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Jun
26

Thoughts on Heroes Con ’08

In previous years, I’ve done a day-by-day roundup of Heroes Con, usually typed semi-deliriously from my hotel room in the wee hours of the morning.  This year, though, with so much comics press at the show (Heidi MacDonald from PW’s The Beat, Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading, Matt Brady from Newsarama, Craig Fischer from ThoughtBalloonists, Tom Spurgeon from ComicsReporter, etc.) it hardly seemed necessary.

So, this year, rather than a blow-by-blow “Friday I did this, then I did that”-kinda thing, I thought I’d address a few broad general topics, particularly some that there seems to be a lot of post-show chatter about:

Indie Sales

If there’s one single topic folks in the circles I run in seem to be discussing, it’s this, the somewhat lethargic sales among indie folks.  The Indie Island portion of the show is one of the things that makes Heroes unique among big cons, and for this “show within a show” idea to take off in the long-term, it’s got to be worth people’s while financially to come to the show.

A lot of the talk about indie sales have been pretty anecdotal, so I guess I’ll add to that by giving a roundup of what I sold this year vs. last year at Heroes and last year at SPX.  Note, though, that this is really an “apples and oranges” comparison, since at each of these shows I had different things for sale, each of which may or may not have been available at previous conventions, and which may or may not have been available for a while through retail outlets.

This year, the only recent thing I had for sale was the Midnight Sun GN, which by June had been out for six months and had been available for purchase during that period at comics shops, including the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find retail store, and at big chain stores like Barnes and Noble.  Given that, I went into the show expecting modest sales of the book.  I also had copies of my older book Farewell, Georgia as well as my rapidly-diminishing supply of minicomics.

Heroes 08:

SLG books  ~ $400.00

Minis  ~  $50.00

Original art & commissions  ~ $325.00

$775.00

Heroes 07:

SLG floppies   ~ $45.00

SLG books ~ $70.00

Minis ~ $60.00

$115.00

SPX 2007:

SLG books ~  $200.00

SLG floppies ~ $50.00

Minis ~ $30.00

Original art ~ $75.00

$355.00

So, numbers-wise, Heroes was actually pretty good for me this year, despite things seeming a bit slow on the floor.   (Although, a comparison with Heroes ’06 probably would have been better since that was the last show with a big Indie Island push courtesy of Dustin… but, alas, I can’t find my sales info for that year.)

A few thoughts

  • I was among the indie folks who did well sales-wise at the show, and I don’t think it’s just coincidence that the other folks doing well were people like Rob Ullman, Adhouse and Top Shelf, who–like me–have been coming to Heroes for years and years and have built up a small crowd of people who come by every year.
  • The economy is bad all-around and travel is really, really expensive.  Plenty of people exhibiting at the show reported many attendees mentioning that they just didn’t have a lot of cash to throw around this year on books, indie or otherwise.
  • I got the vibe that some of the artier vendors were accustomed to venues like MoCCA, where they and their books are known quantities and can pretty much sell themselves.  That’s not the case at someplace like Heroes, and I wondered if doing a better job displaying books might have been helpful, particularly if there were some way to show off the art inside.
  • Exploit the fact that you’re different from the mainstream folks. Before the show I did a couple of small-ish originals of Wolverine and The Inhumans drawn in my weird “spaghetti arm” style.  Both were sold by Saturday, and I got a commission out of it (that I need to get cracking on!). Next year I’m doing more, for sure.
  • After the slow initial Friday of the show, I noticed that some of the indie vendors would just abandon their tables for long periods.  If someone had been there, would they have sold a $100 Gary Panter book to some guy who came to see Herb Trimpe? Probably not… but it couldn’t hurt.
  • Smile!  It’s probably a bit of a regional bias, but I definitely saw some residents of Indie Island who really gave off a mopey, unapproachable vibe.  While this is absolutely, 100% preferable to the other end of the spectrum, the loathsome “hard sell”/carnival barker routine,  one of the things Heroes is known for is how friendly and personable ‘most everyone is.  If you look like you’re in the midst of an existential crisis, you’re not really inviting people to come check out your work.
  • Lots of people already had books they’d bought elsewhere, and just brought them to the show to be signed.  I’ll bet at least a dozen people brought copies of Midnight Sun to me to be signed that they’d purchased, I guess, at the Heroes store or a book store.  This is certainly not anything to complain about!  It does, though, make me wonder if the indie con as a place to get books you can’t get elsewhere isn’t maybe less of a draw these days, what with many book stores stocking lots of GNs, and even many mainstream comics shops stocking non-mainstream GNs.

All that said, what Dustin’s trying to do with Indie Island is a really difficult thing and it’s going to take some doing to be successful in the long-term.  As Dustin has pointed out, a majority of indie comics folk probably started out as superhero/mainstream comics readers, but expanding one’s taste like that doesn’t happen overnight–or over a weekend; it takes repeated exposures… but it does happen.  There was, for example, a guy who showed up at the minicomics panel who’d never heard of minis before, but was really blown away by the whole concept and, after buying a bunch of minis on the floor, came to the panel to find out where he could find more.

I really hope some of the folks who are new to Indie Island but didn’t have good sales will stick it out and come next year.  While I heard some mumblings about slow sales, one thing I sure didn’t hear was about anyone not having a great time at the show, myself included!

Panels

Craig’s been over our Kurtzman/Feldstein panel pretty thoroughly over at ThoughtBalloonists.com, so I won’t go over it again–but if audio turns up of the panel, I’ll certainly post a link.

The panel there seemed to be the most talk on the floor about was the “Covering Comics” panel about the state of comics journalism.  I didn’t attend the panel itself, being chained to my table most of the weekend, but listened to it afterwards here.  The one panelist likely least familiar to comics-folk was a guy who does comics reviews for Charlotte’s weekly Creative Loafing paper, and his comments highlighted a stark contrast between the standards and practices of traditional print journalism and comic journalism, particularly online comics journalism.  Similarly, I was pretty blown away by the bizarre power relationship that apparently exists between sites like Newsarama and the big comics publishers like Marvel and DC.

This convention really got me thinking about panels in general and what a squandered resource they often are.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been to plenty of enjoyable and informative panels at Heroes as well as elsewhere, but programming at conventions often seems like, if not an afterthought, than at least just a way to take a resource you’ve already got (guests) and get “double duty” out of them by sticking a few of them with something in common in a room together with a moderator to talk about stuff.

While sometimes fruitful, I really think there’s a lot more you could do with panels at conventions.  A few random thoughts:

  • I think that people would be open to the idea of learning about comics via some other mode than a bunch of people in a discussion.  I’ve been to a few ICAF conferences, and I wonder if similar presentations, but minus the jargon and intended for general comics audiences might work at a place like Heroes.  Certainly one can look through the pages of something like Comic Art magazine, or Comics Comics and see that there are plenty of interesting topics that can be discussed in a clear and to-the-point fashion.  Why not in person?
  • Craig and I had tons of PowerPoint images of the stuff we were talking about in our panel, but I honestly think we may have been the only panel at the show to do this.  I’m totally flabbergasted by the idea that you could try to have a discussion about a visual art form like comics without actually showing any comics.
  • Original art – There’s so much original art on the floor of a show like SPX or Heroes, and people love to see original art…. so, why not show some of it?  Obviously this presents a some hurdles as far as displaying things goes, but certainly something could be worked out, I’d think.
  • Workshops – I think there were a few SCAD workshops this year, but I wasn’t able to attend any of them (again, chained to the table).  I wonder, though, whether these were hands-on drawin’ stuff workshops?  I’d love to see more of that kind of stuff going on.  Lots of people who attend shows are folks who draw comics, and I know they’d love to pick up some tricks from artists they’re fans of–I know I sure do.
  • Related to the point above, it’d be great to have a panel room, or just some place on the floor at Heroes for kids to draw stuff.   They had a really cool room at this year’s MaCon in Macon, GA, set  up with drafting tables, pencils, pens, paper, etc. where kids could go draw comics.   For a kid-friendly show like Heroes, I think this’d be a great addition.

So, those are a few post-show thoughts… Once I’ve sorted through and read some of the stuff I got at the show, I’ll try to do a post on that as well.

11 comments

  1. Adam says:

    I had so much I wanted to purchase this weekend. I had a monetary limit, so I decided to do all of my purchasing on Sunday. As it turned out Sunday was my busiest day recording panels and such. I picked up 3 books the whole weekend. I had a list of things, Midnight Sun being one of them, I wanted and I ended up with three books I didn’t even know existed. I somehow feel accomplished and unaccomplished at the same time.

    Hopefully I’ll be seeing you at SPX.

  2. Phil Looney says:

    I hadn’t thought much about it, but I agree with you there on the whole lack of friendliness by some of the newer indy folks who were at the show this year. They weren’t rude mind you, but they weren’t as willing to chat as some folks who have been around a while.

    There was one instance where I was literally stand in fornt of a guy’s table with money in my hand wanting to buy his mini, and he was too engaged talking to another creator to even look in my direction.

  3. Josh Latta says:

    I did well, but of course I was selling drugs too.

  4. Joe says:

    Thanks for the stats Ben, and the insight. This was my first Heroes and it was full of ups and downs, so your point of view is definitely helpful.

    Thanks for the sketch, the beautiful book, and the fun panel. See you next time!

  5. Dustin Harbin says:

    It’s nice to have such an articulate dude come to our defense! But I don’t think those guys were really THAT shocked or anything–they’re businessmen, too, after all, and likely had high hopes but low expectations. It may have been the crummier-than-expected sales that left them with sourpusses once in awhile, but when I talked to them they were always super nice. Bad sales at shows just happen sometime. Chris Staros told me he had a really great show, on par with MoCCA, and I think Pitzer did just a little less than his MoCCA total.

    Beyond all that though, I generally try to do my best and then let the chips fall. You can never tell who’s going to show up and what they’re going to buy. I was totally stoked that I got the Partyka guys to come, and then only after the show did I realize I didn’t buy a single thing from them, and barely had time to even said hello. I’m pretty proud of where Indie Island is–I think of this as a great springboard for next year. Because the one thing all the fans and pros who were there will definitely remember is the ridiculous guest list, and THAT’S what brings fans. We’ll get there–you’ll be a big part of that success when it happens, Ben!

    Heck, by next year Joe’ll be a superstar–I may not be able to afford him!

  6. Ben says:

    “It’s nice to have such an articulate dude come to our defense! ”

    I dunno that “defense” is really an accurate description, since no one’s really badmouthing the show. Everyone I’ve talked to, regardless of sales, had a blast for sure.

    Given some of the chatter about indie sales not being great, though, I just wanted to put it out there that this wasn’t the case across the board. And, yeah, any businessperson who’s not been living in a cave for the last year is gonna be prepared for a slowdown this year regardless of whether they’re selling books by Jim Lee or Fort Thunder stuff.

  7. Kyle says:

    Dustin and Ben,
    Andy and I know very little about the other cons out there, but we LOVED Heroes ’08. It did wonders for raising awareness for our Light Children books and we finally got to meet other creators who do work that we really admire. The support from Dustin was huge, the crowds were friendly and chatty (maybe a bit too chatty sometimes, but that’s OK!), and it kind of felt like one big family (not trying to get mushy here…). And most importantly, we sold a bunch of books!

    We’ll be back next year.
    Kyle

  8. Jared (El Cheapo) says:

    Damn it, I just typed like ten minutes worth of comments and then lost them bc I forgot to put my email address. I’ll try to sum them up again more briefly:
    Heroescon 08 was my first convention ever and I loved it and am glad I went; it was mainly the indie guests that drew me. I spent what was, for me, a ton of money (http://flickr.com/photos/team_brown/2598476139/)–not that I necessarily couldn’t afford more but, in all honesty, I’m a cheap ass. As a cheap ass, I wanted to make a couple more points, from a cheap ass’s point of view. I made a real effort to buy books directly from creators at this show, despite the fact that I know I can save lots of money in most cases by getting the books from Amazon instead. I also spent a good deal of money buying trades (and even some indie books) at 50% or more off cover price from some of the vendors there. I understand if it’s not feasible for indie folks to lower their prices any at conventions, but, if it is, maybe that would help (I’d be more inclined to buy two seven dollar books than one ten dollar one, say). Also, there were some booths I refrained from visiting because I didn’t see prices anywhere, which to me meant I’d be paying cover price, which again…compare to Amazon. Plus, I didn’t want to be constantly asking “how much is this?” Anyway, just my two cents (no pun intended)…my previous post was way nicer and more diplomatic. I do hasten to add that I was only buying stuff by folks whose work I was previously familiar with–maybe just because it was my first con?–so I’m sorry to those whose booths I did not visit, including you, Ben. But I’ll be sure to check you out next time.

  9. Ben says:

    Jared – I’ve often thought that publishers should offer a discount at cons for exactly the reasons you mention. Why buy stuff at a con for full cover price when you could get it delivered to your home for less–and minus whatever it costs to go to the con?

    As far as individual creators go, though, we’re not usually in the position to lower prices on non-self published books ourselves usually, because that puts us in the position of undercutting our own publishers.

  10. Jared (El Cheapo) says:

    Understood. Thanks for replying! And Thanks again to Dustin and everybody at Heroes Con. I look forward to checking out your work, Ben.

  11. Chuck says:

    I was one of those attendees who mentioned not having a lot of money. I had budgeted a certain amount, and spent all of it at Indie Island.

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