Woo! Made it through another convention alive! Denver Comic Con 2017 was another fantastic year, and easily one of my favorite conventions so far. I about tripled my profit from DCC 2016, with Friday being my best day. I had some great neighbors including Monkey Minion Press and Kiki Doodle who helped to make the convention even more enjoyable.
I prepared for this convention a little differently than previous ones. I sucked it up and got a Facebook page even though I despise Facebook, using it to connect with other artists going to the convention as well as to run a few ads for my book that released on the first day of the con. It ended up being pretty nice, and useful, though I still can’t stand Facebook in and of itself.
I also did a couple interviews focused on my book prior to the convention. One was written and another was a video interview. Both were super fun and, I think, worth it.
Then, because I knew from previous years at DCC that reception on my phone would be iffy at best, I used HootSuite to queue up a bunch of tweets to go out during the convention at specific times. That way I knew I’d have a presence in the feed for the convention even if I couldn’t get the signal to do it live. I still sent out live tweets when I could, but it wasn’t often—especially on Saturday—due to the poor reception. (Poor reception resulting from there being so many people in one spot and the local cell towers going “oh god no, we ain’t doing this shit.”) I think it was worth the effort as several people mentioned seeing me on twitter, so I’ll certainly be doing it again.
The other big preparation thing I did was actually kind of an accident. I had recently ordered a new set of postcards to send out to art directors to try and find freelance work but, unfortunately, they printed a bit washed out and I didn’t want to send them out to art directors because of it. I got my money back, but still had the cards and didn’t want to just throw them out. So I decided to turn them into “thanks for your purchase!” cards. I spent a day handwriting thank you messages on the cards, and gave one out to everyone who made a purchase at the convention. People seemed quite pleased to be getting a little something extra, and though I have yet to see if I get any major results from them I’m glad the cards didn’t go to waste.
Going into the convention I was really interested in seeing what would happen with this year. Due to some shenanigans on the part of the convention center, a lot about the layout of Denver Comic Con changed from previous years. The layout of vendors and artists was totally different than before, and different than any other convention I have ever been to, with Artist Valley splitting the vendors down the middle. They also completely changed how attendees entered the convention center and the show floor, as well as how artists and vendors could enter to load in their stuff. With the new layout, I was personally very interested to see if being between the two vendor sections would increase traffic, and I think it did at least a bit! But with the new entrance methods, I also noticed a lot of people (including other artists and vendors) were confused and annoyed by the changes and the lack of clarification on them.
Load-in was relatively easy, short of a few minor issues. Firstly, the convention center parking is—relatively—cheap, but the problem is that you can only pay for a minimum of 8 hours at a time. Obviously, as an artist with only a couple suitcases of stuff and only a table or two to fill, 8 hours is way more than you need. But you still had to pay for 8 hours. Parking around the center isn’t any better priced the majority of the time and often involves the dreaded parallel parking. Plus, who wants to haul all their stuff several blocks in 90degree heat? Not me. Especially because I had to make two trips since I was working solo. There was also only one load-in elevator which was large, but it did slow things down since there was only the one.
Another minor problem was that, when I arrived for load-in, they had yet to hang the banners that denoted the different rows of Artist Valley. This made it tricky to find my table, especially because row D was somehow not next to row E where my table was, so even when I found out where row D was I still couldn’t find my table. I also heard some people had their displays knocked around when the convention people came by to hang the banners later.
Also, here’s a tip for vendors and attendees alike: you don’t have to pay for parking the whole convention and it isn’t worth it to bother. Pay for it for load-in and load-out, but otherwise, park at the Broadway Lightrail station (parking is free and there’s tons of it) and take the train in. The D and H lines will literally drop you at the door of the convention center, tickets are a few bucks for as many rides as you want during the day, and the ride is only about 5-10 minutes from the station to the convention center.
My convention setup got a pretty heavy refresh this year, and I think it contributed to my better sales. I went up a bit more than I used to, using a new set of wire cubes to build my display. I also bought a small table (about a foot and a half wide, three feet long, and a couple feet tall) that I set perpendicular to my regular table next to my chair. I used it to set all my merch and packaging stuff on so that I had a nice little staging area where I could keep everything nice and neat. It was stupidly helpful and made it so much easier to find things and get them packed up efficiently for my customers. It folds up and fits PERFECTLY in my big convention suitcase as well, which is even better. The little table is my new best friend, honestly.
For my next big convention I would like to get one of the vertical banners, as well as a better display for my mini-prints rather than pinning them up with my bigger prints since I think they get lost that way. I’m also toying with the idea of double-tabling next year, but we shall see!
Selling wise, this convention was actually quite strange for me. I had stickers—both individuals and one sticker sheet—, buttons large and small, prints of three sizes including minis, original pieces, artist trading cards in varying styles, fanart and original subjects across all of it, and my new book. However, despite DCC usually being a print heavy convention, prints were nearly my worst seller which is something I heard echoed by other artists in the Valley. I also sold more original pieces at this convention (including one to my favorite old college art professor which was the definition of validation) than I have at any other convention, and more artist trading cards as well.
My two best sellers were, surprisingly, my book and my sticker sheets. I pushed the book pretty heavily in advertising before the convention, both paid and non-paid. I did a few interviews about it, spread it all over twitter, sent out a few Facebook and Instagram ads, sent out a newsletter to my subscribers, and pimped it on my Tumblr and my other accounts. It all seemed to help quite a bit! Several people mentioned having seen the book online or having seen the interviews I did. Despite all the advertising, though, I was still surprised that it did so well since selling books can be a tricky endeavor when you’re self-published.
The sticker sheet in question was my Funko Pop Shadowhunters sheet with 15 roughly 1-inch stickers of the Shadowhunters characters. I actually sold out of the sheets, which I wasn’t expecting, and several people bought them just because they looked like Funko Pops even though they didn’t know the characters. So, I’ll certainly be pursuing similar pieces in the future!
I also got a good handful of people coming to my table because I had stuff for several fandoms no one else was selling stuff for including Shadowhunters, The 100, and The Raven Cycle. A highlight was when a dad and his 13ish-year-old daughter came by and geeked out over all my Shadowhunters stuff because apparently the dad had been into the books for ages and he was the one to get his daughter to read them. They were both pretty dang adorable.
Another interesting thing about this convention was that I did WAY more cash sales than card sales; I’d say about 75% cash and 25% card. Almost every other convention I have done has been the opposite or more of a 50/50 distribution. Not sure what contributed to the change this year, but I certainly didn’t mind it since cash doesn’t come with fees!
The other big difference from other conventions I’ve done was that I actually got a decent chunk of tips—all on my credit card sales. Square having better options for setting up tips was obviously, I think, responsible for this so I’m pretty thrilled about all of that. Tips covered my parking for load-in and load-out, as well as a cheap dinner on Friday night, so I was thrilled!
Overall, the impression I got from my own sales and talking to other artists who have done DCC before was that people’s buying habits went through a pretty wild change this year, more than they usually change between conventions. I honestly don’t know what contributed to the change, but it does make it a little harder to predict what I should do for the convention next year.
Unfortunately, thievery tends to be a problem at Denver Comic Con. I lost about three or four of my individual Funko Pop Stickers (which, honestly, I’m not super upset about since I basically got them free since CatPrint sent me extras when I ordered them, but still). However, I talked to one of the main convention people about the issue and suggested they put up signs discouraging thievery next year. He was pretty shocked that it was an issue, and said they would definitely be looking into doing something. Obviously, signs won’t stop EVERYONE from stealing, but if it stops even one thief it is worth it in my book.
The other issue was that a few tables down from me there was an artist selling all stolen work. He had a variety of prints that were 1:1 copies of many MAJOR artists and he’d plopped his own signature on them. He also had a bunch of “originals” that were perfect copies of many artists, the copies being done in marker, plus a bunch of stickers and buttons. My table neighbor Josh was the first one to point it out to me mid-day Saturday as well as other people in the Valley and from there it spread like wildfire. By Sunday morning half the Valley knew what was up and were ready to go to town on the thief, including some of the famous comic artists attending the convention. The thief was promptly reported, several times, to the convention. Another artist went through and photographed every single one of his stolen pieces to post on the AANI group just before the floor opened on Sunday. Once Sunday kicked off a ton of other artists went by his table and pointed out all the pieces they recognized, and several had very frank discussions with him about why what he was doing wasn’t okay. Several hours into Sunday he had packed up his table and left, as well as taken down his Facebook page.
Unfortunately, the show staff didn’t do much about the issue. I’ve heard he was blacklisted from the convention in the future, but I’m not 100% sure if it was true. Either way, he’d be dumb as fuck if he tried to come back given that everyone would easily recognize him. Same goes for any other Colorado convention, and probably at most conventions in the rest of the US at this point. Honestly, though, it was pretty fantastic to see everyone teaming up to deal with a thief. Artists, especially fanartists, don’t have a ton (if any) official protections open to us so we’ve got to look out for our own.
This convention was a fantastic year for goodies. I didn’t let myself buy much—just a few Funko Pops and a sticker for my sister’s kayak—since I lost my job a few weeks ago so I’ve got to save every penny right now. But I still came home with a fantastic assortment of stuff. For the first year (that I can recall anyhow) Denver Comic Con had a couple major publishers present, and one of them had a handful of delightful free arcs that I swiped right up. They’re sitting in my to-be-read pile now and I can’t wait to dig into them.
I also got the BEST goodie bag I have ever gotten at a convention from Line Webtoon. They were the sponsors of Artist Valley this year and they handed out pencil bags full of delightful gifts to people in the Valley. The bags had a set of four Copic markers—two regular ones, a liner, and a glittery liner—, a pin, a portable phone charger, a rubber bracelet, and a little two-inch flipy sketchbook thingy. They also handed out information about their app and the panels they’d be doing at the convention, though I couldn’t hit any panels since I was working solo.
The Copic Marker people were also walking the Valley and they loved my work, which was super delightful. We talked for about ten minutes about my work and how they were looking into ways to sponsor and support more artists at conventions in the future. Both of the Copic people were very enthusiastic and loved how many mediums I worked in, and were asking what other stuff I worked with. Later one of them came back and gave me some free marker paper to try out and asked me to let him know what I thought. It was a fantastic interaction, and one of the highlights of the convention.
Honestly, kids will always be one of my favorite parts of conventions. Firstly, their cosplays are generally freaking adorable, and, secondly, they are just so delightful to talk to about art. Denver Comic Con is put on by Pop Culture Classroom, an organization focused on teaching kids using comics and other nerdy things, so DCC has always been a great convention for kids. Every year I’ve been there as an artist I’ve done free sketches for kids in the sketchbooks Pop Culture Classroom hands out to them, and it is the only art I will do AT the convention. It’s also so fun to have little kids come up and be wowed by my art because they don’t hold back their enthusiasm. This year kids were especially thrilled with the sculpture of my character Dustin Lockwood, and even more amazed that I had sculpted it myself.
Kids are just adorable in general, and I always do my best to have at least a few pieces directed at them so they can get something cool for themselves while their parents nerd out over Marvel and Walking Dead and such. This year that was some Moana stuff, and a few of the other “kids” movies I have enjoyed recently. They’re excited to get a little something of a thing they love, and their parents are happy to find something for their kids.
It is amazing how quickly artists scatter the second a convention ends. The speed at which we can break down our booths is fascinating. (Let’s be honest, a real shower, real food, and a nice nap are pretty good motivators.) Problem is, because everyone loads out at once and there is only the one aforementioned elevator for load-out, things get a bit sketchy. The staff failed to open the elevator immediately upon the convention ending, so there was about a half-hourish gap where people couldn’t get their stuff out. The stairs WERE open but obviously most convention stuff is heavy and/or cumbersome, especially in a small stairwell. Also, to get to the convention center parking where most of us were parked you had to go UP several flights of stairs in a sweltering hot stairwell, and several of the doors were locked so unless there was something to keep them open access to the stairs and the parking could easily be lost. Eventually, they did get the elevator open, but even then it took quite awhile to get out and there was a huge line. Technically I think there WAS another elevator but no one seemed to be using it and I’m not entirely sure that it was actually working (and no one was directing anyone to it to alleviate the line, even if it was working).
Denver Comic Con is a fantastic convention for selling and meeting great people, but it could use a little organizational overhaul. There needs to be better methods for load-out especially, and it would be nice if the convention could wrangle shorter parking chunks just for vendors loading in and out. There was also very little access to coffee in the vendor hall, though Josh and I may have convinced the organizers to get more coffee carts for next year to fix this issue. It would also be better if all signage was hung BEFORE the artists load in so that our stuff doesn’t risk damage when the banners are being hung, and there needs to be a better official way of dealing with thieves.
Those issues are made up for by how great of a convention it is in general, though. Good sales, lovely people, great goodies, and more. I can’t wait to get back next year, maybe even with two tables!
To those who were also vending at the con: how'd it go for you?
To those just attending the convention: what was your favorite part? What cool goodies did you snag?