So Long And Thanks For the Fish, Man #042: Sticks and Stones

Not long ago (as in, a little over a week or so), Unshaven Comics tabled at a would-be decently attended Comic Con near the home of our resident writer and sell-o-matic Kyle Gnepper. Due to his proximity to said con, versus both Unshaven Matt and I being several hours away — and because the show wasn’t slated to demand a full court press by our little studio — we as a company agreed to let Kyle fly solo. Color me a shade of confused then, when checking in with Kyle after the first day of said show, that the unflappable Mr. Gnepper called me in a state that could only be described as quite flapped.

“I really wish you guys were here…” he started — with an unmistaken quiver to his normal timbre. At first I figured (nay, hoped) that his desire for backup was due to insane amount of demand. But alas, the now-shook-salesman reported that the show itself was more than a little problematic. Low attendance due to a then-moved metropolitan festival perhaps led to a lack of local fan support. It happens. But Unshaven Comics has suffered through a constrained con every now and again. Kyle continued. “It’s our neighbor. He… uhh. Well…” 

Over the next few minutes, my brother-from-another mother laid out the details of a most frustrating sort. And while a pettier version of myself would proudly declare the name and relevant contact details of this would-be-D-bag, in hopes of some kind of flash-mob retribution… I am (thanks in part to my anger management consultant, Jim McClain) no longer so intent on petty retributions. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On that first day of this con, only twenty minutes into the day, our across-the-aisle neighbor made his way to our table, in a bit of a huff. He proceeded to sputter out a staunch set of salacious speech, inundating Kyle with a string of insults as to the Unshaven Comics method of fan engagement. How “we” (Kyle) were “nothing more than carnival barkers” who “ruined the con for everyone” because our “high pressure tactics” led to “only those that pity you ever buying anything.”

Kyle, taken aback by the attack, asked the angry gentleman to perhaps calm himself, so that an adult conversation could take place. Given this option, said neighbor balled his fists in anger, and proceeded to double-down on his line of insults. He then threatened to take his issues directly to the convention runners.

I could get into deeper details as to how the day continued on, and the unfunny and uninteresting back-and-forth led to an all around awful day for Kyle… but it’s here where I need to take a step up and out of this minutiae to choose instead to argue the larger point being raised here.

What nagged our neighbor so much, was the way in which my table chooses to sell at a con. For those not in the know, Unshaven Comics employs a very simple solution (“gimmick”) to hock our sequential schlock. We (Kyle, sometimes Matt, and/or I) hold an 8.5” x 11” laminated sign that asks “Can I tell you about our comic book?” In addition to the sign, we (mostly Kyle) will call out into the aisle the same question — verbally. This tactic stops folks who otherwise meander throughout the con, and should they choose to engage with us… we pitch our book, and (per my data compiled now for over 10+ years) 46% of the time, they’ll buy said comic. Hooray.

I should denote our neighbor himself was a vendor and we were in the artist alley. As such, said neighbor could sell his wares simply by displaying his inventory with his pricing… and let the good times roll. This is as it should be; for those who deal in toys, t-shirts, known comic brands (DC, Marvel, etc.) or any other nerdy merch are apt to simply display and answer questions. Sadly, it isn’t as easy to peddle one’s wares when they are an independent comic book creator or publisher.

Simply put: If Unshaven Comics were to simply sit at our table and smile… to await anyone interested in our books in order to pitch? We would have stopped making comics years ago. As I’ve detailed here before  success at a con is crucial to a small publisher. Those tables aren’t free, and we’re not making comics to have them sit in our basement. If we are to compete with the known properties that take up tons of space at every con (which, to be clear, is absolutely as it should be!) the only way my studio can compete is to pitch. It’s one of the few things I am truly proud of at Unshaven Comics. Not only do we make a kick ass product… we know how to sell it. Just because we happen to do so by attempting to draw in a would-be wallflower with a leading question does not make us P.T. Barnum by any stretch of the imagination.

Sure, others in artist alley play it cool. They prop their books and art up, and truly wait to engage with fans who clearly stop and fraternize with them. That’s fantastic for them. But I’ll tell you, dear reader, more often than not, Unshaven Comics stops folks who tell us “I would have never stopped unless I saw that sign / you asking me. I’m glad I did!” I don’t say this pat ourselves on the back either. I say it to denote that in order to maximize our sales, the only way we know to know to expand our reach is to literally ask. And to further clarify (and frankly, it pains me to have to even detail this…): We NEVER poach a fan who is clearly frequenting a different table. We don’t shout. And while we might wave exuberantly? It’s never to do much more than elicit a laugh of a would-be passerby who literally looks like they don’t know where next to stop. It comes up often at cons, and as such, we pride ourselves on having the chutzpah to put ourselves out there. Because the worst thing they can ever do is simply not stop, or say “no thank you”. No big deal. On to the next customer.

Ultimately, I came to support Kyle on the last day of this not-so-great convention. And guess what? After three days of grinding, Unshaven Comics still moved 70 books! At a con where some folks reported out selling literally nothing. A win is a win in our book. Even if that win was earned with our neighbor’s finger in our face for having the gumption to ask for the sale. If that makes us wrong? Then we don’t ever want to be right. And you can put that on a t-shirt.