Gary Scott Beatty

Navigating Comic Conventions

by Gary Scott Beatty

Gary Scott Beatty runs Aazurn Publishing, is publisher of “Indie Comics Magazine” and recently wrote the comic book retailer story “Number One.” The first alternative comic he produced (They were called “underground” then) was on his high school’s ditto machine, after hours, without permission. His Xeric Grant Winner “Jazz: Cool Birth,” a jazz club murder mystery, was inspired by ‘50s album cover design. He also colors and letters for the industry. Find out more at Gary Scott Beatty.com.

You want to visit a comic convention to meet some artists, flip through the dealer bins and talk with the publishers of your favorite comics? Whether you're doing Wizard World in Chicago or a smaller venue closer to home, here are some tips for enjoying the trip to its fullest.

I've been attending three shows a year since 1994, and many things have changed since I first stepped into the Chicago Comicon (What a first con! One of the biggest in the world.), but the layouts are generally the same with large or small venues. If you want to get the most out of standing in line, read on. If you hate lines like I do, read further. Not all worthwhile events have lines and you can find them!

STAY COMFORTABLE

Before you leave home, see if you can find out who is appearing at your con, so you can bring some things for him to sign. Bring a backpack or something not too bulky to carry things around in. Remember, if you bring something, you will have to carry it all day, and your backpack will be bulging with freebies. I've taken to actually buying comics at the shows for signing purposes (Appearance cancellations are possible). Travel light!

Wear comfortable shoes. You will be on your feet a long, long time.

Dress light. Every con I've ever attended has been beastly hot, no matter what the time of year (If anyone has experienced a con that is comfortably cool, I'd like to hear about it).

Bathe and wear deodorant. I know, that's pretty basic, but the stereotypical comic book nerd doesn't know, so I had to mention it. I take the gas money I need to travel home and put it where I can't spend it. No matter how much cash I bring to these things, I spend it. And I'm a very careful shopper!

STAY ORGANIZED

Crack the program before you start looking around. It's easy to be initially caught up in the noise and bustle and miss out on some real treasures. So before your mind swirls into comics Nirvana and that first big smile cracks your face, start out with the program you'll pick up at the door. Some places have big "goodie" bags they hand you when you buy your ticket; at some you'll need to pick up a program at a big table spread with promotions and propaganda.

Turn to the program page that has times listed for special events like exclusive signings, panel discussions, forums, etc. If you have your heart set on talking to someone you know will be there, you can plan your time around the best place to talk to or listen to him/her. The hottest properties will have long, time consuming lines, so you'll want to arrive early and be prepared to wait. These people only appear during their designated times.

After planning your time for the special events, find the map in your program. Look for and mark the rooms/areas of these events and note the time on the map. Believe me, at the larger cons, you will get lost.

Large cons offer a map divided into three categories: dealers, publishers and professionals.

DEALERS

Dealers are, well, dealers. My first con, I walked around dealer booths with my son (then nine) and just oogled the comics displayed on their walls. I'd seen a lot of printed antiques in my time, but never World War II era comic books. And those '60s Marvels I had never seen. And those '50s DCs. Killer cool. I would have payed the admission just to look at these treasures. Of course, similar to museums, unless you can shell out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy the things, don't expect the dealers to take them down for you.

There are plenty of bins to look through with Collectibles from all eras. Shop around for the best price. With so many dealers in one place, you have a little haggling room. Or at least look through as much as possible before buying a high priced item. I often see a comparable $5 comic for $3 elsewhere. Also, the more you buy at one place, the more you should be able to "round down." If your con runs three days, haggle on big ticket items on day three, preferably in the afternoon. Dealers are then ready to unload inventory if they can.

Be nice. Cons are a lot of work for dealers. They'll bend over backwards to help you out, just don't make them do a lot of opening the acid-free bags if you're not seriously interested. If the dealer is a jerk, leave (nice is a two way thing).

You can learn a lot from dealers if you're interested in pricing, what's selling and other industry information. Step out of the way for paying customers.

PUBLISHERS

Publishers have the best looking booths, with expensive displays and lots of flash. The big guys will feature official signings at their displays and most have freebies to hand out. I remember being in the right place at the right time in front of an editor's assistant who was unloading dozens of titles of free comics onto a table to give away (one title per person, please). Among the flurry of fans grabbing for comics, I was even able to talk to her about her job a little. (Okay, so I'm easily amused. She was cute.)

The point is, once you've met with your favorite artist or writer, look around. Editors are all over the place. They work very hard and might value the opportunity to talk to you about your comic buying habits and what you look for in their product. Inkers, letterers and colorists lead interesting lives, too. Fans are so knocked over by the "talent of the month" they forget that other people are there -- people who, daily, walk the hallowed halls of DC and Marvel. These guys have their names in a dozen comics every month. Say hello!

A word about signing etiquette. If you are in a huge line, it is obvious the signee will not be able to hear your life story and sign your entire collection and your t-shirt. Many artists and writers now have limits on the number of books you can have signed, simply because overenthused fans have pushed the limits of sanity with their demands.

I know you're excited, but be polite! I like to have a short compliment or two ready, usually prepared in line, because my conversational skills aren't great and I don't want to come off like an idiot. If I'm not that familiar with his/her work, a question like, "What are you working on now?" does wonders. After all, they're there to push upcoming projects ("Who are you?" does not work very well). Frankly, I meet my favorite artists and writers just to shake their hand -- the signed book is a nice memory bonus. Realize even the talent attends cons to do business, to have meetings, schmooze prospective employers and pitch new concepts. They could conceivably be worn out before they ever sit down to sign! Be gentle.

Recently I met Grant Morrison, one of my 10 favorite comic book writers and someone I'd been hoping to meet at a convention some day. He was obviously hot and tired. The guy ahead of me had one of these rolling filing cabinets and plopped a foot-high pile of comics for Grant to sign. The guy had his entire collection of recent JLAs and DC One Millions. The conversation wained quickly. The guy just stood there as Grant signed book after book, pulling out the JLAs he didn't write with a mumble.

It seemed okay for me to start conversation. I said I liked how, sometimes, a JLA character would only say one thing in an issue but that one thing was something only that character would say. He answered that it was a challenge working with such a large cast and he didn't think a character had to say much as long as he was "doing something cool." I contrasted that with his Invisibles characters, who talked a lot but were always a mystery. He laughed. I'd waked him up.

My signing stack was small but important: Invisibles no. 1, a hardcover Arkham Asylum, Animal Man no. 1, Grant's first Doom Patrol. We traded a couple more sentences, I turned to the editor behind him and said something like, "Be sure to keep this guy around." Everyone smiled and I left the table.

This is typical of how I treat people signing my books. I don't complain and I don't launch into my life story. I keep it short and friendly. Isn't that how you'd like to be treated if you were the signer?

My favorite signing story was Billy Dee Williams (Lando in The Empire Strikes Back, among countless other great dramatic roles) at the Motor City Comicon in 1999 autographing photos. The line for this guy was huge, all day long. And he sat there, all day long, signing, signing, signing. And every time I passed by the line, all day long, he had this big smile on his face. What a nice guy!

PROFESSIONALS

The big lines are not the places to engage in long conversations with talent. But, guess what? There is a place where bored professionals are just hoping someone will come buy and give them something to do: visit the professionals seated, usually, at the rear of the con.

Artists, writers and the like can purchase table space to sell comics and artwork. This area is where I like to spend my free time. When the doors first open and the herd heads for the dealer tables, I go to the back of the room.

You never know who you'll run into. I was wandering among the professionals' tables one day, sort of in a daze (you get that way after several hours of sensory overload) when I passed by industry giant Julius Schwartz (Among numerous other credits, Superman editor for, like, forever). He was sitting with a small group of other people (incredibly famous too, for all I know). Of course I stopped -- no one else in the room seemed to know he was there!

After years of cancellations for appearances, Gene Colan ('60s Marvel legend) appeared at a recent convention. He is not retired, producing right along for the major companies, but I talked to he and his wife for about 20 minutes before anyone else came to the line. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! I bought an original Captain America no. 119 page and he signed it. The perfect con memory.

Look over the professionals tables for those great independent comics your local store won't carry. This is where I met Jason Alasa (Poe), Rich Koslowski (The 3 Geeks), Matt Ryan (Bigger), Mike Pascal (Bru-Hed), Guy Davis (Sandman Mystery Theater, The Marquis), Scott Rosema (August, Space Ghost), Jeffrey Moy and W.C. Carani (Legion of Super Heroes, Legionnaires), Aaron Warner (Adventures of Aaron, Sparky and Tim), Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother) -- all kinds of great artists and writers you will often only discover at the professionals tables. Half a decade ago I was encouraging a young artists/writer named Mark Crilley to keep going with Akiko because my four year old loved it, now it's been optioned for television. Sure, there's a lot of junk. (Mike commented on a guy sitting at a professionals table that didn't have a printed product to sell, or even a photocopied ashcan. God knows why he was there.) But digging through to find the jewels is worth it. If you go back year after year, you'll soon see who has the staying power that comes with talent and sales.

TAKE IT EASY

Be sure to pace yourself! Many cons have an Anime cartoon room where you can rest your feet and recover your stamina for a few minutes or longer. (I would warn Anime fans away from the dealers who sell self-recorded Anime on video, by the way. Sure, it's neat to see the Japanese TV versions, but, in my experience, the quality stinks.) Con food has always had a nasty reputation, so scope out close restaurants on your way in. (In Chicago, I go to the Hotel Sofitel -- from crap to gourmet for a short walk!) Above all, have fun. If you're like me, most of your friends don't understand why you think comic books are so interesting. A con is a great place to find people with like interests. No, you're not alone. The majority of regular comic book readers are sane, literate people like yourself who simply enjoy a great illustrated story.

See you there!

My first convention behind an artist's alley table in 2008.



Comments on our can be referred to Gary at gary -at- comicartistsdirect -dot- com. All artwork copyright © by its respective artists and publishers.

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