‘Not A Villain’ Webcomic – Page 495

Colors by Audrey. Everything else is by me.

 

Kat apparently didn't get the memo.

 

Below is a rant. Short version: You don't have to play the Con Game to succeed. Original work can sell.

Long version:

I saw Shotgun Shuffle’s post on his experience at MegaCon in Florida. While what most of what he had to say is true, I take issue with this section (about halfway down his post): “I think out of all 500+ Artist Alley tables, there were MAYBE 4-5 actual webcomikers. Maybe 4-5 of 500 tables. That’s telling. It’s telling that the model of strictly pitching your own original work is a failed one. Back in 2006ish at my last con, there were dozens of original artists. They’re gone now. Times are changing, and we have to change with it.

I disagree wholeheartedly that pitching your own original work is a failed model. And I really don’t want new artists to think they have to play the Con Game (meaning, selling fan art to get noticed and then hoping to get a big enough fanbase to launch your own original work) in order to get anywhere. You don’t have to play it. It’s not even a good game to play!

But at the same time, I will not say it’s easy to go the solely-original-work route.

The difference between selling fan art and selling your original work at a convention is similar to working full-time for someone else compared to working full-time for yourself. The former has security, a reliable paycheck, no risk, boredom, drudgery and the constant wishing you could do your own stuff one day. The latter has no security, a feast-and-famine paycheck style, high risk, excitement and terror, and the complete freedom to do whatever you want.

I totally understand why people play the Con Game. It’s easier. People come to you, attracted by their favorite character. You get positive feedback. And, assuming you’re better than your (many) competitors or know how to engage people, it pays the bills.

However, you’re building a reputation on someone else’s IP. And the conversion rate from trademark characters to yours is not very high. I have talked to many artists who have tried this route. Some make it. Many don’t. And they are stuck doing those same trademarked characters year after year, never able to branch out on their own. Just like always being a hired artist for someone else instead of for yourself. People are still doing the Con Game cause it sounds like it will work but guess what, it often doesn’t! Otherwise, there would be a TON of artists doing original art in the Artist Alleys by now!¹

However, if you START with your original work, then no one is going to get upset when you stop selling their favorite character and switch to your original character.

But, you might ask, how do I get anyone to like my original character (OC from now on)?

Easy. Via a story.

People like stories. That’s why they’re buying those fan art prints and gushing over the cosplayers. Because they liked the story and the character that was in that story. If Marvel or DC created a new, original character not associated with any of their current storylines--fully dressed and (gasp) not catering to the sex-sells crowd to boot--and put up prints of that new character in their store with NO background story or anything to explain who this character was, do you think it will sell? Especially if the print of that OC was done by a no-name artist who had absolutely no following?

Eh, it might sell some since it has the Marvel/DC name behind it, but its sales are going to be abysmal in comparison with Batman or Wolverine. Why? Cause that OC has no story, no MEANING behind it.

If you’re doing OCs, then focus on the story, not the prints. That’s how you’ll make it.

For example, I sell 100% original work. Here’s my (missing-the-banner-but-basically-ready) table at this year’s Phoenix Comic Con:

I'll sit where you see the white chair.

I'll sit where you see the white chair.

Not a single fan art to be seen. Oh, I have dragons, which do get some people to stop by, but my dragons are not typical dragons (he’s a virtual one, after all). Now, notice all my posters over there on the right? Out of the 3 years of cons I’ve done so far, I have sold…(consults spreadsheet) about 50 of them. Yep, fifty. About half of them being the poster of Kleya and D walking nonchalantly. I sell the posters at about $12, so that’s $600 in 3 years. Yeah, looking at that number, you might as well as throw in the towel and start making fan art. No one can live on that.

But in those same 3 years, I have sold over 1100 books, 500 of those being NAV 1 (with still-learning art and zero pandering to the sex-sells crowd, btw). At $20 a book, that’s $22,000. Waaaay better than that measly $600. And what’s the difference? I’m selling a story, not an image.

But how do you get people to stop at your table, you might ask? Fan art is an easy way to get people to stop, but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy. The way I do it is by carnival barking (carnival barking isn’t as horrible as it sounds, btw. Saying “Hello” loudly as people walk by counts as carnival barking. You basically want people to look at you²) and then giving a compelling 30-second pitch (called an elevator pitch) of my story. Oh, and smiling. Cause a happy person is more endearing than a not-happy person.

Now, I don’t always get a buy. But you have to remember, at a comic con of 50,000+, I only need 1% to stop and listen to me. And then just half of those to buy in order for me to make a profit. That’s it! Totally doable. Yes, you'll endure a lot of rejection, but just like mining for gold, all that dirt you slugged through becomes non-existent when you find that shiny gold nugget. And the high that comes when you sell your original work to a total stranger is, I guarantee it, worth it.

So, yes, selling original work isn’t easy. It’s hard, emotionally and physically demanding (especially when you’re a one-woman show who has to move 300-600 pounds of merchandise by herself), and sometimes, during the many rejections, you wonder, “Why in the world am I doing this?!” But then I remember I want to be known for MY stories. MY characters. MY art. Not anyone else’s. And I’m getting there. I have fans who come to a con explicitly to see me (thank you!!). I have people who get excited to see I’ve returned and thank me for stopping them last year so they could discover my story. I have fans that come up and eagerly throw money down for NAV 3 without me having to catch their attention (thank you!). And just this last con (Phoenix Comic Con), I had two fans cosplay as my characters. MY characters (The Dude and Danni--so awesome!)!

THAT makes it all worth it. THAT makes the last three years of grueling work, high risk, and near-constant rejection worth it. To see people get excited over MY stories. To get giddy over MY characters and even dress up as them. And that’s what keeps me going. One day I’m going to be big. I don’t know when, but it’s definitely not going to be an ‘if’.

And I didn’t have to play the Con Game to get there.

 

EDIT: Addendum
I just want to clarify that I'm not judging or dissing those who choose to play the Con Game. I simply wanted to help and inspire artists who DON'T want to play the Con Game but feel pressured to do so.

When I began, I had many people behind the table and in front that told me I was nuts to go solely OCs. That you can't make money that way. That playing the Con Game was the only way to succeed in the world of conventions. And I know other OC/webcomic artists who get that same pressure and I felt Shotgun Shuffle's statement was adding to it. I just wanted to stand up say: "It's not true. It can be done."

 

 

¹ To be fair, a lot of artists in the Artist Alley are there mainly to attract more freelance work. Or in other words, they're there to get hired, not to sell original work.

² I tend to say "Check out my books" as people pass by and those interested in books often will stop and hear my elevator pitch³.

³ The pitch is the most crucial part for me. It's my main selling tactic. If people like the pitch, they'll look at the book. And if they prefer story over art, I'll get a sale. Yay!

 

Feel free to ask any questions 🙂

Phill

Wished I could come visit your booth, sadly I don’t live in America where all these wonderful things happen. Any chance you’ll be going to Cons outside of the US?

Dude

Dude, so meta. Thanks for posting!

Chaos

You were at up at Phoenix this weekend?! Man I was roaming up and down those alleys and still managed to miss your table. I’m a bit disappointed in my lack of observational abilities now.

Alex
That was an interesting rant. 🙂 I believe that there are so many artists in this world that the market can’t provide for everyone. By far! Kinda like how there isn’t enough work in general for everyone, but to me it looks like art is a much much harder market to make a living from. Not just webcomics, but also books, pictures (everything from DeviantArt to museums), music, theater, etc. I wish we had an unconditional basic income, so everyone could do what they enjoy without the pressure of having to make money from it. With the current degree of… Read more »
Jon
“I wish we had an unconditional basic income, so everyone could do what they enjoy without the pressure of having to make money from it.” I wish all farmland was divided up among the population of a country, and that you could never sell that land, you could only lease it. This way you can optionally work the land to provide yourself with food security, and any time left over you could do what you enjoy (or you can lease it to your neighbour to work it if that is viable). As the world becomes more automated, it will take… Read more »
B-Dom

lol, compared to how much people there are, versus how much fertile land there are, I doubt it’ll be possible. Not to mention condition of the land, and knowledge on agriculture. Then you have to account our greed, we’d likely try to kill each other to gain more land 😛

KTrimbach
I don’t know where you’re getting your idea for this, but it’s what the bible originally set-up for the hebrews after they came out of Egypt. Each family was allotted a certain plot of land and the land could only be leased. Every 50 years, all the land would revert to the original owners. The leases would be tied to how many years until the next “jubilee” year. And during that year the original owners had to return and live on the land. (Oh, and I think that all debts were cancelled as well.) I find this compelling for a… Read more »
robinmdh

– And people would still turn forests into (very fertile) land.
– This system also assumes no growth (if you have more than 1son and 1 daughter, who gets the land?) and specifically undermines the use of labor for things other then getting food such as making comics (or programming 3d printers in my case).
– Also assumes everyone will get along with their parents.

BlueAmy

Basic income is an idea I like. Dividing up the farmland like that probably wouldn’t work, though. Our heavily populated world relies on huge commercial farms that produce an enormous output. Without that, everyone HAS to farm to live, and even that might not be enough to prevent mass starvation. Automation isn’t yet at a point where this would be viable. In the meantime, basic income alone would provide food security without threatening food production.

Alex
Interesting discussion! 🙂 Well, if I had farmland I would probably lease it right away to someone who would do the farming for me, because I’m a programmer. Mass starvation could be prevented if we didn’t pay people for NOT using their farmland just to keep the prices high. We could instead give the money to the small farmland owners who wouldn’t be able to exist with low prices. Also we need to produce less meat and stop using oil from plants for car-fuel. In addition to an unconditional basic income I would also like to see a flowing currency,… Read more »
Zigraphix
I am increasingly a fan of basic income. I think of it as distribution of the gains of automation. Many jobs have become obsolete, and even more will be automated in the future. It makes sense to distribute some of the gains from this to those whose jobs have been made redundant. We really should be close to a post-scarcity economy by now, when artists like Aneeka would be able to work full time at creating something they love and not have to worry about how to get the money to eat. (I would probably still work at my current… Read more »
Alex

Amen to that! 🙂

Kin
Cons are crazy noisy. Especially in the Artists Ally. Anyone yelling at you is just loud enough to hear. So you CAN ignore any sales pitches you want. In fact you’ll probably have to focus just to hear the sales pitches. 😛 Set a budget in CASH. Put it in an inner pocket that is hard to steal from. (Not your bag, and leave your wallet in the hotel room) Go ahead and bring out your card for the restaurants if you want. Or put that in cash too. And keep in mind nearly all the fun stuff to do… Read more »
nipahgirl
Well, I don’t really go to cons to talk to artists and look at art, so I don’t know if what I say will do any good, but I always go to a booth prepared and intending to buy what’s there. Looking from afar is one thing, but when I go talk to the artist it’s always because the art seemed interesting (and of course if they try to attract me with a story I’ll also go). Then I have a look at what’s there, and, well, if I don’t like what I see (mostly the fanservice (be it on… Read more »
Bob
I actually just went to ACEN a couple weeks back. It was my very first Anime convention. I did a lot of walking around, including artist ally. I think what you are missing, Alex, is scope. Yes, there are lots of artists, but you are 1 of 50,000 people there. Very rarely was I walking around in an open area. Often I was surrounded by people (not in an uncomfortable way, just in a crowd). So it’s hard to be singled out by artists. I can say that in my time there never once was I called to by artists… Read more »
Alex
Wow, thanks everyone for giving so many detailed and helpful responses! Especially the “you’re just one out of VERY many people” point is something I had completely overlooked, so thanks for telling me! 🙂 Regarding 2 I was just thinking that e.g. on Youtube I keep hearing people complaining about fakers who repeat lines like “I love you guys, you’re the best”, but they do it ONLY because they heard somewhere that you can gain fame this way, so I was concerned that this fake a**-kissing might happen a lot on Cons as well. In fact similar things do happen… Read more »
Momoko
I’ve been to a lot of cons and the best part for me is always the artist alley/exhibitors! Definitely recommend going to one since you haven’t been. Cash is your best friend, since I tend to blow my budget during these cons lol Best thing is to look at every single booth first, see what are the things you are drawn to and remember to go back later. If you don’t remember, then that’s unfortunate for the artist. I used to buy prints and stuff all the time, but over recent years, I really like buying original art books (comics,… Read more »
Kin
Huh – I’ve been to a few cons and I never noticed the “no eye contact” thing both you and Shotgun Shuffle mention. One thing I DID notice was what I call “the beeline”. The convention goers will scan as far as they can see looking for something specific. (Usually their favorite work that they budgeted $$ to buy something from) Then they will go STRAIGHT to that booth. Trying to bump into as few people as possible of course. I don’t see people simply wandering around Artist Ally much. And if they are – the cos-players will get as… Read more »
WLBW
Looking at this page, one thing that occurs to me: Kat has lost in a direct battle once in this story. More, Jake saw this happen, in the greatest detail. How much hope did that give him for the change? And how much do his hopes crumble at seeing Kat still enjoying being good at what she does? It is important to keep her head down, but I think there is not just that feeling at play, here. For him, whether Kat is likely to go on to kill someone else is also at stake, despite spending a while with… Read more »
Bastion

Would you be okay if your rant was posted on Tumblr (with appropriate citation and links)? I quite like it.

Zigraphix
Good rant. I’ve been to plenty of cons, sometimes with my own work (I have an original card game). I don’t mind seeing a few fan artists in Artist Alley, particularly if they’re doing clever crossover images or parodies (fem!Loki comes to mind), but I have to admit I don’t take them as seriously as artists who are promoting their own work. I’m a lot more likely to buy an indie comic or an original poster or tshirt than a fan drawing of someone else’s licensed character. But I think coming up with original story ideas is its own skill,… Read more »
Alex

Good to know. 🙂 I can imagine that sometimes I just want to look at images in peace, while sometimes I just want to talk about their projects.

Alex

“I contracted with three different artists, one after the other, to produce art for my card game, and all three of them drifted off without producing anything (and yes, I was offering to pay them per image on delivery plus a cut of proceeds from the game).”

Looks like they weren’t quite as reliable as Audrey and Jemma then. I wonder what the problem was.
Bad luck?
Amount of communication?
Or just the fact that they were new and inexperienced?

Caryn

Your rant makes a good point, and it makes perfect sense to me. Thank you for that info; I’m pretty sure I’ll need it one day.

It makes me uncomfortable to think that people are making money off of characters that aren’t their own; I think it’s cheating.

Komm
It’s not cheating, it’s intelligent. You can sing all the praises of original work if you want, but unless it instantly catches attention you aren’t going to do enough business to make it any sort of income. The majority of people glance at something to determine if it’s something they know already and want to see before moving on to the next thing – especially true at Cons when there’s so much to see and do and limited time to do it in – that unless whatever you’re presenting just pops like crazy and instantly connects with people in that… Read more »
Zigraphix
When I used to attend cons, fan art was very much the minority, even discouraged by the cons. Generally a drawing of a character originally drawn by someone else wouldn’t be sold in Artist Alley, though drawings or paintings of live-action media were tolerated. I guess the rules have changed over time. Then again, those were primarily science fiction conventions. I think it’s a bit different when an independent artist creates an illustration of their interpretation of a written character. Publishers are looking for illustrators who can work from written descriptions. It was considered Not OK to copy someone else’s… Read more »
Crestlinger

Then they All find out that Chimera absorbs demoli-based energy.

Syrino
An interesting rant and I do agree. It is difficult for some people to come up with original stories or characters. I’ve known people that could write amazing fanfiction or do great fanart, but when it came to coming up with something original they never could quite do it. I would also say that in addition to a story, the thing that you also need is passion. Creative types can be a very passionate bunch, especially when it comes to their own work. You need to use that passion when you talk to people about your original work. The more… Read more »
Rusche
Aneeka, I think this is a wonderful response to my blog post about what I learned at Megacon. Everything you just said above is exactly my own sentiment one minute before the convention started. After four days, I developed all my thoughts for my post. I want to drive home the fact I 100% agree that pitching your own OCs is vastly more personally satisfactory than peddling copyrighted characters. My post was a realistic view about my work, my OCs, and how I need to get the results I want to further my comic/brand, and to make the convention scene… Read more »
Autumn Fyre

Wow, that rant was so awesome to read – and very inspiring, too. Maybe one day I’ll be selling orignal stuff next to you, yelling, “look at Aneeka’s stuff!” and “I’m her number one fan!” ;P

Marscaleb

I honestly wonder why Bandit hasn’t figured out some way he can discretely send a message to Kat without anyone but Kat knowing about it.
He’s a pretty good programmer; he ought to be able to do that.

Johnny

He’s figured it out. http://navcomic.com/not-a-villain/page-377/

It’s not even that hard. http://navcomic.com/not-a-villain/page-457/

Kat’s just not very responsive when he tries.

Marscaleb

No, none of those messages look like ones they can both trust to be completely unmonitored.
I’d like him to talk to her personally, being explicit about who she is, and discussing what she’s doing.

Evea

Isn’t the Bandit character one the company gave him? Maybe they monitor that character.

antrik

Sending a message shouldn’t require any special skills — going by everything we have seen so far, this VR seems to amazingly immune against eavesdropping.

The real problem is, *what* to say? http://navcomic.com/not-a-villain/page-332/

Opal

I came, I saw, I bought two buttons and five bookmarks and got to chitter-chat with a favored comic artist. Who cares about fan art? Yea, I’d love to see Kleya dressed up a bobafett or something, but that’s silly and not really to her character… maybe everyone’s favorite space-filler Dude…

Eiríkr Útlendi

Humans *are* stories. And we only connect with stories. Look at little kids – they can take a couple of sticks and spin a story out of the air. But without the story, they wouldn’t be playing with the sticks.

Emily Martha Sorensen

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I sent you an e-mail.

Evea
Aneeka’s booth location wasn’t too great and a lot of people were getting placed in odd spots. The woman next to my table had a set-up that hid me from view and she was in no hurry to stop her friends from blocking my merchandise. But it’s like Aneeka says. You just smile and work things out. We moved our table to the back and set another along the side and then stood at the front and welcomes people to step in out of the crowd. I had demo products up there and let customers see the strength and quality… Read more »
Liliet

Oh, so Jake has guessed right what Kat’s angle is 😀

I guess it’s not that hard if you know about her mom’s favorite colors and route… and I guess about what her relationship with her mom actually was.

I’m just. So happy he isn’t off the mark there ^^

pepperalmond

I agree 100% with your take on the Con Game. It doesn’t really matter what industry your are in; if it’s a good product it just takes hard work, a good elevator pitch, and a friendly/confident personality to make a sale. I think it’s great you don’t play the Con Game and stick with your OCs. You have a great story and your confidence in that story makes all the difference. Love your work!

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