2020 Comic Shows Survey
Below are the results of small survey that I conducted with comic artists about vending at comic conventions, festivals, fairs and expos (Comic Shows). The primary goal of this survey was to get some context on how artists participate with these transient marketplaces, what are the goals they have related to that participation, and what barriers they face in participation. A secondary goal was to examine the rate of engagement that I can expect from emailing respondents to my previous surveys.
Rate of Engagement:
Survey participants were recruited using two different tactics.
First, respondents to previous survey work this year who indicated both that they were willing to be contacted for further research were emailed the survey and also asked if they would be willing to share data on their actual sales and table costs when attending shows. This email went out to 112 people. 22 of these invitees responded to the survey and 2 sent me specific sales information. (19.64% and 1.78% respectively.)
Second, I posted the survey on Facebook, Twitter, and (god help me) Linkedin on the final day of the survey. This effort netted me 11 extra respondents, likely mostly from Twitter where I got multiple retweets.
Given the sample size of only 33 total respondents that is subject to voluntary response and selection bias, it would a mistake to try and apply this survey’s responses to the population of comic artists as a whole. The results do however allow for some inferences.
Respondents ranged in experience vending at shows. The longest career started in approximately 1984 (best guess by respondent) to 2019. The average respondent had approximately 11 years of experience vending at comic shows. Respondents were also asked the first time that they attended a comic show as a fan. The earliest was a best guess of 1976 and the most recent was 2017. The average respondent started going to comic shows as a fan in 2001.
40% of comic artists in my 2020 survey indicated that they received part of their income from from vending at Comic Shows. That survey, though, didn't dig down on the extent to which that source of income is important to comic artists or examine if there are other benefits that artists gain from attending comic shows. This could easily be a much longer and more involved surveyed, but the brevity of the six questions asked allowed for a snapshot of the respondents' identity as comic artists as it pertains to vending at comic shows.
1. How often do you attend Comic Shows in the following capacities?
# of Respondents attending as a paying vendor by frequency: Never: 1 Once a Year or Less: 4 Two to Three Times A Year: 14
Four to Six Times a year: 11 Seven or More Times a Year: 3
# of Respondents attending as a special guest by frequency: Never: 21 Once a Year or Less: 6 Two to Three Times A Year: 3
Four to Six Times a year: 2 Seven or More Times a Year: 0
No Answer: 1
# of Respondents attending as a guest of a publisher by frequency: Never: 21 Once a Year or Less: 6 Two to Three Times A Year: 2
Four to Six Times a year: 1 Seven or More Times a Year: 0 No Answer: 3
# of Respondents attending as a (non-vending) fan by frequency: Never: 3 Once a Year or Less: 15 Two to Three Times A Year: 10
Four to Six Times a year: 4 Seven or More Times a Year: 0 No Answer: 3
2. How important are these elements of vending at Comic Shows to you?
The graph above creates an average level of importance for each category based on a scoring system where answers of "not important" is valued at 0, "Somewhat Important" at 1, "Important" at 2, and "Very Important" at 3.
Sales/Profitability: Not Important: 2 Somewhat Important: 8 Important: 15 Very Important: 8 Average of 1.88 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider sales and profitability of comic shows as important, but skewing downwards to only somewhat important.
Exposure to New Fans and Readers: Not Important: 0 Somewhat Important: 2 Important: 16 Very Important: 15
Average of 2.39 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider exposure to new readers and fans at comic sows as important, skewing upwards to very important. No respondent considered this category not important.
Community Time with Artistic Peers Not Important: 0
Somewhat Important: 5
Very Important: 16
Average of 2.33 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider community time with other artists at comic shows important, skewing upwards towards very important. No respondent considered this category not important
Access to Publishers Not Important: 9
Somewhat Important: 12 Important: 11
Very Important: 1
Average of 1.12 and the Median is 1.12, indicating that respondents consider access to publishers at comic shows somewhat important, skewing upwards towards important.
Having Fun Not Important: 0 Somewhat Important: 6
Very Important: 13
Average of 2.21 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider having fun at comic shows important, skewing upwards towards to very important. No respondent considered this category not important
Professional Development Programming Not Important: 11
Somewhat Important: 11 Important: 9 Very Important: 1 No Answer: 1 Average of 1.00 and the Median is 1.00, indicating that respondents consider professional development somewhat important at comic shows with no skew upwards or downwards.
3. How much do each of these barriers affect the number of Comic Shows you vend at each year?
The graph above creates an average level of perceived barrier for each category based on a scoring system where answers of "not a barrier" is valued at 0, "Somewhat of a barrier" at 1, "A Barrier" at 2, and "A Major Barrier" at 3.
Table Costs: Not A Barrier: 0 Somewhat of a Barrier: 14 A Barrier: 11 A Major Barrier: 6 Average of 1.88 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider table costs of comic shows as a barrier to vending at comic shows, skewing downwards to only somewhat of a barrier.
Travel Costs Not A Barrier: 1 Somewhat of a Barrier: 7
A Barrier: 10
A Major Barrier: 15
Average of 2.18 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider travel costs of comic shows as a barrier to vending at comic shows, skewing upwards to being a major barrier.
Schedule Conflicts Not A Barrier: 9 Somewhat of a Barrier: 7 A Barrier: 10 A Major Barrier: 7 Average of 1.45 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider schedule conflicts with comic shows as a barrier to vending at comic shows, skewing downwards to being only somewhat of a barrier.
Application Process (e.g. juries and lotteries) Not A Barrier: 7 Somewhat of a Barrier: 13 A Barrier: 6 A Major Barrier: 7 Average of 1.39 and the Median is 2.00, indicating that respondents consider the application processes of comic shows as a barrier to vending at comic shows, skewing downwards to being only somewhat of a barrier.
Show Sell Outs and Deadlines Not A Barrier: 9 Somewhat of a Barrier: 14
A Barrier: 8
A Major Barrier: 2 Average of 1.09 and the Median is 1.00, indicating that respondents consider comic show sell outs and deadlines as somewhat of a barrier to vending at comic shows, skewing slightly upwards to being a barrier.
4. When paying to vend at Comic show, how often do you earn an amount at least equal to your table fees in sales?
5. When paying to vend at Comic show, how often do you make a profit after all expenses are considered? (i.e. including travel, printing of materials sold, sales tax licenses, etc.)
6. Are there any important nuances of vending at Comic Shows that the structure of this survey does not allow you to express?
(Some of these answers have been edited for clarity and/or to preserve anonymity of the respondent) -Culture of a convention is an important factor in the value artists get from vending.
-An additional barrier can simply be conventions not fielding enough artist/art selection in the hall, encouraging more collector attendance than people who would consider independent art.
- I have been doing this for a long time, and so the answers that I have given with show frequency would be for years when I have something new to promote; I.e. if I have something new out I will do 4-6 shows a year; if I do not, I will do none. So I think the question designed leaves out that aspect of tabling.
-The other thing is that I will do non-Comics events, like art shoes and gay events, where I do very very well , compared to comics Only events
-Willingness to carpool/rideshare, share hotel rooms and tables, sleep on couches, etc, is I think a major reason why shows are consistently profitable for me
-If the shows charged people five bucks to get in, the table fees could be that much lower. If the guests are too cheap spend five bucks to get in, then they're too cheap to buy any comics. I don't understand why all the indy shows are free to the public and the artists foot the bill.
-The size of the show makes a huge difference for me. Smaller shows and non-mainstream shows is where I do best.
-Some other factors that come to mind that have affected my vending experience including table placement: e.g. at TCAF a couple years ago, I had a table in a very odd extension of the host library that did not receive much foot traffic. Although I was expecting the "vibe" of that show to be very much in line with what my micropress sells, we didn't have a very profitable show. On that same note, since I am based in the U.S. and TCAF is in Toronto, I wasn't able to use my Square reader, which meant I wasn't able to take credit cards, and I think that, too, affected sales.
- Another consideration is panels: I've noticed that my sales are a bit better at shows for which I'm on a panel or two. Increased visibility!
-I have noticed that shows that have a pre-show website, to allow for pre-sales or commission requests (and increased visibility), have never had any effect on my sales or vending experience.
-There are often cliques that are hard to break into as an outsider.
-My relationship with conventions has morphed in the past several years. I would call myself a mid-career creator, and with that comes the typical want for sales, marketing, networking and profit in order to continue to make comics.
-The long hours a nightmare. I used to do a lot more cons but the older I get,the less I'm able to handle the 12 hour days and all the set up/travel as an independent artist (not supported by a publisher) I wish there were more time/ability to get away from the table to talk with other professionals. Or, like, a shared selling space we could all put our stuff in and we could have set hours. A big motivator for me going to shows is interaction with peers, and it's sooooo hard when you're at a table all day then exhausted in the evenings. Shows cost too much and are too limited in space for individual artists to succeed. But when art friends share tables, it looks chaotic and that repels attention from attendees. The answer, in my opinion, is to decentralize comics festivals and make more shows
-Personally I had to end up pivoting from indie shows and general comic shows. The cost vs outcome was simply too much. I've found success at a fandom-exclusive group of shows for both my fan work and indie material, but that being said there is no way I could do shows sustainably as part of my income.
-The only nuance I think is that I really only just started last year, and with the pandemic I really... Didn't have the opportunity to continue to try and do better than last year. I'm hoping next year I can continue to learn and grow, especially as I will have put out more output during quarantine that will hopefully improve my performance next time I table.
-A major reason I put down the application process as a major barrier is that for juried conventions there rarely seems to be a way to get any feedback on a rejected application. I would love to improve my rejected applications so I can be a stronger candidate the next application cycle but I don't know how to constructively do that, besides getting educated
-Another major, major barrier to vending for me not mentioned in this survey is that I'm disabled. It is best for me to bring a table helper with me as back-up if my symptoms flare and I am unable to vend, but that significantly increases the cost of vending at travel conventions because I would have to pay for lodging/travel/food for two people. I have also heard from other vendors that publishing new comics consistently is a major factor in getting chosen for curated conventions. Because my output is lower than it could be due to my disabilities eating my time I fear that my disabilities are essentially keeping me out of certain curated conventions. I might be totally off base there, carrying around that fear sucks, especially because the cons I have vended at have done so much good for me career-wise
-Home shows can really affect these answers. They remove some big barriers.
-I had to average my answer because some years (2013 for me) were very busy and other's 2016 on were light. So it doesn't catch that unsteady element.Obviously Covid wrecks all of this.
-I think that I usually do well at shows because I make a lot of eye contact and try to draw people into conversations. I see some fellow creators not actively engaging the crowd.
-there are so many good shows out there, but word gets out and they fill up in seconds.
-Juried shows can feel unfair as you watch a certain style only get in.
-COVID has wrecked this for all of us, and now I can't even pay my bills.
-Not really, but I'll use this space for some BG if it's of any interest: I don't set up at as many shows as I used to, in 2019 I didn't sit behind a table to make sales once.
-I don't have a great "grip" these days on comic events -- the culture or the business -- esp large shows like SDCC/NYCC that come with insane ticket/hotel nightmares. I attend NYCC every year with my publisher setting up passes for meetings/signings only.
-I can't afford to foot the bill for comic events, and have terribly social skills re: contacting promoters about being a guest, or working out any kind of deal. I tend to get an invitation here and there, and that can turn into an ongoing guest relationship..
-I mostly make money off art sales and do few commissions because I don't enjoy drawing in public. I sell books, but rarely stock up beyond my comps. I don't sell prints.