Selling indie comics at cons
Ben Towle wraps up Heroes Con with a detailed list of observations and he confronts what many people saw as low sales for indies at the show in a very constructive way:
Smile! It’s probably a bit of a regional bias, but I definitely saw some residents of Indie Island who really gave off a mopey, unapproachable vibe. While this is absolutely, 100% preferable to the other end of the spectrum, the loathsome “hard sell”/carnival barker routine, one of the things Heroes is known for is how friendly and personable ‘most everyone is. If you look like you’re in the midst of an existential crisis, you’re not really inviting people to come check out your work.
We know that by pointing out such things we’ll be accused of making excuses for a poorly run con — which Heroes was not — but we happen to agree with that assessment. This year’s Indie Island was a bold attempt to break into a new market with a lot of fabulous comics, and we’re not ready to say if it worked or it didn’t. I know some people who were used to seeing books fly off the table at MoCCA, San Diego and SPX were disheartened. And yes it disheartening that you can’t just put a book by Charles Burns or Gary Panter on a table anywhere on earth and see it sell. Sure, I think a little more salesmanship may have sold a few more books…but given the limited budgets and resources of most indie publishers I don’t think asking them to slave away at mining a new territory is entirely fair either.
LIGHT CHILDREN is a multi volulme fantasy story being serialized on the web. The creators, Andy Horner and Kyle Webster, promote the book quite a bit, and have a professional booth (borrowed from Horner’s day job at a printer). Last year they exhibited with just a preview but signed people up for a mailing list, and this year many people came to look for the book, having been reminded throughout the year by a few newsletters of its arrival. That’s a good sound practice and they sold lots of books.
Steam Crow had a pretty impressive booth consisting of a foam-core castle, and a very limited display of adorable figurines and books, all laid out in an appealing, clean fashion. The guy who writes and draws the books — Daniel Davis — said his sales hadn’t been terrific but it was a new territory for him and he new next time he would need to do more promotion and online marketing. The booth was the kind of professional looking set up that most people would feel comfortable approaching — and if you liked cute, designer toy-influenced art and books, you would have been drawn right in.
I mean no offense to either LIGHT CHILDREN or Steam Crow when I say their offerings are not as good as Charles Burns or Gary Panter — very few things are. I mean no offense to Heroes Con — which is still the nicest show on the circuit — when I saw the crowd is mostly middlebrow. I also saw a lot of quirky Southerners, but they seemed to go more for odd little cartoony things than punk or goth, perhaps.
Not everyone can be a road warrior like Chris Staros and hit the trail for 11 weeks running. that’s just CRAZY! Not every publisher has the resources to maintain even something as basic as a mailing list. In the end, finding and building a new audience is time consuming for everyone concerned.