Douglas Paszkiewicz, author of Arsenic Lullabies, has been to a lot of comic book conventions. A lot of them. And he wishes to impart his wisdom…
So… you want to go to a comic book convention
What to do and what not to do at a comic book convention
Convention season is right around the corner, a time in which enthusiastic fans wait in line and spend money for the displeasure of having every mental image they had about their favorite writer or illustrator get melted away by the muggy, humid, flop sweat reality of two people meeting who have nothing in common other than something that isn’t real.
Allow me to take a minute and give some really really useful advice to fans and comic book pros that will make this season much easier. I am a rare bird in this industry because I am very outgoing and comfortable in my own skin…AND I don’t think what I do is all that important, at least not any more important than what they person coming up to me for an autograph does. I, grounded in reality, watch the exchanges between other pros and their fans. It would be painful if it didn’t make me look so good.
For the fan…
The common dilemma for you is “what do I say after I tell the pro what a big fan I am?” You waited in line to see him or her, paid good money to see him or her, so you would like to have more of an exchange than 15 seconds of having your book signed…but what do you say? Well, of course you can say anything but if you are honestly looking for how to deal with a pro and not have the person dread ever seeing you again here are some tips.
FIRST…never…never…never, under any circumstances…EVER suggest ideas. Never. Most pros will humor you but will secretly be annoyed. This is our job, we train, study, practice, and struggle every day to be as good as we are. You coming up to us with an idea is like you coming up and telling an electrician what gauge wire to use, or your mechanic how much to torque down the cylinder head, or even a pro football player how far back to cock their arm before throwing the ball. We don’t need the advice and it is condescending even though you don’t mean it that way. It is essentially saying “hey, I could do your job. Here is an idea that is better than what your next idea is.” As I say, I know that is not how you mean it, which is why I am telling you this. NEVER do that. Best case scenario, you do have a better idea and it ruins the guys day because he didn’t think of it. Worst case scenario the idea is awful and he is stuck with the choice of telling you it is awful or lying and hoping he never sees you again and has to explain why he never used it.
“okay …great. But what DO I say? I can’t just stand there saying how awesome the work is the whole time, I’ll feel like an idiot.”
DO this- explain what about the work you like. Do you like the illustrations? The page layouts? the expressions on the faces? The dialogue? What about the dialogue? Do you like the twists and turns of the story or the character interaction? Explain what about the book you like. This is actually very helpful without being ass kissing or condescending. You could explain how you found out about the book. Did a friend tell you about it? did the cover catch your eye? Maybe you have a funny story about something that happened while you where reading it, or were going to buy it. Maybe you found out about it through someone you never thought would read that sort of thing. You like a book usually not only because it is good, but because of something in your life relates to it, or it characters, you could mention that.
Also, this is the age of social media…use it. If you are one of his FB friends you can easily find some common ground, perhaps you both like baseball or old cars, or both like the same t. v. show. Feel free to mention that. There is no reason you have to keep you conversation to comic books. If you genuinely like a similar thing, bring it up …believe it or not it may be a welcome change from the 8 hours of talking about comic books he has already engaged in.
Also keep in mind the pro is there to make money, once he has all the money you are going to spend he needs to start talking to someone else. This is a job. Even if the pro likes you and is enjoying you being there telling him how awesome he is ( because that is all you can think of to say) eventually he has to start talking to someone else or he will not pay his rent. So don’t overstay your welcome, if there is nothing else to say, move on. Don’t be offended if he cuts things short, he is, after all, at work.
You may also want to keep in mind the time he spent leading up to the show was drastically different from yours. You gleefully dug out some of his comics to sign, maybe loaded up your car with some junk food and a bunch of friends and had a laugh filled road trip to an event you have been looking forward to all year. HE on the other hand had to organize boxes of merch, figure out how to get it all there safely, suffer through TSA molesting and sitting in an airplane seat designed for a Ethiopian, or drive 6-8 hours worrying about what he forgot and then debating if he should go back for it or not 2 hours into the drive. He then had to drag all the merch to one window to get his badge, then drag it through the convention center around, through, and past the chaos that is a comic book convention being set up …realizing he was directed to the wrong end of the convention center…drag all the crap ( he is now considering it crap…and 40 pounds of “merch” becomes 40 pounds of “crap” in his mind after about 300 yards), then set everything up….just like he did two weeks ago.
It is a dramatic difference to keep in mind when you walk up with a big grin on your face and he looks like he was just water boarded into submission.
Now, if you are the type that goes to discussion panels you probably know they tend to drag on, as there are usually six guys on the stage and you are only interested in hearing from one of them. You have probably also noticed that the conversation usually gets railroaded by a pro you never heard of who is trying to impress everyone and some guy in the front row who is the only one asking questions. Try as they may, moderators can only do so much. Insert yourself, ask silly questions, prepare questions before hand, find out about the other people who are on the panel so that while they are droning on you actually get something out of it. You showed up to hear them talk right? So …there must be something you wanted to hear them talk about …ask.
As for the pros…
You have a fan standing there grinning from ear to ear with nothing to say…how about YOU tell HIM something. Tell him what about the book was difficult, or that you are proud of. This person waited in line and paid for tickets to go to a show to see you. Don’t be a dismissive douche bag just because he doesn’t have anything to say but isn’t leaving…YOU say something. It’s YOUR job to be interesting, not his. These people came to see you to find out what you are like. Your job is to BE AT YOUR TABLE and meeting fans, not screwing off in the hospitality room, or lurking around your buddies table, or networking with people you could easily network with after the con. YOU are the product the convention is selling. When you are absent from your table, or are a dismissive jackass to fans, it harms the show. If you don’t know how to deal with people or you have no patience or are easily creeped out DON’T GO TO A COMIC BOOK CONVENTION. Simple as that, we don’t need you. There is an industry full of people who do what you do. Stay home and be a dickhead in your lonely apartment, we’ll handle things without you. I cannot count the number of times I see some well-meaning fans have their day ruined because some dope who draws a 50 year old character someone else thought of, who thinks he’s more important than he actually is and doesn’t have any people skills gives them the brush off.
It is a comic book convention…this means a lot of PEOPLE are going to be in one building to talk about comic books. If you have a problem with that stay home. I draw cartoon fetuses, so I don’t want to hear any crying and belly aching about how weird some of YOUR fans are …brother you don’t know from weird fans. I had a guy once ask me to draw around his girlfriends vagina so she could have it made into a tattoo, I have had a scary biker guy threaten to stab me in the stomach if I ever stopped ( I assume it was a joke, but he wasn’t smiling), and that’s only the stuff I am comfortable typing into the internet…so don’t cry to me if some guy hangs around your table to long. I know once in a while there are strange creeps who need to be escorted away. But 99 times out of 100 it is just a nervous fan who doesn’t know what to say and doesn’t realize he’s been hanging around too long. Try this- treat him/her like a person. Just tell him…
“hey glad you like the book but I have to cut this a little short so I can bring in some new fans and keep my job.”
Frank, to the point, and easy for the person on the other side of the table to relate to. You could also try this- send the person on an errand. He obviously has time on his hands, you’re stuck at the table, have him get you a hot dog, or track down some book you were looking for. This is good for you because it saves you time, and fun for the other person because they go home with a better story than their friend. “oh you got so and so’s autograph? BFD I go so and so a hot dog, AND found an old comic book for him…bet you didn’t know he was a fan of blah blah blah”. Doesn’t that sound better for everyone than him standing their feeling self-conscious and you getting annoyed and nervous until you awkwardly brush him off?
As for discussion panels. You being on the panel does not mean you are obligated to talk as much as the next guy even though you have nothing to say. This is not a pissing contest. Think of it as a show. The show needs to be interesting. It is your job to say something interesting or defer to someone on the panel who has something interesting to say. Do not gratuitously plug your book or name drop…this is boring. Rookies tend to drop names of every famous pro they have ever dealt with, no matter how brief, in hopes of the crowd thinking they must be as big a deal as the names he’s dropping. Rookies do this because they don’t realize that everyone plainly sees that if he was a big deal he would be talking about what he does instead of other people he “knows”. As for plugging your book, nothing brings a discussion panel to a screeching halt like some dope plugging his book over and over. Why? because the OTHER five guys on the panel cannot add anything to what you are talking about. This is supposed to be a conversation, fans are there to hear you interact with each other, other wise they could just go to each of your tables individually. Get it?!
A discussion panel is not five infomercials for five different books competing for microphone time. That is not interesting, that is what makes people get up and wander off during the panel. Talk about the creative process, talk about the business end of it, tell a story…say SOMETHING that the audience cannot learn from your ads, or your website…or say nothing.
You want people to remember you, trust me on this, they remember the guy who said almost nothing but had one funny line, before they remember the guy who droned on and on.
Don’t be nervous, don’t think you have to outshine anyone, don’t think the whole crowd is watching you the whole time. Listen to the discussion…add to it if you can.
Comic book conventions should be fun. If you are a fan and the pros you go to are nobs…find someone new to be a fan of. If you are a pro and you can’t find some enjoyment, or any way to relate to someone willing to pay to meet you, then get out of the business.
Okay, enjoy Con season 2013 everybody…or else.