What I Learned from Ottawa Comiccon
This year’s Ottawa ComicCon with Sarah and Maureen was pretty decent. It started off like most other cons do: pure, sheer panic. The last minute preparations were not as bad this year though. It seems that after a decade of conventions I have finally learned a few things.
Have a Display Setup at Home
This was the biggest game changer for me. I started doing this a couple years ago when I bought my own 6 foot folding table for a craft show that was not providing tables or chairs. At first I thought I would just borrow my family’s like I normally do, but the investment was totally worth it. It’s amazing how much it gets used; at home for random crafts or social things, for fun, for extra work space, etc. It made a great preparatory work space for trimming prints and then finally for staging my display. I got to see exactly how much merchandise the table would fit, how I would mount my other items on it, and finally how my partner Sarah’s merchandise would fit into the picture.
Every other year previous, we would just wing it. This would usually end up turning out just fine. We roll with the changes, we add as we need to. But this time it made for setup only taking a matter of minutes instead of hours, and drastically reducing our stress levels. I bought the table at Walmart for about $80 last year. You can almost see it on the left hand side in the photo of my studio; I swear it’s there buried underneath the mass of art supplies and crocs.
Testing our display off the table was really valuable, as well. Sarah and I use those wire cages (we had to buy a new set because my old ones were painfully difficult to put together and take down). We even realized that we could leave some of them put together during transportation to save us some setup time the night before the con.
Pack Food Ahead
Because convention food is ridiculously expensive, you have to think ahead and pack some food. Granted I’ve done this for a few years now, but I make it a rule now instead of a nice bonus. Having some leftovers from home, a pack of granola bars, some fresh (portable) fruit as well as some kind of thermos helps immensely. Keeping in mind that whenever you leave your table to get food, you may miss a potential sale (most people will not buy if the artist themselves is absent, even if there is someone looking after the table for you). Usually I’ll do a grocery trip before a con and pre-cook a ton of food that is portable and can stay at room temperature for a couple of hours once my ice pack has given out. The only food I ever buy is breakfast at Tim Horton’s the morning of on our way out. It helps speed things along and it’s a fun outing and hype-making adventure. It’s also fun to terrorize Tim’s workers with my ridiculous colourful clothing, hair, and accessories.
Don’t Bother with Last Minute
Also known as, “work with what you have”. I used to try to use up my last precious days before a con to mass produce (new) bookmarks, stickers, and visit print shops. All you end up with is botched merchandise where half of it is barely sell-able because you rushed it, or the print shop magically says they can’t deliver until the day OF the con (and it’s pickup only?!). Too many times I’ve ordered things about a week before the con only to have them arrive the day of while I’m not at home, or weeks later when it was useless to me. The best con experiences I’ve had were when I use whatever I had leftover from the last convention efficiently, and made do with what I had. Granted, don’t wait a whole year for this. But the ideal time to start con prep is not 2 weeks in advance, it’s more like 2-3 months in advance. Because man oh man do those days get short toward the end of the line.
This one falls closely under the previous leaned lesson of not rushing. Rushing is just.. bad. But it’s taken me two decades to learn this. Maybe this is just more important now that I’m over 30, but losing sleep in order to cram more merchandise onto my table has rarely ever been worth it. The only things I will keep to the last minute are things that I can take with me to pass the time at my table. Things such as hand cutting out stickers that didn’t cut properly in my Cameo machine, trimming bookmarks or putting tassels on them, and maybe making some hand-made signage for smaller items. Sleep will be so important when you have to wake up to set your table up at 8am after staying up the previous night packing your car. (Another fun tip, pack your car the night before so you can get up and go first thing in the morning!)
Get Your Float On
Always get change from the bank before the con starts. ALWAYS. One of the worst things is missing a sale because you don’t have change. Or take credit card. Or bank cards (we’re working on that one). Get lots of float cash, borrow if you have to. Every year, eager kids, teens and adults alike come to buy a $3 sticker with a $20 bill within minutes that you just sat down with your coffee from Tim’s. It used to be where I had to wait until a few hours and sales passed by before i had extra change, but now I know that the most valuable denomination at any (Canadian) convention are $5 bills. So now I just get $200 worth of $5 bills before the con even starts. Heck, I’ll get them half a year before the con starts, whenever I can manage it! Loonies and Toonies (eh!) especially are handy when most of my merchandise is $20 and under.
Don’t Be Pushy
Nobody likes to be heckled from the other side of the table. As a con-goer, when I look around at other people’s tables, I really hate being guilted into buying things. Friendly conversation is one thing, and if it’s within context, you can suggest or remind people of prices or deals that you have. But being pushy is a deterrent and quite frankly, the crowd at conventions consist of many introverts who won’t like that approach. Many buyers are shy, and telling them that they should have a look, or that you’ll make them a ‘special deal’ may scare them off. Being pushy is no fun, and this includes saying that you saw them looking and ‘why don’t you come have a closer look it’s only five bucks’ type of speech. Be friendly, be available for questions, make eye contact occasionally, but don’t push it.
Learn From Others Around You
The most valuable thing at the con are the other artists and vendors. Everyone else is a great resource because everyone has different backgrounds. Some people have been doing the con game for decades and have it all put together, others may be just starting out but have come up with incredibly ingenious ways of doing something that you may have had trouble with for a while. Always give credit where credit is due, and politely asking people how they did something is appreciated. However flat out asking pure technical questions, or demanding someone’s sources for printing or merchandise can get you booted from a con. Flat out copying someone will get you nowhere. Being inspired and telling someone you love their display and taking mental notes on how to better your own improves everyone’s artist alley experience.
All in all the convention was somewhat a success; though this year in particular attendance was down and spending eagerness was low. We will probably be skipping Ottawa Comiccon next year because of a few reasons, though the big one is that the table fees went up substantially (and table sizes getting smaller), not to mention reduced visibility for artists. Also after doing this a few years in a row, we’re going to take a little break. Maybe try out some new venues, maybe just take some time to focus on our sticker club, Sticky Ink!