I know each and every one of you sat dumbfounded last Saturday morning – your coffee in hand, and morning paper tucked firmly under arm – when perusing ComicMix and not seeing your weekly dose of Fishtastic opinions. I apologize to you. There’s no excuse for it. Simply put, I was at the New York Comic Con with my studio, Unshaven Comics, and I was too busy to produce a column worthy of your eyes. But I return this week with my now yearly diatribe about the largest pop culture convention my Lilliputian league of ne’er-do-wells attends.
If I were to be bold… it sucked. Our sales were levels of magnitude lower than any year past. As it’s the most basic measure of our meager success, I am apt to shake my head and angrily declare the six-day excursion a near-bust. But why?
On paper, everything was in our favor. While we did not come ready with the final issue of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts, we did have a new original piece to offer: Toolbox, as written by our own sales-machine Kyle Gnepper, and drawn by Dark Horse’s newest human acquisition, Kristen Gudsnuk. We also busted our bearded humps to produce a triptych of political posters – mashing up Bernie Sanders with Magneto (“Bernieto: Master of Social Magnetism!”), Hilary Clinton with the Scarlet Witch (“No more e-mails!”), and Donald Trump with Apocalypse (“Make Armageddon Great Again”). Simply put, product was not the problem with our final tally of sales.
And what of our now-infamous closing ratio… well, a look over my data shows an average closing ratio holding firm at our near-standard 42%. That meant nearly every other person we pitched to plunked down cold-hard cash for our wares. But unpack the specifics of that data and you start to see the bends in our bucklers. From our perch proudly in Small Press, sitting adjacent to the always-wonderful Brian Pulido (creator of Lady Death, amongst many other marvelous titles held by the diminutive powerhouse), Unshaven Comics simply couldn’t get enough warm bodies to stop and hear about our comic book. Specifically, we found a 21% decrease in available pitches to the equally sized crowd of attendees when compared to our numbers from 2015.
It’s at these times we analytical types start looking for answers. Did our bubble finally burst? Did we pitch our idea so many times it over-saturated the market? Do people not find us adorable anymore? Gleefully, the answer to all of those questions is a big fat no. Of the 723 people pitched over four days, only two dozen of them made mention of already knowing us. And in 18 of those cases, they still found something new to buy from us. The Samurnauts is still as novel a concept as it was when it debuted around the same time Donald Trump was giving pick up advice to Billy Bush. And let’s be clear: if anything, Unshaven Comics is even more adorable than in years past. So, don’t even. At all.
Why the sales slump? Perhaps it was location. Last year, Unshaven Comics took a corner spot in the back of the hall. Too often we found show-goers using the single expanse of dead space to be perfect for resetting costumes, counting swag, and reorganizing themselves. Listening to our pitch? Not so much. With that in mind, we opted for the significantly more cost effective booth in the front of the small press area. Lesson to be learned: towards the front of the hall, attendees are all trying to get somewhere. In the back? They’re just taking stock of their cash. As my grandfather would often tell me… “There is no utopia.”
Further to our real estate issues came the most interesting problem my studio’s faced in the last five years of conventioneering. ReedPop – the show runners – decided to book a live band to play their geek-twinged rock’n’roll just one aisle over (for fifteen minutes every hour, every day). I don’t know if you know this, but attempting to pitch your book amidst loud music doth not a sale make. While the band was plenty fine, their placement on the show floor was a calculated misfire on all counts. With little to no space for a crowd to assemble, they were at best audible evergreen to the folks perusing various vendors in the main exhibit hall. But one aisle over, sat angry small press booths all being drowned out. While we all scrambled to notify Reed of the folly… the best they could resolve to do was ask the band to play quieter.
All in all, I still find it hard to complain about New York Comic Con as an experience. Being in the car for twelve hours (or more, thank you New Jersey traffic) makes Unshaven Comics stronger (more on that next week). Being able to pitch to thousands of new customers every year bolsters our mission to grow our little fan base. And being a stone-throw away from ComicMixers like Mike Gold, Martha Thomases, Emily Whitten, and more? Well, it’s the gift the show keeps giving to us… if literally any of those people would have stopped to say hi. I’m not mad mind you… just disappointed. #DadVoice
Suffice to say it’s times like these I’m apt to be introspective. To look at the meager bank account of our studio, and the pile of unsold product, and wonder out-loud why others I knew at the show all boasted record-breaking revenues while we floundered. It’s at these times though that I stick to the thoughts and feelings that have gotten my little assemblage this far, thus far:
This past weekend, nearly 500 people handed their cash over to Unshaven Comics because they liked the comics we put in their hands and pitched. I got to see the smiles of my brothers-from-other-mothers as their work was complimented by complete strangers making snap judgments. It’s never been about the end. It’s always going to be about the journey.
And I’ll be damned if we don’t seek to complete the journey again next year… and come back stronger than ever.