What's it like being an "Artist Alley Vendor?"

Yup, it's back to talking about comic-related topics this week. Since I'm still struggling to land full-time work at the moment, my vendor appearances at comic conventions has become my primary focus. While selling items as a vendor involves alot of financial investment and very little profit in the first few years, money is not, and SHOULD not, be the reason to do this. Being an independent vendor is about finding your audience first, which starts with putting both yourself and your artwork out there for people to see. The more shows you can do, the more people you meet. That equals more potential fans, and eventually, some sales of your work. With all that being said, let me talk about my five-year experience as an Artist Alley vendor so far.

The number of Comic Conventions in the past few years has exploded, both nationwide and worldwide. Particularly in the United States, San Diego's monster summer show, San Diego Comic Con International, has become THE comic-related event to attend (I say "comic-related," of course, because anyone who has recently attended this show already knows that actual comic books are a very small part of the show now, and have been for awhile). The constant focus on the San Diego show, and the difficulty in being a part of the show as either an attendee or a vendor, has greatly helped other slightly smaller conventions and even smaller local shows----which are the shows I started with in promoting and selling my work. I think of comic convention artist alleys as both a secret society and a support group of sorts. Everyone in the "alleys" is there to be seen just like me, but we're not really competing with each other, because we all have different types of work. Comic books, prints, buttons, T-shirts, hats, keychains, all types of crafts, and alot more are located in the best artist alleys of a comic book convention. Making friends at these shows is a necessity, as foot traffic has a constant ebb and flow, and striking up a conversation with your "alley neighbor" can definitely keep your energy up as well as theirs. Not only that, but artist alleys become extended families over the years. I still can't believe how many people I've met and become good friends with just from doing these conventions, and especially when I find out that two people I met at two completely different shows know each other. Then you can share those oh-so-wacky convention stories, most of which include the best cosplayer or craziest customer you've dealt with, as well as share information about new conventions (and believe me, most of the shows that I've done I heard about through word of mouth at artist alleys). It's both great and frustrating that I have so many great friends who do this as well, but I have so little time to speak with them before a show starts.

Then there are the customers. In my five years as an artist alley regular, I was very surprised to see that a vast majority of convention attendees had never been to a comic con in their lives, but wanted to see what the hype was all about. Most of those "newbies" have become about 90 percent of my customer base, as from my experience, most first-time comic-con attendees are much more adventurous, and are willing to purchase arts, crafts, or literature that they've never seen before. Most veteran attendees, on the other hand, know where they want to go and what they want to see, and they tend not to look at anything outside of that focus. Alot of the customers that have come up to my table to view my work were always courteous with their curiosity toward my books and characters. Only a very small percentage of customers have made rude comments about my work----usually thinking that I've ripped off an existing comic idea with one of my books. It initially hurts, but that's just one person's opinion, so I forget it and move on to the next customer. It's really great to run into some of the same attendees at different shows, and they see how dedicated I am at selling myself. I even have a fan that has collected my "Cosmic Force" series. He's currently waiting for the sixth issue, which should hopefully be done by the summer.

So, that's my continuing adventures through comic con land. While these shows can physically drain you (3 day conventions especially), the experience is never boring, as no two conventions are alike. Each show is a new adventure, and I always gain something from that adventure, whether it be convention advice from a neighbor, impromptu press interviews or photos, or my favorite "s-word:" sales. Speaking of sales, I am happy to say that while not all of the shows that I've been to have been financial successes, I have never done a show yet where I didn't sell anything ( I haven't sold less than two books at any show). Even the customers who come by to look and don't buy anything from me, I appreciate them just as much as the ones who do buy. With all of the choices a customer has at a show full of established comics, video games, celebrity panels, cosplayers, and other independent artwork, someone choosing to come up to my table to see what I have to offer and thumb through my sample books is really all the validation I need that I'm right where I need to be, and the reason why I'm an independent comic book artist.


Next week I have my first podcast interview of 2015 coming up, so I'd like to talk about my experience promoting my books on radio shows for my next blog. Until then!