Tagged: Artists Alley

Ed Catto and The New York Comic Con Newbie


Indian Summer, autumn’s first batch of orange-hued fallen leaves and New York Comic Con have all tumbled away, relegated to that odd intersection of fond memories and the comfortable knowledge of their inevitable return. The New York Comic Con, now the nation’s largest geek culture convention, seems to change each year. And after more than a decade of growth, it’s changing in many weird and wonderful ways.

I’ve been there from the beginning and, during the early years worked, on the show. We had a vision for the convention and it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. And in many ways … it hasn’t.

space-ghostThe Big Picture

Each year on Thursday afternoon as the New York Comic Con bursts to life, ICV2’s Milton Greipp gathers industry leaders together to review the state of geek culture.

Comic Convention expert Rob Salkowitz was one speaker who addressed this business gathering. He spoke about the phenomenal growth of all conventions and attached revenue estimates to it all. “NYCC has grown to become one of the largest pop culture conventions in North America and a key part of an industry that has an economic impact of more than $4 billion,” reported Salkowitz.

That’s a lot of geek culture.

luke-cage-dr-strangeA Matter of Perspective

There are long-time fans who regularly attend conventions and new fans that bravely dive in each year. I routinely hear what long-time fans are thinking, and I felt I needed a fresh perspective. I wanted to hear what a new fan thinks. So this year, I invited my adventurous Aunt Elissa to NYCC. It would be her first time to the show.

Her gateway to comics was through the Archie universe. She ingested a steady diet of Stan Goldberg and Dan DeCarlo Archie comics during the 70s, and has now graduated to geek mainstays like Doctor Who and Tonner Dolls.

Elissa said she had a great time, but I wanted to dive a little deeper and understand what made this show work from a first-timer’s point-of-view.

harley-girlCrowd Control or Controlled Crowds

From Elissa’s vantage point, the huddled masses of NYCC were surprisingly polite. It’s been reported that NYCC broke another attendance record and sold 180,000 tickets. But these supersized crowds didn’t faze her. In fact, she was pleasantly surprised “because everybody was very polite, very pleasant – there were a lot of people, but <they were> not intimidating to me, nor would it stop me <from attending> in the future.”

Unlike a football game, or even a trip to her local supermarket, Elissa found the crowds were a community of like-minded fans. “You’re going to bump into people, not intentionally,” said Elissa. “They’d say, ‘excuse me.’ You don’t even hear that in a store these days!”


At one point I introduced Elissa to my old friend Ivan Cohen. He’s a longtime comics professional and one of his many accomplishments is writing the Green Lantern Animated Show Comic Series. As we talked, and with perfect timing, a cosplayer dressed as Sinestro, Green Lantern’s evil archenemy, came up and charmed us all.

Sinestro took an immediate liking to Elissa. I was afraid it would be overwhelming, but she loved it.

She raved about how impressed she was with all the cosplay. Elissa attended the Let’s Get Serious Cosplay Panel – with panelists from Cosplay by McCall’s and the Overstreet Guide to Cosplay. “They have a pride and professionalism in their cosplay” she said with newfound respect.

Thumbs Up to Archie from a Long Time Fan

Elissa visited the Archie booth and she rendered a ‘thumbs up’ verdict on all the recent changes. She said she understood that the company needed “to keep up to encourage people to continue reading Archie,” and “to change with the times.”

“It’s not the Archie I remember, but also I’m not 10 years old.” She bought the new Betty & Veronica comic from super-retailer Marc Hammond right there at NYCC.

She also bought the new Josie and Pussycats comic. This was a big step as she explained she never liked those characters when she was younger. “They seemed so ditzy”, she said. But she quickly amended her recollections “But maybe that was just Melody.”

gun-guyWas this Best Part of NYCC?

As it turned out, Artist Alley was one of Elissa’s favorite parts of New York Comic Con. We gave her a guided tour, introducing some of our favorite artists: Franco, Art Baltazar, Kevin McGuire, Gabriel Hardman, Corrine Bechko, Joe Staton, Brett Blevins and Tom Gianni were just a few. Before you knew it, Elissa would find an artist who’s style she liked and just walk up and strike up a conversation with them.

“I wasn’t’ quite sure what it was going to be like, “ said Elissa, but once we got there it was very clear.” She explained that she soon realized that each artist has his or her own style. “It’s all fascinating. They are all extremely talented. They’re good!”

Elissa observed that the majority of people outside of geek culture don’t have any appreciation for the artists. Meeting and speaking with artists in Artist’s Alley reinforced the idea that comics “are drawn … not just done by a machine.”

Her biggest take away from the whole show was an increased respect for the artists and creators. “It made me want to read more comics.“ She’s not ready to start collecting per se, but she is eager to read more.

Ready for More

Elissa is looking forward to next year’s NYCC. She realized that as a first time attendee, she wanted to see ‘everything’. On subsequent visits, she talked about how she’d plan better to attend specific panels.

“By the end of the night- my feet hurt. There was so much going on – I wasn’t bored. It held my attention. I wanted to see it all. “

And she’s become a big Artist’s Alley fan. “If I went again – <she’d prepare ahead of time> to know the artists and their work.”

More Respect for Geek Culture

After the show, as Elissa told her friends at home about her New York Comic Con adventure, they looked at her as if she had five heads. “They think these people are weird or strange.” But she explained it to her friends this way, “No, they are very passionate, very talented.”

Seems to me that the crossroads of passion and talent is a pretty good foundation for an industry, and a good place to spend a weekend.

Marc Alan Fishman: Selling Out

Richie RichThe other afternoon, whilst sipping on a cool beverage and shooting the breeze with a comic book making cohort, I stumbled upon a most interesting What If scenario. You see, this pal of mine loathes Kevin Smith (of Jay and Silent Bob, and a dozen other ventures). Knowing this, I pressed:

“What would you do if Kevin Smith got a hold of your [Amazing Indie Book I’ve Plugged Before], and decided he just had to turn it into a film. Would you make a deal with him?”

A little bit of hemming and hawing later, the answer was a resounding yes – pending a considerable amount of money was put on the table, as well as some subsidiary rights. It ultimately got me to question myself: Would I put aside my integrity as an artist if it meant a more lucrative life? Well, as much as I’d love to be able to side with the staving artists of the world, I’m a fat dude who loves a good Faberge egg omelet far more than resting on a pile of unsold ideas.

It’s oftentimes the pipe dream of the indie creator, is it not? Certainly Banky and McNeil of Chasing Amy had courted selling out as means to better ends, and no one looked down on them much. The fact is that we barnacles on the S.S. Comics may enter into the endeavor or making pulp for the masses with nothing more than good intentions to entertain, but there’s only so long that one can sustain the hobby without lucrative backing.

As I’ve detailed time and again: each issue of my Samurnauts series represents roughly 250 work hours from concept to completion. Three guys working full time jobs and maintaining contact with loved ones – like our fiancés, wives, and kids – put in those hours. While there’s no greater feeling in the world than seeing a complete stranger plunk down his hard earned cash for my comic, there’s no bigger dream then being able to sustain a career actually making the next issue.

If there were to be a fly on the wall when Shuster and Siegel were pitching Superman, do you think they were contemplating points on the backend when they signed their names on the dotted line? I doubt it. They sold the rights for $130 and a contract to produce more material, to the tune of $150,000 a year for the pair. Superman, of course, went on to become a radio show, a newspaper strip, a cartoon, a television program, and countless cartons of collectable crap. The creators would end up suing DC and other respective owners for a fairer cut for the rest of their natural lives. The notion was clear from the start: putting food on the table will trump a stiff upper lip every time.

When an artist is given carte blanche to see their truest work come to fruition, I’ve no doubt it will always be better than had it been built by a focus group. But there’s a reason why DC and Marvel hire known names to helm their biggest titles. They’re not in the business to take leaps of faith. In the best cases, one could argue that a collaboration between art and commerce leaves the most people happy. See The Avengers. And when it goes wrong, well, funny enough, no one is exactly blaming Eastman and Laird over Bay’s Ninja Turtles now, are they.

The notion of selling out was always troublesome to me. The thing is, the Million Dollar Man was right: Everyone has a price. But there will always be those creations we hold nearest to our hearts and feel the need to protect. I believe for most of us indie creators, our ideas are always on the table for sale because we pride ourselves in the ability to create more where they came from. The hope is when we’re well off enough we can afford to give life to those new ideas without the slimy hand of an unwanted third party. Left to their own devices, Green Day became Foxboro Hot Tubs and without any focus groups to get in the way… ended up sounding like Green Day (from 1968).

So, I say unto all those amidst the Artist Alleyways! You are free and clear to seek that big payday without fear of repercussion. For you see… the artist that pays his bills, and lives to see another day has plenty of integrity in my book.


Marc Alan Fishman: The Responsibilities of a Show Promoter

Having concluded an exhausting round of conventions (with one more to go in November, baby!), I find myself in awe of those brave soldiers who put on the shows themselves. From the giant conglomerate-hedge-fund-corporations with deep pockets, to the lonely islands that build their shows in small hotel ballrooms (like Days Inn… screw those who can afford the Embassy Suites!), VFW halls, and auditoria that double as bingo halls on off-nights. Simply put, a comic con is equal parts conference, summit, trade show, and flea market. Balancing these elements into a single entity is like throwing your kid’s birthday during your wedding with a Bar Mitzvah taking place in the adjacent ballroom. So, what makes a good show… from the eyes of an artist?

When I made the transition from fan to creator, my expectations for a show runner where slim to none. I honestly figured buying a table granted you… the table. Maybe a few chairs. But over time, those wants have shifted decidedly towards needs. Not that Unshaven Comics is in much (if any) position to have desired expectations, the glut of shows that exist now pull for our attention – and table fees – and word travels fast when it comes to which shows are must attend and which are must give a crap.

The Cost of the Table or Space

First and foremost, the cost of the table must be in proper ratio to the number of butts in the building. Wizard charges artists upwards of $350 – $450 for an Artist Alley table. In Chicago though, the stream of traffic typically matches the price – allowing most Bohemians behind their buffets to earn back the cost of said countertop in advance of the show coming to a close. I imagine much is the same for a vendor seeking exhibition booth space. And where applicable (see: ReedPop!) finding ways to nickel and dime us at every opportunity – want another chair for that booth? $85! – isn’t the best way to earn our love. We know we’re a captive audience… but that never means we have to like it. And for those vendors who aren’t being backed by marketing budgets, the added cost to power a booth for four days may not be worth it after a while.

The Fans in Attendance

Table price aside, I’d mentioned traffic. Here, the correlation between happy fans and happy artists are one in the same: if one group ain’t happy, the other won’t be far behind. I can’t count how many shows we saw fan after fan in a slump because of any number of reasons: perhaps waiting on line for hours at a time for a ticket for the voucher for the opportunity to look at the door outside of the hall where they are letting that one guy sign autographs for 20 minutes before his handlers whisk him off for a two-hour lunch. And when that fan is just three people in line after they set the cut off? Guess who he’s going to take it out on? Us. A lot. He’ll listen to the pitch for our book. In another world where he got that ticket, he may even give us a shot (he needs something to read during the hour long queue to sit down). But when the day started with a four hour wait for that McGuffin pass, followed by a half hour waiting to pee in a bathroom that Cthulu would be appalled by, followed by dropping over ten bucks for a hot dog, chips, and a soda… multiplied by the thousands who felt the same pains? Doesn’t make for a buy-happy experience. But I digress.

Traffic Needs Roads

The show floor (and corresponding venue) must be a planner’s nightmare. Organizing the fan areas (for photos and the like), gaming zones, autograph areas, the Artist Alley, vendor space, and panel rooms is a dance most choreographers would shy away from. The key to it all from the artists’ perspective? Flow. We want a stream of traffic to mill about the aisles in a steady queue that keeps our hands busy. When the only draw of a show during a given day takes place (“See Patrick Stewart high five Billy Shatner in Hall H!”), the monsoon of militant attendees makes for an awkward hour. Suddenly free-wheeling loiterers are collapsing in a heap to find a seat elsewhere, and you hawking your wares becomes plain insulting to them.

Fans Need Incentive to Become Fans

Simply put, a convention show runner is responsible to entice their attendees to explore every nook and cranny of their convention hall. I can’t count how many times we’ve heard how someone stumbled across us never expecting to purchase. While a decidedly pious few announce their love of shows specifically to seek out the new and odd… most are there to snag that deal on back issues or trades, get the autograph of that now-B-Lister from the Show-They-Love(d)-So-Much, and maybe waste some time at a panel or two. Artist Alley is always feels seemingly like an afterthought from show runner’s perspective. We pay the least to be on the floor, and our DIY table-scapes are rarely seen as a draw large enough to bolster attendance.

But consider my hypothesis: the Artist Alley is the lifeblood of a show. Yes, celebrities and razzle-dazzle gets people in the door. But those precious minutes spent on line, and then snapping that quick photo are only a small percentage of the opportunities that exist in a given con. If I’m to be bold, more often than not, fans discover in the alley. They have the chance to meet face to face with creators and pick their brain (while conducting business, mind you), as well as see the past, present, and future of the industry that spawned the cons in the first place.

I’d put the onus on the show runner’s to push the artists (and dealers to an extent) just as much an attraction for their conventions. Introduce attendees to the notion of making a sketchbook filled by artists in attendance. Consider “con bingo” where fans are rewarded for making purchases from every zone on a given floor (or even just for listening to the pitch). In essence: reward the fan who chooses to enjoy the entirety of their admission. At the end of it all… no one can complain (within reason) if they felt that they saw every fan have the opportunity to converse. That is to say (ahem, Mrs. Dorman), the biggest responsibility of the show runner is get butts in the hall, and get them mingling. The responsibility of we who man the tables… is to make it worth their while.


Emily S. Whitten: ComicCon Prep 101

SoldierConvention season is upon us, y’all! Well actually, convention season is sort of year round these days. As Jim Zub observed recently, “There are now so many conventions that you can’t even attend the ‘best’ ones. Too many great shows.” Too true. And technically for me, convention season started with Awesome Con DC, for which I was on the ConCom. But convention reporting season for me really starts with San Diego Comic Con and wraps up with New York Comic Con (because yes, I love HeroesCon, and I know I totally have to try one year, and C2E2 would undoubtedly be great, and OMG ECCC always has so many good voice actor guests so why haven’t I gone yet – but I just can’t do it all, you know? Much as I’d like to).

So for me, it’s now time to Get Serious about prepping for conventions because SDCC is about a month away (eep!). And when I prep for cons, I ain’t kidding around – I arm myself for cons like a general going into battle, because no matter how much you plan for a con, when you get there things are not going to go as planned (kind of like how “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” y’know?). And since I’m not the only one who might feel overwhelmed by the wonderful chaos of a con if unprepared, I thought I’d share some of my methods (and madness? and complete OCD?) with you. So here’s how I do things. It may not be how you decide to do things, but at least it might give you a jumping off point.

Step 1: The Spreadsheet

Okay, so depending on how many cons you attend (and how OCD you are) you may not need a spreadsheet. But if you go to several cons a year, like me, a spreadsheet can help you keep track of all of the important stuff for each con. Like, for instance, the dates of the con, when badges go on sale, what you still need to do well beforehand (like booking your travel and hotel), and particular events or plans you want to ensure you don’t miss (like dinner with friends, or, for reporters, interviews you’ve set). Also which friends might be going to the same con (because if I don’t note this somewhere I will forget who’s at which cons), or what costumes you want to wear (and if they still need work before they’re con-ready), your expenses or budget, and anything important that you really don’t want to forget to pack.

So if you want an easy way to keep track of all this stuff, be a spreadsheet nerrrrrd like me. Trust me, it really can help. And you can use other tabs to keep track of other handy stuff you need to prep for.


Step 2: The Schedule

So once you get your badge and travel and hotel figured out (try to get those nailed down first and as soon as you can to ensure you get a badge and hotel, since some sell out quickly; and to get better travel prices), you’re going to want to start thinking about allllll of the amazing things you can see and do at a con. The con’s website should have everything you need to start planning all that out, with guests you might want to meet (and get photos with, or autographs from, or commissions from, or even just tell them how awesome you think they are); and panels you might want to see; and all that jazz. Explore the whole website because hey, it’s fun to look forward to stuff by learning about it, and also you might discover some things you didn’t realize they had (like how Dragon Con lists each fan track they have, what each entails, and what they have featured on each track in the past).

Once you decide what’s going on your con Wish List of Excitement, you might want to keep track of some of it on your spreadsheet. Also for scheduling, you might want to download and use the con’s scheduling app if they have one and once it’s available (many of them use apps now, including at least Awesome Con, San Diego, Dragon Con, and NYCC). It will take some time, but it’s worth going through the whole app and adding things to your schedule or favoriting guests you want to see; and you can generally even set reminders to go off prior to panels. Note that inevitably if you’re going to a good con, you’ll end up with like, five conflicting things in the same slots on your schedule much of the time. That’s okay! You can decide later which (if any) you actually want to attend. Just throw ‘em all on there and see what sticks.

And now that you’ve got your potential schedule figured out, you can also think about:

Step 3: Costumes

(Note that this step can run concurrent with the first two, because it can take a while to get a good costume together.) If you are a costumer like me (sometimes), you may want up to three or more costumes for one con. These may require gathering of pieces, sewing, crafting, and more. I’ve talked before about how I make a convention costume so check that piece out if you want some tips on the finer points of how I do it (which is not to say there aren’t folks out there who do it with a lot more complexity and expertise than me). But generally, you may want to decide on a few costume goals, get your photo references or inspirations together, decide on your wardrobe pieces, and then (if you’re me and you just love making lists) list out all of the moving parts so you don’t forget to pack or wear any of them for the con. Again: add it to the spreadsheet! It’s good for so many things.


Step 4: Packing

Along with your costumes, there are some other things you don’t want to forget to pack for cons. Obviously this is going to depend in part on your own needs, but here are some things I recommend you wear or carry with you at the con:

• A decent-sized shoulder bag or small backpack with many pockets. The pockets are great for keeping your stuff in separate, easy to find places for if you need quick access to something.

• One of those lightweight cloth shopping bags that folds up into another tiny bag, which can later be used to carry whatever you end up buying (because if you are me, you will totally end up buying things.) I found one in the checkout line at an Office Max. You can probably also get one at The Container Store or similar.

• Comfortable socks and shooooes!!!!! And clothes, generally. But especially socks and shoes. You will be walking and standing around a lot.

• A hoodie or light sweater if you tend to get cold. If you are a gal like me, and you want something lightweight that rolls up fairly small and doesn’t wrinkle, I recommend the SeV Ladies Cardigan from ThinkGeek. I love that thing.

• Deodorant? No, seriously. Some of y’all may smell like springtime roses all day and all night long, but if you are at a con for 8+ hours, bustling through warm crowds, rushing to panels, and generally hanging out with a million other people, you might consider taking along a little travel stick of deodorant to use, because you might in fact find yourself being a gradual contributor to the dreaded con funk. And nobody wants to be that person.

• Snax! Ranging from bottled water to granola bars, trail mix, or whatever else your little snacky heart desires. It’s very important to stay hydrated and keep that blood sugar up during the go-go-go of a con. I tend to like chewy granola bars and those little applesauce pouches that look kind of like Capri Suns (which are also handy, by the way) because they aren’t crinkly or messy and are super-easy to eat while trying to be quiet in a panel or while in a hurry and barreling through a crowd on the way to your next fun event. I recommend keeping gum or mints on hand as well. Also, of course, it’s good to have some cash on hand for food and shopping.

• Your badge or badge confirmation, and ID. Seriously, don’t go all the way to the con and then realize you don’t have these. Also any medications you might need.

• Your camera, smartphone, charger, extra battery or on-the-go charging device, or any other tech you may need to communicate and memorialize your fun. Also consider an iPod if you are going to be waiting in line by yourself a lot and don’t always feel like talking to strangers.

• A small notepad, a couple of pens, and a Sharpie or two. They just come in handy, you know? Also anything you might want to get signed.

• Business cards, if you intend to make connections with folks for any reason.

• Aaaaand… anything else you can’t live without. Having all of these things, and having done the other steps prior to the con, will prepare you for the ultimate end game of…

Step 5: Having A Great Time, Even If Nothing Turns Out As Planned

Like I said, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and no con plan actually works out the way you expect. You will miss panels you want to see or people you want to meet, you may discover that your costume is way less easy to navigate through a crowd than you would have hoped (oops!), and other things will turn topsy-turvy. But being prepared will minimize any panic, stress, or issues that you might have with all of that.

And after all, things not going as planned may turn out to be the best thing that could happen. Because cons are magical and wonderful things full of fun and excitement, and missing that first panel may mean you run into your favorite actor in an elevator, or step into a less-full panel that turns out to be epically awesome, or decide to roam Artists Alley or the con floor and discover a new favorite artist or an exciting piece of con merch. So if you want to have a good time, it’s great to be prepared; but also, to be flexible – be both and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Got some other prep tips that help you out at a con? Feel free to share them in the comments!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!