Tagged: C2E2

Marc Alan Fishman: How the Twin Cities Stole My Heart

To those who follow the exploits of my little studio, Unshaven Comics, you know the last time we tabled at a con things didn’t turn out so good. Well, this past weekend at the MCBA SpringCon in Minneapolis, MN, Unshaven Comics got its groove back.

Let’s be clear: C2E2 is a major comic convention in a large city that charges lots of money, populates itself with celebrities across the span of pop culture, and lives inside a massive convention center. MCBA SpringCon is a fan-built comic convention in a smaller city, that charges very little money to attend (and nothing to table at), populates itself with comic makers and dealers, and lives inside the state fairground center. The two shows are nothing if miles apart in scope and direction. But that’s really aside from the point I’ll be trying to make here.

C2E2 was deflating in multiple ways. First off, it was a money-sucking show for my very cash-strapped company. While I’d like to defend Reed (the fine folks behind the show), they did give me a call after my article posted to take down considerate and constructive feedback, and vowed to work with me (and others) to make next year better. That much is good. But beyond those promises, the show itself was a spectacle for fans. You came in and got swept away in the multitude of activities, artists, dealers, panels, and what-not. To “do the show” meant to walk for hours — meaning if we didn’t sell you on your first pass around, it’s likely we never saw you again. In addition, the basic logistics of the show were taxing to boot. Over $20 a day to park. The food was very expensive. But I need not rehash any further.

In contrast, SpringCon is a show that oozes sincerity and joy. While it was an arduous drive from Chicago to Kenosha to Minneapolis to make our way there (six hours, beginning after our day jobs on Friday night), at very least the show itself comes with an unmatched amount of love for their guests and creators. Free parking, and free meals for the creators! Donuts in the morning! Lunch and then dinner on Saturday night! Always delivered with a smile. For attendees, a low cost of admission opens up a show floor peppered with true giants of the comic industry — like Gena Ha, Dan Jurgens, and Zander Cannon to name but a few — and filled in with solid dealers and smaller artists (ahem) to boot. And all of this is done based on a powerful volunteer army. Literally, everyone, there is there to make a great show… nothing more. It’s infectious.

Two anecdotes stand out over the course of the weekend that truly left Unshaven Comics as verklempt mishpochas:

On Saturday, amidst a day where we sold more books than we’d done in any given day at C2E2, one fan returned to us late in the afternoon. Bewildered, he sheepishly made his way to our table. He’d go on to explain that he purchased our book (which, yes, we all recalled), but had not been given his change. Now, normally, two of us Unshavens handle the money in succession so as to never run into this problem. The customer gives cash to Kyle, Kyle gives it to me, I get the change, give it to Kyle, who gives it back to the customer. This way, we never mess up. But hey! Mistakes happen, right? We happily hand the kid back $15 and send him on his way. Kyle and I look at one another, astounded. “He didn’t just try to grift us, did he?” “I hope not. I mean, he really didn’t look the type.”

The next day, shortly before lunch, the same fan returned. “So, I got home yesterday and realized I’d miscounted. Turns out I wasn’t short like I’d thought. Here’s your money back. I am so sorry!”

Honesty. Integrity. It was truly one moment out of a decade of tabling at conventions where a fan had stolen our breath with an act of selflessness. And this kid was indicative of everyone who dropped by our table over those two days. Everyone was happy, laid back, and in no rush. Our pitch was met with glee (or a polite Minnesota-Nice “No thanks!”), and we were met by more than half a dozen fans who’d remembered us (our last jaunt to the state of great lakes was 2014) and demanded new books. To say it put the wind back in our sails would be an understatement.

And then came my favorite moment of the entire trip. As is so often the case on the longer car trips, Matt and I wind up waxing poetic on the finer plots of The Samurnauts when Kyle inevitably snoozes in the back of the van. In between the passing car headlights on a dim stretch of I-94, Matt and I wound up finding a single plot thread to tie together the next three unrelated Samurnauts projects that up to that point were truly disjointed adventures. As we excitedly expounded detail after detail, I was instantly reverted to a younger self — one whose passion to create incredible original worlds was met with a kindred spirit who could build on top of my own ideas and make them even better.

Soon thereafter, Kyle woke up from his nap, and (as he is wont to do) put a bow on top of the entire fleshed-out idea, giving us a narrative through line to carry out the next two years of material. All that, and we even came up with a catchy sub-title to my next Samurnaut book… which had been a lingering fear of mine now for the last couple months.

I’ll end on lyrics of the now late Chris Cornell — who encapsulated the MCBA SpringCon for me and my mates.

I got up feeling so down / I got off being sold out / I’ve kept the movie rolling / But the story’s getting old now

I just looked in the mirror / Things aren’t looking so good / I’m looking California / And feeling Minnesota / So now you know who gets mystified

Show me the power child / I’d like to say / That I’m down on my knees today / It gives me the butterflies. / Gives me away / Till I’m up on my feet again

I’m feeling outshined

Marc Alan Fishman: The Art of the Con

This past weekend saw the eighth annual Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition. You likely know it as its Star Wars designate, C2E2. Unshaven Comics, my li’l studio, has never missed this show. It’s always been profitable for us. To get to the nittiest of grits, it fell to the middle of the pack in terms of the serious sales numbers. We’ll get into that minutiae in a bit.

This year marked a very special metric for my wee company: it was the second time in a row where we saw falling book sales and fewer potential customers. This comes in spite of ReedPop – the owners of the con – boasting continually increasing attendance. In the nine-years Unshaven Comics has attended comic conventions, we’ve never seen a disappointment such as this.

So, what gives?

My first fear was that our series, The Samurnauts, was no longer appealing to the glut of pulpy purveyors in attendance. But data shall always set us free. Our closing ratio – the rate at which our cold pitches to new fans turns into a sale – has remained steady. Our lifetime average sits at 40%. C2E2 2017 clocked in at 37%. All in all, that’s well within reason to figure that our book is still of interest to all within earshot. Consider that fear squelched.

The next fear: Attendees are being more frugal. A cursory conversation held with numerous cohorts located in the Artist Alley and/or the vendor area disagreed with that concern. While some said the show remained on par with previous year metrics, just as many boasted increases in their sales. C2E2 usually hits shortly after tax time, so plenty of people walk in with money to burn. Fear two, forgone.

This leaves me in a lurch, as the culprit seems dutifully apparent. It if wasn’t our pitch, nor the pesos in pockets that left us plinking for purchasers… then the blame falls squarely on the specific location from which we tried to cultivate sales.

The layout of a comic con floor could be debated ad nauseam by any number of qualified debaters. ReedPop slices their floor into simple(ish) sections: Exhibitors, Vendors, Small Press, Celebrity Autographs, Artists, and Crafts-folk (“The Block”). To be fair and clear, Wizard World, the only comparably sized menagerie of conventioneering, fields mostly the same sections – save only for smashing together the craftspeople and artists into a single alley.

At this particular show, ReedPop placed the small press folks at the very foot of the con floor. When you entered the show you walked right past us as you made your way into the exhibitor area. Many cohorts in the Artist Alley were instantly jealous of the prime real estate. “You’re right at the front. Everyone will see you!” they exclaimed to us in yellow-bellied jealousy.

Oh, but, the Mephistos in the details, kiddos.

At the beginning of each day, con attendees enter the show floor with the bloodlust and fervor akin to nothing else on this mortal coil. When the torches were lit to allow entrance, a wave of humanity gushed into the hall racing towards the four corners of the massive McCormick Place. Large swaths of nerds sprinted toward the autograph area to queue up. Other groups walked in and immediately bee-lined towards Artist Alley, to secure those autographs. Whoever was left – the groups without Orange Lantern avarice in their immediate milieu – strolled briskly by our row.

“Folks! Can I tell you about our comic book?” Unshaven Kyle would beckon.

“Sorry, we just got here. We really need to see the whole show first!” the masses would reply (mostly kindly, I would note).

By the time we’d see those folks again, it’d be after they’d done exactly as they said. But having taken in the entirety of the show – including all the other areas opposite the exhibitors who sold goods – were simply on their way out, with their arms already full of the days’ haul.

Now, I could write a screed seven articles long as to why Unshaven Comics was… coerced to capitulate toward Small Press instead of our preferred Artist Alley. I could divulge dirty details that would paint ReedPop in a light far less-than-desirable. I could even continue to lay blame on anyone or anything save for Unshaven Comics itself. But, that simply isn’t necessary. As the WWE VP of Talent and Creative might say, it’s not what’s best for business.

The truth of the matter is that Unshaven Comics was not alone in having a less-than-perfect show. Whether it was the specificity of our booth location, or any number of other factors not yet discovered, reality is what it is. We left the show having sold enough product to pay for the print run of books brought. When we tally the cost of parking, food, and the table itself, it’s more than likely the show placed us severely in the red.

What happens from here? Well, we lick our wounds. We crunch the numbers and we match our passion for making comics to the logic of how to best profit in the long run. There’s no pithy conclusion to reach this week, my friends. Just sober numbers, and sober planning going forward.

Stay tuned. The best is yet to con.

Marc Alan Fishman: How To Plan A Successful Con(vention)

As Unshaven Comics prepares for the annual C2E2 mega-Midwestern-super-pop-culture-show in late April, it dawned on me this might be still another one of those rare opportunities to share the creative process – or in this case business process.

It’s widely known (to our seven fans) that Unshaven Comics runs a tight table. We have well-manicured wares, a quippy answer to every response to our pitch, and an approach to conventioneering that even the mighty Gene Ha was in awe of. But here and now, prior to hitting the show floor, we’re introspective.

This show will be a very big one for us. Perhaps the biggest in our careers. Why? Because we’ll finally have a finished series to pitch. The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts is set to be completed by the skin of our chins (underneath the beards, natch) and debut at C2E2. Four issues of Samurai-Astronauts, led by an immortal kung fu monkey, defending humanity from zombie-cyborg space pirates. And now we have means to see the whole kit and caboodle, and even top off the package with their secret origin issue #0 if we need a double upsell. But with that book finally hitting our wire rack, there’s much to consider.

First and foremost, tabling at a con is a business venture. With a set price that includes the table itself, and the materials to sell at said table, there’s a distinct need to profit. Meaning we not only need to cover those costs, we need to have money in the till when the last fan leaves the hall on Sunday. This money then allows us to attend the next con. With that in mind, there’s a conundrum to cover.


As I’ve ranted here before selling poster-prints is the single easiest way to make scads of dirty dollars on the con floor. A great poster could take a decent artist 10-20 hours to complete. It costs less than a dollar to print (unless you are somehow convinced fans care about archival paper and environmentally safe inks). They are then sold for ten bucks or more (on average), typically without a single haggle. In contrast, The Samurnauts will have taken 1000 hours of work split between three guys, costs us $2.85 to print, and sells for $5. We’re in the wrong business. But it’s the business we choose to remain in.

So, it circles back around: How do we do our voodoo at our table? Simply: we offer a large variety of products… but we sell just one at a time. Notorious as it may be, our schtick remains intact: A simple, laminated 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper asking “Can I tell you about my comic book?” held up. It stops people long enough to laugh, and before they can really think of a solid excuse… we’re pitching them!

While they flip through our issues and gab with Kyle (The Sell-o-Tron 5000 of Unshaven Comics), Matt Wright and I draw live at the table to attract other looky-loos. Our own small set of poster prints hang over our heads. With a handful of fun parody prints, mashups, and a few politically zingy pieces… we will grab a fair share of passerby purchasers. With cheap posters (we only charge $5, or 3 for $10), we bank good money while Kyle closes on great purchasers – readers who will (if we’ve done well in our books) will return to us year-in-year-out.

So what will differ Unshaven’s table this year versus last? Perhaps not much on the surface. Our pitch will remain the same; it’s really about closing the sale on issue #1. But when they linger, we’ll mention that the whole series is available then and there. We’ll juice the sale with a sticker or poster. If there’s a taker to the upsell, we may even take it a step further, adding in that aforementioned issue #0 and tossing in all our stickers and a poster. $25 for 200+ pages of comics and a bag of swag? Sounds like a deal to me. And if it does to this penny-pinching tribe member, perhaps, maybe, it will to game comic con crowds.

Next week, we’ll dive into the physical space we occupy. Oh, that’s right kiddos. We’re going trilogy here!

Unshaven Conventions: The Beards Strike Back in one week!

Marc Alan Fishman: The Unshaven State of the Union – 2017

My fellow geeks, nerds, nerfherders, and dweebs: I stand before you today afraid of tomorrow. As it’s only been a few weeks since Donald J. Larfleeze took the oath of office of these United States. Each day seemingly brings us closer to eminent destruction. With that in mind, I figured it would behoove me to survey the landscape for my little independent comic book studio and make some sweeping declarations for the year.

Declaration Number 1. The Curse will be Completed

The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, our mini-series-that-is-taking-five-years-to-make will be completed. As of this writing, I have 13 or so pages left to flat. Then comes final coloring, lettering, and placing into the final print-ready file. All things considered, my aim is to have the book on the table for C2E2, which is April 21st. This is a necessity for the rest of the success we will have in the year to come. Because finishing the final issue means finishing the graphic novel collection, and finally making good on our commitment to our Kickstarter backers – who no doubt have plenty of reason to seethe at our inability to deliver anything on time.

Declaration Number 2. Unshaven Comics is Going Educational.

As detailed a few weeks ago, Matt Wright and I taught a pair of classes through our local park district. We saw over 25 students make their way into our li’l classroom and steal our hearts. To watch as kids come to grips with how complex a comic really is… a feeling I can’t describe save only for a basic grunt of elation. As we breakdown conceptualization, creative writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering… the joy piled up until we were asked why the class was only two weeks long. Suffice it to say: lesson learned. We’ll be doing longer classes from now on.

Declaration Number 3. Upgrading our Brand.

The first post-Curse priority for us is to completely revamp the Unshaven Comics brand. This means a new website, new convention branding, new business cards, new merchandise (beyond Samurnauts), and new company apparel. Don’t worry, the “lego head” logo ain’t going anywhere. But maybe there will be a fun (and free!) Unshaven Avatar app… But you didn’t hear that from me.

Declaration Number 4. Three New Samuranauts Will Begin Production.

Unlike unnecessary walls, Unshaven Comics knows when something needs to be built. Upon the completion of Curse and our brand being refreshed, our little studio is making the attempt to up the ante of our output. Each of we Unshaven Lads will take on a new Samurnauts title by our lonesome. Kyle will pair with a new artist to create The Rage of Rep-Simian. Matt Wright will dip his toe into story development (and do the artwork, as per usual) and bring The Luchanauts to life. And I will once again tackle both story and artistic duties to produce an all-female romp (set in the 1980s) The Samurnauts: Night of the NuWave. While there’s no chance any of the books will be complete in 2017, we will get a solid headstart on them before the year is out. And this time around? We’ll be sharing our progress reality-TV-style with weekly production vlogs. #WeAreSo2013

And Our Final Sweeping Declaration… 5. We Will Continue to Have the Time of Our Lives

Let me never stray too far from reality. Making comics is not easy when you have a full-time day job, a wife, two kids and two business partners very much in the same boat. Finding the time to work and to go to conventions while maintaining normal lives takes plenty of focus. Which means above all else, when I get to work with my brothers-from-other-mothers, be it at a convention table or the studio, I do not take it for granted. We will cherish every memory we build in 2017, as we hit new and old cons alike. We will break bread with our ComicMix brethren whenever the opportunity arises. We will release new content, and cherish each new fan we make… while doing our best to continue to earn the love and support from our existing (and very patient) fan base.

So long as we’re not destroyed by North Korea, Russia, Syria, or Iran, I look forward to high-fiving each and every one of you at a convention soon.

And as always… Stay Unshaven.

Marc Alan Fishman: Rejected!


This past week, Unshaven Comics was once again given the most sincere and polite brush off from a show promoter to be a part of the Artist Alley. The show was ReedPop’s C2E2, in Chicago.

For the record: Unshaven Comics has never missed exhibiting at this show. We consider it our home show. But a few years back, we were denied access to the part of the floor where we feel the most comfortable. We were faced with a hard choice — pay over twice the cost to have a table in the Small Press area, or forgo the show. We bit the bullet. We sold our beards off. And we still made profit.

For the record, Unshaven Comics is not a small press company in my estimation. We’re a studio that produces a single book, penalized for having the gall to want to share a single 8-foot table.

I’m not going to lie: I’ve been bitter ever since. Bitter still now, the third year in a row I have cut a check for a larger sum of money than I’d like, to ensure our localish fans know we still are alive and well.

Am I mad at the promoter, ReedPop? No. I don’t even fear repercussions for posting this op-ed. Reed isn’t concerned about the comings and goings of a speck of dust on the outskirts of the indie comic market. For as much as I’d like to inflate my resume of comic bookery, the simple truth is if Unshaven turned off the lights in the studio tomorrow maybe a few dozen people would really notice. I’m not saying this for pity. I’m just well-aware of the beast we’re trying to slay. In the land of content, he who can only produce (at best) a book a year, is not high in demand.

ReedPop, as all show promoters, are in business to do one thing: get butts in a building, spending wads of cash. And with the advent of on-demand printing, digital publishing, and affordable content creation tools out there, the industry feels choked to the nines with creators all vying for the same spaces. Granted, some of these artists are just trying for a quick smash-and-grab, applying a few filters and a few simple style choices to produce a litany of printed kitsch meant to attract the lowest common denominator. This is a topic for a whole other piece.

At the end of the day, show promoters must choose from those who apply for their space who will best attract those aforementioned butts. Whatever their selection process may be, Unshaven Comics must adhere to the same application rules as literally every other artist in line. Whatever boxes we check or don’t check off is all in the eye of the beholder. But this article isn’t really in defense of those choices. I am not a show-promoter. I know some amazing show-promoters. They have an unenviable job in my humblest of estimations. I write this week to tell you honestly how it feels to be told we’re not good enough.

But before I do, let me dog-pile on the pity party. C2E2’s rejection of Unshaven for their Alley wasn’t the least bit surprising to me. Since we’ve upgraded to the small press area the last few years, I believe we’re earmarked as suckers who they know will pay… and so we pay. And we still make it work. So it goes. It’s the combination of their rejection compounded on being recently turned away on a pair of smaller local shows that really shook me more than I’d honestly thought they would.

To hear from shows that are in my backyard declining to offer my studio a spot while I see literally dozens of my friends and colleagues being welcomed as guests of honor leaves me feeling truly rejected. On the precipice of finishing the final chapter in our Samurnauts mini-series (seriously… it’s being colored right now. We’re so close I can almost taste it.), 2017 is a do-or-die year for me and my bearded brethren. Every show counts. Every show is an opportunity to declare victory over a beast that has taken five years to slay. And to be told we’re not good enough, while our friends are lauded with social media call-outs is a gut punch I’m finding hard to shake off.

We have an amazing fan base. That I can include people like Mike Gold, Martha Thomases, John Ostrander, and Glenn Hauman amongst them is one of those little factoids that keep my heart beating and pen moving every night. That we still have fans — strangers met at conventions who have purchased our wares and continue to support us — clamoring for Unshaven to continue to fight our way into any show that will have us? Well, it’s the lit matches I’ll continue to use every time our fire begins to dim.

And I know right now, this article may be reaching any number of compatriots in the exact same boat as my little production house. Talented, driven creators being denied access to tens of thousands of potential customers… all so the guy who just sells posters of cheesecake pinups or indie darlings whose ‘zines aren’t worth the artisanal rice paper they’re printed on can hock their wares next to the same standby medium-famous artists and celebrities that are always there. Well, to you, I say be bitter with me.

We live in a gilded age, whether you believe it or not. There are more cons out there now than ever before. So, if ReedPop says no, so be it. Take the anger and the money you would have dropped on that show and find another. And another. Take your books to the local comic shop, and offer to do a signing. Do anime shows. Book shows. Craft fairs. Flea markets. Go anywhere and everywhere. And keep making your comics and art. The more you produce, the better you’ll become. The better you become, the better your product. And eventually, the better your product, the more people will notice. Those people have butts. And those butts wind up walking into big shows. And with that…

…you just might be see the acceptance you deserve. If you don’t believe me, be my guest and quit. More room for Unshaven Comics.

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.


Mike Gold: The Force… In The Wind

George LucasSo, George Lucas is moving to my home town. Hmmmm.

Well, that’s not literally true. Yesterday, George decided the so-called Windy City will be home to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA), his so-called storytelling museum that will feature George’s massive collection of paintings, illustrations and digital art. Like everybody else, Lucas gets to visit it – although he probably won’t have to pay.

Chicago beat out Los Angeles and Lucas’ own San Francisco, so, on behalf of my fellow Chicagoans, those still in Cook County and those ex-pats who never really leave Chicago – not in our hearts – let me offer a hale and hearty “na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey!”

I’ll bet Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s brother Ari had something to do with this. Ari Emanuel is a top Hollywood dealmaker who was the model for Ari Gold (no relation) in Entourage. He’s been referred to as a living hurricane, but usually hurricanes are seen in a better light.

“We are honored to be partnering with the city of Chicago and the many cultural, educational and community groups that have come forward with ideas about how the LMNA will add to their vibrant work… Choosing Chicago is the right decision for the museum, but a difficult decision for me personally because of my strong personal and professional roots in San Francisco,” the director said. Then again, he does live in Chicago part-time and his wife Mellody (pictured above with her husband) is a Chicagoan. We Chicagoans can be stubborn.

This is great news for my fiends at ReedPop, as the museum will be a couple blocks from the massive McCormick Place convention center on Lake Michigan, home to their C2E2 pop culture convention each spring. It’s also near Soldier Field, the Field Natural History Museum, the planetarium and the aquarium. It’s within walking distance from Buddy Guy’s Legends and the sprawling Columbia College complexes, where young media freaks go to percolate. Ergo, it’s in the heartland of heartland culture.

From the reports I’ve seen, LMNA appears to be quite a sprawling place. The architectural plans will be submitted in early fall, so we’ll see. Moving George’s massive collection to his museum is going to be a monster job.

I respect Lucas for doing this museum thing. Not just because it’s in a place I tend to visit three or four times a year (but thank you for that!), not because if you’re flying somewhere you’re probably going to be inconvenienced by having to change planes at the dreaded O’Hare International so you might as well jump on the subway, but because he is, essentially, giving his astonishing collection to the public.

Good for you, George. And, again, thank you. I’m looking forward to visiting your home away from home.


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!


Marc Alan Fishman Becomes a Viking!

SpringConBy the time these words hit you, I’ll have trekked across the barren wasteland known as Wisconsin (sorry, Cheeseheads!) to arrive at the Midwest Comic Book Association’s Spring Con, held annually in Minneapolis. Since Unshaven Comics started seeking conventions outside the Chicagoland area, Spring Con has long been a desired destination. Our compatriots sang nothing but praises for the show each year without fail. And with careful planning, we’re elated to schlep our way west (for once) in order to hawk our wares to the unsuspecting Vikings fans.

I always look forward to a new convention. Unshaven Comics has built a reputation on the cold sale. Why? Because we embrace the fact that no one knows us from Adam. Or the Atom. Or Adam Strange. Or Dr. Strange. I could go on. The simple truth is our Artist Alley table represents a pop-up artist’s commune. But a Domo Trading Card or hand-made commission by Matt is only an expression of our physical talents. The sale of a Samurnauts book is a representation of two very important things: it’s validation of our ability to create a fulfilling piece of fiction, and it’s assurance that we are able to tap into the market and minds of like-minded fans. It’s cliché, but it’s true; there is no greater satisfaction professionally.

Even better, Spring Con is very much a dying breed, one we hope to continue to pump life into. As a convention that isn’t owned by some large conglomerate seeking to grow its mound of gold atop the mountain… it’s one of those “wacky” shows that seemingly is founded first and foremost on the celebration of the culture. Not ‘pop’ culture – tacky, silly, D-List, exploitative wastes of time – comic culture.

Panels at Spring Con? Adam Hughes being interviewed by Bill Willingham. Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber discussing their process. And rather than purposefully gouge show-goers with inflated concessions and needless gifts? How about free autographs, free picnic areas, and free parking. And the coup-de-grace? Over 250 comic creators on hand, ready and waiting to interact with fans. While Reed and Wizard may boast similar numbers… they aren’t the type to offer a free dinner for their artists. Spring Con does. Sensing a theme?

Don’t get me wrong. Unshaven Comics would not be in business (such as it is) without Reed and Wizard. C2E2, Chicago Comic Con, and New York Comic Con combined for over a thousand book sales last year. In all honesty, if we top a buck fifty by the end of Sunday night, it’ll be a banner convention for we beardly boasters.

Spring Con – which is nearly all volunteer run – exists first and foremost to bring people together. For over 26 years now, it’s been a staple of the great lakes (one would assume). Reed, Wizard, and the like also desire to bring people together… but their purpose is profit, and no one questions it in the least. The fact that they continue to pick on the local conventions like MCBA, and try to push them out of town only endears them harder with the community of creators. Of course we all also attend those for-profit shows too; we need to eat at some point.

This brings up my last li’l point. You see, many people (OK, like three or four) have asked us how we’ve attained the successes we’ve enjoyed to this point – specifically regarding our track record at making all attended conventions lucrative.

Well, I could (and will eventually) spill those beans at a later date. For now though, how about one juicy secret. We count everything. We count books in, books out, dollars in, dollars out, number of pitches, number of unique customers, number of up-sells, yadda yadda. And when we do a new show, we bring our data with us to try to figure out what sort of business we should expect. And when we leave the show, we debrief on the car trip home. Spring Con brings with it the most important thing Unshaven covets… numbers. But I digress.

Should you find yourself in or around the Minneapolis / St. Paul area today or tomorrow? Make your way out to the state fairgrounds, and find your way to our table. We’ll pitch, you buy. Sounds like a plan! There’s nothing more invigorating than a new set of fans to be made. I’ve built a semi-career around it. So, for the time being, I’m happy to declare it:

Go Vikings.


Mike Gold: The Other Convention

Gold Art 140430Last week, I attended two conventions in Chicago: the massive C2E2 multimedia clusterfuck-on-the-lake, and the more sublime Windy City Pulp and Paper show out in the western suburb of Lombard. Guess which one I enjoyed more?

To be fair, C2E2 is a lot of work for me, and my response to “work” is similar to that of Maynard G. Krebs (Google, chillun!). Lots of walking, lots of talking, some negotiating, some promoting, all the doo-dah day. As always, I enjoy seeing my friends – and that’s a big deal in Chicago. Dinner with the Unshavens on Friday at the wonderful Eleven City Diner (best deli in America), dinner with my ol’ pal and former (Real) First Comics partner Rick Obadiah at the wonderful Weber Grill on Saturday. The food was great at both venues, and the conversations were even better.

I went to the Windy City Pulp and Paper show on Sunday. Yes, “paper” includes comic books as well as old magazines and illustration art. There were tons and tons of self-published print-on-demand reprints of classic pulps, and even more original pulp fiction novels being hawked by their authors.

This latter phenomenon is extremely exciting. The authors are getting to do what they want and reach the audience they need, both through print-on-demand and electronic publishing. I wish I had the time (and money, and storage space) to read all the new pulp originals that caught my eye – but when it comes to this sort of thing I’m a stoner kid in a candy store. I will say this past year or two I’ve received more satisfaction from reading the new pulp originals than reading new comics.

Pulps are comic books without the pictures. And they’re usually self-contained. And they’re usually largely or totally insane in scope and story.

I haven’t been able to make it there ever since C2E2 moved their date to within a couple weeks of the Windy City Pulp and Paper show. This year I got lucky: they were held at the same time, albeit maybe two-dozen or so miles away. Again, lots of old friends, but no cosplay. Damn.

Lunch was in that neighborhood and was with two very old Chicago comics fan buddies, Jim Wisniewski and George Hagenauer, a frequent co-conspirator. The beauty of comics fandom is that it can be an extended family. I’ve got friends in this community that I can trace back 40 years or more.

That is the best thing about being a comics fan.

And the meals ain’t bad, neither.