Q: I’ve read on your blog that you have appeared at a couple of comic book conventions, especially San Diego Comic Con. I’m wondering why you don’t do more conventions like New York, Chicago or Atlanta? You should get your own booth.
A: Realistically there are only two reasons to get a booth space at a comic book convention: either to directly sell something or to promote the later sale of something. I haven’t really had either to do before, so getting my own booth at multiple comic cons doesn’t make much sense financially.
The promotion angle doesn’t fit for me because the only thing I really have to promote would be MAD. As much as I like working with them, spending (in some cases a lot) of my own money to promote MAD by buying booth space at comic cons would be silly as I don’t get royalties on sales, and MAD/DC¬¨‚Ä† Comics have their own giant booths at these conventions so they’d hardly be interested in paying for my space. If I am at a convention they always set up times for me to sign copies and do sketches at their booth, but MAD is just one of a lot of comics and graphic novels that DC Comics publishes, and sort of a red-headed stepchild at that, so having a dedicated MAD space is again something they probably wouldn’t go for.
I also haven’t had anything of my own to promote or sell before that would justify the expenses and time involved. Artists like my pal Steve Silver and others have made comic-cons a cottage industry for themselves by self-publishing books/sketchbooks and then selling them at their own booth space. They will also promote their own comics, other publications or internet endeavors like Schoolism, which leads to further commerce. Promoting “The MAD Blog”, which is fun to keep up but nets me basically zero income, also doesn’t make sense. I’ve never been able to bring myself to print something as seemingly narcissistic as an “Art of Tom Richmond” sketchbook, and I am unconvinced such a thing would sell past the usual incestuous “I’ll buy yours if you’ll buy mine” dynamic and the small core group of industry followers whose purchases fuel the sales of a many of these self published materials.
Other kinds of things that artists do at comic cons are selling original art and doing original sketches. While that is cool and all it seldom pays the expenses unless you are a really famous or notable artist. Guys like Sergio can do that kind of thing but guys like me… not so much. My few attempts at selling originals from MAD at comic cons have only netted a few sales, and things like sketches or caricatures don’t sell as well as you might think at these events, and least not for me.
Actually there is a third reason for having a booth space at a comic con… just to be there and participate in the event, meet fans and other cartoonists, etc. You can do that without paying for a booth space however, and there are free or low cost options like “Artist’s Alley” but the waiting list there is long in most cases, so it’s tough to get in. Also regardless if you pay or do not pay for a space, there is a lot of time involved in being in these shows. I certainly cannot afford to do more than one a year.
All that said, things have changed a little for me this year. I actually will have something to sell this time, and I have reserved my own space at the San Diego Comic Con for this summer. I’ll be at booth #4616 (if all goes according to plan) where I will be debuting my long awaited and much procrastinated on book of drawing caricatures. You heard it here first, and I have officially painted myself into a corner by promising it. Unless unforeseen circumstances like the end of the world, the maiming of my drawing arm or horrifically late final print delivery derails me, that is the plan. Of course I’ll also be doing sketches, caricatures and selling original MAD artwork as well as the book. I’ll also be spending some time at the National Cartoonists Society booth and likely signing copies of MAD at the DC booth.
As for other comic cons, I don’t think time will permit me to do the kind of tours that guys like Silver do. If things go well at San Diego, maybe more comic cons will be in the future for me. Who knows?
Thanks to Richard Griffin for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!
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