Marc Alan Fishman: Notes from C2E2
A week ago Friday, my studio mates and I met once again in the hallowed halls of Chicago’s McCormack Place to ring in the first big show of the year for Unshaven Comics. ReedPop’s C2E2 is to the Midwest what SDCC is to the west coast, or Reed’s sister show the New York Comic Con is to the east.
Unlike those two aforementioned behemoths, C2E2 doesn’t come with huge PR stunts, a multitude of multimedia stars, or what I’d personally dub a wave of humanity. Instead, the still-amazingly-large show boasts only one or two A-List celebs, a mish-mash of medium weighted ‘hey, I know [that person]!’, and an endless sea of comic-making talent. I’d dare suggest that comics are still the primary focus of the show. I might be very wrong on that point… but damn it if I’m not an optimist.
The show for we Unshaven Lads wasn’t what I’d hoped. You see, as the business-end of our business (natch), I’ve always adhered to the mandate that when we repeat a show we should see a ten-percent increase in book sales. To me, that represents us continually adding to our meager fan-base, in addition to keeping those on board who are here with us for the ride. This year, the fifth I believe for C2E2, marked the first time we didn’t meet or exceed that goal. And to rub it in, we did nine-percent less than last year. As the dollar and cents guy, my need for explanation has nipped at me all week.
To be honest: I got nothing. The fact is we left that show having sold 330 books and plenty of posters and trading cards. We didn’t meet our goals, but that won’t stop us from returning next year. If anything, it’s motivated us to up our game. More on that to come in future columns.
If I may stray to a tangental story…
You’d be surprised after pitching the same pitch thousands of times we really only hear a handful of responses. Most typically, ‘Wow, what a mouthful!’, ‘Oh my god that’s everything I love!’, ‘Hey [so and so] c’mere and listen to this!’, or the always wonderful ‘Great. Where’s Dan Dougherty’s table?’
Every now and again, a fan when pitched to will turn the tables to present us with unpublished work of their own. Traditionally its done with an air of pity mixed with hope and pride. In their mind, you showed me yours, now I’ll show you mine eventually leads to them hopping behind the table with us after only a cursory glance at their magnum opus. Because clearly our three headed logo deserves a mysterious fourth. Or so I might assume.
As so many of us know, when you want to break in to the comic industry it can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. An artist can produce a portfolio, and if they are skilled enough (and meet deadlines), work is out there – albeit accrued most likely through networking like an insane mental patient. If you’re a budding writer, your choices are far more limited. And every convention we go to… out comes a few of them right to our table. Their hopes placed in our hands, with a pitch in tow. After leaving C2E2, we Unshaven Lads left with a bit of wisdom to share with all those folks who consider this common practice.
The sad truth of it all is that breaking in to comics is as simple as coughing up the time, energy, and money enough to produce work on your own… and then taking that petrifying leap of faith to put it in the hands of unsuspecting strangers in hopes that they’ll want to keep it in exchange for a few shekels. To sell from the fan’s side of the aisle to the creators though crosses an unspoken line. Suffice to say, when we’re on the creator’s side, it’s to sell, not buy. And trust us, we also come to shows to buy.
In an interview long-long ago, the great and powerful forehead of comics, Alex Ross, was noted in saying that the way he broke in was not in effect any particular meeting or casual chit-chat at a con. It was made due to professionalism in his presentation. His portfolio was neat, clean, and presented with confidence. Meetings were sought, and attended with focus and zeal. If Unshaven Comics left the 2015 C2E2 with any advice to give those would-be suitors trying to make it to the other side of the aisle, it’d be to heed that statement.
It could be clear enough that artists in the alley aren’t often seeking new talent to create with. And for those who do, well, they’d be apt to put up a sign about portfolio reviews. But I digress. The truth of the matter is though, that when a fan presents us with their lone copy of their manuscript in a sweaty manila envelope… there’s little to nothing we can do then and there to be of any help. In between pitching, selling, drawing, and networking… being able to focus, read, and absorb someone’s work isn’t going to happen. Instead, a few phrases will be skimmed, while we figure out a way to not be a dick to the fan we’re still trying to sell our own book to.
And when an artist presents his or her portfolio – even if they are amazing – the likelihood that we’ll have the wherewithal to save their contact information and reach out after the show is as apt to happen as DC nabbing a copy of The Samurnauts, and signing us to an exclusive deal.
In the end, we know how hard that road to the other side of the aisle is. And we know because in 2005, we were the ones walking from booth to booth peddling our lone issue of a comic we knew would break us in. Simply put? It didn’t. So we put it out ourselves, and earned our fans one at a time. We’re still doing it now. And faced with less sales than the year past? It’s only made us hungrier for the future.
Consider that a Chicago-sized deep dish pizza for thought.