With all the comic cons and comic arts festivals going on, creators and exhibitors are becoming increasingly picky about what shows they go to. A lot of it is scheduling, but more and more what makes a good show is whether it’s profitable or not. You may recall the the Devastator and The Beat did a survey to get an idea of how and how much money people are making at shows. And of course there have been various arguments over whether cosplay, celebrities or hot dogs on a stick have more effect on poor sales at shows.

A few posts have been going around this week with concrete hints on how to exhibit. Tumblr’s Derpygurl chimes in with 25 Reasons Why You Don’t Make Any Money At Comic Cons and she wastes no time jumping right on why mumblecore and tabling don’t mix.

Keeping your head down at your table –  I see rows of people with their heads down drawing instead of looking up and engaging the people walking by. (What? are we boring you?) Offer to give a custom drawing to someone AFTER they’ve bought something.

Not being able to describe your book or product – If you can’t describe your book in one sentence, you’re doing it wrong. If you are uncomfortable describing your work, find someone who isn’t and bring them (If you hate people, go back to your cave and sell your stuff online)

Not telling anyone where you are –  2 weeks before every con you should be on FB, Twitter and IG telling everyone what your row/booth number is. Make sure to include your twitter handle and the hashtag for the Con itself. Cons notoriously run out of maps and have bad wifi, leaving the masses to wander aimlessly. If your fans can’t find you, they will NOT buy from you.


…and so on for 22 more reality check type hints. I see people ignoring these 25 reasons all the time, and generally speaking, if you’re Adam Hughes or Kate Beaton, flout rules all you like. If you’re somewhere below them on the comics world food pyramid, you should read this post! The comments are equally full of hints, tips and tricks from the field.

Onrie Kompan came back with a post entitled 3 WAYS TO MAKE MONEY AT COMIC CONS, and he respond to Derpygurl with some Tony Robbins level motivational hints on standing up, engaging and so on.

Prior to doing a convention, go to one as a civilian and walk the floor. Observe what you think is done well and what you think could be done better. Talk to other artists. Many of them will be happy to share their experiences with you. Take their advice with a grain of salt and keep in mind that what applies to them may or may not apply to you.

Pay attention to both the good and bad things that artists are doing.  Watch them sell.  Take notes.  Don’t skimp on a single detail. Look at other table setups and pay attention to how you want to display your work. A lot of what derpygurl said about what artists are lacking at cons is true. The more reconnaissance you do prior to setting up shop, the more confidence you will have when you open for business.


I will note that Kompan is known as a pretty vigorous salesman at shows, but that works for some people.

As some people point out in the comments at Derpygurl’s post, sometimes the reason you don’t sell any comics is because not because the show is crap, but because your comics are crap. Artist Alley is a pretty competitive place these days.

I’ve written before about what I call “Artist Alley Comics” — books published by small presses or self publishers that fit into the genre/Big Two mold and ape their appearance, as opposed to the more personal comics you’ll find at CAFs. Getting the word out about AA Comics is hard. Most of them are by people who aspire to work at the Big Two/Next Three and the material is often in “workshop stage.” Developing good exhibiting techniques and accepting honest feedback about work is often the key to moving on and up.

But then again, sometimes a con really is crap. Here’s Jade Woodruff on “The Worst Con in Florida” —perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but the first time Collective Con in Jacksonville, FL has a lot of first time show problems: lack of communication, lack of effective promotion, tables that were smaller than advertised, costs that aren’t in line with other regional shows, etc etc etc. Woodruff was also alarmed by an email from one of the promoters with important logistical information that urged exhibitors “don’t be an ass” while whining that he had to give up his Neutral Milk Hotel tickets to help with load in. I think you see the problem right there. Woodruff has quite an exhaustive account of what went wrong at Collective Con,

Vendors and artists hung out in the aisles, talking to each other. Some of the comic book guests were just as bored as I was. The comic guests left around noon on Sunday. Everyone seemed to share the same opinion: a two day show with lower costs would have been much better. We all thought that the advertising was there but that information was lacking which directly contributed to the problems we saw.

It was hard to say how many attendees were actually there. Given that all of the music festival was free to attend, I am skeptical whether the convention will provide total attendance numbers or paid attendance numbers. I’d be interested in hearing how many attendees were in each camp. It certainly didn’t feel like everyone came into the exhibit hall.

I never did find the advertised Beer Garden (or was it the truck outside?) or the Food Trucks that were advertised. I have yet to hear if any of the Steam Punk Demonstrations actually happened. I didn’t even know there were demonstrations because I couldn’t find that information on the website prior to the con and there was no brochure.


Yes, just another first time show that was a lot more work than the people running it thought it would be. She does note that another one of the promoters took the time to listen to her when she gave him her complaints, and to any prospective show runners out there, this could be the most important advice of all: LISTEN. Don’t get defensive, just acknowledge complaints even if they are just petty grousing, and learn from them. Nobody’s perfect, but a willingness to improve goes a long way.

Conventions are here to stay, and they can get messed up from any angle. If you’re running one or just exhibiting at one, do your homework, and try not to be the problem.

9 COMMENTS

  1. “Not telling anyone where you are – 2 weeks before every con you should be on FB, Twitter and IG telling everyone what your row/booth number is.”

    Good advice…if you can provide the location. I’ve done two cons (this year and last) for which the show runners never provided a map or let you know where you’d be. When I arrived the day of the first con, I asked where my table was, and was told, “I don’t know, you’ll have to walk around and find it.” At the second one, they looked at a floor chart when I showed up and said, “Uh…we’ll put you…over here, okay?” I also attended a book festival and apparently confused the hell out of the organizers when I asked for a map of the location in advance, so I could post it on my websites and point an arrow at where I’d be. “Uh, nobody’s ever asked us for that before.”

    Makes it impossible to let folks know where to find you.

  2. When I was at Reed Expo, we used to offer a “Reed University” type of one-day seminar at the Javits to exhibitors from all the various trade & consumer shows. There are so many basics – good for any type of show – that aren’t readily apparent to exhibitors. I was 100% focused on conventions at that time, but still learned a lot at these seminars And I’d argue that good booth-man-ship (the auto correct won’t let me spell it without the hyphens) is excruciatingly important and can even exhibitors mitigate the pain of a “bad con”.

  3. I have attended many cons over the years and I feel that Durpygirl has some good points but many that are off base since I feel she is only looking at one aspect of artist alley. The type of artists in artist alley now range from only mass producing print artists to artists selling their own independent comic books to artists just selling their own artist wares that aren’t comic related but more of the nerd/geek variety like an ABC book they have drawn.

    If I am going for the bulk print sellers I would expect them to be more engaging since their business is about volume. Some do commissions and some do not mostly from what I have seen it is about talking up the prints they have for the season as much as they can. On the other hand if I am going for a comic book artist I would expect depending on who they are and what they have outlined at their table how busy they will be and adjust my approach accordingly.

    I definitely don’t expect any one in artist alley to give me anything for free even if I have bought there work previously nor do I expect anything sometimes other than hopefully friendly conversation with someone’s work I admire. If they are working I ask if they mind if I chat or usually they will tell you to feel free to chat to them while they work on a commission even if they aren’t actively looking at you. Sometimes being social requires you to reach out and not expect them to reach out to you just because they have a booth and should feel obligated to you.

  4. Sorry to clarify the artist shouldn’t feel obligated to engage you just because they have a booth. Everyone has a different business model and if they aren’t succeeding hopefully they find what works for them.

  5. Reed Exhibitions offers a few general videos:
    http://lasvegas.jckonline.com/for-exhibitors/exhibitions-made-easy/
    (Reed usually adds these videos to whatever show they run.)

    The best trick for Artists Alley (or any booth):
    Stand in the aisle. Interact with whomever walks by. Maybe even push the table a little bit back into the space to create an area where people can step outside of the aisle to look at your stuff. (This doesn’t work too well with an Artists Alley space, where there are not booth dividers. Can you bring your own “wall”? Probably not.

    I wonder… can you bring your own table? I’m thinking of something about bar-height. Captain chairs behind the table, and then you use the front of the table for a big graphic. Everything is at better viewing angle, and you stand out from the crowd. I also suggest you also bring some interlocking floor-foam tiles. Cheap, lightweight, and your feet will thank you!

  6. Both articles make points that are tough to argue with — like how to prepare, act, and present your work — which are undeniably helpful, but won’t always make the difference. I think Comics 212 best explains how the deck’s already stacked against creators of original content before the doors open: http://comics212.net/?p=8107

  7. Certainly creators exhibiting in Artist’s Alley already have a rather uphill climb in regards to obtaining new eyes on their work, and rely mostly on foot traffic and open-minded fans. While the common sense advice of advertising your appearance on social media should be heeded, it’s important to note that social media advertising largely does nothing at all for these creators, at least not in the way that it should. I find simply posting to be passive and not proactive enough; you should go to greater lengths to invest in your career from purchasing ad space to possibly interacting with the early morning lines of fans waiting to get in- hand out postcards or stickers advertising your book and where you are. I don’t want to hear “well we already have to do enough”- I get it, I sympathize, and so the f**k what- your work is far from done. Any single thing an Artist is willing to put their time and finances to needs to be hustled over and you simply cannot expect an audience to come to you. There needs to be more interaction and more promotion of the Artist’s Alley participants that will increase awareness among attendees. Simple as that.

  8. “The best trick for Artists Alley (or any booth): Stand in the aisle.”

    Absolutely not, Torsten. For one thing, Reed bans that at their shows (at least it was in their exhibitor guide when I had a booth at NYCC two years ago). For another, you’re being rude to the exhibitor next to you.

    To explain: Three years ago at NYCC, a comic collective had the booth next to mine. One of their members decided to stand in the aisle to hand out promotional flyers, right at the border of our spaces. What he did was redirect the stream of traffic—people would get to him, move to the side to get around him, and then proceed down the other side of the aisle without crossing back to look at what I was selling. Then after I asked if he’d go back behind his table, he slowly kept moving farther out into the aisle—again, forcing traffic to the other side of the aisle—and eventually moved directly in front of my booth. That’s when I yelled at him to get back behind his table, and his booth mates scrambled to rein him in while offering apologies. (Turned out they weren’t fond of him, either.)

    If they’d moved the table back, as you suggest, there would have been no problem (probably), because he would have been standing within the booth space and out of the aisle. But acting as a boulder thrown into a stream to get attention just made him a total dick.

    Bottom line? Stay behind the table and learn to talk to people from there. Your neighbors will appreciate it.

  9. When we attend a con to sell our indie comic series, we sign and ‘dedicate’ every comic we sell, and offer free bag and board for those who want them. And we THANK each person for buying our comic. For us, it’s all about customer service, and having a good time. You never know who will be the next person to speak well of you, or open a brand new door for you and your comic project!

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