On Business: C2E2 Odds-n-Ends

By | Monday, April 24, 2017 2 comments
One reason to go to conventions is to meet up with comic creators. For fans, it's often a matter of having some personal interaction with someone whose work they admire but for other creators, it's frequently a venue for exchanging ideas and best practices. While a lot of creators do talk to each other already, a convention -- particularly a larger one like C2E2 -- can spark a lot of casual dialogue that leads to solutions to problems a creator didn't even know they had! Here's a few random nuggets I happened to pick up this past weekend at C2E2...

For artists, bring a stand-up desk. Not a full table setup like you might have at home, but something small and portable. Nathan Lueth had a version not unlike the one I have pictured here (that's not him, by the way; I just forgot to take a picture) with a drawing tablet setting on top. This is useful/beneficial because it means that, as an artist, you can work on sketches, new pages, etc. while maintaining a more-or-less level eye contact with the crowd. Often, artists have their heads down in their sketchpads and barely notice when someone's standing in front of their table. This way, with your eyes up higher, you get a better sense of people walking past and you're not completely enmeshed in your drawing. Lueth is the first artist I've ever seen do that at a show, and he expressly noted that eye contact was his primary motivation for it.

Also for artists who take commissions, it can behoove you to bust your hump getting them lined up WELL in advance of a show. I spoke with Daniel Govar, and he noted that he filled up his commission plate months in advance. This amounts to guaranteed sales. So he had all of his convention expenses paid for before he left from home, and everything he sold at the convention itself was basically gravy. Granted, not every artist wants (or is able!) to take that type of work on and Govar is well-known enough that some people seek out his work (not to mention that he's very talented) but it makes for an easier show for him, knowing that he's got everything paid for and he doesn't have to hustle every single moment of the show.

Also, it's important to not only know the audience for any given show, but to know if that audience changes during the course of the convention. In the case of C2E2, Saturday was particularly busy (off-the-record guestimates I heard put it 15% higher than last year) at least in part because of the Stan Lee/Frank Miller panel that day. There were a lot of superhero fans in that day. Sunday, by contrast, was billed as "Family Day" and there were a larger-than-typical number of small kids around. Which might be problematic if you have material that might be rated PG-13 or higher. I know John Blevins mentioned that he had keep a close eye on his who was looking at his material and gently dissuade some kids from looking at it, because it's probably a little too violent for them.

By contrast, a vendor whose name I didn't catch went completely ape-shit on a parent who was letting his ten-ish year old daughter just randomly mess around with his display. I suspect screaming at the father and saying his kid was going to become a "trashy cocksucker" because he "let her do whatever the fuck she wanted" probably didn't go over well. Obviously, the parent quickly dragged his child away, but I wouldn't be surprised if a complaint was lodged with ReedPop who, in turn, might not let that vendor to any future events. I'm not suggesting you need a degree in psychology to deal with obnoxious children at a convention, but a modicum of tact might be the wiser course of action for the sake of your bank account.

More generally when it comes to setting up a table, don't build side-walls all the way to the end of the table. Some folks erect some kind of frame that stands at the very edge of their table, and hang merchandise on it, taking advantage of the extra vertical space. While this does provide more surface area to showcase work, it also creates a barrier to people seeing you until they're right in front of your booth. This limits the ability of people to scan an aisle from one end to try to get a sense of who's down that way.

Heidi MacDonald, Brigid Alverson, and I were debating why so many creators going to Kickstarter for the first time don't ask for help. Particularly those in webcomics, as it tends to be an open community when it comes to knowledge-sharing. We didn't come up with anything definitive, but I suggested that there may be some degree of intimidation? I saw a panel this weekend in which a new creator got up from the audience to ask a question, and basically just thanked Lucy Knisley for being a source of inspiration -- but had trouble doing so because she was fighting back tears the entire time. You could tell she was profoundly affected by Knisley's work, but she was embarrassed and scared to even acknowledge that to Knisley. That, to me, doesn't sound like the type of person who would be comfortable going to someone like Knisley and asking for advice.

Speaking of crowdfunding, the two biggest categories (in terms of dollars coming in) for Patreon are podcasts and webcomics. Make of that what you will. Also Patreon-related, breaking the $1000/month threshold catches Patreon's attention; they listen a lot more closely to those folks.

I'm sure there are tons of other business lessons to be learned just by keeping your eyes and ears open on the convention floor, but this is just a quick sampling of what I picked up while I was on the floor this weekend.
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Matt K said...

Very nice post.

Can you explain the commissions a bit more? I have not been to a show in years. Is this work someone does at the show? Does (at least in the case of Mr. Govar) beforehand and just hands over to purchasers at the show? Some of both?

Different artists handle them differently. In cases like Govar's, he does all the work in advance and basically just uses the show to hand the finished artwork over. No different than if you randomly commissioned him for something any other time, except that you don't have to pay postage fees and/or worry about the FedEx guy leaving it on your front porch in the rain.

What Govar ALSO does during the show are more sketch-based "mini-commissions." Usually (at least for him) the above pieces are more tabloid sized with full backgrounds. During the show itself, he'll also do character pieces that are more like 6" x 8" with just a head and/or torso visible. I think he only spends maybe 20-30 minutes on them. Naturally, these are less expensive than the larger pieces. But these are commissioned and picked up during the show, and don't factor into the "helping to pay for the table before the show" equation.

That's just Gover. Other artists handle things differently. I seem to recall George Perez would do full-page, fully inked characters with slight backgrounds DURING a show itself. He'd only be able to take on a handful for an entire weekend, and wind up working on them in the evenings, not getting much sleep. I'm not sure if he still does that or not though.