Last weekend's trip to the Phoenix Comic Con turned out to be a great call, as it was my first time exhibiting in Arizona and ended up being an exceptionally good show.
How do I judge the success of a convention? Sales, quality of the people I meet, the surrounding environment outside the walls of the convention hall.... All these were met with positive results.
First thing that struck me about Phoenix, as evidenced from the 6th floor window of my hotel, is that this town was empty!
Photo taken at about 8am Friday morning.
Here's a shot taken 9am Sunday morning, about 6 blocks down from the hotel, after a filling breakfast at IHOP.
Nice, huh? Seriously, I love wide, empty streets! I'm from So Cal, remember? Yes, it was Memorial Day Weekend, but from what I understand, the downtown area, as clean and modern as it is, just doesn't seem to attract people to it. Might have to get me an artist studio over here and enjoy the silence!
The Con itself, billed as the Southwest's "signature pop culture event", was filled with enthusiastic fans of comics, fans of anime and manga, fans of superheroes and dressing up and having a good time. I was amazed at the sheer amount of folks in costumes. I'd swear about 20-25% of the attendees were in costume. Something about that made me feel like I was in a place where no one is 'too cool for school', that it was perfectly fine to let your inner geek out of it's hiding place. Sure, all comic book conventions are like this, but something about this Phoenix Con really struck me as a pure love of the comics culture. Truth is, I took more pictures of costumes than I usually do.
This gal was just the cat's meow in this costume, my favorite version of Catwoman.
I just love that this guy dressed up as the classic Penguin. He wasn't concerned about wearing something hip or current.
I have to admit that I found this well-crafted bird head somewhat unnerving. The lower beak would occasionally open, then close...
As I've written here about previous trips, it's always good knowing your work is being introduced to a whole new audience. This is only my third state outside of California that I've exhibited at, so the anticipation of the audience reaction is always a welcome experience.
The advantage about driving to a show is that I can bring my full storefront, such as my banner and acrylic stands, and as much merchandise as fits in my car. With ever-rising airplane ticket prices and mounting cargo fees, picking shows I can drive to becomes more and more likely.
One of the benefits of attending shows is getting to meet some new fellow creators. In the photo above, on the far right side, you can see one of my neighbors for the weekend, Ralph Miley of the Christian Comics Arts Society. Turns out Ralph lives in the neighboring city to mine! Small world, no? Ralph and I had plenty of good laughs over the weekend, his infectious laughter making for some great moments.
My neighbor on my left was also my carpool co-pilot and roommate for the weekend, Jason Martin of SUPER REAL fame:
Jason of course is my good friend from Portland, whose hosted me several times when I've exhibited in Oregon. Jason actually flew in from Portland to LAX, landed at 5:30 pm on Thursday night, from which we drove straight through rush hour traffic across Los Angeles and all the way to Phoenix! We arrived at our hotel at about 3 am Friday morning. And believe it or not, I was hit with a serious case of insomnia, meaning I slept about an hour total. But, like troopers, we got up and set up Friday morning and had a great time together. Amazing how much comics/publishing talk you get done stuck in a car together for all those hours. Jason's a great friend, and I always enjoy traveling with him and doing a convention together.
Here's a pair of suave creative types I finally got to meet in person, Mssrs. Dave Baker and Eric M. Esquivel of Modern Mythology Press:
These guys are an artist (Dave) and writer (Eric) duo that I've known for about 2 years now via podcast interviews we've done with one another. Just a few years out of their teens, they've self-published comics, run a podcast, and in general have put themselves on the radar of everyone from comic book writers Matt Fraction and Tony Isabella to Word Ballon podcast host John Siuntres. They have a real, genuine love for the comics medium and their nerd factor includes them walking around with Superman backpacks and lunch boxes! Dave's art has been evolving at an amazing rate, as his long hours of drawing are really paying off. And I once received a proposal from Eric for an El Muerto story that really impressed me with his keen perceptions of the characters. I hope they get as far in comics as they want to with their hard work and moxie.
My good friend John Narcomey of Draw Hard Studios and Hightower Comics made the trek from Los Angeles as well:
I had the opportunity to meet several other creators, including Paul Ziomek and his brother Peter from the New Mexico comics collective, 7000 B.C. Paul had heard of me through my podcast, JAVILAND. He and I really hit it off, and one day I hope to make it out to a con in New Mexico. It sounds like they have a pretty vibrant comics and art community in their area.
Outside the convention center, making dinner plans....
The night life in downtown Phoenix is pretty sparse, far as I could gauge that weekend. Seems like a lot of the restaurants closed before the evening really got started. One night we had the misfortune of hitting a grill that took over an hour to get us our food after we ordered it. Wish I remembered it's name so I could badmouth it over at Yelp....
Couldn't resist asking this lady to give me a celebrity endorsement:
One b&w clad, white-faced zombie character promotes another...
Far as the show itself from my perspective, I didn't do too bad at all. It was interesting to me how many folks told me they had seen the EL MUERTO movie, mostly via cable. That was really cool. That's one thing about movies, they're so pervasive in our culture, and with the advent of non-stop, continuous content streaming day and night, even a small film like EL MUERTO gets heavy rotation.
One of my favorite encounters was with this patron:
Yep, a fan in Crow make-up stopped by the table. First day he walked by and slowly looked at image of El Muerto on my banner. He stopped and flipped through the comics, and didn't mind when I asked if I could take his picture. I talked to him briefly about the various Crow movies and sequels. The next day he came back in make-up and bought MANGA MUERTO, then briskly walked off. The third day he came back without the face make-up (apparently the black was burning his eyes!) and finally bought the first issue. My friend Jason turned to me and said in an announcer voice, "Crow fans have an application for El Muerto comics". I'm a fan of the original Crow graphic novel and the first movie, so it's cool to have a Crow fan also be a fan of El Muerto.
I also had lots of sales for my new WEAPON TEX-MEX mini comic, as well as the occasional fan of swamp monsters reaching for MAN-SWAMP. But I would say that overall the three days in Phoenix allowed me to introduce new readers to El Muerto, which always makes me happy. While I'm continuing to create new titles with new characters, I really get a lot of personal satisfaction of being the creator of El Muerto.
I decided by the end of the third and last day that I would definitely be putting the Phoenix Comic Con on my must-do list for next year. Hotel and travel costs (especially if I split them again) are doable, and I have way better idea of what merchandise to bring (buttons seem to do good here), and the fans were just really responsive.
Having been up in San Francisco in early April for the Wonder-Con and my solo art show, I think circulating the West Coast/Southwest for more shows is something I want to focus on even more. There are obvious benefits to the internet, no doubt about it. But doing these in-person events are so rewarding in numerous ways.
See you next year, Phoenix!