Part of being a commercial artist is running a business. While there are aspects of this that I’m horrible at and procrastinate on (accounting, marketing) and parts that I very much enjoy (comic book conventions, book fairs, meeting fans and showcasing my latest books, and art), I still have to do all of them. This series of my process blog will talk about different aspects of the business.
I’ve been going to conventions for almost 30 years. I believe my first one was the NY Comic book convention back in 1989. It was at the beginning of Marvel’s resurgence of artists as kings- Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larson Jim Lee and some others were extremely popular and working on the hottest properties at Marvel. They were all on my favourite books of the time-Spiderman, X-Men, Hulk- and they were all going to be at the New York Comiccon. Back then I was just starting to take the train on my own and so the idea of going to NY with just my friends was both exciting and scary. This was going to be an adventure to end all adventures, and it didn’t disappoint.
The convention was on multiple floors, with aisles and aisles of vendors selling comic books. At this time, comic books were king at the cons, and the artists and writers were royalty. My goal was to find some of the X-Men and Spiderman comics I needed back issues of, as well as to get my new issues signed by the likes of Erik Larson, John Romita Jr and Sr, and Jim Lee. Watching Mr. Larson and Mr. Lee side by side, signing comic books and talking to fans, sparked something in me. I knew that one day, I too would be sitting behind a table signing a comic book that I had drawn. It was a dream that would become a reality.
Skip ahead a few decades, and I started thinking about getting a table. I had a few opportunities to do so with friends in the late 90s and early Oughts, but not until around 2010 did I finally get one for myself. It was for Toronto’s Fan Expo, the biggest show in Canada at the time, and one of the biggest in North America. Like New York, it was packed to the gills, but where New York was a comic book show, Fan Expo is a much more diverse affair.
That first con on my own was exhilarating, nerve racking and a huge learning experience. I realized that it would take more work to get my table to a professional level. I also realized I needed more practice pitching, presenting and creating my products. To do this, I would need to go to more conventions.
Because Toronto is such a large cosmopolitan city, it had enough demand for multiple comic book shows. At Fan Expo I learned they had another show in the spring, and so I looked into that one. The one I found out about when inquiring was not the one Fan Expo put on but one that was run by a company called Wizard World. I got a table for it and had some great neighbors who told me about some other shows that were happening. It’s always a good idea to be a good table neighbor. It’s how you can learn some industry info as well as get some great ideas on set up for your own table.
While at Wizard World, I found out about a show in Ottawa as well as another in Montreal and ended up going to both. Ottawa I really enjoyed, Montreal, while a great city, was not a great show for me. However the only way to find these things out are to actually go to the shows.
After a couple years of doing a few comic book conventions in a year, I started to see patterns that helped me make the best of each show. Deciding which shows to do would depend on a few different factors. First was the cost of the table; Fan Expo is fairly expensive table-wise. However it has such high amounts of foot traffic that it is worth the cost. Yet foot traffic isn’t everything. The second thing I started to see was the kind of foot traffic coming into the show. Ottawa, a much newer show had fewer fans, but they were much more willing to stop at your table, look at your products and purchase them. Yet it was fairly far away so I had to make sure that even though the cost of the table was less, and the amount of product I sold was a lot, there was a place I could stay to still make it profitable. So the third thing I realized was the location. If you had to go a far distance for a show, you had to make sure it was cost effective to do so.
The most recent thing that I have picked up over the half dozen years I’ve been doing the con circuit is endurance. Last year I wanted to increase the amount of shows I was doing. The main reason was to see if I could keep up the intensity I had going when I did a few shows in a year. Last year I filled my schedule with a few larger shows and lots of smaller ones. What I learned was that I could sell well at most shows, but some of the newer ones needed a bit more time to grow. I also realized that selling at comic book shops, would get me about the same amount of profit, but for half the amount of time and energy required at single day comic book shows where the fans attention was much more divided.
As I am always learning from my past efforts, I try to create new goals every year to improve my experience. This year I plan on trying a few more big shows, cutting down on the smaller ones and try to get on a few more panels. Panels are a great way to reach a larger audience, and hopefully to sell more of your product.
Going to conventions are a good way for you to grow your business. They are a way for you to meet your peers, gain new fans and learn about the industry that you are in. It takes a lot of energy and planning, but it is also a lot of fun. If my 14 year-old-self could see me now, how happy he’d be that his dream came true!