I talked to Chris Arrant over at Newsarama all about the impending end of Skullkickers and what it feels like to wrap up five years worth of work. Give it a read!
Hard to believe that 2015 is the 10th anniversary of the incredible Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, but it is and, for my tenth year in a row, I’ll be there promoting my comics along with some of my dearest friends and collaborators. It’s one of my favorite shows each year and this special anniversary edition is looking to be the best one yet.
I’ll be set up at Artist Alley Table X20 beside Edwin Huang (Skullkickers) and Max Dunbar (Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate).
I’ll have convention exclusives (including a limited number of copies of the Wayward Vol. 1 limited edition hardcover left over from ECCC), and a special Calgary Expo variant of Wayward #6 with art by Max Dunbar and Tamra Bonvillain.
I have a new pin-up piece in the Calgary Expo Artbook this year:
In addition, the Skullkickers appear in a special 6 page short story created for this year’s Calgary Expo Program Guide. Rex and Rolf storm the convention in their search for a Baby Thool and chaos ensues. If you’re at the show make sure you check it out.
I’ll also be appearing on a couple panels over the weekend:
Writing and Pitching Comics
Room: Palomino H
Time: 5:30PM – 6:15PM
Jim Zub of Skullkickers, Samurai Jack, and Pathfinder fame teaches the intricacies of bringing your original ideas to publishers the right way. Bring your own ideas to work with!
Room: Palomino H
Time: 11:30AM – 12:15PM
Ever wonder what it takes to create a world? Seasoned creator guests discuss how they turned their imaginations into worlds with societies and laws that both entertain and make you return to read more. Creator Guests: Conor McCreery, Camila d’Errico, Jim Zub, Ryan Ferrier
Get Published or Die Trying: Try Smarter
Room: Quarter Horse
Time: 3:30PM – 4:15PM
It’s never been easier to get published, but is it a route to a career? This Renegade Arts Entertainment panel features publisher Alexander Finbow and special guests discussing their experiences. Creator Guests: Alexander Finbow, Brett Monro, Jim Zub, Riley Rossmo
As part of the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo each year there’s a special artbook that includes pin-up illustrations from many of their guests. This is the show’s 10th anniversary and I’m proud to say I’ve attended each and every show and have a pin-up in every artbook they’ve produced so far.
Thankfully, this year is no exception.
The theme for 2015 was “Time”, as appropriate for an anniversary celebration, so I put together a piece using a time traveller with a nod to the H.G. Wells classic story “The Time Machine”. Here’s a walkthrough of the digital process for my piece:
STEP 1: Rough - After trying a few different thumbnail compositions I settled on this gesture drawing. It’s pretty loose but set up the key staging of the characters and the proportion of the dinosaur versus our happy time travelling protagonist.
STEP 2: Work-Up - Working digitally, it was easy to separate each part onto its own layer so I could focus on construction and expression, tightening up details while trying to keep the energy of the original gesture.
STEP 3: Line Art - A third pass nails down the line art, including fine details on the time machine and thick to thin lines to help visually separate forms.
STEP 4: Color - I wanted to keep the rendering animated-looking and simple across the board so I stuck with mostly flat colors and a simple light source. Some of the line art was also colored/lightened to help blend it in more with the rest of the scene.
Here’s a close-up of the time traveller and his machine. I had a lot of fun getting his expression down and building the golden-tubed time machine at the proper angle. I can’t wait to see the piece in print.
Here’s a series of links to all my previous pin-ups for the Calgary Expo artbooks. Collect ‘em all
I chatted with Jay Runham about writing comics, working in the creative business, teaching, and attending comic conventions. Give it a listen.
Sam from Maniacal Geek interviewed me about Conan-Red Sonja at Emerald City Comicon and has transcribed our conversation. Lots of good stuff in there about working on the two fantasy legends and teaming up with Gail Simone. Give it a read!
Conan Red Sonja #3, the penultimate part of our epic team-up, arrived in stores on March 25th. Let’s see what reviewers thought of it…
• Comic Crusaders: 4/5 “It’s hard to combine elements of two different books, let alone two different companies without stepping on any toes. The fact that Sonja and Conan are similar does help this, but it is the talent on hand that makes the whole book work.”
• Fandom Post: “The next issue ends this mini-series, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our heroes get out of this mess.”
• Fangirl Nation: “Conan Red Sonja is a book fans of either series should read.”
• Geeks of Doom: “This is not a ‘wait for the trade’ book. This is a ‘have to get it every month’ series without a doubt. Now go grab it!”
• The Planetary Pull: “Yet another recommend book. A very good team-up here.”
• Rock! Shock! Pop!: “Simone’s and Zub’s script makes for a great read whether you are a fan of either character (or both) or just looking for some good-time barbarian hijinks.”
• TM Stash: 10/10 “This series has delivered everything one could hope for and more from these iconic characters.”
• Unleash The Fanboy: 8.5/10 “Once again delivering a fluid, and immersive narrative, the writers make it easy to enjoy this tale.”
I’ve talked about a variety of different subjects related to creator-owned comics- writing craft, networking, promotion, and economics, but one of the areas I haven’t focused on (until now) is a big one: selling at conventions. Last time I covered getting prepared, now let’s talk about interacting with people at the show.
I’m happy to report that the past two years at conventions have been my best in terms of sales. Part of that is because I have a lot of books at different publishers going at the same time, but that’s not the only reason I think my sales are up. Doing well at conventions is an alchemical mix of visibility, product, fan base, price point, and salesmanship… and it varies from show to show.
Each convention has its own feel. If you want to make the most of the convention ‘circuit’ you have to figure out which types of shows work best for you and try new ones to expand your reach and engage new readers. Convention culture changes, it evolves. Unfortunately you can’t do the same thing each time and expect the same results. With the growth of fan culture and the expansion of conventions all over the world, a very large and different crowd of people are now attending and if you’re not a major creator doing high profile work you’re going to have to adjust with the times in order to succeed.
Everything is changing quickly thanks to technology and the nature of our collectible culture (of which comics are smack dab in the middle of) is undergoing massive upheaval. It alters the way we consume media and you need to understand that when you’re sitting behind a table trying to sell your wares to strangers.
When we were younger, having a collection was a big deal: music, books, movies, whatever. It was part of our geek identity. Now we all have massive digital movie, book, and music collections at our fingertips and it’s changed the way we value and obtain media. Some people still collect whole hog, but many fans are far more focused/selective than they used to be. Selling entertainment is tougher than ever because it’s plentiful and cheap.
What cuts through all of those difficulties is the value of an experience. People in 2015 don’t just want to buy “stuff”, they want something special. They go to prestigious restaurants with unique menus. They throw elaborate theme parties. They travel to far off places and make sure they snap a photo to prove they were there. More than ever before the experience is just as valuable (maybe even more valuable) as what they purchase.
If people can buy things cheaper online (or for nothing if they pirate it) or more conveniently at their local comic shop, you have to give them an experience and offer something unique they can’t get anywhere else in order to consistently make sales at conventions.
Here’s how I do it: I offer me; the interaction, the signature, and my genuine appreciation of you, the reader. The experience is enthusiastically getting a comic from the person who makes it. I do everything I can to make that connection and give people a positive convention encounter.
When someone comes up to my table, it’s not just a cold “purchase and go” scenario. It’s a social interaction and it has to be genuine. They might buy something but they’re also having an engaging conversation, something personal and hopefully memorable. I have a handful of seconds to make an impression and, if it goes well, they might be a loyal reader from then on.
Whatever you do, don’t just talk about yourself. Ask people about their day, where they came from, what they’re most excited about at the show. Listen just as much as you speak. If you see that they have an Exhibitor or Pro badge, ask about their work or how the show is going for them. Make it a two way interaction instead of a one way sales pitch and you’ll be surprised how much more receptive people will be to hearing about what you do and possibly supporting it with a purchase.
Don’t stereotype the people looking at your work. Some of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had at shows were with people who you wouldn’t peg as “fans” in the typical sense. The convention experience is broader and more inclusive than ever before and with shows like The Walking Dead doing record numbers on TV and movies like The Avengers crushing at the box office people are more open to reading comics than they have been in a long time. Talk to everyone and you’ll be surprised how many might be receptive.
Does that sound obvious? Sure, but I still see dozens of creators, new and old, putting their stuff on a table and ignoring people unless money is coming out of their wallet. They make the whole thing commerce first, and it’s a real turn off for most attendees. Worse still, if sales are poor at the start of a show their attitude worsens as the weekend carries on, creating a negative feedback loop that’s almost impossible to pull out of – People suck because sales suck and so the show sucks.
For me, interacting with people is part of the joy of doing conventions. I get to leave my solitary workspace at home and meet people who enjoy what I do while also encouraging new readers to jump on board and read the stories I create. That enthusiasm carries through in how I interact with the people who come by my table and it’s helped me do well at conventions near and far.
When I finish a day at a show, my throat is hoarse and my brain is fried. I push really hard to be ‘on’ at conventions. Ask anyone who’s met me. I genuinely love it, but it can be exhausting. I totally understand if that approach is not for everyone, especially if you’re not normally socially gregarious. I don’t have a foolproof way of generating sales for everyone, just a bit of advice on engaging the audience that’s worked well for me.
If you have something of quality and want to make an impression, think about the people you’re selling to and make it an enjoyable experience for them instead of focusing solely on the monetary transaction that benefits you.
Going to conventions has proved to be a big boost for my career. Many of the comic projects I’ve done can be traced back to the wonderful people I met at shows and the conversations we had there. A great convention reminds you about the energy and excitement that comes from this industry and, ideally, puts a few bucks in your pocket at the same time.
In future articles I’ll talk about setting up your table, pricing, and travelling to other countries for shows.