For the last 10 years I’ve ran a table at at least one comic con show a year. The most I did in one year was around 2016 when I did 6 or 7 shows. However, I’ve been seeing a steady decline in the amount of money I’ve been making at these shows and I think it’s time for me to push pause on cons for the foreseeable future.
Here’s why I do comic cons:
I love meeting the people who support my work
I love making friends and strengthening old friendships in the comic industry
I like getting out of my studio and seeing new places ( also like the long road trips to clear my head)
I always come away from the shows wanting to do better and be better in my career. I get ideas from other professionals and fans about how to improve my work and business
Its a way to supplement my income
EMERALD CITY COMIC CON NUMBERS
By far the best show I do every year is Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. All my other shows gross roughly $4,000 to $6,000, but Seattle is always a good $2,000 more than that. I’m going to talk about Emerald City because I’ve decided that if I do any show from here on out it’ll be that one since it’s my biggest money maker.
In 2015, the first year I did the show, I grossed $9,053. My expenses for a show are between $1000 and $2000 depending on the amount of tables I get and what my hotel situation is. I walked away from ECCC 2015 with about $7,500 in my pocket. Not bad!
BUT, Here’s how it’s broken down since 2015:
2017: Took a year off
That’s a pretty steep decline. This year my best seller was by far my new SkyHeart book. I sold over 60 copies of it! However, this last year I sold less prints (for less money), less books overall, and I only did 2 commissions instead of my usual 9 or 10.
REASONS FOR THE DECLINE
Here’s some of the reasons I think there’s been a decline:
1) I don’t sell BIG Marvel Fan Art prints any more. They were 13 x 19 and sold for $30 a pop. (I don’t sell them any more for a few reasons which I’ll get into on another post) Also, the prints I did sell at this show are half the size of what I used to sell and go for $20. I made them for a smaller show and I’m just clearing them out. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
2) It’s been a few years since I’ve done any comic work for Marvel, and I didn’t bring any original comic art with me.
4) In 2018 and 2019 I moved my location to the Sky Bridge. Emerald City is set up with two main halls connected by a narrow glass atrium that looks over one of the main streets in downtown Seattle. It’s called the Sky Bridge and it has a lot of traffic, but it’s not direct traffic. It’s mostly people just passing through to get to the other side of the con. The first two years I was in the Artist Alley and I think the people who cruise Artist Alley are more likely to be there deliberately and are looking for specific things to spend money on.
I can fix most of these problems to maybe squeeze out a few more dollars from a show, but is it worth it?
But here’s some other theories of mine that I don’t think are fixable:
1) People are just suffering from con-fatigue and not spending as much money.
2) Cons growing in the amount of artists that are showing and the attendees spending the same amount of money, but distributing it to more people. (it looked like ECCC Artist Alley was BIGGER than it’s ever been this year)
3) I’ve tapped my full audience at comic cons. It’s entirely possible that everyone who is a fan of Jake Parker in the Seattle area already has everything they want from me. There were lots of people who came by just to say hi, which is super nice, but they didn’t buy anything.
REASONS TO QUIT
There’s a handful of reasons I do not like doing cons. They are an incredible time and energy suck. There’s the days leading up to the con that you’re getting everything ready. There’s the travel to and from. There’s the con itself which can be brutally noisy and socially draining. And then there’s picking up the pieces of your life when you get home. I usually have to spend a day doing all the house chores and errands I didn’t do while I was gone.
When I look at the reasons I like going to cons I wonder if actually tabling at a con is the best way to address those needs. It seems like the amount of time, effort, and creative energy that goes into setting up a table for a weekend at a convention could be better spent on deeper pursuits. A monthly google hang out could be a better way to meet fans in a more personal way. There could be a better way to maintain friendships in the industry via phone calls, texts, and skype hangouts. I could make a trip to another city where 100% of my time is spent exploring and experience everything that city has to offer and not have to spend 10 hours a day at that city’s convention. I could also spend money on specifically focused professional development courses/seminars and probably get more ideas and inspiration than what I would get from a convention. There a lot of better ways to make a few thousand dollars in a week where I still get to sleep in my own bed.
In short, maybe the money I make at a con isn’t worth it.
My questions I’m trying to answer right now:
Should I fix what I can and go one more time and see if the numbers rally?
Should I stop for a year?
Should I bid ECCC adieu?
What would you do?
BELOW: A sample of what I had at my table this year: