March Madness wrap-up: Emerald City
“Karma owes us,” Dawn declared as we sat on an Alaskan Airlines jet waiting to take off from Burbank airport last Thursday. Somehow we’d managed to get everything together for our journey to Seattle, despite the last minute one-two punch of her badly spraining her ankle and coming down with a nasty cold.
I’m not going to say everything went perfectly, or that we came close to breaking even on our costs, but all things considered we not only had a fairly smooth process logistically, but also managed to take in more money at Emerald City Comic Con than any other convention we’ve been at, including San Diego. The event lived up to the hype all my fellow exhibitors who’d been there before had been feeding me, with big crowds on all three days. Sunday was still slow in terms of actual sales, but Friday was good and Saturday was incredible. Dawn was propped up nicely by the sheer momentum of compliments on her work, although I’m sure her medication and the wheelchair we rented also helped.
I doubted the t-shirts, and I was wrong. Oh so wrong. Gloriously wrong. We traveled up there with something like 16 of them and came back with 6, and the best part was that some of the people buying the shirts had never heard of the comic.
Does that seem odd to say? Well, here’s the hard knocks of the situation… unless you’re really getting well known, most people at a convention aren’t really going to buy something based on your brand alone. It’s a perhaps bitter pill to swallow, but putting the main character of your webcomic’s face on a t-shirt probably isn’t going to make those shirts fly off the shelves the way putting Spider-Man on them does. It’s the same reason why if you walk down Artist’s Alley at a convention you’ll be seeing a lot of different takes on Doctor Who or Joker/Harley or whatever else is popular for the time… exhibiting costs money and time, and exhibitors are constantly trying to find that balance between promoting themselves and their product, and supporting continuing to do so by appealing to the crowds.
So before designing t-shirts, we hearkened to the advice of those who had gone before us and “generecized”. Paul Martinez of Adventures of the 19xx made cool-looking posters in 1930s and 1940s pin-up style. Weregeek offers t-shirts with D&D jokes. Planes of Eldlor has lots of buttons and bookmarks with dragons on them. Every one of these is connected to the creative property they’re promoting without being overtly dependent on people knowing the comic. Of course it would be fantastic if they decided to come on board as readers, but first and foremost it’s a matter of snagging attention and getting some merchandise moved so you can hopefully offset some of the cost of being there and be there again in the future.
Thus Dawn got the shirt together with the zombie horse, because Dawn figured hey, zombie horse. Sure it says “ZOMBIE RANCH” on it and has our web address off to the side, but the main idea was that even if you have no idea what our comic is about, you might buy the shirt anyway because it just looks cool. Or you like zombies, or horses, or maybe know someone who does, and whatever the reasons for your particular impulse, out comes the wallet. I was skeptical it could be that easy, and, as stated above, but as I will repeat– I was wrong.
Maybe it’s also that a t-shirt is a WYSIWYG deal – What You See Is What You Get. There’s no commitment involved like there might be in buying a print issue, even though I bless the hearts of all the people this weekend who took the chance on us, including those who splurged and bought all three of the issues we so far have available. Your satisfaction with the t-shirt is entirely self-contained, though I would like to contend that knowing the horse on your shirt is named Popcorn gives more value added satisfaction to the true fan.
Speaking of which, we had our first ever Zombie Ranch cosplay, courtesy of longtime fan Jacky Morris who had promised to come dressed as Miss Suzie on Sunday. Fortunately this did not turn out to be an April Fool’s joke, and the pics are on our Facebook page if you haven’t seen ‘em yet. We had other fans come by as well that we haven’t met before (at least not in person), such as the people who run Comic Rocket and exhibiting newbies Kristy Kuechenmeister and Jon Grasseschi, there for the first time to pimp their respective projects.
So we’re still waiting on FedEx Ground to deliver the remainder of our stuff back to our door, but beyond that everything is done. As of Tuesday night we are home, safe and sound, along with everything we were able to take on the plane with us, which includes the zombie horse plushie concept Dawn sketched to be our post for the week. This is another item we’ve been talking about that could be a good seller, but the trick is definitely going to be finding some way to have them made that doesn’t break our bank accounts: print-on-demand is a reality, but plushie-on-demand is much less so, seeming to require both exorbitant prototype fees and minimum orders in the low hundreds at best. And it’s not something I necessarily feel worthy of a Kickstarter project, at least not on its own.
But the shirts worked, and they’re giving me hope that yes, just maybe, we really can work up at least to the point of consistently covering our costs at conventions. We did make our table price back and then some, but when you add airfare and hotel and food and all that, long-distance exhibiting still becomes a daunting dip in the red. But a few more issues, more shirts, maybe some bookmarks and the like, and who knows? Karma may or may not have owed us, but it certainly helps to have a lot of different things for fans and non-fans alike to buy.