chrisgumprich.com

LESSONS LEARNED #10

By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted June 27, 2005)

I live in Winnipeg, Canada's answer to Cleveland. Not exactly a bustling hotbed of comics activity - best known for being the home of the now-extinct Digital Chameleon, and the former home of artist Igor Kordey. The last proper comic convention was held in 1989 or 1990. The local comics "community" is virtually nonexistent.

If I were to gain any con-going experience, it would have to be out of town.

I'd like to say that I carefully considered all possible US conventions, weighing the expenses with the potential gain, learning which would be friendlier to my project, where I'd be able to shake the most hands. but in truth there was only ever one destination.

San Francisco, the city by the Bay. Home of Hammett's Sam Spade and Pronzini's Nameless Detective. For a private eye fan like myself, San Francisco was the city that dreams are made of. It was also the home of the Alternative Press Expo.

There were other factors in my decision. The show was a lot more indy-friendly than San Diego or WizardWorld Chicago. Many of the attendees would be self-publishers, familiar with the same sort of hurdles that I've had to face. I would know a number of people thanks to my time spent on Delphi Forums - this would be a chance to put faces to names. Finally, there was the Saturday night APE Aftermath party at the Isotope. I had to be in attendance in case Recriminations won the Mini-Comic Of The Year Award.

Most importantly, one of my closest friends lived in SF, and offered me his couch free of charge. These things are important to a Starving Young Publisher.

The decision was set. Evening Shift would debut at APE 2004.

Well, almost. Three weeks before the con, the comic was mostly complete, but there was no way that it would be printed in time. And even if it could, I couldn't afford a table at the con, which made selling them problematic. At the same time, there was no going empty-handed. This would be my first in-person meeting with a wide range of industry types - some of whom I'd gotten to know online, but this was different - I couldn't simply shake their hands and hope that they would remember me. I had to give them something to remember me by, while at the same time spark the interest of a whole lot of fans, leading to increased sales when the comic hit the stands in May.

I dismissed the idea of photocopies of the completed pages. They would be too bulky to carry around in any great number, were likely to be lost by those I gave it to, and it would feel too much like a submission packet. I considered quickly printing up a run of "ashcans" - minicomics containing the first eight pages of the story - but those had many of the same problems. I had to come up with something small, so that I could carry a large number of them around all weekend, but it had to be memorable. Assume that they will lose the physical copy. Give them something that will stick in their memory, long after the paper has blown to the nearest landfill. And how do I grab people's memories? The cover.

I decided that my best bet would be to use postcards - the cover image on the one side, solicitation information on the reverse. It was the cheapest way to show off the full-colour cover, ensuring that the title would stay in people's minds. A local print shop gave me a decent quote, and I ordered five hundred.

On a whim, I went to a local shop that specialized in putting photographs on T-shirts. Thinking that I would make the best billboard for my work, I printed up an extremely limited run of the official Evening Shift T-shirt.

The marketing and promotion taken care of, I had one major hurdle remaining. Would I be up for the task?

I've never been what you would call an "extrovert." I suffer from a near-crippling shyness, and a total inability to promote myself in any way. It's not a case of modesty - I know how great I am, I just can't explain it to anyone without sounding arrogant. Deep down everyone has the fear of being rejected, embarrassed, laughed at - but to be a success in an entertainment-based career, one has to overcome those fears, wear the ego on the sleeve, and step out in front of the public eye intending to make a spectacle of yourself.

Sounds easy on paper.

What the hell am I doing?

I've put up thousands of dollars and two years of my life to realize my dream. And there I was, very close to realizing the dream. All I had to do was hop on a plane (which was a challenge in and of itself, but that's another story) and fly five hours due southwest. or I could cancel my ticket, cut my losses, and return to a life of anonymous mediocrity. Spend the rest of my life wishing that I had taken the chance and followed my dream.

Screw that. I'm going to San Francisco.