David Lucarelli writes:
WonderCon 2013 (My First WonderCon)
Five years ago I had this crazy idea. I was a lifelong fan of comics, and I had made one: a single floppy issue of my first comic called The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade. I had submitted it to several publishers, and while I had gotten a little interest from one, they ultimately didn’t bite, so I decided that I’d buy a table in small press at WonderCon and try to sell it myself.
At first, it was an intimidating experience. The raw capitalism of pitching your creative effort it in a nutshell to stranger after stranger, who more often than not rejected you. To make matters worse, I had told Bleeding Cool I’d write a series of articles about what it was like to be a first-time exhibitor at a con. Two hours in, without a single sale, I thought that was going to be a rather depressing series of articles.
And then, something wonderful happened. I had my first sale! Then I had another, and another!
By mid-day Saturday I was holding court, with my by now more finely honed pitch, telling lots of people about my comic. They seemed genuinely interested. They liked the concept. They liked the art. They were buying it!
Creators who table at cons have a metric about how well they did. It’s called “making the table.” That is, did you sell enough books to pay off what you had to pay for the table? Of course, this metric doesn’t take into account the amount of money it cost to make and print the books, and we’re not taking into account all the additional expenses: food, hotel, parking, gas, etc., but it’s still a useful metric. Did I “make the table” at my first con? Nope. But I came closer than I had any right to.
In hindsight, I am SO glad I chose WonderCon to start tabling at — because the attendees at WonderCon are very supportive of indie comics. There are a lot of people that come to the con specifically to find indie comics and support indie creators. Now, it’s true that the first time someone buys your first book, while they may like the concept and the art, they aren’t really buying the book because they like it. They haven’t read it yet. They are buying it because they like you enough to take a chance with their hard-earned money, and they think there’s a chance your book might be worth their time. So the real test becomes… do they come back to buy something from you the next year?
“So what do you have for me this year?”
These are perhaps the sweetest words a creator can hear at a con. Because it means that person who took a chance on your book last year liked it enough find you this year and to want to buy more. And I’m happy to say I heard it. A lot. And of course, each year I had new product and new customers. For the next two years, I did better and better, until…
The year the con came to LA. To be honest, sales were way down that year. In hindsight, I think there were a lot of reasons. I didn’t have any new product that year. There was another major con at the same location not very long before WonderCon that I also exhibited at. A lot of the people that come to WonderCon when it’s in Anaheim didn’t make the journey to Los Angeles. Also, my table placement that year wasn’t great. If you’re not visible, if people can’t find you, if you’re in a part of the dealer’s room that isn’t getting much foot traffic, it will affect sales. Finally, the economy was in the midst of a downturn. People aren’t going to spend a whole lot of money on funny books when they’re worried about holding onto their jobs and putting food in their belly.
The con was back in Anaheim, and I was back on track with my best con sales to date, until…
I’m still recovering from the three-day fever dream that was a WonderCon of firsts.
I debuted my first nationally distributed comic, Tinseltown, a period crime drama about one of the first female police officers in Hollywood from Alterna Comics (in comic shops everywhere this Wednesday!)
I did my first panel at WonderCon (Alterna Comics: Bringing Back the Newsprint).
In attendance were some of the same people that bought my book five years ago, and have supported me ever since!
At one point some mysterious benefactor even left pizza and a drink for me at my table! Thanks for that, whoever you are! And I had the most successful WonderCon, and the most successful con so far. But of course, doing cons is about a whole lot more than whether you make the table.
The truth is: making comics is mostly lonely work. Whether it’s sitting at your word processor if you’re a writer, drawing on your tablet if you’re an artist, you are largely creating in a vacuum. To go to a con like WonderCon, see old friends, and make new ones, interact and catch up with fans and fellow creators is ultimately the most satisfying experience of all. WonderCon is like what San Diego Comic-Con was like in the ’90s. Big enough to have a wide variety of exciting programming, and diverse creators in a massive dealer’s room, but small enough that those creators can take the time to talk, interact and connect with lots of people who love the comic medium.
Five years on, is it all smooth sailing? Nope. Even though I now routinely make the table, and sometimes am even lucky enough to more than double it, there is still the occasional con where I don’t get enough sales.
I just launched a Kickstarter for my new graphic novel The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade: All Souls’ Day, the latest stand alone story arc in my “punk rock Buffy set in Scotland,” coming of age Gothic adventure series inspired by the real life Gorbals Vampire Incident. And even though I’ve successfully funded and delivered on two Kickstarters before, and we’re off to a decent start, there are no guarantees this one will make it!
Five years on, my son’s a lot bigger, and my hair’s a lot greyer. Even so, as I type this and slowly recover from three of the most exciting days of my life, I thank God for WonderCon, and I can’t wait to see what year six may bring!
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David Lucarelli is a comic writer. Tinseltown #1 from Alterna Comics hits comics shops everywhere Wednesday March 28th. He will be appearing that day at Golden Apple Comics to sign issue #1 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. that day, and at The Comic Bug Manhattan Beach to do a signing (2-4 p.m.) and creator talk (4-6 p.m.) Saturday March 31st.
You can get check out the Kickstarter for The Children’s Vampire Hunting Brigade All Souls’ Day here. (All three standalone volumes in the series are available as part of the Kickstarter as well other rewards including an original drawing by Brigade artist Henry Ponciano.)