Dawn’s Convention Resource Guide

Whether you’re contemplating your first convention and wondering “what the heck am I gonna put on that table??”, or you’ve done a handful now and still looking to tweak your presentation or find new goodies to pass out, I wanted to put together an article laying out all the resources I have found useful. Printers, display units, even storage containers to put everything in… I’m going to give away my secrets and help promote the companies and people whom I found the most beneficial to a comic-con-beginner.

The Freebies

Okay, even before you have a book to sell at a convention, you have a webcomic online for people to read (I should hope anyway). Although I wouldn’t suggest exhibiting before you even have a book out, you can always go to a convention as a reader and aspiring creator, taking notes and soaking it in. Something to have on hand is a freebie to give out that points people to your website. The base level is your average business card— which you can buy yourself and print on an inkjet printer, simple as that. Especially if you don’t foresee passing out 1,000’s of them… But only a few here and there to new friends you meet. What I found lacking on a business card was the space to showcase at least ONE comic. My hunch is, if people can’t even get a taste of what your comic is like from the freebie that is handed to them, the chances of them keeping it, taking it to a computer, and typing in your URL are greatly diminished. Unless they really really like YOU. That’s why I decided to go with bookmarks as my base-level freebie— space on the front of the tagline, logo, characters and URL nice and prominent… And the back is a perfect width for a comic strip. Which to feature is the hardest part— best advice I can give is to pick on that is A: easy for most people to relate to, B: not in the middle of a confusing story arc, and C: maybe even contains a pop-culture reference so people can immediately pick it out and possibly think to themselves “Ha! This person GETS me.. I like Star Wars/ My Little Pony / Teletubbies  too!”  The idea is to grab their attention.
The next level up of freebies, if you have the cash and want to give something else a try, is a full-color double-sided flier. I found they can be more expensive than bookmarks, and are heavier and trickier to transport (so as not to wrinkle them) than bookmarks, so I may not reorder after my first batch of fliers. However, all that extra space may be just what the doctor ordered for a long-form comic that needs to give the potential reader a more detailed summary of the comic and few beautiful pages to draw them in. Also great for the comic strip artist who’s strongpoint is his/her funny story arcs as opposed to a stand alone strip. (Think of those fun 7-10 strip adventures Calvin and Hobbes took.) After fliers, you may consider more innovative things like buttons, magnets, imprinted pens or keychains… But then you are also dealing with higher costs for an item you give away for free.

Lets’s get right to the resources:


I suggest Vistaprint for their cheap-yet-decent-quality business cards first of all. Always easy to deal with and user-friendly. They often have great sales, like 250 business cards for free, just pay S&H. I also bought my table-front small banners through Vistaprint and the quality is good enough that even duck tape didn’t rip off the ink.

 

 

One of my favorite little gems. Don’t even remember why or how I stumbled on Overnight Prints, but I have now ordered through their site enough that I have achieved “Gold VIP” status and get my precious bookmarks even cheaper now. My favorite service they offer is the rounded corners, it just seems to level-up a simple bookmark into a keepsake. Plus, it’s less injury-inflicting that way. I have also used this service for business cards (again, rounded corners add a certain something!), postcards with a color front and a blank back to be used as sketchcards, as well as fliers. (Hint: while they do not list “fliers” on their site as an option, you can just select “brochure” and make sure there any folding options are unchecked.) I signed up for their email newsletter and just sit and wait for the sales to roll in before ordering!

 

I had to mention this one as it’s been suggested to me many times by fellow cartoonists like Chris Flick of Capes and Babes. Great prices, wide variety of products, you can’t go wrong!

 

The Books

This could be quite a long read, but.. Oh yeah… I already wrote a lengthy article on the “Big Three of Print on Demand Publishing”. So, first reference that to better make a decision on what service works best for you and your needs.
Your books are your table’s “hero”. They are after all what you typically WANT to sell the most, don’t let anything else out-shine your books or the passer-by could be confused as to what is the centerpiece. Tshirts? Commissions? Plushes? Buttons? Comics?…. Uh, I dunno. The covers should have eye-catching covers with bright colors to add a punch. The quality of the interior is of course important as well, but the cover makes a potential reader pick up the book and flip through.  So, if you are worrying about the finer details on any area of your book (y’know, going over it with a magnifying glass) it should be the cover. If you’re on the fence about whether to make the interior of your 100 page book black and white or color, I say go for black and white— it’s awfully hard to keep things cost-effective and make a profit with color interiors.  If you need to have a color interior, that’s where it gets tricky. I suggest, if your comic is a chapter-based story, to break up your chapters into traditional comic books… And worry about a full-color collection later when you may be able to afford it. The pricing is much more reasonable for shorter books, depending on the printer.


I have used Createspace for all my Z&F collections as well as the kids book series. The color of the kids books is vibrant and pretty decent, and the grayscale (B&W) interior of the Z&F books comes out pretty slick considering it’s only black ink. The key point is the pricing.. I could not find a more reasonable POD service when it came to price per book. The one and only time I had to deal with customer service, my quesitons were answered and I was very satisfied. I highly recommend Createspace, especially for those who are putting out big comic strip collections.

 


I see Ka-Blam as a good jump-off service for printing your first comic book or maybe a cheap special-edition mini-book. The process is confusing, and I did have issues with delivery dates (be very careful when selecting when you want your books shipped— they go by ship date, not delivery date), and one time my payment was overlooked and the printing was on hold for way longer than it should have been. However, the quality is good, and you can save money by allowing them to put a K-Blam ad on your book somewhere. A great little POD service for a first chapter of a long-form comic.

 

The Presentation

Now that you have free stuff to give people, and books to sell, you need to present your product in a professional, intriguing and economical way. The first piece of advice I can say is GO VERTICAL. Laying books flat on your table, with only a couple out at a time, is an easy way to get passed by. Even if you simply stack your books up in a pile and lean one out in front of the pile, it does 2 things: it makes you looks as though you have a TON to sell (and you may be able to go through them all), and it pushes the cover out in plain, easy view of the passer-by. Second, a tablecloth works wonders, especially if it matches your theme. It could be a color that you use in the logo, or a good depiction of mood of the comic (if it’s a steampunk type comic, a copper colored tablecloth will help express that), or even a pattern that is a playful addition to your concept. Eric and Brittany of Snow By Night use a beautiful blue tablecloth covered in white/silver snowflakes and it’s the perfect touch. Finally, a comic con exhibitor without a banner-stand behind them may as well just put out a “Out to Lunch” sign. Okay, that was harsh, but these have become standard and there ARE cheap solutions. Lets get to the goods….

Okay, seriously, Amazon has like everything. If it doesn’t need to be imprinted with your logo or custom-made, go right ahead and check Amazon first. I found my tablecloth there for cheap. I found velcro strips to adhere my banners to my tablecloth. Pencil/marker cases, small organizers, whatever extras you need. And probably other stuff you didn’t.

 

Again, I have used Vistaprint for more than business cards. As I mentioned, the banners they print are pretty decent. I also ordered a relatively cheap banner stand through them. It worked for a year or two, but I had to upgrade. The idea that the banner can be removable is good (as you may want to redesign it), but the clipping mechanism in no way hold the banner. I had to duck-tape the banner to the clips to keep it from slipping out and falling on my head in the middle of a convention. If you really can’t afford more than $100 for a decent banner stand, try out Vistaprint’s option. But I wished I had just saved up and went with the next resource….

 

IM Photo Graphics was suggested by a friend, so I gave this little company a shot as the prices for a nice quality retractable banner stand were outstanding. And I was indeed VERY happy with the results. And the ease of use compared to the frustrating VistaPrint stand is priceless. And the printed banner came out slick and beautiful. The owner/printer who actually runs this company has come to comic cons in the past to pass out postcards and even recognized his own printing work as he walked down my aisle. I plan to upgrade my Abby banner stand with another purchase from this company.

 


Like I said, go vertical. Once you have enough books to showcase, you may want to buy a display rack to organize your collection and entice people to pick one up and flip through. Suggested to me  by Brad Guigar of Evil Inc, Displays to Go offered many options at different sizes. I went with a wire rack, but would suggest to measure your suitcase/con trunk/biggest cardboard box in which you carry in all your stuff. My rack just barely doesn’t fit into my con trunk, though I have found bungee cords will secure it to the top of it.

Sometimes a little gimmicky item, like button sets, can lure people to your table for long enough that you can give them your pitch. My buttons and pendants do just that. And sometimes people actually BUY them too. Pure Buttons is a fun easy-to-use site that allowed me to buy some buttons, test them out. While they offer packaging to sell them in packs, I cheaped-out and bought a ton of plastic bags through US Box (enough to last me a lifetime for only $20) and printed my own header cards on my inkjet.

 


You have to put all that stuff somewhere. Despite extensive searches online, I found my foot-locker-on-wheels at the Container Store, thanks to a very friendly floor person who was willing to dive into the catalogs and order me the best match for my needs. My $40 convention truck has plenty of space for my books, freebies, tablecloths, Tshirts, candy, cardboard cut-outs and more.

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Those are the big resources I have used, though I am sure there are a few more I forgot about. So, now I leave it up to you, Alliance readers…. what resources have you found to be helpful, which ones were a headache, what secret tips can you offer the community?


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 sydication 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.

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22 Comments

  1. VERY nice resource Dawn. I use many of the companies you mention and agree with your comments on them. Your advice as to how to start tabling is very much on the mark. Good job!

        • You mentioned you use many of the same companies I do. Are there any other websites or services you have used, that I did not mention, that you would recommend for creators looking to “table” at a convention?

          • Ah, gotcha. Well, I use brunettotshirts.com for silk screened shirts. Many webcomic artists go to him. Excellent quality and no setup fees. Tee shirts seem to sell better than books or artwork (at least for me).

            I printed both my books with 360Digital and it was a good experience. You can talk to actual people who understand what they’re doing. When I had a problem with the 2nd book they did a reprint at cost. So thumbs up there.

            One thing I do is print a page with some sample strips and then use that to cover some of the table and then place the merch on top. In that way the toon peeks out at the potential buyer without their having to open a book.

            How’s that!

          • those are great tips, Crow!
            I have heard of 360Digital before and they seem to get a good response. I may want to get a quote and see if they can beat Createspace’s prices!
            and I DO need a good resource for silk-screened Tshirts. My alien-themed Tshirts didn’t sell tremendously well but maybe in the future I’ll try it again.
            I want to try your big comic prints on the table, that’s a fun idea. Might be better than lugging around my tablet PC and playing a slideshow.
            Thanks!!

  2. THANK YOU for this!! I’ve been going crazy trying to organize everything I need to consider or look at or produce for next year’s con season. I can already tell that I will be visiting this page many, many, many….MANY times.

    As always, Dawn, you are AWESOME.

  3. Thanks so much for this info, Dawn. I have been looking for some material on how to approach attending my first convention with a table and all and you’ve told me plenty.

  4. Hi Dawn –
    Thanks for putting up all this good info. I’m thinking of just having some buttons for one design printed up to try it out and saw that it each button would cost about $.25. How much do you charge for these at conventions? $.50?. $1? thanks

    • Hi Denny! I sell my buttons in a 3-pack for $3. They are the smaller .5″ or .75″ buttons. Next time around I may spring for the bigger 1″ buttons. Good luck!

  5. Pingback: Zorphbert and Fred - Tips & Tricks: Convention Resources

    • 300dpi is always safe, but I have found that if that’s too much for your computer to handle (usually lags a ton for me), you could go down to 150dpi if need be and it’ll come out OK. I also work in Illustrator, so with vector files it doesn’t matter for me. But the best advice is to find your printer for signage/banners FIRST.. to get prices, dimension specs, and resolution specs. From working in the industry in the past, I know some large format printers have a max resolution of 150 or 200dpi, anyway…. so 300dpi would be a waste of HD space and time building the graphics. :0)

        • 300dpi at full size is the “safest”, but like I said… that may bog down your computer and be unnecessary. I highly suggest you consult the printer you’re using first, get their specs. They may only need 200 or 150, even.

          • I was able to design my banner at full size with 300 dpi. However the file is absolutely massive and is not even close to the 75MB limit for uploading. Any suggestions?

          • ask your contact at the printer (or contact online) what will print OK. Or check their website’s specs for file prep. Like I said, a lot of these printers max out at 200dpi anyway, making 300dpi more than you even need.

            At my dayjob as a designer, I often either size banners half-scale, or at 200dpi. They come out fine. You’d have to look at it REALLY close to see it’s not 100% crisp.. and at trade shows/cons no one will notice.

            also flatten the PSD and save a separate file… flattened files will be a lot smaller. Though at full size 300dpi, even a flattened file will be huge.

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