Saturday, January 5, 2013

Baltimore Comic Con

With the help of our faithful GPS named "Brit", Jesus Marquez and I made the fairly uneventful journey from the Bronx to Baltimore on Friday night, and made it in time to register early at the convention hall.  As I had said, it had been a while since he had exhibited at a decent sized show in a convention hall, not since 2005 at Wizard World Philly, and I daresay this was bigger.  Certainly cooler in a non-Wizard way for sure.  After a severely unhealthy dinner at Five Guys, we headed for our fleabag hotel and crashed for the evening.

In the morning we set up, and the initial table looked a little something like this:

Much of this entry is about what worked, what didn't and how to treat your time as an exhibitor.

A quick rundown of what you're looking at.  The Colossians retractable banner sits behind us.  To our right is the Shadowbinders table, home of Thom "Kneon Transitt" Pratt and his wife Kam (conveniently, Thom is the penciler for Colossians, so we can cross-market).  We are at a corner table, so the only neighbors to the left are caddy-corner to us.  Directly behind us, in that dark curtained oxygen tank, is Stan Lee.  No foolin.

The black tablecloth and Megazeen banner are ours.  On the table is is a binder full of sketch cards propped up on a cheap stand (not very effective, it would wobble and dissuade people from looking at it).  A plastic magazine stand holds back issues of Megazeen.  Wire desk organizers display copies of Colossians and Man of the Hour, and Jesus' amazing take on Adventure Time which people FLIPPED OUT over.  A bowl of Hersey's miniatures were set out as bait.  A small cup of buttons is next to it, containing buttons for Megazeen, Colossians and Good Versus Evil (my other blog project).  We had our Boston Con promo cards all over the table and gave them out as liberally as possible.

About twenty minutes before "rope drop" I went out with a huge stack of our promo cards and began to hand them out to the poor saps on line.  I've got to say, it was fun.  I have a lot of confidence in the work we do.  My sales pitch was something like, "We have two books debuting at this show - Colossians and Man of the Hour, and we're doing cheap sketches to promote them, please stop by so we can tell you more about it!"  Nice and simple.  Most fans were very appreciative to make an early contact, and I gave out something like 800 cards that morning.  Did it work?  I'd say so, we did have people stop by saying, "Hey, I remember you" or "We've been looking for you!"  Good stuff, worth the effort.  Even if they didn't find us, the card had our website on it, so contact was made.

One of the things that Jesus understood better than I did was that WE are the product we're selling, more so than our books. See that image above?  When I'm seated I'm hidden behind a wall of stuff.  When Jesus is seated, he's ready to draw and people can see him.  We both draw, of course, but Jesus clearly looked like he was ready for action.While I had more "ready to sell" pieces, Jesus was drawing more commissions, at least for the first day.  By the second day I cleared more of a spot and it worked.

Two big draws to the table were the two biggest items - the banner and the Adventure Time piece.  The banner drew some nice conversations about the book and characters.  The art piece drew squeals of excitement.  Cosplayers were stopping to get their picture taken with it.  Within the first hour, Jesus had already sold it - thankfully the customer allowed us to keep it on the table all day.  

Up until that moment, Jesus and I had been firm believers of NOT selling prints - we saw them as cheap, and could not imagine buying one ourselves.  The Adventure Time lesson taught us we were wrong.  In the end, only one fan could ever enjoy that piece.  We even struggled Saturday night with a nearby Office Depot to see if we could get the file emailed in and printed but ran out of time.  Lesson learned: prints have their place.

When leaving your table overnight, covering it is usually sufficient, so bring a suitable cloth to do so, or pack it up under the table.  HOWEVER, bring out anything of value.  I've got several hundred dollars in markers in a backpack, for example.  Too easy to pick up and walk off with.

When we left the show Saturday night, I've got tell you, we were PUMPED.   We already had the weekend paid for and then some.  That might not seem like much - but it was the first time we had ever done that!  It was a real confirmation that we were on the right path.  So we celebrated at McDonald's with some ice cream, talked about what worked and what didn't, and resolved to go in fresh for Sunday.

I found that I was selling more art than books as usual, so I tried a little gimmick.  Once the sketch was completed, I'd tell the customer, "OK, now you're buying a piece of my art, which means that I can also take a dollar off my comic book.  Let me tell you about it..."  It was pretty effective, I've got to say.  On Day 1 I sold mostly sketch cards, while Jesus was selling larger sketches on backing boards for slightly higher.  On saturday night I banged out a few backing boards of Rocket Raccoon, Batman and Rocketeer, and they sold just fine on Sunday.

When you exhibit at these shows, you'll find that each day has a slightly different vibe.  For example, on a three-day show, Friday usually has the hardcore fans on a mission that doesn't necessarily include you.  They're looking to scoop up the hot items, the exclusives, the autographs and the sketches by the bigger names.  They took the day off of work.  For your basic artist in the alley, Friday can be a slow day and a hard day to get anyone's attention.  Saturday tends to be the busiest day attendance wise, as the crowd begins to spread out.  On Sunday, the crowd thins some, but those who remain are there to spend and return to the purchases they put off earlier.  If there's any one day we tend to draw the most, it's usually Sunday, and right up till closing.  Sunday tends to be a bigger day for kids and families.  Armed with this knowledge, you can plan and display appropriately.  

Also, it is tempting to wander the show and pursue the pretty colors, but remember that you shelled out serious bucks and that you're there to promote your stuff, not shuffle through dollar boxes.  It helps to stretch your legs and mingle, make some contacts and hit a few impulse buys.  Get to know the other artists around you and walk the floor - converse with them before they get crazy busy.  Make some friends!  We found that getting into the show as early as possible enabled a smooth set up and ample opportunity to browse before the riffraff is let in.  Once they drop the rope, though, be at your table at least 90% or the time, especially if you're a sketch artist.  

Eat a big breakfast and bring food from outside for lunch - the food at convention centers is horribly expensive and tastes awful.  Plan ahead for parking as much as possible.  A hotel near the convention hall may save you on parking fees but be far more expensive - it might also be a much nicer hotel.  If you can, treat yourself a little, you'll need the rest.  Multi-day cons are hard work!

Overall, Baltimore was hugely successful for us, and a lot of fun.  We certainly plan to return in 2013, armed with knowledge from last year and ready to go!  We also plan to take what we've learned and apply it at other shows this year.  I hope that anyone reading this can also learn from us, and make your own tables that much stronger.  Hope to meet you there!