“Tips From a Convention Neophyte”

Here I am with with my cousin dressed as The Hulk… I am on the right,
in case anyone thought those were my green biceps.  Easy mistake.

I have not exhibited at many conventions.  I have attended several, but really Phoenix Comicon was my first real attempt.  I was at Comikaze Expo a few years ago in L.A., but I don’t really count it.  I was comped the booth and the whole thing as a blur.  I have also done a Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix, but that is a different kind of beast.  Much lower attendance than something like Phoenix Comicon but with a really focused and dedicated fan base is in attendance, which makes success much easier.

Phoenix Comicon has grown a lot in the last few years.  The first time I attended in 2008, there were 5,200 people in attendance.  This year, they hit 77,000.  Pretty fantastic growth!  It is a big time event now, drawing in people from out of state and attracting some pretty big celebrity names.  It has been neat to see it grow in my backyard.  Next year they are anticipating attendance around 100k.
I hope that as it grows, I will see more familiar faces manning booths.  Michael Hayes and Mark Winters were there to also represent fantasy illustration, but really the focus is much more on comic/pop/anime art.  Having said that, anytime you get 77k comic fans, you are going to have a good number who like fantasy art.

I spent a little time walking around and talking to others about what was working well.  I will share my observations and also tell you what I think worked well and what didn’t.

Look up!

This might seem obvious but if you want people who don’t know you are there to notice you, you need to go up with your displays.  I had one large vertical banner and a large framed piece, but in the future, it would be much better to go higher and with more.  Michael Hayes had a great booth backdrop to show this.

Big colorful banners with his name well above head height so that fans could find him and see his art, and new fans could see his work from a long ways away and be drawn in.  Michael also did something that I did at the last minute, and that was order an end table.  This cost another $100, but was well worth it.  I will talk more about that later.

A Personal Connection

A friend of mine introduced me to Charlie Bink, a great local designer/illustrator/animation.  His booth, The Ink Patch, did something different.  Rather than sit behind the table, he had two big walls put up right at the edge of the table and he and his friend spent the con on their feet meeting and talking with lots of people, making it feel really personal.  I like that alot.  Here is a shot of his setup.

Not only could he be close up and personal, but all the art was very accessible and easily seen.  It would take a little more work, but I think this is something I am going to have to try.  One of my favorite parts of getting out there is getting to know new people and learn about them.  Standing and shaking hands and connecting with customers sounds like a good way to spend a day.  It wouldn’t work if I were signing Magic cards all day, but if there were space to sign prints, I can see this being a great option.

The Middle Ground

Jake Parker’s booth landed somewhere in between.  Where Michael’s booth was double wide with an end table, and the Ink Patch above was a corner, Jake’s booth was in the middle of an isle, and a single table wide, but Jake made the most of the space.

Jake had what might be the best of both worlds.  Big, easy to see signage, mixed with smaller vertical  towers at the front of his table.  People could easily see where he was at, but also come right up and see the art up close and personal.

Of course, all the booths I mentioned had great art to back them up and draw people in.  Fan art seemed to be a big draw at this convention, and this was a common response to those who I asked.  Chrissie Zullo had a beautifully done tribute to Hayao Miyazaki, and was kind enough to do a print trade with me.

A tribute to Hayao Miyazaki by Chrissie Zullo

My Booth

I was lucky enough to have a corner table, and also to have my wife there to help.  She purchased an additional table (not a space, but a second table, so it formed an L shape, like Michael Hayes’ booth) and that was a good call.  I didn’t have good vertical displays, so I needed the space to spread out the prints I had.

I essentially had 4 printed products to sell:

1. Artist Proofs for Magic: the Gathering – these are the white back cards that Wizards sends out to artists when they finish a card.  I sell mine ranging from $5 – $20, without a drawing on the back and $20 to $30 with a drawing.

2. 8.5 x 11 prints.  I sold them for $10 for one, $35 for 4 and $50 for 6 – This size at this price definitely make for easy sells.  If people were interested in my work, it was usually an easy call to buy a print at this price.  I have my prints done through 4Over.  They do a great job and I order 1000 at a time and it gives me a good margin.

3. 13 x 18 limited edition canvas giclee prints for $100 – $150 – I sold more at this size than I anticipated.  I had a selection of them laid out on the table, but sold them rolled in a tube.  I think I need to upgrade this part of my display.  Getting a vertical wall up, like the Ink Patch booth would have been a great way to display these prints.

4. 26 x 36 limited edition canvas giclee prints for $450 – I had one of my images framed up in a beautiful frame on a tall easel behind me.  This was a good draw.  I didn’t sell it, but a lot of people could see it from far away and said they came over because of it.  I also helped to sell some people on the 13 x 18 prints.

Several people wished that I had something in the $40 range that was the size of my limited edition prints.  They wanted posters that had some dimension, but not the cost of the larger canvas prints.  I think it is probably a good item to add into my inventory, but a concern is that it might cannibalize sales of my canvas prints.  Getting a large run of posters also represents a significant investment, but I might have to make that leap.

Because I didn’t have enough vertical display space, it limited the number of people that could comfortably see what I had to offer.  On several occasions, when a busy wave would come through, I am sure I lost some people because there was a wall of people humanity in front of my table at times blocking the view (they weren’t even always looking at my work, just pressing through like meat through a grinder).

Future Inventory

1. Sketchbooks – I love collecting artist sketchbooks.  It seems like a low cost way to provide a nice collectable for fans and would provide something in the $15-20 price range.

2. Posters – I mentioned my hesitations for posters possible stealing sales from my higher end products, but I will have to try it and see what happens.  If I did posters, I would put them in the $25-30 range if possible.

3. Stickers/postcards – I want to have a very low cost item for people to take away and keep my name in their mind, less than $1.

4. Freebies – Everyone loves a freebie.  I had business cards, but I think it would be a good move to have something for anyone who stops by the booth to take home.  Maybe the sticker or postcards would fill this gap.

A Solid Victory

Probably the best thing I did the whole convention was install MailChimp’s Chimpadeedoo app so that people could sign up for my newsletter.  I had several hundred signups over the course of the Con and I didn’t even push it much.  In the future, I am going to fabricate a stand to make it that much easier for people to sign up using my iPad.  Looking at the long term, building up a solid email list will help me sell directly to those who are already interested in my work.

Even without much experience, it was financially worthwhile and I met a lot of new friends and fans.  Take my newbie observations for what they are worth and I hope to see you at future event!


Jake Parker
Michael Hayes
Mark Winters
Chrissie Zullo
Charlie Bink