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Networking At A Comic Book Convention

A column article by: Marc Lombardi

 

In this biweekly column, GrayHaven Comics reviews their experiences in the comic industry to provide a how-to for new comic creators to see what they should and shouldn't be doing.

Something that is a bit of a blessing AND a curse in regards to comic books is that a significantly large percentage of the fan-base is also interested in publishing their own professional-quality comic book work. This means that every visit to a convention is not only a fun-filled gala that celebrates everything we love about the medium, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity to rub elbows and talk shop with creators at every level of the game.

I have been involved in comics (not just as a fan) since 2007 when I started working with Jim Valentino’s Shadowline corner of the Image Comics universe in a promotions and PR role. Earlier this year I added another role with GrayHaven Comics as an editor and an assistant art director. Part of that assistant art director role means that I am always on the lookout for new talent to grace the pages of our comics. And while promoting Shadowline’s work, I’m always talking to retailers trying to see how we can get our books into their stores and into the hands of the fans. Networking at comic conventions has become something of a requirement.

And for those of you looking to break into the business, or those of you who already have your foot in the door but are looking to find other talented creators to collaborate with, I offer this advice that I have come to rely heavily upon in the past few years. While some of this may seem rather obvious, you would be surprised at how often the simplest faux pas could bring a potential collaboration crashing down before it even has a chance to start.

I present you with the DOs and DO NOTs of Comic Convention Networking:

DO your research and know a company’s policy on accepting writing samples or open pitches. For artists, it’s quite often that you’ll have an opportunity to have your portfolio reviewed by a comics professional, but you’ll likely find that for writers it’s remarkably difficult to have any of your work looked at in the form of a script. It’s certainly going to be easier to hand a finished comic book to an editor or publisher for review, but many won’t even look at a script. Check the before you go to the convention to see which companies will be there and specifically what their policies are in accepting writing samples or pitches, usually this can be found on the publisher’s web site. But even then you have to remember ...

DO NOT hand in your pitch to someone at a convention. Seriously -- even if you’ve done your research and it says that they accept writing samples and pitches in person, don’t do it. Editors and publishers are so busy at a convention that the likelihood of something that you’ve handed to them making it back home with them for review is somewhere between slim and none. And slim just wore a red shirt and beamed down with Captain Kirk’s landing party. You’re much better off just introducing yourself, maybe exchanging business cards or contact information, and letting them know that you will send your pitch to them by email or post.

DO consider how small and tight-knit the community of comics professionals may be. That’s one of the best reasons to network at a convention. It’s a great way to meet people whose work you enjoy, and possibly leave a lasting impact with them. I don’t promise that you’re going to be best buds with Jim Lee after your first meeting, but being genuine goes a long way in a community so small. But with that said ...

DO NOT bad mouth a comic creator to another creator, or to another fan while in line in front of a comics pro. Or in front of anyone, really. Let’s be honest -- comic book fans are sometimes known for their negativity above all else. But saying how much you hate so-and-so’s artwork in front of another comics creator is much more likely to end up in an uncomfortable moment rather than something you can bond over. You never know who is good friends with whom, especially in a community as small as comics. Which leads me to ...

DO stay positive. If you can’t say something nice about someone in comics, don’t say it at all. No one is trying to stifle your opinions or beliefs, but you have to consider that it’s quite likely that the artist on the hottest X-title doesn’t really care how much you dislike the New 52. What’s he’s probably much more interested in hearing is how much his work means to you. You may also find yourself along the waves of professional talent in Artist’s Alley and standing in front of a table where the book(s) being sold just aren’t your cup of tea. In an instance such as that ...

DO NOT offer unsolicited advice. Good OR bad. Unless you are a well known and well respected comic creator who has been through the industry for years, your unsolicited advice is probably the last thing anyone wants to hear. And even if you are, it’s still probably going to end up creating an uncomfortable situation. It’s great to tell someone what you like in terms of their art or stories, but critiquing someone’s artwork when he or she is your captive audience at their own booth or table is massively uncool.

DO have fun. That’s the main goal of going to a comic book convention, isn’t it? Besides all of the freebies and the back issue hunting and the autographs and merchandise, it’s all about having a great time celebrating the industry that we all love. And doing so in the presence of friends both new and old. Not to mention the cosplayers! And speaking of the cosplayers ...

DO NOT pitch a comic or seek out collaborators while in costume. This is probably one of the most overlooked rules. It’s very difficult for Eric Stephenson at Image Comics to take you seriously on your idea for a comic book, no matter how great and authentic your Invincible costume came out. You’re much better off setting aside time at the con to enjoy the cosplay stuff, and set aside a separate period for talking shop and setting up connections in the industry. Preferably when you’ve changed out of your spandex, even if that makes you a little less recognizable. And to build on that ...

DO make sure that you take the time to say hello to the creators you want to see, even if you’ve already met before. There are a ton of creators who I’ve met over the years who I see at virtually every single convention. And every opportunity I get to reintroduce myself or check in, I take it. I have made some remarkably strong connections that way, as well as friendships. Conversely, there have been times where I may just walk up to a creator I’ve never met before to strike up a brief conversation, such as my recent meeting with Cliff Chiang in Baltimore. All I wanted to tell him was how much I love the work he’s doing on Wonder Woman and to say hello. Quick and to the point, but I’m sure it’s something he liked hearing. It’s not always necessary to set up a tent and stay forever because you need to remember ...

DO NOT take up too much of someone’s time with your networking, especially if it’s causing them to turn away potential business. This one is sometimes hard for even someone like me, because I’ll often find myself at a table in Artist’s Alley talking with someone for ten or fifteen minutes. But the moment I start to sense that I may be blocking someone from making a sale I try to wrap up the conversation and allow someone else to come over. This is especially the case when you’re talking to a “bigger name” creator and there’s a line behind you waiting for autographs or sketches. No one likes the fanboy who needs to talk about the history of the DCU with Mark Waid while two dozen people are in line behind him.

Some quickies to think about is that comic professionals are human, so don’t judge someone poorly if maybe they aren’t as happy as you want them to be at the end of a grueling 9 hour day at a convention. Don’t ask dumb questions at a panel just to be a jerk. Don’t try to use your press pass to jump in front of someone in line. And most importantly is that even if you are there to have some fun, many of the people who you will be stopping to see -- especially those who are well known published comic professionals -- are also there to do some work.

Be mindful of the DOs and DON’Ts above and have fun. And if you’re going to be at the New York Comic Con from October 11th-14th be sure to stop by GrayHaven Booth 2457 and say hello. We’d love to network!

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