If you want to go into sequential art for a living, it's important to keep in mind that:
You Create The Comic Industry You Work In
Its easy to complain about the state of the comic industry, but unless you've been on both sides of the Artist Alley table, you've done little to actually improve it. A healthy comic industry includes creators and fans, and promotes discourse between the two. When you get up to stretch your legs, check out the other artists in the artist alley- not as competition, but as a fan of comics. Engage them about their products, stories, styles, and inspirations, purchase from them and offer to trade. Talk to artists selling work you might usually go for, comic conventions are a great opportunity to expand your horizons.
At many cons, mini comics are cheap, many starting at just $1.00, and most are handmade by the artist. Mini comics offer up an opportunity to own a limited edition piece of comic art that the creator molded from start to finish, and all of the money goes back to the creator. The connections made at conventions are often far more significant than the profits, and should not be overlooked or undersold. You don't have to spend a lot of money doing this- a $10 budget and a handful of mini comics can often yield impressive results. Most comic artists are more than happy to trade, especially if you're offering them a product of similar or higher quality than what you're trading for.
Don't be shy about asking for trades, and consider presenting your mini comics to more popular artists as gifts. Remember, the more eyes see your work, the better off you'll be. Consider this comic convention an investment in your future and an opportunity to make new friends. Practice one of the neglected aspects of sequential art- the charismatic self-promoter.
You can't complain about a lack of sales if you've never supported other artists at the conventions you attend, you are the master of your own comic con karma.
A Broken System
A perfect example of how this system has broken down, and the detrimental effects had upon it's industry is the anime convention system and American (or OEL) manga. As an artist whose work reflects her inspiration from manga, I'm often told there's no place in the current comic industry for American manga, and that the style doesn't sell. As a fan, I know how popular Japanese manga and American manga style webcomics are, and I know how notoriously cheap the fans can be, spoiled by years of piracy and cheap bootlegs. I also know how many aspiring manga style sequential artists intend to enter the industry, but disdain from buying American drawn manga style comics. This is a classic example of flawed logic. If you want to make money doing what you love, you have to be supportive of those doing what they love. You have to buy from the smaller fish. Unfortunately, anime conventions are more geared towards fanart and the dealer's room, leaving original art to flounder. If there were more support for original artists in the artist alley of anime cons, this might encourage a stronger market for anime influenced comics, which would allow a greater number of talented artists to find work. If more aspiring American mangaka bought American manga-style comics, there would be a booming industry. Unfortunately, many of the artists hunker down behind their tables for the duration of the convention, sending an assistant out for lunch and covertly peeing in an empty PowerAid bottle when nature calls. Maybe it's because most of the offerings are fanart, and if they wanted fanart, they could draw it themselves, or maybe it's too much hubris, but they just can't find time to leave the confines of their table. Unfortunately this means that most of the potential customers are non-artists who've spent most of their money elsewhere, making anime conventions a tough gig for anyone who doesn't draw fanart.
If you're curious about this topic, I highly recommend reading Deb Aoki's ongoing series about the state of the manga industry in the US, and the chances of an American becoming a mangaka in Japan.
Why Should I Care About Comic Convention Karma?
As you sit behind your table, staring blankly at the crowd, waiting for your convention helper to return with your double whip reduced fat half caf soy mocha latte, you're probably not thinking too much about convention karma. You may not be thinking about it at all, in fact. But comic con karma is an important part of a successful comic convention, and it begins the moment you step onto that convention floor.
Convention karma is simple: Your success at a convention depends on how good a customer you are to other artists.
Your biggest customer base at any convention are your fellow captives- the other artists in the artist alley. And the sooner you begin your PR campaign of being awesome, the sooner you'll see positive results. Hopefully, your positive influence will encourage others to behave likewise, raising the general quality of the convention itself. That's why it's wise to invest in your comic con karma from the very moment you enter the con.
SCAD recently held the Mini Comics Expo at the Student Center, and although it was open to the public, the majority of attendees were SCAD Sequential Art students. Unfortunately, many of these future comic artists (and convention guests) displayed behaviour that was careless and rude, alienating many of the artists behind the table. I found this surprising, as I figured comic convention etiquette would have been covered in one of the many sequential art undergraduate classes, but during my time as a teaching assistant for Self Publishing, I've come to realize that many of these students learn about conventions through trial and error. I have since polled several convention attending artists to determine their top convention gripes, in hopes of addressing this problem on Keep on Truckin', Nattosoup.
Top 10 Complaints From Artists About Customers
1. Potential customers treat your artist alley table like its a library- they read everything on the table and then buy nothing. Bonus points if they also say nothing the entire time, and avoid eye contact when walking away.
It's always discouraging to have someone spend ten minutes in front of your booth, blocking your display and other customers, flipping through everything you have without saying a word. However, I've been on the other side of the coin, where customers casually glance over everything you have to offer, give you the skunk face, and walk off without even returning your good morning. When I have customers like the former, I strongly encourage them to take a business card, and hope that I see a spike in pageviews on the blog. When I have customers like the latter, I try to forget about them. They key is not to be rude, they may return later as legitimate customers.
2. Customers ignore you when you greet them.
As a delicate southern girl with overly delicate sensibilities, this is the grand slap in the face. A "hello" is just that, a "hello". You don't have to reply to a sales pitch, but simple pleasantries deserve to be returned in kind. I do understand that many comic convention attendees are shy (I'm shy myself), but a smile often suffices. In reality, I should not take this personally, nor use it as an excuse to stop greeting others. I've made a lot of sales through a little politeness.
3. Customers complain about being flat broke, and proceed to show you the very expensive thing they just splurged on in the dealer's room.
Who doesn't internally wince when this happens? Most artists are forced to compete with the dealer's room, always to our detriment. For most cons (excepting indie) the majority of the Artist Alley is going to revolve around fanart. As individual artists, we can't sell the numbers necessary to gain access to higher quality fulfillment houses, and we often don't have the necessary capital to make orders large enough to make such orders. Many of us rely on print-on-demand, which already has questionable quality. Some artists (me included) refuse to sell fanart prints/buttons/mass produced knickknacks because of the moral and legal ramifications, and many customers aren't looking for original art. Price-wise, I can't afford to compete with the dealer's room. My button machine was $400, the refills are $100 for $250, and I can't afford to charge less than 1.50$ for a 1.5" button. I have had people approach me regarding buttons and charms (sold for $2.50, they're 1.5" acrylic charms printed through Printcess) and throw an actual fit over my 'high' prices. If the price is too high, walk away or offer to trade. You're not going to haggle me any lower.
4. Customers block the display while chatting with your tablemate/or with a friend.
Artist alley tables cost on average $300 for 6' of space. This does not include the badge to get into the convention, travel expenses, printing expenses, or time spent drawing the designs. The average con badge costs around $45 for a weekend pass. This weekend pass does not entitle you to stand in front of my booth for a half hour. If you're going to block an artist alley table, block the one you're currently buying from.
For a long time, I suffered in silence while a stranger blocked my convention display, but I'm far less passive now. I will suggest they buy something, or flat out request that they move. You don't have to sacrifice sales for someone else's selfishness.
5. Customers who rest their purchases on your table while buying from someone else.
The same applies here. I could rent you table space for $10 for 10 minutes if you'd really like to rest your Naruto yaoi doujin on my table, but somehow I doubt that'd be acceptable on your end.
6. Customers try to reverse engineer your setup/supplies, and then buy nothing.
I love sharing my process (heck, that's what this blog is all about) and I'm excited about getting new people excited about comics. All in all, I love talking about what I do-sequential art. Unfortunately, this is a very expensive career to pursue, and requires a lot of trial and error on my part to figure out what works. The very least you can do, after getting twenty minutes worth of my experience for your benefit for free, is buy a dollar mini comic. If you can't afford a single mini comic, you should probably save your questions for my comments section. Comic con karma works both ways- I scratch your back, you should scratch mine.
7. Customers dismantle/destroy your display, and walk away empty handed.
This happens a lot at family friendly comic conventions. Mom or Dad is distracted by something, and Junior is bored. My work is entirely kid friendly, and my current freebie are tiny boxes full of tinier toys. While I love having kid customers, little hands can wreck havoc on my display, which costs me future sales. Responsible parents clean up after their children, and possibly even offer to buy the books that've been mangled by Junior.
8. Customers bend your ear talking about their fetish (most common at furry conventions).
A less unwelcome example often happens at anime cons, when fans gush about their favorite series. Nobody wants to hear about your porn, and if you want to talk about comics for longer than five minutes, you should probably tweet me, or catch me after the con. Attending conventions is supposed to build exposure for me, and I can't do that if I'm debating which One Piece villain is the best. Great for Oda, bad for me.
9. Customer is downright hostile, accusing you have having an ulterior motive, openly critiques your printed work, or is otherwise rude.
It's hard not rolling your eyes when this happens. Comic conventions are a great way to connect fans with creators, and the only motive most of us have is selling comics. It's not hidden, we've ponied up a lot of money for that little slice of heaven, and we'd like to see some of that cash come home to roost. And while many of us welcome critiques, the time and the place are not the artist alley of a convention, but online, when we're soliciting critiques. A printed comic is much harder to correct than a pencilled rough.
10. Customers ask if you did ALL THIS ALL BY YOURSELF.
I realize it's usually meant with the best of intentions, and usually asked by well meaning grandparents and curious moms. If you fall into this category, you get the pass. It's also ok when asked by little kids, or with a certain amount of awe in your voice. However, one artist should not ask this of another artist, it has certain implications. Most artists will volunteer when the work is an anthology (such as Rascals Rogues and Dames Little Book of Monsters).
When we spend all of our time behind the table as artists, it's easy to lose perspective and fall into these misbehaviours as customers. It's easy to walk around with a skunk face when we've had a bad day of sales, or if you're going deaf like me, it's easy to ignore the greetings of other artists when they blend together as background noise. If you're the artist behind the table, just brush these things off, and focus on enjoying the comic convention as a whole.
Gaining Good Comic Con Karma
It's not hard to be as good a customer as you are a seller at comic conventions. It simply takes a little thought and some care. A good rule of thumb is do unto others as you would have done unto you.
1. Spread the wealth.
You don't have to spend much, just a couple dollars at a few booths. Artists you buy from are more likely to support you, either at that convention or in the future. Most comic Kickstarters are promoted by artists who've had positive interactions with the creator in the past, and much of the comic industry revolves around word of mouth. When an artist has to pass on a job, wouldn't it be nice if it was your name they mentioned as a replacement?
2. Trade mini comics.
It's a great way to get your comics in the hands of other artists (who may use their influence to share your work), a great way to read new stuff, and you aren't actually losing money. Win-win! Try to go for equal trades, and be open to accepting trades yourself.
At conventions, I put trades in my cashbox, both to keep them safe and as a reminder that I haven't lost money, I've gained mini comics. Well timed word of mouth exposure is worth it's weight in gold.
3. Spread good cheer.
A smiling face and some thoughtful questioning can make a big difference in an artist's demeanor throughout the day. Shake your seller blues when you make your rounds, leave your complaints for Livejournal, but make sure you bring your business cards. Make casual conversation, but DO NOT BLOCK THE BOOTH. If you're going on a coffee run, offer to grab your tablemate or neighbor something too. A little extra perk can go a long way in building bridges.
4. Ask questions about their work.
If you want people to care about your stuff, you have to care about the work of others. And I don't just mean process, I mean story and inspiration questions too. Many artists come out of their shell when they're talking about their characters. You may end up having more in common than you'd originally thought, or you may be able to partner up at a later date.
5. Treat everyone with the same amount of respect, regardless of skill level.
Don't save your sunshine for the big name comic artists, that just comes off as fake. Be a beacon of encouragement to the less skilled artists, because we all sucked at one time. You can gain a lot of devoted fans simply by cheering on the underdog. Your positive attitude may go on to inspire them to spread sunshine as well.
6. Be aware of your surroundings.
It surprises me how many artists forget their biggest peeves and become the worst offenders when they leave the safety of their table. No matter who you are, be aware of your surroundings, and don't take advantage of the kindness of others. Don't block other people's tables unnecessarily, don't destroy other artists' displays, and don't leave your trash on their table.
7. If you mess something up, FIX IT.
This goes with number 6. Apologize and clean up your messes. Buying a mini comic never hurts either.
8. If you want the secrets to my craft, buy something.
It's great that you want to know exactly how I made X, Y, and Z, it would be even better if you bought those items, and it would be the spiffiest thing ever if you bought them and then took a business card. Taking without giving is just bad comic con karma, man.
9. Take a business card, especially if you like their work.
Even if you have a huge pile of business cards at home, even if you NEVER get around to checking them out. Pass it off to a friend.
10. Try to follow up with the sequential artists you've met via the social networking site of your choice.
Gotta maintain those connections!
The Benefits of Good Con Karma
Comics tends to be a close knit community, fueled by fans (who are often fellow artists). By being a good comic fan, you are improving the quality of the community. There's a joke that comics are so poor and insular that the same $20 has been floating around for years, going from artist to artist, and it's a testament to the generosity and goodwill of comic artists. We often focus on bringing in new fans and new money into the industry, but existing creator-fans shouldn't be overlooked. By engaging other artists about their content, you are building goodwill, and by investing in their work, you're more likely to reap rewards in the future. The connections you build at conventions are often more valuable than the sales you make.