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Thursday, May 02, 2013

C2E2 2013 Artist Alley Lessons

I've been preparing to work on a creator owned book for years, and the time's finally come. I've taken a sabbatical from major freelance work and I'm doin' it! And that means learning how to sell my work at a convention.

I got a sharp lesson in how much I don't know from an online reality show. I've been watching the webcomic artist competition Strip Search, by Penny Arcade. I would have been creamed in the Episode 15 "Merch" challenge, where they had to set up a con table. I wouldn't have done much better in Episode 18, where they had to hawk their wares.

It's funny how little I've learned after 20 years of tabling at comic conventions. My problem is that I almost never get to wander the floor of a show, and when I do I'm focused on saying hi to friends.

Here's a WikiHow on tabling, but I wanted some real life examples. I decided to use C2E2 to see how the greats do it. Which tables at C2E2 really stand out?

Near the start of Aisle A+B, my pal Tom Kelly's table really popped. Using wire grids he created an enclosing wall of his art prints. The plastic bins hold hand painted images of his cosplaying big headed cartoon cats, and anchor the L shaped print wall.

His advice to me? "Eye level is key. People don't look down as much as you think they do. If they see something they like they'll stop and dig in." It's true. I stopped here because he was the only guy in the area with displays visible in a crowd. Your main graphic should be just a little above eye level, so it can be seen over other con goers.

He loves credit card readers like Square and Paypal, which I don't have yet. "That really impacts on people's buying habits." Even so, he always hits the bank before a show to grab lots of $1 bills. Smart!

I wouldn't have won Strip Search, but my pal Christopher Jones would have dominated those challenges. Look how efficient and pleasing his merch display is, using countertop wire magazine racks and hand lettered signage. If you see him at a con say hi, he's got an easygoing but energetic manner that just draws you in. Exemplary.
His secret weapon? Free candy. As we'll see later, that works for Chris but it depends on whom you're marketing to.

After the show he slipped me some more advice:
Oh, and for the record, I have two secret weapons BETTER than the candy. One is all the groundwork laid on social media PRIOR to the convention, raising awareness of my presence at the convention and what I'll be offering there before anyone ever sets foot on the show floor, and two, the massive help in planning and execution I get from Hal Bichel (aka ChristopherJonesWebMinion on tumblr). She's really a force multiplier when it comes to my presence both online and at conventions!
The Robot Envy table caught my eye next. Dave Pasciuto is publishing a coffee table book of robot art, and had a successful Kickstarter last year to fund it.
"I'm about branding, putting stuff together. There's a look, a color scheme. I feel everything you do should fit together visually and be presented professionally."

Having table signage that matched his floor banner really sings. When you come in from an angle, your floor banner isn't lined up with your table. A unified design theme creates one space that's all yours. Look at the photo: even his iPhone case, t-shirt and his cosplaying table mate all match the theme! You can tell which sign is his and which isn't, intuitively.
You don't have to be a design maestro like Dave to make these principles work. With just half a table and a red tablecloth to match his banner sign, Ted Woods created the most Pop! in his aisle.

Look at the Four Star Studios crew. Using a well chosen tablecloth color, they've claimed a huge section of Artist Alley as a team.

The Chad Sell table was a real masterpiece. Like others, he used a tablecloth to match his major signage. But look at how he places some of his signs right on the table, right above eye level. It worked great.

Chad has only been doing this for two years, but he's learned fast. "At a busy con like this people don't have time to hear your whole pitch. Having an interesting concept and image brings people in." He's gotten so much acclaim for his unlicensed Drag Race homages that the show hired him to create the graphics for their iOS game, Dragopolis. Pretty good for a kid from the rural Midwest!
Here's some clever advice he gave me. "Scope out the nearest post office before the show." If you don't sell as much as you'd hoped, that gives you a way to ship back big heavy books cheaply. He seemed to be doing really well at C2E2, and I'm really kicking myself for not picking up a copy of Manta Dad/Manta-Man.

Chad has items at various price points. He always has bundle offers if you want to pick up a whole set. And he rewards his online friends and fans. He gives the $3 items away as free rewards if they meet him at a convention.

I asked if he'd considered putting out a Free Candy Bowl. "I don't like to do anything that feels desperate." He notes that at small shows, folks love novelty. At a bigger show, "People are like, that's weird, I don't like that."

I came up with a theory. Free Candy doesn't work for Chad because he has a specific audience. Witty, ironic, and especially fans of Ru Paul's Drag Race. If he draws everyone in then he's preventing his ideal customers from reaching his table. On the other hand, Chris Jones' work is aimed at a general audience, and especially kids. Candy works for Chris.

If you put out freebies, put out ones that appeal to your target demographic.

Next up, artist and writer Jason Latour.

Pretty brilliant, huh? Big clean bold colors. His table is an island of calm in an aisle full of noisy signs and cluttered tables. I picked up a copy of his book Loose Ends. I'm a sucker for great dialog, and the art was wonderful too.

The "Welcome To Creepyville" table of animator and designer Rich Gurnsey and Linda M. Castellitto is the polar opposite of Jason's in many ways. Soft colors, but many more elements. Still, it's a place of visual ease in a sea of clash. The color theme is kept throughout, and all the colors complement each other. Nothing too saturated or loud for the rest. There's a mock homespun feel to everything. Signs and shelves are wrapped in cartoon wood grain. They found the wood grain in Target's gift wrap aisle.

None of this happened by accident. Linda is a marketing professional. In his youth Rich used to create retail displays for shops. They've put all those talents to good use. When they're planning their display they'll dry run the whole thing in their house.

They use all the tools and ideas discussed before. But Creepyville has its own unique draw. That soft fuzzy tablecloth is addictive. People will just stand there, rubbing it. Creepy.....
Next up, I'm going to try to learn how to use all the software on my computer. I'll hopefully have some experimental pieces that I create along the way in a few weeks. Wish me luck, and thanks for dropping by.


Blogger the Fred Factor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:20 PM  
Blogger the Fred Factor said...

Gene, you totally have the Teacher within you. This blog post and your post-talk after your presentation at the library.

1:21 PM  

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