Understanding Commerce
March 11, 2009 12:01 PM   Subscribe

What should I sell at this year's Stumptown Comics Festival?

Some local cartoonists and I have bought in on a table at the Stumptown Comics Festival. I've already resolved to sell a zine-sized comic book and production well under way, but I'm considering branching out into some other items as well. Maybe posters, maybe t-shirts, I'm not sure. I'm not expecting to make this month's rent or anything, but it would be nice to come out of Stumptown w/ a profit.

So, I put it to the hivemind: Aside from comics, what kind of stuff do you look to purchase at comics conventions? What do you find yourself coming home with? What are you comfortable spending on various items? And if you've ever worked a table at a convention, which items proved most popular? What price point seemed ideal?

I've got just about a month to get ready. What do you think I should produce in that time?
posted by EatTheWeek to Shopping (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Original art, with a personalized signature.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 12:23 PM on March 11, 2009

Everyone's got T-shirts at these things, but I don't like wearing shirts as much as I like drinking beer. I think you should get some paint, paint some designs on some blank pint glasses, and sell 'em for like ten bucks a pop.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:26 PM on March 11, 2009

-Buy cheap landscape paintings at thrift stores and paint your characters into them, or cheap portraits and replace the faces.
-Get some cheap plastic toys and spraypaint them gold. Give away one with each comic purchased.
-Sikscreened posters also sell well.
posted by abirae at 12:26 PM on March 11, 2009

I think Greg Nog's on the right track, but I'd go for an etched pint glass over a painted one. Etching, though not exactly the safest project, is pretty cheap and easy to do. Basically, make a stencil out of contact paper, peel off the back and stick to the glass, put etching cream over the exposed parts of the stencil, and then rinse it off after the appropriate time has elapsed. I'd pay $10, maybe $12 for these.
posted by runningwithscissors at 12:32 PM on March 11, 2009

I go to SPACE every year, and exhibited once. Stumptown looks similar, in that it's mostly small press and self-published comics.

My rule when making the rounds is that I will buy anything that is A) a dollar or under and B) doesn't look terrible. A lot of time I see people who have had all their work expensively printed and don't have anything on their table with a price point under $5, $10, $15 dollars. I have definitely paid money for nicer comics before, but generally only after I've gotten to know that person's work through a cheap xeroxed mini comic. Even $5 is a huge investment if I turn out to hate it, but for $1 the risk isn't as high. Some people have really tiny comics for 50 cents; I know Jeff Zwirek, whose been published with Top Shelf all class-style, also flogs itty bitty booklets of drawings of The Cast of The Office, The Cast of Star Wars, etc. Simple idea, small size, cheap price.

A lot of people do little sketches/paintings/prints/whatever of popular geek-canon characters (Hellboy, Princess Leia, etc) and sell them. I think these are really cheesy (why do I want some caricature of Batman by some dude who never worked on Batman?) but some people collect particular characters and I guess they buy them or else people wouldn't sell them.

I had a sign on my table saying I would draw anything you wanted in your comic free with purchase. It should be noted that my comics style is barely above stick-figure level so this was quick, and I offered little drawings to the people who were in too much of a hurry to wait for me to draw something. Also, I got to draw a lot of cocks. This was a perk for me, but make sure you're really willing to draw whatever people want, because they want cocks.

Everyone and their mom is going to want to collaborate with you. After I did SPACE people wanted me to write their comic, draw their comic, contribute to their anthology. Likely, you will not get offered much/any money for this. I'm glad I accepted the offers I did (my work is in a real print publication which feels pretty fancy for someone who's publishing house is a Kinko's) but pumping out even a four page comic is a lot of work and ultimately, you need to be putting your own projects in front of other people's. It's flattering, but make sure you know where your priorities are and what other responsibilities you have before you promise anything.

T-shirts are awesome, especially if you

A) Don't spend a lot of money on the printing and thereby don't charge crazy amounts. I know someone who bought an AWESOME screenprinted shirt at a convention and it's obviously one-pass screenprinted at home on a Hanes undershirt-shirt that comes in packs at Target. Still totally awesome, and better than a $25 American Apparel shirt that you had to do a minimum order on to get printed. Small press is supposed to be ghetto, put the effort into the design.

B) Think of jokes/images/whatever that would appeal to everyone, even if they have no familiarity with your work. Not to dis, but I doubt there is an established fan base of your work clamoring for merchandise to advertise their love for it. No in-jokes, no plain image of one of your characters. Again, ripping off licensed characters is pretty huge, but also kind of lame.
posted by Juliet Banana at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I forgot to add: BAGS! A lot of people neglect to bring a bag to cons, and by the end of the day they're lugging around this slip-slidey pile of comics. Hobby Lobby sells blank canvas tote bags in primary colors for $2; you can also find similar items at Joann's Fabrics, Michael's, et al. You can reuse the same silkscreens/stencils you use on t-shirts, and you've got a solid $8-$15 item that boys won't feel too girly reusing for groceries and girls can reuse as a purse. It fulfills a need they have right there.

Also, I always hang around the tables that have free food (cupcakes! candy! punch with solo cups!) and feel too guilty afterward to not buy something.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:04 PM on March 11, 2009

I haven't been to Stumptown (and it's looking like it won't happen again this year ... sigh ...) but I've been to SPX and MoCCA Art Fest. Honestly, what I'm looking to buy there is comics. If don't know you or your work, I'm probably not going to buy a T-shirt unless it's extra awesome on its own. Same for posters or pint glasses (although that's not a bad idea).

I may be unusual in that I go to these shows mostly to buy mini-comics and bigger anthologies I may not have seen/heard of. I bet plenty of people go to buy "stuff." But I figure that mostly, I can get cool T-shirts or pint glasses anywhere (no, maybe not with your stuff on it, but you get my point). I probably won't be able to find your comics anywhere else.
posted by darksong at 1:08 PM on March 11, 2009

I go to APE every year and always seem to come home with multiple packs of stickers. They are usually business card sized or smaller and feature original characters from small press authors. Pricing is usually a few bucks for a half-dozen stickers.

I don't know why, guess I just like the utility of stickers.
posted by jamaro at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2009

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