Tales of a 2013 Convention Junkie…

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Since it’s the new year and all, I thought it might be fun to look back at my 2013 convention year and see what I might have learned on a month-to-month basis. Maybe you might have been thinking about going to some of the shows I went to and, maybe, you might be able to garner some valuable tips from my own experiences.

I originally started to include all of my sales and expenses for each show but I decided to edit that out – it didn’t seem appropriate. But if anyone is interested in specific numbers, you can contact me and I can give you a general idea of what my table fee, expenses and sales were for each show listed below.

So, this is how 2013 went for me…

JANUARY

I didn’t make any convention appearances at all in the month of January. I know this year, there were a few one day shows that have popped up in the last week or two but last year, there weren’t any shows I knew of in January so, let’s skip right to…

FEBRUARY

Capicon, February 10

Capicon is a small, one day show that’s 30 minutes from my house. The show runs from 10am to 3pm and is held a handful of times throughout the year. The attendance can be rather sparse sometimes so I don’t usually make a lot of money but that day, I did okay.

Katsucon 19, February 15-17

Katsucon is an anime show – the biggest one on the east coast (from what I’ve been told). Last year was its 19th year, hence the number. The previous year, I was a guest and ended up kicking butt and earning in the $400 range.

Since I wasn’t a guest in 2013, I tried cutting my expenses down as much as possible by driving to the show every day – it’s roughly 40 minutes from my house – and splitting the cost of an artist alley table with Dawn Griffin.

Dawn and I tried our best to squeeze and divide a six foot table between the two of us. That might have costs us both sales as I didn’t do badly but it was a big drop-off from the year before.

MARCH

Eastern Shore Fan Show, March 9

This was a new show for me. It is a one day show held on a university campus. Because it is 3.5 hours from my house, that meant I had to get a hotel room for Friday night near the campus. Fortunately, I had two friends going to the show – Dan Nokes and Bill McKay – so I ended up sharing a room with them. This would turn out to be a pretty regular routine in the coming months. Sharing a hotel room with Dan and Bill really helped cut down expenses and was just a lot of fun hanging with them.
I ended up doing okay at the show and garnered a couple of mail-order commissions. At this time, I should have started a mail order list, but I didn’t. If you’re smart, you should do what I didn’t do.

Comic Geek Speak Super Show

In 2012, I couldn’t get a table at the Comic Geek Speak Super Show and it really bummed me out. In 2013, I was determined to do everything I could to make sure I got in. As it turned out, Dawn and I both got in for their two day show.

I cut expenses down by crashing at Dawn’s house and had a great time with her and her husband. Did really great at the show too. I ended up doing a lot of sketch covers at this show and started adding them as part of my table ensemble. I think the table was fairly cheap as well and I really enjoyed the event.

Trying to go again this year. Only down side was that it cost $12 in tolls getting there and back from Northern Virginia.

APRIL

Awesome Con

Awesome Con was, in a word, AWESOME. Held at the Washington DC Convention Center, it is roughly 30 minutes from my house (without traffic) so I didn’t have to worry about hotel expenses. Dawn crashed at my place during the weekend and we both did extremely well at the show. At the time, it ended up being my best convention show EVER! The venue was packed both days and every artist I had talked to had a killer weekend. This was also the convention where I started getting more credit cards sales than I ever had before. The Square and Paypal Credit Card Readers are a huge thing for anyone serious about attending conventions!

The only downside was trying to leave the event. The convention security doesn’t allowed parked cars around the convention center without a driver in the car so if you’re doing the show by yourself, you really have to plan how to pack up your table and get it to your car by yourself. So if you’re going by yourself, you have to plan for that – but that’s not anything related to the con itself though – just the convention center rules.

MAY

Free Comic Book Day, Little Fish Comics, May 4th

If you have a friend that owns a comic book store, talk to them about setting up for Free Comic Book Day. I have such a friend, Mike Porter. Mike owns Little Fish Comics in Fredericksburg, Virginia and I have been going to his shop for FCBD every year except one when I had a conflict with my son’s Challenger’s Little League schedule.
In 2013, I got to Mike’s shop just as he was opening at 10am and had such a demand for my art work, I didn’t leave until 8:30 that night.

Sci-Fi Valley Con, May 17-19

A three day show and a ten foot table for only $50? How could I not go? It also helped that Dan and Bill were going so I ended up sharing a hotel room with them again. This was another first time show for me.

Highlights: Got to meet and bowl a bit with The Clerk’s Brian O’Halloran and got him to sign a caricature I did of his character in Clerks. I first met Jason Lennox at this show.

Low Lights: I talked Dan and Bill in going to eat at a place called The New Hong Kong Buffet. If you’re ever in Altoona, Pennsylvania, for the love of all that is holy, NEVER, EVER eat at THE NEW HONG KING BUFFET. And we’ll leave it at that.
Another low point was that at this show, I met a really great cosplayer called Green Man. He liked my stuff and we would hit it off really well. A few months later, however, I heard he had very suddenly passed at away. The guy wasn’t even 40 so that was certainly a very low point when I heard that.

JUNE

Heroes Con, June 7-9

Bill and Dan tagged along in my van for Heroes Con last year. Except for the fact we almost never left my house due to a front flat tire – and then later, a torrential downpour in Charlotte, North Carolina – the trip was a lot of fun. If you’re going to make a 6.5 hour road trip, it goes a lot faster traveling with a couple of friends.

Heroes Con was a little mixed bag for me last year… a bigger layout didn’t equal bigger sales and it took all three days to equal the same amount I made the year before in just two days, so it was a little taxing – but it’s always fun seeing certain friends who always come to that convention and hanging out at the convention hotel. And driving home was a lot less tiring with Dan and Bill in the car.

Capicon

Another one day Capicon show in June.

JULY

Annapolis Comic Con One day Show

Ben Penrod is the organizer behind Awesome Con. He also runs a few one day shows in Southern Maryland and Annapolis. This was one of his one day shows. One days shows can be hard to gauge… sometimes, you can do really well and other times you can only do “okay”. I’ve always done pretty well at all of Ben’s one day shows and the drive is only about 1.5 hours from my house so the commitment isn’t all that big of a sacrifice.

AUGUST

Capicon, August 4

Another one day Capicon show.
Many times at one day shows, I like to experiment with my table layout and try different things. Usually, one day shows are a lot less expensive than multiple days shows so if a table set-up doesn’t work at a one day show, it won’t hurt you as bad as a multiple day show. If you hit on something though, you can try it at bigger shows and see if the same set-up translates to bigger sales.

Intervention Con, August 23-25

Intervention Con is another local convention for me. It’s about 45-55 minutes from my house so that’s a huge plus. Even though I could travel back and forth though, I usually get a hotel room because it’s a 24 hour con and you can never be sure about Washington DC traffic. Added to that, as a guest (which I was and have been for the last couple of years), you’re required to participate in a number of panels and those panels could be at any time during the show – so for me, it’s just more convenient to get a hotel near by.

I know others who have gone to Intervention Con and haven’t done all that well in terms of sales but I have always done very great. I haven’t made the same as I usually do at bigger super hero shows but for the attendance at Intervention, I have done really well and have increased my sales every year. Last year was no exception.

SEPTEMBER

Baltimore Comic Con, September 12

Baltimore is quickly turning into one of my favorite – and best – shows. That might even get better now that the organizers are adding a third day in 2014!

People are enthusiastic, there are a ton of cosplayers and the show simply continues to grow and grow and grow. The only negative aspect of the show is that everything around the convention center is expensive – but that’s Baltimore for you.

To give you an example, Awesome Con was my best show ever but had I not had to pay so much for a hotel room, parking and other expenses, last year’s Baltimore show would have easily passed my Awesome Con numbers. Of course, had I not celebrated as much as I did after my Saturday sales, I wouldn’t have had as much expenses either.

But one thing I’m learning is that if you have a really great show, you sometimes really have to have fun and celebrate a little bit and not think too much about the money. Still though, despite all the expenses of Baltimore, I ended up having my second best show of the year behind Awesome Con.

Pittsburgh Comic Con

The Pittsburgh show was two weeks after the Baltimore show. I was am little worried I might be pushing it a little too hard but once Dan and Bill said they were going to the show, I was in. That would have been fine enough for me but then our good friend, Ben Taylor said he was interested in car pooling with us so we once again loaded up my van (no flat tire this time) and off we went.

Ended up having a pretty good show – not as great as Baltimore though but I did get to meet Boba Fett – aka Jeremy Bullock as my art got to be a part of a Boba Fett jam piece with two other really terrific artists, Scott Derby and Koa Beam.

It was also great nearly getting kicked out of Don Pablo’s because me, Scott Lincoln and his wife wouldn’t quit talking. When we finally did, there were only three other people still in the restaurant.

OCTOBER

Capicon show

Only show I did in October was a Capicon show near Halloween – figured I’d kill with a werewolf as part of my strip.

NOVEMBER

November got INSANELY busy… three shows in four weekends. First up:

NC Comic Con Two Day Show

I went to the NC Comic Con Two Day show the first year they had it. It was at a local mall that had a bunch of closed stores. The following year, I skipped it but heard that they had moved to a bigger venue. I tried to get in to the show last year but tables had sold out so, like the Comic Geek Speak Show, I did everything I could to make sure I could get in this time.

Dan Nokes had a schedule conflict this time so it was only Bill McKay and myself going down to Raleigh, North Carolina. Almost didn’t make it as the same tire on my van started acting up again but once we pumped it full of air, we never had a problem with it.

Only negative aspect of this show was that I didn’t anticipate how they had decided to organize their tables. All the tables were pieced together with a large plastic sheet over them with 6 feet of space marked out in a Sharpie. Never saw that before and it greatly affected how I usually set my table up. It was a great show so if I go again in 2014, this time I’ll be better prepared for that table circumstance.

The Next Weekend, Allentown One day Show

Christopher Wertz invited me to attend this one day Allentown show. This was a no-brainer for me because my friend Bob has a brother who lives in Allentown. Bob’s a big fan of my strip so he offered to drive me to Allentown so I could hang out with him, his brother, both their wives and their sister too. And, oh yeah, I can see how much money I can earn the Saturday of the show. It was just a fun, fun trip and I’m looking forward to doing it again.

Two weeks later, the VA Comic Con Two Day Show

Dan Nokes helped put the artist alley portion of the Virginia Comic Con together so it was a no brainer that I was going to this show. I met Dan and Bill down there and had a tremendous time. The folks at the VA Comic Con always put on good shows and are always very welcoming to artists but this past year’s two-day show was their most ambitious show yet, and it paid off in huge dividends – not only for the organizers but also for the artists as well. I got to sit beside the president of Top Cow for two days, talk to him and show him my stuff, so that was a lot of fun but the event overall was crazy busy and a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Had I brought a couple of energy drinks with me, I possibly could have topped my Baltimore and Awesome Con sales but by mid-Sunday, I was spent from drawing and selling that I simply decided to walk around and enjoy the last 2.5 hours of the show or so. Tons of fun and it was a great way to begin to wide down the 2013 convention year. But first…

DECEMBER

Two Craft Fair Shows on December 7 & 14

Read my recent article about Craft Fair shows to see how well I did at the two shows I went to last month. Craft Fairs can be even harder than one day shows because there’s a lot of noise (Christmas music), school events going on, kids meeting Santa and they tend to be shorter in time (10 – 2, usually) but overall, they are still fun to do sometimes.

But after the 14th, I was glad I wasn’t going to have any more upcoming shows in the near future because I needed a very long break.

So… that’s what my last year was like playing comic book convention junkie. Hopefully, you can learn something from all of my experiences – even if it might be “there ain’t no way I’m doing THAT many shows… that dude’s crazy”.

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7 Comments

    • Hey Tim, if you want even more information about specific things that go into setting up a convention table, Dawn and I have a couple articles here detailing our specific methods for our individual tables.

      You should check those articles out! 🙂

      • I saw those articles and I really appreciate them. I can’t wait to get out there and start doing a few shows, hopefully I’ll run into you one of these days! I’m in the Atlanta area. 🙂

  1. Chris – How far out do you like to schedule yourself? I’ve scheduled shows 5-6 months at at times and then found a more cost-effective show just pop up out of nowhere on the same weekend/day.

    But in some cases, I’d lose out on a bigger show like an NC Comicon or Heroes if I waited to see if something better comes along.

    Does it depend on the show or do you have to just play without regrets when these things happen?

    • Hey Bobby,

      What I have found that works for me is that at the start of every year, I have a list of my “Signature shows” – shows that I know I will do no matter what. Some of those shows right off the top of my head are:

      Awesome Con
      Heroes Con
      Baltimore Comic Con
      Pittsburgh Comic Con
      VA Comic Con 2-day show
      NC Comic Con 2-day show
      Great Allentown Comic Con

      Those are my big staples. From there, I will always end up finding smaller shows that are going on in-between all of those shows.
      If I end up finding a smaller show that conflicts with any of these shows, I always disregard the smaller show in favor of any of the bigger shows listed above. Yes, the bigger show is more expensive but they also tend to bring in more people and I tend to make more money.

      The only exception to that rule is if I have some kind of family obligation or if I don’t have enough days off from my day job, but that hasn’t happened yet.

      Something that HAS happened this year though is that I decided to do a three day show in Cleveland because my wife has family there and we were going to make it a family vacation/con show. That show was in May and is a 7 hour drive. Heroes Con is in June and is a 6.5 hour drive.

      So, just for this year, I decided to skip Heroes Con in favor of that Cleveland show. I paid my money well in advance and was all set to go. And since I knew I wasn’t going to Heroes Con this year, I thought I’d give Wizard World Philly a shot since it’s a lot closer to my house and I could room with Dawn and her husband.

      About a month ago though, the organizers for the Cleveland show cancelled the event. That meant a LOT of plans got all screwed up… no family trip and no going to Heroes Con this year.

      That’s been the first time such a crazy scheduling conflict has happened to me and I’ve been doing shows since 2008.

      Don’t know if that helps or not. Just letting you know my experience.

  2. Definitely helps. Thanks a lot for the response.

    I guess it winds up being a risk vs reward on the bigger shows and it’s all about positioning yourself for a good sales weekend. And I’m also keeping the mindset of the profit made at the smaller (free/low admission) shows helps subsidize the cost of the bigger ones. For example, we just did NerdCon on the campus of ASU in Boone, NC with a percentage of sales going towards the table fee. Well our haul that day winds up paying the table cost at a big one like XCon.

    We are also signed up for the VA Comicon and NC Comicon this year, so we’ll see you there!

    • Bobby, that actually happens a lot. Sometimes, the earlier shows in the year – whether they are small, medium or large – can help finance table fees for other shows later on in the year.

      It may seem like sometimes you’re just running in circles and not making a true profit – I know i have been there. But for me, what happens is that the shows later on in the year end up making really good money, so for me, it’s worth it.

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