(Author’s Note: If it seems like I’m dropping names…I am. I want you to pick them up, and ask for those names at your local comic shop or bookstore. These are all fine people, and they are telling great stories that have enriched countless lives…and they can enrich even more. Trust me. You won’t regret it.)
I’m starting to think that there is a correlation between travel to shows and show performance. An old friend, upon hearing I was engaged, said, “The happiness of the marriage is inversely proportional to the cost of the wedding.” Thankfully, where my marriage is concerned, that does not seem to be true (my mother-in-law insisted that if she were going to pay for a party it was going to be a big blowout for herself).
However, that advice does seem to be true for traveling to conventions.
Every convention at which we exhibit where travel to the show was easy has resulted in mediocre sales. There haven’t been many of those, thankfully. The rest of the shows, however…
We live roughly an hour from the Baltimore Convention Center, and this time the trip took three times as long, thanks to rush hours on both sides, and accidents. We missed check in and setup, which altered our plans for Friday. Oy. However, that was about the only hardship…the only non-back-injury hardship…we had to endure this trip.
Check-in provided me an opportunity to chat with Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Walter Simonson…and not pee myself. These amazing creators are responsible for stories that made my childhood bearable, and gave me a sense of hope when I felt I had none. They are recognized as legends in the comics community, and there I am, big ol’ doofus, chatting with them like we were down-the-street neighbors in the checkout line at the grocery store.
I’m getting better about keeping my cool around them.
Happenstance led us to share a meal with Kids Love Comics neighbors Andy Runton, Gregg Schigiel (Pix), John Green (Hippopotamister), and Mike Maihack. (If you eat at Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill, a word of warning – ask for your burger a little more done than you like as they tend to slightly undercook their burgers.) We had fun talking film and television, comics, and Kidlet’s schoolwork.
The next morning began far earlier than we wanted, but sluggishly we got the table set up. Our neighbors included Kyle Puttkammer (Hero Cats), Andy Runton (Owly), and Jamar Nicholas (Leon, Protector of the Playground). Across the aisle were S.L. Gallant (G.I. Joe), Mike Maihack (Cleopatra In Space), and Dawn Griffin (Zorphbert and Fred). Many of these people are friends from shows past, and the sense of family and camaraderie grows with each show.
Friday was fairly slow. It always is, as Fridays are for the die-hard collectors to get in line and get on commission lists for legends like Walter Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Brian Stelfreeze, or Joe Staton, or on line for signatures from writers like Louise Simonson, Tom King, or Jeff Parker.
That lets folks like me who don’t have much of a following (yet) walk around a little and visit with friends. I was able to meet a few more of our neighbors, like Emily Drouin (Eplis) and Afua Richardson (World of Wakanda), and catch up with fellow goofballs John Gallagher (Buzzboy, Roboy Red), Mark and Chris Mariano (The O>Matics, Happyloo), and Brian Smith (Tree Mail).
Kidlet had fairly busy weekend overall, between running around getting yearbook signatures, and visiting her friends, and selling her own book, a short story about 5th grade drama, “Best Friends.” There may be more for next year…depending on the level of drama she experiences this year in school.
A handful of regulars from my retailing days also showed up, and a lot of folks stopped by for my autograph! Okay, okay…they weren’t all fans of Shakes. Yet. I was lucky enough to have my art chosen for the yearbook.
Baltimore Comic Con publishes a yearbook filled with art from exhibitors, featuring a different theme each year. Last year, the theme was Archie, and this year, the theme was Tellos. Tellos is a creator-owned book by Todd Dezago and the late Mike Wieringo. To this day, Mike is a huge influence on myself and many creators, so to be included in this year’s yearbook was an honor and privilege.
As it was with last year, about two-thirds of my table visits were folks wanting my signature for the yearbook (if you collected 20+ autographs, you earned a set of prints from the show). For me, it was just as big a deal to be in the book honoring Mike and Todd’s characters as the increased traffic said honor brings.
So, Friday was all about a few friends stopping by, like Thom Zahler (Time & Vine), Steve Conley (The Middle Age), and lots of autograph seekers. We also got to mess a little with Rich Woodall (Johnny Raygun, Sergeant Werewolf) about his hat fetish.
What really set Friday apart? Of the five items we sold, three were commissions or sketchcards! This is the first time I have had more requests for art than book sales. And, the two books we sold weren’t even Shakes or Bear From AUNT, they were our newest book, created with Elinda, Spicey’s Tale.
We may not have sold much, but we sure were busy. We capped the evening with takeout in our room so my wife could continue to work on toys, while I drew my first ever overnight commission.
On the way back from picking up dinner, we ran in to Mr. Ordway again, and his daughter Rachel (who drew Elvis Adventures for my friends Bob Frantz and Kevin Cuffe). We chatted, and he asked what our plans were for the evening, and I said I had a commission to finish. He joked about giving me his six to be done. When I said, I hope they like cows and penguins, he chuckled and said, “I could fix that.”
Pretty sure if I were to draw anything for Jerry Ordway, it would take days for him to “fix it.”
Dinner was quick, inexpensive, and good, which gave me extra time to focus on the commission: a blank cover of Street Fighter #1 from Udon Comics.
Towards the end of the day, one of the kids who came earlier for me to sign his yearbook came back. “So, I really like your style, and I was wondering if you would do one of your ‘cow-missions’ for me?” Of course, I said yes (I’m no fool). I will say that it was amazing to hear someone liked my style without ever having read my books. He said this based solely on my yearbook piece and the signage on the table.
So, while Kidlet watched TV, Elinda sewed and I drew. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to bed until about midnight, and we had an early morning.
I headed over early, allowing Elinda and the Kidlet a little extra time to get ready. (I wanted to get to the table right as the doors opened in case the commission buyer came by early. The first couple of hours went by with several folks coming by for yearbook signatures, and a couple of friends picking up books for friends.
There was then a lull for a couple of hours. Now, I get paranoid easy.
To be completely honest, I still fear that this passion project of mine is going to ruin my family financially. I’m still looking for a job to help pay bills, so every hour at a show where there aren’t sales is another inch of self-doubt creeping up my spine. It would be lovely if there were an off switch for that kind of emotional turmoil, so I could go longer than an hour without selling anything and not start to worry.
I filled that time sketching ideas for a table cover that would help grab the attention of stroller-borne kids.
And then, like in the 1939 Myrna Loy film The Rains Came, the dam broke. (What? When have you not known me to make a Myrna Loy reference? Oh, all right…fine. It was like when the Red Sea was released back into the sea bed in The Ten Commandments. Better?)
A woman happened by our table, getting her yearbook signed. As we chatted briefly while I signed the book, she noticed my “Cow-missions” sign, and froze. She saw the Shakes toy Elinda had crocheted, and grabbed it. She also grabbed all three Shakes books, and with a big smile on her face, asked me to sign them. Like X-Files’ truth, cow collectors are out there.
As I was signing another yearbook, a familiar face popped up to surprise us. If you followed our adventures at Heroes Con earlier in the year, you know about the little girl who fell in love with Wonder Shakes, the toy Elinda made of Shakes as a certain Amazonian. Well, in Baltimore…the girl’s uncle showed up to say hi!
Over the next few hours, there wasn’t much free time as friends stopped by to chat briefly (usually on the way to the restroom), and folks brought up their yearbooks.
Dr. Christy Blanch (Damnation of Charlie Wormwood, owner of Aw Yeah Comics – Muncie) came by to continue a tradition of building Legos with the Kidlet, and her AYC colleague Kyle Roberts came by to talk puns. Rico Renzi (Squirrel Girl), Ringo nominated colorist and organizer of the other great convention, Heroes, stopped by to talk food and family, and Sean Von Gorman (KISS) stopped by briefly to give us a burst of his wonderful silliness.
We got a chance to chat briefly with Eryk Donovan (Memetic, Quantum Teens Are Go) and Nicky Soh (Rock Mary Rock), past winners of the Ringo Memorial Scholarship at SCAD. We also quickly met up with friends like Chris Kemple (Red Vengeance), Richard Case (Doom Patrol), Nate Lovett (Champions of Odd Lake), and Craig Rousseau (The Perhapanauts).
A succession of familiar faces over one hour brightened my day considerably. Three families in a row stopped by, and all had visited us last year. All three had taken a chance on my first Shakes book, and all three came back to get more Shakes adventures! One of the families said that their child loved Moo Thousand And Pun so much that our table simply had to be their first stop of the convention. I gave their child a button, and she chose my penguin logo, and I said she had good taste because that was my favorite. She then tried to give it back because it was my favorite!
(Insert heart-melting “Awwww” here.)
Of course, I let her keep the penguin…and I gave her another button too.
Another family came by and bought Temple of Moo’d and Moo Fast, Moo Furryous because the dad was having too much fun reading Shakes’ trip through space to his youngest.
All three families also reinforced a gut instinct I had when making these books: if you are lucky enough to create a book that a child wants to read over and over, include jokes and visuals just for the parents. Having things in a children’s book just for the parents makes reading the book over and over to wee ones far less of a chore. One parent even showed me his favorite page in Moo Thousand And Pun!
There is no way to explain just how much stories and comments like that from people who enjoy your work fuels one’s creative fire. No one gets into comics or children’s books because they have dreams of fame and fortune. We write and draw these books because we have stories to tell, and we just hope someone out there will appreciate them.
To have three families in a row tell me how much they enjoyed my work was humbling, and amazing.
The final hours were filled with strangers, from folks getting yearbooks signed, to folks walking by, and flipping through the books on display. We sold a bunch more books, and towards the end the young man with the blank cover returned. He loved the commission. He had mentioned another blank cover he had, but he wouldn’t be back the next day. So, I’m going to draw it and mail it to him. My first blank cover and my first “to be mailed” commission in one show!
With most of our friends attending the inaugural Ringo Awards, and Elinda still sewing toys, we opted for another night of takeout back in the hotel.
(I do have one complaint about our accommodations. For whatever reason, the air conditioner in our room had just two settings: FULLONLOOKITSSNOWINGINTHEROOM or DONTWORRYPILLOWSABSORBSWEAT.)
Sunday morning we woke up early to have breakfast with friends and toast our late friend Mike, and his brother Matt who unfortunately had to miss the show, and the awards named for his brother.
Sunday was a little slower, with most sales coming from strangers just wandering by with their kids. A few friends stopped by to pick up a few books, including the last copy of Temple Of Moo’d, which gave us another first: our first show selling out of a title! We also sold out of plush Shakes, so that goofball cow had a really great show!
(It’s worth noting, we did not see the infamous Tarzan cosplayer. So, that’s a win!)
A longtime supporter and fantastic artist in his own right, David Clarke (daevclarke on Instagram), stopped by and delivered an amazing gift, which I will tell you is far more amazing than the photo suggests. It still floors me when I get fan art, and to get it from an artist whose skill and humor I admire makes it all the more special.
I took a swing through some of Artist Alley to buy some books from friends old and new, like Poop Office, Maegan Cook (The Word Next Door), and Julian Lytle (Ants), and checking in with friends April Alayne (Always April), and Ken Marcus (Super Human Resources). We also stopped to congratulate the wonderful Laura Martin on her Ringo Award for best colorist, and capped the day with a quick visit to say “Hi,” to one of Kidlet’s absolute favorites, Tom King, current keeper of the Batcave. (Still, with all that, I wasn’t able to visit with Amy Chu (Red Sonja, KISS), Skottie Young (I Hate Fairyland), and Reilly Brown (Deadpool).
I then fulfilled a promise I had made (via Twitter) almost two whole years earlier. Lora Innes is a marvelous artist, and my wife discovered her at our first show in 2015, AwesomeCon. Like me, Elinda is a history major, and Lora’s The Dreamer caught her eye. Rooted in the American Revolutionary War, Dreamer is about a young girl in modern times dreaming of adventures during the war…but soon begins to wonder if they really are dreams.
We didn’t get a chance to buy the book then, and I asked Lora online about ordering the book directly from her, or buying it at her next show. Well…this past weekend was the first show at which we both exhibited since then!
So, I apologized, and bought the first volume, and I am looking forward to tearing in.
Why did I wait so long?
Passion projects are often a financial slippery slope, and while book sales through Amazon or brick and mortar stores are great for numbers, creators often only make a buck or two per sale that way. So, when possible, try to buy at least one item from a creator at their table at conventions or signings.
Not only do the creators get to keep more of the money from face-to-face sales (as much as three times more), but they also get to meet you! If you’re just meeting a creator, talking about mutual interests or asking questions about stories or style is as important to creators as hearing about the effect our books have on our readers.
I got to tell Lora how much I liked her art style, and how we wanted to support her directly, which is why it took me so long to actually buy the first volume. It also gave me a chance to prove that I am not a giant penguin, as my avatar suggests.
We took our time to break down our display after the show ended, spending more time saying goodbye and hugging friends than packing.
A quick drive home, a quicker stop for burgers, and Sunday came to a close.
Far too soon, if you ask me.
These shows are exhausting. Being on all the time like a car salesman wears you out quickly.
And yet, being around friends, family, and that much creativity is hugely invigorating.
We came home ready to sleep for days, with a little extra cash, a lot of extra ideas, and one gigantic wish:
That Baltimore Comic Con didn’t have to end.
Marc and Shelly Nathan, Constance Eza, Brad Tree, Dustin Hovatter and their entire team do a great job, making Baltimore one of only two shows my family simply cannot miss.
But we do miss it, every year, as we say goodbye and drive home, with another amazing weekend of fun and memories in our hearts and minds.
To everyone who stopped by our table, to buy a book, adopt a rescue cow, or just say, “Hi,” thank you.
We can’t wait to see you again.