the years and put them up as a way to maybe attract more eyeballs with original art. That show is March 9th, 2013. I’ll let you guys know how it goes…

        • Who are you callin’ stinky? Thief is dead on. I totally cribbed off your table set-up. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

          The storage cubes work really well for us. They are lightweight and all come apart, making them easy to transport. I’m of two minds on the plastic book stands. They break so easily and they don’t collapse. If I had hardcover books, I would use folding metal picture stands that you can buy at art and crafts stores/

          • Well, when I played ball, my nickname WAS Pigpen due to the fact that my uniform was rarely clean – so I guess I don’t have much room to talk. LOL!

            But yeah, I welcome anyone to become “inspired” by whatever they see on my table because the dirty little secret is… I do it too! 🙂

            When I was first starting out doing conventions, I actually used to take pictures of other people’s tables so I could remember the cool ideas I thought they’d have. Not all of their ideas fit what I had – you have to customize your own table – but those photos used to spark some great ideas for me though.

    • Hey Kim… thanks for the compliments. Really glad I could be of help – or at least give you some ideas when you start going to conventions.

      Don’t think you have to do everything I ma doing right off the bat though. I built a lot of my stuff up a little at a time or added something new each year until I got to the point where I am now.

      Good luck though. 🙂

  2. Hey Chris-

    I’m going to be doing my first convention this fall and this has all been really helpful. I do have a question though… When it comes to making prints to sell, I noticed you had some DC characters in your book. What’s the current climate on that? I have a feeling doing some prints with established characters could help me sell or bring eyeballs to the table but in the wake of the whole Friedrich/Ghost Rider thing, I was wondering how that works at cons now. Advice?

    • Hey Bill…
      Glad you found this article helpful. Here’s what I can tell you about licensed characters and conventions – they are usually in two categories: 1) One-off commissions 2) Prints

      For One-Off commissions, I haven’t heard of anybody having any problems selling commissioned work of licensed characters. These are original pieces of work that aren’t massed produced.

      And although you can sometimes find artists who have massed produced prints of their own interpretations of licensed characters at various conventions, it doesn’t seem to be too big of a problem. I think the problem comes in to play when people try and make t-shirts and things like that. that’s when things get really tricky and complicated.

      For the most part, whet you will generally find is that artists will carefully select a few commissioned pieces they really like (and that they think will sell well) and have prints made of those pieces. They carefully select in order to keep costs down. That’s what I have done. I select about 5-10 commissions that people always comment about and I make about 10 prints each of those.

      Some artists will make more than that if they have the budge. For me, that gets in the really grey area because that’s bordering on “mass production” but they don’t seem to have any problems selling those prints.

      Also, my stuff leans more towards satire or parody – especially my mash-up commissioned pieces.

      It’s been a while since I read about the Friedrich/Ghost Rider thing but if memory serves, I believe part of the problem was Friedrich was claiming sole ownership of Ghost Rider when that wasn’t exactly 100% true, wasn’t he? Maybe someone can fill me in and refresh my memory about that. No one that I know that sells prints of their own work claims that they are the owner of Batman, Superman and so on.

      in fact, it gets even more complicated when you consider the fact that comic book companies mass produce “sketch covers” – comic books with blank covers – specifically so other artists can draw interpretations of their own company’s characters and then sell those books at shows. but again, that’s a one-off situation.

      In the end though, as one of my good friends who is a writer and a lawyer likes to remind me… anyone can be sued for anything. So you have to keep that in mind. Personally, I started tabling at shows in 2007 and I haven’t had any problems at all.

      Does that help at all?

    • Hey Bill… that’s a pretty wide-open question. I’m not sure i can give you a definitive answer without knowing more information.

      I can tell you what I did for my very first con though.

      Back in 2008, I only had 120 or so Capes & Babes strips done. I took the first 80 of those strips and made four individual mini-comic books (Vol. 1, 2, 3 & 4) and sold them for, I think $2.00 a piece.

      I had one generic t-shirt design that didn’t have anything to do with the comic. I had 25 of those shirts at various sizes and sold those for $12 a piece.

      And then I had my commissions. I was new to the scene so back in 2008, I did 9×12″ pencils for $5, Black & White for $15 and full color for $20.

      That’s basically all I had except for really nice, professionally printed postcards that I handed out like candy on Halloween.

      I’ve since expanded and tried different things – as I’ve written about here and talked about during our podcasts… things like buttons, 4×5″ prints, books and then, much, much later, sketch cards. It was by accident that i hit on the caricature sketch cards that I now do all the time.

      I also took photos of other people tables so i could get ideas for what I might want to do in the future. That helped me quite a bit later on down the road.

      I would say start conservative and then grow. Don’t be too disappointed if people don’t immediately flock to your table. What happens a lot is you sometimes have to go to the same show two, three or four times before you really begin to pick up a following. Once that happens, then you can start expanding into bigger and bigger things.

  3. Hi Chris!

    First off, this article was super helpful. Thanks for writing up your process so people can see. My boyfriend just got his first table at c2e2 and he’s pretty stoked. We were wondering at a con, when you are done for the day, do you pack up everything from the table to bring back the next day or do you leave it there? Obviously not leaving the cashbox there. We would appreciate your help!

    Thanks!

    • Hi Sam…
      Thanks for the great compliments on my convention set-up article. I am actually in the process of writing a more extensive and updated convention guideline book called “Conventional Wisdom”. It will soon be on sale at on my online store. I’ll post a link here when it’s 100% complete!

      But to answer your question:
      Unless you are at a show where your table is in an unsecured area, you won’t need to break down completely and do the set-up process all over again.
      There are some shows where the organizers offer tables for artists to set up in hotel lobby or hallway that are separate from the regular vendors area so your table would be exposed to the general public. In those cases, yeah, you do need to break down entirely and set-up all over again the next day.
      For 99% of the time, your table is usually in a secured room or area and locked up for the night. Big shows would have over-night security as well.

      Buuuut… that still doesn’t mean you should just leave everything “as is” at the end of a multi-day show. What most people do is that they bring some kind of drapery or covering to cover their table. If you have books, most people remove them and put them underneath their table. The same goes for almost all items on your table as well.

      What I do is I take everything that’s standing up and lay it flat on my table. I might stack my books on the table too. Sketch covers, postcards, portfolio… all of those get laid flat and then I cover everything up with a sheet. When I didn’t have an intricate table display, I got an elastic corner bed sheet and used the elastic corners to help secure everything underneath of it. No I just have a longer and larger bedsheet I just throw over everything once I have semi-broken down my table each night.

      The first day of your first multi-day show, you’ll get a feel for what everyone else is doing with their tables at the end of the day but definitely play on bringing and extra sheet to cover eberything up. And, as you said, some things are just logical like taking your cashbox and money with you, your back pack or cooler and anything else that IS valuable. All the other stuff like books and prints… IF something were to happen, you could easily replace those but not your iPad or laptop, for instance.

      The reason why you cover things up – even when the room is locked and there is over night security – usually the show room opens up real early the next morning for artists and vendors so you don’t want all of your stuff exposed to anyone that might get on the show room floor early, you know?

      Hope all of that answers your questions.

      And good luck at C2E2. Byron and Dawn have been at the show before and I hear it is a BLAST!!!

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