HeroesCon 2010 Report: The Long Con

IMG_0002.jpg.scaled1000I’ve just completed my first big comic book convention, Heroes Con, at which I was promoting my webcomic, Nathan Sorry, and selling its accompanying mini-comics. As I slowly unwind from the 3-day long experience I thought I’d unspool some thoughts here in order to process the whole experience for myself. It was a great show, a full and exhausting 3 days and now I’m left pondering what I learned from it and looking down the road at where I should go from here.

I’ve been coming to HeroesCon as a fan for the past 6 years so it was a big honor for me to be able to appear as a guest with my own table in my favorite section of the show: Indie Island (thanks, Dustin Harbin and Shelton Drum!). Previously, I had only appeared at two other local mini-cons. Although those shows pale in comparison to Heroes, they definitely helped get me in shape for this three day marathon of sitting in a chair while people walk past you without really looking.

PT1v3_cover-1I had a nice little setup where I was selling issues 1 and 2 of my comic. Plus I had free postcards to give out and two portfolios to flip through. One with original art and one with some random non-Nathan Sorry stuff like sketches and my True Celebrity Fiction pieces. My table was in a circle that had a really great group of people to be able to hang out and chat with. My good friend and fellow Sketch Charlotte member, Tom Davidson, sat caddy-corner to me along with Henry Eudy who I met for the first time at the show even though we’ve known each other on Twitter for a while. Henry is a super-nice guy who does some hilariously dark comics like his newest mini, The Burrito King. Seriously, Henry is a hidden local gem waiting to be discovered. Tom has sat next to me at every convention I’ve done so far and I’ve learned a lot from him on how to engage and draw in potential readers at these things. We also had Tiziana Severse and Brent Baldwin of Deaver Park Press who were just about the friendliest people I met out of  a weekend full of friendly people. And then rounding out our circle were some big guns like Top Shelf Comics, Andy Runton of Owly fame (who I kick myself for never even getting a chance to talk to) and Matt Kindt who did probably my favorite book of this past year, 3 Story: The Secret History Of Giant Man. Also it was great to sit next to and meet local artist Duane Ballenger who was helping out at the Top Shelf table and selling his own t-shirts and sculptures that got a LOT of attention all weekend.

So, how did it go, you ask?

Really good, I think. I mean, I have no real frame of reference except those two other cons where I sold a grand total of about 4 mini-comics. Coming into this one, not knowing what I could expect, I hoped to reach the vague goal of “a few”. I wound up selling 44 comics (I was selling $2 black and white mini-comics of Nathan Sorry #1 and 2). A few of those sales were actually trades I made with some other cartoonists that I met at the show. Plus I gave away about 13 books to various people just to get it out there a bit. That’s a little more than half the stash I came there with.

Is that good?

sketches_nathancaseyI think so. I’m happy with it. Of course if you look at it from a monetary value, $88 over a 3 day period is not so great. Especially when you compare it to the money I could have made working my usual hourly rate as a graphic designer over that time. I was lucky to not have to pay any travel or table costs and I even got a can’t-beat-it deal on printing and I still lost money if you count all the other peripheral costs like postcards, business cards even parking each day. Oh and then there’s all the books and comics I bought while I was there.

But that’s besides the point, of course. I didn’t start this comic to make money. And I didn’t go to this convention to make money. I simply mention the money aspect of this to underline the fact that there a lot of people at these conventions that are probably not getting a lot of money back for their time. The point of it all is to meet other comic creators, to get your book out to new readers and to meet current readers. Even if my success in those areas were modest this weekend it’s not about this one convention. You have to think in terms of The Long Con. You lay the groundwork one con at a time in order to make your name, face and your work familiar. After you start doing multiple conventions people begin to remember you. Being successful in comics takes a lot of time outside of the time you actually spend making them and the payoff of that time spent may be a long way down the road. How do you balance all this comic making time with money-making-time and family-spending-time? These are some of the things that the show has got me thinking about as I wonder where I take it from here?

Well, what did I learn this weekend? A lot:

1. Two is better than one.
Almost every sale I made was people buying both issues of my book rather than just trying out the first one. There’s probably a few reasons for this. Easiest is that spending $4 is not a big stretch from $2 if you’re going to spend anything at all. But I think the fact that I had two books to sell made me a lot more appealing than I was at previous shows because I was now looking more like someone who was here to stay. Also, being that my book is basically an in-progress graphic novel, I’m sure most people figure the bigger the chunk of story you can get your hands on the better it’s going to read.

Really, though the more stuff you have to sell the better. That’s something I’ve learned from Tom Davidson who always does well at these shows because he’s got a variety of books at various prices to sell. Though they are all in a similar range – $1, $2, $3. I think the sales really start to come in when you’ve got a true variety like some $2 comics along with a $15 book. I spoke with Ben Towle who is super-smart at analyzing his own convention performance on his blog and he said he felt that his sales were down this year because he was only selling books and not minis this year. But looking at his own con report on his blog it seems he actually found his sales were up since he was just making less frequent but meatier book sales.

I’m a long way from having a bigger book to sell yet so I can only plan on having more issues to sell at a future show but maybe I can think about having more variety too. Like a sketchbook or something involving my True Celebrity Fiction stuff. Then again, getting focused on sales takes me away from what I’m actually trying to do and that’s complete the graphic novel I’m working on. That other stuff becomes a distraction simply to make a few extra bucks that I don’t really care about.

2. You have to get out of your chair.
One misconception I had going into this was that a lot of other indie creators would wander around, stop by my table and check out what I had. With the exception of a couple of cases that didn’t really happen. That’s not meant as a criticism to other creators at all. I’m sure they were definitely doing a lot of that but there were about 300 other guests there so the odds of people walking over to me weren’t that great. This is not the kind of show you get “discovered” at I think. So I learned prettty quickly that I couldn’t just spend the whole con sitting at my table. It was important to get up and walk around and hand my book to people I respected and would love to get feedback from. People like Matt Kindt and Ben Towle and Chris Pitzer of Ad House Books. I wish that I did this a little more but it’s the kind of necessary self-promotion that goes against a lot of artists’ reserved and humble nature.

3. To free or not to free?
Giving out books to certain influential people for free is certainly worth much more than the $2 I charge for the book. But I have a slight fear that giving out the book devalues it a little even though I already give away the damn thing for free on the internet. I traded my book with a number of people which was pretty cool. That’s something that apparently goes on a lot at more mini-comic focused shows and I love the way this puts everyone on the same playing field. I met Ed Piksor who sat across the aisle from me. He’s a really cool guy and insisted on giving me one of his books (the first volume of Wizzywig) in exchange for mine even though the monetary and production values did not come close to matching. It was almost like saying, “Hey we both put the same amount of sweat and tears into these books”.

sketch_prezOne thing I won’t do again though is putting up a “SKETCHES: FREE” sign on my table that can’t be easily taken down. Being one of the least famous people in the room I didn’t really want to charge people for doing sketches and to tell you the truth I didn’t get too bombarded with requests anyway. The ones I did were actually fun and pleasantly weird. My favorite being this one I did for a guy who was asking people do do the 1970s character Prez the Teenage President. But there was no reason for me to advertise that I was doing them for free and when my energy had completely drained on Sunday that’s when I started getting annoying requests from people who were just looking for free stuff. Rookie mistake.

4. Twitter generates sales.
A number of people that follow me on Twitter sought me out at the convention to buy my book
. I could actually diagram out how every bit of success I’ve had with this book is related directly or indirectly to Twitter even though my analytics never shows much actual traffic coming from Twitter to my webcomic. That’s for another blog entry I guess.

5. People Are Generous
On a number of occasions when I had run out of dollars to give as change people would just gave me $5 for the two issues and tell me to keep the change. Some even offered me money for the sketches I was giving for free. Plus, all the professionals of course who were happy to chat about the business and how they do what they do. Of the people I haven’t mentioned yet I had some good conversations with Josh Latta, Rob UllmanGabby Schultz, Liz Baille, Paul Maybury, Brad GuigarChristian Sager and my friend Eraklis Petmezas. HeroesCon is full of good people.

Anyway, all of this is the long way of getting to the question of “What do I do now?” HeroesCon was a great experience but in order to get the most out of it I need to keep doing other cons. But with a heavy schedule of freelance work, family life and putting out pages of Nathan Sorry itself I feel I have to be choosy about what cons I can actually do. The logical choice for me is SPX though I’m too late to register for this year’s show and had convinced myself I wasn’t ready for it yet (I think I probably am). Everyone at Heroes was talking up FLUKE in Athens and I heard some really promising things about FANATICON in Asheville. Both have already passed so we’re talking next year for those. There might be some shows in Atlanta to look into but it’s looking like I may not do any more the rest of this year. Hopefully I’ll also be invited back to Heroes next year so 2011 may be the year I really make the Con scene work for myself which I guess will give me more time to spruce up my presentation and figure out how to really make the most of it.

In the meantime, it’s time to get back to making comics. Between some vacation time and getting ready for Heroes I’ve really fallen behind schedule on working on my comic so I look forward to pushing ahead now and working towards getting a 3rd issue complete. I met some really great people this weekend and hope to continue building on those relationships and seeing what we all do in the future.

  • http://ohthehumanatee.com Henry

    Thank you so much for your all too kind words up above. This was my first big con as well and I went into it pretty petrified that I was making a fool of myself with my childish and messy little print offerings. Both yourself and Tom did a lot to make me feel comfortable (well, as comfortable as a man of my size squeezed between two table ends can be) about passing myself off to strangers as a semi-real cartoonist. Sitting out the weekend with you guys really made me feel a part of the little secret comics community that’s lurking in the shadow’s of this banker’s burg.

    Nathan Sorry really impressed me too. I had casually glanced at two pages on the web but, because of my own short attention span in computer related matters, didn’t pursue the story. Fortunately, your print books spoke directly to my old man analog brain and, boy, did it light that geezer up with joy. I really, really, loved the story and I’ll be reading loyally along from this point forward. While you were away from your table I was glad to be able to whole heartedly remark to the oft curious passers by that, “Oh, you should really read this guy’s stuff, it’s super good.”

    I also throughly endorse your inclinations to get to some other cons. You are for sure ready to rock a SPX or even a MoCCA and could blow the doors off Fluke. I’ve gone to Fluke two years running and I can’t recommend it enough. I’d be so thrilled to see you down there next year. I’m glad to hear that you too had a good meet up with Ed Piskor, that guy is so generous and friendly. He’s really done a lot to encourage me and, I’m sure, lots of other amateur cartoonists to get our feet wet jockeying tables in the big halls.

    Anyway, HeroesCon was a better experience that I had even dared to hope for and it was largely due to the good fellowship stirred up between us locals and the friendly people all around us. I kinda felt this con was either going to kill my desire to keep publicly cartooning or propel me on into taking it seriously at last. I’m really glad to have landed on the latter side with guys like you. Thanks, again!

  • Rich

    Henry, it was really cool meeting you this weekend. It’s great to meet another like-minded cartoonist in Charlotte because there are so few of us. We all need to stick together. I definitely dig your work.

    I totally understand your feelings going into it about being a make or break moment. My previous con experiences left me feeling like this sort of thing was a waste of time for me simply because it took up an entire day with very little prospect of reaching new readers. And it had me wondering if my type of book was even “con-friendly” since it wasn’t light reading and not easily made into a t-shirt. HeroesCon was a different story I think. I feel much more optimistic about it all this time. Just need to pinpoint the other shows out there that will also make me feel this way.

  • http://www.watchtomdraw.com TomD.

    Fellas, you both rock. Don’t be afraid to take chances. And keep making great comics and getting them out there! :)

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  • http://www.bearbuttcomics.com Brian Wingrove

    Last year i was in the same boat, my first big convention, so i really related to your post and wanted to write. I’ve heard from everyone i spoke with that this was a slow year. Numbers were down for everybody, so judging success by numbers is not the way to go. Looking past the “I only sold __” mentality you have is a lot less stressful.
    Also, I agree with your “two is better than one” comment. Last year I sold my first three issues of Intermezzo (my self published comic) as a special 3 for $6. Every sale I made was for all three, if people were interested enough to spend $2.50 for one they would spend $6 for all three.
    This year differed because I had a lot of people buying just the first issue instead of a set (I had five issues this time, and a set of 5 plus a tshirt for $10). That was the big difference I saw this year was people were still willing to try something new, they just were more frugal.
    Don’t have Twitter so i can’t comment about that, but the other comments i agree with completely. I liked reading your blog, sorry i did not meet you in person. Maybe next year.
    Brian Wingrove
    Bear Butt Comics

  • Rich

    Brian, thanks so much for taking the time to respond here. Really interesting to hear about other people’s experiences. What works for them, what doesn’t. I’m especially interested in hearing how your sales went down possibly because of the higher price point of your package. Maybe there is a sweet spot for comic sales at these things and the range is somewhere around $3-6.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.bearbuttcomics.com Brian Wingrove

    This year I sold around $120. Last year was around $140, so they were comparable, but not quite the same. From what other people told me about how bad their weekend was (saleswise, everyone always seems to have a good time at Heroescon) I was quite pleased to be that close. I think my number of sales were close to the same, but not everyone bought a set like they did last year.
    Like you i try to keep my prices low ($2.50 cover price), so it keeps it as an impulse buy. But I want to get more issues in people’s hands to read so they will (hopefully) get hooked and want to keep reading so i have a better deal for the set. I sold some of the sets as well, but last year every sale was for a set and no one bought single issues.
    I know how nerve racking that first con was, so hang in there. I’ve done a bunch in the past year. I think that helps a lot. Next is baltimore. Maybe I will see you there. This time I will be sure to talk.

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