Another great Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) has come and gone. April 24th to the 26th saw record attendance for this relatively new comic con here in Chicago. I attended the very first C2E2 back in 2010 with Dawn Griffin and Antoine Gagnon, plus TGT pal Kurt Sasso. 2010 was my first convention as a comic artist and I chose a major event to kick off my career. It paid off nicely, even though I didn’t make any money that first year. So today, I want to review this year’s C2E2 and give you my perspective 5 years later on how the comic con has grown, as well as my own comic career.
First, the biggest change for me this year was that I was hired by Smith Micro, the distributors of Manga Studio EX5, to be a demonstration artist in their booth. I was supplied with a very nice MAC Mini and an incredible 22” WACOM Cintiq HD tablet to use for the weekend. The tablet made my weekend! More on that in a moment. Thus, the biggest change for me was instead of paying to be in Artist Alley as I have in the past, I was PAID to be at the convention as an artist. It gave me quite a different perspective on the convention and it was great to see C2E2 from another angle.
Smith Micro met their sales goal for the show, and Sunday was the best sales day. As a three-day show, I saw a lot of people who were there all three days. They spent Friday and Saturday “kicking the tires” so to speak, and then came in Sunday with cash in hand to buy. As a side note, that’s a very intelligent plan of attack if you’re an attendee. Save you cash for the final day and avoid those impulse purchases. This gives you time to walk the show a couple times and really evaluate where you want to focus your purchases. But my other observation was that many vendors were a bit edgy about their sales levels at the end of Saturday, which was C2E2’s biggest attendance day in the history of the show. But I saw Sunday as the gold mine day as far as making sales. Smith Micro did more sales on Sunday then Friday and Saturday combined.
That may not be true in Artist Alley, but for vendor or small press booths, this may be more of a trend. As they like to say on TV “Your results may vary.”
Overall, this year’s C2E2 was a very well organized show. Security made its presence known without being over-bearing. K-9 Units were seen here and there, which is not surprising given that Chicago is a major metropolitan region. I saw attendees being pleasant (there’s always exceptions, but none viewed by me) and I think the overall atmosphere was “Let’s have some fun and forget our problems, but at the same time let’s show some respect.” Reed Pop, the organizers of C2E2 and New York Comic Con among others, knows how to put on a damn good show. The floor is always organized so that every vendor booth and artist alley table is generally easily accessible. And you can’t complain about the traffic flow both Saturday and Sunday. There were people everywhere and apparently prepared to buy. That’s a good thing!
My only complaint of most major conventions of this size is that it’s nearly impossible to do everything you want to do. So many guests, so many great panels, so many excellent artists and a ton of vendors make for a very busy show, even for 3-days. That’s a good problem to have, but can be a tad frustrating. That’s just simple logistics, but it’s not as crazy as San Diego Comic Con, so this is a minor nit-pick.
For me, I’ve seen C2E2 grow from a start-up comic convention to a major Midwest event. It’s a great way to kick off Spring here in Chicagoland and it attracts a lot of people from Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and beyond. If you have a solid business plan, being in Artist Alley will pay off in the long term. I was in Artist Alley three times over four years and each year I saw my sales grow as well as my audience. This year was my first year as a professional artist. I cannot thank Smith Micro enough for inviting me to be their demonstration artist. It was a great experience and also helped me shape my next comic con appearance.
First, my next Artist Alley table will have power and I will set up my computer and draw live on a decent sized monitor so folks passing by will see what I’m drawing. Seeing me drawing made so many folks just suddenly stop and watch what I was doing when I was in the Smith Micro booth. In that moment, I was able to start my pitch to them. Having a WACOM Cintiq was really the best. At $2000 or so, I know they are not within a lot of artist’s budget (including my own) but it was so nice being able to draw essentially as I would traditionally, with my eyes on my hand and my drawing. There is no disconnect like there is now when I use my Intuos Tablet. I’ve gotten used to it, but it was very nice to see what I was doing as I drew it. It felt more natural. I’m going to do whatever I can to raise the cash for one of these Cintiq tablets, it was that good.
Next, I will bring along a “Booth Buddy” to take care of products, customers and handling the money. That way I can focus on drawing. I have heard from many fellow comic artists that this is the best set-up. And it makes total sense. My biggest sales days were the days I had one of my sons with me at a convention, so do what you can to drag along a friend, your wife or some stranger from a bar; they’re that handy!
And finally, I will bring along a decent photo-type inkjet printer to print out any commissions or sketches people would want at the show. Lar deSouza has started doing this and I think it’s a real no-brainer. I’m a digital artist, so why not bring my tools to the show.
The drawback to this game-plan is that having power adds a significant cost to the booth, so I will need to be prepared to do a lot of drawing, which is what I want to do anyway. By having an assistant with me who will help with pitches and finalizing the transactions, I can concentrate on what I do best: Draw and pitch people. Sounds like a good experiment that has already proven itself to some degree with my appearance in the Smith Micro booth.