Monday, April 09, 2012

Image

Let's talk about image. Not capital-I Image as in Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, et. al. but lower-case-i image as in how people perceive you.

Everyone has an image of themselves in their head. You think you're smart, handsome, witty, talented, etc. But that may not be what other people see when they meet you. They might see you as ignorant, unattractive, dull and unskilled. In all likelihood, the truth lies somewhere in between. But why should you care?

We're coming up on another convention season, and a lot of comic fans and professionals will be gathering together for meetings, formal and informal, brief and extended. The image that you project at those encounters will be what the pros, media (if they're there) and other fans will see and respond to. Even if you're just a fan who doesn't even post comments anywhere online, and you don't even personally know anyone besides yourself that reads comics. Although the more well-known your name is, the more significant your image becomes.

Let's look at an obvious case: a comic book professional. They're sitting at a table trying to sell their books and t-shirts and whatever. A fan walks up and says, "Hi, I'm a big fan! I've got all your books! Can you sign some for me?" and then proceeds to hand over a stack of comics a couple feet high. Now if the creator shows displeasure in this, whether by curtly refusing to sign so many books or agreeing to sign them but grumbling the whole time, the fan could walk away with a negative impression and think, "Well, he was a jerk. I'm not going to bother getting his books any more!"

I met Jeff Smith well after he'd established himself with Bone. It wasn't done yet, but he was about 2/3 of the way through it. So he had a line of people waiting for him. Most of them already had material with them to sign and weren't buying much. (At least that I saw.) But he was there happily signing books that people put in front of him AND drawing a quick character sketch in every book as well. And the whole time he was cheerfully carrying on a conversation with the three or four people that were next in line. Every person in that line walked away with a memorable personal experience with Smith, and the impression of him as a great guy. And you know, I bought MORE of Smith's work later because of it.

"But," you're thinking, "I'm not a creator. I'm just a fan. Why should I worry about what people think of me?"

Because you still have an image. You're still interacting with hundreds, if not thousands, of people. And even if you don't care what the kid you pushed out of the way thinks of you, that event could be seen by one of the creators at the convention. Or maybe one of the increasingly large percentage of people with a camera or cellphone and an internet connection. Your acts of jackassedness could be online and ridiculed before you even get home that night.

I would like to think of myself as a Leonardo da Vinci level genius polymath. That's my self-image. But I'm pretty sure that most people don't see me that way. Which means that the image I project should NOT be based on the assumption that my self-image is the correct one but, rather, that my self-image is what I'm trying to become. The difference is that I'm projecting an aspiration, not an understood tenet. That's important because if I'm trying to project that tenet and I don't meet those ideals, then I come across as clueless and/or conceited. Neither of which are generally considered positive traits to showcase.

Even without the internet, we comic fans are a small community. Word gets around. If you get tagged as "that guy", you'll quickly find that becomes a reputation of sorts. Maybe it's not something you actually hear about directly, but it's there just the same.

Presenting yourself well at con (or anywhere else) is more than just bathing. It's everything about how you interact with others and how you present yourself. What you say, how you act, what you look like... I'm not saying you should change your whole personality, but just be aware that, right or wrong, you are absolutely being judged by each and every person who sees you at a convention. And even if you don't care about that one guy who's standing right next to you, your interaction with him could be noticed by someone whose opinion you do care about.

No comments: