by Matt Maxwell

2118583364 Fb634C8147 OSaturday was rough, a reckoning of several nights with little sleep capped off by a 3:30 bedtime and five hours of sleep that morning. Maybe you cool kids do that every night, with your energy drinks and your crystal meth. Me, I get by with coffee and a little stumbling and having to think things through a few more times than usual. But one can’t disappoint one’s adoring public. Or the vastly indifferent one, either.

So I got to be vaguely shellshocked whilst sitting behind my table, propped up by breakfast at Mel’s washed down with too many cups of coffee (or was that too few?). Didn’t take long for the crowds to start up. Apparently there was a pretty solid line to get through on Saturday morning, not that such would be an issue for me with my mystical hot pink badge, which allowed me full access without interruption or distraction. But…hot pink? I guess it’s good for visibility.

Saturday in a word? Busy. There were a lot of people in the hall, more crowded than I’ve seen it before. But to be fair, in the past when it’s been this busy I usually just hide out at one of the book dealers or go get some lunch and wait for it to blow over. But I couldn’t do that now. That would be deserting the post, punishable by death or five days in the tiger cage or the hotbox. I wouldn’t punk out, not me.

Good thing too, because Saturday yielded three times the sales of MURDER MOON that Friday had. I sold more copies that day than I usually do on entire weekends at other shows. Maybe the serialization thing is paying off after all. I know that more than one buyer on Saturday told me that they’d read the online preview the night before after getting the postcard with said information, and then deciding that it would indeed be worth parting with a measly sawbuck to get the rest of the story. And yes, a sawbuck is a mere ten dollars, not twenty as a misguided customer had informed me that afternoon.

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Never underestimate the power of a hooked reader, and never underestimate the power of a low price point, at least at a convention. I’m positive that this strategy would backfire on me if I were selling at a DM store with the perception of low dollar return for the space of display and hassle of ordering out of back stock and not from the current catalog. But in the freewheeling carnival atmosphere? A ten dollar price point that I don’t have to share with anyone else works just fine. People want their books signed and to chat, and I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can be at Wonder-Con for a few days.

I should note that I had cohorts in this sort of reckless salesmanship, in the personages of Jeff Lester (mentioned previously), J.K. Parkin (he of Robot6) and Vince Moore (mentioned previously redux) who all quickly and without previous prompting, offered up glowing opinions of my humble work. I say that the work is humble. As I joked later, my own ego had gotten so swollen that it demanded its own pass, as well as a courtesy suite swept clean of brown M&Ms, else it would throw a temper tantrum that would make Led Zeppelin’s legendary hotel trashings look like a visit by housekeeping. The three aforementioned gentlemen are all better salesmen than I am. I’m just the writer, as I noted when people would praise the artwork (lavishly or not.) Sure, the writer can help set the stage for the artwork, but it’s not the lead player in most people’s considerations of the work.

And from where I was standing, my good fortune was not an isolated incident. Other retailers had reported similarly strong sales, though perhaps not record, but certainly making the trip and setup worthwhile. Given the economy outside this little bubble of unreality, that’s welcome news. But I’d also point out that comic conventions are weird beasts, unpredictable. Not so much for me, since I only have one thing to sell, aside from my (ahem) sparkling personality, that being my own books. So people either want what I have or they don’t; they’re not going to find them anywhere else on the floor. Not yet, anyways.

I’d assume that other sellers of variety merchandise did similarly well. My own ability to take a wide-ranging-sample was compromised by being chained to my table. But the vibe on the floor, the times that I was able to check out the bigger picture, was pretty positive. One of the things contributing to that, I think, was the fact that a lot of the people at the show don’t really get comics at places aside from a comics show. I can only guess at the reasons for that, whether it’s they don’t know where their DM stores or that they even exist or they can’t find what they want there or that they really don’t like to leave the house unless its going to be a big party, which the convention provides in spades.

Most of the people I spoke to, who were learning about the book, weren’t regular DM customers. They’d look at me blankly when I told them that they could order my book at their local comic shop if they wanted. “Comic shop? You mean there’s places that sell just comic books?” Yes, Virginia, there is a Comic Shop, which sells huge varieties of every conceivable kind of comic, should you go to the right place. I’ll repeat, as I noted last December after a local show, that almost everyone I talked to didn’t know about comics websites in general. Many of them, particularly the younger readers, knew about webcomics. I got “Oh, it’s a webcomic?” more than once when talking about the second book, which is indeed a webcomic running over at Robot6/CBR. That alone perked up interest in one chunk of the potential readership coming by my table. But, as we all know, the plural of anecdote is not data.

However, its to be noted that many attendees are not plugged into the comics internet, nor are they plugged into the DM shop as means of getting comics lifestyle. This is neither a condemnation of others’ methods nor a celebration of mine, but a simple observation. It looks like an opportunity, really.

And yes, I’ll be the first to say that there was solid representation from the mainstream, reading the Big Two and only the Big Two faction of the Great Tribe, but there was a lot more of Everything Else. And I wasn’t even in the tiny indie/artcomix chunk of the floor. Across the aisle from me was Studio Foglio, promoting GIRL GENIUS and doing pretty well it seemed, evangelizing for the presentation and selling a bunch of books while he was at it. In truth, his success with things is one of the factors that convinced me the webcomic experiment with THE THIRSTY was worth a shot, so it was gratifying to be in proximity to his setup.

Had a nice chat with John Flesk of Flesk Publications about my book (which I’d passed along to him some time ago) and printing overseas, which I’ll be looking in to when the time comes; though I hear it’s a better value for color printing as opposed to black and white, which is still where I’m looking.

I know that there’s others I’m forgetting, but I’d like to emphasize that I was busy actually selling books. Oh, and doing my “written sketches” which people by and large just didn’t get the idea of. Only two people on Saturday asked for one, one came on Sunday (as her friend got one on Saturday and I guess she didn’t want to be left out.) So I did ’em for nothing, just to get the ball rolling. We’ll see if this picks up. Maybe I ought to hang a sample up or something. Or point out that I could totally, definitively answer the question of who’d win between Superman and Thor. That might get more interest.

Oh, come on, like I’ll tell you here.

Mostly drained, I made it to a sedate dinner with messrs Brill (Ian Brill of Boom! formerly of Brill Building/PW Comics) and Lester (you know this guy already) of Vietnamese food a ways from the crowds of the convention center. I spilled the beans on the film version of WATCHMEN (no, I still won’t tell you here, but I will here) and revealed the one franchise property that I’d go out of my way to write (ditto, oh so ditto.) After that, a crème puff from Beard Papa (I let it sit a tad too long and the pastry lost its crispness and the crème was a touch heavy or plentiful for my tastes, but otherwise good) and then bed.

I don’t normally sleep well in hotels, but that night I slept like Tyler Durden after crying into Meat Loaf’s breasts, warm Rorschach blots of tears on his gray-green cotton shirt.