SPX 2011 Wrapup and Decompression

Small Press Expo has become my favorite show to work. For many reasons, I like to think of it as my flagship convention, the place where I try to make the biggest impact. The purple suit helps. Having a collection of purple suits, which allows me wear a different one each day, helps more.

I live in Alexandria, which means that SPX is a local show – I went to high school up the road from the convention center. As locals, we also tried to be hosts. I made a Google map of places to eat. My wife bought pastries at the hidden Entemann’s outlet store (that we discovered when we were putting together the map) and took them around the vendor room on Sunday morning before the doors opened.

Friday afternoon, I picked up Dan Barlow at the airport because it was stupid of him to spend an hour and a half on the Metro up to Bethesda; I live ten minutes from the airport and was planning to go up to SPX for Friday night socializing anyway. We drove around Rockville and visited F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave, practically the only tourist attraction that Rockville can lay claim to.

The show itself was amazing. We ran into a lot of old friends and saw a lot of new faces. I recognized two bartenders and a slew of friends and neighbors from the DC metro area were in attendance. I talked to Darryl Ayo on Saturday, a conversation that probably would have been better if we’d been in a quiet bar sipping whisky. As it was, we were both working and I’m always conscious of crowding the table. (I hate it when that happens to me, even when I want to talk to the person.) I also got interviewed by Rusty and Joe from Full Sanction, who were doing video interviews with any creator that felt like sitting down with them, which was fun. I can’t wait to see the result and I really want that experiment to stick around next year.

Every time I talk to Carla Speed McNeil, she hands me valuable, hard-earned advice and I do my best to pay attention to it. One time she told me to make sure I have something new on the table every year for that one fan who will buy anything new. Check – this was the debut for books 4 and 5 in the Oceanus Procellarum series and long-time readers bought copies of both books.

The next time she gave me advice, she told me to make something “book shaped” that people can walk away with for not very much at all. Accordingly, I made a little sampler comic for the Oceanus Procellarum series. I gave the pitch – “The hidden truth is that when a character encounters the truth in the story, he remembers that he’s in a story.” – then pointed out that I understood that buying a full book was a big ask for a first time reader. But! I had a $2 sampler. “If you like the sampler, you’ll like the series. If you don’t, you’re out two bucks.” I sold out of my sampler. And someone bought a copy of the main book after reading the sampler. Thanks Carla!

Another thing I did was hand out free propaganda – the one page strip about Practical Ideas for the Passionate Comics Reader on one side and an ad for Oceanus Procellarum on the back. Someone read the ad and bought the main book in the series, which pretty much means that the free propaganda that I shoved in everyone’s face all weekend long paid for itself.

Unfortunately, I ran out of propaganda about midway through Sunday. Between that and selling out of the sampler, there was a notable drop in sales on Sunday afternoon – a generally slow time anyway. Of course, that’s when I went shopping for bargains. Sometimes that strategy works and sometimes it doesn’t. I was not in time to get all three of Jen Vaughn‘s menstruation comics for my wife because one had sold out.

I came home Saturday night with aching feet and discovered that the shelf porn I’d sent in to Robot 6 had been posted, which was a great morale booster from an odd direction.

All in all, this was a great weekend. I really felt like I hit my stride, sales-wise. After four years of so-so activity, it was good to see the hard work paying off. It also made me feel like I’d figured something out, which gave me a nice endorphin rush. Going back to work today was a struggle.