Marketing yourself as a creative at SDCC

26 MAY 2015

In recent years, Cons have become a magnet for creatives of all stripes. Video game designers, colorists, YA novelists, scriptwriters, costumers - if you can think of any creative field that is tangentially related to pop culture, you'll find a panel addressing it at a comic convention. This is because:

1) Creating art forms and appreciating art forms tend to go together, so plenty of fans are also creators.
2) The proximity of influencers - both celebrities and the more background (but often even more powerful) players like producers, chief creative officers and editors - sets up the possibility of being "discovered."
3) There are already a ton of creatives present at all stages of their career, often in collaborative positions, so the networking is dope.

That said, it's not as easy as most people think. Beyond the established portals like Comic Creator Connection and Portfolio Review or the IFF film school, most attendees have to navigate a sea of indifference and isolation. I know a respected indie comic creator who was investing considerable sums in exhibiting at SDCC solely so she could make valuable connections. Year after year, it never happened. I know many writers who faithfully attend all those "Get an agent! Write a best-seller!" panels just so they can approach an agent afterward and dazzle them with their pitch. Generally speaking, they just meet other unpublished writers, or writers/agents who are wildly exaggerating their industry clout. The idea of meeting that one person who can make it all happen for you rarely materializes.

Rule of thumb: most industry people are at Comic-Con to either promote themselves or because they're forced to be there, just like your job might force you to attend a business conference. They didn't travel to San Diego just to audition random hopefuls - they could have done that at home. So try to view the Con as a very creative community with fertile touchpoints, rather than a career fair. Because attendees who come in guns blazing (and they are legion) do more harm to themselves than good.

This isn't to say SDCC doesn't hold valuable opportunities - but it's partly about random opportunities and partly about playing a very deft game. I wrote a 3-part novella on this last year which I would advise any creative to read; it covers the type of materials to prepare and events to expect, and soft skills. The last post may seem harsh but it's based on my observations both as a creative trying to make a deal and the person who hires the talent. And I saw every single issue in that post at Comic-Con last summer.

Ultimately I see SDCC networking work best for people who are already established in their careers. I know this isn't what anyone wants to hear. But every year my friends who are already successful in the comics industry come away from the Con with a new cover offer in their pocket or a new collaboration, while struggling newcomers generally go home without any new useful connections. (Worthless connections are always to be had, however.) Where I do see newcomers make strides: smaller Cons like ECCC, Phoenix, DragonCon, Denver and Boston. While there are fewer power players in attendance, it's much easier to connect with the ones who are there.

But of course if you're reading this, you're headed to SDCC. So my advice is get prepared, be reasonable in your expectations, and be strategic. Associate with people in your field, rather than trying to zero in on one particular superstar. That's really how most doors open. Most of all, remember to have fun - after all the energy and time you've spent getting to SDCC, it would be a shame to spend your entire time there exhausting yourself in pursuit of some mythical breakthrough. Take advantage of the right panels and events, then switch back to fan mode and enjoy yourself. Because that's really what Comic-Con has to offer.

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