Monday, October 29, 2012

Surprise Skills Gained from Attending Comic Conventions

I've attended a plethora of conventions in the past few months, ranging from Heroescon way back in June all the way to my latest, New York Comic Con just a couple weekends ago.  This convention rush has had quite an impact on my life, including a Staph infection that had me laid up and behind for several weeks (Interventioncon), and with Blogger getting kinda screwy with my blog (I can no longer schedule updates, pre-written blog posts don't post on the date I hit 'publish', but magically appear way back in the timeline on the date they were first drafted), it may seem like I've dropped off the face of the Earth.  While these things are unfortunate setbacks, this convention season hasn't been a total waste.  After attending all these conventions, I've learned several valuable skills, which I'll share with you guys today.

1. Tablescape designer 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term 'tablescape' see Sandra Lee, of Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade.  While her 'cooking'  may be dubious, her tablescapes are totally legit, with budgets that rival some student films.

Image source.  I mean seriously, this is a bit much for a casual summer picnic.  Who's going to pack white leather chairs for a picnic?

My setup from Mechacon, when I had a table all to myself.  With lots of room to myself, its easy to see the Nattosoup branding- that particular shade of green, the use of natural hues (cork, burlap, wood), the tiny bunting and little chalkboards.

Our setup for Interventioncon, which was a shared setup between Heidi and myself and ran under the Rascals Rogues and Dames brand.   The theme was 'space', and included deelie-bobbers and fun colored wigs.  This setup took a long time to create, as everything had to be made from scratch, and the shared branding caused some sales issues, as people assumed that everything on the table was Heidi's.

I often get more compliments on my tablescapes than I get on my actual work, leading to believe I may have a future in creating convention setups, and should give up this comic pipedream.

2. Master packer

When you're flying to DC with two people's worth of convention wares, one large suitcase, a bunch of inking supplies, and a 50 lb weight limit per checked bag, you have to get smart.  That 50 pounds adds up fast when you take into account the fact that you're going to have to pack your precious conwares in plastic shoeboxes, as there isn't an airline in existence that cares half as much about your stuff as you do.  A flurry of conventions has taught me how to be a master packer, improving both my Jenga AND my Tetris skills while teaching me to hate airlines, to distrust the bathroom scale as a means of measuring luggage weight, and schooling me on the true weight of paper.

3. Hyper organization

Being ADHD, I'm naturally disorganzied.  I work in an environment of chaos on a daily basis, for better or for worse.  But when you're juggling three seperate conventions in a single month, you'd better get organized quick.  Over the past year, I've found various ways to compensate for my natural deficiency, including taking inventory before, during, and after the convention, trying to always pack my supplies the same way every time (hard when you're sharing a table and using an alternate setup), and having a special notebook designated for taking con report notes.  I save my receipts in a special little file folder, organize my art supply coupons, and even have binders reserved for blog planning and convention planning.

One thing I've learned to appreciate is simplification.  Before Blogger started having issues, I appreciated my ability to schedule posts in advance.  Once that feature became broken, I utilized the ability to save posts as drafts, work on them during my freetime, and post them from my phone.  Now that feature's gone, blog simplification is a thing of the past for me, which means my schedule has become unfortunately erratic.  When you're dealing with a lot of things, simplification is a godsend.  Having a smartphone has enabled me to juggle many things at once- my social networks, my physical social obligations, my photos for con reports, reference for commissions.  I don't have to worry about access to wi-fi or power outlets, as long as I charge my phone the night before ,I'm good to go.

4. Saleswoman

Whether we embrace it or not, artists need to be salespeople.  When you're peddling your wares from a 6' cardtable in a crowded convention hall with 100 other artists, you need to really sell yourself and your wares.  Before going convention-crazy, I felt like my work should sell itself, but I've changed my stance on that.  I'm not yet a master saleswoman, but I've certainly levelled up in that regard since I first started doing conventions.  Part of this is because I've always been a bit of a natural...

5. Spin doctor

You need to figure out why people should like your work, and you need the confidence to see that when you look at it.  If you don't have this confidence, you need to learn how to fake it.  I'm still in that 'faking it' stage (aren't most of us?), and it's often easier for me to sell other people's work than it is to sell my own. As a salesperson and a representative of your work, it really is your job to convince others that it's your wares they want to buy.  Sometimes that requires a pitch, spiel, or spin.

6. Business woman

All of these sales and spins have required me to level up into being a business woman.  I am the mistress of my own destiny, and that means I have to do it all.  I have to research and book conventions, flights, hotels, make plans within the city itself.  I have to make sure I have enough postcards, business cards, prints, and reprints of minis.  I determine when it's time to make another charm set, when to launch new buttons, and when it's time to upgrade my table setup.  When a convention is a failure, the responsibility generally rests squarely on my shoulders for not preparing properly, and I'm the one who eats the costs.  In addition, I am responsible for costs (both upfront and afterward), taxes, and generating the graphics for the new products.  Sometimes I think it'd be much easier to work with an agent, and I know it'd be much easier to work with an editor, but unfortunately, I'm just not there yet professionally.

7. Entrepreneur

My Heavenly Bodies button set was designed to capitalize on the new Rascals Rogues and Dames theme.  I lauched it at Interventioncon, gambling on the fact that astrophysics is a bit of a hot topic on Tumblr right now.  Unfortunately, this gamble didn't really pay off, but on the bright side, I have a really cute new button set to offer to customers.

I'd have nothing to sell or spin if I hadn't learned how to be a bit of an entrepreneur.  What works at one con probably won't work at another.  Mini comics don't sell very well at anime conventions.  Fanart prints probably won't sell well at an indie comic con.   And even when you have something that tends to sell well at a particular TYPE of convention, there may be such a flood of that item in the market that you see very few sales.  As a comic artist who attends conventions, I have to try to think ahead of the crowd and think out of the box, constantly brainstorming for new ideas.

8. Charismatic

I think I must have an invisable charm around my neck that makes me attractive to the awkward turtles of the world.  Maybe it's because I'm a sympathetic ear, perhaps it's because I can't frighten lurkers away from my table, or possibly it's because I have this reverse SUCKER tattoo'd on my forehead, but the lonely souls of the convention tend to tell me their woes in great detail.

This in and of itself isn't charismatic, it's being a doormat, and I'm no advocate of that.  But there's a fine line between being a jerk to socially awkward adult males and gently convincing them that maybe they should explore the rest of the artist alley, and not just the front of your shirt.  And this line is where charisma lies.  If you can gently convince an awkward nerd that it's time to move on or buy, you can move mountains in life.  It's far easier to convince someone who's actually interested in buying your stuff to buy it than it is to convince someone who's interested in asking you out, but not interested in buying a thing, to get a move on.

9. Editor

I am more than well aware that I've done nothing but write about conventions since August.  Sure, there's the odd sketch dump, and one day in October blogger decided to post all of my process stuff instead of spreading it out, but the overwhelming majority of my posts have been about conventions. I have to admit, I'm not actually a fan of conventions.  I don't actually find them fun anymore.  I dislike crowds, I hate chaos (although I recently admitted to working in it), and I've got too much work to do to spend a weekend being a geek in a line.  Right now, conventions are a type of work for me.  There are aspects of cons I do like- I like meeting other artists, I like getting portfolio reviews, I like informative panels, I like meeting new people, but honestly, all these things start to blur together when you've done five cons in two months.  I'm running out of things to say about conventions and ways to say it.  I'm getting tired of posting blurry cellphone pictures.

This requires me to be my own editor.  It's a challenge to attempt to write about this plethora of conventions in new and interesting ways, to present the information in a way that is both useful and engaging.  Sometimes it's hard to choke down the disappointment of a bad convention and restrain my complaints, especially when I have friends who had a similiar bad experience egging me on.  My goal is to provide the sort of information that's been hard to find online (accurate convention reviews from an artist's standpoint, breakdowns of process, ect), so I don't want to mince words either.

10. PR Rep

Lastly, I've developed some PR skills during this convention season, although they haven't gotten as much practice as I'd like.  As with all other things mentioned above, I'm responsible for my own public relations.  Right now, there isn't a whole lot to do, as I'm still just a small fish- update Twitter occasionally, try to organize get togethers when I'm in town, update Facebook on occasion, update the blog about conventions. I have plans for some big improvements after the new year, implementation of some new tricks I've learned, but that's going to have to wait until things have settled down here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New York Comic Con Recap

Fall in New York

Weekend before last (October 11th-14th)  was spent in delightfully brisk New York City, attending one of the East Coast's largest comic conventions- New York Comic Con. This convention is a big one for SCAD Sequential Art students, as it's a chance for portfolio reviews from editors and an opportunity to mingle with other artists.  Many of the other graduate students in Sequential Art were also planning to attend, although our social plans did not coincide.

For me, New York Comic Con is the biggest convention of my year, and is precluded by a flurry of labor and excitement. Since Interventioncon in mid September, I'd been a bit laid up, so this year I didn't have as much in my portfolio as I'd've liked. Since Editor's Day wasn't too far behind me, and I'd planned on talking to many of the same editors, I only brought new pages. This meant I only had the newest When I was 13 and some things from inking class. I also brought a few copies of the garage print WIW13 and an inking ashcan of the same caliber. My rational was that instead of actively trying to sell myself as a hirable artist, I'd focus on soliciting the critique I'd sorely lacked the prior semester.

Thursday, Professionals Day

We flew out of Savannah, Georgia on Thursday morning, hoping to get in some portfolio reviews on Professionals Day. Unfortunately we quickly learned that neither Top Shelf nor Oni Press were offering any sort of portfolio review, although they were accepting drop offs (where you leave a sample of your wares behind).  As we found out during the course of the convention, this was the new norm.  Fortunately, I'd prepared drop off bags with my latest WIW13, a booklet of my inked samples, and some candy.  My rational was that after being stuck at a table all day, some candy might provide a little entertainment.

New York Comic Con became progressively crowded as the con wore on, grading from tolerable on Thursday to panic-attack inducing on Saturday.

I'm sorry for the quality of these pictures, most of them were taken mid-stride with my iPhone (it's a better camera these days than my old point and shoot)

The registration center on Thursday evening, an hour before con closing.  This was as empty as the con got.

Javitz Center, Thursday night.  The only time I could see far enough for pictures to be worth taking.

Artist alley, front entryway, view from the second level.  Up here there were a  few ATMS, a rest area, and a photo area.

View from the Artist Alley Floor, early Friday, before it got crowded.

Friday, Portfolio Reviews and Birthdays 

As the crowd got worse, my time spent at the convention itself lessened.  On Friday, before the crush got too awful, I managed to get portfolio reviews from editors at both Archie Comics  and Abrams , taking copious notes.  Friday evening was spent in the delightful company of Frankie Coleman and Eric Lide, eating Korean BBQ and celebrating Frankie's birthday. Due to a mixup in communication, we found out fairly last minute that we were looking at a potential group of 15 people.  As much as I'd love to hang out and chat with a group of 15 other comic artists, neither Heidi nor Joseph were really feeling up to dealing with a crowd that large AFTER dealing with the crush of the convention.  Eric and Frankie were kind enough to help us rearrange the plan into a much more manageable group of 6, and we enjoyed Korean BBQ at Shinna and coffee at a little bakery in Korea Town.

Saturday, We Brave the Artist Alley

On Saturday we ventured to New York Comic Con one more time to visit the Artist's Alley.  Although less crowded than the Dealer's Room above, the Artist Alley was still pretty busy.  I still managed to meet up with one of my friends who was tabling there (Zack Turner, of Unlife fame, although I managed to miss several others.  While there, I got to meet and purchase books from amazing artists like Ross Campbell, Ben Caldwell, Sina Grace, and Kel McDonald, and even managed to pick up a copy of Zoo, which I'd missed out on at Anime Weekend Atlanta.

Saturday evening we decided to find the New York branch of Book Off, a Japanese chain of used book stores.  I'd visited several Book Offs in Japan, and generally found them to be fire hazards- narrow aisle crammed with people crouched, reading.  Fortunately, the New York branch was much less crowded, and I ended up buying a stack of books, both in English and Japanese.

Sunday, Fly Back

We left early Sunday morning to return to Savannah, even though New York Comic Con was still in full swing.  Although I enjoyed my visit to New York, I don't plan on attending New York Comic Con next year, as I feel like my money can be better spent at more indie cons.

Overall Thoughts

All in all, I thought New York Comic Con was crowded and had poor crowd management.  Photographers and cosplayers blocked the walkways with little concern for others, and the dealer's room was a confusing mixture of television properties, movies, videogames, and comics.  While getting my portfolio reviews, I found it hard to hear over the noise of the newest rhythm games.  The artist alley was a bit of a walk from the dealer's room,  and while less crowded, still had enough of a sizable crowd that it was hard to see many of the tables.  The majority of the booths featured at least a vertical banner behind the table, and there were a few McDonald's style fanart cages, particularly with the anime-only artists.  The majority of the wares were prints and perfect bound books, so if you're looking to compete, you'd better step up your game.  I didn't notice too many artists taking in-con commissions, although many artists were willing to sketch in their books after sale.

If you're interested in hearing more about my experiences at New York Comic Con, as well as some of the other conventions I've attended this semester, tune in to this week's SEQALab, where the topic is Conventions!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

September and October Sketchdump

Some designs for Sugoicon's mascot contest.  Unfortunately, nothing ever happened with these.

Heidi asked me to do a gijinka for Evee, so I thought I'd do a little girl and her Pom.

Heidi's Cas, from Dealing with Trolls.

Sketches from the zoo in DC.

A sugar oni.

New York Comic Con

This weekend, I'll be flying up to New York for New York Comic Con.  I won't be tabling, but I will have my portfolio, so hopefully I can attend some portfolio reviews.  We're leaving Thursday morning around 10 and hope to enjoy the benefits of "Professionals Day" at NYCC for the remainder of that day.  This will be my third time going to New York, and I hope I'll get a chance to explore the city a little further.  We'll be staying right on the edge of Koreatown, so I definitely plan on exploring that area.

If you're going to be at NYCC and you have my phone number, feel free to call or text so we can make plans.  If not, you can always direct message me on Twitter.

I think my hiatus is coming to an end, and I've got two 7" Kara process posts scheduled for this week, and there'll be a convention write up about New York Comic Con sometime upon my return.  I really appreciate your patience.

I think it's kind of crummy to go on hiatus and not give a good reason why, and I plan on writing a post about that (and other things) sometime after New York Comic Con.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

7" Kara Process- Thumbnails Stage 1

Sorry for the quality of the photos, I took them with my camera phone, since my scanner would just eat them. This is the first stage of thumbnails- the messy experimental stage where I'm figuring out layout, storytelling, and composition. It's fine if you can't actually read them, I'll be posting the actual thumbnails soon.

7" Kara Process: Thumbnails Part 2

I don't usually do this, but since 7" Kara is my darling baby project, I thought I'd put the thumbnails online for others to see.  I've already made corrections to these (the roughs post will be up shortly), but I thought other comic artists might be interested in my working process.  I usually do two sets of thumbnails- a set in my sketchbook to help me work out kinks and a refined set to get critiqued.  There's all sorts of notes in the margins- from additional dialogue that wasn't in the script to shot changes.

7" Kara Process: Roughs

I don't usually do this, but since this is my baby-love-darling project, I thought I'd share the first chapter of roughs with you guys, WITHOUT corrections and WITH notations.  If you see any glaring errors, please let me know, as the only page that's been blue-lined so far is the cover.  Notations made in black ink were carried over from my thumbnails, and already corrected, whereas non photo blue or graphite corrections still need to occur.

There's always a fair amount of change between the stages of my comics, a fact I don't demonstrate as often as I could.