Conventions... Trade Shows... Niche Flea Markets... Whatever you want to call them, they can be a mixed bag.
Sometimes, they're a major windfall for an artist/vendor with a single weekend making up half their annual revenue. At other times, it can be fool's errand - a lost weekend where the price of admission far exceeds any benefit to the creative.
I'm still trying to figure out the convention vender game for myself. It seems each time I go to one, I'm coming down on myself for not having an eye-catching enough booth, not having the right pitch, or just not having any reason for someone to stop. It's almost a micro-manifestation of the uphill battle we face in these creative spaces. It's hard for an independent product to compete against existing IP, and it can be just as hard to stand out among the other indie artists competing for the some people's attention.
A major complaint among convention vendors regarding the bigger conventions is that they have been overtaken by the major studios. San Diego Comic Con has become a major marketing arm for Hollywood and the big toy companies. Sure, an indie artist could buy a table, but unless you're from Marvel or DC, no one will see you. And a lot of these big shows make their money on their big media guests. If someone is there the meet Nathan Fillion or William Shatner, they're probably not too interested in a new indie comic book... or if they are, it has to be REALLY appealing to them.
So along comes Arizona Comic Book Arts Festival (AZCAF), a brand new, one day, smaller event that is focused heavily on comics, artists, and related work. February 25, 2023 marked the first appearance of this event, and expectations from the organizers were measured. A lot of the communication to vendors suggested we prepare for a modest turn out since this was the first year.
Everyone's set-up seemed fairly efficient. Everyone around me had enough space, as did I. As the doors were opening for guests, we could hear the first call from the cafe PA, "The Cafe is now open for food, beverages, and booze." Beer and wine were readily served at 11am. I personally had mixed feelings about this. I chose not to indulge myself, but I make no judgement on those who did. While alcohol may move some to spend more money, it also hinders inhibitions for violence. Fortunately, there were no incidents that I'm aware of, so this was not really an issue. It just reminded me of how incidents of fist fights at Walt Disney World seemed to have increased ever since they started allowing people to drink at the Magic Kingdom.
The first couple of hours were quiet. I remember turning to my neighbor and saying, "I suspect the artists will out number the patrons today." I was happy to be proven wrong within an hour. Between 12 and 3pm, there was a steady stream of guests, ready and willing to buy a variety of items.
As I said, I'm still new at this. I've only done a handful of these, and I'm still learning what works best for me. I will say that this was my best individual sales day for any of these events. I actually sold out of at least one item (*helps that I haven't replenished my inventory since June of last year).
Overall, it was a positive experience. The people attending were people who were there for comics, new and old. People were kind when they spoke to me. Plenty walked by, but it wasn't quite the same feeling as I get at the Fan Fusion. Sometimes, I could physically feel people ignoring me in the convention center. I do feel that this one is worth doing again.
I'll be back at the Fan Fusion in June. It would be nice to have productive sales days like I did at AZCAF. It's harder work at the big show, though. After I do it, I'll have to reevaluate which shows I want to invest in.