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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