Note From The President, Cerebus 176, November 1993Copyright 1993 Dave Sim
Once again, a little bit of 'advanced learning'. This time I'm going to skip ahead to promoting your self-published title; whether it's only a photo-copied version, or a complete black and white with for real comic book colour cover. One of the best places to promote is the small convention - either a really small one day flea market or a one or two-day regional show. Tables are not that expensive at most of these shows. It you can't afford one of your own, you might be able to find a sympathetic store owner or dealer who'll offer to share part of one of his tables with you (a good example of the Direct Link between creators and retailers in action). How a self-publisher 'works' a convention spells the difference between success and failure. It is very easy to be defeatist in the early stages. I remember going to a local Toronto Con with Deni when the second issue came out: we had exactly two issues and a terrible Frazetta rip-off poster to sell. I remember being enraged (ENRAGED) when Marvel zombies would throw their coats on top of our little piles of Cerebus 1 and 2 while they pawed through long-boxes at the adjacent table. Yes, most people at a comic book convention are looking for 'hot' comics from Image, Valiant, Dark Horse, et al. You don't have much artillery to work with; a couple of issues of a completely unknown comic book. You have to generate interest, somehow.
There is something you can do, and that's draw. It is an effective weapon particularly in this day and age when most dealers go to cons to dump unsalable comics from Image, Valiant, Dark Horse et al for as much as 80% off cover price. Fans and collectors pay a few dollars to get in and most of them have found everything they're going to find that is of interest to them in the first twenty minutes or half an hour. If it took them forty minutes to get there by bus or their parents have dropped them off or they are only there to get an autograph or two from the Hot Artist du Jour, the odds are they will look around for another half hour or so before admitting that the whole expedition was a waste of time. If you are drawing, and if your chair is turned sideways so they can see that you're drawing, the odds are that they will watch you draw for a while. They will flip through the comics you have for sale and then most of them will walk away. But not all of them. Typical questions: 'What are you drawing?' answe 'Sketches, I give them away to anyone who buys a copy of my book. You want one?' or 'Can you draw Wolverine?' answer 'No, but if you get me reference I'll draw one of my characters in a Wolverine costume'. It is important not to draw actual super-heroes unless you combine them with what you're selling. There are a lot of Cerebus as American Flagg, Cerebus as Jon Sable, Cerebus as Nick Fury sketches floating around from ten years ago. If the convention is really slow or really busy, you should always make that first 'free with a copy of my self-published title' sketch the best that you can do. It is worth drawing your character in a Spawn costume or Batman's new costume, quickly enough so that the people watching know what you're doing, but carefully enough so they are tempted to shell out $2.25 or $2.95 for your book to get a sketch 'like that one you just did, but can you make it Venom instead?'. If you get to the convention early enough, you can even hand out 'free sketch' coupons to the people waiting in line, along with a flyer advertising your book. If you do a 'really cool' drawing for the first five kids, they will show everyone else what they got. Go around to all the dealers before or after the show: find out who has a store and ask them it they would like a drawing autographed to the store in exchange for buying, say, five copies of your book. At least get a business card and name from them so you can send them sample copies of future issues. When you book your table, ask if you can get the table next to the Hot Artist du Jour so his line passes in front of you. In 1979 Deni and I had the table next to John Byrne at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair and we made a fortune on back issues and sketches (as an aside, John was dong X-men sketches and since I had a set of markers with me to colour my own sketches, his fans started asking if I would colour his sketches. I told them they were John's sketches and it wouldn't be right for me to colour them, right, John? 'Hey, if you can make some money, why not?' I'll always be grateful to him for that). At joint signings with other self-publishers now, I make sure that their table is before mine so that they have a 'shot' at the fans on their way by.
The basic point is that you can go to a convention, set up your table and sit there obviously hating everyone and everything within sight assuring yourself all the while that your stuff is just too good for these low-life fanboys: or, you can decide to take a few positive steps towards creating a core following that you can build on in the years to come.
Hey, it's up to you.
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