London MCM Expo May 2012: Reflections

Phew, that was quite the weekend! Besides last year’s Platform Expo in Hull this was my first real convention I’ve attended and certainly the first time I’ve ever sold any work. It’s been both exhilarating and daunting in equal measure, more than anything though it’s most definitely been worthwhile.

In the end I sold 10 copies of Branch, with the majority of purchases being made on Saturday – by far the busiest day – which going on other people’s tables and what I’ve been told is pretty decent for a first timer. Financially speaking this doesn’t even equate to me breaking even but quite honestly I’m happy enough that there was interest in Branch, that I got constructive feedback and met like-minded folks with the same passion for comics. As it is I can always sell my spare stock another time and recoup the costs in the longterm.

I could rave on about all the cool things I saw or the weird and wonderful cosplay in abundance but to keep things concise and critical it’s probably best that I reflect on what I did right, what I did wrong and what I can do better next time.

Obvious as it may sound I think the lower pricing helped convince more customers, giving them the extra nudge where they otherwise might not of purchased. At £4 and £3.50 where I discounted I was hardly raking it in but most people are fairly cautious of unknown quantities and if there’s less to gamble they’ll be more willing to take the plunge. Call it optimistic but if I can interest more readers now then perhaps I can raise the price slightly without driving them away.

In terms of presentation meanwhile I was pretty humble but I think I made the most of what I had. During set up on Friday I met Chris/Ushio who I collaborated with on the Six anthology – we’ve been in contact for a few years but hadn’t previously met in person till now – anyway, besides being as nice a guy offline as on he gave me a few pointers, specifically suggesting I leave a copy or two of Branch open to read. This was definitely a good move as the contents seemed to go down better than the cover – too grim? – while later my friend/volunteer Nikita opened one on page 7’s cityscape which seemed to impress a few.

The direct feedback I received was largely positive, with most praising linework, use of colour and the general style. There was some understandable scepticism over the ‘to be continued’ conclusion but most who read through didn’t seem as bothered by the slow pacing and build up as I might have thought. I sincerely doubt anyone was blown away but it was uplifting that people urged me to continue and wanted to know when I’d back.

An additional offshoot of all this was getting a stronger sense of exactly who my niche audience is, I’ve only vaguely mentioned it to be  somewhere in the young adult SF crowd upwards before so it was interesting to see exactly who was buying. If you’ll forgive me generalizing slightly, most of my buyers were older men – likely no one under 20 – suggesting I am indeed on target.

It might sound a little condescending but I feel the content of the storyline rules out children for the most part while the majority of teenagers are likely to want something with more action, comedy and faster pacing. Maybe it sounds like I’m stereotyping, but I didn’t have much interest in film noir, detective fiction or cyberpunk until I was at least 17 and the readers are always welcome to prove me wrong :P

On the downside I felt that my chosen genre may be in a bit of a slump at the moment. Fantasy, superheroes and steampunk were all dominant at the Expo with the latter’s romanticism of technology being especially at odds with the cynical portrayal in cyberpunk. That’s not to say I don’t love these genres respectively but I did feel like it might be the wrong time and place for sci-fi dystopias; I got a palpable sense of people searching for fun and optimism rather than gloom and angst. It’s not like I’m going to change Branch into cheerful magic-adventure anytime soon, but it does present an obstacle I should give serious thought to in future.

There were exceptions to this formula such as Twisted Dark and Romantically Apocalyptic which seemed to do good business however they were well established with impressive displays to boot, which neatly brings me to my weakest area: presentation. Right from the off I knew I was outgunned since more than half the tables had banners, postcards, badges and stands; you literally couldn’t miss them. I meanwhile showed up with a table-cloth, my first issue and a modest A5 pricing sign. To make one of my stupid analogies, it was like being a mouse amongst elephants. Big elephants, wearing sparklers and wielding boom boxes playing loud “UNTZ” music…

Even in retrospect I know I wouldn’t have had the time or money to get something like an 8ft banner made for Branch but there are plenty of smaller things I could have done and certainly will do next time I attend a convention.

First and foremost I need to get some business cards, they’re a nice compromise for people who are unwilling to spend money on a comic but are still interested in your work and want to find out more. While I did write this blog down for plenty of people, having something to casually grab without a fuss is definitely preferable and likely to draw more attention in the long run, also peripherals such as badges and postcards could also give my table more substance and alternatives for hesitant customers. Even if I can’t get a banner, building a smaller display of some sort could help catch people’s eye and a stand to prop my comics up on would make them more visible at a distance as opposed to being flat on the table.

There are other matters too such as whether I should adopt a company name and what it might be, starting a proper website and sorting out a possible internet store but they’re really things I’ll need a while longer to mull over and talk about in other posts; right now I want to make good on the momentum and boost of inspiration the Expo has given me and get back to work.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who bought a copy of Branch, talked with me, helped me out, offered me veteran advice or sold me their work at the Expo. I had a great time :)

4 Responses to London MCM Expo May 2012: Reflections

  1. demontales says:

    Lots of positive! I don’t think your cover was too grim for people to pick it up without opening it. People are often shy in these kind of events and are not always sure what they can touch or not.
    Business cards would indeed be a good move. I remember when we had a portfolio showing at the end of my college formation, many people wouldn’t even tell me hello but would take a card and leave.

    • Ozy says:

      Yeah, I’ll be sure to have a stack of them prepared next time I attend an Expo. There were plenty of folks stopping at the table to look before moving on, I imagine they would have taken a card given the chance. That and I’m sure I can’t of had the grimmest cover at the convention…

  2. Glad to see your comic at the convention! It was very busy on the Saturday, the Artist’s Alley was crammed. I understand what you mean in saying you were at a disadvantage by not having big banners and signs, but on the other hand it can be a good thing. Funnily enough, that was what drew me across to your table. It was obvious you were just starting out and I think that’s nice to see. I’m more inclined to give tables like that some attention than the ones with flashing lights and crowds of people.

    I wish I had bought one of your comics, but sadly I just didn’t have enough cash left in my wallet. £3.50 / £4 is still very cheap. Sadly London is a very expensive place and quite a lot of merchandise in the con was quite pricey too. We did notice one other indie comic at the convention was also for sale in a shop in London, named Tokyo Toys (I think.)

    Keep up the good work!

    • Ozy says:

      Thanks, will do!

      Similarly it was the quieter low key tables I visited first when I managed to get a break from my own; besides being a sucker for an underdog I’m not very patient with queues… that, and given my own n00b status it seemed only fair to do so XD

      No worries on the non-purchase aswell, there was tons of stuff I wanted in the comic village but didn’t have the cash for, so I know the feeling ;)

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