FAN ABOUT TOWN – WONDER-CON 2012 Artists Alley Journal (Part 1)

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WonderCon 2012

As most of the comics cognoscenti has blogged by now, Wonder-Con 2012 blew through Anaheim this past weekend, much like the hurricane that its logo somewhat resembles.  And, just like that hurricane, this year’s show was unpredictable and furious and plagued the Disneyland area with several inches of rain.

Now, when I was starting out as a Small Press publisher in 2006, I realized that I needed to exhibit at conventions as a way to promote my books and create lasting relationships with retailers, distributors, other writers and artists, editors at other publishers and – God willing – potential fans.  What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was just what is involved in exhibiting at a comic convention.

So, to that end, I have prepared detailed notes from this year’s Wonder-Con in journal form so that you, the aspiring indie creator and/or masochistic weirdo who enjoys reading about other people’s suffering, will benefit from my misery experiences in Artists Alley and apply that knowledge to your own future convention adventures.  Cheers!

Friday, March 16, 2012 – Wonder-Con Day 1

11:00 am – Leaving my day job in Glendale to make it down to the Anaheim Convention Center before the doors open to attendees at 12:30 pm.  Google Maps says the ride should only take 44 min., so I have plenty of time.

11:44 am – Stuck in traffic on the 5 South.  Google Maps lied to me.  Why would it do that?  Doesn’t matter, though.  I’m feeling good about the show.  Feeling POSITIVE.

12:20 pm – Still stuck in traffic.  Am listening to Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” on 104.3 FM.  I guess this applies to my situation right now?  I call BIC EIC Dale Wilson to let him know that I will be late and, unfortunately, miss the “Insight Into Indie Publishing” Panel in which he will be participating.

12:35 pm – Finally made it to Anaheim.  Drive past the Disneyland Grand Californian Resort, where everyone looks so happy, then turn down Katella Ave. towards the convention center parking lot.  Which is completely full.  @#$%!

12:42 pm – All is not lost.  I find parking in a lot behind the convention center.  $12 later, I park on the second level and unload  3 boxes of Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards comics, a book display rack, folding chair, and pop-up banner, and precariously balance all of them on my travel dolly.  Looking for the elevator, I soon come to understand that there is no elevator.  Only stairs.  F— this place.

12:45 pm – I have successfully carried each 20 lb. box down a flight of stairs – one at a time – and put them back on the dolly.  Now dragging it across the marshaling yard behind ACC, looking for some way into the goddamned place.  On the plus side, the Convention Center staff is extremely pleasant.  I am also noticing a lot of high school girls in volleyball and cheerleader uniforms.  Cosplayers?

12:50 pm – Take an elevator down with pro-inker Danny Miki (!) to the exhibitor registration area in the basement to collect my exhibitor badge.  There is some confusion and delay in finding the badge but, again, everyone is really friendly, and the matter gets resolved quickly.

1:00 pm – Take another elevator up to the convention floor, wheel my stuff over to Artist Alley, and finally reach the BuyIndieComics.com booth at AA83!  The good news?  It’s a corner spot.  The bad news?  It faces the far wall, meaning traffic to our table is reduced.  BIC contributor Astra Price is relieved to see me, not so much because I’m over an hour late but, rather, because she really has to run to the restroom and has been waiting for me to get there and man the booth.  Sorry, Astra.  Blame the high school girls’ cheerleading and volleyball conventions that took up all of the parking!

1:10 pm – I’ve just put my comics on the display rack, and a nice lady buys a Miserable Dastards tpb based on the name alone.  My first sale within 10 minutes?  Things are looking up!

1:25 pm – Run over to the food court and grab a pepperoni Stromboli for $6.50.  It’s certainly not the worst convention food I’ve ever ingested but, between that and the parking, I’ve already dropped almost $20 in less than an hour.   Indie tip #1:  bring your own food and plenty of bottled water to cons, as you will work up an appetite and talk yourself hoarse pitching your books to anyone who evinces even the slightest interest.

1:40 pm – The Indie Insights panel is over, and Dale Wilson returns to the booth, reporting a robust turnout at the panel, especially considering it was the first panel on the first day of the show.  Dale also hands me my very own BuyIndieComics.com t-shirt!  It’s black, which has a slimming effect.  And I like that.

2:30 pm – Work my way to the ComiXology booth which, first of all, is pretty cool that they even have a booth at a West Coast show.  Two reps are handing out postcards with free download codes for The Walking Dead vol. 1 tpb.  Of course I take one, but I’m there to discuss how to get my books onto the ComiXology app.  I already have a contract with Panelfly (I think they’re still in business?) and my titles will be up on the excellent Graphicly platforms shortly, but I want to complete the trifecta.  The reps tell me to come back at 4:30 pm, so that I can talk to someone in the know.  Okey-doke.

3:47 pm – Business is light compared to previous Wonder-Cons in San Francisco, but steady.  To put it into perspective, for the past three years, I have SOLD OUT in Frisco and have found the crowds there to be very indie-friendly and supportive of non-mainstream books about pimps with powers and henchmen with hearts of gold.  Everyone at the BIC table remains optimistic about this year’s show, but we all hold out hope that we can return to SF next year (the commute feels about the same, given the nightmarish traffic in Anaheim).  Unfortunately, the word on the floor is that Wonder-Con’s move to SoCal might not be so temporary and that this could even be a dry run to move Comic-Con down here once their renewed contract with the San Diego Convention Center expires in a few years.  Madness.

4:35 pm – Return to the ComiXology booth 5 minutes after I’m told to, so that I can come across as hip and nonchalant.  I approach the reps again, and they seem to have forgotten that we met and chatted at length just two hours ago (I don’t begrudge them at all – these guys are working hard and handing out a lot of cards and, after even a few minutes, everyone’s faces start blurring together when you’re exhibiting at a con).  Fortunately, I get to speak to Kevin Pearl, ComiXology’s Social Lead and Marketing Assistant.  I hand him hard copies of my book, explain that we’re on other apps and carried by Diamond, and express my interest in signing up with ComiXology.  Kevin couldn’t be more encouraging, but acknowledges how swamped they are right now with submissions.  He does indicate that there might be some movement on this front in the near future.  Upcoming-Press-Release-Sense Tingling.

5:00 pm – Back at our AA table, traffic is solid, and people seem interested in the BIC concept.  Dale promotes the hell out of the site to all comers, and the always magnetic Vince Moore attracts many interested parties and customers.  Folks seem particularly interested in the BIC postcards Dale printed, which features a free download QR-Code on the back (ComiXology totally copied us).

5:52 pm – A representative from Wonder-Con walks down the alley, making sure that we all have our State of California Board of Equalization Temporary Sellers Permits (or SOCBOETSP, for short) on premises.  It’s a rather nondescript certificate printed on lovely goldenrod paper and, yes, we have ours.  “Good,” says the WC rep, because the BOE has people patrolling the floor, making sure everyone’s papers are in order.  I joke around and ask if these BOE guys are cos-playing as Stormtroopers.  We all have a laugh over that one, especially the WC guy.  Good one, Richard!

6:30 pm – The PA system announces that the floor will be closing in 30 minutes.  For anyone who has ever worked a con, this is like hearing that you’ve almost made parole.  We start making plans for a “keynote dinner” in the area, a tradition our group has carried on since we first started splitting booths (and costs) at SDCC years ago.  Indie Tip #2:  If possible, try to share booths at conventions with friends or colleagues who publish a product similar to yours.  This helps defray costs, doubles traffic to your location if both parties successfully cross-promote, and ensures that there’s always somebody on-hand to cover the booth so that you can take bathroom, lunch, or panel breaks.

6:45 pm – The PA blares again.  Only 15 minutes go!  We decide on Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Company for dinner, and I can almost taste that beer on my tongue.

6:56 pm – Two attractive girls make the rounds in Artists Alley and cheerfully hand out a flyer to everyone.  Vince takes the flyer and, as he reads it, I watch the smile on his face gradually shift into a look of abject confusion and, finally, extreme concern.  Dale then reads the flyer, undergoing a similar emotional shift.  Ditto Astra.  Now I read the flyer, expecting some sort of J-Horror curse, like in “The Ring.”  But it’s just a statement that Wonder-Con expects a lot of rain tomorrow, so they’re offering free 10’x10’ plastic tarps to cover our merchandise overnight, if we want them.  But… why would we need tarps if we’re indoors?  No one from WC is around to explain this to us, so we all look, in unison, to the rafters, straining our eyes to perceive if there are any leaks or cracks in the ceiling.  I don’t see anything, but I’m no engineer.  Later on, I suspect that the flyer girls were selected purposefully by the Wonder-Con staff for their attractive appearances to distract us from the content of the flyers until they are long gone.  Smart move, because panic is starting to set-in at Artists Alley.

7:00 pm – One last PA announcement.  The show is over.  Thank Christ.  But no mention of whether or not the Anaheim Convention Center is structurally unsound.  Vince and Dale ask if we should wait in line and get a tarp, just in case, but I say “f— that, I’m getting a beer.”

7:23 pm – I’ve made it to Oggi’s in record time, but parking sucks here, too.  What’s up with Anaheim, man?  Dale, Astra, Vince, and his wife, Kim, are all supposedly right behind me, so I put our name at in at the hostess desk and ask how long the wait is.  She won’t even give me a ball-park figure.  I’m sensing a trend here, but whatever.  I head to the bar and order a pint of the McGarvey’s Scottish Ale and start watching the Lakers game.  The beer is quite good; a dark amber color with good lacing and a smoky, malted flavor that leads me to believe it may have been stored in old whiskey barrels at some point in the brewing process.  Or I’m just some pretentious asshole.  U-decide!

7:50 pm – I keep compulsively checking my cell phone, like a true Los Angelino, for any kind of text from Dale or Vince.   Nothing.  I start to suspect foul play …

8:10 pm – Dale and Astra finally park blocks away.  Vince and Kim have given up and gone home, hungry.  I order another McGarvey’s.

8:20 pm – Dale and Astra and I are seated at our table.  I get the roast beef sliders (they’re okay), and Dale and Astra get two personal pizzas (they look good to me, but Dale says the crust is too sweet).  One thing we can all agree on, though:  the Southwestern Wonton Rolls are divine!

9:00 pm – That’s it.  I’m going home.  The whole reason I stayed for dinner in Anaheim was to avoid rush hour traffic back to LA.

10:50 pm – Stuck in gridlock at Rosecrans, due to a 3-car pile-up.  Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” plays on the radio again.  I’m really getting into this song, guys.

12:11 am – I finally make it home to Silver Lake after getting off the 5 North, cutting across surface roads through Artesia and Bellflower, to Long Beach (!), where I take the 710 back.  I am not going back to the show tomorrow.  F— you, Wonder-Con in Anaheim.  You broke my heart.

Next week:  You get my diary about Sunday at Wonder-Con, as well as my closing “thoughts” about conventioneering, in general.  Lucky you.

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Richard A. Hamilton is a Los Angeles resident for 12 years running and the writer/publisher of Return of the Super Pimps and Miserable Dastards.  On his free time, he seeks out new Indie comics, local beers, and –on good days — both. 

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