Since I spent my entire time at SPX behind my table, I thought I’d use this con report as a sort of case study of my experience. Some of these ideas may not apply to all conventions, but hopefully there will be something helpful here for aspiring creators. Also, my brain meats are soft and mushy and don’t keep things as well as maybe they should so I need a place to write up some notes. SPX 2010 was my reintroduction to the con circuit and the first time in a good long while that I worked a con with my own stuff. This is what I learned.
I’ve been to SPX as an attendee off an on over the years. Last year was the first year I went to the show with a critical eye for actually doing the show as an exhibiter this year. The information in this SPX Dossier has been gathered from personal observations, conversations with fellow creators, and wild conjecture. As a result, you should question its accuracy. But it’s probably a good idea to size-up any convention you plan on attending.
- Indy Comics Convention
It says it right there in the name of the thing, Small Press. This means that we don’t have to compete with the likes of a Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, or even an Image which makes it a more even playing field for independent creators to shine. Whereas a young webcomic might get totally ignored at a giant show like San Diego Comic Con or Otakon, Yellow Peril or any relatively young webcomic has a good chance of getting some decent notice.
- Attendees Actively Seek Out New Works
Unlike bigger shows where attendees look for those big publishers, SPX attendees actively seek out new works. This doesn’t mean that you will automatically get attention if you just sit on your ass and stare blankly as people walk by. But SPX attendees are open to new stuff which is the perfect kind of person to hook with a new webcomic.
- Attendees Bring Cash Moneys
SPX attendees bring cash money. Not only are they looking for new stuff, they’re looking for new stuff to own. This doesn’t mean SPX is an ATM machine for indy creators. But there’s cash in them thar hills and it can be yours if you plan carefully.
- Mini Comics, Mini Comics, Mini Comics
SPX attendees and creators love mini comics. Attendees love buying them, exhibitors love trading them. They’re the currency of the show.
- SPX Loves Books
SPX is a great show to premier your latest self-published work. In some ways, it’s a mark of indy cred. SPX attendees love picking up new books. Your fellow exhibitors will be impressed that you’ve graduated to the self-published book club. And you stand a good chance of gaining the attention of the comics press.
Those five factors made SPX especially attractive for me. Additionally, the convention is a block away from where I live. I can walk to the con, I don’t have to pay for a hotel, I don’t have to pay for gas, I don’t have to ship anything. Other than the table fee, my expenses for the show are almost none. I had to shell out money for all the merch that I brought, but that’s to be expected. It’s also a two-day show so it’s a nice way to test the waters without having to take off work and getting completely exhausted.
Strength in Numbers
I’ve done cons where I didn’t have a table mate and they were terrible experiences. From now on, I will table with someone. Period. It’s essential to have someone watch your stuff while you’re taking a piss or grabbing food or just taking a break. It’s also essential to have someone to talk to when traffic dies down.
Fortunately, Audrey was free to help me on Saturday and my table mates were Yuko and Ananth so between the four of us, we had our tables covered the entire time. Audrey was even nice enough to grab us lunch on Saturday from the local Harris Teeter (YUMMY SUSHIS!).
It’s also vitally important to bring snacks. Working a table for six to eight hours is exhausting and you will get hungry and cranky making you miserable which will drive away attendees. Snacks like granola or fruit or something equally wholesome are the best con provisions.
Come to Butthead
Since nobody at SPX knew who I was, it was of utmost importance that I get people to read my webcomic. I borrowed an iPad from work, dumped all my comics into iPhoto, and turned on the slideshow. Since my comic is strip format, if I was smart I would have stacked comics to display two at a time. But it worked for a quick fix. And it succeeded in getting people to read the comic. I had a number of tech geeks come up and talk with me about Apple tech and the future of digital comics. One guy even took out his own iPad and showed me all these classic comics that he had scanned and put on his iPad (he had the original Fantastic Four run from #1-#400).
Ages ago when I doing Angry Zen Master as a comic, I used to have a display book with print-outs of my comic. That worked well enough, but I kind of wanted something a little more fancy. I started brining my laptop to shows and that seemed to get more people to come up and read the comic. It still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I think the iPad (and the other more affordable devices like it that will eventually come to market) is the perfect device to display a webcomic in lieu of a book. It lets people “play” with your work and it’s a cool little conversation piece that will attract attendees to your table.
Variety is the Spice of Con Life
Take a walk through any dealer room at any con and you will see that every vendor has a whole mess of stuff to sell at various price points. There’s usually stuff priced for those attendees who may not have all that much money but are still looking for the perfect little thing to take home with them. There’s stuff priced for those hardcore attendees who save up all year just to blow their big wads of cash on high priced fandom trophies. And there’s stuff priced in-between. Those vendors want to get as much money as they can from absolutely everyone who stops by their tables no matter how much or how little money they may have.
Taking this strategy to heart, I wanted to bring a variety of items that would appeal to the pocket books of a range of attendees. From cheapest to not cheapest I brought buttons, mini comics, prints, and plush pentapuses (five legged octopuses hand sewn by Audrey). $1 each for the buttons, $2 for the minis, $10 for the prints, and $20 for the plushies. I was missing a five dollar item which would have made the jump between the $2 minis and the $10 prints less severe. And I wasn’t able to finish any of my custom resin toys which would have been the high priced items at the table. But even with those missing price points, I managed to sell at least one of everything. The buttons were the biggest sellers (with the Totoro Darumas selling completely out. Must make more of those), followed by the minis, and the prints. And I sold one of the pentapuses.
It’s little surprise that the cheapest items sold the most. It all adds up. And because I had a variety of items at varying price points, I managed to make $125. This is not a lot of money and doesn’t even come close to covering the table cost ($300). But it was much more than I anticipated ($75).
Get Up, Stand Up. Stand Up For Your Comic!
In the past, I’ve always sat at my table. Whether I was in the Artist Alley or the Dealer Room or a Guest table, I’ve always sat down. Granted, some of that was of necessity because some of the time I was drawing for people. But up until SPX 2010, I have been a table sitter. This year, whenever I went to a con and walked about the dealer room, I noticed that people running the booths all stood. I don’t know anything about crowd psychology, but people seemed more willing to interact with vendors who were standing.
I decided I would join the standing club. Sure enough, more people were will to interact with me. If I caught anyone walking by giving a look my way, it was easier to bring them over to the table than when I was sitting. I’m sure there are psychological reasons for this, but all I know is the shit works. Standing is better for interacting with con attendees than sitting.
Now if you’re an artist and someone asks you to sketch something, you’re going to have to sit. This is where a good table mate comes in handy. Yuko spent most of her time sitting and sketching for people while Ananth stood for much of the time which allowed him to interact with people waiting in line. This is an excellent strategy for keeping people engaged and is likely to bring in more sales than if you just sat, sketched, and ignored those waiting in line.
Getting people to your table turns out to be fairly easy. My friend Ross from The System asks absolutely everyone who walks past his table, “Hey, do you like webcomics?” Nine times out of ten, even if they don’t know what a webcomic is, the person will walk up to Ross to engage in a little conversation.
This is where the elevator pitch come in.
Your elevator pitch should be a sentence that boils down whatever it is you’re pitching to it’s essentials. I honestly don’t remember what Ross’s standard pitch is, but for Yellow Peril, I told folks, “My webcomic is an office romance comedy that takes place in a design firm.” I didn’t mention the Asian American aspect of the comic which is weird since it features so prominently on the site. Maybe I didn’t want anyone to think I was playing the race card. Anyway, I’m not entirely happy with my elevator pitch. It’s a bit generic and doesn’t really convey all the awesomeness of YP. I will have to work on this.
Eyes on the Prize
I made a conscious effort to watch the eyes of the people who stopped by the table. I noticed things they ignored, things they paid attention to, things that made them lean in closer. If I was more clever, I would have used this information to change the layout of the table throughout the day. This is the first time I’ve specifically paid attention to where people were looking. It’s going to take some time before I develop a sense of what moves depending on where it’s placed. I did notice that one of my prints was getting more attention than the other so I switched them. Sure enough, the print that wasn’t getting much attention was now getting noticed.
I also made sure to keep mental note of items that did particularly well. My Tororuma (Totoro Daruma) buttons all sold out so it’s clear that I will make more of those than the other buttons for the next con. I also might bundle them with some of the other Japanese themed buttons to makes sure they get exposure too. We’ll see.
I also saw that my Daruma design was fairly popular. I have a set of four business cards with four different graphics and the Daruma cards were all gone by mid Sunday. I think I will be doing more with my Daruma design. I think I might introduce 2″ Daruma resins to the lineup for the next con. We’ll see how that goes.
I don’t see many mini comics at Anime cons. But SPX is full of mini comics. I was so happy that I did Pandoom this year. Minis are a great thing to give away to friends that you haven’t seen in a while or to trade with other creators for their minis. I suspect that in general, indy comic cons like APE, TCAF, Stumptown are very mini friendly. I’ll be sure to make another one for next year. I don’t know if I’ll continue with another Pandoom story or something entirely new.
Pandoom doesn’t tie into Yellow Peril at all. YP has no animals or zombies and Pandoom lacks any design projects or idiot clients. I’m not sure what the going theory is on minis regarding whether or not they should tie into your main body of work. I kind of look at them as a chance to try new things or to tell small stories that may not fit in with whatever else you’re doing. I do know that they’re incredibly fun to make and it feels good to have something to trade with fellow creators. I plan on bringing minis with me regardless of the type of convention I’m going to. They’re just so awesome.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve either read through that massive wall of text or you got bored and skipped down to see if there was a point to any of this. I’m not entirely certain. In the end, I think SPX is an awesome show and perfectly friendly to webcomics. I certainly look forward to doing it again next year. I’ve learned a lot from my first SPX exhibitor experience and hope to use those lessons for future cons. And hopefully some of you reading may get one or two pointers that may help you the next time you’re exhibiting at a con.
Thanks SPX! I’ll be seeing you next year!