About 75% of my job is to write down the things that pop into my head and direct them to the various blogs, articles or books I'm working on. Where does the remaining 25% go? Socializing, networking, e-mails - - the "fluff" that can make or break a working creator. You could have the best comic in the world, but if you don’t let people know about it? Well, you won’t get far. Tweeting, Facebook posts, Tumblr links, message boards, skywriting, summoning an Elder God... you do what you have to, man.
And that’s why so many creators, be they grizzled veterans or nervous noobies, find themselves on the convention circuit each year. Myself, my wife (the illustrator Jackie Santiago) and our friends are no different. This past weekend's New York Comic-Con 2012 (recently merged with New York Anime Fest) was the latest such event, and it put me in a mind to talk about conventions.
The biggest difference between anime and comic conventions seems to lie in the exhibitors. By far, comic conventions feature more working professionals on both the show floor and in Artist Alley, while anime conventions focus more on dealers and fans. Even Artist Alley at an anime convention will feature fewer working professionals than the average comic con. For every mangaka, webcomic creator, and accomplished illustrator you’ll find ten earnest, excited fans behind tables, offering $5 sketches of your favorite character, just happy to have a badge that labels them as “professional.”
So this week, your Uncle Nick is doling out some protips for anime con-goers and professionals alike. If you’re a fan who loves anime conventions, hopefully you’ll learn a trick or two to get more out of the experience. If you’re an exhibitor, you might pick up some tips to help you sell more of your work, or at least not piss off your neighbors in Artist Alley....
DO: Make pleasant conversation when you stop at an exhibitor’s table.
DON’T: Set up camp there and keep other people from looking.
Every professional creator behind a table at a convention is there with the specific goal of talking to YOU. It’s true, you’re #1! Ichiban! Congratulations!
But we’re also at a con to talk to as many YOUs as possible. You have to remember that, for us, we’re at work. It’s a cool job, we’re lucky to have it, but it’s still a job, not a vacation. That means we need to pay for our travel, our hotel, our space at the show, our food while we’re there (not to mention the money we lose when we’re not at home working). To do that, we need to sell as many books/prints/commissions as possible, and it is really hard to do that with you blocking our whole table.
True story: I once had someone hang around my table for almost an hour. AN HOUR. Front and center, too, right in front of all my wares. Eventually I had to ask them to step off to the side because people were trying to look at books and this person kept moving in front of them. Even then they stuck around, talking over new people at the table. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident.
And because we want to talk to YOU and not make YOU feel bad, we let it happen. Don’t do that to the creators you’re coming to meet, discover, and support. Respect their time and their space, and don’t get mad if we politely ask you to step aside. It’s not personal! If you want to pass by later and have another chat, feel free. But also try to remember that if it comes down to the unfathomable choice of debating the thematic underpinnings of POKEMON or selling a book, we’ve got to sell that book or we can’t come back next year.
COSPLAYER ADDENDUM: Be aware of your surroundings! When you block a whole side of an aisle, or heaven forbid, the entire aisle, you’re not just hurting me but an entire collective of exhibitors (not to mention creating a safety hazard). We all want you to have fun, and I love seeing some of the costumes, but if you want to see professionals come back to the show you’ve got to make sure you’re not preventing them from doing what they came to do: talk to people and sell some stuff.
DO: Browse around before you spend your money on a commission/sketch/etc.
DON’T: Flip through a creator’s portfolio, then point to another table and say “That’s too expensive. THEY’LL do it for cheaper,” when you see their price list.
Just because something is too expensive for you doesn’t make it overpriced. It means you can’t afford it. Don’t demean the professional artist in front of you, or insult their ability, by saying they’re overvaluing it compared to somebody else’s underpriced work. Newsflash, kiddo: if they weren’t getting paid that for their work, they wouldn’t charge it. These numbers don’t get pulled from the ether - - artists factor in time, materials, and skill (more on this in a minute though).
Sadly, this has only ever happened to Jackie at anime conventions. And it’s happened at every single one.
DO: As an exhibitor at the show, feel free to price yourself fairly in accordance with your skill and materials as compared to your peers.
DON’T: Be a dick and price as low as possible just to get more people to come to your table.
This is gonna be a mean one. Sorry, kids. But take my advice and you’ll be one of the good guys. I hit because I love.
Whether you’re at a comic or anime convention, you’re going to find Artist Alley filled with all levels of creators: professionals, people looking to break in, and people who, frankly, shouldn’t be there. Artist Alley is a proving ground though, and open to all comers with enough gil, so even Johnny Cantdraw, whose mom always told him he’d make a great artist someday, can set up and accept your cash. But like I said above, there are fewer professionals at anime conventions, and that means far more Johnny Cantdraws.
The problem is, Johnny Cantdraw isn’t there to make a living. He’s not even there to “break in” to the industry. He’s there because too many people told him he was talented as a kid and he’s a huge fan. So what’s he do? He offers that poster-sized commission for $10 because that means more people will flock to his table. Will it be good? Nope. But at anime conventions, my experience has been that most folks are happier to get a better deal than better art. And that’s when they show up at Jackie’s table, insult her work, and saunter down the aisle to get their crappy $10 commission.
Maybe exhibiting at an anime convention is your dream. Hey, I love dreams. My dream is to keep my phone on, eat some decent meals, and eventually be able to put my hypothetical kid through college. If you’re gonna be there anyway, help me realize my dream by not creating a crap economy at shows.
DO: If you’re an artist, bring your portfolio around for critiques from the pros who illustrate for a living.
DON’T: Get angry when you get honest feedback and tips.
There are lots of tips on the internet about “breaking in” to comics.. Hell, I have a whole section of my website filled with tools to help you realize your dream of making comics. But at conventions we’re all in the trenches, and if you’re looking for tips from a professional you need to charge bravely into the breach, portfolio in hand.
The thing is, you need to try to be objective about your own work. Compare it to the books that you buy and read - - are you close to that level of quality? Maybe you only read the finest books and that isn’t a fair example, you’re just starting out after all, so instead try to find the ugliest book currently on shelves. Are you at least as good as that?
What I’m getting at is that it shouldn’t surprise you when a professional tells you that your crayon ONE PIECE drawings might not quite be up to snuff yet. Calm down, alright?
Yes, this really happened (though they weren’t ONE PIECE - the names have been changed to protect the blah blah blah).
Yes, they were an “adult.”
No, they did not have any obvious “special needs.”
Look, a lot of it is common sense coupled with basic social etiquette, but between the excitement of being at a show and a lack of understanding of why we pros are on the other side of the table, some of that stuff falls by the wayside. And yeah, I know hearing that you or a friend may have unintentionally pissed off someone (or a lot of someones) sucks.
But hey, now you know better! At your next con you can even save your pal from getting throttled by an artist, and maybe make some new friends in the process. And knowing is half the battle.
Special thanks to all my pals who didn’t know they were appearing in this week’s article:
- Marker Master, wife, pretty lady, Jackie Tapalansky
- Comic Wizard, Alex Eckman-Lawn
- Water Color Warrior, Kate Glasheen
- Globetrotting Adventurer, Alexander Lewis (who keeps no online identities)
- Comic writer/editor/pro fan, Zach Rosenberg
- My Friendly Neighborhood Ghostbuster, Vinny Nordone
- And an extra special thanks to “Mifa” from Anime Boston 2009... Wherever you are.
Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at http://www.NickTapalansky.com/blog and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.