All The Small Things

Essentials for Convention Setups

Your suitcase should not look like this.  It is way overpacked.  It's just oozing convention setup.


 All comic conventions are different, and may require different gameplans and table setups.  Good planning and decent research should help you prepare for the individual needs of each convention, but I feel that every good convention setup shares five things in common, no matter the convention.  As long as you cover those basics, you'll be on the right track for a successful convention.

5 Convention Essentials

Display (Including banners,signs, and props)
Demo materials
Room to draw
Space to store materials/stock


Your display is the first thing people notice about your table.  Ideally, your display should be both attractive and highly visable.  This is extremely important in competitive convention environments such as mainstream superhero comic cons and anime cons, where the banners reach for the sky.

Types of Display Include

Standing banners
Image via here.

Typical superhero convention artist alley.  If you look closely, you can see the standing banners behind the tables.  Image via here

Hanging banners (tablefront)

A pretty good explanation of the typical hanging banner.  Image via here

And one in action, although not at a convention.  Image via here.
Here's a really cool hanging banner.

Structural Display

Stacking Mesh Crates
Image via Amazon, where you can order these if you like.
If you look, you can see the crates in use in the back.  Image via here.
And here it's used to prominently display badges.  Image via here.
 These things pack heavy, so they are not ideal if you're taking a plane to your destination.

Cubes aren't your only option.  Most craft supply stores have a variety of shelving options available on the cheap.  My tabletop vertical display came from Micheal's.
These shelves attractively display the wares.

 Structural displays can include pipes, which are ideal for displaying banners or teeshirts.

Or you could build a display out of foamcore, which gives you the option of creating something truly one of a kind.  The problem with this is you need to pack it securely, lest it risk breaking in transit.

On Table Display
Adjustable tabletop easel, small display easel (dismantles for easy storage), business card holder (good for minis' less than 5".  Anything larger will topple backwards)

Business card holders
Picture frames
Book stands

These are all fairly cheap and easily available.  There's a variety of organizational tools sold at most office supply stores that are ideal for table top displays.  I got my easels off Amazon for fairly cheap.

Small Scale Signage

Tiny chalkboards and chalkboard stickers can be written on using liquid chalk.  It's less likely to erase than real chalk, but almost as easy to clean up (water and a paper towel work just fine).

Table-top signs
Pricing and explanation signs

While a printed sign is nice, an easily altered sign can be convenient.   Your signs don't have to be fancy, I've seen post-it notes utilized with success.

I vary my display depending on the type of convention I'll be attending.  At a superhero or anime convention, I'll make sure to pack my banner, although I'd leave that at home for a mini comic con.  Anime cons have extremely vertical displays built up using mesh boxes, and while I'm not a fan of those, if I'm attending an anime con, I'll pack those.  I try to keep my display consistent by following a theme, and while the structure may change, the things that support my theme stay the same.

Your Signage Should: 

Be easily visible
Be attractive
Mesh well with the rest of your setup
Be easy to read.
Should not compete with your demo materials for the audience's attention once they reach the table.
Should comply with the rules of that convention.  For example, Fluke did not allow 6' floor banners in the middle of the convention floor, you had to set up using a side wall.  This required several vendors to pack up their set ups and move.

Demo Materials

Demo materials are the books, bookmarks, charms, minicomics, paperdolls, whatever that you can afford to have damaged.  Its good to designate one set of materials as your 'demo' materials, and encourage your audience to handle them.  I recommend keeping the rest of your stock under the table, and retrieving fresh stock for the customer to purchase.

I like to have two copies on the table at a time, one copy up high to attract attention, and one copy that's easy to flip through, or even open.


A variety of items hold my table together.

A variety of tiny, adorable clips.  Miniature clothespins hold my charms in bundles on the tabletop, small plastic paper clips provide support to balancing combo packs, my hanging Nattosoup signage is held to its bunting via small bulldog clips, next to that are the clips that came with my vertical display that hold my books up, and not shown are the pushpens that hold my bunting to the mini chalkboards I display my buttons on.

Washi tape is both functional and attractive.

These adhesive dots are a bit overly sticky, and should only be used on demo copies.

More adhesive options



As long as it's not too distracting from your wares, a little table decor can set you apart from the crowd.  I utilize a celery green tablecloth (a color that links all my work) and an adorable miniature bunting  to help tie my table together.  A tablecloth doesn't have to be expensive, mine's just two yards of unhemmed quilting cotton.

These figures aren't part of the merchandise, but they lend to the overall theme of the table and make these vendors stand out.

Maintain Workspace

You might be tempted to fill your space with wares, but having room to draw is important, because it also implies room to take notes, count bills at, and do general housekeeping.  Don't think you'll be doing this amid your wares, that's pretty unprofessional and opens you up to theft, as others can see how much money you have.  A cashbox isn't a bad investment, but make sure you keep your key with you.  You should keep this in mind at conventions where a lot of your sales come from commissions (superhero and anime conventions), but its still necessary at other cons.  If there isn't much room at your table, you could consider bringing a lapboard with you.  Its important that you appear busy during the con, as this helps generate further commissions (implies you're in demand), shows that you're a dedicated worker, and keeps you from nagging customers.


Bottom to top:  Books and miscl small things, buttons and charms, clippy things, keys and my Square tool.
Your space to store materials and stock is very important.  Most artists store theirs under the table, for easy retrieval, but you could also store it in boxes behind you, or a rolly suitcase.  It is important that this excess stock is not easily visible, as that tends to not only look untidy, but seeing all that excess stock may make your product seem less valuable.  Your intention is to create demand.

As you can see, Heidi's storage is peeking beneath her table.  Don't worry, this is the vendors' view, the customers won't see it.  Table cloths help hide storage.  Heidi carts her stuff in a neat rolling crate that folds up fairly small.

Portage and Portability

Even the best packed luggage can get thrown from an airplane onto the pavement.  PACK WELL.
Portage is often underlooked.  A good convention setup packs away neatly.  Most artists count on selling at least some of their stock at the convention, but you need to be able to transport the remaining stock safely.  I handle this situation by having a couple rolling suitcases of different sizes (small for local cons, large for conventions that I'll have to fly to), and transporting my wares in those.  Organization is important for a quick convention setup, and my stock is neatly organized within the suitcases in boxes and bags.  This not only keeps the stock safe, but it makes it easy to retrieve as I make sales.

And thus, we return to my rolly suitcase.  This suitcase is fine for local cons, when I can carry a fair amount of my supplies outside the suitcase, but for cons where I have to fly, it is a no go.

 You want to find portage that works with you.  If you're like me, and lack upper arm strength, large cardboard boxes or huge Rubbermaid tubs are not going to work for you.  Rolling suitcases and crates are great, as they truck behind you.  The larger your portage, the harder it is to store it, a problem I had at MoCCA, when I was toting a HUGE rolling suitcase that did not fit beneath my table.  I had to tuck it behind my chair and apologize as others tried to squeeze through.


  1. This is a great sequential artist's convention primer. I think everyone's figured out there isn't a shortcut to success, but if you can prepare and organize well maybe you can get there all the faster! Your advice is always helpful and I hope this prevents an unsuspecting artist from coming unprepared, or heaven forbid, OVER prepared. SOMEONE out there has brought a table and chairs to artist's alley before I'm sure.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts