Once in a while it’s good for us creators to stop and reflect on how much we have grown, improved or changed. While I can definitely see a difference between the old Zorphbert & Fred comics I drew back in 2007, I think a bigger change has been how I promote the comic and my presence at comic conventions. From my table set-up, to tweaking my pitch(es), to my confidence level in networking and the pure enjoyment I get out of exhibiting… working comic cons is truly how I have flourished and immersed myself in the webcomic/comic community in ways I never could have online.
Today, I’d like to give you both an evolution, and a breakdown of my table layout at comic cons and other events. The selling and business side to exhibiting at events is something that has intrigued me ever since I started; from what promo “freebies” to hand out, to where to showcase which items on your table, to combo sale ideas and working WITH your neighbors and not in COMPETITION with them. Your table is essentially your storefront. You have to make an instant impression- giving the passerby who may look at your table for 3 seconds a pretty solid idea of the TYPE of product you are selling. Is it mature content? All-ages? Sci-fi or fantasy? A humorous comic, or a long-form adventure? What exactly IS your main brand– your comic/books, or Tshirts? Too little on your table can make you look amateurish or non-committal, but too much can be overwhelming or look scatter-brained. Why do know all this? When you are asked by your neighbors repeatedly about where you purchased your book racks/banner stands/etc, or you are complimented a lot on your table by your peers… you know you must have gotten SOMETHING right! (and if you are wondering about my resources, you can check out THIS article). And, I’ll continue to learn more from others I network with at every convention!
An Evolution of a Comic Con Table
I started exhibiting back in 2010 (I waited way too long). Over these past 3 years I have really grown ….both in my product list and my ability to dress a table as the best storefront it can be. By no means am I “done”, every new convention I find myself tweaking different parts, trying new things. But I think it’s important to share with you my evolution along the way.. if only to make you feel better about your table when just starting out. Your table doesn’t have to look as polished as others when you’re just testing the waters– and most of us don’t have that kind of money to spend all at once! My table is a cumulative effort over 3 years, which you’ll see in the below pictures, and your table will probably look completely different than mine as you find what works better for YOU and YOUR BRAND.
If you want an in-depth recap of my first con experience, there’s THIS way-too-detailed breakdown on my website. Learn from other’s mistakes! (*ahem* mine!)
13-Point Table Breakdown
While I do have a lot of items on my table, I try to be cohesive and organized about how I display my products and brands. Plus, I may retire an item that’s not selling, and try out new items. It’s a constantly rotating and evolving process, one which I accept will be never-ending. So, here’s my table:
- The Table Banner
From my experience, it seems more con-goers look down at your table banner, before they look at your banner stand(s) behind you. Make sure the important info is listed in a clear & concise manner. Recently, I decided to make my name the over-arching brand, with the 3 sub-brands. I am hoping this A: reduces confusion about who & what my table is promoting, and B: clarifies that, yes, I am the creator and just not some MIA dude’s girlfriend manning the table.
- Banner Stands
Here’s a place to really go bold and bright and show off your artwork! If you are promoting many different projects, it might be best to mimic the table banner, and have your name stand out. If you have 1 or just a couple brands you call your own, use images that will be eye catching and give the implication of what kind of demographic you are aiming to attract.
- Price Sign
The more items you have to sell, the more you need a Price Sign. I recently upgraded from a regular printed/laminated/mounted price sign, to a magnetic dry-erase board that I could customize on-the-go. It allows me to alter prices if the crowd isn’t buying, write in new sales and combo-deals, and remove items (printable magnetic sheets I trimmed down) if I sell out.
- Book Rack / Book displays
Going vertical is one of those great StoreFront 101 tips. Customers can see your books from afar, and it gives your titles more presence than a couple piles on your table. Once you have more volumes/issues to sell, it’ll only look better! I saw immediate sale growth with the addition of volume 2; your brand appears more credible if you have a lot of content!
You must must must have freebies to give away. It can be as simple as a business card, or as fancy as a promotional item with your logo on it (if you can afford such things). Even a bowl of candy. People love free stuff. I find bookmarks great– they display a comic strip on the back perfectly, are actually useful, and are great to hand out to kids. If I see a crabby kid, it makes a parent’s day when I give the kid a free bookmark, which shuts them up for at least 5.7 seconds. And then the parent stops at my table, too.
- iPad, Slideshow
If you already have an iPad or maybe a digital frame, use it as a slideshow! Display comics with few words, and awesome artwork. Throw in a promo slide here and there to explain the concept. People also love process details– sketches, inking, maybe a video if you have the capability. Be aware: kids see an iPad and immediately want to touch it. I can’t tell you how many kids will come right up to my table and immediately start pressing buttons, opening apps, playing games.. before their parents even have a chance to stop them.
- Eye Catchers
Some items you have may not be big sellers, but they could attract attention that leads to another sale. They are just as important to display as the items that sell a lot! For me, these are my figurines. People love to stop and oogle them, ask me where/how I made them. Conversation-starters are great to showcase!
- Low-Priced Options
This economy is harsh. Sometimes the price of a comic con ticket means con goers have to be really choosey about what they buy. For this reason I like to have some $5 options, like my magnet/button/pendant packs. Plus, though they tie into Z&F by having a “alien” theme, they are universally funny, meaning you don’t have to know of the comic to “get it”. They can sometimes be an “Eye Catcher” as well and lead to me pitching the customer my alien-themed comic, too.
- Signage and Cut-outs/Standees
Mainly used to grab attention and take up empty space, standees and cut-outs are a great investment to really make your characters stand out. I use a lot of signage as well- listing prices near the item itself, displaying the age-level for the books, or just labeling what the heck an item is. You need to be as clear and unassuming as possible.
Now here’s a great way to earn back the cost of your table. Not only are prints cheap to make & easy to make a ton of profit on (print for .50 cents, charge $10?), but they can be great icebreakers! Just parody or put on spin on your favorite TV show, movie, musician, comic book hero, or even dip into politics if you are brave! The more you enjoy it, the more it’ll show in your work.. and the more you’ll have to bond with a potential customer over! Try displaying them flat on your table, or use tiny magnets on either side to hang them on collapsible display cubes.
- TipsThis is a brand new thing I am trying. I never put out a tip jar in the past, but I decided.. why not? People don’t HAVE to tip me. With the recent good fortune of stumbling on a free button maker & supplies, I made a ton of 3″ buttons and give them away for any amount of tip– s0 so it’s still all-profit. Kids love to shove their parents’ dollars in the jar, and everyone seems to love a good button. Key point: most of the buttons are pop-culture and generic jokes, nothing directly related to my brands. Often, people want a button and tip me for it, not the other way around. Essentially it’s a name-your-price button sale. But if you can offer free sketches, or something else for tips, try it out.
- Try New Things!Like I said before, being an artist means never settling, always looking for new ways of doing things. That includes what you can sell at conventions. To the right is a recent failure: custom pendants. Maybe the price point is too high. Maybe the drawing area is too small to warrant a sale. Who knows. It’s another idea I had that didn’t work, but I’ll try again with something else. As a side note, it’s also good to try to work in an item that involves original art, as that’s what most people love about Artist Alley! I think maybe I was just jealous of Chris Flick’s sketchcards that get so much attention.
- The stuff BEHIND the table
From your favorite drawing supplies, to the boxes/bins/tubs/hand carts you lugged your stuff in with, to the essentials like a water bottle, hand sanitizer, protein-packed snacks, your Square/PayPal card reader, and the magical fix-all that is duct tape, make sure you stock up on anything and everything you might need. We have some great articles on what to pack HERE and HERE!
It certainly seems like a lot to pack, and quite expensive to acquire at once, so remember to prioritize what you need NOW, and what can wait. In your first year, your focus should be on networking and learning. Walk around, take it all in, bring a notebook to take notes and write down online resources suggested by others. Once you start earning enough profit to be in the black at the end of the year (eww, boring math!), you’ll be able to allocate your funds towards improved display items and new banners.
Oh yeah, as cheesy as it is….. don’t forget to pack your smile and positive attitude! That’s really what sells the best.
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.