Convention Report: Wizard World Chicago 2018
Last weekend was a return to a convention that has a lot of different opinions about it: Wizard World Chicago. Now, I like this show. A lot. And I’ve become friends with a lot of people who run it, as well as with creators who attend it or have guested at the show. And this year was no exception. So let’s jump into it!
Preview night for Wizard World continues to be hit or miss, and with Illinois schools in session (except for Chicago Public School, which starts the following week), I anticipated traffic to be pretty light. And it was. But, it was a good opportunity to meet my table neighbors for the weekend, as well as work on some display holes I needed (like sketch cards…you guys love these, and they take some time to make; so I spent the down time drawing and coloring).
And the slower pace of the floor on this day allowed me to socialize more with the fans and attendees who did come in, since there wasn’t a pressure to work as hard. Honestly, I think Wizard could drop this day from the lineup and it would likely lead to stronger sales (or no real difference in sales), but it can be nice from a socialization standpoint.
I will say my positioning at this show had me nervous at first, but the traffic was coming right through my area and show it was an excellent spot to be in. My table neighbors – Kelvin Goodner on one side of me, and Tom Richardson (Mad Magazine) on the other – was absolutely excellent. Had a lot of fun with those guys during the weekend. And then behind me was the incredible Rob Leifeld…but more on that, later.
After the con ended, I went to dinner with Brad Jones (Cinema Snob) and his wife, Fard, and Kelvin at a local pub we enjoyed. I always enjoy hanging out with Brad and his wife, and Fard has a habit of always being wherever I go (I swear that man is stalking me), but he’s good people. Always a lot of laughs with this group. And a great way to end the first day of the con.
The next morning I packed a few extra things into my car and drove to the show, setting up plenty early and finishing up some commissions and display items. When the con opened, I was ready for it. Traffic was much higher, which would normally mean better sales, which there were – but honestly, I had to work and work hard for each and every one of those sales.
Throughout the day I had a few panels to help break up my day, and also had a helper at the table keeping an eye on things (thanks so much, Harrison). My first panel was at 3pm, which was the VIPS of Self-Publishing with Victor Dandridge. Victor’s a good buddy of mine, and we have a very similar approach to self-publishing, so we got along very well. The attendees for the panel were a small but dedicated and interested group of people looking to start their own comic journey, and Victor and I hopefully set them along a path of creation and adventure.
After the panel ended, I had a short break (during which I returned to my table to sell some more, and grab some food) before my next panel. This was a solo panel about Making Webcomics, which was mostly Q&A style. A great turn out for this topic, and we even competed with some RWBY and X-Files panels happening at the same time. Another interested and engaged group of attendees kept the questions flowing as I kept dropping knowledge bombs and weaving in some entertaining (but enlightening) stories throughout my answers. I really enjoy doing these panels.
After the panel ended, I went back to the table for a brief time before the artist alley closed for the day. I ended the show by meeting my friend Lauren for dinner, and had a few cocktails. It was nice to get to catch up with her, since I hadn’t seen her in ages (even though we live like 40 minutes from each other; I blame the children keeping me from having a social life). We had a great time at a pub near the con, and then decided to get wild and crazy…and went to go see The HappyTime Murders. The movie was exactly what I needed – a turn-your-brain-off comedy murder mystery that doesn’t try too hard, and had just the right amount of raunchy comedy in it to make me smile and laugh. A good way to end my Friday.
The biggest day of this (or just about any) con, and what a massive day it was, too. I had a very slow morning, despite a nice flow of traffic moving through artist alley, but a friend referred a buyer to my table who was a teacher of special needs children…and that buyer bought one of everything. And that was a massive way to start my Saturday. And this is how artist alley is supposed to work. Because artist alley isn’t a zero sum game…it’s a community of creators that have goods (most of which are quite different from each other), and if you know your friends or neighbors projects, you can refer and pass sales back and forth. This works on two levels: 1) It helps your fellow creators make some money, and 2) it helps the buyer, because their purchases are relevant and you position yourself as someone helpful (and they’re more likely to return to you for advice later on, which is a future opportunity to sell).
My table neighbor, who I had never met before this weekend, did this very thing without even talking to each other about it. I heard what he was selling (commissions, including sketch covers, and kick-ass prints), and he heard what I was selling (comics for young readers). We passed sales to each other all weekend. I had a guy stop at my table and say he was looking for commissions, told him about my sketch cards (he didn’t seem interested), and so I passed him to my neighbor and he was able to get the guy the commission he was looking for. Reciprocity filled the weekend and helped fuel the sales the whole time.
Around 3pm, I took a break before my panel to run around artist alley and ran into my buddy Dan Dougherty (Beardo). He was in A row, which is a prime location but can be challenging since there’s a wider aisle gap, and he was saying that traffic was lighter to his table. I invited him to join my panel at 3pm, and he got someone to cover his table for him. We did the Writing for Comics panel together, which was our first time collaborating together and a lot of fun to do. I like doing panels with other people because they bring a unique perspective to the topics and answers for the audience, and Dan is an educator of comics, self-publisher, and has worked for publishers both as a writer and artist – so he brought some great experience to the topic. We had a blast, encouraged people to come to our tables after the panel ended, and I got a lot of sales after the panel ended from people who wanted to see these tips and tricks put to work.
After the convention day ended, I grabbed dinner at the local casino with some friends and was not as talkative as usual – because I was beat. I worked hard that day. And everyone else in the party was basically saying sales were low for them all weekend, and that Saturday was no exception – but that was not my experience. I worked HARD for those sales, to be sure, and there were times during the day when I worried about how I was pacing, but I was having fun and meeting fans, and yes – the sales were coming in. I coasted through the dinner, trying not to pass out from exhaustion, and went home. The final day of the con wasn’t going to make or break the weekend for me, thankfully, but it was a huge opportunity because Sunday is often family day – and I have kids comics on my table.
The final day of the show. I was exhausted (but in a good way), and had worked my butt off for each and every single sale I had made all weekend. I was selling out of titles (another good thing), but had enough to get me through the day. The traffic for Sunday was light compared to years previous, but it was still a fun crowd with a lot of positive energy (and wanting to buy!), and I did a good job between sketch cards, pins and merch, and yes – books. I sold through most of my Albert the Alien inventory at the show, which is always a pleasant surprise.
I even got to see some old buddies of mine, like cosplayer Stella Chuu. I had met Stella years before when we were both guests at Anime Milwaukee, and have stayed in touch online through social media. She had been at the show judging cosplays, hosting Overwatch esports events, and commenting on other gaming activities throughout the weekend.
And finally, I got a chance to chat up Rob Liefeld, who had been set up behind me the entire weekend. Rob is a nice guy, and very friendly and open to creators like myself. He stayed at his table until the line disappeared every day, signed multiple items for fans, and even posted for pictures with fans (myself included). He was a nice guy, and it was a treat to get to meet him again.
My Wizard World Chicago experience this year was very positive, which seems to vary from some other artist alley exhibitor experiences. I crushed it. Record sales. And I had a fun time with fans, which is always a great experience. I continue to enjoy selling at this show, and appreciate the continued partnership that Wizard has given to me throughout the years. I look forward to returning again next year!