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To Be or Not To Be a Con Man

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Hail! And welcome to VOX POPULI Week III. I hope you’ve enjoyed the column thus far. I know that I’ve received a large number of e-mails thanking me, and to those who wrote to express their thanks I say “It is my pleasure.” God knows it’s easy to get torn apart by the wolves if you smell like a pork chop. They sure don’t mess with bears, though!

This week’s column is about the importance of attending comic conventions. Is it important for small press creators to attend conventions or not? Can you still achieve success in the biz if you do not attend cons? Well, I’ll be addressing this—and asking a few friends to weigh in on this question. So, without further adieu, let’s get it started.

In this Internet-Bluetooth-e-mail-Blackberry-message-board-html-Myspace world we find ourselves in, there is still no substitute for a hearty handshake and face-to-face meeting with Editors and Publishers. In fact, I have come to believe that appearing at comic conventions is the single most important marketing tool available to aspiring comic book creators. Let’s face it: if you were a publisher and you needed to hire someone to fill a very specific position in your corporation, you are more likely to choose the candidate that you have met with personally—rather than someone who e-mails a resume or calls to see if you’re hiring.

When it comes to the comic book industry, this is especially true—unless you happen to be a New York Times Best-Selling Author or a screenwriter for a popular television show. Hell—now musicians and Hollywood actors are making comic books! If you think you can hang with the rep of Nicholas Cage, Allan Heinberg or Brad Meltzer, please by all means feel free to disregard this entire column. In fact, please use your prestigious report to get me a damn writing job!

Let’s face it… we exist in a highly competitive and specialized market. Comic books aren’t selling a million copies each nowadays, in case you haven’t checked the Diamond Top 300 recently. So stating that the market is in a slump should not be a point of contention. In light of this, the jobs that are available to freelance comic book professionals have declined in recent years. And the ones that become available are almost always given to “name creators.”

If you haven’t heard this term yet, memorize it. It means that a publisher will only use a creator for a position if they have name recognition. Here… let’s play a game. Tell me which one you recognize more readily: MacPherson—Vaughan. Or how about this: MacPherson—B.K.V. Hell, even his initials are readily recognized in this industry. So let me ask you this… DC is launching a new book and they need a writer. Do they go to MacPherson or B.K.V.? Okay, quit laughing! Do you see my point?

Why are you still laughing?

I asked a few industry professionals—whom I consider friends—for their opinions on the importance of comic creators attending comic conventions and here’s what they had to say:

“It's more important now for an aspiring comic book creator to attend comic book conventions than ever in the history of the business.  The opportunities of getting work in comics have narrowed so much in the last 5 years that any face to face time with editors/publishers is a must.

“For artists it will be a little easier because having an editor/publisher throw eyeballs on artwork is quick and they'll be able to know if they're interested pretty quickly.
For a writer there is no way an editor/publisher is going to read your work right then, on the plane home or in the office. Your chances are slim.  That's why it's important for you to sell yourself during a face to face.  You need to network and build a relationship with the editor/publisher. When I broke in I did it through letter writing and going to conventions.

“You must set yourself apart from the pack. You need to learn to market yourself. You get them to like you then you get them to like your work.”

–  Beau Smith, Creator/Writer of IDW’s Cobb: Off the Leash.

“I wouldn't say that it's essential, but it sure doesn't hurt. The more people you get in front of, the more people you have a chance to win over with your work. Nowhere will you find a more willing group of new readers than at comic conventions. While some convention-goers are only there to track down people and things they know, there's a large percentage who go to cons looking for something new and exciting. And if you aren't there, you've automatically been removed from the "new and exciting" category for that particular group. 

“Conventions are also great for meeting other professionals, publishers, retailers and journalists. I'm friends with hundreds of people now I'd have never met if I didn't attend cons. And through these friendships, I've grown as a creator and found new opportunities to flourish in ways I'd have never discovered sitting alone in my studio or communicating solely with my partners, publishers and people at my local comic shops.”

–  Mike Bullock, Creator/Writer of Image Comics' Lions, Tigers and Bears.

“I think it's important for comic artists to attend comic conventions, at least one or two a year. It's something that goes along with the job, promoting your project or just going to sell some of your art. I remember going to Heroes Con back in 2003; I had a few people come up to the table and buy some stuff or just look at my portfolio... since then I’ve had those same people come up to my table at other shows, along with their friends.”

–  Chris DiBari, Artist of Markosia’s Starship Troopers.

“Comic conventions were created for one purpose: a place to meet people.  Fans meet their favorite creators, aspiring artists meet editors, and fans meet other fans.  In the past few years, conventions have shifted from an egalitarian view to one that is more fan-centric.  Fewer editors from the major companies are searching for talent or holding meaningful portfolio reviews at conventions. That being said, artists attending conventions can frequently add solid, lasting contacts in the industry. 

“While the Big 2 may not be actively searching for new talent, there are many smaller publishers hungry for the next big thing.  From experience, all it takes is one foot in the right door to begin a promising career. Attending comic conventions may not be essential to land that all-important contract, but it is an excellent opportunity that should not be passed on lightly.  After all, you never know whom you will meet and if you’re the one [publishers] are looking for.”

–  Drew Rausch, Co-Creator/Artist of Ape Entertainment’s Sullengrey and Tokyopop’s The Dark Goodbye.

“Is it essential? Not at all. But is it helpful to get to talk to editors in person rather than being a faceless name on an e-mail or mailed submission? Absolutely. Especially at smaller cons, where there's more of a chance to speak face to face.

In my experience, big shows like San Diego and Chicago make it tough for much one-on-one time, but still, anything that allows you to personalize the experience can only help get an editor to remember you later, like when they have needs for a writer or artist; especially if you're able to buy a certain editor a drink later on at the bar (Guinness, in this particular editor's case). Also, it's harder for most editors to say no in person...”

–  Chris Ryall, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of IDW Publishing.

Chris, if you can make it to Heroes Con this year, the Guinness is on me. *wink wink*

Moving right along…

As you can see, I have spoken with writers, artists—and even a Guinness-loving publisher— about the importance of attending conventions. I leave it to you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions.

I began a new semester this week and wow—it’s going to be a doozy. One more year to go and I will be a credentialed High School English Teacher! Needless to say, with the start of another semester, things are going to get increasingly busy for me. I am hoping that the column length will not suffer, and will do everything to ensure that it doesn’t happen. (you better!!!  - ed.) Unfortunately, this week’s column length suffered because of an electrical storm. Don’t ask.

So this, dear reader, brings us to the close of VOX POPULI Week III. Please feel free to swing by the forum or drop me an e-mail. I would love to hear what you think about the column and will respond to you with a quickness. You’ll see. Thank you for your time and I’ll see you next week as I discuss “Are Webcomics the Future of Comic Books?” My answer just may surprise you.

###

Dwight L. MacPherson is a creator, writer, editor and poet. He lives in a Chinese laundry with his three children in the mystical land of Tennessee. He makes up for his deserted whereabouts by being present all over cyberspace:

- E-mail: dwightmacpherson@brokenfrontier.com
- Personal site: www.dwightlmacpherson.com

- Writer’s café site: http://www.writerscafe.org/profile.php?id=4190

- Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/dwightlmacpherson

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