Θέλετε να μάθετε πως βιώνουν το San Diego Comic Con οι "πρωτάρηδες" small-press δημιουργοί; Ο Jeff McClelland, συγγραφέας του MR. MASSIVE της Explosive Comics, περιγράφει για το COMICDOM τη φετινή, πρώτη εμπειρία του.
SDCC 2006: An Explosive Point Of View
by Jeff McClelland
San Diego's show, then, is the next step upward from that experience. It is wonderful and it is overwhelming. It is incredibly taxing but it is supremely worthwhile.
One aspect (among many) that the convention committee should be commended for is its unprecedented level of commitment to the small press area it provides room for. Entering the convention center's doors, one is instantly taken back by the scale of DC Comic's enormous booth, or the gigantic Sideshow Collectibles banner hanging from the ceiling. Equally breath-taking, from the small press perspective, is just how close to these behemoths the small press section really is. One would imagine, given the miniscule sum charged for booths in this area, that the small press tables would be neatly tucked away in some rarely seen corner, hidden from the 'real' festivities of the weekend and only ventured into by brave or unknowing attendees. This was decidedly not the case. From my personal standpoint, I would've much rather had the space I was assigned (S12, for those keeping score) than, say, the Adult Swim booth, which was lost, I think, to many that entered, unless they were specifically looking for it. Comic-Con International made it clear that they care not only about the small press section, but about the future of the comic book industry as a whole, as many of tomorrow's professionals will undoubtedly come from this area.
Explosive Comics entered the comics scene, officially, on Wednesday, July 19th, as the convention center doors opened for a three-hour preview to fans who had purchased admission to every day of the show. We debuted two books under the company masthead - our big push, the super hero/comedy MR. MASSIVE, and to a slightly smaller print run, the genre horror OH! THE HORROR!. I am the writer of both titles and as such, feel a strong attachment to both books. I was sure that the books would reach a wide audience of new fans in this, the supreme showcase that is Comic-Con International.
As days, events and reactions can get jumbled while thinking back to the five-day melee that followed, I'll try to focus more on the lessons that I took from this experience as well as those that I think every small press hopeful can learn from. Even so, each individual day held a surprisingly unique feel, and I'd be remiss if I didn't include that:
It is called "preview night" for a reason. As I was warned, fans and attendees on this set-up night for the convention did little more than browse. Booths were still being assembled and carpet was being rolled onto the floor right up until the doors opened at 6 pm, and in hindsight, if assembly were to have continued, it probably wouldn't have disrupted any purchasing, since there was really none to speak of.
In that regard, I can't really blame convention-goers for using Wednesday to get a mental layout of the convention floor and not much else. Each attendee allowed on the floor had purchased an all-inclusive ticket to the remaining days of the show, and if one wasn't careful, he or she might end up flat broke by Thursday evening or sooner. It was smart shopping, but it still made me a little nervous regarding the show's duration. Doubts crept in. Tensions rose. All of that was due to a lack of experience on my part. If I attend next year, I'll be more prepared for the Wednesday mentality - a "look but don't touch" affair.
Like Wednesday night... with more people to pass you by.
Sales picked up pretty considerably on Friday. We no longer had to reach to grab people's attention - they seemed genuinely interested in what we had to offer. Much of this undoubtedly speaks to the fact that on Friday and Saturday the artist of MR. MASSIVE, the enigmatic Artboy_X, joined me at the Explosive Comics booth, producing sketches for anyone who was so brave to buy one of our books. Sketching draws a crowd (no pun intended) better than having the writer stand and wave to passers by, no matter how good looking he is (ah-hem).
Saturday was definitely our biggest day from a sales standpoint, and by a wide margin. We probably sold as many books on this day as we did on all previous days combined. On Saturday, a sense of urgency seems to overtake you - from my perspective, I was mindful of the fact that the end of the convention was just around the corner, and if I didn't get rid of what I was selling today, I might never. From a buyer's perspective -I was one of those as some points, too- it was about time to make a decision on what you would take home and what you'd leave behind.
One interesting note is that on this day, easily the busiest of the week, the convention opened earlier than it was originally scheduled to. Even more interesting is the fact that, to the extent of my knowledge, none of the exhibitors were made aware of this fact in advance. Flip through the convention program and you'll see that those-who-make-such-decisions reserve the right to open and close at their own discretion, but the whole situation was still a bit confusing. My wife and I were walking toward the convention center at 9:15, anticipating a prompt 10 am opening, only to see scores of attendees gleefully running toward the entrances (and being told not to do so by the seemingly omniscient Comic-Con voice overhead). Many fellow exhibitors, large and small, seemed to be as shocked as I was.
Like all good things, the show came to a halt on this abbreviated final day. I relate the feeling of this day to something akin to summer camp (unless you hate summer camps) - everyone's sad to see it end, but at the same time, everyone's anxious to get the heck out of there and resume their normal lives. Bargain hunting is king this day and those visiting the small press booths are no different. Sales were slow (to put it mildly) and many of those were of the "reduced price" variety.
Seeing that sales would be few and far between and given the fact that the convention was ending, I took the liberty several times to do some shopping and even catch a panel this day.
As harsh as it sounds, most people don't come to the conventions for the small press isle. There are exceptions, of course (thank goodness!), but for the most part, attendees are coming to meet Mark Waid, buy hard-to-find FANTASTIC FOUR back issues to gaze at the new busts and statues coming out next year and grab a bottle of ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES KETCHUP. And really, it only makes sense. This is what they've been promised by a number of advertisements and this is what they've been inundated with for months. Unless you, as a small press exhibitor, have made a miraculous leap into the minds of comic fans everywhere (think HERO HAPPY HOUR), most people coming to these shows don't even know who you are, let alone what your product is.
This just means that you have to do something to make yourself stand out. You have to be nicer and louder and more willing to strike up a conversation than some of the bigger guys. Difficult? Oh, yes. Impossible? Not at all.
Attendees are being pressured from all sides to buy things, and in an attempt to stay sane and not plummet into debt, many will walk by your booth, refusing to take a look at your prized products and even shying away from eye contact. Again, try to look at it from their perspective - you only have so much money to spend, and that GLORIOUS GOLDEN BENDER figure is right around the corner. As much as we'd all like it to be so, not everyone has money to spend at every table, so don't take rejection of your book as a rejection of you as a person. This may seem silly or obvious, but after seeing literally thousands of people turn down your cheap, $2.99 book, it starts to wear on you. In many ways, the Comic-Con is a test of endurance.
Sitting back and hoping that people will come to you never works, and that problem is intensified in the small press area. Remember, those throngs of people you see rushing by are probably headed over to hear Billy West talk like Dr. Zoidberg, so if you let them go, they'll take the opportunity.
Ask those walking by how the convention is going for them. Ask to see their brand new SUPERFRIENDS statue. Just be friendly, and you'll be surprised at how many people will at least stop by and flip through one of your books. If they're willing to do that much, you can give them your pitch as to why they should open their wallets for you.
As simple as it sounds, this hint is lost on many. Keep in mind that what you give away doesn't have to be expensive to you - just free to them. Realize that a large part in getting someone to buy your book or other product is getting a potential customer to look at it, pick it up, stand in front of it and process the idea in their heads. Unfortunately, people don't just automatically stop at every booth. That's where a giveaway comes into play.
At the Explosive Comics booth, we gave away bookmarks with Mr. Massive plastered on the front. This serves many purposes. First and most important, from an immediacy standpoint, it gets potential buyers to look at what you have to offer. Some people took a bookmark in stride and kept on walking, but many at least glanced at the books before leaving. Secondly, the bookmark served as an advertisement that most people gladly grabbed and looked over at least once. We included our main character and the book's website on the bookmark, meaning that even if someone didn't buy a book, there's still a chance that they'll log on to www.mrMASSIVEcomics.com and like what they see, leading them conveniently to the site's store. Bookmarks, postcards, it doesn't matter - if it's free, portable and it looks nice, people won't turn it down.
At the booth we also had a bowl of store-bought candy to give away. This was a big crowd-pleaser, but it also came with several caveats. Almost everyone loves candy, and free candy is even better, but you must realize that it isn't free to YOU, the exhibitor. In fact, it can get a little prohibitive if you don't set limits on people passing by. There were plenty of times where someone would wander over to the booth, grab a Kit Kat, and proceed to buy a book. There were other times, though, where people took advantage of that generosity by grabbing handfuls and (literally) running away. A few parents or leaders or whomever would come by with groups of 10 or more kids, see the candy, and then announce that everyone should grab some before moving on, equating us with a bathroom break or photo opportunity. Annoying? Like you wouldn't believe. We soon set limits to one per person, but even that was abused from time to time. My advice? Use candy wisely.
That being said...
I wasn't exactly clear on all of the rules set up by the convention committee, but I'm fairly sure that actually selling food at your stand is prohibited. That doesn't mean that we didn't try to find a loophole around that, though. The night before the convention began, my wife toiled away to make giant Rice Krispie treats and sugar cookies with Mr. Massive's exclamation point emblem on them. Our selling point? Buy a book and one can be yours at no cost. This worked very well, and it provided some of the funnier moments at the booth as some people were put off by the fact that they were actually required to get a book in the deal.
For all that is holy, don't arrive at the convention without something to eat. The show is nine hours long and selling is both mentally and physically draining. We packed some lunchtime stapes: a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a container of jelly. We shared with some of our neighbors (sharing is good) and even made a sale with the promise of a great sandwich (because sometimes you have to improvise). There's usually a water fountain somewhere nearby, but if you want to make it through the day without having to pay outrageous amounts for convention food, bring something along! You'll be glad you did!
You'll be putting in some long, lonely hours manning your booth when the time comes, so you might as well say hello to the folks sitting around you. I was fortunate enough to be placed between some of the nicest small pressers around, but I never would have had that pleasure if I hadn't taken the time to get to know them. Swap some books; tell stories; grab a snack for everyone if you're on your way out. You'll find that those around you have some valuable wisdom to impart, especially if it's your first year exhibiting. And for goodness' sake, don't see your neighbors as the competition - there will come a time when your new friends need to leave their booths; take that time to help them out! You're all in the same boat, so just enjoy the ride!
While you obviously want fans to get their hands on your book, set aside a number of copies to hand out to your other audience: professionals. As with any business, it's often a matter of "who you know and who knows you", so don't be shy about giving a copy to your favorite writer or artist. Does Dark Horse want to read your book? Of course they don't, but give them a copy anyway. If your goal is to one day be employed by one of the big boys, then get your name out there. And be sure to include some contact information in your book!
I know that this is a particularly bitter pill to swallow, but don't keep yourself up at night worrying about profit, especially right away. Building an audience takes time, and just remember how reluctant people usually are to try new things. I probably gave away as many copies of MR. MASSIVE as I sold, but whether money exchanged hands or not, people are opening the book when they get home. They're reading it and forming opinions on it. It may be just enough to get them to seek out more of your work, and voila, you've got fans. It's a gradual process that takes patience and a lot of willpower to move forward, even if you're not raking in the cash.
Comic-Con International is one of the most amazing mass media gatherings you'll ever have the pleasure of being a part of. While selling your book or other product is important, you'll end up kicking yourself if Sunday comes and goes and you haven't left your little eight-foot table. While time management is of the utmost importance, you'll drive yourself crazy if you don't take in some of the local flavor every so often. Go check out the other booths. Sit in on a panel. Go buy that rare poster you've had your eye on. In short, enjoy yourself! You may never get to experience anything like this again, especially if you're all the way across the country or even across the world.
These five days are unlike anything you can get elsewhere, so enjoy it!
Jeff McClelland is one of the co-founders of Giga Studios and the writer of Explosive Comics' first title, MR. MASSIVE. He's also an all-around nice guy - but you already got that from reading this swell report.
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