Regardless of how you engage with the comic book community, whether it be as a creator or simply as a fan, attending conventions are fun. Having spent the past few years attending various shows across the country–first as press then as a fledgling creator–I found myself attending my first one as an exhibiting professional.
After spending the summer hard at work finishing up the first issues of Southern Dog and Cobble Hill, 215 Ink provided me the opportunity to showcase my work at their booth during Baltimore Comic Con. I was really excited but also nervous as I honestly had no idea what these guys were like. Sharing space with strangers can be a little awkward, not to mention mixing in the stress of trying to sell your book to more strangers. I had exchanged dozens of emails with publisher Andrew DelQuadro, and got a very positive impression of the guy. He seemed to have a genuine love for creator-owned comics, but more importantly understood the logistics and reality of maintaining a small press publisher.
Getting into more shops is certainly very important in the short term, but I actually do not see the future as being the direct market, even more so for small press. The debate then becomes, with no more big two print comics, what do shops put on their shelves and does this give us the opportunity to get a larger volume into stores? This is one of two reasons we have continued to support print, even though in many cases it does not generate any profit. The other reason is for creators piece of mind. If we didn’t offer print at all we would not generate any interest from creators.
His honesty was refreshing, but it was his commitment to providing a place for new creators to thrive that was truly inspiring.
Being a start up ourselves and looking for unique and original ways to get our brand recognized, we are looking for the most diverse and wide ranging line up possible. This gives us the chance to test the waters and see the consumer feedback. So we have fun with quirky titles like Warped, and then we have more serious titles with high production values like Southern Dog and Cobble Hill.
His survey of comics purely from a business context was thorough and justified.
Looking at the direct markets size, with maybe 2500 shops left, getting 2 books into each shop only nets us 5k units which barely breaks us into the top 300 monthly. When you shrink that shop number down to the shops who are not baseball card shops with spinner racks, you are looking at maybe 300 to 500 at best that order anything other then superman/spiderman.
To put a full marketing strategy and budget behind a channel with such a small ROI potential would not see us survive for long. If all it took was a strong out reach to shops then companies like Platinum and Radical would have been successful. They had multi million dollar budgets for production and marketing and both went belly up. Platinum stayed alive a bit longer because they own WOWIO and made movie deals. The print channel didn’t do much for them in the long term.
Interacting with someone that clearly had his shit together was rather intimidating. It was a misconception for me to assume that a small press publisher wouldn’t have the ingenuity to not only maintain visibility amidst a sea of small press competition, but also proactively improve their brand in new and exciting ways. This wasn’t just a band of friends who happened to print comics on the weekends; this was a committed collective that wanted to go a few rounds in the ring with the big guys. And somehow they believed my work was a contender.
One of our core fundamentals is that we want to be something different, we want to try different things and hope we can build our own fan base. Just copying Image or Dark Horse or any of the top 10 pubs would have seen us fail quickly. They already do it and do it better then we could. We needed to be something else and fill a market need. We are still working out exactly what we will be when we grow up, but I truly feel we are on the right path with creators like yourself.
I see you as a rising star in the industry and someone with an exceptionally bright future ahead. I hope you are with 215 Ink for a very long time, and I want you to have faith and belief in the people running the company.
Hopping on a BoltBus bound for Baltimore, I had a small print run made just in time courtesy of RA Comics Direct. Arriving at what appeared to be nothing more than a drop site, I was completely disoriented in a city that consistently ranked in the top ten for most dangerous cities in America. Fortunately, Andrew managed to find me and we were off to the hotel to meet the rest of the crew. When we pulled up to the hotel located near the airport, half a dozen of them were hanging outside the entrance. Upon introductions, I noticed most of them were not much older than me, and I didn’t detect a single ego amongst my fellow creators, which was comforting. I could tell these guys just loved all things comics, and I felt like I had just entered into a big friendly family.
The next morning, we headed to the convention center to set up the booth. I was excited.
After we finished unpacking the books and arranged the table display, I took a lap around the convention to see where everyone was located. As I studied a map of the floor layout, my focus was suddenly interrupted.
“Jeremy Holt. Gonna walk right by me without saying hi?”
I looked up to find Justin Jordan holding a box of books with a big smile and his trademark red beard. I had the fortune of getting to know Justin during NYCC last year, after I invited him out to a massive signing several of my friends–including Kurtis Wiebe and Charles Soule–were doing at Jim Hanley’s Universe in Manhattan.
“Where are you situated,” he asked.
“I’m actually over at the 215 Ink booth. You?”
“Artist alley. Got a table with Tradd. Swing on by later.”
When the doors opened and the convention officially in business, I stood behind the 215 Ink booth soaking in the experience of being on the other side of the table. I was pleasantly surprised to see dedicated fans approach the booth, and managed to pitch my books to various people that took the time to browse. I was a little surprised that no one–including several of the creators I was standing with–recognized Riley Rossmo’s art that adorned the cover of Southern Dog #1. I had failed to take into account that not everyone reads Image Comics, nor do they have any aspirations to land a book there. I quickly realized that I had certain expectations that I wasn’t even aware of.
Deciding to take a few laps around the convention floor, I checked Twitter real quick and noticed that Robert Venditti and Joshua Dysart were both doing signings at the Valiant booth. As a long time fan of both of their work, I decided to muster up the courage and say hi. Fortunately, I had interacted with both of them via Twitter, and even exchanged a few emails, but the face-to-face with established talent can still be daunting. When I made my way over, Robert had already left, but I caught Joshua nearby talking to someone. Noticing that they were in a rather involved conversation, I decided not to be that creepy guy and headed over to Justin and Tradd’s table.
Surprisingly, I got extremely lost finding their table in artist alley, but by the time I did, Justin was already late for his signing at the Valiant booth. Tradd offered me a seat, and I ended up spending most of the day hanging out with him. I had the fortune of meeting Tradd at NYCC last year too, and we both happened to have graduated from the same art school down in Savannah, Georgia.
“Whoa, I just had deja vu,” he said while in the middle of completing a Black Panther commission. “I feel like we’ve tabled at a convention before. At least we should someday.”
The next day, I spent a couple hours behind the 215 Ink booth, but found it really difficult to pitch my book when the majority of perusers only stopped to thumb through Jesus Hates Zombies. The others that were interested in looking at the other titles had several creators pitching their books simultaneously. Another assumption I made without realizing it was that I wouldn’t have to hard sell my books to anyone. I was forgetting the disadvantage of small press publishing, which meant limited distribution and recognition. As a newly published creator within the small press circuit, my work wasn’t done. I was going to have to convince people to spend a few extra bucks on a book they had never heard of by people they had never heard of.Continued below
Taking a break, I headed over to try to catch Robert and Joshua at the Valiant booth. Robert wasn’t there but I decided to approach Joshua.
“Hi, Josh. I’m Jeremy Holt.”
“Jeremy! How’s it going, man?” he smiled.
We had a unique mutual acquaintance, former DC Senior Editor Joan Hilty.
“I read your journal post and was thrilled to see it was about my dear, wonderful and greatly missed friend Joan,” he said. “She was the first mainstream editor to ever give me a job and she’s been really close to my heart ever since. I adore her.”
“I’ve actually told this to people countless times that Joan was an integral part in the honing of my craft,” I agreed. “Without a doubt, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have today if it wasn’t for her help all those years ago.”
We joked about his cell phone that was made circa 1995, and I got to discuss his experience pitching Unknown Soldier to DC/Vertigo. Before I thanked him for his time, I handed him a copy of Southern Dog #1. Beyond the art and colors, he immediately recognized the quality in overall book design and looked forward to reading it.
Shortly after heading back to the 215 Ink booth to try to push a few more copies of my book, Robert Venditti appeared to say hi. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that he was looking forward to meeting me, and happily purchased a copy of Southern Dog. Absolutely star-struck, I asked everyone at the booth if they realized who had just stopped by. They didn’t and I suddenly felt like a huge nerd.
Unbeknownst to anyone, I had also made the effort to attend Baltimore Comic Con after learning that Joe Eisma (artist superstar on Image Comics’ Morning Glories) was tabling that weekend. I decided to head over to his table to say hi. Perhaps the most exciting development in my career happened a few weeks prior after I received an urgent message from Riley Rossmo. Evidently I had made an impression on Joe when we met at Emerald City Comic Con earlier in the year. Little did I know, I was approaching the table of an established artist, who was interested in collaborating with me on his next series.
“Hey Joe. How’s it going? So…Art Monster?”
TO BE CONTINUED…