Tricks and Swag: A MicoCon Round-Up

Categories:  Features


Here’s the equation: Guy walks into a comic book convention. He pays $7 at the door and spends 6 hours at the event, stopping to talk with each dealer and exhibitor along the way. At the event, there are 80 exhibitors and 40 dealers. Assuming this man has no refined taste and will read any comic whatsoever, how many gimmicks does a cartoonist need to part him from his money?

It goes without saying that there are financial risks and rewards to exhibiting at any convention — even at St Paul’s one-day-wonder MicroCon, which charges creators absolutely nothing for their tables and even feeds them lunch. I benefit tremendously from the generous Midwest Comic Book Association and their two annual cons MicroCon and FallCon, particularly since last weekend I sold books for a mere 25 cents each and spent most of my time walking around to interview people. Even on a bad day at MicroCon, Sarah Morean still leaves with a profit. This would not happen at any other show. I know this, and I understand that until I really sell myself, I’m never going to make enough money from my books to cover the after-con meal and beers I both seek and require.

I’m fine with the struggle, it keeps me motivated, but maybe you’re different. Maybe you want repeat customers and money to burn. A harem of colorists offering shoulder rubs between sketches. Notoriety confirmed at bigger shows like APE and Wizard World, where fans will navigate a treasure map full of artists just to see in-person what you’re working on next. Sounds lofty, but it can happen to you!  And I’m learning that it’s more likely to happen if you spread (and spend) a little blam and glam to make your table memorable, if not recognizable, for con-goers.

I talked with some indie creators last weekend who splurged on big billboards and gimmicks to achieve their big dreams, and asked what works and what doesn’t when it comes to dealing like a pro at conventions.

microswag1 Matt Wendt and Becky Grutzik

Matt Wendt and Becky Grutzik have been conning for over a decade, since 1995/1997.  Through the years, they’ve learned a lot, and developed killer table-side manners.

Moving from black and white books to color covers, up to huge banners, paintings and now plush toys, the Peep Lite empire and all its trappings has an impressive, identifiable look, completely DIYed through a combo of experiment and experience.

Part of their success has come from listening to others, and taking their advice to heart.  They’re also totally flexible with their ideas and they always try new things each time they exhibit.  At MicroCon, they unveiled their first plush Peep Lite toy (not yet available for purchase) and at a previous show, Grutzik was surprised to sell a few Peep Lite paintings.  She says the paintings were made and displayed just for fun, but since the idea basically took off on its own, she hopes to make and sell more paintings in the future.

microswag2 Dan Olson: taking product placement to the MAX.  HA HA.

Super Maxi Pad Girl is the creation of cartoonist Dan Olson and writer AJ Niehaus.  Olson’s wife hand-makes the plush action figures, which do contain a genuine maxi pad, amid other poly-fibrous materials.

The Super Maxi Pad Girl book/doll duo is so gross it’s hilarious, and I’m sure it would make the perfect gag gift for your blossoming niece or daughter.

Olson says people are attracted to the doll, but buy the comic about the doll, because it’s cheaper.  Cost. Comparison. Analysis. Decision. Means profit every time.

microswag3 Ryan Dow

What does a happy Buddha say to you?  Does it say, “Buy my book!”  Well, it does to me.

Ryan Dow originally made the cut-out characters of himself and Lil’ Buddha for fun. Kicks.  But when he unveiled them for the first time this year at S.P.A.C.E. in Ohio, then MicroCon in Minnesota, the after-thought struck him that maybe images of Buddha wouldn’t play so well in the often stuffy and Christ-centered Midwest. As luck or divine intervention would have it, Dow (himself a Buddhist) never got flack for the cut-outs, only more sales.  Seems like large happy faces of any denomination won’t scare free-thinking comics readers.  Whew.

microswag4 Adam Hansen

3d comics! Because life is much better in the third dimension.

Every so often, movie studios revisit the old idea that gimmicks can save a terrible movie. Strong opinions lobby on both ends of the 3d spectrum, but at least for right now, 3d is back on the rise.  That’s not why Adam Hansen created a partially 3d book, but the lucky coincidence has indeed boosted sales.

With only a slight 11 pages to show for his upcoming graphic novel, Hansen wasn’t sure how to debut the sample/preview at this year’s MicroCon.  He eventually took that work, inserted a few splash pages and games, made the new material 3d, and added a pair of 3d glasses to each book.  It’s not integral to the plot, but it’s a nice little treat for the book’s test audience. Hansen insists that the gimmick will not be part of future incarnations of The Sad State of Affairs of Rooster Jack, so like holographic covers of yore, this 3d version of …Rooster Jack is limited-edition.  And totally collectible.

microswag5 Paul Fricke

Here’s a guy who would have made a killing at the Kids’ Comic Con in New York, but instead favored his friendly, neighborhood show. It’s nice to see something kid-friendly in the mix, especially at MicroCon, where nuclear families are as common a sight as nerd-pals in coordinated costumes.

Fricke has been a professional cartoonist for over 25 years, which is basically the span of my life.  From 1986-1995 he was a full-time cartoonist, but for reasons often familiar to poor cartoonists, he began taking freelance projects, and only recently got back into the biz promoting his own work.  To give his re-entry more BAM! than ZAP! he got very creative with his marketing.

At MicroCon, his Bedbug characters were the stars of an ABC book, hand-illustrated marbles (that deceptively look like candy — DON’T EAT THEM!), sublimation-printed tshirts, buttons, a portfolio showcase, a stand-up display, and juggling Bedbug bean bags.  Practically a one-man circus, and very memorable.

microswag6 Justin Skarhus of the Good Minnesotan anthology and 2D Cloud

Justin Skarhus is the often unsung, but frequent frontman of the Minneapolis comics group 2D Cloud.  When I saw him on Sunday, he was flying solo at the booth after spending six hours at the Minnesota State fairgrounds on what was a very rainy, dark day.  We each tried not to seem exhausted as I asked him about the 2D Cloud set-up, and how it attracts people to the table.  Spread-out is not the ideal way to display 2D Cloud merch, so I was a little worried how the public would respond.  Apparently, the over-sized buttons have been a draw, and though they were selling great, the books were getting overlooked.  Very sad.  2D Cloud makes wonderful books.

On the right side of the picture, you can make out a little house with a curious girl standing in front of it.  This is a recent display piece created for 2D Cloud’s exhibition space, and at the Walker Art Center’s Multiples Mall last winter, it looked awesome.  There, the space was cramped, and beside the house, a clothesline was set up with books hung from miniature clothespins.  So cute and interesting.  It looked like a little city.  For Microcon, unfortunately, the group had less time to prepare, the clothesline had been scrapped, and the spread looked more like urban sprawl.  Boo.  They swear the clothesline will return for TCAF in May though, so look forward to it!

microswag7 Justin Cermak

I remember Justin Cermak from every Minnesota con I’ve ever attended.  That huge Space Sheriff display is working for him!  It’s big and memorable, and his customers remember and flock to it.  Cermak says, it pays for itself.

This is actually the second Space Sheriff cut-out he’s worked with.  The predecessor to this piece had Space Sheriff smoking his trademark stogie, but since smoking turned off some parents and toymakers, he had a new one made.  It looks awesome, it’s made of plastic and it’s collapsible!  Very cool.  The previous model was made from foam core and didn’t hold up well to travel.

Because he works on a few titles, he also got the roll up poster for Dynamite Pilot which is hanging behind him.  I like the cut-out best though.  It seems to successfully attract Cermak’s target crowd: anyone age 12+ who is getting bored with Disney.

microswag8 Will Schar

Will Schar has a unique approach to setting the table: feed the people what they want.  He tailors his swag to the show, so for Microcon he’s laid out a pen and ink “action shot” on top of a pile of tender-looking tree prints.  At Stumptown, the tree prints were up top.  Because when you’re a nerd, a sensitive nerd, it’s nice to show you’re at home in both worlds and find ways to communicate with your people, wherever they may roam.

A variety of textures and bookmaking styles are represented on Schar’s table.  An accordion-style book pops out from a vertical display and begs to be handled, one book cover indicates a story about exploration for the adventurous, there are levels of books peeping out from a rack, and a box full of plush toys for the kids.  Schar’s work refuses to be pidgeonholed, which makes him a versatile exhibitor with a well-attended booth.

Sarah Morean

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6 Comments to “Tricks and Swag: A MicoCon Round-Up”

  1. Daniel J. Olson | April 30th, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    After talking to you on Sunday, I was really intrigued on where you planned on going with this topic. Thanks for talking to me! See ya at the next con!

  2. Tim Leong | May 1st, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Great post.

  3. Bev | May 5th, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    I have much of Matt Wendt and Becky Grutzik’s art and they are awesome artists. Well worth the time to stop by and purchase their stuff!

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