So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #083: Creative Devolution

In a few short weeks, Unshaven Comics kicks off our 2023 convention season with a trip… home. After applying and failing to gain admittance to C2E2’s Artist Alley, our FOMO kicked in, and we grossly overpaid for a small press booth. For those coming out to the show who’d like to rub it in? We’ll be at SP12 — in the small press area between Artist Alley and the autograph lanes. 

Here’s the funny part — to me at least. I was the one who felt the biggest pangs of pre-regret when the small press table contract was sent to us. I was the one who all but told my Unshaven mates “we’re doing this show even if we break even”. This knowing we’re still a few months away from a new Samurnauts issue being ready. This knowing all we have new is the awesome Blooms: Heist on the Magical Girl Vault that Kyle completed last year with Stephanie Mided. 

Nerf gun to our collective heads? Unshaven feels like this show won’t feel like some amazing homecoming. Especially because Blooms did debut in Chicago… Last year. At the massively underwhelming Fan Expo Chicago (the mutated carcass of the original Chicago Comic Con, aka Wizard World Chicago). We moved 43 copies at that show, and honestly, that was pretty good all things considered. So, we waltz into C2E2 praying that the fans walking in did not attend Fan Expo last year — or if they did, they somehow missed us.

So, knowing that we’d need to hit decent-to-awesome revenue numbers at the show to make back our booth cost, enter desperation! 

With limited time and maximum flop sweat, I looked to my personal cash cow — PokeMashups — to hopefully give us a little buzz.. Since I started offering these silly things, I’ve personally seen continuous exponential growth. 

Before I talk about our hail Mary for success…A bit of backstory for the uninitiated.

Unshaven Comics has always been a beautiful living Venn diagram. When we participate in comic conventions, Kyle Gnepper is the salesman. His ability to remove his personal empathy is his mutant power. Seemingly with the fearlessness of Matt Murdock donning a Green Lantern ring, Kyle pitches our wares to all passersby — no matter how hurried or harsh they may seem. Because of it, we’ve posted sales from con-goers we wouldn’t believe would normally give us the time of day. From cosplayers without pockets, to earbuds-in gen-z’ers who listen to Kyle’s pitch with one eyebrow affixed in the “psssh yeah, right” position. Kyle hucks product politely to all. Kyle aside? Matt is our table’s eye-candy. As he hunkers over his board, Matt produces commissions and quirky drawings for sale that always garner well-deserved attention. So Kyle sells. Matt creates. What do I do?

Well, like so much of Unshaven Comics, I do a little bit of everything. I sell, but admittedly never with the fervor Kyle does. I live in my head, and will talk myself off instigating a conversation more often than not. And while I’ll proudly stand and hold our trademarked “Can I tell you about our comic book?” sign to ideally lure would-be customers in… I’m not one to shout it at passersby with reckless abandon like Mr. Gnepper. And when not selling? Well, I’d often just people watch. I’d brainstorm ideas to market. I’d observe our fan interaction, and try to keep things moving at the table. Eventually, Matt would note my abstinence of action, and throw down the gauntlet — to join him in making drawings live, for sale. Forever doubting my analog skills, I’d eventually acquiesce, and create Domo-Kun sketch cards. Something about that little brown monster just tickled my id. 

Eventually, in a similar situation as to this year’s C2E2, we were left with a minimal amount of time before a show, but my desire to make a little dinner money grew. And with it, my “aha” moment occurred. I used my digital art skills (utilized daily as a graphic designer for many years) combined with my marketing skills (utilized daily as a marketer for many year concurrently), I made a small set of postcards mashing up the base Pokemon with the most recognizable Marvel heroes of the day. I printed off each of these initial three cards (Captain America Squirtle, Charmander Iron Man, and Bulbasaur Spider-Man) — twenty-five copies each. They sold out before the show was over. 

Our next show from that successful one was Atlanta’s famous Dragon-Con. Figuring we’d have nothing much else to promote, I challenged myself to flush out my trio of pocket monsters to flesh out to incorporate more Marvel heroes, and add in DC comics and others to fill up an entire twenty-four slot spinner rack. And I kid you not. That Dragon Con saw me mint a minor fortune (all things considered) with these kooky cards. It begat a bit of an obsession I’ve long felt a bit of shame over. Put a pin in that. 

As a function of our overall booth? It works in spades. Versus the comic pitch, my spinner racks (yeah, I have two big ones and two small now…) are in-and-of-themselves an attraction. Folks see the melange of monsters in hilarious cosplay and take things for a spin. Combine this with a “well that’s sure not expensive” pricepoint? And more often than not, I see folks instantly start plucking their favorites for purchase without so much as a “hello”. My personal favorite times have come when a browser starts muttering obscenities under their breath as they realize they have to have certain mashups because they are just that good. That guttural “ahhh fuuu—” that slips out as they hand over a set of cards and a wad of mashed up cash is hard not to giggle over. 

Which brings us back to C2E2 2023.

Having just completed my 60th design (I did a set of 3 anime-inspired mashups including Charizard as One Punch Man, Flareon/Glaceon as My Hero Academia’s Shoto Todoroki, and Graninja as Tanjiro Kamado — the Demon Slayer) I realized I’ve officially run out of space for more. Every single slot available in my racks can now be filled with PokeMashups. And with that, an idea hit me. More often than not, the question I field the most (beyond suggestions for other mashups) is if I have a print of ALL of my designs. I’ve never considered it much prior; knowing that with me frequently adding to my catalog of combos would make any poster collecting all of my designs being out-of-date by the next show. And the fear being then that a poster not truly collecting everything would yield more fans declining a purchase than desired. And I wasn’t about to eat my lunch with a bunch of unsellable merchandise. 

So what’s changed? Well… nothing except my normal risk aversion. I found a solid vendor to produce me a 24” x 36” slick of all SIXTY cards plus a few Easter eggs — showcasing a total of SEVENTY-ONE characters in all. I’ve set a price point that I feel is fair for the value ($20 for the poster), and produced a very small run… literally just enough to bring to C2E2 if my guesstimation of sales is to be believed. And if we sell them all? Well, it should cover our table expenses and the ire of Matt and Kyle looking at me and saying “I told you so”, which I assure you is a fate I wish upon no one.

And if this is successful… What then? I dare not stop making these silly little sellers, right? I’ve long toyed about hanging it up once I get through the initial 150 Pokemon. But the marketer in me knows certain Pokemon will never sell well. And then we dive down the sunk cost fallacy. It’s something I continue to consider as I eyeball other means to display the cards. Because at this point I might have to consider expanding into a completely secondary table (and if we did that, PokeMashups would have to cover the cost of the table AND Unshaven’s for me to even consider it). Well, it leaves plenty left to my imagination. But the proof is in the pudding and my manta of “No data, no decision” will hold true. 

Success or failure…stay tuned, of course. And I hope we’ll see you at the show! 

Unshaven Comics will be at C2E2 March 31 – April 2, in SP12. 

Pop Culture Squad’s own Mike Gold and Bob Harrison will also be at the C2E2. Stay tuned to this site for more details about that in the coming days.