Marc Alan Fishman: In Defense of the Hustle
This past week, I joined a panel of fellow indie comic publishers in a Q & A session revolving around the industry. There were some great questions bandied about, but for my money? The best concerned ‘the hustle’. When you’re a garage band, your merch doesn’t march into the stores without serious work. As I’ve detailed before, the way into every comic book shop is paved in broken glass, and tarnished dreams. Indie publishers’ best chance at initial sales comes first and foremost in face to face pitches. But you see, on this panel, I sat next to two other gentlemen… each representing a side on the teeter-totter of salesmanship. It got me thinking about the process of building a brand, and how those who are readying themselves for their first cons on the other side of the aisle might benefit from knowing the lay of the land.
On one side? I had Dan Dougherty. As many fans and followers of this column know the name by now… Dan is my quintessential nemesis. He’s a sharp wit, a deft hand, and an amazingly well-coifed comic creator. At the comic cons? He’s on the side of the introverts. A fresh smile, a board to draw on, and typically a “table helper” to help handle purchases if his hands are otherwise occupied. But in order to crack the nut, if you will, one must mosey past and have their eye caught on his wares. And after a decade in the trenches, his table is a veritable warzone of brilliance. He has well over a dozen projects available at any time – including the next ‘Revival’ if he keeps it up with “Touching Evil”, and Hellboy-by-way-of-the-Red-Line with “Bob Howard: Plumber of the Unknown”. At the end of the day: Dan wins his customers over with the slow burn. He lets those interested come to him, confident that if they saw something they liked? They’ll like picking it up.
On the other side? I had Onrie Kompan. If Dan’s pitch is a 1, then Onrie’s is a 100 on a 10 point scale. Unlike nearly any other creator I’ve seen in the Artist Alleys… Kompan untethers himself from behind his table, stands, and literally plucks passersby to pitch to. He’s quick on his feet. He knows to butter up the sale with a free giveaway. He mercilessly doles out his elevator pitch. It takes less than 15 seconds to hear the price. And if you give the glint of a yes? Onrie’s already up-selling you from single issues to a graphic novel. It’s jarring to see, to be a part of, and I safely assume… to sell next to. But the proof is in the pudding. Kompan continuously sells out his wares at each successive show he attends.
For those who know me and my Unshaven cohorts… you’ll no doubt see how I consider myself somewhere between the two extremes. It also helps that unlike Dan and Onrie… we’re 3 men to their solo acts. We have a consummate pitchman though, in our writer, Kyle Gnepper. While he doesn’t stand in the aisle to attract would-be suitors… he does stand and beckon to any passing by. In fact, it’s become a bit of a larf for those who know us (and know Kyle can’t remember a face to save his life) to listen to his pitch only to chortle off a snarky response. Gets him every time. But for those folks who don’t know us? Being able to pitch our Samurnauts series in a succinct set of seconds makes for quick turnaround. We’ve enjoyed our victories – with increasing sales per show – now for 5 years strong.
Honesty time, kiddos. My title of the article, “In Defense of the Hustle”, comes out of the debate Dan and I had on the car trip home from the panel. And yes, I drive my nemesis to gigs now, what of it. You see, prior to knowing Onrie by name, I knew him by reputation. Upon knowing I would soon share a space at the dais with someone I’d previously professed “Crossed the invisible line between hungry creator, and used car salesman”, I was resigned to enter the discussion already jaded. But Dan, politician that he is, asked for me to give Mr. Kompan a chance. And I did. And he spoke. And he won me over. Not with his book mind you – I respect that his Yi Soon Shin series takes creative non-fiction to new heights… it’s just not my bag per say – but with his enthusiasm. Truthfully, I’d never step around my table to hawk my wares. But I respect that Onrie has the extroverted nature to do it, and do it relentlessly. And according to his sales figures? He’s on to something. But perhaps akin to Mark Waid’s allegory on breaking in to the industry itself… his way is his way, and no one else’s to take. And so long as he’s not selling next to me (and his neighbors have been properly vetted on his approach)? God bless.
So, I open up the column to your opinions. When you walk down the aisle to a comic con, do you prefer your creators be playful and shy? Can you handle the hard sell on a 5 dollar book? Or do you think there is an etiquette to pitching your passion to passersby? I’m a capitalist through and through… but my friends, what are you?