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The Life

The Life, Part 5: Making a Plan

Posted - 22 February, 2015
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As I mentioned before, the first thing that you need to do once you’re registered for a show is to read over every bit of information that the show provides.  You don’t just need to know that the convention is being held at the convention center downtown, you also need to know what wing of the center the show is being held in.  Some convention centers are huge with multiple buildings, and going to the wrong one can cause you a lot of stress, physically and mentally.  Some shows put this information on their website, some put it in your exhibitor packet.  Find the  info and read it.  You need to show up prepared.

Once you know where you’re going, you can figure out where you’re staying.  There are always going to be many options.  If you’re adventurous, you can try Couchsurfing or Dwellable to find yourself a place to stay, but since this is business, I recommend keeping it simple and predictable.  For some conventions, you can find affordable lodging right next to the convention center.  This depends on the hosting city.  For example, Informa holds two shows in Irving, Tx every year, in the Las Colinas area.  There are at least a dozen hotels within minutes of the Irving Convention Center that offer free shuttle service to the convention center, and most of them are about $100 or less per night.  One of those hotels is even in walking distance of the convention center.  For this show, staying in close proximity to the convention center is affordable and convenient.  However, some shows, like those in downtown Phoenix, land you next to some pretty expensive hotels,so you need to be more creative.

I do as much research as possible before visiting a city.  I don’t just work at the convention when I’m in town.  Every night I have to go back to my room and work on commissions, so I need a comfortable, quiet place to work.  I also need to be able to get back and forth to the convention with ease.  These are my top priorities when choosing lodging.  Here is an example of one of my yearly trips where I got creative to give myself the best experience possible.

Rose-City-Comic-ConI attend the Rose City Comic Con in Portland yearly, and I’ve got a pretty good system worked out for it.  The first year that I went to Portland, I stayed downtown, near the convention center.  Most of the hotels in the area were very expensive, so I chose an inexpensive option.  My room was less than $100 per night, but it was not a very pleasant stay.  The area was loud, seemed a little unsafe, and the hotel was not very comfortable.  I was also stuck finding food downtown every day, which was not cheap.  Once I had learned my lesson, I did a lot more research for my next trip out there.  For my next appearance at the show, I found a Residence Inn ( a wonderful hotel for the price) at a place called Cascade Station.  Portland has a really nice train system called the Max Light Rail.  It runs all over the city, and there is a station at the airport.  The train is also only $2.50 for one trip, or $5.00 for a whole day.  The Residence Inn I found was the first or second stop out of the airport, which was a huge plus, and the train station was basically in the hotel parking lot.  The hotel was $120.00 per night, so not much more than the hotel I had gotten the year before.  From the hotel, I was able to ride the train straight downtown, with a stop directly in front of the convention center.  It was really nice being next to the Cascades shopping center, which had a Target and a lot of different dining options.

So with just a little bit of research, I was able to turn a bad trip to a good show into a good trip to a good show.  Proper planning makes everything more reasonable, and increases your chances of success wherever you go.  If you’re just starting out, you’re going to be mostly driving to shows within your area, but once you start venturing out to shows you’ll need to fly to, you have to know what you’re getting yourself in to.  Trains and buses aren’t the most fun form of transportation, but saving money is of the utmost importance in your early ventures.  Trying to make money in cities like New York and Chicago will be nearly impossible, but trying to make money at those shows while finding creative ways to get around really changes things.  Give yourself a chance.  Don’t put a financial roadblock in front of yourself that you can’t overcome.

As always, if you have any questions about any of this, I’m easy to get a hold of.  If you found this article randomly, and want to read the rest of the series, click here.

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The Life, Part 4: What you Need

Posted - 20 February, 2015
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We’ve talked a lot in this series about what you need to know before you hit the road and try to start selling your art at comic book conventions.  In this installment we’ll talk about what you’re going to need, the basics, to prepare you for success at shows.

Your Art

Obviously, the most important thing that you’ll need to have with you is your art.  Two things sell at shows more than anything else for artists, original art and prints.  For original art, just bring what you’re comfortable doing.  That’s pretty simple.  For prints, it’s pretty simple also.  Most artists in the alley print their work at 11×17.  This is generally because it’s the size that most comic book artists work on, so it’s just natural to print your work that size.  Some artists go a little bigger or smaller, but don’t outsmart yourself on this one. If it’s good enough for almost everybody, it’s good enough for you.  I use LithoNinja for my prints, and I’ve always had good results from them.  I recommend finding a local printer so that you can avoid shipping, but if you’re going to have to pay for shipping anyway, I recommend my printer.  Also, this is a good time to say that nobody is going to be perfect.  Printers make mistakes sometimes, just like you do.  If they mess up an order every now and then, don’t go blasting them all over your facebook page because you think that they have to be perfect for you.  Nobody is.  When they screw up, be professional with them and they will appreciate your continued business.  Business is easier when you build good relationships.  Occasionally, when you’re a little late on your bill, your printer will likely be a lot more patient with you if you’ve been patient with them.

Don’t go crazy with your ordering.  If you are starting out with the 48 pieces of art I suggested, for most of them you never really need more than 5 each.  Your better sellers you’ll need 10, and for your flagship piece you’ll need 15 at most.  We’ll talk more later about inventory management, but for now, just keep in mind that you need a modest order.

Your Display

You want to make an impact, but you also want to be practical.  Right now, for most shows, I am using a small Cowboy Studio rig and 4 econolight banners.

31JTokCmI3LA Cowboy Studio rig is generally used to hang a backdrop for a photo shoot.  You can generally find them on Amazon, and they’re fairly inexpensive.  As of this post, that Amazon link takes you to a listing to buy one for just $40.  Cowboy Studios are lightweight, and they’re easy to use.  Sometimes they come with clamps to secure your backdrop, but I use over-sized binder clips for mine.  For your display, I personally recommend getting some econolight banners from Bannerworld.  I got mine printed at 2’x7′, and they were only $28 each.  The reason I chose to get my banners printed at 2 feet wide each is that convention tables vary in size.  About half of the shows you attend will give you an 8 foot table, and the other half will give you a 6 foot table.  If you get 4 banners printed, you bring 3 when you have a small table, and 4 when you have a large one.  What you get on your banners is up to you, but typically, it’s considered a good idea to display your work at actual size.  People are used to a menu sort  of  set up, so you’ll make it  easy for them when you display it at the size they’ll be buying.  The good thing about  purchasing  the econolight banners is that they are lightweight, and they’re practically disposable at that price.  If you pay double that or more, it will be much harder for you to justify updating your display when you have new work, but you should always keep a current display, so make it work for you.

For your table, I personally recommend a black cover.  It makes your work pop more, and black hides more scuffs and stains.  I don’t buy expensive table cloths.  I just go to Walmart and buy a twin bed sheet, generally for less than $5.  Also, get two of them.  Most conventions lock the room up overnight, so you don’t  need to worry about packing up every day.  Just throw a cover over your table, and save yourself the trouble.

Your equipment

I recommend getting yourself a pair of spinner suitcases, hard shell.  Since spinner suitcases use 4 wheels instead of 2, those wheels are going to last a lot longer.  Paper is heavy.  If you get cheap suitcases, your going to have to buy a lot of them.   The set of three that you see in my example is a good buy.  Here’s how it breaks down for you:  Your small spinner is for your art.  If you have a regulation sized spinner, and you go for 11×17 prints, a box of prints will fit perfectly inside your small spinner.

k2-_b155f412-17fb-4c89-979d-f9db3670f1c5.v1Airlines don’t weigh carry on luggage (typically) so if you stack the box with prints, business cards and fliers, it won’t matter how heavy it gets.  Your middle sized suitcase should be for your clothing and other personal items.  Bring only what you need, but you want  to be presentable, so don’t leave out anything important.  Your third and largest spinner, if you’re following my advice, will hold your cowboy studio and banners, your table covers, your original art, and anything else you’re going to display on your table.  If you can get all of that and your personal items into the large spinner, then good for you, but honestly, if you can’t justify paying $60 to check two bags, then should you really be flying to a show?  Being prepared is better than being frugal.  Be practical, but smart.

To display your art, I recommend Itoya portfolios.  Any portfolio you buy is going to get destroyed by attendees fairly quickly, so just get something nice but inexpensive.  I get all of mine from CarpeDiem.  They have good prices.  That’s pretty simple.  You should also get a couple of inexpensive easels for your table to display a couple of your best prints with.  This will help you show attendees what you consider to be your marquee pieces, which will help you dictate what sells, which you want to do.

Your art supplies

Don’t over think the supplies that your bring to shows.  There’s a reason why if you google “convention sketch” nearly everything that you find is just line art, or at best colored in gray tones.  If you’re doing a hometown show, bring everything that you’ve got.  If you’re traveling, then be smart.  People who want convention sketches are used to black and white.  As far as your stock, bring what you’re comfortable drawing on.  I recommend bringing some sketch cards, because you can finish those quickly and sell them for a good price.  Also, bring a few blank sketch covers.  You generally can get them for $5 or less, and people these days are more inclined to snag a sketch if it’s on an official cover.

To break all of this down, if you re going into this with nothing, you can expect to need to spend around $500 to get started, assuming you buy what I’ve recommended from where I suggest.  I can’t stress enough that if that sounds intimidating to you, then you’re probably not ready for this.  If your work is good enough, and you are a hard worker, then you should be able to make back that $500 on your first show.  It’s easier than you think.

As always, if you have any questions about anything, feel free to fill out my contact form, or find me on my facebook page.  Thanks for reading, I hope this helps you.

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My last super-huge display, at Planet Comic Con in Kansas City, 2013

In reality, despite titling this next article, “Convention Etiquette”, I’m not  sure that such a thing actually exists.  For the most part, people who present their work at conventions sort of live in their own little worlds.  They do what they want, and they hate you for doing anything that annoys them, even if you don’t do anything wrong.  This isn’t a culture of the most professional people.  Some of them are sharp, some of them are hard workers, but a there are quite a few of them that will just despise you no matter what you do, and they’ll be  open about that to everyone who will listen.  I think that the healthy thing to do, then, is to just not worry about  them.  So, let’s talk about this practically.

If you’re reading this series as a study, you’re probably currently working in artist’s alley, or considering doing so.  The complicated thing about doing that is how different each show that you will attend is.  There are very few “tours” out there, so most shows are independently run, and they all have their own rules and regulations.  Some of them are very organized, others are shows with big hearts but little organization.  That being the case, here’s your first point to remember:

Read the application.

Every show that you apply for will have an application that you have to fill out, hopefully accompanied by a vendor information packet.  Two of the best companies for this are ReedPop and Informa Canada.  ReedPop is famous for their New York Comic Con and C2E2, and Informa runs the FanExpo in Toronto, and recently acquired the Dallas Comic Con.  These two organizations have running a comic con down to a science.  When you sign up with them, you’ll receive a book about what you can and can’t do at their shows, and that’s exactly what you want.  You want to understand what you can and can’t do at the  show.  Is your table 6 feet or 8?  Is there a height restriction on your display?  What can you display on your table?  You need to be aware of what you’re walking in to, because the true professionals will know, and they will use that information to get an advantage over you.  If you’re prepared, you stand a much better chance of getting noticed by the attendees of the show, and that’s what’s important.  So once you know what you can do, what’s next?

Go big, or shut up.

As I said before, there are a lot of different shows with a lot of different rules.  Once you know what you’re allowed to do, you need to take advantage of your space.  When I first started touring, I remembered that when I used to go to shows I saw a lot of artists with simple banners showing their name and a piece of their art, so I bought one.

To my dismay, I discovered that most people browsing through artist’s alley didn’t care at all what my name was, unless they were making fun of it, and one piece of my art really only ensured that fans of Nova might stop by my table. I was proud of my banner, but it just didn’t do a whole lot to bring people to my table.  I would walk by other artists and their large, obnoxious displays, and I would marvel at how busy they were, regardless of the quality of their work.  In order to compete, I joined the fray.

By the next year, I was experimenting with a few different displays, and ultimately settled on a grid of prints behind my table.  At most shows I displayed a grid of prints 5 high and 8 wide.  This gave browsers a good sampling of my work, and got a lot more people to stop at my table.  Any time  I could, I went even bigger.  At a show in Houston, I reserve 3 tables, and went 24 feet wide with my display.  What happened when I did that?  I had the best show of my career to that point.  If your work is good, and you have a large display, you’re just going to make more money.  It’s not complicated.  You don’t have to do it, but if you’re allowed to, and you don’t, then don’t be a jerk and complain about others doing it.  What they do is their business, and you’re welcome to compete if you choose, so you have to call to give them any grief.

My last super-huge display, at Planet Comic Con in Kansas City, 2013

My last super-huge display, at Planet Comic Con in Kansas City, 2013

Now, this isn’t to say that even I didn’t out think myself every now and again. At points I saw things that worked for other artists, and wanted to try them myself. My set up at Planet Comic Con in Kansas City looked outstanding, and it got me a lot of attention, but it was such a pain to travel with and to set up. I honestly don’t think that it boosted my earnings enough to be worth it. Also, a lot of artists at that show hated me, which brings me to my last point of this post:

It does not matter what they think.

So, yeah. Once you start getting attention from more attendees, you’re also going to get a lot of attention from artists with big egos and small tempers. Here’s the thing, though: Why do they get to decide what is and what isn’t appropriate? The answer is, they don’t get to at all, so don’t listen to them. The artists that complain about you, if they had it their way, everyone would only be allowed to try just almost as hard as they do, and then shows would just get very boring. Fans like big displays. It makes their choices easier. Fans enjoy shows, but do you think that they really want to stop at every single table and look at every single print in every book? No, of course they don’t. When you are shopping for something, do you go into every single store and look at every single product that they carry? No. Not most of you, anyway. We look at ads, and we let that guide where we choose to spend our money. Convention attendees are the same, so give them something to look at. So some artists are going to dislike you because of it. Do you care? Do they spend money at your table? Do they do anything to help you? No? Then why does it matter what they think? It doesn’t. It’s that simple. If a show does not restrict how high you can go, then go as high as you can. If they have a restriction, then go as high as they let you. Do what’s best for your business. Be respectful to the show. They’re helping you earn money. If some bitter artist blows you up on facebook, though, don’t worry about it. Trust me, they 10 or 12 fans of theirs who comment on their complaint agreeing with how much of an asshole you are weren’t going to buy your work anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Now, don’t go insane. Don’t put stuff on the back of your display, don’t play music at your table. Don’t do anything that extends you beyond your own area. Also, don’t stand in the aisle in front of your table. Wrangling attendees to an artist’s alley table is just inappropriate. If you want to do something like that, get a vendor booth. If you get a table, sit or stand behind it. It’s the nature of the area. Other than that, if you’re allowed to do it, don’t be ashamed of doing it. You have goals, don’t let anything get in the way of them.

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If I was going to put a title on this next piece to sort of summarize it’s content, I think it would be “Knowing what you’re getting in to.”

There is a short conversation that I generally have with most of the people who try to talk to me at shows in order to learn more about being a professional artist.  Commonly I’m told that I’m very lucky to be able to get to do what I love for a living.  I’m always happy to correct this common misconception.  I didn’t start doing this because I love doing it.  I started doing this because I lost my job in management during a down economy and had little other options.  After nearly a year on unemployment trying to find another job (seriously, trying really hard to), I realized that I needed to get more creative in my efforts to support myself.  The thing I was best at in my life at that point, aside from management, was drawing.  I started doing research on sites like eBay to see if it would be possible to provide for myself by selling my art.  That’s when I found out about sketch cards.  I saw people selling full sized art pieces in the range of $50-$100, but then there were these other people selling little trading card sized art for anywhere between $10-$50.  I thought that to be genius, so I started drawing sketch cards.  The first batch I did was all terrible, and I was able to sell them all for a minimum of $10 each.  I didn’t look back after that.  I got good at it.  I got to where I was making at least a minimal living off of it, and I branched out from there.  That’s when I started doing conventions.

The point of all of that is this:  I don’t do this because I love doing it.  I do this because it’s what I’m currently best at. That’s what you should do for a living.  You should do what your best at doing.  That’s the easiest way to make the world a better place.  Contribute to it in the way that you’re most capable.  Are you a great cook?  Be a cook for a living.  Are you a neat freak?  Clean for a living.  People forget in today’s sort of dumbed down, internet influenced world that it’s okay to have a hobby.  A hobby is what you love doing.  A job is what you’re good at doing.  Isn’t that simple?  Doesn’t that make sense?  I’m not saying not to follow your dreams.  Everyone should do that.  Just be smart about it.  If you can make it, then good for you.  If you can’t, then find a good job that you can be successful at and have a hobby.  Having a hobby is a good thing.  Trust me, it changes how you feel about what you do once you have to support yourself by earning money doing it.  A hobby is a blessing.  Doing what you love with no pressure behind it?  That’s wonderful.  There’s no shame in that.

If this is your best shot, do it.  Okay?

Now that we’re clear on whether or not it’s a good idea for you to do this, let us assume that you’re going to do it, and move on from there.

This is a business. It’s a constantly competitive, cutthroat, evil disaster of a thing.  That’s what I consider it to be, anyway.  Once you are sitting behind a table at a show, you realize things that you didn’t before.  Everyone else who is sitting behind their own table at the same show secretly hates you, no matter what they say to your face.  They might like you, and they have a lot in common with you, but they still hate you.  They will comb over everything you do in order to learn how to keep you from threatening their stake at that show.  If you do anything better than them, the next time you see them they will be better than you at that.  If you have a new idea, they will have a new idea the next time you see them.  To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this.  They’re not villains, they’re just people like you, trying to make a living.  People learning from each other in order to succeed is called progress.  Be a part of it.  Everyone out there pushing each other makes everything better for everyone.  It’s like playing a game with someone.  If they don’t know all of the rules, and they aren’t very experienced in the strategy of the game, you won’t have very much fun beating them, and you won’t grow as a competitor.  If you play against someone who can match your skill and knowledge, however, it’s rewarding to win, and you grow by learning to beat them.  That’s better for you.  Embrace it, or let it ruin you. Your choice.

THE FACTS: YOUR PORTFOLIO

As we’ve discussed before, ever so harshly, nobody attending shows really cares about you.  They do, however, obsessively love meaningless fictional characters.  That’s the world you live in.  If you’re going to build a portfolio that is going to be successful at shows, you’re just going to have to sell out.  That’s all there is to it.  You have to create a catalog of what people care about, because you need their money.  As a reminder, you don’t really have to be that good, or that imaginative with the character.  If they recognize the character, you have a shot at selling it to them.  Let’s study this concept for a moment.

I went on to deviantArt and looked up Harley Quinn, who is arguably the most valuable commodity you can have in your portfolio at a show.  I wanted to see what the most popular art pieces were of her.  Here is what I found:

6f4386746e55463430af9fae6567aea6-d554xqa Harley_Quinn_by_Manji675 Harley_Quinn_by_khaamar
harley_quinn_by_meago-d6i7whn 4105c51696b83a6c6f2cd4a7c48a33be-d5663mm  harley_quinn_by_squirrelshaver-d65ylq9

Those are the 6 most popular pieces of Harley Quinn art currently on the website.  Now, obviously, there’s nothing “wrong” with any of these pieces.  Art is subjective, right?  People like what they like.  You can say that you don’t like art, but most of time time criticizing it is just a waste of time, because it all comes down to personal preference anyway.  So we can all agree that these 5 pieces of art depicting Harley Quinn are not bad.  Would you buy any of them?  I might buy one of them, if I was a fan of the character, and I went to a show, and these were the only 6 pieces of Harley Quinn art I saw.  I would probably buy one.  They’re at least good enough to fill that need I would have if I was a fan.

Now, let’s look at 6 more.

harley_quinn_sideshow_art_by_artgerm-d5kc69u justice_mag___harley_quinn_by_artgerm-d6i2p16 harley_quinn_by_jimbo0311-d3ra8hw
30_60_90_Harley_Quinn_by_anjum harley_quinn_by_spookychan-d59od3q 5c92f99f7e5fd88cde3033d29899e77f-d5jhznp

Do you see any difference between these 5 and the first 5?  If you don’t, then I suppose that my point is already made.  But you should see a difference.  The second set of six pieces are done by recognized, professional artists.  Stanley Lau, known by many as Artgerm, designs statues and draws covers for DC.  Mahmud Asrar drew Supergirl for DC.  I could go on, but you get the point.  The second set contain what you can at least fairly say are more technically sound art pieces by professionals with more experience and credibility than the first six, and yet the first set outshines them.  Do you think it’s any different at shows?  It isn’t.  People like what they like, whether they can even explain why or not.  Get used to this.  The best shot that you have of making a living out there is to offer people the simplest representation you can offer of what you know that they love.  My own portfolio is proof of this.  What is my most popular art piece I’ve ever carried?

Poison_Ivy

This.  This simple, but elegant bust of Poison Ivy.  For about two years, nothing else I did could compete with this.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy about that.  I’m proud of this piece, but when people tell me that it’s my best, I think it’s comical.  It’s far from my best piece.  Is it my most marketable piece though?  Well, obviously, yes.  That’s why it was so popular.  Not because of what I though, but because of what they thought. You get the point.

So what does all of this tell you, anyway?  It tells you that if you manage your portfolio properly, you don’t have to struggle to create art that is better than the artists out there who are better than you are creating.  Again, that’s good news.  You can sit right next to them and outshine them without even providing your best effort, for no conceivable reason.  It just works like that.  Seriously.  You can sit right next to one of the most popular artists in the world, who draws that character for a living, and you can compete with them.  You can, because as we discussed earlier, that artist is still unknown by most of the people who will be attending any given show.  Strange, yes, but true.

Here’s what you do.  I recommend this system.  Have a portfolio of 48 pieces of art.  It’s just the perfect number, trust me.  48 fits perfectly into a portfolio book, and it makes a perfect presentation behind you.  It’s perfect.  Don’t argue. =P

Be smart with those 48 pieces of art.  Have something for everyone.  Don’t assume that you know what people want.  Do the obvious.  Out of 48 pieces, I think it’s smart to divide them equally between interests.  24 characters from the two most popular comic brands, divided equally between male and female, choosing the most popular characters you can.  Then you have 12 television/anime characters, then 12 video game/movie characters.  That’s a really good balance.  Trust me.  It will blow your mind when you spend a week drawing the perfect picture of MiracleMan that nobody cares about, but then you spend 15 minutes on a lame Adventure Time piece, and everybody loves it.  That’s just the way it is.  People at comic book conventions are not art connoisseurs. They aren’t qualified critics.  They are people who just paid money to walk around and spend more money because they are so obsessed with the things that they love that it actually makes sense to them to pay money to walk around and spend more money.  That’s a good thing for you.  If your design fundamentals professor at school hates your art, listen to them, because they probably can tell you a lot of things that can help you.  If a person in their early twenties in a Deadpool costume who’s suffering through a materialistic identity crisis hates you art, IT DOES NOT MATTER.  Now, if you’re unable to move any art, you have a problem, and you need to readdress your portfolio plan.  If, however, you’re doing okay, despite occasional snide comments from attendees, then don’t sweat it.  That’s just going to happen.

In closing, I’ll answer a very popular question in the simplest and most non-incriminating way that I can think of.  “Jon, if I try to sell prints of characters that I own, won’t I get in trouble?”

Here’s the simple answer I have to that problem.  Currently, there are thousands of artists touring the country doing exactly that thing with zero consequences.  Do you expect that to be any different for you?

Anyway, if you need help, I hope this helps you.  I forgot to say this in the last post, but if you need to ask me anything, your best bet is my public facebook page.  You can also fill out the contact form here on my website.

Thanks for reading.

-Jon

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the_life_001

This is a series in which I apply perspective based on my own experiences, and what I observe of those around me, in order to answer common questions I am asked as I tour the country.  I am not claiming to be a guru.  I can’t tell you how to live your own life, I can only tell you how things have happened for me.

Also, this is a series of articles meant to be read by artists, most specifically aspiring comic book artists.  This is not meant to be some sort of behind the scenes look for convention attendees or fans of comic art.  If you’re not an aspiring artist, and you’re reading this, you’re wasting your time.  You should spend this time as artists are doing, researching what you intend to build a career doing.  For you, I recommend this website.

I began touring and presenting at shows in 2009.  I still tour to support my current work, but as of right now, I’m not really a staple of the convention circuit.  That being said, I have some experience in this matter, and I hope what I’ve learned can be helpful to you.

There are only two reasons you should ever really consider touring the country and presenting your work at conventions.

  1.  You have no better way to earn a living.
  2.  You don’t have to worry about money, and it would be fun for you.

Seriously.  Those are the only two reasons.  Are you an artist trying to break into comics?  Then the tour isn’t for you.  Not for that purpose, anyway.  You’re honestly better off at home honing your skills drawing sample pages and submitting to editors.  Succeeding at conventions will not help you get a job in comics.  Those two things are surprisingly completely unrelated.  Occasionally an artist here and there will catch a break and get a job doing covers, but those people are generally magnificently talented individuals who would have ultimately landed those jobs anyway.  They really didn’t need the shows to help them.  It just happened there by coincidence.  So, if one of those two things applies to you, lets discuss some important things you’ll need to consider.

BELIEVE IN SOMETHING OTHER THAN YOURSELF

Let’s be blunt.  How much value do you really have as an artist?  We tend to overestimate our worth, as people, and it almost always leads us into trouble.  If you’re considering a career as an artist, this is doubly true for you.  Think about it.  You’re on the outside looking in for a reason.  The people in there, already doing it, in general, are SO much better than you that it would be emotionally crippling to actually accept that as truth.  And it is true.  If you really think that you can go set up at a show next week with no experience, and have any chance at success, you have no respect for how hard the people out there succeeding actually work at it.  If you understand that, though, and you want to try anyway, then you’re going to need something bigger than yourself to believe in.  Believing in yourself just isn’t going to be enough, because we already know that, currently, you’re not good enough.  To be clear, I have no horse in your race, so I don’t care what you choose to pursue, but it better be something important to you.  Myself being a Christian, I’ve had many 14-20 hour drives all alone out there in the middle of nowhere that I wouldn’t have made it through without having sermons to listen to and study.  I love music, but not play list constructed can really entertain you for nearly a day of driving.  You’ll end up hating every song you’ve ever loved.  So it doesn’t matter if you’re an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, or whatever else you find to inspire you.  Make something bigger than you a part of your life, because that’s big enough to lean on when you need it, whereas your personal confidence is not.  Oh, and don’t dismiss this idea in hopes of leaning on friends and family when you need company or encouragement.  Those people have their own dreams to chase.  Don’t weigh them down with yours.  When you’ve accomplished something, share your successes.  Don’t call them when you’re down, since the best advice they could give you at that point won’t change anything.  They’ll either tell you not to give up, or to consider giving up.  Is hearing either of those things going to change anything for you?  If so, then you probably don’t have the conviction to succeed at this, so you might as well stop reading.

KNOW WHAT MATTERS

Anybody reading on with shaken confidence?  Good.  It’s going to get worse, but there is a method to this, and once you understand it, it will get more encouraging.  The next thing to constantly keep in mind is that how good you are is one of the least important factors in whether or not you can make a living with your art.  Do you really think that you know who the greatest artist in the world is?  The greatest singer?  Actor?  Do you think that every position in the workforce is held by the most qualified person?  Of course not.  No to all of those things.  How good you are makes things possible for you, it doesn’t make them happen.  Making them happen is about being prepared.  If you choose to go out there, yes, you will be overshadowed by some of the talent out there.  However, you will also sit in agony and watch artists whose work is, to be kind, terrible, rake in sale after sale while you sit in boredom at your empty table.  That’s just how things go.  It doesn’t matter.  Art is subjective.  It’s all about opinions.  That means it’s going to be constantly confusing and frustrating to you if you decide that it matters.  It’s not about fame, either.  I’ve spoken to popular industry comic book artists before who told me that they estimate that at every show they attend, at least 80% of their sales come from people who had never heard of them before seeing them at the show.  Is that weird?  Yes.  But it does sort of make sense.  People go to shows to have fun, and a lot of them only know what they see on television and in the movies.  Even the most popular comic books in the country only sell on average 50-80,000 copies per issue.  That means that out of the population of the country, maybe 2% of them read comics.  Do you think that every show that you go to will be comprised of only those people?  No.  All sorts of people attend shows, and most of them know characters, not creators.  So remember, who you are, and what you are capable of are of no concern to the people walking through those convention centers and hotel ballrooms.  They just came to the show because they saw the Avengers and liked it, or because the voice actors from Adventure Time are going to be there.  They aren’t there for you.  A convention isn’t a competition to see who is the better artist.  It’s a competition to see who can provide the most people with the most product that they would consider buying.  It’s that simple.  If you over think it, you’re wasting time.

STAY POSITIVE

Believe it or not, all of those harsh and blunt things I’ve just said are actually really good news to you.  What I’ve basically said is that anyone can succeed out there, if they are willing to.  Most of the time when people come up to me at shows and ask me how they could get their own table at some point, I simply answer that they can go to the convention’s website and buy one.  At least 95% of shows will take anyone who pays.  That’s an advantage that anyone can capitalize on.  The people who fail out there on the tour are normally just the people who gave up.  If you stick it out, stay positive, and maintain perspective, really anyone can do it.  You just have to be willing to.  That’s good news.

That’s enough of a primer I think.  Next time we’ll start discussing specifics like how to build a portfolio for success and how to find shows that you can succeed at.  Thanks for reading, I hope this helps you.

-Jon

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