Webcomics: Preparing for Conventions
This is sort of a little more personal than some of my other articles, as I myself am feeling this one out after a few half arsed attempts at doing conventions over four years ago with friends or as a tag-along to get a sense of what doing conventions is all about. But it will be my first time as a solo act, and the first time I’ve done conventions on my home turf of Vancouver, BC, Canada.
The conventions/shows I’m planning to attend are happening in June, August, and October 2011 respectively, but I’m starting prep now in March 2011. Preparing (even half arsed) is a long process and if you want to have everything by the time of the show, you need to start at least a few months early. If you happen to be ordering things (like books, prints, charms, etc) You need to allow for production times and delivery times from the companies producing them. You also have to give yourself time to produce artwork, and complete the projects for these companies to produce. It often takes longer than you would think!
The second thing is that artist’s alleys in cons or other venues tend to be first come first serve. Some are juried (they take an application and decide) but most aren’t. You have to be on top of the application dates and make sure that you apply early! If you snooze, you lose. Its best to start with conventions near to your local area to reduce costs and learn the ropes, so find out what’s going on in your community (or at least within driving distance) and mark the date of when artist alley submissions begin. Sometimes there’s no set date, but you have to watch the convention communication channels (like forums, twitter, facebook, mailing lists… etc) like a hawk.
Deciding what to Sell
This should be generally done fairly early on as it takes time to produce. It can be hard to know what to sell, but generally speaking, there are some rules of thumb as to what you need. It seems intuitive, but its surprising how many people don’t think about this (myself included the first time around), at a comic/manga show, people tend to want to buy comics/mangas, so if you can produce one, even a small book, this should be your #1 priority. At my first conventions I had a little, hand made ashcan comic (basically some letter paper folded in half and stapled run off a laser printer). This time I plan to have something professionally printed. I want to have at least one graphic novel of 100+ pages, and possibly a second 30ish page minicomic. Ambitious? Yes, but worth it. This is one of the #1 things people come to cons to buy. If you forget everything else, this is the #1 thing webcomic people should MUST HAVE for cons. In my first few conventions, I can’t tell you how many times I was asked for a book. People bought the little ashcans, as crappy as they were, but if I had put some real effort into it, I could have done much better. So this time, I will.
Another common standby that people tend to buy are prints. My best sellers in previous conventions were always either generally topical (werewolves or busty women turning into werewolves in my case) or fan artish stuff. You have to be cautious with fan art, as a lot of artist’s alleys have regulations about how much you can have, and display due to copyright restrictions. So its important, that even if you have some fan art, to make sure you come with a good amount of original character artwork, which is usually fairly easy for us webcomic peeps. Fan art can be a great gateway to commissions, which are usually pretty lucrative at a con. Prints in general are usually either commercially produced on glossy or good matte stock, or some people produce them at home on a good quality laser printer or inkjet printer. I also learned that its good to have sleeves and boards for them, just like comic books (actually comic ones are the ones I use). So you have to order them and have them intime for the convention, or go to a comic bookshop and get them. Last time I took about 15 of each print, and had them displayed in a portfolio book people could flip through. Portfolio books are very good for displaying not only your prints, but also original art for sale or sample comission stuff. People like to flip through them. I also used mine to showcase my comic work, which gave me a foothold into selling people my comic stuff. I plan on doing this again, since it worked well.
Other things that seem to sell well at cons I’ve been to, I’m going to try, as well as a few dark horses. I’m going to get a button maker. These sell really well, and anyone I’ve seen with buttons has almost always done well provided the buttons were cute or witty. They are a fun collectible that a lot of people… well they collect. So they are predisposed to buying them. Button makers are pretty expensive if you are looking at getting a good one (about 300$ or so for the button press and circle punch), but they often come with a lot of parts, and once you sell those, you’ve almost made back your money. You can also share the cost with a friend or sell buttons to other creators to help make back your money. Generally speaking, these are good investments I hear, so I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to get a Tecre 1.25″ button press with a cutter. I’ve got a friend who wants in, and possibly some other people locally who I might be able to do some small business with. I’ll keep everyone posted on how this investment goes for me.
The second thing I’m going to sell that’s a little sideways is jewelry and charms. I’m a girl. I’m crafty, and this is actually really cool to me. I’ve picked up some ultra light sculpty, and plan on doing cellphone charms with it as well as beads for the jewelry. This is highly experimental. I intend to try to go cute with some, and more cool tribal with others. This is another ‘we’ll see how it goes’. I’ve got a backup plan to sell whatever I don’t managed to get rid of at the cons on-line. I am going to try to tie the jewelry/charms into my comics, but in a very generalistic sort of way. Most merch doesn’t do well if its too tied into a property no one knows about, but if its very general, like say werewolves and vampires, or medieval heraldry or tribal magic, it tends to hit on more casual congoers. So its good to be able to identify yourself in a very general sort of way.
The same applies to T-shirts, of which I plan to make a very limited amount with only one or two general designs. It is generally pretty expensive to carry this sort of merchandise for a smaller con, like two of the ones I’m going to, but I’m kind of banking on merch for all three (assuming I get tables at all three… we’re still waiting to see how that pans out).
My goal with having a variety of merchandise is to hit on all the various price points. A lot of people come to cons with variable amounts of money to spend. Kids tend to be given small amounts of money by their parents to spend, whereas teens or young adults typically are willing to spend more. I’m sure you can remember a time in your life when you were a kid somewhere and your parents gave you a small amount of money, maybe five dollars or less to ‘pick out something’. So you want to have stuff that’s only a small amount of money, like a $1-5, a midrange of about $5-10, and then the higher end stuff which is often $10+. A lot of people also come to conventions looking for deals. Make sure you can price your stuff as a deal ( two-for-one, or three-for-two, or a bonus if you buy something else) to help entice customers to buy.
Giveaways & Freebees
Generally you also need some kind of freebees to people, promoting your comic to them even if they don’t buy something. Bookmarks, businesscards, and stickers are often good giveaways. I’ve already got a bunch of business cards from previous years that are still good, but I’ll need to do some bookmarks or fliers of some kind to give to people for free.
Because this stuff is given away, it has to be kept fairly inexpensive. You don’t want to put all your money into the stuff that isn’t going to make anything back. My personal focus for my freebees is to get people to go to my website after the con. The more useful I can make my free stuff, the more likely people will keep it and it will remind them to visit my website. If I can build my personal brand, that’s even better, as I can use my freebees to reinforce my brand to potential new customers.
The Booth/Table setup
This is the other major thing I’m working on at this point. Your booth setup can make or break your show. Numerous tales of how a very small tweek to a booth setup changed the fortunes of a webcomic artist have been spun on various blogs and con journals. One thing that is always stressed is vertical space. I’m going to need some ways of displaying my products that take advantage of vertical space and don’t hinge too much on anything hanging below the knees. At smaller shows, a table banner might work alright, but at bigger shows, the traffic of people just walking by obscures it. I plan on having a fair number of things, so I want to be able to show them all well.
Things I need to get sorted:
- A vertical or hanging banner above my head
- A vertical way of displaying art and jewelry
- Display for buttons and other small items like charms
- Tablecloths (never assume you’ll be provided with one)
- Security for items on table
- Display for portfolio book
- Locking moneybox
- Transportation system for display/items
Most of this stuff I can buy, but its expensive to buy professionally produced banners with their associated hardware. I’ve researched other artist’s setups and found some ideas I think would work alright, perhaps a bit cheaper, such as setups with PVC poles and vinyl banners, and simple grid panels for vertical hanging space. Its just a matter of making sure that they will collapse and setup without too much difficulty. You never know how far you’ll have to hoof all your stuff, so its best to make sure you can get your setup into as compact a space as possible. This may also require me to buy a little cart or rolling bag to put everything on (or in).
I’ll probably have to buy a metal lockbox, I know I can get stuff like that from staples. I should also produce a sign that has my commission prices on it. I’ve forgotten this one several times now, and hand done signs look unprofessional and tacky.
Once I get my stuff sorted out and start making progress, I’ll chronicle my journey and successes (and failures) here in other related articles. Stay tuned to see how I fare in my journey to showing at conventions.
Thanks for the great tips and insight. I’d be curious to hear how the button maker investment worked out.
I’ll be sure to talk about it in my con update!