As I age like a fine wine, I’m realizing my anger is receding into solemn contemplation. Not unlike Bruce Banner? I’m always angry at something. Be it the GOP and their unending campaign against logic and reason, to more simple things… like my four year old refusing to poop in the potty. But I’m not writing this week about poop, the potty, or the GOP — which I’d like to point out is quite interchangeable these days. No folks, today my idling ire is aimed at comic cons. More specifically? Juried comic cons.
It never fails: with a solid third of my social media follows dedicated to the pulp-and-paper-pals I’ve made in my semi-career in comics, on any given weekend, my feed becomes choked with con content. This morning, as I cracked open Adobe Illustrator to begin working up some new PokeMashups, I also checked in to Facebook to see what’s shaking. The Northwest Indiana Comic-Con (NWI) kicked off, and in six pulls of my scroll wheel, no fewer than a dozen posts shared out photos and optimistic words signaling the masses to head out to Schererville, Indiana for a day of fun. And with that deluge of content, I closed Facebook in an immature huff.
To know that there’s a comic con not twenty minutes from my house that Unshaven Comics will never* attend grinds my gears. Doubly so when I see other south suburban cohorts proudly tabling. So why the asterisk? Well kiddos, I admit: we didn’t apply to the show this year. So, I’m being half-cheeky half-angst-filled over my assertion. For all I know? Had we applied for a table, we would have been welcomed with open arms. But you know what George Bush Jr. says: fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.
We’ve applied for the NWI show a handful of times. The very first time we did — the first year of that show in fact — we were accepted, but the table fee was a wee bit high for us. At the time, Unshaven Comics was still such that Matt, Kyle, and myself had to chip in to purchase space. Amidst many other shows we were on for that year, this one day show cost more than any other one-day show on the docket. Kyle, being the tepid type, suggested we not attend, but pay close attention to the attendance and ask how others going did post-show. And with that, we politely stepped back, and our spot was filled without haste.
As it would turn out? The show runner was amazing at putting butts in the building. Photos and anecdotal evidence from our friends foretold of a show well worth the price. Did we have regrets? Always! You’ll never know if you don’t go… You’ll never shine if you don’t glow.
I could detail the several following years worth of applications, but suffice it to say: Since that first acceptance-turned-polite-rejection? We’re not on the mind of the showrunners, and they more than have enough talent applying to care at our collective butthurt over it. But as I said at the top? What used to make me seethe is now tempered into a moment of clarity.
Unshaven Comics has been rejected from plenty of comic cons. The Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (“CAKE”) has never accepted us. C2E2 — the Reed-run mega comic con of Chicago (sorry Fan Expo né Wizard World) — only allows us into artist alley here and there. Same too for the New York Comic Con, where we’ve never qualified for Artist Alley. With rejection comes a litany of questions, but mainly one:
Well, the answer is both sobering and emotionless: because. For a show like CAKE, there are extensive jury instructions and scoring. I should know, I judged one year just to better understand why we’ve never earned a table. The long-and-the-short of it? We’re not “zine-indie” enough for a show like that. Alas. For most other shows? It’s a combination of factors that add up to rejection. Chief among them? A comic con is a business, and the only way it profits is to sell as many tickets as possible. Unshaven Comics, simply put, doesn’t mean hundreds of fans scooping up tickets.
Speaking just to the portion of floorspace for dedicated artists and writers… When a showrunner builds their con floor, they start with the biggest attractions they can muster. Any writers or artists with credits to their name like Marvel, DC, Boom!, or Dark Horse will always rise to the top. Next up? Those known entities of the indie scene will fill spots up — and rest assured once the known-names have taken their tables, it doesn’t leave a “ton” left for the rest.. It’s here where my personal anger meets that aforementioned contemplation. Whenever we’ve been rejected from a show, it’s too hard not to look over the folks granted access to make us assess our place in the grand scheme of the indie scene. And when you see someone you’d put yourself on par with? I won’t lie. It stings. It makes you ask: why not us? And from there you make that leap to know in the layout of this particular show… you don’t fit what they want.
With age comes wisdom. And while I rage-quit from my feed earlier after seeing those I’d long considered in “my” circle all set for a great day of comic-based commerce, it didn’t take long to breathe a sigh of relief and go about my day. We didn’t apply for this show. We knew we have other larger shows we are doing in 2023, and actively made the choice to not apply. I also know that we have ample opportunity to apply again next year, and see how we fair — if we have FOConMO. The truth is, the rejection of Unshaven Comics has never been personal, so for us to take it as such is beyond silly. Tears cannot be shed over the notion that we’re not a draw. We’re not a draw! Until we are… Follow me:
Since publishing our graphic novel? Our output has slowed to a glacier-like crawl. While Kyle has published his “Blooms — Heist on the Magical Girl Vault” graphic novel, it’s one not arted by Matt or myself. Unshaven Comics is acting truly as just the publisher for Kyle in this case. Our work on Samurnauts is such that finally after three years (!) we will have one to three issues published by the end of this year, if we bust our butts a bit more. Case in point? I’ve penciled, inked, and colored 15 out of 24 of my pages for my issue. That leaves 9 pages to color, and the whole book to letter. 2 months, minimum. Meanwhile Matt is still deep into only his pencils. He’s 6 months away from anything being ready, minimum. And for Kyle? Well, we’ve partnered with a mysterious guest Unshaven Comic to do the art. And I couldn’t begin to tell you how fast or slow that will go. What all this means… is that even if we were accepted to every show we applied to? Well, we’d show up looking like we did in 2019. And that’s not-quite acceptable to us as a unit.
Simply put? You can’t be loved until you love yourself. And we’re barely out of our bathrobes at this point. So what con would have us?! (Plenty, but you get my point)
Independent comic bookery is a massive commitment, of which, we must own our place in the ecosystem. Most of the folks tabling today need their space. Their art is their means of support. Unshaven Comics was built to not be that for the three of us bearded lads. Unlike, say, a Dan Dougherty? We are three men with wives, children, and the responsibility therein. For our fiction-based endeavor to be a sustainable solution would be three times the need of a solo practitioner. We were never built for that level of commitment to production because it’s exponentially more expensive as a unit. To be a threesome is to be three-times as needy. This has been, and will continue to be, an effort of passion (and the potential lottery ticket to cash in should we ever stumble across it).
And with that, my skin returns to its normal tint — without a shred of green to the pigmentation. Unshaven Comics will be rejected dozens of times to come in the coming years. But it won’t matter then, as it doesn’t matter now. We were founded on our collective love of the worlds we create, and the lifelong friendship we continue to celebrate. For every show that says “no”, four will say “sure”. So for those that will not have us? We hope for their continued success, and do our part to work such that perhaps next year we’ll be a better fit to their needs. If we borrow perhaps from Oa…There’s no fear where there is the will to make it happen.