Platform Expo

March 27, 2011

As an experience in connection with my studies, the college rather kindly bought me a ticket to the local Platform Expo so today I took a stroll down to Hull’s KC Stadium to check it out.

I didn’t do much actual gaming there given the domination of ‘pods’ by sweaty 14 year olds – a grown man wrestling for a controller is not good look –  but there were enough interesting stands, talks and examples of bizarre cosplay to keep me preoccupied regardless. Initially looking into the concept art section I flicked through a few of the portfolio’s and was pretty awestruck at both the quality and sheer quantity of the art within. It’s a little daunting to see such rigorous work processes laid out like that, and while it was inspirational it also made me question whether my own output is below what it should be. Either way, for better or worse I’m glad I saw them.

Squeezing past the Master Chief, some storm troopers and a particularly eye catching Princess Peach I dropped in on a talk about copyright and trademarking. I’ll confess to having limited interest in the legal side of the creative industries but this lecture was something of an eye opener, giving a rundown on the dangers of pitching a new concept and how to protect it in turn. I’m not saying I’m going to be putting a ‘TM’ after my updates anytime soon but even if this isn’t of immediate use to me, I’m certain it will be in the future.

I finished up with a visit to the 18+ section – again this was seemingly populated by 14 year olds, again I was unable to wrestle a controller free. What it did make me realise though was that despite being a longtime gamer at an expo focused on the games, they weren’t necessarily the most interesting aspect. Rather it was the workings and planning behind the industry that really fascinated me.

It was nice to escape my desk for a while and recharge my inspiration batteries. All the same, I’m glad I don’t have to battle for a go on my console at home…

London MCM Expo May 2012: Reflections

May 28, 2012

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 :)