Marc Alan Fishman: Everything We Do, We Do It For You
Thank you, Bryan Adams. See? More than one good thing has come out of Canada that isn’t Wolverine related. Add that to the Barenaked Ladies, good maple syrup, and Mike Meyers’ middle career, and you’ve got one great country! But I digress. I want to come back to a topic I’ve droned on about several times: the continuing story of Unshaven Comics by way of an increasing number of convention appearances.
This past weekend we had a delightful time at what we’d consider to be the best single day convention in the Midwest – the Kokomo Con, in mid-Indiana. And it was here, amidst the moderately sized crowd of fans making their way around the convention center we were privy to my favorite part of being in this business – fans. In the five or so years I’ve been toiling over scripts, pages, websites, and social media groups, nothing has felt better than having someone walk towards our table with an ear to ear smile. “Hey! You guys! I remember you from last year. Got anything new?” Heck, even typing that makes me a little giddy.
For some of the more legendary folks here with whom I share column space, it must be a far different feeling. To be clear, I don’t know if Dennis, John, Mike, or Michael have ever been on the side of the table as Unshaven has. I know they’ve obviously all had booths or artist alley tables, mind you. But I’d be remiss to guess if they ever were the ones chasing the tables, instead of being offered them. For Unshaven, the way into the industry is by hook or crook. We’ve got fiction to hawk, damnit. And for the time being? We’re not established. Our fans are few, but mighty. For a Dennis O’Neil or John Ostrander… they merely plop themselves into a chair and let the masses come to them, and rightfully so. In contrast, Unshaven Comics has cut its teeth with a generation of comic fans I dare say are more finicky, diverse, and uneasy to please repeatedly.
The show runner at Kokomo stopped by our table several times to make sure we were doing well. We were happy to relate every time that we were pleased as punch. By the end of the day, we’d increased our book sales by 20% over the year before. And given that attendance was slightly down from the year prior? This was an even more reassuring notion for our wee little team. To that effort, he quickly quipped “You guys could make a panel for artists to tell them how to be successful at cons!” Truth be told? I’ve detailed our crazy tactics before in my previous con-centric articles. What we do isn’t hard. It’s a bit shameless. But then again, our model for business was Stan Lee, and he certainly has made a living (or two) by never denying his inner huckster.
My greater point here though is this: Beyond any salesmanship we may employ at our table, beyond any marketing and networking we do, beyond any artistic fan-service we whore ourselves out for, what makes us successful comes down to one common denominator: a quality product that connects with fans. If we made bad books, no amount of smiling and pitching would show us increasing sales 10-20% every time we return to a convention. With the blistering amount of competition there is in artist alleys around the country, it’s a badge of pride when someone comes back time and again to see you. Especially when it’s with money-in-hand.
Thanks largely to my day job, I’ve been privy to a ton of extra-curricular reading (non-comic reading, boo) about start-ups. After careful consideration, it’s become obvious to me that my own studio is in fact just that. As a slow moving startup, we’ve done everything to keep costs down, while testing our product in the market. In layman terms? We don’t pay ourselves for the all the time we dedicate to making the books, we stay at cheap hotels, and only pay for dinner when Mark Wheatley, Mike Gold, John Ostrander or Glenn Hauman say to. And with each subsequent release, we’ve managed our risk by truly listening to our fans. After our first book (horror) and our second (rated R super-hero fare), we tried the all ages genre. And, as you read a week or two ago, the fans responded happily. And now, after several one-shots, we’re dipping our toes into mini-series waters.
And if the fans continue to be happy, return in droves, and help define a following for our beardly wares, we just might end up going whole-hog and doing an on-going series. We do what we do because of the fans. When they react positively to what we put on the page, it tells us that we share a bond not only in collective fandom… but it cements to us that our commitment to craft leads to more than a single purchase and lament.
It leads to a relationship between a fan and a creator. It leads to us one day being invited to the convention instead of chasing after it. And rest assured, no matter how we come to the con, we’ll continue to do what we always do – earning one fan at a time, until the convention hall closes.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander’s Alphas!