I attended the 2018 Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. It was my first “con”, as the lingo goes, and I had only the internet to learn how to prepare for a comic convention. I read a few articles, but more were about prepping to go as a guest, or even surviving a con. I even got distracted reading about how to dress up for comic cons.
Megan McKay is the lovely creator of Doodle for Food, and I had the pleasure of “tabling” with her at ECCC (that’s in-crowd slang for we shared a table). She has a lot of experience going to different comic cons around the US, and soon Finland. Where I slid my display prints into plastic sleeves and scattered them across my half of the table, she came prepared with a grid set-up to display prints, a portfolio book, stickers, buttons, and an incredibly welcoming disposition to chat with convention attendees.
She taught me a lot about how to set-up your convention table. With that in mind, we’re going to interview Megan and pick her brain for advice for artists tabling at comic cons.
Who is Megan McKay?
First, Megan, tell us about what you do.
Hello! My name is Megan. I’m a Texas-based cartoonist working on a bunch of comics under the umbrella name of Doodle for Food. Right now my series focuses on cute dogs working human jobs.
How long have you been creating Doodle for Food?
Which comic cons have you attended? Which do you like the best?
It’s hard to choose a favorite because I’ve enjoyed each convention so much, and there are a ton of memories and funny moments from all of them. I think based on pure sales and con-going experience, it might be ECCC, but Awesome con has a special place in my heart because of the location, people, and food.
Megan’s dope advice on how to prepare for a convention
First thing’s first: A list of what to take to the convention:
- Business cards: They’re literally the cheapest and most effective form of advertising you can invest in. I usually take 500, but if it’s a bigger show, you may want to pack more. Always keep one or two for yourself should you meet someone you really want to network with or for visitors to take photos of.
- External phone battery: A lot of times you don’t have an outlet or power source at the convention. If your phone dies, you’re screwed, so having one of these as backup is important.
- Phone charger: If you do have access to an outlet at the con, it’s good to have one of these with you to keep your phone charged.
- Credit card reader: Nowadays people are purchasing more things with credit cards. Not having one basically means cutting your sales in half ( they’re free for the most part).
- Water: You will be thirsty and even if you don’t feel thirsty, you need to drink water. Working a convention means putting in long hours, and if you don’t take care of yourself you’ll burn out or get sick.
- Snacks: You’re gonna be behind a table all day, and if you’re by yourself, you may not be able to get away long enough to have a meal, so it’s good to pack snacks to get you through the day and keep your energy up.
- Display merch: These are the items that will be out on the table or hanging from your display. They’re ones you’re willing to get dirty/beat up. Assume anything you set on the table will be grabbed and looked at by kids with sticky fingers. It’s always good to have designated display items so you don’t have to scrap a bunch of merch due to defects. You could choose to put merch behind a case or secure them, but science has shown people are more likely to buy something if they’ve held or touched it, so it may be in your best interest to let people pick up items while perusing your goods. If it’s a higher price point item, I like to prepackage it in cellophane bags before placing it on the table.
- Pricing signs: These can be handwritten or typed, it doesn’t really matter (or seem to impact sales). If you’re new to conventions and testing out product pricing, handwritten signs are good for changing things on the fly. Based on personal experience, it’s good to have the price of the item right next to it, or even directly attached. I also like to have a separate pricing sheet that lists every item I have available.
- Banner: This is one of the most important ways people are going to be able to find you at a convention. Starting out, banners may seem like a hassle, but as you continue to go to conventions and build up a base of repeat customers, having a recognizable banner for people to spot in the crowd can be helpful.
- Banner stand: Get one that can fit into luggage, if you can. It’s ideal for when you’re flying, because carrying one that doesn’t retract is a huge hassle (speaking from experience).
- Grids, backdrops, or other items used for displays: These are the items you’ll need to hang or display any signs, prints, or other merch you bring. I started out with a metal grid system, but have since changed to plastic for the convenience of lighter travel. A lot of people use photography backdrop stands as well. The types of items you sell at conventions will determine which of these will work best for you.
- Clamps: Whether you’re using grids or photography stands, it’s important to secure your display. It’s not uncommon for people to bump your table at a con, and if it’s a top heavy display, it may topple over and fall apart. (Here are some clamps)
- Zip ties: These are also good for securing parts of a display.
- Hand sanitizer: Cons are riddled with germs. I use this stuff pretty much after touching anything, especially after handling money or shaking hands with people.
- A bunch of small items that you may need: Tissues, Zip ties, paper clips, binder clips, tape, scissors, ibuprofen/aspirin, sharpies and other various pens or pencils
- Money bag: There’s no hard and fast rule on what type of container you should use to store money, but you do need something. If you want to get the best of the best, get a metal locking box or a fanny pack that keeps the money on you.
- Cash for change: The type of change you’ll want will depend on the pricing of your items. This is less crucial now than in the past thanks to card readers, but it’s always good to err on the side of caution and have too much change than to miss out on a sale.
- Tablecloth: Most conventions will provide a tablecloth with your table, but it’s never a guarantee. One of the simplest ways you can up the quality of your display is to invest in a table cloth. If you can splurge, bring two tablecloths with you. One for setting your merch on, and one for placing over your display at the end of the day.
- Bags for merch: These are paper or plastic bags for items like stickers or prints. You can find them in craft stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby, or online. I order mine from clearbags.com. There are also biodegradable packaging options at most suppliers.
- Merch: All the prep in the world won’t help if you forget to pack your merch! I make a checklist of the items I’m bringing so I can keep track of what items to bring and the number of units sold.
Tell us more about bringing business cards to conventions?
Essentially you want to have a ton of business cards, because people will ask for them. There are mixed opinions on this, but I personally like to leave a small pile on the table for people to grab.
Oftentimes people who stop by your table don’t want to buy something right away, so they’ll pick up a card to remind them which tables to track down later. That’s why I recommend you try and match the branding on your cards to whatever banner you might have at your table. I also sometimes write my table number on the back of the cards so people can find me more easily.
Cards are the best way to direct people to your online work, such as your shop or art portfolio. Be sure to include a card with each purchase so people can find you again after the convention ends!
You wanted to talk about the best way to design a banner for a convention. Let’s hear it.
Yes! I’ll be speaking mainly about standalone banners and not ones that are attached to tables or parts of a display, though I’m sure some concepts will still apply. At a convention, it’s important to keep visibility in mind. Keep the most eye catching elements and important information at the very top of your banner (things like your shop or brand name, or a main character or mascot). Plan your banner around the idea of people spotting it from a distance: make any font clearly legible and eye catching.
How do you promote for a comic convention?
First, announce it well in advance! A lot of times you’ll know what cons you’re going to at the beginning of the year, so put together a list for people to reference. Closer to the dates of an individual show, you should put together a promo image that includes info like your name/logo, table number, the convention’s logo, and dates for the show. It helps to have something that is also visually interesting on top of that information so people actually bother to look at it and remember. I try to announce that I’m attending a show a month out from the con, then again the week of.
How do you use social media to prepare for a comic con?
I change my username on Twitter the month leading up to a show (Example: Megan McKay | ECCC 300). If you post frequently, this could be an easy way to passively promote the cons you’ll be attending.
Also, on sites like Instagram or Twitter, I’ll attach a promotional image for the convention to any new art or comics I post before the show.
I’ve also seen people list their convention schedule in their cover or header images on their pages. Some also use the pinned post feature on Facebook and Twitter to highlight this information.
Questions about commissions
What is the best kind of commission to do at a comic con?
The simple answer is to draw what you want. Anything that you can do that will put a bit of a special spin on the commissions helps too.
What would you say are the challenges of offering commissions?
I’d say simply running your table and trying to find the time to work on commissions is definitely the most difficult part. Just be sure to let people know well in advance when they can pick up their commission and give yourself way more time than you think you’ll need.
Do you have a strategy for producing commissions? What rules do you set for yourself?
I don’t really have any strategies other than making sure I have lots of times to work and that I don’t take on more than 10 commissions a day.
Surviving a comic con
What’s the single most challenging thing about being at a con?
Keeping your energy levels up! Conventions can be long, exhausting and overwhelming. If it’s a busy convention, I find myself really struggling to be present toward the middle of Saturday because I’m running on fumes. If it’s a slow convention or sales aren’t the best, it’s a struggle to remain cheerful. Whichever way a convention goes for you, it’s important to keep in mind the type of energy and attitude you’re projecting, because you can actually scare off sales if you’re giving off bad vibes.
I’ve found that when people come up to my table to browse my wares, if I’m friendly and polite, they almost always return to buy something later on. You don’t have to be an amazing conversationalist, but greeting everyone that comes to your table with a smile and thanking them for stopping by goes a long way to leaving a good impression.
Do you ever team up with other creators? How is that helpful?
I do! When I attend a show for the first time I try to split a table with another creator to minimize costs. I personally only like to do this if the tables are 8 ft. or longer. If a show has 6 ft. tables, things can get cramped very easily.
If I can’t split a table, I request for my table to be located next to any creator I might know. This helps because if either of us needs to step away during a show, the other will keep an eye on the table. Also, being next to someone I’m familiar with helps keep me entertained during slow points of the day.
If I can’t split a table, I request for my table to be located next to any creator I might know.
What do you do when you get burnt out from talking and selling and drawing for hours straight at a comic con?
Tough question! I think a huge factor is to prevent burnout from happening in the first place if possible.
For me, this means limiting the number of commissions I offer, which changes based on how busy the show is. I also try to keep myself hydrated, well fed and well rested. When talking with visitors at my table, I keep the introductions short and sweet, but friendly. I let the visitors set the pace of the interaction and match my energy to theirs. If they seem more laid back and are simply browsing, I give them space to do so. A good technique to use for attendees that are more energetic is to ask them questions and let them do the majority of the talking. This is fairly easy for me to do because I like hearing people talk about themselves or their outfits, etc.
Standing up and rearranging stuff at my table is another strategy I use when I’m unable to get away.
Burnout happens less if I’m tabling with or next to friends, but I think the overall key is to take breaks or to keep moving or keep busy. I like to take breaks and step away from my table to get some air or food whenever possible. Standing up and rearranging stuff at my table is another strategy I use when I’m unable to get away.
Have you ever had to deal with rude or shifty people?
Not that I can remember. I think the most common thing artists will experience at comic cons are people undervaluing their work, or making comments on pricing. If someone asks for the price of the item and balks after you tell them, it’s really important to not take it personally. Oftentimes they’re on a budget or they simply don’t understand the value of art. If that’s the case, they’re not the customers for you.
I think it’s more common to experience people who make unwanted advances or are simply creeping you out. Thankfully, this is not a common experience for me, but it does happen and it’s good to be prepared to handle it. This is another time when having a tablemate can be helpful. They can step in and deflect attention when needed. The most effective way that I’ve found to get someone to leave my table is to simply stop conversing with them. I’ll smile and nod and then physically turn away and focus my attention on a commission or packaging items, or I’ll say “It’s been so nice talking to you. Excuse me, I have to get back to work”
Obviously, your safety is always the number one priority. Do what you feel is right to keep you and others safe. Alert convention staff or security if a situation escalates to a point where you no longer feel comfortable or safe.
Comic con takeaways
If there was a single piece of advice you could give a first-time convention goer, what would that be?
Conventions are difficult and demanding. You won’t be perfect at tabling the first time you try it, and despite how much you prep beforehand you’ll realize there’s always something you can improve upon. It’s very much trial by fire. Go into it expecting to learn as you go, and don’t be discouraged if you make mistakes. Observe and talk to other vendors while you’re at a con to pick up more tidbits on how to perfect your own display.
Where can we expect to find you, Megan McKay?
In person, I’m confirmed for Awesome Con and Denver Comic Expo in 2019. Online, I post twice a week on Webtoon and weekly as doodleforfood on Instagram, Twitter, and all those other fancy places!
Thanks to Megan for giving us all this great information about how to prepare for a comic con!
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