Tagged: ReedPop

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.

Molly Jackson: Treat Comic Con Volunteers Right!

It’s a New Year, a new me, and another 361 days of geekdom to look forward to! I started off this New Year by cruising the Internet and catching up on some geek updates and what caught my eye was the convention news. Usually, December/January is slow for cons, so I was shocked to find multiple stories that really caught my attention.

Some were positive, like diversity and inclusive Universal Fan Con getting fully funded. It looks awesome and needed and you should check it out. I’m a backer and I’ll see you there in April 2018. Others were sad, like the complete collapse of con company Geek Expos after they unsold their Marvelous New Year’s Eve Con with Stan Lee. It was a cool concept, but ultimately poorly promoted in a city that just couldn’t support it. And then I saw this next piece of news, which just pissed me off.

Phoenix Comic Con announced a new way for fans to apply for the volunteer army that works their convention each year. They want them to pay a yearly fee of $20 for the chance to apply. Amongst other things, I am not really sure that they understand the meaning of the word “volunteer.” It’s not a refundable fee either. This is going straight into the con’s pockets. PCC stated that they are doing this to ensure that volunteers do not just take the badge and not complete their volunteer shifts.

Here are the flaws with that plan. People bailing on their volunteer hours is still going to happen, even with paying. A $20 weekend pass isn’t as good as a free one, but it’s still cheaper than the full $55 price. But wait, they say. They will ban volunteers who do exactly that! But what was stopping you from doing that before??? If you want more reliable staff at your con, then hire people like ReedPop does. Or overbook your volunteer staffers so you have plenty of people. See who shows up for volunteer training and who doesn’t and keep records. Use the new popular tap system so many conventions are using so that you can deactivate badges from wayward volunteers, or only give them a badge for the day they are working. Do anything but forcing them to pay for the ability to apply to volunteer with no guarantee of getting the spot.

A good chunk of volunteers are people who don’t have the disposable income for tickets or for fees. I know this first-hand, as at one point I was one of them. I volunteered and I had a great time, meeting people and hanging out. So much so that I kept volunteering at that con, just for the experience. Volunteering is great and I highly recommend that everyone try volunteering at least once for the experience.

The thing that keeps making the story worse is that the convention is now getting into public fights. The con director and a former volunteer/vendor have been duking it out in comments. It’s a petty he said/she said fight. It became such a big comment war that Bleeding Cool even published an article about what happened in their comment section. What happened to the unwritten rule to not read the comments?

Volunteers are usually a convention’s biggest and most dedicated fans. Treating your fans with respect shouldn’t be a stretch for a business. It’s true, some people wrongly try to game the system. Those people should be banned, with no question. But don’t use the few bad apples as an excuse to abuse the rest. Cherish your fans or they will eventually abandon you.

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, In A New York Minute


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.

Martha Thomases: Well, We Do Need Those Stinkin’ Badges, So…

The DisciplineReedPOP has done it again. They messed up the Emerald City Comicon. It’s not permanent damage (at least, I hope not), and they’ve taken steps to fix things, but I suspect that they still don’t entirely understand what happened.

I don’t know anyone at ReedPOP, nor do I have a source who clues me in on their inner workings. Everything I say is speculation, nothing more.

Last week saw the release of the first issue of The Discipline from Image Comics by writer Peter Milligan and artist Leandro Fernandez. I have loved Peter Milligan for more than 20 years, and eagerly bought the issue. I’ve read it, don’t entirely understand what’s going on, and look forward to more story.

Image is holding its Expo, formerly a free-standing event, at Emerald City this year. As a result there will be a lot of Image creative talent at the show, and I imagine a fair amount of cross-promotion. One of the elements of this marketing concept is to put Image art on the badges for attendees.

And that’s where the problem began. The Sunday badge sports the cover image from The Discipline #1, a woman in shadow, her blouse being opened by a monster’s hand. If you read the actual comic, you’ll see that this is a complicated situation, unsettling but consensual. On the badge, with no other context, it just looks creepy and rape-y.

Social media blew up, and many women said they found the artwork offensive, even triggering. As a comic book cover, they have the option to walk away and read something else. As a badge to get into a convention they already paid for, the choice is to throw away the admission price or suck it up.

ReedPOP admitted they had a problem and offered a solution. To quote from the link, “We would like to extend the offer to all Fans who are concerned that they may exchange their Badge on Sunday at Will Call for a different Badge that does not feature that art.”

I’m not sure I like this solution. It means that, if I have on the replacement badge, I’ve identified myself as a person who was abused, or a feminist, or some other political position that I might not want to discuss on a day when I just want to look at comic books, meet creators and other fans, and maybe dress up like my favorite super heroine.

Who am I kidding? I’m always delighted to be identified as a feminist. Still, I would like it to be my choice, not ReedPOP’s.

This could be chalked up to a simple misstep if ReedPOP hadn’t made almost the exact same mistake two years ago. And they responded in almost exactly the same way.

It’s not as if ReedPOP isn’t trying. They have an excellent anti-harassment policy that demands respect and consideration for everyone. Even better, that sentiment is echoed in the convention’s general rules. Both of these documents demonstrate an understanding of what fans want and need in their convention experience.

And it’s also interesting to see how far ReedPOP goes to show their customers they get it. This article illustrates how they are bending over backwards to celebrate cosplay and cosplayers on their own terms.

So what can we do about the badge business?

I don’t think they do these things maliciously. To paraphrase Chris Rock, this isn’t Boko Haram sexism, it’s sorority sexism. It’s an attitude that is so entrenched in our society that, unless it affects you directly, you might not notice.

Therefore, the solution, it seems to me, is to collect people who will notice. Form a committee and, before finalizing these kinds of decisions, run it by them. I’m not saying that victims of sexism (and racism and ableism and homophobia and xenophobia and holy crap we have swallowed a lot of hate in our society) should have a veto over creative content. Instead, I’m suggesting that they might notice a message ReedPOP doesn’t intend to send before it is sent. The committee would not act as censors who ban things, but as copy editors who improve clarity.

Yeah, you heard me. I’m saying that Fowler and Strunk & White are important tools for radicals.

And marketing geniuses.

And allies.

Ed Catto: Geek Culture Grows … and Grows!

Cosplayers at Long Beach comic Conjpg

You don’t have to explain what a comic convention is to most people anymore. They know that these conventions are a celebration of geek culture, that they are places to sell comics and collectibles, and that a lot of people attend these things. Some people might know that the San Diego Comic-Con is the grand-daddy of them all, and generally considered to be biggest and the best.

But that standing is rapidly changing. Recently, New York Comic Con published some astonishing attendance numbers. As it has been each year, this was another record-breaking year as they counted 167,000 attendees. That’s a lot of people.

NYCC10crowdGeek Culture business analyst and author Rob Salkowitz sees different strengths for each. “NYCC strikes me as a great way for brands to reach influential audiences in the New York area (including a lot of media and publishing elites), whereas SDCC is still the only truly global fan event in North America.”

So while every major convention might have a distinct flavor or purpose, I feel the strong attendee and revenue growth across the board seems to speak to both the rise of Geek Culture and changing consumer habits.

Remember just a few years ago when Target was a “cool” place to shop? Everyone even pronounced the name as “Tar-jay” with a half-jokey attitude. Since then, big box retailers like Target and Wal-Mart (for the first time in ages) find themselves struggling and falling short of expectations. So many Americans feel that if you just have to “buy something,” it’s easier to just order it online and have it delivered.

MK-CI051_TARGET_G_20131121200203But if there’s an experience involved, it’s a different story. If you need an expert to help you plan your bridal registry, for example, you definitely want to go to visit a retailer. Or if you want to meet a favorite author, you’ll visit a bookstore for an autographing event. And if you want to celebrate your fan passion, you probably want to visit your comic shop every Wednesday or attend one of the country’s many comic conventions.

That’s where you can see you’re part of something big and exciting. There’s so much to see and learn about – it’s not only about acquiring stuff. Now it’s about acquiring stuff and experiences.

And with the rising tide of Geek Culture and comic cons, everyone seems to have a vision of how they should all work.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to read Alisha Grauso make her case in The Wrap (a news portal that covers entertainment news with a generous dollop of Hollywood insider insights) that movie studios should focus their efforts on promoting at New York Comic Con. For the industry, it’s been “understood” that Hollywood likes to participate in San Diego Comic-Con because it’s fun and it’s an easy economical trip. In her article, Ms. Grauso pointes to several important economic reasons to consider shifting Hollywood’s marketing focus away from thw San Diego Comic-Con and to the New York Comic Con.

I’ll admit it, in my role as a marketing guy we were recently suggesting to a client that they focus their efforts on other conventions rather than San Diego. And this choice makes sense for that particular client, and it also makes sense for more and more brands.
“Fan events… are big business,” said Lance Fensterman, senior global VP of ReedPOP. “It is where brands and media companies can connect directly with fans… passionate, passionate fans. These guys are rabid consumers of content, they have heavy social media presence, and they’re savvy. These are people that marketers want to reach. With that in mind, an important part of our job is to ensure this is done the right way and isn’t too overwhelming or distracting to the fan experience.”

The reality of the situation is that there are now so many venues for marketers to choose from. And that’s great for fans and great for brands.

Long Beach Comic Con

Marc Alan Fishman: The New York Comic Conned Us

Vienna Hot Dog

As directed, indirectly, by EIC Mike Gold earlier this week, I’m here to report back on my experiences last week at the illustrious New York Comic Con. Let’s cut to the chase… It sucked.

Now, that’s an over simplification with a massive asterisk by it, hence I’ve got a bit of mental baggage to unpack here. Luckily that means my column this week will be more than three sentences long. Or maybe that’s unlucky, in case you’re forced to read my column every week. And in that case… Fly, you fools!

The basic gist you need to understand is this: my anecdotal feelings about a show are trumped by the data. In that respect I’m a Moneyball kind of comic book creator. Each show for me and my Unshaven cohorts is a collection of potential sales opportunities. Beyond anything else, I personally derive my opinion on a show first and foremost by the number of books we sell, and the ratio by which we “close” on potential customers.

By all accounts, Unshaven Comics has always grown a minimum of 10% in sales over the year prior – when comparing a show to which we return. We attended the NYCC for the first time in 2013 and sold a record 527 books. We were elated… until 2014, when NYCC netted us 738. This year, we saw only 536 books moved. And this stands in the face of ReedPop blowing the doors out with record attendance. So, never mind all the feelings we may or may not have had… the show sucked for us. As well should any show we attend wherein we don’t see a gain in sales.

But as I said: there’s a big ol’ asterisk there.

In terms of our closing ratio, we’re right on the money. A total of 835 heard our pitch. Oh, what pitch? Can I tell you about our comic book? Awesome! It’s call the Samurnauts. It’s about a team of Samurai-Astronauts, led by an immortal Kung-Fu monkey… saving humanity from zombie-cyborg space pirates! As you can see, this is a full-color, 36-page book. We’re selling them here at the show for just $5 today. And for everyone who picks it up here… you’ll get it signed by the entire creative team that worked on it. So… would you like to give it a try? As I was saying, 835 people heard that. 339 of them bought. That means roughly 39% of the people who dropped by our table walked away a satisfied customer. That stat is consistent with the data from 2014, which in turn makes selling fewer books sting a bit less.

Beyond the hard numbers comes the exploration of why. The primary reason: Location, location, location. Due to circumstances I’d rather not detail here, we lost our booth space we’d held in 2014. We were moved to a corner spot an aisle back, in the furthest back portion of a row kitty-corner to the lone deadspot on the show floor. And make no bones about that; in each of our Unshaven jaunts into the show floor (for lunch, to visit a friend, to make purchases for our friends and families), we each reported back that literally the entirety of the show floor was shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling save only for the area directly adjacent to our booth. That fans were using it as a spot to catch a seat, recharge phones, or just loiter added to the complacent nature of our business dealings. This was in direct opposition to 2014, where we’d enjoyed essentially a never-ending tide of passing potential customers.

Outside of real estate issues, I’m also a pragmatist. We didn’t reach our production goals to bring the completion of our mini-series, The Curse of the Dreadnuts, to the show. We essentially walked in with nothing new save for a pair of new posters, and new stickers. I will step out on a tangent quickly to note: Rick and Morty is a damn popular show, and if we’d read my article from a few weeks back I would be sitting here proclaiming the show to be a boon due to epic poster sales. But as I’d lamented then as I reiterate now: I’m in the business of moving comics for better or worse. This year, it was worse.

But all that aside, the show is as it ever was: the largest and grandest show Unshaven Comics attends every year. The fans that stop are energetic and passionate. The cosplay is astounding (Hulk Buster, much?), and everything that surrounds the show is fun to be around. The Javits Center is decked to the gills with sights and sounds that showcase our ever-expanding worlds. The people walking in the door are from dozens of countries, all sharing in the same experiences and loves. And for those discovering we indie folk, well, they are the best kind of explorers to us. Outside the day-to-day, Unshaven Comics is also privy to staying at the wonderful Casa Del Hauman, which grants us a feeling of security otherwise unfounded in a city that offers up the Port Authority Bus Terminal. We even made our way to Brooklyn for a barbeque meal so astounding, I’m honestly afraid of writing more about it because Editor Gold wasn’t there to share in what will stand as the single best plate of Q to which I’ve ever been privy. But I – as I ever shall be known to do – digress.

So, the New York Comic Con was basically a bust for us. But we live, we learn, we improve. Come 2016 we’ll return to the show with two new books, a slew of new prints and merchandise, and hopefully a better booth from which to sell said merch. We’ll find those friends who didn’t come by to say hi (Alan Kistler, Emily Whitten, and Mindy Newell… I’m looking at you!).

We’ll do as we’ve always done: Take a bite out of the big apple, and remind ourselves that we’ll always prefer Chicago hot dogs to those lousy rot-water Sabretts. Natch.

Mike Gold’s Off To See The Wizard


I haven’t done as many comics conventions this year as I usually do. By the end of 2015, I think I will have been to maybe five. That’s less than half of what I did a decade ago.

It’s not that I don’t like comics conventions; in fact, I love them. Most of the larger shows really aren’t about comics. They are pop culture shows, much like ComicMix is a pop culture website. We differ in that ComicMix is a pop culture website for comic book enthusiasts and the comics medium is our focus. ReedPop, to note but one, runs clusterfuck shows in New York, Chicago, Seattle, India (several; it’s a big place), Singapore, Sydney, Paris, Indonesia, Vienna, and probably Mongo. These shows have little to do with comics, the ReedPop staff acts like they wouldn’t know a comic book if it bit them on the ass and probably wouldn’t get my Mongo reference without Googling, and they seem as though they couldn’t care less. If you’re real nice to them and try to explain to them a different point of view, they might actually patronize you. And among comics pros, mine is not a minority opinion.

Yeah. I know. There goes my chance at scoring pro invites to Mumbai. I’ve been to their shows; I’ll live.

So it’s probably a bit surprising that this weekend (Thursday though Sunday) I’ll be at Wizard World Chicago, which is really in Rosemont but next to O’Hare International. Yes, Wizard World is a pop culture convention. I’m going for any number of reasons: Chicago is my home town so it’s an excuse to see my many buddies in the midwest comics field, it is an outgrowth of the old Chicago Comicon which I co-founded and worked on for ten years, it really has a massive comics focus and one of the best Artists Alleys around… and because my pal and Wizard World consultant Danny Fingeroth asked.

For the record, ComicMix is at table #1024 at the show, and I’ll be on two panels: the How To Get News Coverage panel on Saturday at 12:30 that ComicMix is running , and the Chicago Comics History panel on Sunday at 12:30. Check the con schedule; these things have a way of changing. I’ll be sharing the stage with a great number of close friends.

And the food. Damn, I need an Italian beef sammich.

This is not the only big show I enjoy. For example, I love the Baltimore Comic Con and I love Heroes Con in Charlotte North Carolina. I also really enjoy the smaller cons that are oriented to independent comics creators such as MoCCA in New York City. These shows are full of people who couldn’t care less who’s drawing next week’s Spider-Man but love the medium every bit as much as… well, as I do. By and large they’re young and full of enthusiasm and they put their money where their mouths are. Over the years we’ve hired a decent amount of talent at these shows.

If you happen to be at Wizard World Chicago, or you happen to be in or near Chicago this weekend, drop by and say hello. We look at portfolios when we can, we’re usually polite and we only bite when we’re hungry.

Or when the moon is full.



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.