Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018 Recap, Plus How To Design The Worst Roller Banner In Comics Today

I’d heard good things about Cardiff Independent Comic Expo (CICE) in years gone by, and when I saw applications had opened, it seemed like an obvious one to attend; close to home, well-regarded, and focused primarily on indie comics. After having some success and learning some valuable lessons at True Believers in February, my wife and I rolled up to the Mercure Hotel to see if we couldn’t improve on the work we’d done at Cheltenham, armed with a few extra tricks.

 Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018's poster.

Cardiff Independent Comic Expo 2018's poster.

After being wristbanded and checked in, we were guided to our (pre-clothed!) table around the corner from the centre aisle. As neighbours, we had Vince Hunt and Tony Esmond from The Awesome Comics Podcast (with their comic, Awesome Comics) (awesome). I was very glad to see them; they’re good lads, and Tony was the first person to review my work on his website (and later on Down The Tubes). Tony further extended his good graces by interviewing me for the podcast, there on the convention floor; I don’t remember a great deal of what I said, other than I took the opportunity once again to screech about KC Green’s Gunshow, which is my default deflection when it comes time to talk about my comics. That will be out on Monday, I think, so if I’ve properly shown my arse on the podcast I won’t know about it until then.

We set up, and we waited. In terms of passing trade, the first two hours were a little nerve-wracking; there were people, but generally the same two dozen or so people doing loops of the floor – one cosplayer seemed to be doing a continuous loop from about 10am to about 5pm. By about 12pm, my wife had, herself, begun doing laps. In the back of my mind, I hoped against hope that the people of Cardiff were just saving the convention until after lunch, but I knew the truth; they had turned their backs. Turned their backs, the lot of them. Here I was, a hometown son, back from the west with my comics inspired by the city that raised me, and these vile turncoats had snubbed their noses, letting out wicked raspy chuckles as they were off doing something else. This couldn’t just be lunch; it was a pointed message.

Turns out it was just lunch, as after 1pm it was chock-a-block and we were dealing with customers pretty much non-stop from 1pm until about 5pm. I think that was the busiest we’ve ever been, and everybody who came to the table was very nice, so if you did stop by, thank you.

Sales

Sales were better than I could have hoped, frankly. I attribute this to three things:

-       A very, very slight uptick in name recognition. In the time since True Believers I’ve made a bit more of an effort to get my work in front of people, and that seems to have paid off. True Believers was a venture into the unknown, in that literally nobody knew who I was. This time, approximately three people knew who I was. In pure percentage terms, that is an increase of infinity percent.

-       Death Roulette seemed to pick up largely by word of mouth; a few people came to the table asking for it specifically, having seen somebody else’s.  

-       The bumper pack we decided to offer this time around, and were consciously mentioning to anyone who seemed interested. The selling price of all five comics came to £12, and Death Roulette on its own was £5; however, we decided to offer all five comics, plus a print, plus a badge, plus Death Roulette, for £10. It was an easy upsell to anybody considering a comic or Death Roulette on its own, and I don’t mind throwing in Death Roulette as essentially a free sweetener in exchange for getting the comics into people’s hands. I’m going to be sat there anyway, I may as well be doing something - plus, I do enjoy doing them, and seeing their reactions.

It was mainly – definitely, undoubtedly – because of the bumper pack.

As a result of these three things (and again, mainly the bumper pack), we managed to get just over fifty comics out, and did 14 Death Roulettes. We saw a slight dent on return compared to what each of these would have made individually, but frankly, they simply wouldn’t have sold individually in those numbers. The bumper pack is here to stay, and I fully intend to offer it out in future (it will have to be adjusted as more comics come out, obviously, and as the one-shots make up a smaller percentage of the table stock, but I’m sure we’ll figure something out).

 Here's one of my favourites from this convention's class of Death Roulettes (thank you Dunk).

Here's one of my favourites from this convention's class of Death Roulettes (thank you Dunk).

You can’t measure the success of these events in sales, of course. I got my work in front of a lot of new people, met a lot of pleasant and interesting people, and I finally, finally, got to debut my roller banner.

Let’s Talk About The Fucking Banner Then

I’ve done a couple of conventions now (by which I mean I have done two conventions), and attending these events is a learning curve. How much are you meant to talk to the other artists? At what point – as a prospective customer’s gaze is approaching the end of one table and the beginning of yours – is it appropriate to make verbal contact? When’s the best time to eat? You pick up a lot as you go along.

At True Believers – the first time I had ever been to an event like this, in any capacity – I learned a lot about convention standards. My table looked largely the same as most of the others, spare the occasional fancy display or strip of accented tablecloth. The one thing I was missing – the one glaring omission, the one item notable by its absence, was a roller banner.

If you’ve ever been to a comic convention, or similar event (craft fair, wedding expo, trade show etc.), you likely know what these are – roller banners are inexpensive large-format posters that you roll out of a compact tube and put on a big stick. They’re usually around two metres tall by just under a metre wide, and act as convenient large-format signage.

Friends, allow me to be honest and say that I have never, ever liked roller banners. My workplace uses them routinely for large public-facing initiatives and policy changes, and through my various jobs and interests throughout the years, I have seen a lot of roller banners. I understand their obvious utility, and recognise the many reasons they have become so ubiquitous on the indie comics circuit, but I dislike them immensely. This prejudice was in no way alleviated by my first half hour at True Believers, during which I observed somebody set up their banner, only for it to be irreparably punctured by somebody setting up their own roller banner; a stray supporting pole went clean through the middle, leaving a sizeable, frayed hole.

However, of the advice I received after True Believers, the common denominator was obvious – as my name was at table height, it was too easily obscured and it wasn’t immediately obvious who I was. Only one thing for it. I was going to have to buy a fucking roller banner.

Design

When thinking on the banner, I decided that the “standard” expo banner – often decorated with example artwork and big, friendly fonts – was not going to work. Not for me, at least. I’ve seen it done perfectly well by many artists, who have obviously gone to painstaking lengths to make the banner representative of their best work. This approach works well for those with a running series (Joe Glass’ The Pride, or Swansea Comic Collective’s Copperopolis, for instance) but would not work for me; I don’t really have a franchise, a stable of characters that an audience would recognise.

So having discarded a traditional banner out of hand, I was left to explore other options. The first thought was to make one that looked categorically, top-to-bottom unprofessional; iStock Photo watermarks over the background, the “hosted by Tripod” placeholder image in place of crucial art, low resolution headshot photograph, mouse pointer visible, printer’s guideline art still cropped in, the works. But the problem with making a deliberately bad banner is that it is still a bad banner; even if it’s bad, it still has to read well.

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So if you can’t make a banner that is comically poorly produced, the only option remaining is to make one that is comically overproduced. Emboldened by the iconic Glamour Shots by Deb scene in Napoleon Dynamite (and by evergreen inspiration Brian “Limmy” Limond, who regularly posts mockingly smug, self-absorbed portraits, his face radiant with self-satisfaction), I decided that the best solution was, in fact, to make something that – on first glance – looked sincere and slick, but also hard to look at and repulsive. I also wanted it to be largely unclear what business it was advertising.

I asked my wife if she would be willing to assist with this, and fortunately she said yes, as part of the idea was to put on just enough makeup to make passers-by wonder, “Jesus, is he wearing makeup?”. She deftly applied concealer, foundation, blush, and a little highlighter, then tried in vain to backcomb my dry, dead, flat hair (it didn’t work). We’re both big RuPaul’s Drag Race fans in this house, so she did a great job of making me look just unsettling enough.

I sat down in the fading spring light, Lauren was given the Portrait setting on my iPhone camera, and we took as many photos as we could.

Result

 The finished product.

The finished product.

My friends had a range of reactions to the roller banner (which I used on Twitter to generate hype for the roller banner unveiling).

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 I did wonder, have I gone too far? Is it too perfect? Is the combination of soft focus, make-up, gold embossed lettering (and a gold embossed signature for fuck's sake) just too much? 

Once it was installed, people generally got it. We kept an informal tally of any disapproving looks it attracted at CICE (eight), because a secondary function of the roller banner was to act as a defacto filter. If you look at that roller banner – this roller banner:

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- and took it on face value, you likely wouldn’t enjoy the comics either. 

So if you've been considering a roller banner but aren't sure if they're for you, I can recommend making one like this, as long as it's on brand for you. We had a lot of fun making this, and a lot of people have gotten a really good laugh out of it, none more than me.

In Conclusion

- CICE 2018 was tremendous fun, and - if they'll have us - we'd love to come back.
- It was very heartening to see the number of people willing to take a punt on an unknown artist, especially considering there was a lot of very, very good talent nearby. If you came by our table, thanks.
- The banner whipped ass and I will be designing a new one every year and they will get progressively worse.

Thanks,

John

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