I’ve been doing comic/horror conventions for a good many years now, and I think it’s time that I vented.  I know conventions are a happy places and that there’s no point being there if you’re going to be a king-sized douchebag about it (and believe me, those turds are usually around).  Heck, I used to be a caricature artist for theme parks, so you would think I can handle most any nuisance, right?

Well, today I’m going to tell you about the Top 5 things that bug me (there’s probably more, but I don’t really like writing these ‘gripey’ articles).  Some of these faults are mine, and some are just the world being hard on your rump.

5. Chained to the Table: If you want to make sales at your table, you better damned well be there!  But hey, it’s a big con, right? There’s plenty of other neat things to see, stuff you’d like to buy, people you want to pester for autographs or free junk…and the moment you consider doing it is right when a customer comes up to you. Oh well. Business before pleasure, right?

Usually that’s right, but sometimes making the rounds is important, if only for one thing: networking.  You can live without buying the cool toys and comics at the seller’s booths (most of you can, I guess), but it can also be important to meet the other artists, publishers, and distributors to make connections or learn some valuable advice.  Convention artist supreme David K Wong told me that the artists at these cons are almost like nomads in caravans, and that you end up running into each other an awful lot over the years. Why not make some friends now?

I place being stuck at your table pretty low on this list because there are ways around this problem. One is to either make your rounds before or after the convention, since there’s less of a crowd (the downside of this is that the other artists/vendors may be busy setting up or breaking down their booths…like you should be doing, slacker!). The other alternative is to keep your eye out if the overall crowd density around you begins to wane; this usually happens when a big panel or event is going on and the wanderers have a-wandered to more exciting pastures.  Take that time to run around, but be ready to jump back to your booth.  You’ve got to make some money, sonny!

[I would like to take this moment to thank my incredible girlfriend, Alexandra, for being my assistant at all of these cons. She makes it easier for me to duck out, and even if I obsessively-insist on trying to do all the business myself, it still is great having someone there to help. Mwah!]

4. The Out-of-Control Kids: Kids are awesome; like I said before, I was a theme park caricaturist and am used to drawing them.  Children can be some of the most appreciative (if not always patient) customers, and there’s always something rewarding about the boys and girls who are completely enamored with what you’ve drawn.  But then you get to the ones who aren’t…

Nothing gets me more alarmed than seeing a destructive little kid grabbing anything within his/her reach and going wild with it.  Merchandise gets ruined, it causes a lot of bad attention, and worst of all, you can’t really stop the kid without the parent’s intervention.  Not only do these parents never have any interest in buying your wares, they especially don’t want to have to pay for whatever their little yard ape has just ruined.  If you have the misfortune of running into the Dickweed Family, you often end up losing (convention security has much bigger concerns than stopping unholy kindergarteners).

The only thing I can recommend in these situations is be polite but firm about asking parents to please not let their children handle the merchandise, BUT ONLY if you are absolutely certain that you are indeed dealing with a destructive child (if not, you just end up looking like a child-hating prick).  You can’t really keep anything out of reach (all merchandise, except for very large or expensive pieces, should be within close-observing distance), so just keep your eyes open for the dreaded brethren of Dennis the Menace.

3. The Long-Winded Geek Ranters: I am a geek, and I love geeks. They buy my stuff. And when you have geeks who love the same things you do (or even don’t), you can end up having some truly great conversations.  Sometimes.

We all know the kind of geek I’m about to introduce: the one that goes on and on and ON AND ON AND ON about God knows what, and you’re stuck there while they talk at you.  Notice that I didn’t say “talk TO you”, they talk AT you.  These are the kind of people who have a premeditated speech in their heads, and they’re not about to stop yakking just to pretend that you’re in on the topic. Why are they telling all this to you? Who knows?!

…and, of course, they NEVER buy anything from you.  As soon as they’ve finally winded down, they turn and leave, letting you wonder what the flying hell that was all about!

In these situations all I can say is…smile and be patient.  Being an asshole vendor is never a good idea, if just for the principle of the thing.  The only time the long-winded geek ranter needs to be stopped (politely, of course) is if they’re blocking off a potential paying customer.  If you’re a convention vendor you’re no doubt acquainted with multitasking, so just make sure your attention is on everything around the table and that everyone’s needs are being fulfilled…both the wonderful customers and the irritating blowhard who should be fed to crocodiles.  It’s rough, but be strong, my friends.

2. Putting on your Happy Face, No Matter What Rotten Crap Happens: You need to have a good attitude. That’s a must.  If you have a pleasant demeanor, you’re already beating out all of the snappy/snotty vendors who are at that very same con. And let me tell you, this is not always easy.  Conventions don’t always run like clockwork, and things can go wrong.

The biggest joy-killer, to me, is when business is just plain bad.  When things are slow, that rotten little voice inside you starts questioning whether any of this was a good idea, if you will ever really  ‘make it’ as a professional artist, and that you’re going to die someday. That pessimistic tone is hard to fight, especially under duress, and it needs to be stopped or you will lose business.

Customers are not forgiving to vendors who are assholes…and they shouldn’t be! What right do they have to treat you rudely? If a vendor treats you terribly, you shouldn’t be doing business with them, EVER.  Incidentally, if you decide to treat your customers like crap, guess what? You wont have to worry about getting any more.

Keeping a good attitude in an ultra-competitive environment is very hard. Believe me, I know how it feels. But for God’s sake, you just have to do it.  The moment you admit you’ve lost is the moment you should just turn over the table space to someone who really wants to give it a go.

1. Customer-Stealers: When I worked at the theme parks I was usually placed at a station with one or two more artists.  There was one golden rule that tested whether or not you were a butt-head: If a customer approaches you, that’s YOUR customer.  If a customer approaches another artist, that’s THEIR customer. Do NOT steal someone else’s customers.

This is the biggest dick move another vendor can do to you at a con: having your business interrupted by someone who is so desperate or so insensitive that they feel the need to grab yours is beyond bad manners. It’s just plain wrong.

What constitutes ‘stealing’? Actually, something you might not expect: simple interaction.  When you’re trying to make a sale you only have a small window of opportunity before a potential customer’s interests is diverted to something else (there’s a LOT of distractions at cons).  You have their attention for a short time, and you need it; more importantly, you don’t need someone else barging in and taking their attention away.

I worked a convention table once with another artist who I had known for a while, and he was a pretty cool guy…outside of the con.  The first time he stole a customer from me I assumed it was just a joke, but by the fourth or fifth time he did it the joke got old.  I’ve never asked him to do another convention with me since.

Even when stealing isn’t deliberate it still happens.  At my last convention I sat next to a table with a nice vendor, an older woman selling something-or-other, who liked to engage in conversation. The problem was she would try to talk to everyone around, including (you guessed it) the people at my table checking out my wares or already talking to me. The ‘stealing’ wasn’t intentional, but she was still blocking my sales just by drawing their attention elsewhere.

Conventions should be friendly and social affairs, and you should be meeting people and having fun.  But if someone at the table next to you is in “business mode”, seriously, leave them alone.  Incidentally, if they’re the ones being rude and interrupting your sales, you must tell them (again, polite but firm) to stop interfering with your work. PLEASE don’t ever reduce yourself to the type of jerk who has to try to grab other people’s business, because people will know you’re an asshole and they might have mafia connections.

(Bonus peeve) Parking is usually expensive, unless if it’s very far away, which is also a hassle since chances are you’re carrying lots of heavy stuff which can be really bad on your back if you don’t lift carefully.  Yeah, that’s true.

So there you have it.  If anyone out there has convention advice, peeves, or wants to rebuke my opinions, leave a comment below…and see you at the next con!  I’ll be there, smiling (because I want to)!