FAN ABOUT TOWN – WONDER-CON 2012 Artists Alley Journal (Part 2)

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WonderCon 2012

When last we left off, I had just endured Wonder-Con 2012 Day 1, the bulk of which was spent stuck in traffic in and around the greater Anaheim area.

 Fortunately, I had already planned to take off Day 2 and spend it at home with my family, so I was given a twenty-four hour reprieve from convention gridlock, which I can only assume was compounded by St. Patrick’s Day.

 Feeling refreshed and only slightly hung-over, I returned to Anaheim for the third and final day of Wonder-Con 2012.  What follows are my journal entries from my vantage point in Artist Alley…

Sunday, March 18, 2012 – Wonder-Con Day 3

9:11 am – Have just finished cooking chocolate chip pancakes, the breakfast of choice for small children and adult drunks, when I receive a text message from my booth-mate, Vince Moore.  He’s already at the Convention Center, and the parking lots are already completely full.  F————————————————————ck.

9:34 am – En route to Anaheim, and making good time, owing to light traffic (for a change) on the 5 South.  Heeding Vince’s warning, I don’t even bother trying to park anywhere near the Convention Center and, instead, try to remember where I saw some possible permit-free street parking as I was leaving the show on Friday night.

9:50 am – Park on a quiet residential street off of Orangewood and Morgan.  It’s a bit of a hike, but I still feel luckier than the poor bastards being re-routed to park at Angels Stadium.  Suckers!!!

9:57 am – Still more high school cheerleaders and girls volleyball teams.  I can’t really think of a more mismatched double-bill with a comic book convention, so score one for hilarious juxtapositions.

10:00 am – I make it onto the show floor a full 30 minutes before the doors open to the public.  Indie Tip #3:  Most conventions tend to open to the public at least a half-hour earlier than the advertised time.  I have no idea why – maybe to avoid riots?  Anyway, always try to plan your booth set-up/exhibitor browsing accordingly.

10:11 am – Make it to our Artist Alley table, AA 83, where I run into the ever-smiling Vince.  He reports healthy crowds and sales from Saturday, although the overall numbers are still down compared to previous Wonder-Cons in San Francisco.  He hands me the “kale” (our slang for the wad of bills that passes for our booth register) before heading off to cover a few panels for ComicBookResources.com, including the choice assignment of sitting in on the Jim Lee spotlight panel.  Oh, and good news:  our table didn’t get rained on during Saturday’s deluge!  Guess we didn’t need those tarps after all…

11:01 am – Dale finally arrives to the table, after being one of the unfortunate souls sent to park at Angels Stadium, then shuttled back to the Convention Center.  He corroborates Vince’s assessment of Saturday’s show – good crowds, but those numbers didn’t translate to sales.  We do a quick poll of our neighboring exhibitors, and they all seem to share the same stats.

11:47 am – Sales are fairly sluggish today, too.  During the first few days of any convention, we often hear the same mantra from potential customers:  “Oh, I’m saving all of my purchases for the last day/I’m just scoping out the show today and tomorrow, but buying stuff on Sunday/I’ll definitely be back tomorrow!/etc.”  Sometimes, they keep to their word and come back.  And sometimes they don’t.  This show is looking to fall into the latter category.

12:12 pm – People really seem to be digging the BuyIndieComics.com message and mission statement.  Case in point:  one convention goer has customized a three-ring binder with a page devoted to each table in Artists Alley.  He’s been going from booth to booth to find out more about each exhibitor and factor them into this algorithm that does I don’t know what.  To be honest, I’m kinda zoning out at this point.  No offense to the Algorithm Guy.  He seems very knowledgeable and is a programmer for Google or something.  I think I’m just a victim of convention fatigue.

Indie Tip #4:  Convention fatigue, as near as I can tell, is a specific kind of malaise that is part hang-over, part exhaustion, and part resentment from pitching your book to anyone who walks by, only to have most of them shrug indecisively, then walk away…

12:50 pm – Traffic thins around Artist Alley, so I decide to take a lap around the convention floor.  As usual, the half-off trade bins are drawing big crowds, as are the Stylin’ Online T-shirtamatoreums.  Looking good, Anaheim!

1:06 pm – Back at AA 83.  Didn’t miss a thing.  Literally.  Absolutely nothing happened while I was gone.  Dale taps out, then fights the good fight, handing out BIC postcards around the show.  Judging from the vibe around the show, I feel pretty confident in my decision to close up shop early, so I start boxing up my unsold comics (Vince and Dale will see it through to the close of the show at 5 pm, God bless ‘em).

1:40 pm – Vince is back from the Jim Lee panel, and Dale is back from the postcard distro.  I hand back the kale, leave them an inventory of 10 copies of each issue from the Dial “C” stable, then bid adieu to Wonder-Con 2012.

1:56 pm – Back on the road.  Having learned from Friday night, I avoid the 5 North as much as possible, instead opting to take the 91 West to Long Beach, then the 710 North back to my neck of the woods.  Even though it takes me way the hell out of the way, I still make better time back than if I had stayed on the 5.  And you pass a really good Wendy’s on the 91.  So there.

6:36 pm – Back at home, I get one last text from Dale, telling me they sold an additional $15 of my product after I left.  Not too shabby.  Mostly, I feel fortunate to have friends who are still shilling my books long after I called it quits.  I guess this takes us to…

MY CLOSING THOUGHTS

Again, I make no claims to be an expert here.  I’m just some crazy asshole with a dream who’s been publishing comics and exhibiting at conventions far and wide for the past six years so, y’know, caveat emptor.  Okay, in no particular order…

1. Despite my whining, this was actually a good show for Dial “C” For Comics.  Splitting an Artist Alley table three ways with Dale and Vince meant I only had a buy-in of $50.  That means I need to sell only ten sets of Super Pimps or ten Miserable Dastards trades to break even, which I did.  Even with meals and the odd expense, I came out ahead money wise.

2. HOWEVER, when factoring in labor, time away from work and family, and how much I would’ve made if I worked these hours at my day job instead, this convention was a huge loss (but you could say that about any show).  Long story short, conventions aren’t about sales.  They’re about marketing your wares, making connections, and getting your comics out there, because they ain’t doing you any good in a box in your garage.

3. Notice what I didn’t do during the convention?  That’s right – I didn’t make it to a single panel.  This was a big revelation for me when I made the plunge from recreational convention attendee to “industry professional.”  Basically, say goodbye to panels and parties, because you will likely be either selling your stuff at your booth open to close, or so wiped from those sales that you don’t have the energy to go out when the show finally ends.  Some folks can swing this balance between work and fun better than I and, again, this is one of the benefits from splitting tables with cohorts – you get someone to watch your back from time to time.  But, even though I had that coverage this time around, I still didn’t get to any of the panels.  Too bad, too, because it looks like Wonder-Con assembled a pretty cool and varied lineup of programming this year.

4. What’s the deal with taking photos of cosplayers?  I mean, the assumption is that the people with the cameras are just going to head home and masturbate to these pictures of random people in costumes, right?  Is it just me that sees the whole situation that way?

5. Pop-up banners are probably the best business investment I’ve ever made.  They are lightweight, look sharp and, if you shop around, you can get them cheap (some place called www.imPhotoGraphics.com is offering them from $129 a pop, and that’s the lowest I’ve ever seen).

6. Always hit the bank before a show get about $50 in change, mostly ones and fives.  You’ll need it, especially on Day 1, when people are paying with mostly twenties.

7. As a general rule, I would say that Los Angeles crowds are the LEAST indie friendly of all convention towns, and this comes from the self-proclaimed Fan About Town.   When all is said and done, in the years that Wonder-Con was held in San Francisco, I sold out each time and did about triple the business of WC Anaheim.  Come to think of it, the old Wizard World Los Angeles and Long Beach Comic-Cons have been pretty anemic in terms of sales, but I’ve done well in Chicago, New York and, at one point, even at San Diego.  I have no data to back this up, but everyone I talk to seems to agree, so try to keep your target demographics in mind and be selective when planning your convention appearances.

8. Look, you should write and create whatever kind of comics you want but, if you can help it, try to come up with a catchy title that will, at best, lead to a sale and, at worst, make passers by giggle a little.  Return Of The Super Pimps usually gets 3 out of 5 attendees to laugh to themselves (again, no hard data!) and, if I’m on my game, I can usually capitalize on that reaction and get them to flip through issue #1.  From there, I can usually hook them to pick up that book, especially at the competitive price of $1 a piece.  What’s the lesson here?  I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what to make or how to sell it but, from my experience, having a comic with a catchy/ironic title and aggressive pricing doesn’t hurt.  Okay, enough pontificating from me.

Next time:  more comics coverage from the City of Angels…

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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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