One of the great things about SCF is that only a few of the exhibitors were comic book stores or publishers. Mostly, the people at the tables were the artists who created the work being promoted. So I got to talk with other webcomic artists face-to-face; something I don't get to do very often. I got to meet Aerie (Queen of Wands, Punch and Pie) and talked with David Malki ! (Wondermark) and Chris Yates (Reprographics), both of whom I'd met a year ago. I also saw Paul Guinan and Anina Bennet (Heartbreakers) again, who introduced me to Susan Tardif. I also spoke with a bunch of other artists (and didn't catch all of their names, unfortunately, but I'm cross-referencing with the Flickr pool from the event), but it made me feel far more part of the Portland comic community. A couple notebooks were making the rounds for people to draw in. I'll confess to being a bit self-conscious, but I contributed drawings to both books. I shouldn't complain about not feeling a part of the group if I don't play when invited.
I skipped the Friday-night pre-event, so I could finish my preparations. It sounds as if it was rather sparsely attended, though, so perhaps I didn't miss much. On Saturday, I actually drove to Cosmic Monkey Comics for the awards presentation party. It was crowded and noisy, and I recognized almost nobody there. And I was tired; I'd spent a full day talking to people. I realized I'd gone mostly to prove to myself that I don't always flake out on such gatherings, but I didn't feel up for interjecting myself into the conversations over the noise, nor standing about waiting for something to happen. So I went home and slept.
For a self-described introvert, I had a lot of fun talking with people. There were only a couple attendees who I just couldn't seem to communicate with; like the woman who seemed to believe that "eldritch" meant "sick." Mostly, though, people ranged from positive to enthusiastic.
Probably the Weird Event of the Show goes to the Spinning Wheel Guy. His costume was mostly a spinning wheel rim over his face. I crossed paths with him on the far side of the show, and asked if I could take a costume photo. He got all excited (but wouldn't speak), and pointed to the "Everything's Better With Tentacles" button he wore. I eventually understood that he wanted to have a picture with me back at my table. Once there, he handed me his boombox while he danced around and people took pictures. You can see the one shot with my camera in my Flickr set. It was weird, but rather complimentary.
I had a really enjoyable chat with Chris Yates, ranging from how the comics community relates to photocomics, to his experiences at Craft Faires in Colorado, selling his puzzles to little old ladies. It felt like we could have been hanging out in someone's living room, instead of being surrounded by hundreds of other people. He's an interesting guy.
You may recall that after I went to Orycon, I blogged my observations about show exhibitors, and noted some thoughts about how I would do it. Not one to fear being held up to my own evaluation, here’s my look at how well I did at achieving what I thought would be the Way To Do It:
Plan a Month In Advance – Moderately Successful. I did reserve my table early enough to get the discount rate, and I ordered postcards and bumper-stickers in plenty of time to have them in hand before the show (the buttons were left over from Comic-Con). I was still assembling my sign and swag items on Friday, so I could have done better. (If I hadn’t done the Webcomic Workshop last weekend, I would have had more time, but then I couldn’t claim to have given a workshop.)
Have a Food Plan – I did. I figured the weekend would be kind of like camping; I’d expect to carry enough food and water with me to get by comfortably, in case nothing was to be found. The event was at Lloyd Center, so it wasn’t as if no food vendors were nearby, but since I was mostly flying my booth solo, I didn’t want to be gone too long at a stretch. Similar to camping, I would have enjoyed having a nice salad delivered, but my preparations paid off. I didn’t let myself get hungry, and I felt well and energetic through the event.
Get good rest – I did pretty well, although my body didn’t cooperate completely. I kept a regular sleep schedule leading up to the event, and didn’t stay up late during. I chose not to attend the Friday evening party so I could finish the big sign and get to bed on time. Then, I woke up around 4:00 a.m. on both days. This was not intentional; but once I woke up, my brain wanted to think about everything that had be done and not go back to sleep. So even though I was getting to bed at a reasonable hour, I was short of sleep. I still got enough to be alert during the show, so I did okay.
Have Specific Goals – I did: To be the exhibitor that people remembered so they’d follow up with a visit to my website. The purpose of this trip was to increase name-recognition and build my fan base, so everything was aimed at that.
Have a Visually Compelling Presentation – You can see from the photo, I did a number of things:
1. A dark tablecloth, to give visual separation between the table and the items on it.
2. Racks to display things at different levels.
3. Video slideshow.
4. Large sign behind me at eye level (apparently it even made exhibitors across the room curious about it).
5. Brightly-colored signage.
6. Stand-up figures; so it wasn’t just text.
7. A colorful mass of post-cards (the pile got bigger during the show).
I would have liked to have more action figures, but having the foam-core stand-ups helped a lot.
Have a Gimmick – Two main things: First, an endlessly-repeating slideshow of the first fifty-nine comics (right up to where the Eater of All appears). Since most people there dealt with print, there weren’t many who were displaying video images. So the comic slideshow was unusual, and useful to show what the comic looked like.
Second, the “If I can’t guess your Astrological Sign, you win a button” contest. This concept’s pretty much stolen from the Carnival midway. The sign says that I have an Uncanny Ability to Guess Your Astrological Sign, and if I’m wrong, you Win a FREE Button of Your Choice! If I’m right, you win the Consolation Prize; a FREE Button of Your Choice! Yes, it’s silly, but nobody else at Stumptown was doing it. Those guests who took the challenge seemed to find it fun, and I gave away a bunch of buttons, all of which have the website address on them. (Since I wasn’t charging for it, what did they have to lose?)
Display My Name – I did, along with my picture. It wasn’t the largest thing on the table, and I don’t know how many people noticed. Next show, I’ll have a larger face/name combination, so anyone who looks at my table has a pretty good chance of registering both, even if they don’t stop.
Give Away Cool Stuff – I would like to power-up this one even more, but I gave away business cards, post cards, buttons, Newsletter Booklets and Non-Virtual Doughnuts. I like that the post cards double as birthday cards. I bet most of them end up in a stack of papers, but some may be sent to others as a birthday card, which means someone else will learn about the comic, too.
Have Top Shelf Lagniappe – Yes, mostly. I gave away postcards and Newsletter Booklets to anyone who wanted. Buttons had to be “won” if I couldn’t guess someone’s Astrological Sign, but some were given away to other exhibitors. I was selling the bumper stickers, but one was a gift to someone. I realized it would be nice to have prints of the comic as top-shelf gifts, but I think I did pretty well with what I had.
Clearly Mark Free/Sale & Price Everything - Not only did I have a price-list sign, but I had some sort of tag by each item with the price. Even though there was a bright-yellow Post-It note by the postcards reading “FREE – Take One!”, people still asked if the postcards were free. But those who were paying attention could tell what the prices were for the cards, booklets, buttons and bumper stickers.
Price Intentionally – I did. Bumper stickers were $3, which gave me some profit, and was easy for making change.
Have Lots of Change – I did. Far more than I needed, as I only sold a few bumper stickers. But I’d rather have more than necessary than have to scramble to break a $20.
Get Names – I did. I had a clipboard for signing up to the Newsletter. Not a lot of people signed up on the spot, but some did.
Be At My Post – I was. I was there the whole day Saturday, except for a few restroom breaks. When gone, there was either someone there, or I put a sign saying I’d be back in 2.38 minutes. Sunday was the same, except for when sanguinity took control of the table for a while.
Be Engaging! – While I did take a notebook so I could write comic scripts during down time, I barely touched it during the show. I spent nearly the whole time on my feet. When someone went by, I’d offer them a free postcard. Most people took it, which gave me the chance for the concise pitch: “It’s from my webcomic “Ask Dr. Eldritch,” about an Ex-Vampire-Killer turned Advice Columnist.” That usually got at least a smile, often a laugh, and if they didn’t then wander off, I’d continue with pointing out that it doubled as a birthday card, if they knew someone who had a birthday, and that I used action figures in front of a digital background. Often that got them looking at the rest of the materials on the table, or asking questions. From there I’d play it by ear, depending on what they seemed interested in.
Final Evaluation: If I may pat myself on the back, I think I did pretty well.
Make signage simpler – I apparently like the table signs to explain everything, as they end up being fairly verbose. I think slightly larger signs with less (but larger) text would help.
Make the Video slideshow shorter and as visually compelling as possible. The entire sequence ran 25 minutes. Most people didn’t even look at it. I had one guy who watched several minutes of it, and it felt a bit awkward to have him there but not interacting with me. So instead of one long sequence, I think I’d do three minutes of the best one-shot comics and some selected images as a carefully-edited promo. A viewer could watch enough to get the idea of the comic, but it’s unlikely that they’d park there for an extended period.
Additions to the Sign – Right before the show, I went into a store that makes Fast Signs, and the nice Sales Associate was quite helpful. I described what I was doing, and she suggested an 8’x3’ vinyl banner, which could have a full-color digital image and would be light-weight and durable. We were doing great, until she said the price: $190. Since I don’t really know how many shows I’ll do, that was much more than I wanted to pay, especially without an image planned out. Instead, I went to the nearby Office Max, bought a 30”x20” piece of foam board and a glue stick, went home and printed up letters on high-quality photo paper and put it all together. With an hour’s work, I had a decent-looking sign for about $7, and I could display it with a tripod I owned, rather than having to buy or build a stand for a large banner.
While I’m fairly pleased with it, I realized I could cut another piece of foam board in half, and make additions to either end. One side will be a picture of the characters, the other will be me, with my name underneath. I'll do that for the next show.
So that's my review! With two full days of activities, there's really too much to tell in detail. I did see a jump in readership after the show, but time will tell whether those people become returning fans. Now I've got a while to decide whether I'll do this again next year...