Good Doesn’t Sell

I don’t quite understand the popularity of some vendors at SPACE.

I know it sounds like I’m jealous, but hear me out…

mini-coverThere were a few tables that always had a customer at them. While I was (frequently) restocking the free Ironically-Titled Super-Sized Tiny Life Mini-Comic Preview Comic at the freebee table, I stopped by. I wanted to see what all the ruckus was about. Most of the comics they were selling looked like a fifth-grader drew it. They were poorly put together – zeroxed without staples – and they were written as if they were trying to out-crap each other: “Hey, this is the worst thing I can think of!  Beat that!”

On the other hand, two creators that I respect and I frequently talked to had no one at their tables. One of them won the SPACE Award for the best comic book last year, the other one is up for the LA Times Best Book of the Year Award (not Best Comic of the Year, Best Book of the Year). I talked to both of them for a good solid hour and neither had one customer during our conversations.

How is this possible? How is it that one person, a person that has a proven track record of crap, has a constant stream of paying customers while someone who has proven to be nationally acclaimed picks up the stragglers?

Is it because people prefer crap? Is it because the better stuff is more expensive? Is it the clientele? I think it might be a little of everything.

Most of the stuff I saw fell into a few categories:

  1. superhero/fantasy
  2. autobiographical
  3. zombie
  4. hot chick/porn

The people I’m talking about – the critically acclaimed folk – made something that doesn’t fall into those categories. They made something original. They said something that hasn’t been said before and they said it beautifully. Unfortunately, originality isn’t valued by most people; most people won’t pay for something new. A few people will pay out the nose for something original, but your average joe won’t pay more than a dollar if it makes them think.

So maybe I’ll take it as a compliment that I sold about as much as either of these creators.

15 Responses

  1. The first time I came to SPACE, I saw Dave Sim sitting at a table by the door. Alone. The place was full of people, but nobody was at the Dave Sim table.

    Of course, that was somewhat explicable, because he wasn’t sitting there selling Cerebus comics. There was some swag on the table, but he really wasn’t there with much to show. It was just like, “Hey, I’m Dave Sim.”

    I later realized that virtually no one knew who he was.

    Paul Hornschemeier came last year, I think. I stopped to talk to him, because I love his stuff, but I had to say to him, “Unfortunately, you’re successful enough that I can get your books from the library. The rest of these people, if I don’t get it now, it’s gone forever.”

    I guess that’s sort of not the point. But the thing is, because SPACE revolves around independent comics, the less independent (i.e. less shittily homemade) something looks, the further it strays from the main attraction. Xeroxed, hand-folded comics really are the name of the game.

    I thought I recognized Bill Knapp’s name when I saw he won the SPACE prize. When I got to his table, I realized why: He won the Day Prize some years ago with a book called Faith. (I think; I’d have to dig the book out of my garage, or look for thirty seconds on Google, to be sure.) As soon as I realized that, it was off to the next table.

    Faith was not something original. It wasn’t something that hasn’t been said before, and it wasn’t beautiful.

    The problem with the Day and SPACE prize-winning books is that they never seem to be the most interesting or best-designed books. They really seem to be more deserving of the “Least Embarrassing Comic Book to Show to Non-Comic-Book-Reading People” award. Faith is bland and inoffensive and too boring for children. Just like a real book by a real writer!

    Maybe I should have got Knapp’s new book, but it just seemed like a case of fool-me-twice. I don’t know who the potential Book of the Year award winner was.

    • I enjoy Knapp’s stuff. You’re right, it’s not the most original, but I think his stuff is a good mix of “classic comics” and “independents.”
      I’ve never been a fan of Paul Hornschemeier. I think he’s capable of so much more…

      So if all this is true, which con should I go to? The SPACE is too independent, and the bigger ones (Wizard World, etc.) are too mainstream.

  2. Nick,
    Sorry you didn’t do well at SPACE. it’s still a mystery to me. Discribe your sales pitch to me.
    If I hang around my table and let people browse for a while before I pounce and just ask them if they want to know about something it kind of works even for the crap I produce. No emotions involved and leave your ego at the door.
    Did you get a SPACE Survival Guide by Matt Young (I think.). He had the problem nailed.
    Also an expensive book is always harded to sell. I sell a ton of mini-comics and maybe one or two of my 100+ page collections.
    Nate Powell seems like a quiet guy with big expensive books.
    And just to be fair to the guys in the 4 catagories you indicated you forgot to add “Stick figures”.

  3. BOB! Nice to see you on the site!

    I did fine at SPACE (according to most), but the thing that bothered me was something that I thought was universal: the better the product, the more the product sells. It didn’t bother me so much that I didn’t sell as much as I wanted (I’m too close to it, so I don’t know if it’s good or not); it bothered me that some REALLY talented people seemed to be getting the shaft while some hacks seemed to make out like bandits.

    I emailed Jason Young to see if I could put his SPACE Survival Guide up, but he never got back to me. The Wife thought it was hilarious (she said, “I don’t want to check anything out because I’m afraid of hurting their feelings”).

    My sales pitch: “If you buy that, I’ll throw in a free comic, a free mini-comic, 15 minutes with my dirty playing cards, and deep hug from either me or my busty wife (whatever one floats your boat). If you don’t buy that, I’ll punch a kitten.”

  4. I wasn’t offered any hugs by anyone, busty or otherwise. I buy your book straight-way, and my punishment is NO BUSTY HUGS?

    Fuck you and your busty hugs.

  5. Let’s keep this civilized

  6. Nick,
    If all things were right with the universe what do you think TV would be like? I can’t understand why more people don’t show up for SPACE and less for San Diego. If you believe, you need to just keep chipping away. I agree that there are a lot of great books out there that don’t get enough attention but the problem is not confined to SPACE. We need more people through the door but I’m working on bringing in the right people
    Opps! I screwed up Jason Young did the SPACE Survival Guide. Sorry.

    • I would’ve been nice if there had been a banner outside advertising the show. You might have pulled in some people off of the street. Sorry to say it, but those little signs weren’t cuttin’ it. The only thing you could make out from the road was “S.P.A.C.E.”, but that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to the average passerby. A sign that says something like “Comic Show Today” might have worked better. Also, it’s cool to have panel discussions going on, but all they did for me was to remove potential customers from the show area.

      • That’s true about the banner. I never really thought of it, but the first time I attended SPACE (I think it was 3 years ago), I passed the Shrine Center because I didn’t see any SPACE signs.
        I agree with Bob; SPACE will grow. It takes time to get people to like independent stuff.

      • Having no banner is a serious oversight especially for a show that’s 10 years in the making.
        By the way, did you read my mini comic? You’d love it. It includes 2 of the subject categories that you disapprove of.

      • I don’t disapprove of those, I just don’t find them particularly interesting because they’re in those categories.
        Wait, your comic falls into two of those categories? Isn’t your website called “non-redundant”?
        (check out Shawn’s work at http://www.non-redundant.com. He does some amazing design work)

      • Ha ha, I didn’t name my website never-redundant.com. It’s “non” as in “not usually”.

        I guess it’s all sort of subjective anyway as to what’s redundant.

        Anyway, I wrote about a zombie only as a device to talk about life, the situations we humans fall into, and the modern workplace so it’s definitely not just another zombie story.

  7. In all seriousness (though with little empirical support), you probably ought to see it out another year at least. You sold enough to break even? Well, good. The majority of those customers will hopefully buy the next book next year, if there is one; and, you continue making sales to the uninitiated.

    If there is nothing new next year, you may be in a spot.

    I liked the Plastic Farm collection, but two years later I’m still waiting for the follow-up.

    The Ineffables is a pretty funny superhero spoof-ish type thing, but if all you get after a year goes by is a single issue of new material, then good luck keeping that audience.

    Hm. I think I started with a different point than the one I’m currently making. In any case, the idea is that if you keep up production, and your work is good, breaking even is not a bad place to start, because current readers will keep reading, and new readers will keep coming.

  8. My initial plan was to put out a bi-monthly comic and then when that particular story was complete, I would put out the trade with some new material (fix panels here and there, maybe add a page or two).
    Since Diamond is only accepting trades from me (although with their new system, they might not even do that), I’m only doing trades.
    I know what you’re saying though, and I know I sound like I’m disappointed in the whole thing, but I’m not. I thought it was a good experience and I would probably go again (although I think just for Saturday. It’s a bitch to drive all the way back here Sunday night and go back to teaching on Monday). I thought seeing all that material – no matter how well done – was a bit inspiring. I thought the jams were fun and I thought the experience of physically seeing everything I had to offer was pretty cool.

    I was disappointed by my own expectations; that is, I thought SPACE people would be my type of customer.

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