Last weekend I did a comic convention; C3, or “Cherry Capital Comic Con” or something like that. Something with cherries. I’ll go back and link it later.
Now, I’m often asked by friends and co-workers: “How was the convention? Did you make any money? Were a lot of people dressed up?” I usually respond with some half-hearted generality and reply by asking them about their own weekend, which is all they really want to talk about anyway. I’ve been doing comic-cons since 2007, and it seems like every year a new one gets added to the circuit. Many of these experiences blend together in a stress-smoothie of rushed road trips, clumsy setup, and whiskey-fueled sketching.
This was my second year at C3. But before I get into it, let me explain what a comic convention is.
A comic-con is where you take something you’ve created– something you’ve poured time and effort and money into, something that expresses to the world why you’ve earned the right to be here at all– and sit behind a table with it, just one table of many set in endless rows, each stocked with desperate artists just like you, while a crowd of eighteen thousand people oozes by apathetically, their eyes pin-balling from a poster of Dr. Who to a replica of the Batmobile to a wall-scroll of the Skywalker family tree, and when they see this thing you’ve made, your precious little baby, a part of their brain asks themselves if they recognize it, and when they don’t, they walk right on by. Your book might have great art and the pitch might be spot on, but hey, look, there’s a drawing of the Joker arm-wrestling a Cylon, and isn’t that SWEET?!
Throughout the day, you’re lucky if a few dozen people make conversation with you. Most people are very well-behaved and well-meant, without intention of making any purchases at all, and that’s perfectly fine. But it’s haunting the way they’ll ignore your booth completely unless you use an 11×17 print of Invader Zim to tractor-beam their gleeful finger-points in your direction. There’s a moment at every con where you swear that if you hear the word “multi-pass” peppered with giggles from little girls and grown men alike as they spot the watercolor “Leeloo” in your portfolio, you’ll kill yourself.
The prints rise together in a towering wall of random, pandering pop-culture, all in the hopes that they’ll attract enough attention so that, in passing, a shopper might pick up the book. That they’ll flip through it and ask you what it’s about. That maybe they’ll buy it. That maybe they’ll like it. And once in a while, this happens.
Most of the time, though, between sales and interactions with strangers and drawing sketches, you’re dreading the impending bowel movement brewing inside you like the perfect storm. It’s only going to get worse, and when it does, you’ll panic because the bathroom has a line coming out of it like a Cedar Point roller coaster. All you’ve eaten today is the Little Caesar’s-grade pizza that the convention center offers, because it was a choice between that and a giant pretzel with “cheese” on it, and everything is made so much worse by your table neighbors whose overly-enthusiastic and borderline-aggressive sales approach leaves most people distracted from the conversation you’re trying to have with them, until eventually they just avoid your area entirely.
To set up, you drive through heavy traffic the day before the con begins. You have your car filled with boxes of your books and a heavy bin full of Spider-Mans and Swamp Things, and you drive on the highway with a sheet of 2′ x 6′ grid wall strapped to the hood of a vehicle you should have replaced years ago. You wait in a line with the other vendors as two women who have lost any capacity to give a fuck inform you that no, your second badge is not included in the table package you purchased, and while your package DOES come with two chairs, and while it has ALWAYS included 2 badges in the past, and while there has NEVER, EVER BEEN a convention that DOES require you to purchase a second badge (because it should go without fucking saying), we’re sorry, but it will be an extra $75 for your second badge, because Hail Satan.
Since you’re paying $35 a night to park at a structure adjacent to the convention, you lug your boxes of books and prints up and down 3 floors both ways, and usually there’ll be at least one spill which leaves you scrambling for Skeletors in the middle of a crowded hallway. Just getting everything from point A to point B can take up to 90 minutes, and that’s before you’ve actually start setting up. But then you’re start setting up, trying to figure out the best use of the limited space you have available to you; which display should go where, what characters to lay out, how close the books should be to the edge of the table– not too close, but not so far that the effort it will take to actually reach for them won’t intimidate the already-uninterested patrons who will soon be ignoring you all day long.
No one helps you. The staff doesn’t check in to see if it can assist you in any way. They don’t ask if everything’s meeting your expectations. This isn’t a diner and they’re not a waitstaff. You have your table and your cheap little badges, so now you’re on your own. You run into problems, you can deal with them yourself, asshole.
That is a comic-con for you.
C3 convenes in Traverse City, a sea of rolling farmland split by a single road at any given time, except for when it looks exactly like everyplace else on earth, with strip malls of Walgreens and Home Depots and McDonald’s. The con itself is held in some sort of ballroom attached to a hotel, kind of like when you went to prom. It’s not the vast chamber that is C2E2 or Motor City, but that’s okay, because the hotel lobby has a bar fifty feet from the con’s entrance hall, which means every print I sell will equal drunk.
So I roll up to a building on a quiet summer day. There are no crowds. Instead, a team of enthusiastic twenty-fivish year olds in matching red T-shirts are there to direct my car to where it needs to go.
I ask how much parking is. It’s free.
Then I’m parked and I start plotting the trajectory of the journey I’ll need to make it from car to booth, calculating how many trips there and back, but I’m interrupted by another Red Shirt who asks if I need a cart. I’m about to show them the collapsable dolly I bought off Amazon when, two at a time, they start unloading my merchandise for me onto a flat cart that makes my dolly look like a rickety toy for drooling toddler. In under five minutes, I haven’t lifted a finger, and all of my items are stacked at my table; a sprawling endcap triple that of the expected real estate. Where the normal dilemma is “How can I maximize this table space,” the challenge now became: “Do I have enough shit to cover all of this?”
First day of the con, people are shambling through the aisles. The staff is coming up to me asking if you need anything. If perhaps I’d care for someone to stand behind my table so that I might have a bathroom break. If everything’s satisfactory. The year before this one, they gave me a little box with chips and water inside, crucial rations for a 3 day marathon of immobilization.
Most conventions have a “Green Room,” or maybe they call it something else, but it’s usually a place where the vendors, artists and exhibitors can escape for a few minutes and sit down in a quiet, secluded area. Typically there’s refreshments; shitty little cookies, tortilla chips, chili, coffee. The Green Room at C3, however, opens up to a lavish spread straight out of the feast scene from “Hook.” Thick-slices of bread and roast beef, cheeses, fruit platters, chilled beverages, all complete with REAL PLATES and REAL METAL SILVERWARE. (Sidenote: I am pretty sure I was not supposed to be in this room and that there was a misunderstanding. I’m also pretty sure that at 11:00 am I was the first one there; everything was totally covered and untouched, neatly stacked and organized. I filled my pockets with what I could. The rest I licked and put back.)
Saturday comes. This is the big day, where you make the most sales. Friday, everyone’s there to look around. Sunday, everyone’s there with crying kids. Saturday is the day you make sales.
I start making sales. I sell a few books. I start doing sketches. For whiskey shots. The sketches looked like this:
This is a long blog entry. If I don’t post it now, I’ll never finish it.
Go to C3. It’s one of the best cons I’ve ever done, with some of the nicest, most helpful people I’ve ever met.
Plus: Excellent meth. Just… top notch meth.
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