Networking and the High Cost of Comic Conventions

It’s been my experience that networking is key in getting work in the art field. I know it seems basic but it bears repeating that if an employer is not familiar with you and your work then they won’t hire you. And this is not a matter of “it’s not what you know but who you know.” Talent is a given at this stage.

The following is from The Essential Principles Of Graphic Design by Debbie Millman.

“The most delusional graphic design belief system is this: becoming a successful graphic designer is all about being an extraordinarily talented designer. It is not. Talent is only one part of the equation for a successful career in graphic design. In fact, in the field of professional graphic design, talent is simply what is considered “operational excellence” in business school. Talent is essentially a given, a point of entry. A career in graphic design brings with it the assumption that you have talent, and in isolation, talent will not guarantee success for any designer or design program.”

One great way to network in regards to getting work in the comic field is comic conventions but it can get costly. I was a guest at Dragon-Con in 2010 (complimentary table that otherwise would have cost $500) and sold more stuff than at any other convention I’ve been at – but still couldn’t break-even after you add up the cost of airfare, hotel and meals.

What balanced it out for me and made it worthwhile was (once again) the networking and also publicity as I was interviewed for two podcasts – Sidebar and Comics Coast-to-Coast.

Doing some commission sketches at Dragon-Con 2010

Tyler Page back in 2010 did a great post where he broke down the cost of self-publishing and promotion for his book Stylish Vittles. In part 2 of the post he cited convention costs over a seven year span. Here’s a sample year.





      $5811.60 for 2000 copies of

Stylish Vittles: All the Way

      total expenses of $13,233.10


      drove 7530 miles

con expenses
CCI = $1156.41
MoCCA = $1061.97
SPX = $882.58
Pitt = $565.38
Philly = $517.58
APE = $428.64

As you can see, it adds up.

Click on image to go to blog.

Daniel Davis of Steam Crow LLC has an informative post where he relates his experience exhibiting at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con in regards to what works and what doesn’t. In summation he notes;

“It’s getting more difficult to profit at comic conventions, but I’ve seen it done, and know that it’s possible. It’s no longer a space where one can simply show up, and expect to profit. But, with ample year-long preparation, and strategy, it is doable.”

Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing, Tyrant, Taboo, and current instructor at The Center for Cartoon Studies) with his years of experience as an artist and publisher has great insight on matters such as this.

Godzilla sketch – Steve Bissette

The following is an excerpt from a recent Facebook post where he tallies up the cost in going to a recent convention.

Professionally, it ratified all the reasons I stopped investing in conventions…

In short, while I met some great people, signed a ton of SWAMP THINGs, and had fun with my cronies, I didn’t get to see/shop/experience the con outside of my table space; my being there didn’t sell even ONE World of Strange Bissette t-shirt (and we were just an aisle apart, right NEXT to each other!); I didn’t make a dime on sales (lost $$ after shipping costs); and my add’t commitment to a three-lecture/workshop day following was a wash, at best (again, personally, great to do; didn’t earn me a dime).

Had I paid for travel/table, I’d have busted my entire fall budget at home to do the one convention. Whatever I made at the table, I spent eating during my stay (and spent more). If I’m going to travel, it’s going to be TRAVEL, with Marge, to see friends/family, not to do cons.

Just being pragmatic. I mean, look. I’m thankful I went, and thankful Rick, Tom, John, and I have so many folks who came out to see us! Folks & our fans are great—kind, generous in their comments, and all want their SWAMP THINGs signed, but most of ’em sample nothing else, by and large. Money’s tight everywhere, particularly these days, and SWAMP THING is still all folks want from us, and those they’ve got. Whatever else I have, I’m better off selling via online sales. In fact, only ONE person bought one of everything new from the table.

I’m often asked which cons I’ll be at and it’s hard to quickly explain in a sound bite that I stay close to home just because of cost. If I do a New York show, it’s because I have family living in the area that I can visit and save money on hotels by crashing at their homes.

Are conventions worth your time and effort? If you attack them in a business sense where you’re budgeting cost and working your butt off (commission sketches/networking/research trends) then yes they are. If you don’t go in there with your “business hat” on, it may be wasted time where you just piss money down the drain with no benefit other than the same enjoyment of the con any attendee/fan walking through the door could have received.

If you want to work in the business, I’d advise treating it as such.

About Jim Keefe

Jim Keefe is the current artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, he is also the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip - both available at A graduate of the Joe Kubert School, Keefe likewise teaches Comic Art. Teaching and speaking engagements include SVA in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs, The University of Minnesota and most recently the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
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One Response to Networking and the High Cost of Comic Conventions

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