So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #086: A Year of Unshaven Cons

On the weekend of October 28-30th, 2023, Unshaven Comics rounded out its year in convention exhibition at the Winnipeg Comic Con. For those of you following the ebbs and flows of my little studio, I wanted to take time out here in my little corner of the internet to dish on all things Unshaven in 2023. From our wins, losses, pure data, to our anecdotal musings about those wins-losses-and-data. Sound good? Well, I don’t care, I’m writing this as much for me as I am for you. So… strap in, Sally.

Before we dive deeper into the year for us overall, let’s talk about why Winnipeg. At the tail end of the pandemic, with a house of trade paperbacks and serious cabin fever… Unshaven Comics crossed the border in 2021 to go to the Fan Expo Canada comic convention in Toronto. It was one of the best shows we’d ever done — even with a limited sale of fan tickets. So much fun was had, we returned the following year (sadly only with Kyle and myself going, with Unshaven Matt Wright stuck at work). With a “full force” fanbase? It remained an amazing show for my little company. Knowing that we’d not have anything new in store for the following year, I asked a rhetorical question: was it Toronto that loved us… or was it Canada being just that awesome. We opened up Google Maps and found the only other drivable city for us in Tim Horton’s home country to attempt to answer that question.

Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Suffice it to say, I’m elated that Toronto was no fluke. With a larger footprint in the RBC Convention Centre than in years past, the Winnipeg Comic Con was a solid success for your bearded protagonists. We sold 93 copies of The Samurnauts: Curse of the Dreadnuts. Kyle sold 51 copies of his trades (Toolbox, and Blooms: Heist on the Magical Girls’ Vault). While there’s far more variables to account for a successful show for the Unshaven lads… the book sales are always going to be the first and most important.

Speaking of, let’s go ahead and look over the tally.

Unshaven Comics participated in four comic cons this year: C2E2 (the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo), Fan Expo Philly, Dragon Con (in Atlanta), and the aforementioned Winnipeg Comic Con. In total, we sold 285 copies of Curse. Kyle sold 289 copies of his books (which are still Unshaven Comics publications… just sans Matt or my contributions in the art department). I moved more PokeMashup collectible postcards than I’d like to admit (more on that in a bit). The other big number we track — always — is our closing ratio. Knowing how many people hear our pitch who choose to buy helps us determine if our book is still hip. In total, we sold to 602 customers out of 1,844 pitches. That means (with a tiny bit of rounding) 1 in 3 people hearing that pitch forked over the cash to check us out. I literally couldn’t be happier about that if I tried.

So! Let’s go ahead then and celebrate the wins of the year for us, shall we?

Win: Sales and Closing ratio. Simply put, we met our goal for slinging pulp and paper while maintaining a darned good streak. Money in the til means production continues on!

Win: My PokeMashup collectible postcards have officially graduated from dinner money hobby-within-the-hobby to a fully formed profit making machine. So much so it can sustain its own table and still make profit. It affords Unshaven Comics more room to breathe behind the scenes, so it’ll continue to be a staple of our convention presence.

Win: A new issue! Samurnauts: To the Max issue #1 debuted at Dragon Con. While it’s not going to be a trade for a while… it is providing a unique upsell opportunity for us and is something for old fans to check out to continue their Samurnaut collection.

Win: We finally got to host a panel! After applying to several of the shows we exhibited in to lead a talk, only Winnipeg bit. “The Fastball of Pitching: Perfecting the Art of Your Comic Book Pitch” debuted to a small-but-excited crowd on the last day of the con. Our hope will be to continue to offer the panel in 2024 with hope that it actually being a part of a previous schedule will see other shows allow us to share with would-be creators the fruit of the last 15 years of road-tested education.

One thing I want to be clear on, is that Unshaven Comics is honest. Perhaps, at times, to a fault. But I’d rather we pull back the curtain on what it actually means to be an independent comic book studio than perpetuate a myth of things being all wine and roses (or in our cases… pop and pizza). Let’s go ahead and chalk up our losses.

Loss: We went out to Fan Expo Philly with a whopping 35 copies of Curse of the Dreadnuts. In 2022, we’d been to the show and moved 100 copies. We capped ourselves at the knees by not having more product on hand, and because of it we sold 15% fewer copies of our flagship book year over year.

Loss: Matt’s commissions and art bin were woefully undersold. In spite of being an amazing talent on the page, Matt’s art bin — chalk full of amazing pinups — was more often than not ignored. Commissions didn’t come in with any verve, and ultimately left us all scratching our beards… attempting to figure out why fans just aren’t flocking to Matt’s portion of our provisional emporium.

Loss: We’re getting older. Whereas we once had no problem putting 5-6 hour shifts uninterrupted in our travels up and down the road to cons… now our weak bladders and crotchety nature sees us stopped every 2-3. The prospect of taking in the town — tasting the local best-ofs (like an authentic Philly Cheesesteak) — falls victim to “eh, let’s just order in.” I know it’s a small gripe, but realizing now 15 years into the journey that time is actually lurching forward… sucks.

With all that in mind? 2023 was a fine year for me and my brothers-from-other mothers. As a bit of a soft-reboot for our convention experience… our larger show footprint, bolstered by our airtight pitching and memorable products has granted us meaningful profits — both monetarily, and more importantly… in memories and stories to tell in times to come. Our wins put wind behind our sails to venture on. Our losses provide us problems to eagerly solve in the coming year.

Across the four shows we exhibited at this year, Matt, Kyle and I were granted the opportunity to selfishly indulge in our now 30 year friendship. Miles clocked on my minivan are worth it when it means laughing so hard my cheeks hurt. Where early-morning wake up calls and late-night post-con meals mean time to reminisce as well as forge new astoundingly complex inside jokes. And in-between the pitching, cosplay people watching, and nerd-to-nerd commerce comes time to truly catch up — sharing heartfelt moments of joy about watching our children grow up, collectively venting about those anger-inducing moments in our day-to-day, or just sitting for a bit in shared silence with those guys who have been there truly through our brightest days and darkest nights. It’s the kind of thing I fail to truly capture with words but unironically brings tears to my eyes if I think too long about it — in the best possible way. But I, as ever, digress.

What’s in store for us in 2024? Well, we’re applying to some shows we’ve never been to, some shows we’ve not been to in 10 years (!), and (ideally) a few where we’ll be able to share space specifically with Pop Culture Squad. Stay tuned there, kiddos. The best is yet to come. In between now and that next con? You’ll ideally get to listen to us yammer a bit on our podcast, and if you follow us elsewhere on social media… you might see behind-the-scenes work on those books and projects to debut very soon.

In the meantime, there’s little more to say:

As always, stay Unshaven.