Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

January 3, 2011

A Chat With Dave Sim, Part 6 – A Response

Filed under: Conventions,Thoughts — M Kitchen @ 11:11 am

Originally MYRANT thought this comment entry was spammy, so I posted it here on the Ultraist Journal Blog. Since then Steve Bissette took the initiative to copy and paste it in manually. Thanks Steve!  This goes into deep detail on my comic convention experiences.  It is a response to A Chat With Dave Sim, Part 6.

Regarding Comic Conventions:

There are two conventions that are “profitable” for Ultraist Studios and Possum Press:  FAN EXPO and WORD ON THE STREET (which is a book fair, not a comic convention).

Fan Expo is the fourth largest comic convention in North America and it’s right in our backyard.  Our only expense is the table and parking.  As a result we are able to do slightly better than “break even”.  Our comics are able to hold their own in this environment.  We get lots of interest from people who are at the show for other things (like the SciFi or Horror).  This has become an annual outing for us and we are now at a point where people come looking for us.  Check out our con reports here:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/index.php?s=”fan+expo”.  In fact, in 2009 Electric Playground did a SPY GUY feature that was broadcast on national television.  That interview can be seen here: http://www.ultraist.net/epInterview.html

Word On The Street is interesting in that we are some of the only comic book publishers at this event.  We get people from all walks of life showing interest.  It’s a more even demographic than any other show.  Because there are few comic books, we get a lot of interest from children.  That is a good sign (if you ask me) that comic books are as interesting as ever for the upcoming generation.  Considering that table costs are quite steep for a one day show, and we are selling three dollar comics, it amazes me that every year we are able to do slightly better than “break even”.  Con reports here:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/index.php?s=”word+on+the+street”

Just about any other convention we’ve done, once you tack on travel and accommodation costs, becomes a loss leader.

It is the residual effects of attending these conventions that make them worth while.

APE at the time we went was our least successful show.  People there were more interested in art objects than comic books.  This is a common trait I’ve found in the ultra-indie comic cons.  People do not seem to be interested in traditional comics, unlike the big ComicCons and FanExpos.  Blair and I went home from that show with the wind blown out of our sales.  But because of that convention, we were noticed by some people in Hollywood, and were asked to be a part of the convention sequence of the 2008 feature film SUPERHERO MOVIE directed by Craig Mazin and produced by David Zucker and Robert K. Weiss.  Here are some screen grabs:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2009/04/24/spy-guy-vs-dragonfly/

We recently returned to San Francisco to attend WonderCon 2010, and were amazed to find how many people had been looking for us ever since.  Our table was tucked away in a far back corner, so when we were discovered with excitement, it was one of those things that makes it all worth while.  Here is a videoblog of our Wonder Con adventure:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2010/06/24/spy-guy-the-possum-vs-wondercon-2010/

SPX was one of my favorite shows to attend.  It fell somewhere between the mainstream shows and the ultra-indie shows.  There wasn’t Hollywood competition, and yet people were still interested in traditional looking comic books.  It was a “break-even” or “slightly-less-than-break-even” show, but the BOX of comic trades I came home with FAR MORE than outweighed any loss.  Good stuff!  Of course we did that show on the cheap (sleeping in the van).  Paying for a hotel room would have crushed us.  Definitely a show I would like to do again, however circumstances have prevented us from doing so recently.  Full report here:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2007/10/19/spx-2007-field-report/

MoCCA had to be the biggest financial loss of any show I’ve attended.  There was lots working against it.  Blair didn’t attend the show, so I took all the financial loss myself (even though I was selling his comics and using his sales to help offset the cost).  I brought the whole family with me which added to the expense.  And MoCCA seemed to be one of those ultra-indie shows where people aren’t interested in traditional looking comics.  That said; this is what good came out of it:  I finally got to meet Charlito (and Mr Phil who I first met at SPX) of Indie Spinner Rack, and got to speak with him for one of the ISR shows:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2010/06/17/indie-spinner-rack/ and I also got to meet Brian LeTendre from the Secret Identity Podcast and appear on his show: http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2010/09/09/secret-identity-podcast-264/ I also got to meet Gahl Buslov of Midtown Comics who made the BIGGEST single purchase of SPY GUY comics in the history of Ultraist Studios.  It was nice to say “thank you” in person.  Here is my videoblog con report:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/2010/04/17/spy-guy-vs-mocca-2010/ (good trades from this show as well).

And San Diego Comic Con.  What an experience that was.  This nearly ties with MoCCA for biggest financial loss, but man was it fun!  It was so big, and we met so many people, and went to so many post-con parties, that I have to say it was worth the expense.  An interesting story; I was approached by someone who was apparently involved with the Bourne Identity movies, who was looking for new SPY material to be made into feature films.  He asked if I ever though of having SPY GUY turned into a movie, and I told him that if it were ever to happen, I’d see it as an animated movie, at which point he lost interest, though he gave me his card, and I gave him a comic.  But the though of having “Bruce Willis as SPY GUY” was a funny enough thought to keep me laughing (even as I type this).  We have a video blog waiting to be edited but in the meantime here is a quick blog post:  http://www.ultraist.net/journal/index.php?s=”San+Diego+Comic+Con+2010″

An exception to the “loss leader” show was SPACE.  Here the table cost was low, and even the foot traffic of attendees was low. Yet if you compared our sales to the number of attendees it had to be the highest sales per person ratio of any show we’ve been to.  I don’t think we covered transportation cost (gas from Toronto to Columbus) but when all is said and done, it’s a show I would not hesitate to do again.  It was a “meeting of the tribe”.  Highlights were meeting up with the Cerebus Yahoo!s, doing the annual gathering at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus (for our first time).  Also came home with a decent amount of trades.  SPUD & HARRY even got nominated as a SPACE PRIZE finalist!  http://www.backporchcomics.com/space_prize_finaliists_general.htm

A videoblog documentary of SPACE 2010 can be viewed here:

What is worth mentioning is that a lot of these things don’t necessarily translate into immediate sales, but there is a very real “snowball effect” that is clearly happening in slow motion where each event builds on the other, causing a cascading chain reaction.

It’s tough doing the comic circuit selling three dollar comics.
Part of the trick to making money at these things is to come up with something that sells in the $50 and up range.
Big name artists can sell sketches, but we like to give those away to people who support us for free.
That’s just how we roll.

Coming up in the next few years, we’ll be experimenting with attending other shows we’ve yet to attend.  To have our comics infiltrate new cities and get them into the hands of new readers.  I’m very curious to hear other artists experiences with shows they’ve attended and hearing their recommendations.


  1. Mike – great to follow your posts, and read about how you are using these events, and your thought process behind where/when to attend. Sounds like the comic business has a lot in common with the indie music business! Happy New Year.

    Comment by Terry Neudorf — January 3, 2011 @ 11:35 am

  2. It sure does. As a matter of fact, I like to look to the music business to anchor my thoughts about the comic business, because I don’t have a vested interest in music, I’m able to look at it much more objectively. I can also understand it as someone with only a casual interest, unlike paper comics where I’m hard core obsessed with it.

    Happy New Year to you as well!
    Let’s make 2011 a good one.

    Comment by M Kitchen — January 3, 2011 @ 11:45 am

  3. Mike,

    I see your trajectory is very similar to mine in regards to cons: Travel, expenses, take a loss. Oh, and sold some books!

    You’re right about building a trajectory with it, though. It’s a cumulative effect for sure. I realize the drain of finances causes many of us to drop out, but one must adapt and drop the shows that aren’t productive, and seek out newer ones all the time. After 13 years, ‘on the road’, I still haven’t found the right mix!! Honestly though, I do like traveling to a new city, or revisiting old friends and fans in cities that may not put me in the black, but they’re always worth returning to.

    I didn’t realize some Hollywood rep stopped by your table for SPY GUY. Interesting. Of course, the percentage of that happening is so high nowadays I shouldn’t be that surprised. They are out in droves looking for stuff.

    Good content on here as usual.

    Comment by Javier Hernandez — January 6, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

  4. Thanks for the added input Jav. Yeah, I don’t know what to do about those travel/accommodation costs. They are what tend to smash us down and drive us into the red. Blair and I have been racking our brains, and the only solution I see is to have something to sell in the $50 and up range that could lift us back into the black. But that in itself is tricky.

    My reaction to the Hollywood thing was the same as yours. You’re right they’re out in droves. Did I tell you about the ILM Clone Wars guy that stopped by our table at WonderCon? There are definite nibbles… of course, I’m not even interested in a Hollywood deal. I’d rather follow the Dave Sim model and avoid all that (if I can survive without the cash infusion).

    Comment by M Kitchen — January 6, 2011 @ 3:07 pm

  5. I really feel lucky in that my little foray into (Indy-) Hollywood was a quick round trip. I ended up having way more, by far, positive experiences and memories than negative ones. I didn’t come out of it a millionaire but I got a DVD I can sell on my website (I’m showing classy restraint by not posting a link!). I don’t chase Hollywood, but if another opportunity came up, I’d consider it on it’s own merits. The money would have to be a chunk that was worthwhile, but ultimately has to be a deal I can live with.

    Totally understand Sim’s point, and yours. Why get involved with a headache one can regret later. Self-publishing means not having to dealing with a ‘front office’. Imagine the aneurysm we can incur in dealing with all the lunacy found in the studio system!

    Like you and Blair, I’m more than happy to give fans a free sketch. Been doing it for years. Since you’re mentioning $50 items, ever consider perhaps small 8×8 drawings of popular characters, finished up with some color markers? You guys must have some idea by now what type of characters people like, in general. Just a freebie I’m tossing out for you and Blair, next time you have one of your conglomerate meetings. 🙂

    Comment by Javier Hernandez — January 7, 2011 @ 1:01 am

  6. Any time I consider doing something like that (small 8×8 drawings of popular characters, finished up with some color markers) I think to myself “I’d rather work on the next page”…

    … that’s part of the reason we don’t make any money at these things.
    But it ensures I get work done on the next comic!

    That said; I think it’d be a great idea to bring markers so that those drawings could be done at the convention. The Amity Ink guys were doing something similar to that, and seemed to be successful doing it.

    Comment by M Kitchen — January 7, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

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