Marketing yourself at Comic-Con: Part I

18 APRIL 2014

We're 14 weeks from Comic-Con and I'm starting to get emails. Can I find an agent at Comic-Con? If I meet someone famous, is it rude to ask them to look at my work? How can I meet people in my industry?

San Diego Comic-Con has evolved in many ways, but one of the best and most practical is the content and networking opportunities for people in creative fields. In the mid-aughts, you could find a few panels on becoming a comic book artist; these days you can find panels for artists of all stripes on topic like promotion, editing, self-publishing, legal issues, collaboration and more, along with networking events. 

First let me make this disclaimer: I am not an expert on catapulting one's career through Comic-Con. I try to be as recreational and off-the-clock as possible when careening around the convention center. All the same, I do network somewhat and some of my friends are Con hustlers extraordinaire. Do know this; while there are great networking opportunities at the Con, don't envision a scenario where you can walk up to a TV producer, famous agent or acquisitions head and pitch them at your leisure. You will probably not meet an influencer in your field who can make it all happen for you - and even if you do, they'll probably have way too full an agenda to spend more than thirty seconds on you.

I’ll follow this up with two more posts: how to prepare for the below events and the soft skills you’ll need at SDCC. For now, look below at the main opportunities available to you.

Creative Panels

Take a look at last year’s panels for an idea of the discussions that go on. These may look too remedial for you; if so, fine, but don’t skip them if you think you’re not advanced enough. The best thing a neophyte can do is attend these and soak it all up for future use. As far as approaching panelists – I know it’s the dream of all unpublished artists and writers to dazzle an agent or editor at first glance. Surely they will sense your brilliance and commercial potential, etc. But be aware that everyone else will vie for their attention as well, and collectively you’ll all be as welcome as a swarm of gnats. I’m not saying to never approach someone, but to learn to read the room and do it deftly, if at all.

Regular Panels

I’m referring to panels on a certain book or TV show, when you’re just dying to approach one of the panelists afterward for advice. See above. And don’t become personally offended when someone’s handler drives you off. It’s not you getting rejected, it’s the Bothersome Stranger character you’re playing at that moment.

Portfolio Review

This is where you sign up in advance (of course) to have your work professionally appraised by industry professionals. Last year companies like Disney, LEGO, Nickelodean, Cartoon Networks and Lucasfilms participated, along with other non-household brands. It’s not just for aspiring comic book artists, but also for animators, copywriters, video editors, comic book writers, inkers, colorists, letterers, storyboard artists, background designers, monster designers, concept designers, illustrators and TV writers.

Doing it dumb: showing up with your entire portfolio and expecting the professionals to look through all of it; showcasing your favorite work, whether or not it matches the company’s brand and product; showcasing work that’s so subtle or long that it requires a private, attentive examination. Being surly when they give you feedback.

Doing it smart: showcasing a few high-impact pieces that are relevant to the company you’re meeting; doing advance research on their output and creative strategy, and tailoring your work to their qualifications; listening respectfully to whatever feedback is given.

Two nights of speed dating for writers and artists who want to find their perfect collaborative partner. You get 5 minutes to meet each artist/writer and discuss interests and skill sets, and then you decide later if anyone seemed like a possible match. There’s usually a Comic Pitch Review ahead of time to help the inexperienced practice their pitching skills and get coaching – all free.
This is only available to people with badges for the applicable days, which historically have been Thursday and Friday. You have to sign up first – and know that in the past artists could sign up for both days and writers could only sign up for one. Writers, there are just too damn many of us.

General Networking

This requires a light hand and a deft touch. I’ll cover more of this in my post on soft skills, but do look beyond the organized events to make contacts. Maybe someone at a small press table would be interested in seeing your book. Maybe a writer in your field could tell you how they got their break. Swing by Artist’s Alley – but don’t expect someone to educate you for an hour if you’re not buying anything. Nerd HQ, GamerCon, and various parties could have people relevant to your field.

Sometimes opportunities just come up and other times it pays to contact someone in advance and ask if you could have just 5 minutes of their time. Be polite, be accommodating. And be professional – even though you’re in a somewhat informal environment, you need to convey the general impression of being committed, reliable and possessed of basic interpersonal skills.

I'm posting all of this now so you have some time to plan how you can best maximize your Comic-Con trip. Check back in a few days for a post on ways you can start preparing.

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