13 Things I Learned at SPX 2013
This was my third year attending SPX and I always come away with new insights every year. This year was interesting for me, because I was up for an Ignatz Award too, which was totally unexpected, but great. I didn’t win (I mean, I was up against Michael DeForge, c’mon), but it was a great experience overall. Here are some things I learned this year.
1. Pack Smartly
This goes without saying, but can be difficult due to several factors. I got my comics reprinted last minute and wasn’t able to ship, so I had to bring them on the plane from Boston. I was dumb enough to pack them in a humongous duffel bag (see below), which I thought would be fine as long as I asked the flight attendant to label it ‘fragile’. Big mistake. Guess she forgot because when I went to baggage claim a) it was not labeled b) some of my comics were bent. So I got all pissy at one of the customer service reps (and we all know how productive that is) and arrived in a bad mood, even though it was partially my fault. So plan ahead!
(Fig A. Idiot!)
2. Dress Appropriately
Prepare for a variety of temperatures. It was 80ish degrees in Boston before I left, so I assumed that farther south it would be warmer, and didn’t bring anything but a flimsy sweater. It turned out to be pretty cool at night, but the most notable issue was that the ballroom was pretty cold on Saturday. So come prepared!
3. Eat Well
Eating right can be hard when you are on the go, at a table all day, and on a budget. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the past regarding this, and yet I continue to make them. Last year in my recap I noted that I always end up with sloppy foods. The worst was when I was tabling at APE a few years back and my brother bought me a chili dog. Needless to say, that didn’t go well because a) it greased up some of my comics, and b) made me look like weirdo in front of attendees. So get with the program.
This year I didn’t do too well either. I ended up getting an la carte pasta salad at the show and thought I had made a steal for $2.50, but it turned out to be only a thimble’s worth of food. Like literally. I then ended up at Cici’s Pizza Buffet that night. My buddy had suggested it because it was cheap and because we had to eat quickly before the Ignatz Awards. Never eat macaroni and cheese pizza. I am lucky though that I did not get Salmonella from the salad bar.
What I would suggest is trying to pick up healthy snacks or things that are rich in protein. Beef jerky all the way. Drink lots of water. And stuff your face with hash browns at the breakfast buffet once if you are so inclined.
Fig B. (I did not eat this)
4. You Are Not Your Sales
To be honest, I didn’t do as well this year as I had hoped. This is probably for multiple reasons, both in and out of my control. It’s always important to consider your table set up and body language. Looking depressed? Well that shows. Being overly eager and intently watching people as they browse your stuff? Also not the best idea.
The show did expand in size this year though. Many people I talked to reported great sales, but some did feel that the competition was a bit higher due to the growth.
When you’re down about your sales though, think about how you act as a browser or attendee. There are so many amazing things, but only so much time and money. Just because someone doesn’t buy from you doesn’t mean they don’t like your stuff. It could be plenty of things. And if they don’t like your stuff? Well, that’s part of life.
But again, don’t base your self-worth as a creator on your sales. Consider how you can improve your presentation, but take it all in stride.
Fig C. Picked this up on the plane. You will probably make more in one day than Sky Mall makes in a year.
5. Get a Square
This may not be necessary if you are only selling items for under $5, but it’s definitely something to consider. I almost lost out on a few sales because I didn’t have one, but Melanie Gillman, my neighbor, was kind enough to let me use hers. So get one! It’s free!
6. Sell Things Other Than Comics
After observing and talking to lots of sellers, I realized that prints tend to do way better than comics, with the exception of comics from already established cartoonists. I don’t have enough knowledge about graphic novel sales though. If you can sell quality prints do it.
7. Meet Your Comics Heroes
Just to clarify, I am not talking about comic heroes such as Wolverine or Spiderman…because that would be impossible unless you’re on acid. Anyhow, it can be intimidating to approach the people who have inspired you so much, but saying hi respectfully can’t hurt. And yeah, be that cliched person who says you like their work, because, well, you do! Don’t be afraid to ask people about their process because, ultimately they probably started out like you.
8. Don’t Miss Out On That Signing
I really wanted to get a signed copy of March, but was hesitant because I wanted to man my table and the line was a bit long. Luckily my friend convinced me to go. I was so relieved I did though. It was an honor to meet Congressman John Lewis, Nate Powell, and Andrew Aydin and the book will be a much welcomed present for my parents, especially since my grandpa was very active in the civil rights movement. So yeah…take a break from your table, because this might be the only chance you get.
Trading comics is a long-standing tradition in the comics community. There’s something really equalizing about exchanging your work with other people. Many people though, do not share this sentiment. I believe there are some exceptions: graphic novels (uh duh), color comics which were expensive to print, exchanges of unequal value, and comics that you are running out of. But be generous if you can. Not only will you build relationships that way, but you might find something awesome that you never would have picked up on your own.
Fig D. The Loot
10. Embrace Your Awkwardness, But Not Too Much
Given our nerd-dom and the solitary nature of our calling, many cartoonists can be socially awkward, myself included. Shooting the shit and networking can be both nerve racking and exhausting, but you just gotta do it. Realize that for the most part, many are in the same position and it’s OK.
A note on booze: SPX and drinking go hand in hand for many and this definitely can ease any nervousness. Saturday night is notorious for partying (why do you think the show starts late on Sunday? Duh. Actually I can not confirm this) and is a blast. But one word of caution: don’t get sloppy. You may end up being that person who boldy interrupts someone’s private conversation that you’ve been listening to with a supposed insight, and then forget what you’re saying…not that I did this…
Which brings me to:
11. Don’t Be A Jerk
Don’t be a jerk, por favor. This goes for exhibitors and attendees. If you’ve seen another exhibitor at multiple shows and recognize their face, acknowledge them, even if you don’t know their name, are not familiar with their work, or just don’t plain like their work. People are practicing the same craft as you, are doing it because they love it just like you (hopefully), and are putting themselves out there just like you. Nod, waive, smile, or wink …ok, don’t wink, that’s creepy. But you get the point.
As for attendees, three pieces of advice: don’t be the person who stands there reading someone’s entire work and then not buy it. It’s poor form. If you are talking to someone at a table, make sure not to put your personal belongings on their neighbor’s merch. Also, if you are looking at someone’s work, please make sure to handle it with care and respect. No one likes to have their stuff mishandled.
So yeah…just sayin’
12. Reach Out to People You Only Know Through The Internet
In this day and age, many of us have never seen our followers or comics friends in person. Make an effort to seek people out who you talk to over the interwebs. As they say, the majority of communication cues are lost in the digital world, so it’s always nice to get to know people in the real one.
13. Practice Gratitude
So things didn’t go according to plan. So you didn’t make the sales you wanted. Practice gratitude. Be grateful that you were able to table (Damn you TABLEGEDDON!) Be grateful that you arrived alive (ok, I’m not trying to sound all morbid, but travel day was Friday the 13th). Be grateful that your most personal work has resonated with other people. And be grateful that you’ve met and caught up with so many amazing and talented people. Really, it’ll change your perspective.
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