October 19th, 2010 | filed in News

Thoughts on New England Comic Con

This past weekend saw the first Wizard’s New England Comic Con, which I decided to attend despite it being a first year show because I had such good luck Wizard Chicago this summer. Unfortunately, this convention didn’t quite live up to expectations, but it did offer some important insights about the comics industry and how my work and business fits into it.

Usually a local convention is a no-lose situation. The only major expenses are table registration, parking, and meals. Without the overhead of a hotel, plane flight or other travel costs, it makes for a fairly low break-even point. For this reason, I didn’t initially balk at the $300 table fee. This a pretty typical for a show like this—exactly the same as the Chicago one. Organizationally speaking, the con seemed to be well run. The volunteers were cheerful and happy to assist. There were no problems during set up. And there were plenty of friendly faces among the exhibitors, especially in Artist’s Alley. This was one of highlights of the show, and where I met Kevin Johnson and Tracy Lee Quinn, who organized the Drink & Draw on Friday night. I also had the good fortune to have E.J. Barnes and the Boston Comics Roundtable as my neighbors, and we tried our best to preach the gospel of Indy Comics to all who would hear.

The problem came when the doors opened. Attendance was much lower than I would have expected for a Wizard show, but considering my only experience has been with the one in Chicago, perhaps this was unrealistic. Friday evening, the crowd was light and primarily composed of what seemed to be “mainstream” superhero comic fans, who I’ve learned from experience are not a likely source of new readers for my work. We assumed that this was because Friday was essentially a “Preview Night” and most of the attendees were more hardcore fans. However, the make-up didn’t seem to change much on Saturday, either. There were definitely more people, but still not what I’ve come to expect from a Saturday crowd. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the President came to a political rally there at the convention center that day, and the crowds kept people from braving the trek to the show. However, when masses failed to arrive on Sunday as well, we knew what way the wind was blowing. In the end, a didn’t quite recoup my expenses for the weekend (but only just – I was only about $15 shy), but even if I had, it’s pretty apparent that I should be looking for an audience elsewhere.

Now, I’ve known for some time that pitching Paradigm Shift to the guy with the Incredible Hulk t-shirt is probably going to be a lost cause. However, usually the comics crowd is diverse enough that I don’t have to. For every guy in a Joker shirt will be smiling anime fangirl who digs supernatural RPGs, or the mom who like detective stories, or the dude who’s into indy comics. At some shows, like San Diego or New York, the sheer size of the crowd means there will be plenty of interested people in the mix. However, this time around it was a challenge just to get people to stop and take a look. I get the impression that many superhero fans are either indifferent or actively dislike the manga look, and I can accept that. However, I came to the realization at this convention that this is probably why I have so much trouble getting my work into most comic stores. If these are the folks who are frequenting the average comic book shop, chances are the owners of these shops tastes are likely to be similar. Consequently, I am not likely to find a majority of book sales there any time soon. It should be no wonder that my brief foray with Diamond was so short, and that the orders aren’t streaming in from the alternative distributors I’ve contacted. If my book can’t sell at Chicago Comics or Jim Hanley’s Universe, and Forbidden Planet won’t even touch it, perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree. It’s not that I don’t know if my books will sell, because they do, but obviously not to this crowd.

After doing 16 conventions this year, I can see where the majority of my sales are coming from, it’s pretty obvious: anime conventions are my bread and butter. The big comic shows are definitely big sellers, but the large expenses that go with them deeply cut into their profitability. If I look at gross book sales, my top ten conventions were:

1. San Diego Comic Con – 116 books
2. Anime Boston – 104 books
3. Chicago Comic Con – 104 books
4. New York Comic Con – 95 books
5. Tekkoshokon – 82 books
6. Anime Central – 79 books
7. C2E2 – 75 books
8. Anime St. Louis – 70 books
9. Connection – 69 books
10. Portcon – 53 books

While It’s nice to say that I sold 116 books at San Diego or 95 in New York, once you factor in expenses my top-selling shows were:

1. Anime Boston
2. Anime St. Louis*
3. Chicago Comic Con**
4. Anime Central
5. Tekkoshokon
6. Katsucon
7. Connecticon
8. Portcon
9. M.I.C.E.
10. Arisia

* I was a guest at Anime STL, so there were no expenses.
** Due to special circumstances, my flight was extra cheap.

Now those big, prestigious shows like SDCC and NYCC have benefits to going beyond just making a profit, but as you can see aside from the Chicago Wizard show (which I’m pretty sure was a fluke), not a single other traditional Comic Con was a money-maker this year.

Looking forward, it’s obvious to me that doing 16 shows a year is unsustainable. While I am making a decent profit on this endeavor, the time involved with all this travel comes at an exhausting price: the more time I spend on the road, the less time I have to work on completing my next book. It seems pretty clear to me the next step is to find new markets for my work, and if comic book shops aren’t it, I need improve my game here on the internet. I have some ideas where to go next, and I’ll be posting them here in the blog as I flesh them out. I’d love to hear your ideas; what you’d like to see more of in the future; and what you’d be willing to buy in order to support the comic.

More soon. Watch this space.

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