The Unexpected Joys of Artist Alley
Convention Season 2013 has come and gone, and it’s been a wild ride. Brad and I tabled at fourteen different shows this year, traveling throughout the Midwest selling our work, signing our books, speaking on panels, meeting other artists, and learning firsthand what the on-the-road experience of a comic creator is really like. We’ve crashed on couches, booked ratty hotels, loaded and unloaded countless boxes, waited in interminable lines at the post office, and driven over 4,000 miles to get our work out to our fans. It’s been exhausting, but not without its rewards –and I don’t just mean the fat stacks of cash we take to the bank after (almost) every show.
I’ve already written about my change of heart in my Wizard World Conversion Story, but at the time I didn’t know what it was like to be on the other side of the table. And sure, I’ve talked a little before about the highs and lows of tabling–from the mountaintop experience of our C2E2 Success Story to the miserable depths of The Three Phases of Post-Con Letdown. But what about all those shows in-between? What’s so great about the grind and drudgery of constantly traveling, setting up your table, taking it down, and doing it all over again next weekend?
I’m so glad you asked. Here’s a short list of the best parts of being in Artist Alley I never would’ve guessed if I hadn’t been there myself.
5. Care Packages
Usually when you arrive at the loading dock of the convention center (or public library, or gymnasium, or wherever the con is located), there is an immediate hustle and bustle of activity. Every other creator and vendor is unloading boxes, erecting displays, bumping into each other, and rushing to make it before the doors open. Very few seem to be ready with time to spare and it always feels like everyone’s waiting ‘til the last minute to get ready for the show. It’s frenetic, a little hectic, and pretty anxiety-producing for a guy like me, who wants his table to be set up just right.
But when the doors finally open, and everything’s finally in its proper place, the best shows with the most considerate hosts will leave a little care package for their artist guests. A bottle of water, maybe a little bag of pretzels, and some candy bars or crackers. Listing the contents makes it sound rather modest, I suppose, but it really is a wonderful feeling to know the organizers give a damn about the denizens of Artist Alley. And it really makes a difference, especially if I’ve arrived groggy and tired from travel or lack of sleep and a little irritated that a slice of pizza at the convention center is going to cost more than a whole pizza back home. Trust me, knowing someone is trying to make the show a good experience for you really is a nice feeling.
4. Kids in Costumes
I’ve written about my admiration for ridiculously awesome cosplay before, but I think I left something out. I’m still impressed and get excited over adults who go gangbusters for their costumes, but after touring around our book for a while I gotta say that it’s pretty hard to top the kids. When you’ve been on your feet all day and your throat is starting to get a little hoarse from all the chatting, public speaking, and salesmanship, there are few things better than seeing a little Green Goblin or tiny Batman taking a nap in their matching strollers. Don’t know what I’m talking about? You might wanna check out our 2013 Convention Season Photo Gallery on Facebook, where you’ll find children and grown-ups in some of the best costumes I’ve ever seen. But prepare yourself. They’re ridiculously adorable.
3. Street Pass Mii Extravaganza
If you don’t own a 3DS you may not have any idea what I’m talking about here. But basically, if you leave your 3DS (which I still sometimes call a Gameboy) turned on at your Artist Alley table, you are going to encounter a lot of con-goers walking around doing the same thing. What this means is that at the end of the day, you’re gonna have a ton of new Mii acquaintances to help unlock mini-games and other activities in your 3DS. If you’re like me, all you want to do with Street Pass is unlock cool new hats and complete puzzles, so its’ really quite a treat. Plus, it’s free advertising. I always set my own Mii to let everyone who passes by know which table we’re at and how to find us. It’s a win-win.
2. Meeting Fans Who Really Get Our Work
I’m grateful for every fan we’ve got. Actually, I’m grateful for all the customers who buy our stuff, even if they don’t end up being fans in the long run. But every so often, a special kind of fan wanders over, who really gets what we’re going for. They can look at Brad’s artwork or flip through a few pages and immediately understand what we were trying to do, connect viscerally with our story-telling, and maybe even guess who our influences must have been. This happens often enough with other creators, but it’s a special moment for me when a fan connects with our work in this way. When a con-goer identifies something specific that took hours of work and planning on our part, but is probably overlooked and insignificant to the majority of our readers … well, that just makes my day.
I could tell a lot of anecdotes, but the one I remember best was a guy in Detroit. He just picked up our book and, without even reading more than a page, suddenly exclaimed, “This paper quality is amazing! This is exactly the medium through which this story has to be told!” Later, as he was interviewing us for his website, he said even more. He wished his viewers could feel the book themselves, understand the weight of it, and experience how it feels to turn the pages. He wished his own fans could understand the tactile sensation of the book. For me, it was enough that he got it.
1. Previewing What’s Next
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of being in Artist Alley is being surrounded by other artists. You can make some great friends, some impressive colleagues, and have a great time sharing your work, trading books, joking around, and working alongside each other during the show. And while we obviously get to see everything the fans do, it’s not uncommon to ask your table neighbor what she or he is working on next. From there, you might get to see preliminary sketches for a new character, or hear about the beginnings of an idea for a new book, or even talk a little strategy for the next Kickstarter campaign. There is an assumption in Artist Alley that we as artists will always be producing, always be taking on new projects, and will always be making more art.
This year in Artist Alley it was our pleasure to share what we’ve got coming out early next year–our new graphic novel Monkey Fist. Maybe you’ve noticed the new tab at the top of our website and maybe you’ve already seen the teaser image above. Maybe last year you backed Chinatown and got the Sun Bros Sampler reward and have already read a little about what it’s all about. Maybe you know this will be our most ambitious, most extraordinary, and most visually stunning project to date and that that it’s going to blow your goddamn mind. Maybe you can’t wait for our next Kickstarter in February 2014.
But maybe you hadn’t heard of Monkey Fist yet. Well, don’t worry. There’s a lot more to preview in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.