Comic Con Highs, Habits, and Hangups

Godzilla at convention

The second-ever Cape Mini Con is at Southeast River Campus in Cape Girardeau this Saturday, November 3, and this guy will have a table at the convention! I have been tabling at comic cons for ten years now. Generally, my only convention appearances are at Cape Comic Con and the Mini Con in Cape Girardeau, but I have occasionally extended my reach to other local conventions over the last few years, such as Burg Comics Con (Harrisburg, Il), Eclipse/Saluki Con (Carbondale, Il), and SEMO Con (Poplar Bluff, Mo). While you might assume that means I have a lot of experience and know what I’m doing, you’re dead wrong! Conventions are fun, but even after ten years, they are some of the biggest challenges I face as a comic artist. They force me to do three things that make me quite uncomfortable: appear in public, interact socially, and exhibit confidence in my work. That’s rough!

However, while conventions can be tough, they are also one of the best sources of motivation, inspiration, and camaraderie with artists that I get all year. I get to see other artists’ work and process, exchange tips and tricks, and otherwise recharge creatively. I actually enjoy this aspect of conventions more than the opportunity to promote and sell my work, which I’m not always that good at.

To prepare for Saturday’s show, I’m using this week’s post as my list of my comic con highs, habits, and hangups. I’m hoping these will help keep me on task and in the right state of mind on Saturday, but should you find yourself at a comic con or in a similar self-promotional situation, and this list also serves as a guide to you, so much the better! Let’s get to work!

High: A Great Opportunity for Commissions

Conventions are the best places for me to do commissioned drawings. The limited hours of the convention force me to get commissions done in a reasonable amount of time, rather than spending hours and hours on them trying to play perfectionist. They’re always a bit nerve-wracking, too, since I am putting myself on the spot to crank out a decent drawing for a patient convention attendee. However, the satisfaction I get from a customer who is happy with my work is always well worth the stress.

Habit: Overhype Mike and the Ninja Books, Underhype Mike and the Ninja Web Presence

I need to do a better job of selling the webcomic aspect of Mike and the Ninja. I think I’ve been going about this all wrong. I get preoccupied with sales at these conventions, but a convention is just as good of an opportunity for promotion as it is for sales. I’m the proverbial small fish in a big pond, so I am much more interested in just getting attendees to read my work than I am selling them books. Because the entire Mike and the Ninja series is available to read online for free, my top priority should be to give them a flyer and point them in the direction of the website. They might like it so much that they’ll buy the book online, or from me the next time they see me at a convention! It’s less pressure on them to spend money, but if they want to take a chance on a property they’ve never heard of and buy the books sight unseen, the option is still there!

Hangup: The Moral Ambiguity of Selling Books of Content Available Online for Free

This kind of goes along with the point above, and is also part of the reason why I’d really like to push the webcomic aspect of Mike and the Ninja more. I feel like if I push the books too hard, and don’t make a big enough deal of the fact that it’s online for free, that I am misleading people. I want to be transparent about the fact that it’s all online, but I’m also socially awkward, so when somebody approaches the table, I get excited and hope they buy stuff, and forget about the whole webcomic thing. Usually, the book pitch comes first, and then if I can’t sell them on the books, I give them the flyer and tell them to check it out online. It seems like that might come off as disingenuous and money-grubbing, even though it’s not meant to be. It might also be a thing that I’m making too big of a deal out of. Some people like webcomics. Other people like a physical book they can hold and put on a shelf, even if the same content is available online for free. Still, I will feel better if I can get in the habit of pushing webcomic first, books second.

Brian at convention

File photo of comic artist at convention. Note smug grin and ill-fitting suit jacket. A con artist, no doubt.

High: Table Setup

After years and years of experimentation and uncertainty, I finally have a table setup that I feel works and isn’t too cluttered or messy. Amanda and I bought a book rack with four shelves on it, so it gets our books way more vertical and condenses them into a much smaller space, leaving more room for me to draw, and allowing us to spread the rest of the table setup out a bit more. We also have a vertical banner that sits behind the table, and we attach laminated signs of all of our brands to the banner using those tiny, but curiously strong magnets. The only thing not great is my tablecloth, which doesn’t at all match the color scheme of the brand or any of our products. It was a last-minute, emergency replacement at a convention years ago, and I keep forgetting to switch it out for a more appropriate tablecloth until it is too late, so I just keep using it like an idiot. Note to self: HEY! BUY A TABLECLOTH, ALREADY!

Habit: Lack of Approachability

I am usually pretty good at talking to people after they’re already at the table. It’s getting them to the table that can be a challenge for me. As stated above, I’m pretty introverted, so it often takes me quite a bit of time to warm up. However, the Mini Con is only a 1-day show, so I need to get used to talking to people quickly. I don’t like pitching my goods unsolicited, like a carnival barker (I’m too shy to do that, anyway), but I do try to at least say hello as people walk past. However, I need to do a better job of following up on that “hello” if the opening is there. If they hesitate, I’ll ask how they’re doing or if they are enjoying the convention. Then, if they stick around, I might talk to them about my stuff. I really just don’t want to be a creep about it. I guess this could also classify as a hangup. We’ll see if I stick to this plan of action on Saturday and how it goes.

Hangup: Don’t Bother the Celebrities

I avoid celebrities at conventions like the plague. It’s rare that I will approach them, and it’s not because I’ve had a bad experience; it’s because I don’t want to bother them. But the celebrities are specifically there to meet and greet convention attendees. So, what’s the problem? Plus, if the celebrities are writers or artists, I might be missing out on a prime opportunity to pick their brains about things that are important to me. I don’t really have a plan for overcoming this; I just have to drop all of my silly, artificial inhibitions and do it.

High: Camaraderie

As I mentioned in my introduction, few things get me more fired up about making comics than getting to visit with my comic-making friends at conventions. We get to catch up on what we’ve been up to, how our projects are going, what tools we use, what’s new in pop culture, and so on. It’s entertaining, educational, and therapeutic. I wish we could all get together more often, so I really cherish the time we get at conventions.

Habit: Not Enough Swag

I want to make sure more people leave my table with takeaways. Flyers, business cards, stickers, whatever keeps me in mind after they leave the show. I have them available, but I do a poor job of getting them into the hands of convention attendees, mostly due to the same introversion excuse used above. I’ve heard a couple of stories now of parents finding Mike and the Ninja stickers on their children’s bed or school folders or whatever, and discovering the comic as a result. So, the freebies do work, even though they sometimes feel like a total waste. The observation I’ve made is that if I tell people to feel free to take a flyer or business card, they usually won’t do it. However, if I give them the flyer or business card, they’ll take it. Now, obviously I don’t want to push stuff on them if they don’t want it, but if we’re talking and they seem interested in my work, that is the time to hand over the freebies.

Evil Bad Guy Ninja at convention

Unfortunately, few convention attendees are as eager to take flyers and business cards as Evil Bad Guy Ninja is here.

Hangup: Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

As with anything I do, I want to remember to not take things too seriously and have a good time. If I don’t sell a lot, or if people are not interested in my work, it’s not the worst thing that could happen. I will still get to visit with friends that I only see one or two times a year, I might find some new comics to add to my reading list, and I’ll finish the day on an adrenaline-and-exhaustion-fueled high with my creative juices flowing.

Cape Mini Con is going to be a great event, and if you’re in the area, I encourage you to stop by. If comics, artists, toys, tabletop gaming, and cosplay aren’t convincing enough, admission is also free, so you really have no excuse. I hope I’ll see you there! Next week, I’ll recap the show and let you know if my new strategies pay off.