Alternative Press Expo Part II

Back from a long weekend at APE. I had a good time this year, meeting new cartoonists and trading comics. Hell, I even made a profit (and so did some of the other cartoonists in our group too). But the main reason we table together at APE is to promote our chapter of the Cartoonist Conspiracy, garnering new members and promoting our cell. So even though I didn’t loose money tabling, I really won’t find out how successful this year was until our next Cartoonist Conspiracy meeting (this thursday).

Sunday was a very slow day, so I took the chance to walk around a bit and look for my favorite artists… unfortunately so did they. First stop, Jason Shiga’s table to see what he’s got up his sleeve this year. He wasn’t around, but I checked out his books (bought a copy of Knock Knock and a tiny mini comic) and picked up a copy of the Shiga challenge. The Shiga Challenge is a simple one page set of drawings of 7 polaroids. The game is to figure out what day of the week the pictures are taken on. I walked a bit more then came back to my booth and sold some comics and hats while I tried to figure out the puzzle.

An hour later I tried to catch Shiga again, but missed him, I did bump into other friends of mine though and chatted with the cats at 7000 BC (a Cartoonist Conspiracy cell out of New Mexico) about setting up a C.C. distro from cell to cell. Then I stopped by the Global Hobo camp and asked if the guy who made this awesome mini comic about a boy with a worm in his head had any new books. Then I came back to my booth and solved the Shiga puzzle.

Finally on my third walk around I caught up with Shiga and got a copy of his CD for figuring out the damn puzzle. Shiga is in my mind a cartooning super-hero, and one of the few cats in the entire expo that I actually get dumbfounded around. Everything he does is so inventive and original. His newest book, Bookhunter, takes place in the Bay Area in the 70’s. It follows a “Dirty Harry” type library police character that chases overdue book offenders around in these epic scenes. Shiga’s most known though for his crazy ass choose your own type books that really fuck with the comics medium. He’s capable of taking a concept book (like the choose your own) and actually weave together a story that is so good that it doesn’t come across kitschy. In fact, Meanwhile…, the first choose your own of his that I bought, actually involves a time machine which greatly adds to the choose your own adventure. In Meanwhile…, the reader doesn’t choose the “correct” ending, but instead just travels down a different path each time. All of the endings have happened and in order for you to do something one time, you have to off previously done something else in another time for it work. Fucking brilliant.

Anyway, I’m a total fanboy and got a pic and autograph of Jason.

Some people comment on how APE gets supposedly less and less comics oriented every year. The reason for that is simple, APE is not at all cheap and if you are an independent publisher with only a few different issues out of your zine/mini comic/whatever, you have to sell a hundred copies of each book just to break even (assuming you are probably selling books that cost you $.75 and you are charging $2). Now alternately, consider someone bringing in plush dolls at $30 each. All they have to do is sell maybe 8 dolls to break even at APE.

From selling at expos like this I know that the hardest part is just getting people to stop at your booth. They added 200 new tables this year, but your average shopper is probably still spending the same amount time at the expo this year as they did the last. Meaning they are dashing around trying not to get distracted until they have found whatever specific vendors they are looking for.

So I started a little experiment… Okay, that’s bullshit, I came up with a neat trick to get folks to check out my book. I once worked for a man in Nashville that was the greatest salesman ever. He owned a yo-yo shop called Yo Momma’s, whenever he would see a kid around that was sheepishly checking out the shop, he would toss a yo-yo at them. Obviously the kid would catch it, and then finally come over and hang out. What I did was playing with the same basic human nature. If there were lots of people walking, but nobody stopping, I would knock a comic off and wait for someone to kindly pick it up and place it back on the table… Then I had them! “Hey that’s a great comic you have there. It’s about pancakes and the human spirit.” or “Oh cool, you saw my book. It’s about overcoming great adversity at a Denny’s… With syrup!”

It worked great. People would laugh, then I could get them talking and tell them about our group and when we get together and all that. I got quite a few sales off of the technique, but really it was just something fun to do and way better than just standing around. Most of the time people caught that it was an act right away, which was cool cause we could just laugh about it and I’d say stupid stuff like “Ya, they are flying off the shelf today.”.

I had a new book this year, it’s just an excerpt from a bigger book that’s in the works, but I put a lot of time on it and was pleased with the results. It was “free with purchase” which really just meant “free to anyone who looks like they will actually read it”. So I gave away maybe 80 copies of that, and sold about 15 of each of my other books. The best part about doing these things for so many years is that I am slowly building up my inventory. At the first comic convention I went to, people would come up to my table and love what I had. So they’d buy it. Great… that’s a buck.. Considering how hard it is to get folks to check out your comic, that’s a lot of work for one comic. But the next year, if a new customer came by and liked my comic they would usually buy a copy of whatever I had (which was my first book and my new book). Cool that’s 2 bucks. Now I have 3 or 4 comics, yo-yos, hats, and crafts… So if someone stopped at my table, they could possibly spend $63 on my art. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and can make the difference between losing money at the expo and breaking even with money to spend on convention food.

Blah blah blah. I don’t mean to make it sound like the whole con is money oriented goal, but obviously it’s on my mind. In my mind the goals go like this 1. don’t lose much money 2. meet new artists and find new books 3. network

The third goal was a new one. I have a new book on the way, and a planned anthology due later this year. The book is bigger than anything I’ve attempted, and I believe it is also better. Both artistically and entertainment wise. I keep thinking about how good it would be to have a distributor for the final product, or lord knows even a publisher. Someone who can help me make the product better and maybe even pay for a colorist etc. Despite how sharp my sales skills are, networking is not my strongest point. So the networking goal was not a success.

But I got to hang with my friends Merideth, Kraig, and Jeff-Jeff all day and read our new comics.

Oh and if you thought my sales technique was deplorable, at least I wasn’t as mean to crowd goers as Merideth, who would literally rest her nuts on her patrons faces.

There are tons of other APE blog dumps out there, here is a good one..