We often suggest to creators who are just starting out and curious about exhibiting at conventions, to look into smaller local conventions, as opposed to the Wizard Worlds or New York or San Diego. You know, baby steps. Well, for me, Allentown Comic Con is the perfect size for starting out. Allentown, a not-large-but-not-small city within an hour from Philadelphia, is the perfect compliment in size. Philadelphia has Wizard World, which is a 4-day mob scene, jam-packed with celebrities (most of which aren’t comic creators) and an overflowing Artist Alley. Allentown, in contrast, has a handful of special guests (many are actual creators, or at least have comic book relevance), a manageable amount of artists, and a more “intimate” experience for creators to connect with fans, or for readers to check out new material in a stress-free fashion. If you’re not all about throwing yourself into the fire, finding a convention like Allentown’s is key. Plus, these manageable-sized conventions tend to come with perks; the people who run them often treat their artists very well. Free pizza, or donuts & coffee, offer wi-fi access without charging you an arm & and a leg… all great things the bigger conventions can’t afford to do with an artist list boasting 200+.
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While the Alliance has covered many of the bigger conventions like Philadelphia, or New York, or even C2E2 in Chicago… the little up-and-coming conventions shouldn’t be disregarded. Turns out, new Alliance member Chris Flick will be trying out Allentown’s 2-day Show for the first time! And with me, this being my third… no, wait… FOURTH Allentown Show, it should be interesting to compare & contrast with a He-Said, She-Said recap! The two of us should be able to provide very effective coverage, as we ended up being on complete opposite ends of the room, and as we know… sometimes it’s all about location.
She Said: As mentioned earlier, the Allentown area may not be as vast as Philadelphia (or Pittsburgh), but it’s the 3rd largest in PA and growing fast. Only an hour away from the Philadelphia area, it’s not too far away for Philly area fans to make the trek. Mainly a blue-collar industrial & manufacturing city (heck, I had to wait on a passing freight train to get to the convention, as the racks run right beside the venue), the folk that attend this convention are of the same type of breed. Plus, the convention itself is in a rented room in the Merchant Square Mall, a collection of eccentric antique & novelty shops, and even boasting a wrestling museum. A trip up here is definitely a very different memorable experience.
He Said: I had a bit of a unique experience for this show in the sense that a former co-worker and really great friend of mine, Bob Kimble, used to live in Allentown and still has relatives who live there. When I told him I was going to the Allentown show, he called his brother – who lives 10 miles away from Merchant Square Mall – and the three of us decided we were going to make a weekend out of it. Bob and his wife picked me up Friday evening, we loaded all my convention stuff in his van and took off for his brother’s house. For us, we left Northern Virginia around 7:00pm and got to his brother’s place just a little after 10:00pm. Not bad when you consider we had to deal with Washington DC Friday night rush hour traffic!
She Said: The attendees being mostly from the Allentown area, with a stray New Jerseyian or Philadelphian, the general feeling is easy-going and sociable. Unlike some busier conventions like New York, people causally wander around, passing by 3, even 4 times. Many parents brought their kids, neighbors’ kids, cousins, quite possibly a stray lost child… point being, there were a lot of kids. Like was mentioned, this was my 4th show, and the crowd is always the same. These types of “bigger” small conventions are wonderful for people starting out, or if you want to test out a new item (like my newer Avengers print/poster.. sold well at this show!).
He Said: I’ve done my share of small, one and two day shows before and I agree with Dawn’s assessment. Smaller shows like the Allentown show brings an intimate factor that can sometimes be missing in bigger shows. The atmosphere is not a noisy which really allows you to have some great conversations with people who come by your table and might be discovering you for the first time.
What was really interesting for me was that a lot of Bob’s relatives had never been to a comic book convention before. Indeed, many of them who had lived in Allentown their whole lives had never stepped inside the Merchant Square Mall before. But because Bob and I were there, they decided to attend the show and see what all the “hub-bub” was about. And afterwards, it was very interesting talking to them and getting their perspective of not only the show but also the mall – and all the little collectors shops inside of it – as well.
She Said: This show is held 3 times a year usually, this one being a 2-Day “Mega” show. I have done one other 2-day Allentown show, and while I came very close, I didn’t quite match my last number. Saturday was a pretty steady day, pretty decent for the size of the show. However Sunday, despite being just as crowded, proved to be the difference- people bought smaller items, and were weary of the book prices. It seemed people were into the quick sketch cards or customized commissions. It’s possible if I acted quicker and offered more commissions or caricatures, I may have made up the cash, but that’s water under the bridge now.
He Said: For me, because I knew I didn’t have the pressure of having to worry about the cost of a gas, hotel room and food, I decided to do a little experimenting with some of the prices on my table the first day – just to see what might happen. I knew that if the price increases didn’t pay off the first day, I always had the second day that I could go back to my original prices. As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. In terms of sales, I did “okay” the first day but I really kicked butt the second day. When I go back next year, I now know what a comfortable price range is for all of my stuff for this particular show.
The other thing was that because I was, essentially, staying with friends (I had met Bob’s brother at the Pittsburgh Comic Con and struck a good friendship up with him), I wasn’t pushing my stuff as hard as I usually do at other shows when I know I have a lot of money to try and make back (table, hotel, gas, food, etc.). I was enjoying hanging with Bob – who sat at my table – and I really did take the first day as pretty casual and relaxing, the second day, I got a little bit more into my more usual “convention mode” – and that maybe proved the difference for me. I was busy drawing sketch cards from 11:00am and literally, didn’t stop until 4:30pm – a half-hour before the show was supposed to end. Dawn and I pretty much had opposite days although she ended up doing better than me overall for the show.
The Webcomics Panel:
She Said: If you listen to our podcast, you probably have heard how nervous I was about public speaking and doing panels at a convention. Tis proved to be a great baby step for me. Having Chris sit up there with me, and take charge when needed, was a great stress reliever. The turn-out was maybe 8 people or so, some of which I knew beforehand, so we decided to invite everyone up to the front to give it more of a roundtable discussion feel. Breaking down the panel into “5 things I would do differently if I started my comic now” was a fun way to bring up topics. I honestly felt a bit like I was simply on a Workshop Podcast. All in all, I’m glad I did it.. and maybe I’ll have the nerve to do it again, provided I have another person up there with me. I think that’s the biggest key.
He Said: Right before Dawn got there, I took a picture of all the early arrivers. Almost as soon as Dawn showed up, the other 5 or so people arrived as well – but I forgot to take a picture of the final crowd before we ended the panel. My friend Bob was in the audience too and even though I was aware of the time, it was still good to have someone else point out that you’re almost running over. I think we actually did run over by 5 or so minutes – but no one was waiting behind us so we just finished our Q & A session.
I have the opposite problem Dawn has… I don’t mind speaking to any number of people. So whenever I am on a panel, I have gotten in to the habit of doing a quick glance at my watch just to make sure how much time we have left – otherwise, I am liable to just keep talking until someone quite literally drags me away. As far as the panel itself, almost all of the panels I am on feel like a podcast but I thought it was a pretty cool idea to get everybody real close to us. That also helps in the Q & A session so people don;t have to shout real loud and you can hear EXACTLY what they are asking. That’s not always the case… especially when you’re on a panel in a really big conference room.
The Social/Networking Aspect:
She Said: Typically, from my experience, the types of connections you may get at smaller cons are going to be things like other local creators, local comic book shops who host their own smaller conventions, and maybe a small press reporter. At this convention, there’s always the Joker Reporter, as I call him. A guy dresses up as the Joker (quite well, I might add), and he walks around and gets video interviews and pictures of the guests, and the sends a DVD of the interviews to the people who run the convention. Sometimes you may land an interview with a local small newspaper, or someone’s blog. Any press is good press! New connections aside, I also had a blast chatting with friends and fellow creators like Vince LeGreco of Oh No! Comics, Don Smith of Ghost Investigator amongst other books, Charles Dowd of THIS MONTH’S Alliance Pick– Lilith Dark, and the guys at Hound Comics.
He Said: Oh man… now I’m jealous! I never got interviewed by the Joker. Now I’m bummed out. But it should be noted that, for whatever reason, you and I ended up the farthest away from each other as we possibly could be. That probably was because I decided to attend the show only a few weeks before August 4th and 5th. Usually, the earlier you pay your table fee, the better table placement you get. I was in the very far back corner of the floor surrounded by video and DVD resellers – but oddly enough, Vince LeGreco was set up directly behind me.
It was also great seeing Bill Ellis and Dani O’Brien who are the creators of the webcomic, All New Issues. I met both of them two years ago at Katsucon and we did a book trade on Sunday. And even though Charles Dowd and I have attended the same shows before, for whatever reason, I never had a chance to go by his table and talk to him like I was able to do this past weekend. It was also pretty cool talking to Cindy Morgan on Sunday before the show really opened up. For those of you that are going “Who?”, Cindy co-starred in the original TRON. I also talked to Jim Kelly a little bit too. Jim Kelly starred in (and died in) Enter the Dragon. Again, the intimacy of the show made talking to these celebrities much more enjoyable than it would probably otherwise be at bigger shows.
She Said: Being that this convention is only an hour’s drive away, and the tables come cheap, going back is almost a no-brainer. I enjoy the group of artists who attend, and the atmosphere.. and the most times the earnings help pad my yearly profit enough so, to make it worth it financially. I would hope most people would have this kind if easy-going fall-back convention to rely on, to use as a training wheel towards the big cons, and to fill in the holes in their wallet throughout the year.
He Said: Well, for me, Bob’s brother gave me an open invitation to stay at his place any time I want to come to Allentown – either for next year’s two day show again or for the other one day shows they put throughout the year as well. When you have an invitation like that, it’s REALLY hard to pass up – even if it’s a three hour or so drive from Northern Virginia. For me, I had a blast this past weekend and I absolutely will be coming back next year. And having done the show this now, next year I will have a much better grasp of the attendees and that will only help in terms of accurately predicting my prices on books, posters, sketch cards and prints. Sometimes, that’s all you can do… go to a con, learn from it and be better prepared the next year when you return.
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