Outside the Comfort Zone: Alternatives to San Diego Comic Con

by Sheika Lugtu

by Sheika Lugtu

One of the best things to have happened for Indie Creators in the past few decades has been the exponential growth of the comic convention industry. There are the big ones (in North America) such as San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, C2E2 etc. Say what you will about them; fact remains that Indie Comic Creators can benefit from comics’ move into mainstream popularity and the suddenly engorged consumer audience.

Last week, we talked about attending mid-sized and small comic conventions. The growing interest in comics has spawned comic events all over the country, making it easy for Indie Comic creators to sell no matter where they live without the hassle of travel and hotel expenses. Comics conventions are a no-brainer — they are already full of comic fans, readers and collectors! It would be unwise, however, to sell only at comics events. (Eggs in one basket and all that.)

If you only attend your town or state’s comic convention, eventually you’ll end up seeing the same people over and over again. If you can afford to travel around, that’s great. Otherwise, as an Indie Creator, one of the most important skills to have is finding ways to market to new people. When I first started doing conventions, I only attended comics events. Since I do slice-of-life “girly” comics, I was a hit amongst older teens and girlfriends. I did pretty well but by the third time at the event, everyone coming to my table had already bought everything I had to offer. (Note: I love long-term fans and they should always be top priority. However, we’re talking business here.)

That’s when I broadened my scope to include DIY and craft fairs, Zine and Print fests, and small press expos. As comic fans and creators, I think it’s easy to become so entrenched in the culture that we can forget how Indie Comics can multi class cross categories. Hand-stapled comics with small print runs can qualify you for crafts and DIY-themed events. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s full of little old ladies. The DIY craft movement has grown to include alternative crowds and fellow Indie Creators. Mini comics also count as “zines,” and if you sell prints of original art you could be looking into art fairs.

Look closely at your work. Try to describe it as broadly as possible, even have an un-biased friend do it. Take each of those keywords and at least do a Google search. You’d be surprised at some of the themed conventions. Let’s say you do an anime-style kid’s comic about a time-travelling scientist with a pet dragon who goes to the Victorian England. Some possibilities would be children-friendly events (such as Kid’s Convention 2012,) Anime Expo, sci-fi cons (such as Fandemonium), Dragon*con and Steamcon (a steampunk con.) There are horror cons (such as World Horror Fest), gaming cons, even tattoo cons are fair game to promote at if your art fits. If your comic is music themed, consider contacting local bands to see if you can sell or at least promote at their shows. Seriously, I can do this all day.

The most important thing to remember is to do your research. Try to find information about previous events, preferably from the last year. How popular is it and how many people attended? What vendors were there? Look at pictures, read any news articles and blog posts about them. Do a keyword search on twitter and look at their Facebook wall.

It is important to try judging the possible attendees. Being surrounded by non-comic fans can be risky. Many people still regard comics as an inferior medium, some parents flat-out refuse to let their kids read them.

When I finally branched out from comic cons, I found myself selling to a completely different crowd. I thought I had pegged my target audience down: 18-30 year olds, art students and aspiring artists. Older people amused at my stories of naïve youth, crafty types interested in self-publishing, foodies and cat-lovers (I draw a lot of both).

Many of these people had never really read comics before. The nature of my work has led me to meet people who didn’t know genres other than action superhero existed. I’ve since collaborated with musicians and screen-printers and artists.  I’ve met and advised young people frustrated at the lack of a clear career path for cartoonists.

The beauty of Indie Comics is the lack of boundaries; lines between genres and creator and reader are all blurred. If you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone, the rewards can be high.

Some MORE resources to find small events in your area.

1. Fanboy’s List looks plain but covers a large range of events, viewable by date and location.
2. Upcoming Cons lists cons and has some interesting tools for site members.
3. Stolen Sharpie Revolution is a website and book, collecting anything and everything on zines and the underground press.

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Sheika Lugtu lives on the internet and draws comics just for you at OMGcow.com. Ask her stuff or just say hi @OMGcow

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