This is a happy week for the missus and myself. We’re hitting the big leagues of Geekdom — sort of. You’ve heard of San Diego Comic-Con, right? I’ve written about it before, on several occasions. It’s the nerd convention that’s gotten so popular that over 100,000 attendee badges sold out in less than twelve hours of registration opening on Feb. 5th, something that surprised even a guy like me who’d been watching the yearly trend towards rock concert level madness.
Even leaving aside all the Hollywood influx, nearly everyone who’s anyone in comics shows up at SDCC. Since we started our comic in 2009 we’d been looking hopefully towards the idea of exhibiting there, but with great attendance comes great competition… and great expense (as a non-profit organization, one of the only ways Comic-Con has to cope with their ever increasing costs is to raise the price tag on exhibitors). A spot in Artist’s Alley remains absolutely free, but you have to be reviewed for it, and at this point they’re pretty picky about who gets to be there. The booths and regular tables are on the other end of the spectrum, available (until sold out) to whoever has the cash… but we’re talking almost a thousand dollars at the low end of the scale.
In between the two is the Small Press pavilion, which is meant for small independent start-ups. It’s not free, but it’s much less expensive. However, you still have to submit a sample of your recently published work for review by a jury and hope for the best. How does the process go, precisely? We can’t say, except that we applied in 2009 for the 2010 show and were rejected. We were fairly late in submitting, but the rejection letter basically just says: sorry, you weren’t accepted, you’ll be placed on a waiting list and contacted if anything opens up. I figure everyone gets that same letter, whether or not they were rejected because all the spaces were full or were rejected because their sample wasn’t considered up to snuff. That would be much easier and less controversial, after all, than specifically stating “HA HA YOU SUCK NO BOOTH FOR YOU!” to certain people, no matter how politely that was worded.
Now honestly, if we’d gotten a “You suck” letter in 2009 I would have considered it fair enough, since at that point all we’d managed to put together was a six page mini-comic bound and cut by a kind friend of Dawn’s at a college print shop.
It wasn’t terrible–in fact I thought it fairly slick for our resources of the time–but still, these little guys are what the industry refers to as “ashcan” comics. In the old days the term meant a quick and dirty publication designed to establish a copyright or trademark, without necessarily ever passing to the hands of a readership. In modern times, it generally refers to the amateur efforts of independent creators trying to promote their works at a low cost. In both cases, the sobering connotation is that the comic is going straight into the trash, as I’m sure a lot of these did, especially after we ended up handing out our remaining stack on Sunday afternoon to anyone who would take one.
By the way, NOTE to friends of new comics creators: Do not wait until after the convention to ask if you can have a copy. We tend to operate from the premise that we suck; therefore, if you are silent we will assume you also think we suck and are just politely not telling us so, and so will give our comics away to uninterested strangers in a fit of promotional desperation — then by the time you speak up, there ain’t nothing left of the print run. And then there’s just disappointment all around, especially for the poor mini-comic on its way to the landfill instead of a bookshelf.
So anyhow, that ashcan was what we had at our first ever exhibitor outing, and that was what we had available to offer up to the Small Press Gods of San Diego before the deadline; i.e., not bloody much.
The year after, we resolved to be ready. We collected our first story arc into a glossy, full color 28 page offering courtesy of Ka-Blam, with a proper copyright page and what we hoped was a fetching front and back cover. Sure it still had its rough edges, but it seemed at least on par with some of the other SDCC Small Press offerings we’d seen. While SDCC ’10 was still underway, we submitted our application for Small Press 2011… which, as far as I knew, was the first opportunity for us to do so, so you can imagine my inner reaction when the helpful man who took our paperwork returned my copy of it with ‘WAIT LIST’ stamped in big red letters. That’s the sort of demand for space we were apparently up against.
Still, we dutifully submitted Zombie Ranch #1 as our sample, but we weren’t overly surprised when that same rejection letter showed up again a few months later. Ah well. Nothing to do but keep on keepin’ on with producing the comic, making other appearances to get our names out there, and perhaps try again for 2012.
Then, this last Thursday morning I received a phone call from the exhibit sales coordinator for Comic-Con. A space had opened up. Were we still interested? I tried not to squeal, and I hope I succeeded. No one besides certain cast members of Deliverance want to hear a grown man squeal.
We’re in! We’re exhibiting at The Big One. The wait list didn’t mean the same thing as “No”. Our submission had passed the judges’ muster, and the only thing in the way this year was truly a lack of availability… so I guess yay to whoever canceled. And yay to us for not sucking!
I don’t know if this post was actually educational or inspiring to anyone else. If not, I apologize for this bout of excited self-indulgence. And despite my title, I honestly can’t say this represents any huge boost in our legitimacy… from our observations, the Small Press area at San Diego can still be a lonely place at times despite the massive crowds, so we’ll see what comes of things (I do not, for instance, expect Jeff Smith to wander by and be suddenly inspired to do a 5-minute dance routine with our comic because it was just that much love at first sight). Also, San Diego just went from pure vacation to working vacation for us — we’ll have to be up and ready in the exhibit hall every day by 9:30am, as opposed to previous years where we’d happily doze in our hotel until noon. This is going to be intense. I’m not even sure what’s going to happen to our traditional Rock Bottom Brewery dinner on Saturday now that we’re having to stay until the hall closes at 7pm (and then, oh the foot traffic we’ll have to fight to get out).
But you know what? I ain’t complaining. This is still a great opportunity and a great milestone for us, and now that I’ve seen how other conventions run their “back end”, I can’t wait to see how the big guy does business. I’ve already gotten a taste of that, since we were given our table assignment mere minutes after saying ‘Yes’, and that’s three months before go time. I think the furthest ahead I’ve gotten those details from anyone else has been maybe 30 days. Parking information will be provided soon, and let me tell you, I’m really curious to see about the parking and loading arrangements.
In the meantime, though, it’s time to knuckle down for the Long Beach Comic Con Expo next Saturday, April 23rd (we’re at Artist’s Alley table 500), and Wizard World Anaheim the weekend after that (Artist’s Alley #1205 and #1207). If anyone’s dropping by those, be sure to say hi! And if you’re lucky enough to have tickets for SDCC, well, now you’ll actually have somewhere to find our needles in the proverbial haystack full of nerds: Small Press Pavillion K-4, under the moniker of “Lab Reject Studios”.
Don’t worry about remembering that, though, I’m sure I’ll remind you in July.