(from this year’s MoCCA Festival!)
We’re at the beginning of this year’s indie/small press convention season, so: it is time for some convention-ing advice!
It can be very difficult to go from ‘aspiring young cartoonist’ to ‘person who is fully engaged in the industry who knows everyone and has lots of friends and connections.’ But it is not impossible! And in fact, conventions are one of the easiest ways to meet other people in the industry, so if you’re just starting out your career and heading off to a convention, it’s ideal to take as much advantage of it as you can!
Here are some things you can do!
This is the most basic thing to do at a convention: remember to shower, wear clean clothes, and look vaguely professional. That doesn’t mean you need to wear a suit and tie — but clothes with holes or stains probably aren’t your best option. Wear something that makes you look good — you’re going to be meeting potential colleagues and friends.
A lot of people are intimidated by the thought of volunteering because they want to spend time at the convention. But volunteering doesn’t always mean that you’re giving away 100% of your time! You can volunteer to help set up (before the show opens) or break down (after the show ends) or for a shift that’s part of a day. And volunteering is great because it means you meet the people organizing the convention. And you know anyone who’s putting the time and energy into running a convention has to be cool, too!
There are other ways you can volunteer that don’t necessarily involve spending any time at the convention itself — designing the program book, the t-shirts, helping run the website or the social media, helping coordinate run-up events, etc. If you have skills in one of those areas and you really want to build a connection with the convention-running team, consider volunteering there.
Do your research
Who do you want to meet at this convention? Cartoonists? Media? Convention staff? Publishers? Teachers or librarians? Make a list of all the people who you’d like to talk to; go through the exhibitor list and the programming schedule and see where and when they’re going to be around. Then look them up! What are they working on now? Do they have new comics for the show? Did they just win an award or write an article or announce a project? When you see the people you want to meet, have something to talk to them about. And don’t be shy about telling people you admire their work!
Go to parties
The convention will typically organize an official afterparty, as well as some run-up programming around the city. Local bookstores and comics stores and other event venues will also organize evening events featuring authors who are at the show. Give yourself the most possible opportunities to meet cool people and head over to one of the evening parties after the convention has closed for the day.
I got an excellent give-away at the MoCCA Festival that was a pro-Free Speech cupcake! That was pretty awesome. And it was chocolate. Home-baked goods are mostly a welcome give-away.
Even more recommended than that, though: you can also print up a few extra mini-comics of your work and bring them to give to the industry professionals you hope to connect with. Everyone coming to these shows loves comics, and your comics are probably the thing that shows best how awesome you are! So come prepared with some ear-marked specifically for give-aways so that when you run into Scott McCloud, you can be like, ‘Here is my comic Scott McCloud!’
If there’s someone that you’re super, super excited to meet, you can consider making them some fan art! Let me tell you: it is always a memorable thing when we get First Second fan art.
After the convention is over, you’re exhausted and everything is crazy! You may have to be packing up and going off to a new city! Things are super-busy! Take a week for yourself, read some of the comics you got, and don’t try to do everything at once. But after that, you should definitely follow-up with the people you met who you want to keep in touch with. Just dropping them a note to say that it was nice to meet them is great; if you bought a comic from them, read it and e-mail to tell them what was awesome about it. If you don’t have their e-mail, tweet at them or send them a Facebook message. And if you haven’t already, follow them on Twitter, friend them on Facebook, and follow them on Tumblr and Instagram.
Doing all this stuff takes a non-zero amount of work. The effort you have to put in to make all this happen is pretty significant. That’s because building yourself friends and industry connections takes actual work. You don’t just wake up one day and find that everyone in the industry has become a close friend of yours without ever having talked to you before.
But the good news here is, these personal connections you can make are also professional connections — and when you get published, having lots of industry friends who can blurb and talk up your book is always a boon! The other good news is, the comics industry is very close knit — so once you know some people, they can introduce you to more people at every show you attend!