Reading the Fine Print

As comic creators, we’re much better at using pencils, pens and markers then we are at reading a contract.  If you’re like most people, you’ve been handed a multi-page document in which you signed your life away not really having completely read or understood the document’s intent.  Now, if you trust your cell phone provider, sign away.  If not, let’s take a lesson in reading the fine print.

Specifically, signing up for a Comic Convention. It is over whelming to say the least to sign up for your first convention.  What the hell is drayage and why is some union guy staring at me carrying in my own boxes?  You will find out the first time you do a Union Convention.  I have done a lot of trade show booth set ups.  I spent three years in a row participating in the set-up and “fine print” of doing a $150,000.00 booth in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcaster’s show, so I have a few insights on how to sign up for your first convention.

Recently, Dawn reported to me that at the 2010 New York Comic Convention, many booth owners were surprised to find out that NO tables were provided for booths.  This was a big change in how the show was handled.  The booth owner had to arrange to lease a table directly with the convention center itself and NOT the organizers.  I am sure this was in the contract, but just wasn’t obvious.  Seems like a stupid thing to ask “Hey, is a table included?” but now you will ask.  Which leads to…

Ask questions. If you don’t know what to ask, ask someone who does… like me!  And read.  Yeah, read.  It’s hard and a lot of things don’t make sense.  Most sales people will take the few minutes to explain the basics to you, so don’t hesitate to ask or think you’re annoying them… you may annoy them but they make money selling you space so they can answer your questions.  Ask.  Ask anything.

  • Where to park and what cost?
  • Is there a cost to bring in your goods?
  • Can I bring in my own stuff or does it have to be dropped at a dock and brought to my table?
  • Is a table included in the fee?  (Some booths do not, Artist Alley normally does)
  • What is the cost for electricity and internet?
  • What is the sales tax rate and the forms required (if any)?
  • What are the set up hours and the location of the vendor entrance?
  • Is security provided at night or do you have to pack your stuff up every night?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a small sample of what you’ll need to think about when doing your first convention.  You will make mistakes.  They will cost you money.  A good rule of thumb is to double the cost of your space to estimate your expenses for the convention. So, you pay $400 for a table, expect $400 in fees of some type… rental, shipping, parking, etc.  Then add in your travel expenses and you have an idea of what a convention will really cost you.

It all comes down to read the fine print.  Take the time to sit down and actually read it over.  The questions will come as you read and you’ll be glad you did.

Posted in Business, Conventions, Featured News, Helpful Hints.


  1. Great post! So many artists new to the con circuit are absolutely blindsided by all of this.

    The company that I work for has a display and event management arm, and I was surprised with the amount of ‘extra’ stuff you need to attend a trade show or convention. There is a huge racket for drayage and setup, especially in the US.

    Most of the time, each convention center deals with a show services company. They have forms and instructions you need to follow months prior to the show. It’s not as simple as just showing up and setting up. If you’re planning on attending a show, get your forms and stuff organized months in advance. It’s a commitment, but if you’re prepared you won’t have to worry about things when the con starts (like trying to find a table, etc.)

    I was surprised to hear that people ‘expect’ a table to be part of the booth. At any trade show, that is considered as an ‘extra.’ Just assume that the only thing in your space is the stuff you bring. Everything else you have to make arrangements for.

    • Yeah, planning a convention is going to be an article as well. This just came up from NYCC where people had no idea tables weren’t included and you know darn well the contact stated it… just no one read it!

      I’m guilty as heck about this. We all make assumptions we *want* to be true, but then reality bites us in the butt.

    • I don’t understand how a table isn’t part of a booth. Do they expect people to pack tables in to their cars along with all their boxes and banners?

      • The convention organizer is not in charge of the table rentals, the facility is (the convention center). So, to save money and headaches, the organizer let’s people decide if they wish to rent tables from the facility or bring in their own.

        Bringing in your own is a pain in the ass. So, you rent one. It’s another expense in some shows. Not all shows are like that, but they are trending this way to save them money and headaches.

      • A table is not a standard booth dressing. Basically when you go to a convention or a trade show, you pay for the floor space. That’s it.

        Everything else is extra – carpet, electrical, internet access, tables and chairs, etc.

        Like I said before, show services is a huge racket in the US. And add in the labor unions who work the shipping areas of these convention halls, and you end up with sore nuts after being kicked a good number of times.

          • I can’t vouch for any cons, but a lot of trade shows don’t care what you do in your space, so long as it doesn’t impede on any of the other people in spaces around you.

            I’d assume that a number of cons in an Artist Alley type scenario would let you set up without a table – the ones that prefer to keep it uniform would give you one, or lump it in with the con registration fee.

  2. I’m a freelance artist, and a lot of this also applies to working with clients and dealing with contracts. Expect the unexpected and read that fine print!

    Going back to conventions, I must have pestered the A.P.E. people about ten thousand times on the phone before I did my first table there, and even though I felt like a moron asking questions that seemed really simple they were super polite and happy to help out. It doesn’t hurt to ask questions if you don’t understand something, and it can sometimes be harmful to you if you DON’T ask about things you are uncertain about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *