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Business of Cartooning Conventions Steve Bissette

Networking and the High Cost of Comic Conventions

Artist Alley at C2E2 in Chicago.

It’s been my experience that networking is the 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.”

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.”

For more from Debbie Millman, check out her podcast at Design Matters Media.


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

What balanced it out for me and made it worthwhile was the networking. Along with the standard touching base with fans and other professionals in the business, I was interviewed for two podcasts – Sidebar and Comics Coast-to-Coast– which was great publicity.

Doing some commission sketches at Dragon-Con.

The following is some hands-on experience from artists/cartoonists from the trenches.


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.

“…the grand total of all my business expenses from 2002 through the printing of Nothing Better Vol 2 in late 2009 is $46,918.60. Yes, that is a lot of money. It is. But it’s important to realize that was spent over the course of 7 years – it’s not like I dropped it all at once. I also tried to be as thrifty as possible in my spending when I could, especially when traveling.”

“In the end it wasn’t the cost of printing books that really rang up the bills – it was the traveling and conventions.”

Excerpt from Publishing Pt. 2 – How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

– Click on image to go to Tyler’s Tumblr –

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

“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.”

Daniel and Dawna Davis

Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing, Tyrant, Taboo, and current instructor at The Center for Cartoon Studies) has years of experience as an artist and publisher.

Godzilla sketch – Steve Bissette

The following is an excerpt from a Facebook post of his where he did a comic con post-mortem.

“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 from readers/fans which upcoming comic conventions I’ll be at. In general, not too many, as I’ve cut down on going to cons. If I do attend a con it’s likely because it’s close to home (because of cost), and if I do a show out of town it’s usually because I have family living in the area that I can visit and save money on hotels by crashing at their homes.

My daughter Tessa and I at the MCBA’s ComiCon here in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Another big deterrent is the time involved, which if it coincides with a tight deadline can be MURDER. I’ve tabled at way too many cons where I’ve had to bring work, which just ends up being a disservice to fans looking to say hello and should be avoided at all cost. Add to that the time it takes to recover from that kind of scheduling and it’s lose-lose situation all the way around.

Is tabling at a convention worth the time and effort? If you go in ill-prepared you’ll probably just end up pissing money down the drain, with no benefit other than the same enjoyment any random attendee walking through the door could have had.

If you attack a convention 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 want to work in this business, I’d advise treating it as such.


I’ll end with some stellar advice from Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil, Amazing Fantastic Incredible Stan Lee, Troll Bridge). This is related to networking and making the effort to get your work out there…

Colleen Doran at Wizard World 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Lots of people assume that the reason they can’t get hired is because publishing is some kind of closed circle. It’s really not. Clients are always looking for new talent. REALLY. They are DYING to hire the next JK Rowling, the next Jim Lee, the next James Patterson. Who doesn’t want another money-maker?

The truth is, almost everything that comes over the transom is not very good. When I write this, aspiring creators cringe thinking “Oh, she means me.” No, I don’t. If you have any idea of the level of just how bad submissions are, you would be appalled. It is rare to see anything of quality. I don’t know anyone in publishing who enjoys going over submissions, because it’s depressing. If you are good and if you’ve got something to show, DON’T GIVE UP. Trust me, clients are DYING to find you.

SECOND THING: a major reason clients don’t like to hire new people is they have a tendency to screw the pooch at an alarmingly high rate. The joy of creating for fun evaporates when you HAVE to create. Creating all the time: not so simple. And, especially in comics, the workload is awesome. Almost everyone in graphic arts will try to steer you away from comics and toward advertising because comics pay is usually terrible and advertising is less work. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve tried to hire up from fandom who have completely vapor-locked, including people I’ve tried to hire from other areas of publishing…

Everything in comics is labor intensive and often techy and boring these days, since artists have to do their own production work. You have to really know what you are doing. So, next time you think that publisher isn’t going to give you a chance, think of it from the publisher’s point of view. If your portfolio is good, and you show a real, steely willingness to produce there’s a publisher looking for you.

Really. Don’t give up.”

For more on Colleen Doran, go to ColleenDoran.com
or check out her Patreon at patreon.com/ColleenDoran

Categories
Business of Cartooning

Getting a Portfolio Review

I was recently asked the following question through Facebook Messenger:

“I want someone to review my work so I can get feedback on what I’m doing right or wrong. I have no idea how to initiate that kind of conversation or who to turn to. What do you recommend I do?”

Quick thoughts:
Sending your art unsolicited to a professional cartoonist for a critique is usually a bad idea. It’s like wanting your car fixed, and instead of making an appointment at a repair shop and getting an estimate, just driving it into an auto repair shop (sans appointment) – parking your car on a mechanic’s lift – then expecting them to get to work.

Not good.


Posting it online on social media can be hit or miss depending on the experience and professionalism of those giving the critiques.


From personal experience I find Artists Alleys at comic cons to be a good bet. The reason being that you are not infringing on the artist’s work schedule – they are specifically there taking the time to touch base with readers and fans. This one-on-one from an artist you respect can be invaluable.

Research who’s on site before the con. Then when approaching an artist be sure to ask if they’re open to, or have time for, doing a portfolio review (they may not depending on time constraints). Also a heads up that the critique you get can be instructive and/or eviscerating depending on the artist’s demeanor. Be prepared for either.


A surefire way to get a critique is to take a class or correspondence course in cartooning. Heads up that the Minneapolis College of Art and Design has an online portfolio review for potential students.

I would also recommend the Joe Kubert School Correspondence Course (and no, I don’t get paid for this endorsement). In this case it’s a matter of getting what you pay for.

You can check out the Kubert School at Comic Cons they’re scheduled to appear at as well.
Here’s Kubert School Alum Brigid Allanson and Angie Fernot at C2E2.

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Any other suggestions? Write them in the comments section as I’d love to hear them!
And wishing you all the best in your artistic ventures!

-Jim Keefe

Categories
Artists - Cartoonists Business of Cartooning

Graphic Novels

This post was originally an addendum to Jim Keefe’s lecture for the Graphic Novel Illustration class at the University of Minnesota.
Class Instructors: Rowan and Bly Pope


To preface these links & resources, here’s my favorite definition of what a Graphic Novel is by Eddie Campbell.

GN.01

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Graphic Novels: Resources/Links


Calista Brill interview
Senior editor at First Second Books.

Calista Brill
Calista Brill

The Path to Becoming a Bestselling Graphic Novel
By John Shableski

John Shableski ©Library Journal
John Shableski
©Library Journal

The Comic Publishing Landscape 1.0
Designed by Fiona Ho and Jason Thibault

Click on to see larger.

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Reading List:

Making Comics
by Scott McCloud

Analysis of the art form.

making_comics


Drawing Words and Writing Pictures
by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

Provides solid instruction for people interested in making their own comics.
Check out their new book as well, Mastering Comics.

dwwpcover


Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life
by Paul Gravett

Illustrated guide spotlighting the different genres of contemporary comics.

graphicnovels


500 Essential Graphic Novels
by Gene Kannenberg

With more than 350 authors and 400 artists, a thorough guide to the medium.

500.essential


Alec: How to be an Artist
by Eddie Campbell

The rise and fall of the graphic novel in the 20th century.

alec


Leaping Tall Buildings
by Christopher Irving

The story of the comic’s birth and evolution in America told through its creators.
Starting with Siegel and Shuster in the 1930s all the way up to today.

LTBuildings

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For convenience the book links are to Amazon, but I’d recommend checking out your local comic retailer or book store. If they’re out of your price range/budget, you can always check ’em out at your local library.

For many more resources and links, check out the Business of Cartooning.

Categories
Business of Cartooning Joe Kubert Ramblings & Reviews

Making Comics – The Assembly Line

I’ve seen the top version posted here and there on social media (don’t know the artist).

The bottom version is my variation using my experience working on syndicated comic strips (Flash Gordon/Sally Forth). For Sally Forth I’m the penciller, letterer, inker and colorist (colors for the Sunday page only, the dailies are colored in-house at King). For Flash Gordon I did everything but the editing, and the editor was once at the end.

My variation puts the letterer before the inker in the assembly line of making comics. Putting lettering last can make for some badly placed type IMHO.

Here’s Joe Kubert talking about how he lays out his lettering while penciling – and how he thought laying it in as an overlay as the last step was “a little nutty.” (Go to 5:51). I agree COMPLETELY with this sentiment!


I do lettering the Kubert way – it just makes for a better marriage of words and pictures.

A quick side note: Lettering is the “invisible art” of a comic page when done well. If done horribly it stands apart from the page like a sore thumb.
Check out the Todd Klein Facebook page for examples of lettering done right.

And last but not least, a top notch production staff is ESSENTIAL and are the unsung heroes of this business. Any kink in the chain, and no matter how outstanding particular individuals are, you’ll end up with a crappy product.

That’s all for today – class dismissed…

Categories
Business of Cartooning Ramblings & Reviews

Cartooning Classes Taught by Jim Keefe 2018

I’ll be teaching Cartooning and Comics classes this summer for kids and teens at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Here’s the info (with links for full details).

Comic Book Creation I
Summer Young Teens Classes Ages 12-15
Dates: June 18 – July 11
(There will be no class on July 2 & 4.)
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

The Comic Book Inside and Out

Summer Pre-College Classes Ages 15-18
Dates: June 18– July 11
(There will be no class on July 2 & 4.)
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 1:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.


Instructor Jim Keefe

A graduate of the Kubert School, Jim Keefe started his career as the head colorist in the King Features Syndicate comic art department, coloring such world-renowned strips as Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible.

From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of Flash Gordon for King Features Syndicate – currently available online at FlashGordon.com.

Flash.flyer

Teaching and speaking engagements include the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Malloy College and Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs in Long Island, New York, the University of Minnesota – and most recently as an Adjunct Teacher at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Keefe currently is the artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, written by Francesco Marciuliano. Sally Forth is syndicated worldwide by King Features and appears in nearly 700 newspapers.

Family

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And for those interested, there’s also a follow-up class to Comic Book Creation I.

Comic Book Creation II
Summer Young Teens Classes Ages 12-15
Dates: Jul. 16 – Aug. 8
Days: Monday, Wednesday
Time: 1:00-4:00 p.m.

This class is taught by critically acclaimed cartoonist and Xeric grant recipient Caitlin Skaalrud. Caitlin also runs the local comics micropress, Talk Weird Press.

Illustration from Caitlin Skaalrud's Houses of the Holy.
Illustration from Caitlin Skaalrud’s Houses of the Holy.