Most Webcomics understand that it is a good idea to have a user friendly website with things that their fans can buy. They also understand the value of going through the convention circuit to spread the word about their work and sell their merchandise. These commonly established thoughts are all Good Things.
There is one thing that some comic creators mistakenly don’t understand: How you conduct yourself when you are sitting behind your convention table and otherwise interacting with your fans is just as important as all of the above mentioned points. This alone can make or destroy your career.
Let’s look a bit closer at some examples of things I have personally observed in my travels throughout time, space, and Webcomics:
1. MeanFace Person:
Would you want to approach someone who looks like this? No way. This person is clearly having a bad day and is projecting major “LEAVE ME ALONE OR ELSE!” vibes. No one wants to risk being yelled at. Most people are shy when meeting a new person to begin with. A face like this is enough to scare away most people in the building.
We all have our bad days, bad months, bad years. A creator’s job as the face of their comic is to entertain their fans, not to burden them with their personal problems. No fan wants to pay to feel upset.
I had a seriously bad weekend at a con a few years back. I honestly wanted to cry and throw things. I didn’t, and sure enough my staying positive attracted a lot of great new fans. I left the con feeling very happy.
2. The Drunk:
Would you think that this person was someone deserving of your respect and readership? Don’t laugh. I have had to eject people from some of the cons I work at for sitting drunk or high behind their table! It is frightfully common. Not only is this a turn off to the fans, but it reinforces the misconception that Webcomics shouldn’t be taken seriously. This is bad business for everyone. Most likely the con will blacklist this person.
Personally, I take this even more seriously. I am sure some people could have one drink after hours and still be OK, but I don’t drink at all while at a convention. I am a lightweight. At one of my first cons I mistakenly had one screwdriver after hours at a room party. I figured there was no harm because I was with friends and no one else. Well, one of my friends brought in a big group of people. One of the girls was a huge fan of my work. She started crying and saying that I changed her life and gave her hope.
All I could reply to that was, “Thank you so much. I’m sorry I don’t feel well. I had a screwdriver.”
Never again. A convention is first and foremost a business, not a party.
3. The Overcompensator:
Have you met this person or perhaps sat next to them at the con? Does this make you feel comfortable? No way. Why does it make sense to act superior by way of putting others down? It doesn’t. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I say it takes a community to raise a comic.
If a person is insulting to their fans and the other comics next to them at the con they will find that at the end of the day, they’ll be alone.
Fan support is important, but so is the support of others in your field. The Internet is a big place. Often fans look for more comics to read through their friends and the comics they already know.
We aren’t competing here. Art is like apples and oranges. It’s not like selling Big Macs. No one is going to say, “I read X, so I won’t read Y.” and vice versa. People read what they like. If they like both of these comics, they will read both.
We’re all just regular people who like to draw and tell stories.
4. The Used Car Salesman:
Would you want to hang out at this table and look at everything this person has? Probably not. When I run into this person, I may stay around long enough to be polite, but I’ll avoid them for the rest of the weekend.
This individual mistakenly thinks that everyone is there to learn about becoming their fan and that quick at-con sales are better than a slower but more sustained, self-renewing fanbase.
I’m usually there to gauge if this person would be a good guest for one of the conventions I work for, or simply to introduce myself as a friend. If I can’t get a word in edgewise and I feel like they are trying to shame me into forking over my hard-earned cash. I usually run away and never return.
Beyond this, the best way to grow a fan base that buys from you repeatedly is to make your fans feel comfortable.
One year a fan of mine came to my table and we had a great conversation about some of her observations. She then said,” I really want one of your Coffee is My Homeboy T shirts, but my Mom only gave me enough for dinner. You know what? I can skip dinner. I really don’t want them to sell out before I can afford it.”
I told her not to worry, that I’d be selling this particular shirt for a long time. It won’t sell out. I then said that there was no way I was taking her food money. I sent her off with a free bottle of water and some stickers and told her to come hang out whenever she wanted. Why did I do this? Because I really love what I do and I have a deep respect for people who would support me.
Every year since then she buys from me and brings her friends who also buy from me. Immediate sales mean nothing. Longevity and integrity mean everything.
The key point here is that you have to love what you do. If you don’t love what you do, you may as well be behind a cubicle.
You also have to respect the people around you, and you have to be able to take the first few thousand rejections to the gut while keeping your game face on.
Spiderman might have the great power that comes with great responsibility. Webcomics have a great responsibility to put a great face on something we love…minus the spider tights. :)