NOCAZfest was a three day event, one day tabling opportunity held in the Main Public Library of New Orleans, on Loyola Avenue November 15th. It was the first indie comics convention in New Orleans to my knowledge, in a small but growing comics and zines community that is unfortunately not only splintered in terms of demographic (superhero, anime, indie), but also isolated from one another. As soon as NOCAZfest finally settled on a date, I put in my application for a full table and donated $50 towards the cause, and as the date neared and they put up a Kickstarter to raise additional funds, I contributed another $25 as well as a great deal of my time writing copy to help promote the cause.
Although I moved away from Louisiana a few years ago, I have a lot of vested interest in improving the comics scene. I think I've mentioned that on this blog several times (and definitely have recently mentioned it on my Tumblr), but when I was younger, in high school and at the University of New Orleans for undergrad, my experience with other comic artists was extremely limited, and the majority of my experiences at comic shops had been poor. It's been vital to me for a long time that this attitude change in New Orleans, not only because the residents have uniquely interesting stories to tell, but because comics as an art form are extremely egalitarian- you need just a pencil and a sheet of paper to get started. In this aspect, I share common ground with the NOCAZfest organizers, who dedicated their spare time in the weeks preceding the convention to presenting workshops to both children and adults on zine production. Unfortunately, I was busy with conventions in Tennessee at that time, so I couldn't volunteer my experience, but I'd like to should NOCAZfest continue.
When I first decided to travel back to Louisiana for NOCAZfest, I knew it'd be a financial loss. Indie cons, especially first year indie conventions, aren't usually lucrative ventures. Flying to Louisiana would make it difficult to recoup costs, but considering NOCAZfest was in between two conventions, Anime Blast Chattanooga and Memphis Comic and Fantasy Expo, driving wasn't really an option. When I offered half my table to a friend of my younger brother's, Kelli Sarre, I knew I'd see a further cut in profit, especially as she's a far less experienced convention artist with less work to put on the table. Fortunately, I was staying with my family in Luling, which meant I didn't have to spend anything on lodging, but my food expenses were through the roof considering how small this convention was, as I paid for not only breakfast but lunch for four of us on Saturday, which alone ate up any money I made at the con.
I'd had some misgivings about NOCAZfest, especially after they'd launched their Kickstarter, but I tried to keep them to myself, because I really wanted to give them an opportunity to succeed in raising their goal. Fortunately, when I arrived (slightly late) on Saturday morning, once the hassle of getting checked in was over (there wasn't a dedicated staff member for registration when I arrived, and the table wasn't manned) and I was able to get settled in at our table (somewhat unfortunately located in an offshoot near the children's section, but I was not placed with other kid friendly artists, making the location a bit of a dud), I was able to appreciate how many artists were actually tabling, and how many people attended this first year indie con.
|As usual, I'm not in the shot, since I'm the one taking the photo.|
|The main room seemed like The Place to be- wonderful lighting, great crowd. I wonder how spots were divvied out, as clearly some were much more primo than others.|
|Lo, there are tabling hiding over here.|
There wasn't much fanfare at the Main Branch Library for NOCAZfest, just a couple small signs downstairs directing us upstairs. I know NOCAZfest partnered with a local print shop for much of their promotional materials, and it would have been nice to see some lovely signage both outside the library (to encourage passersby to enter and check it out) and inside the downstairs lobby to generate interest in patrons.
There was a fair amount of foot traffic, but other than parents and kids, I had difficulty attracting people over to my side of the table. It seemed like NOCAZfest was mainly attended by hipsters new to comics, and while that isn't a problem, it definitely shows that NOCAZfest could benefit from some cross marketing with other local conventions.
Since it was a one day con, and I'd already arrived late (and take forever to both set up and break down), I didn't have much opportunity to purchase comics from other artists. I did send my younger brother to go around and take photos of booths (with permission from the owners, of course), although I'm not sure he made it all the way around, as some areas were fairly hidden.
Table PhotosCourtesy of Devin Hillburn, and used with permission. I apologize for the blurry, he took photos with his phone and the camera's a bit wonky.
As always, if you see yourself, and are not credited, please let me know and I'll add the credit.
My biggest sellers were 7" Kara (I managed to sell two whole copies), sassy buttons, $1 minis, and stickers. I did not sell any $5 sketches or copies of Hana Doki Kara, which was somewhat surprising, as I thought they'd appeal at an indie comic con.
Although I only made $74 and the trades offered me were for my sassy buttons, not my mini comics, I really enjoyed NOCAZfest. It was really fulfilling to engage with young (sometimes really young) comic artists and zine creators, and to talk to the current and next generation of artists. I did my absolute best to encourage as many as possible to keep making comics, and next year I hope there's more I can do to participate in the event. Erin, the organizer I had the most contact with (there were four, but Erin made a point to actually chat with me) seemed very together and driven, and meeting her really set my fears for NOCAZfest at ease.
On a selfish note, I had offered on quite a few occasions to provide whatever help I could, and it would have been nice if someone had taken me up on that offer, especially since I've tried to do a lot of outreach through Mechacon over the years and have a sizable number of fans who hail from Louisiana. I did take it upon myself to write about NOCAZfest on a variety of social networks (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and even here) and try to promote it as much as possible, but it was frustrating to see those efforts go without an official response. Although the organizers don't owe their supporters anything, it doesn't encourage further support, and small cons really rely on artist and patron grassroots support.
My suggestions for improvement:
- Select 'featured guests' and use them as a lure to attract more attendees. While local guests are an excellent option, also consider expats who continue to cultivate an audience in Louisiana. Consider reaching out to ex-pats who have popular webcomics or are seeing or have seen publication.
- Expand your reach! Purchase a 'fan table' at local conventions such as the New Orleans Comic Expo and Mechacon and promote NOCAZfest to those attendees. There are a lot of teenagers interested in comic craft who attend Mechacon (I should know, they attend my panels), and they'd be very interested in also tabling at NOCAZfest if they knew it was an option. When I talked to attendees, most seemed unaware that Mechacon exists, which means there's currently no overlap in audience. This seems like a big missed opportunity for future years. For a thriving, diverse comic scene to exist in New Orleans, there's going to have to be some cross pollination.
- Consider charging a nominal entry fee in future years, both to tabling artists such as myself and to attendees. Perhaps $5 to attendees, $50 for a table, to help cover costs.
- Improve social networking outreach. Reblog your fans when they promote the convention, signal boost works they intend to sell at the con. Not only does this benefit them, by giving them much needed exposure for their work, but it benefits you as it generates interest. Make use of tags on Instagram and Tumblr, believe me, people check those. They've been instrumental to helping me improve my sales, because people check convention tags.
- Consider going to local colleges with fliers in upcoming weeks to attract students for workshops, as attendees, and to table at the convention. The Fine Art departments in many Louisiana colleges are pretty antagonistic towards comics as a viable art form, so the fact that NOCAZfest exists may be a huge opportunity for some students to explore comics and may change some backwards minds.
- Request that attending artists spread the word about the convention. I realize that you guys did this with the email-kudos to you, artists SHOULD be promoting themselves and you by alerting their audiences to their convention appearances. Perhaps you can further impress upon them the necessity for boosting your signal by offering Artist Spotlights on NOCAZfest's tumblr. This would encourage artists to reblog their spotlight to their own account. In addition, reblogging what artists say about NOCAZfest not only encourages other artists to chime in with support, but benefits NOCAZfest and shows that it cares about its artists.
- Move the puppet show to the third floor, it distracts young customers from looking at the comics aimed at them. Bad for business.
- In my opinion (and this is very biased), rather than offering a prom, perhaps offer a 'social' on Friday afternoon or Saturday after the con is over. This actually gives artists an opportunity to chat about their work, and artists could bring their comics for trading or sketchbooks for swapping. Right now, the New Orleans community is still really fragmented, so anything you can do to bridge those gaps would be amazing.
- Consider having artists in a central location. From where I sat, I didn't even realize there were artists tabling throughout the stacks from where I sat, and I'm not sure that attendees knew that either. I also know much of the crowd wasn't even moving past the first set of tables
C.urrent Great Ideas
- Two separate tables set up with demo books for attendees to flip through. Putting a copy of 7" Kara on that table netted me two sales I might not have otherwise had.
- Offering workshops before the con that teaching students how to make zines. It would be fantastic to see the offerings extend to mini comics, and long form comic planning in the upcoming years.
- Offering scholarships to bring in out of state artists.