MeCAF 2014 con report! & what I learned as a first-time exhibitor


Brief con report!

MeCAF poster - photo by Scott Springer

MeCAF poster – photo by Scott Springer

MeCAF 2014 was absolutely wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about the whole experience – I am still just filled with happy feelings from it. (I already can’t wait for next year.)  MeCAF was in a new venue this year, and the con really benefited from this venue change. Everyone was in the same space and it was really energizing to be a part of it. I didn’t get to participate in the programming, given I had to be at my table, but it sounded really fantastic. And it has to be said that MeCAF brings in some really top-notch guests, which helps draw in the crowds.

There’s a really wide variety of comic artists that show at MeCAF, there really is something for everyone here. Webcomics, zines, superhero stories, horror, romance, autobiographical, historical, fantasy, scifi… as an attendee last year I really wanted to Buy All The Things and found this year I had the same temptation!

A huge congratulations and an even huger THANK YOU to Rick Lowell and the Casablanca Comics team in Portland, Maine for putting together such a smoothly run and organized show with such healthy turnout. They really care about comics and the comics community and it shows in everything they do. I’ve got happy warm fuzzies AND tons of motivation from Sunday.

And now, on to the bit about stuff that I learned!

What I learned as a first-time convention exhibitor (a.k.a. first time in artist’s alley!)

Blog-spammy alternate title: Nine Things I Learned From Working an Artist Alley Table For The First Time (oh boy, that’s inelegant)

This year’s MeCAF was *also* my first time exhibiting at a convention, so it was a serious learning experience for me, a classic “drinking out of a firehose” scenario. I have done booth duty at MANY a tradeshow in my life, and I’ve also been going to anime and comic cons for more than a decade, so I figured I’d sort of have an idea of how it’d all go? Wrong. I was so wrong. I took furious notes during the day but I’ll try to distill it all down.

1) Make use of vertical space — up AND down

My MeCAF table - case in point. Not a lot of vertical display here.

My MeCAF table – case in point. Not a lot of vertical display here.

This is classic advice you see a lot for first-time exhibitors, and it usually means “build up a skyscraper of prints over your table and crowd out everyone else.”  I’ve always thought that is kind of overkill, but there’s certainly no harm in having vertical displays.  I didn’t have much this year, partly because I didn’t want to invest too much in displays just yet.

But to me vertical space ALSO means taking advantage of the drapery in front of your table.  Especially at a convention where you have a lot of kids walking around, it’s good to keep in mind that the drop cloth in front of your table is eye-height for those guys! So if you’re targeting them, it might be worth giving some thought to what you drape down in front of your table.

And for everyone else, going vertical on top of your table is a good way to go — I made the mistake of using sign holders that kept items purely perpendicular to the table, and not slightly angled. This made it hard to read (glare was also a concern).  I was facing a window so this made it harder for people to glance at what I had on offer. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to browse and see what you’re doing, so I will definitely work on my display more for my next con.

2) Refine your elevator pitch, and then refine it some more

When someone asks “so what is _____ about?”, you’d better be able to describe it in a sentence, otherwise you’re going to lose people.  The elevator pitch question is terrifying, but it’s also a huge opportunity! So I had worked on my pitch, and I was feeling good about it going in to the con, but I found out quickly that it wasn’t resonating with people. Ack! I kept adapting it, trying new ones. I’m not sure I’ve landed on something that’s rock-solid, but definitely make sure you’re going in with SOMETHING, and don’t be afraid to tweak it.  I got some AWESOME feedback from people when I was trying my elevator pitch — folks reacted to what was working or what wasn’t. It’s information I never would have received if I hadn’t tabled at a con. That alone made the entire experience worth it for me.

3) Not everyone’s going to dig your work, and that’s okay

This one’s just a hard one that everyone learns eventually. Intellectually, you can go in to a con knowing that this is just a fact of life. But somehow having it happen to you over and over and over really drives it home. It’s not pleasant, but really almost nothing is universally appealing. So when someone sees your work, says, hello, and then keeps moving on, try your best to not let it get you down (much easier said than done). Honestly – a lot of people weren’t interested in my work. The cover has a woman in space looking at Earth — and while it’s a human interest story, it takes place in space for the most part and that alone is enough to turn a lot of people off. You can’t appeal to everyone. I really wish I could, but I know it’s not possible.

4) People don’t want to bother an artist who looks glum

If you look like someone just ran over your puppy, folks are going to avoid you. Sure, if you want to be more salesy and smile, smile, smile, it doesn’t hurt. But even if that’s not your style, definitely don’t sit there looking sour.  You emit a really negative vibe and people are subconsciously going to avoid you.  (Would YOU want to talk to someone who looks like they’re on the verge of ripping your head off? Didn’t think so.)  It’s insanely hard to keep your spirits up when the con has been going on for a few hours and you’re tired AND feeling lousy because you haven’t sold anything. I know it is.  I don’t have any advice on how to keep going aside from just try your best — if you need to, take a break, grab a water, try to push those negative feelings aside — it ain’t over ’til it’s over!

4a) Stand up as much as you can. I found that it was easy to feel glum when I was sitting down, so standing up forced me to be and FEEL more engaged. (This is why at business tradeshows you will never ever see any staff ever sitting down — you have to stand all day, for several days in a row — it just forces you to keep that energy up and engage with folks. It is exhausting, but it really does work!)

5) Make no assumptions about what is going to sell

Some of the prints I had available for sale. I had an ongoing contest to see who would be more popular - Picard or Sisko? (Picard won at MeCAF by a mile, no contest.)

Some of the prints I had available for sale. I had an ongoing contest to see who would be more popular – Picard or Sisko? (Picard won at MeCAF by a mile, no contest.)

I figured going into a dedicated Comic Arts Festival, especially one with such a well-known comics-friendly reputation like MeCAF, that I would have an easy time of selling my comic book.  On a whim last week though, I made some quick prints of some illustrations I did, at the very least as a measure to make my table not look so empty.  To my complete and utter surprise, while I did sell some of my comic book (yay!), my prints were quite popular! I sold more prints than I did comic books — at a comic book convention! Not at all what I expected!  I am so glad I brought prints with me, though I certainly didn’t expect any of them to sell.

6) Make no assumptions about who is going to buy

Related to the above — I figured I knew who might be interested in my work. Know your target audience and all that. And, yes, I was roughly correct (which is nice, I guess), but I really could not make any assumption about who would buy. Some folks were more receptive to a hard sell than others, and some folks really, really, really, REALLY seemed interested and talked to me for a while, flipped through my work, even picked up a comic book and read it! They seemed like a sure thing! — aaaaaaaaand still they walked away. It happened a number of times.  You can just never be sure.

7) If you can, try to make sure everyone leaves your table with something in their hands

Obviously, the ideal situation is that they leave your table with an item they purchased. Because, hooray! You’ve made a sale! But that’s not always possible, of course.  I came to MeCAF with a ton of printed postcards with a few samples of my work as well as my social media, contact info, and my website. It’s a nice way for people to remember some of my work, or at least establish my name in their head.  I probably handed out at least 100 of them just in one day alone.  Most of them are going to get thrown out. And that’s okay. Generally, you an expect less than 2% of people to actually engage and follow-up with you, very roughly — but hey, that means 2 more people now know who I am than did before the con.  You have to be willing to play the numbers game.

There are some old sales tricks that a lot of us know, like putting the product in the person’s hand will greatly increase the chance that they will buy it. So you have a reading copy of the book, or maybe you handed the book to the person so they can flip through.  There are still no guarantees that the person will buy the book! You can be the greatest saleswoman/man in the world… sometimes people aren’t going to buy. But at least make sure they leave with a postcard or business card!

8) People are funny

Some folks will stand there for a solid 10 minutes, read your comic book from cover to cover, really enjoy it, and then when you ask if they’d like to buy it, they say no and walk away. Well, at least they enjoyed your work, right?  Some folks are going to treat the convention like a library or a Book-Off, and there’s really not a ton you can do about it.  (I suppose you could try to stop them mid-way between your book, but I really wouldn’t!)

I’ll tell you a little anecdote. I was the table RIGHT next to the amazingly delicious food stand at MeCAF. All day long I smelled some truly fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches being made, and the lines were often quite long. (I’m still not sure if being so close to the food helped me or hurt me — jury’s out on that one!) The price for one of those amazing sandwiches was $6. I priced my comic book at $5, which to me is about the going rate for a short-run indie comic about the length and quality of what I made.

Those sandwiches took maybe under 5 minutes to cook and cost a dollar more than my comic book, which took me months of very, very hard work. Granted, you can’t eat my comic book, or at least I don’t recommend it. But the value of a work that took months to create was a harder sell with some people than an admittedly-delicious sandwich.  At its core, people expect comics to be suuuper cheap and for the most part, you have to really demonstrate the value of what you’ve done…. otherwise, you’re essentially competing with a grilled cheese sandwich.

You can’t take personally when someone would see my work and go “I don’t have the money for this” and then get in line for food. People need to eat! And, honestly, I’ve been there. If you’re not convinced the book is really for you, you’re just not, that’s okay. I either haven’t done my job in selling it to you (that means I have more work to do) or it’s not your thing, and see point number three.

9) Celebrate. Every. Win.

Another happy customer with his copy of Red Flag! (Have you bought yours yet?)

Another happy customer with his copy of Red Flag! (Have you bought yours yet?)

Talked to someone? That’s a win. Got a postcard into someone’s hands? That’s a win. Made a sale!?! That’s a SUPER win!

It would be really easy to not see the forest through the trees — oh, I didn’t sell X amount of something, or I didn’t do as well as I thought on Y, or nobody asked me about Z. Because I definitely went in to the con with goals like that in my head (I tried not to… but I really think it’s human nature). We all want to know at the end of a con: How did I do? Did I succeed? There’s a time and place for that kind of thinking, but I firmly believe that is NOT when you are just starting out! You have to be a bit pollyanna at this stage. Every new interaction is a win. Every time you get your name out there, there’s a chance that person will remember you next year, spread the word, get you some new fans, etc etc.

Everything helps everything.  When you go home from the con, you can feel good knowing that more people know about you now than did before the con, and that’s really what you want.


MeCAF was awesome for so many reasons, but the fact that I was sharing a table with the absolutely amazing Scott Springer of Angry Faerie and that I got to see a lot of friends in the comics world — and make new ones!! — is really what it’s all about.




Me and my booth babe, Eric!

Me and my booth babe, Eric!

Were you at MeCAF? Did we meet? I’d love to hear from you!

Would love to hear your thoughts on my first-timer observations – especially from those of you who have done many cons before.

See you at MeCAF 2014 – table 36


Red Flag comic - cover previewMeCAF is this Sunday, May 18 (2014)! and I will be selling copies of my BRAND-SPANKIN-NEW comic, Red Flag! They are about as hot off the presses as you can get, short of actually being physically hot to the touch (I don’t want to burn any readers).

I will be sitting at table 36 with my buddy Scott Springer, and I will be very happy to meet you!  In addition to selling copies of Red Flag, I’ll also have prints and offer sketch card and custom commissions. So there’s something for everyone, come on by!

COMIC BOOK REVIEWERS: If you are interested in a review copy of Red Flag, please get in touch — email me at and I would be happy to mail a review copy right over to you.

Gearing up for MECAF


But I won’t be empty-handed! Remember all those photos I showed you yesterday or so? Of all those pages ready to be folded and stapled and trimmed? They went *into the trash* as I found a rather embarrassing typo while folding my 20th or so copy. SIGH. After agonizing on Twitter about this a little bit, I fixed the error, tightened up some other issues that had been bothering me while I was there, and then reprinted everything. It was costly and could have been prevented if I’d proofed my work more carefully. Sigh.

So here was my new stack of comics to be folded, stapled, and trimmed. The only thing to make this whole thing a little less annoying was a nice glass of Riesling.

A little later that evening – the finished product and the “comic confetti” aftermath.

This was a great learning experience to be sure. Definitely going to put a lot of what I learned to good use with my next project. In the meantime, I’m heading up to MECAF to meet fantastic artists and see what works they’re sharing with the world. I’ll have my minicomics with me to share with folks who are interested, so if you’d like one, just ask! I will look like a less tired version of this:
Would you like to read my minicomic called “Silent Fluency”? I know my face doesn’t fill you with enthusiasm, but I’m not usually this tired… 🙂

See you at MECAF!

Silent Fluency – MECAF minicomic progress update



I printed 40 copies of my minicomic (too many?) and folded them up this evening. Pretty painless when you zone out and watch some Arrested Development reruns while doing it.

Tomorrow it’s staple-and-trim day. And then, hopefully… I’ll have a nice photo of a stack of minicomics to show you! If you’re going to be at MECAF, I’ll be giving them away to anyone who’d like one.

Getting ready for MECAF – my first minicomic!

Comics, Shows

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I’m going to my first MeCAF this weekend, and though I’m not exhibiting at a table (still too much of a newbie for that I think), I don’t want to show up empty-handed. I was told that MeCAF was a great place to meet other newcomers in the scene, so the gears started turning on what I could to do basically introduce myself to other folks, especially since I’m a total unknown!
I posted this question on Twitter and someone had a great suggestion that, instead of business cards (ick, so formal!), that I should hand out a mini-comic instead. OF COURSE! Kind of ashamed I didn’t think of it. Comic convention! Minicomic!

I’d never attempted a minicomic before so everything was knew – from formatting to story pacing, this was a lot of new territory. The gallery above shows some process pictures I was posting on my Instagram account.

Here’s a bit more about what I learned during the beginning stages.

What I did: I knew I wanted to make an 8 page minicomic printed in full on 8.5 by 11 paper (so each page would be a quarter of that). I had some template paper but it was Legal sized and not Letter, so I had to do a bit of ~**~*~ MATH MAGIC ~*~*~* to get the proportions right. Man, that took quite a while. But once it was done, I started pencils in photo blue.
What I’d do differently next time: The template was fine, but I created all the pages in the exact order needed to print and fold the paper into a minicomic, and not in the final reading order. This would make a lot of sense if I was just copying the template and printing directly, but I ended up doing a lot of digital post-processing and layout work. Putting the pages in the final reading layout would likely have helped panel and page flow a bit more (though, in the end, this is just a minicomic and it’s not going to shake the world).

What I did: Inking directly over the photoblues on bristol.
What I’d do differently next time: I’d like to try to ink digitally to keep things a little neater, though right now I am still faster inking by hand than digitally.

What I did: I scanned the inked pages into Photoshop, cleaned it up and added tones. Final step was lettering.
What I’d do differently next time: I need to get a lot better at understanding how exactly to use tones. I basically winged it, but some of them are very dark and others super light… for no real deliberate reason.

When it came to lettering, I did actually plan out where I’d place my lettering and I think that aided my compositions a lot. But it wasn’t perfect. I was also not really sure what font sizes to use that would still be legible shrunk down proportionally for the final deal. Thankfully my day job involves a lot of print work and I was able to make an educated guess past on past experience, but I’m still not a fan of the font I ended up using. The quest for a better, more legible font continues.

I also feel that I got lucky in terms of the amount of text I put into dialog and narration boxes. It seems like an art and science determining how much text is right when you’re in the scripting phrase. Of course, once it’s time to put that text in the boxes… more editing. That’s just part of the fun I guess 🙂

Printing the comics was interesting – lots of printing and reprinting until I figured out art bleed allowance. Hopefully this is one of those “learn it once and apply to all future projects” things…