Comic Conventions – The ins and outs for beginners

Hi! My name is Kay, and I’m a comic convention table holder.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to holding a table at a comic convention or market. The recent weekend of Supanova Brisbane has inspired me to create a series of posts revolving around differenet aspects of tabling at an Australian comic convention.

images-21This is Artist’s Alley at Comic-Con in America. At Brisbane Supanova in November 2016, we had over 200 seperate booths in Artist’s Alley.

Some of the conventions I’ve participated in over the past few years include Supanova (Brisbane and Gold Coast), Z.I.C.S., Mackay Sugar City Con, and some of the smaller markets and conventions, including BCAP, Ipswich Handmade Markets, Black Cat Halloween Markets, Epic Diem, and Toowoomba Comic Con.

My aim for this blog series is to cover topics that are of interest to Australian artists that are already, or are interested in tabling at these events, almost a “how-to” for beginners.

The first topic I will cover is preparation;

  • How do you know when you’re ready to put something you have created on a table to sell, show and distribute?
  • What do you need to take?
  • What if I don’t know anyone? Can I run my table solo? Is it safe to go alone?
  • What if I don’t make any sales? Or no one likes my stuff?
  • How to handle rejection.

Is my art good enough to sell at a convention?

To address this question, first, ask some close friends, seek out the art or comic community in your area and ask for feedback. Ask if they would buy it, and if not why not. Don’t be afraid to ask for constructive criticism. It might sound harsh at the time, but it can be invaluable for knowing where you should focus your attention.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge into the comic convention world, the next decision is to work out where you should show your work. Start small, experiment and test different events and different products with different setups.

Networking is a fantastic way of keeping up to date on all the events around your city or state. Social media can be used to connect with other like-minded artists to ask questions, advice, tips and techniques, and other events you may be interested in attending. I highly suggest that you look more into social media networking and attending some events local to you. It might be scary to go alone, but if you don’t go, you’ll never know.

The big cons typically cost upwards of $220 for the weekend, so it’s a good idea to see if you can get to some of the smaller events, because a layout of at least $220 is a heck of a lot of money. Smaller events like ZICS or Comic Street are an ideal starting point, the layout is only around $30 (or even free) for half a table, and a great way to get your wares out there.

Most importantly, do you think your art is good enough to sell at a convention?

 

So what do you need to take?

To start off with, your needs will be minimal – a tablecloth, paper and pens to make price tags, and some small notes and coins to make change if someone hands you a big note. Depending on the complexity of the table set-up you plan to use, there will be a differing list of useful stuff you’ll need to take.

This is what I take in my “Con-box”. These are items I know that I can’t do without for one reason or another.

Blu-tak Scissors Rubber-bands
Sticky Tape Sticky back Velcro Stapler
Business Cards Drawing Pins Scrap paper
Square reader/CC Scanner Pain meds Berocca
Phone recharger Carry bags

 

There are a number of options for displaying your wares, and in the case of comics, stands vary in quality, type and price. The best I have found is from Daiso, separates for easy storage, made of plastic, and are only $2.80 each. Small wooden easels are also another option, but may not be easily available outside of art supply stores. Officeworks also have a small number of stands that are appropriate but may not be easily stored for travel.

One thing some people overlook while planning an event, is food and water. Take plenty of water – it’s so easy to get dehydrated. Take healthy snacks – making yourself a sandwich in a cooler bag is much healthier and cheaper than buying fried food on site. Consider how long the day will be, and bring enough snacks.

Every event is different and will have a different set-up. A great idea is to measure out the space you’ve been allocated, and set-up within the given space, take a photo and it will make it so much easier to set up on the day.

 

What if I don’t know anyone?

Hopefully before the event you will have networked, and made at least a few friends who are going to the same event you are. This will hopefully assuage some of your fears about being the only comic artist or creative that you know at the event.

If you don’t know anyone who is going to the event, it may be a good time to reach out to the community and see who is attending. If going interstate, this is an invaluable resource to find someone who knows the area well and can give advice.

You can go by yourself, but it may mean that you’ll be extra busy, and there won’t be anyone to look after your table if you need to visit the bathroom or get something to eat or drink. To fix this issue, ask a friend to come along to help and keep you company for the day.

 

What if I don’t make any sales?

Remember, if this is your first time having a table with your wares, and people aren’t buying, don’t fret. There are a number of reasons that people may not be buying from you. It’s not personal.

What you can do after the event, is to re-evaluate why you are there, and the items you are selling. Some questions to ask yourself are: Are you promoting yourself? Being friendly to passersby? Are you greeting people who come up to your table, or commenting on a cool t-shirt or cosplay? Do you have your head down working on art or scrolling through your phone?

Have a look around you at the convention, and take notice of what other table holders do. Do they engage the customer? What kind of opening do they use?

Remember, you’re there to sell yourself as an artist, as a creative, as much as you’re there to sell your items. Use this time to work on your art, your pitch, and your image.

 

How to handle rejection.

This ties in closely with the “What if I don’t make any sales?” question. There is something very important to remember when selling your wares. It will probably save you from a lot of heartache and anxiety.

Not all people will want what you are buying. It is not personal.

People who love Pop Vinyls will only focus on Pop Vinyls. Readers will only focus on books. People who enjoy art will only focus on prints and/or postcards.

Their decision not to stop or not to buy is not a personal attack against you.

Please remember during the challenge of rejection, that during the event, you need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off – paste a smile on your face and worry about things another time. It is not the fault of the author next to you, nor the fault of the comic artist opposite, but a test of character and products that if you can get through the duration, will allow some great self-reflection on your work and yourself as an artist. If you feel up for it, ask others around you in a quiet moment to evaluate your set-up, your products, and open a dialogue with them to see what valuable advice they may give.

Now the motivational talk is over, use the rejection as a challenge to talk to others and find out what they think works as far as art goes. Be open to accept the challenges and work to improve in areas you see fit.

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, you’ve read this information with an open mind on either your first tabling opportunity at a convention or market, or you’ve received some valuable information for your continued artistic adventure.

The next post in this series will focus on table set-up, with pictures and advice from some Australian artists that have had tables at Supa-nova and Oz Comic-Con in the past, some invaluable information from others who have been there and done that.

9 thoughts on “Comic Conventions – The ins and outs for beginners

  1. Thank you for this! Although I am years away from being able to set up a table at a con, it is something I hope to do eventually. This is very useful information. I look forward to more.

    1. Thankyou for reading Dave, it’s never too early to think of what you can do to set-up a table, or goal-set what you want. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  2. Great post, Kay! You’ve covered pretty much everything. I’ve had some people tell me I should be drawing at cons, because that attracts attention, but I’ve found it’s better to try an engage the people walking past in conversation. When you’re drawing, you’re blotting people out, same as if you were staring at your phone. If you do draw, stop to engage passers-by often.

    And it’s equally important to have a realistic appraisal of your own skills, as you’ve said. I’ve done four or five cons now, and seen at least two or three first-timers go away empty-handed, because their work just wasn’t at a saleable level. Be as objective as you can about your art.

    1. Thanks for reading and leaving a reply, Stuart. I have put my head down at cons and drawn, but I miss so much on what is going on around me, and the opportunity to initiate conversations and see awesome cosplay. I find that when I look around me, I make more sales, engage more people, and make more sales. Self-appraisal can sometimes be harsher than constructive criticism. Sometimes we have to say “Finished, not perfect”.

  3. I have never been into comics. Having said that I have loved reading your posts and watching your journey take off into something that clearly means a lot to you and you are passionate about. You took a leap into the unknown and haven’t looked back. I hope that you continue to inspire others in taking that leap of faith with the selves. Can’t wait to see what path comes next on the journey

    1. Thankyou for reading and leaving a reply, Jaine. I appreciate your feedback even though you’re not in the comic art world. Perhaps we can convert you 🙂

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