Monday, July 30, 2012

"I'M BROKE" (a.k.a.) Economics and the Indie Creator...

The New York Comic Con is on the way and in my humble opinion, it is the best comic book oriented comic book convention in the country. That might sound like a weird statement, but the reality is that most of the bigger conventions would be better described as POP CULTURE celebrations than anything remotely to do with the world of comic books. 

The NY Comic Con is still overbooked, poorly-organized and thirty-degrees hotter on the floor. The lines are outrageous and there is no true customer service. However, there is tremendous support for the indie comic book creator, and that alone makes it worth the trip.

The few times I've gone the floor has been packed solid, easily taking ten minutes to walk ten feet. And that's just the thing, the entire floor is packed with rabid fans of comic books. It's not the kind of show where the big budget Hollywood booths get all the attention. No, more often than not, you'll have just as much of a struggle getting to see someone on the "indie creator" side of the Hall as you would at the Marvel Entertainment booth.

Friends of mine who had never done a show before went to NY Comic Con 2011 and were blown away. One guy I know never had a table at any show in his entire life and was genuinely affected by the amount of recognition and respect he got for his comic and CD.

The point of this particular blog entry isn't to sing the praises of the NY Comic Con, nor is it to provide a recap of the proceedings. Rather, I want to provide a guide for my cohorts in the world of independent comic and graphic novel creation to consider new and exciting ways of getting to this convention despite a notorious lack of cash flow. 

To begin, I am 100% understanding of life getting in the way of our dreams. Kids, sick parents, bad marriages, sibling wars and a general lack of income can stop the most determined and talented creator from networking on a professional level. As with so many things, the comic book industry is a double-edged sword: on one hand, you get unprecedented levels of access to decision-makers and admired creative teams, and the other, you must be able to afford to show up in person. 

And there's the rub.

Sadly, money is everything, and everything is money. To understand the significance of ME saying that you'd have to know me personally. I'm not a money-grubbing person. I don't place a lot of value on what people drive, what they dress like, how much they own or where they live. I could care less about "bling" (such a stupid word, it's onomatopoeia for Christ's sake) and care everything about content of character. 

That said, the indie comic creator is - for all intents and purposes - dooming themselves to a life where a "real" gig is necessary and the act of creation is done in between long shifts at a job we just can't stand. I know the story. I did it for 15 years. It never got easier. 

However, even during the darkest times, I managed to get to a few key shows that would later be revealed as major turning points in my life. 

For example: 

SAN DIEGO COMIC CON 1999 - I begged, borrowed and scraped together enough money for a round-trip ticket to San Diego from Boston. I didn't have a place to crash, but I managed to rely on the kindness of a college pal. Because of the connections I made at that convention, it would eventually lead to my first gig at Dreamwave Productions. 

SAN DIEGO COMIC CON 2003 - I had scraped together money for airfare, but I had no place to stay and no ticket to get into the con. I stayed at the filthiest YMCA on Earth for one night and then crashed on floors and hotel lobbies, pretending to be locked out of my room. It was the first time I ever signed autographs as a creator and I made strong connections that would lead to me learning about indie comics studios looking for more talent. 

WIZARD WORLD CHICAGO 2006 - Again, scraped money together for airfare, but no place to stay. I crashed on the floor of my then-artist partner on Shadowlaw for one night. I stayed up until 4am and then slept at the airport the following day before leaving. At this con, I signed the contract for Shadowlaw to be released through Arcana Comics.

I can't speak on or give solutions to anyone's financial problems. It is not my place and I wouldn't disrespect anyone by suggesting otherwise. My core point is that you never know what can happen when you go to a convention. Especially a convention that is mired in the love of comic books and where there is a massive crowd voraciously buying independently-produced comics and animation.

I know a lot of ridiculously talented creators who (for all intents and purposes) are locked into their native region or their current habitat because of financial limitations. Creators with work ten times better than the stuff cranked out by the Big Two who can't get enough traction with the fans because of market invisibility. 

As a side note: I firmly believe that Wizard Magazine - for all its shortcomings - did a good job in hyping up new and unknown writing talent. Social media can only go so far and for an indie comic book creator to gain a large audience, they need to have some kind of mainstream validation. Whether working on a big title or having someone else in pop culture let folks know you exist (like Entertainment Weekly).

So what is the solution? Other than taking on a slew of part-time jobs and/or getting involved in illegal activities, there's no other way to get money quickly these days. However, there are ways for the struggling indie creator to make it to the big shows. 

1) Cheap airfare. Believe it or not, you can find good round-trip deals if you book well-enough in advance. I just checked for a round-trip flight from LAX (Los Angeles) to JFK (NYC) airports and the going rate is $299.61. That. Ain't. Bad. I used but you are free to use, or Priceline. I've always had the best luck with Lowestfare but good luck with your search. 

2) Lodging. Now this is the tough one. Especially in NYC. The best thing to do is: a) hope you know someone who can put you up for a few days in NY/NJ; b) Book a room and then split it with 5 other people; or c) Show up in NYC and check out the hostels and motels around town. They aren't the best environments, but you will get a place to sleep for a reduced price for a few days. 

3) Ask someone for the money. I know. It sucks. It sucks ass. However, think of it as an investment in yourself. Swallowing pride now means that you won't be swallowing Ramen later. 

Again, I don't wish to tell anyone how to live. But NY Comic Con is worth it. 

Trust me.