How to get into a comic con
You buy a ticket.
Okay, that’s facetious, and for that matter easier said than done in the case of San Diego. In any case, I’m talking more about exhibiting. How do you elbow your way in to a spot on the floor?
A few months back on one of the forums I frequent, a webcomic author posted asking if comic conventions were worth trying to host a table or booth at. Specifically, were they a good place to network and meet people, or would they be shunned by the establishment? Were webcomics “treated as lepers or not”?
The thought of putting yourself out there at one of these gatherings, particularly one that attracts more than just local talent, can be very intimidating. Who are you, Mr. or Miss Self-Publish, to believe you deserve to share the same space as nationally or even internationally famed artists and authors, some of whom have been working in the industry since before you were born? Please. San Diego has a five year waiting list for their Small Press area, and you think you have a chance?
Hang on, back up.
If San Diego really had a backlog of five years on their Small Press area, how the hell did we manage to get called up to exhibit there last year? Because I can guarantee you we had no special insider angle. Until APE last year we’d never even met the man in charge in person, and the first time I’d ever talked to him was when he called us out of the blue last April to offer us a just-opened spot he needed to fill. Had we said no or not made a decision fast enough, he would have just moved on down his list. We were a piece of paper, and for that matter a piece of paper that had been stamped ‘WAIT LIST’ on the CCI 2010 Sunday I turned in our application. At most you could say that our Small Press jury submission had passed muster, but we had no idea of even that being true until that phone call.
The point I’m making here is, we applied despite the hopelessness and pessimism a lot of people have surrounding the show, and it worked. This year we’re back on the wait list, but we now know that being turned down in December is not the end of hope. Nor did we feel out of place while we were there, and that’s important too.
It’s usually not in a convention’s interest to turn people away. San Diego Small Press is, in fact, an extreme example in terms of requiring a material print submission for judgment as part of the application process. Every other convention we’ve dealt with has wanted only two things to be true:
- All the paperwork is in order
- Your check clears
That’s about it. Now if you’re a pure webcomic it might be a bit rough if you don’t even have so much as some fliers to hand out, but I doubt you’ll be denied a table. A lot of applications don’t even really ask if you happen to be a webcomic or not, and most conventions don’t have any separate area for such, they’ll just seed you into Artist’s Alley or one of the booths. You might get a terrible spot, you might get an okay spot, or you might even get a great spot, but it’s all going to be pretty random in your first outings.
But if you want to keep going, plan ahead. Get your paperwork and payment in as early as possible. Speaking as a clerk in my own day job, I can’t tell you how much of a turn-on it is to get properly completed forms. Okay, perhaps I should rephrase that — but in any case I always try to make it a point to have all t’s crossed and all i’s dotted, and I make sure to politely follow up by email to ensure all the connections are made. Sometimes an organizer will make the rounds of the convention to introduce themselves, and that’s a great time to shake their hands and introduce yourself right back. Even the biggest shows are nowhere near as impersonal as something like, say, calling AT&T customer service… you’ll have a person or persons that you’ll get to know, and if you make a good impression with them, well, now you’re not just a piece of paper and a bank check any more. The flipside of this is that if you piss them off you might have trouble, but so far I think I’ve managed to balance being assertive about any needs without crossing the line into ‘annoying git’.
One absolute warning though, I’m not kidding about getting things taken care of early. Some conventions are okay to let slide for awhile after they open applications, but when we made the decision to try out Emerald City I had our paperwork in less than a month after they started taking submissions, and it wasn’t long after that that they had completely sold out of exhibit space. For San Diego I turn in our application while we’re still at the convention. The same thing can go for hotel reservations if you need them — grab them early, especially if your convention has any special exhibitor deals negotiated with the nearby ones.
Do webcomics have a stigma at conventions? Maybe there’s some attendees and exhibitors who’ll avoid you, but there’s a lot more who are just fine with it. I mean, again, assuming they can even tell that sort of thing on sight. When you have a venue where a guest artist often shows up with a single banner for their plain white plastic table, how do you tell amateur from professional at a glance? For that matter, we live in a world where you can’t assume the guy wearing jeans and sneakers isn’t a millionaire. I wouldn’t even worry about it. The very fact you have that table should be evidence enough of dedication to your cause. Everyone starts somewhere, and if there are any convention organizers out there who refuse to respect or recognize that, then I have, thankfully, yet to meet them.