Sequential Underground #66 – Prints vs. Comics

Sequential Underground

Scott Hedlund joins Nick Marino to talk about comic book conventions, self-published comics, and prints. Spinning out of Comic Book Pitt #126, Scott and Nick discuss the struggle of selling indie comics at comicons.

Scott Hedlund and his comics

Even though they began as comic book events, most large conventions are now expensive pop culture showcases for movies, TV, and established properties. While self-published comics featuring original characters tend to be overlooked, questionably legal prints of licensed characters sell like crazy.

prints being sold at a comic convention

On the flip side, there are lots of local expos and fairs that favor crafts, zines, and artistic aesthetic over narrative comics. Which leaves us wondering… where do comic book storytellers fit in nowadays?

ALSO: Shoutout to Rob Harrington of Ginger Rabbit Studio for sharing his thoughts about prints and comics with Nick at last weekend’s Long Beach Comic Expo.

PLUS: Why has Tom Scioli quit comics? And is he really done for good?

16 Responses to “Sequential Underground #66 – Prints vs. Comics”

  1. 1 Brandon!

    Duuuude I know how you feel and what your saying…

    I think as far as comic cons go I’m not planning on getting a table unless I’ve got something really strong and solid that I really want to promote and can get excited about. A comic that’s worth growing even if it’s one person at a time.

    Also why are you at comic con is it to make money or to get one person hooked onto your book? If you NEED to make your money back at least table do fucking prints cuz whatever. So basically online is where you need to be for storytelling that’s where the audience is.

    Also I want to note that I’ve always had a hard time selling books… But the last con I went to on the last day (which is normally a slow day) my friend showed up and just like sold everything he was friendly and talkitive and spoke to everyone and sold out all my books… The two days before I maybe sold 2 books…
    So maybe we just suck at talking to people and selling our shit.

    Also 80% of the art I’ve seen in artists alleys I wouldn’t buy… I don’t think I’d but my stuff if I was just walking around so you’d really have to sell me on the story up front.

    Artist tables are way too much across the board, admissions to these shows are too high also, so people are tapped out just to get in the door so they really got to be careful with what they buy.

    … Prints suck.

  2. 2 nick marino

    hahahaha I agree… I just need a better salesperson running my table!!! I’m okay at it, but sometimes I over think the process and then end up going too soft on my sales pitch.

    But it’s weird because certain things on my table sell themselves, while others need a lot of convincing. Like Zombie Palin used to always be my highest seller and it was just based on the concept. Somebody would walk up, laugh, and buy it. But then something like Stick Cats will sell decently IF I take the time to explain what’s special about it.

    I don’t know where I’m going with that… I guess I’m saying that I’m too close to the material to be a really good proactive salesperson. Somebody else can probably step back further and see what’s appealing about each different book. But to me, I only see the aftermath of the customer experience.

  3. 3 Smars

    see this, this is a topic that really has my brain all in flux because i’ve been at some shows with a couple of guys who almost all they do is prints. and they make a living just doing shows and selling prints.
    they’re Jason Flowers
    who i have been doing shows with since 2000
    and Chris Hamer who ive met a few times while doing shows since 2011.

    both of them do this full time, but they are ALWAYS on the road.
    doing multiple cons a month or at least one really big show a month.
    they do well enough that they can afford to feed families and fly around and buy tables. it’s insane. i WISH i could do like one con a year.
    i think i’m doing something wrong. but i know i’m not.
    they’re good people don’t get me wrong, but they’re not adding something new to the medium.

    my good friend LD Walker did prints for his first show in 2011 and sold out like crazy! but lookit his art tho.

    he has amazingly appealing artwork.

    thing is… conventions are really cracking down on fanwork.
    it’s really gotten out of control in the last few years. even in the anime con community (where that kind of stuff is generally okay 50/50 rule fanart/original)

    i do table money from time to time, but i dont do a lot of shows now that all the money i make is generated from the artwork alone. when i had a full time job to supplement all this, i never made table money. but because of that job i never cared. it’s sad but that’s why i’m so determined to take this route.
    i don’t make a tone of my money via comics, i make most of it on stickers. tons and tons of 50 cent and dollar stickers.

    but fanart prints just appeal to that something that people are familiar with and they are nuts about. it’s fan on fan exploitation.

    shows are becoming less and less about new things in the western comics community, but in the eastern community the anime cons you can thrive. because that comics culture is still very much anchored to the comics no matter how far into the franchising it gets.
    thats why i’ve almost completely abandoned doing western based comiccons. that and my work doesn’t seem to appeal to those crowds, anime lovers seem to respond to my style more even tho my style isn’t directly related to that type of work. it’s more related than spandex superheroes tho.
    i think ultimately thats the problem with you guys. you’re fishing in the wrong pond. you have to find crowds that want new stuff to read. you maybe should do smaller shows, university shows, that kind of thing. big media events are just that. small shows are where people often come to find new stuff and collect on old stuff in the back catalogs you know?

    it could be a million things honestly. ever work has that unique hill it has to get over to make it more appealing to a larger audience. i certainly am not an advocate of making fanart prints of the hot new stuff just to make a buck. but if it is something you yourself are genuinely into or have a passion about, it will show in the print. and people will want it.
    part of the reason prints do so well is they are the least immersive way for someone to show love for a fandom. they don’t have to commit to reading an ongoing story or what have you plus they can conveniently wear it on the wall for everyone to see, like a badge of honor.
    if you made fanart patches they would probably sell pretty well if the art was good enough or it touch on some memetic hysteria going about the internet at the moment.
    it’s why fanart based stickers, postcards, buttons, and tshirts sell so well. it’s the least committal way to wave your flag.

    webcomics conventions were tried in the early/mid 2000s
    it didn’t work.
    it was weird.
    but a place like dA kinda is like an online comic convention if you do it right.
    they make it so you can sell stuff on there, and people have done commissions for years.

    also… that photo on the page of those super hero heads.
    who is that guy? cause i remember chris hamer going on a serious tirade at a con a month ago about that guy and how much space he’s taking at cons. how big and obnoxious his banners are and what not.
    i’ve never heard of him cause i mostly do anime cons and university shows so… iono. *shrugs* whoisthatguy? i never heard him say the guys name. but he’s wildly popular and equally annoying.

    ultimately it comes down to how appealing the work is, and where the mindset of the audience is in reference to that work and its appeal.
    people are weird and unpredictable. we work in a very odd and slightly memetic medium with ebbs and flows of what’s popular and what’s not and just how long.

    comixology is the new diamond distribution.
    it makes no sense.
    why can’t i just buy digital image comics or what have you directly from the companies sight?
    haha *shrugs and walks away*

    also… that little scenario you guys were ad libbing there at the end would be a good comic story if it had something more to it. a conflict. even if it was just a simple one shot story. cool.

  4. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Dead Mondays webcomics

  5. 4 Brian John Mitchell

    There was a lot of merch for Bloom County back in the day, t-shirts & plush toys & they even had a Christmas special or something. I think it might have been the third biggest merchandised comic at the time (behind Garfield & Peanuts).

    Let me know what you find out about Tom Scioli. I wonder if he’s going to the Dave Sim/Steve Ditko thing where he’ll basically make his own stuff & not really care if it’s published or not.

  6. 5 nick marino

    @Smars: If you click on the prints picture, it’ll take you to the article where I found the pic. The artist’s name is there. Honestly, I’m not familiar with him or his work. I just Googled around until I found an image that fit the theme.

    You’re totally right about us fishing in the wrong pond. My problem is that I’ve tried a lot of ponds — big and small — with relatively equal results. WHERE’S THE RIGHT POND, SOLOMON?? WHERE IS IT???? hahahaha

    I’ve done university shows and similar small shows. I feel like people there are more enthused, but not likely to purchase my comics. At least not enough to make it worthwhile to dedicate my time and effort to exhibiting at them often.

    I haven’t done an anime show before. I hung out behind a table with a fellow cartoonist at one and wasn’t blown away by the business he did. I’ve spent a lot of time researching anime cons I might like to exhibit at, but their registration systems (and prices!) can be really confusing. They’re not normally set up like comic shows in that regard, and sometimes I just throw my hands up in confusion with the process.

    With all that said, I’m sure if I really hunkered down and got determined about this stuff I could figure out a great way to be myself as an artist AND do good business at conventions. I WILL HEED YOUR ADVICE!!!

    @Brian: Tom’s not quitting comics, so says he here:

  7. 6 ross

    this is a really good, interesting episode and i have a lot of thoughts swirling around about it. it’s definitely frustrating that people only seem to want the familiar or the familiar spun in a new way. i can’t remember what i was reading or who wrote it, but i read a write-up about this phenomenon and the writer called it something like the Remix Age that we’re in right now, that most things being produced, even outside of the corporate playing field, are riffs or remixes of an established theme or idea, or even character. i’m not really sure why it’s happening or what it means for art, culture, and creators, though. i’ve done my own riffs, too, like my zombie book i did years ago, or my TMNT work, etc. even though i usually frown on it i can’t get away from it myself in both work i like and my own work. :\ one thing that’s weird is another post i read recently, where the writer talked about how American culture has plateaued; like imagine if you were in 1980 and you time traveled back to 1960 or even 1970, or 1950 back to 1940 or something along those lines, people would think you were a complete weirdo and you would have a hard time navigating the culture of the time. but if a person traveled back to 2003 from 2013, or even maybe 1993, the person wouldn’t really miss a beat and could blend in. i feel like those two phenomenons are tied up together somehow, this plateauing of ideas and art, and maybe people and their interests are plateauing along with it, but i’m not sure how to articulate how they’re tangled up or what it means or if the idea holds any weight at all.

  8. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Shadoweyes webcomics

  9. 7 nick marino

    @Ross: I read your comment earlier today and I really agreed about the cultural plateau thing. I wrote a reply and forgot to post it. WHOOPS! But I’ve had more time to think about it since then and now I don’t agree at all!

    When I was a teen with long hair, less than 20 years ago, people on the street would say things like “you need a haircut, boy” and so on. Nowadays, people say “I love your hair.” When Justique and I started dating, we’d get rude comments from people about how we shouldn’t be together. But that died off years ago. Now we only get compliments.

    I know those seem like small things, but they’re actually pretty big cultural shifts. I mean, 20 years ago it would be a big deal to see a gay couple walking down the street holding hands. Nowadays people don’t even notice it.

    I know you were mostly talking about pop culture and my examples aren’t necessarily related. But I think there are plenty of pop culture examples too. If you played a Skrillex song to someone from 30 years ago, they’d be confused about how it was made let alone if it was even music.

    I think the combination of technological advancement and evolved social attitudes would be really obvious if someone from 2013 went back 30 or even 20 years into the past. I mean, The Simpsons was considered controversial back then! Now it’s all ages by almost any standard.

    I think the illusion of plateau is created by the fact that past pop culture is archived and accessible like never before. Music and TV used to get phased out much quicker because of the nature of radio and broadcast TV. Now there are entire networks dedicated to old shows and nearly all pop music of the past 100 years is available on YouTube.

    In some ways, I think prints are actually a representation of this. I mean, 30 years ago who would’ve imagined that you could go to a warehouse full of dealer tables and purchase 10 different, stylized artistic representations of a comic book superhero printed in vibrant CMYK on high-quality glossy paper?

    I don’t have a way to connect my point about the plateau to my argument from the podcast. I don’t necessarily see good or bad in what I’m saying here — only that I don’t personally think American culture has plateaued.

  10. 8 ross

    @Nick: yeah, i don’t totally agree with the cultural plateau idea either, but it’s interesting to think about. i wish i could find that article i read it in! but the idea was that each decade has been very different from the one before it, not spans of 30 years, more like 10-15 year chunks, while between 2003 and 2013 not much has changed in pop culture. but yeah, if you go back 30 years things are super different now, but not so much in the past 10-15 years, at least in terms of pop culture and corporate stuff (going back to the Kaylie & Nick episode!) or whatever. maybe video games are pretty different, at least technologically. but yeah, i agree, it’s not an airtight concept, things are still definitely shifting, especially on the internet and probably in a lot of areas i’m not familiar with. i’m not sure things could ever really stand still but things do FEEL the same to me a lot of the time.

  11. 9 nick marino

    @Ross: Something I deleted from my previous comment was the idea that entertainment emphasizes the differences between decades as being much more distinct and further apart than they actually are.

    It’s not like people wore poodle skirts until 1959 and then on New Year’s Day in 1960 they traded them in for Mod miniskirts, ya know? But period pieces would have you believe that.

    Still, I think the differences in just ten years are pretty significant. Touch screen technology was pretty much a novelty in 2003, whereas now it’s in every home. Baggy jeans and giant t-shirts were popular in fashion. Now it’s skinny jeans and fitted shirts.

    Pop music in the early 00s was full of aggressive, misogynistic lyrics and thick sample-heavy beats that tended to mask any digital elements. Now the top artist of the 2010s — Lady Gaga — is at the forefront of LGBT movement, and her inclusive songs are filled with swirling synthesizers and an array of light digital sounds.

    Even superhero comics are radically different. 2003 was the height of Morrison in New X-Men, pushing the boundaries of how corporate comics could incorporate the bizarre. And Image comics was struggling to just keep afloat. Now Image is massively successful and corporate superhero comics have returned to lowest common denominator, safe fare like Avengers vs. X-Men.

    Personally, I think that the differences between decades feel less impactful as you experience them. Shit doesn’t seem that far off from 10 years ago in day-to-day experiences, but the cultural and technological shifts are pretty big when you look back at them.

  12. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Dead Mondays webcomics

  13. 10 Brandon!

    @Nick Dude that’s interesting… I wonder tho what someone young thinks about ten years ago… like ten years ago you had to call a pizza place to order pizza, but now you just go online so does a 16 year old see 10 years ago as way different?

    I totally get what you’re saying and I’m with you, but I think maybe its just your/our perception because we lived through both times where as someone younger might see 10 years ago as different from now as you see the 80s or 90s.

  14. 11 nick marino

    @Brandon: But I’m saying that 10 years ago was pretty different!! I’m also saying it’s not as drastic as movies and TV often make it seem when they compare decades to each other, but like you’re saying, technology has changed the way everyone interacts. So I’m a little confused by your comment because I totally agree with you!

  15. 12 ross

    @Nick: i know movies emphasize the differences in terms of fashion or whatever, but they don’t intentionally emphasize the differences in terms of how filmmaking is done, which is SUPER different, just in terms of filmmaking language and how the movies are put together. same with comics, the style and techniques build upon themselves as time goes on, you know? it’s really different.

    i was searching for that write-up in which i read about all this but i can’t find it, i feel like i’m missing some critical aspect the writer had included but that i forgot here, heh. like obviously i can’t argue with all the stuff you bring up, even 2003 is quantifiably different from 2013 even when new fashions are just retrofitting old fashions or whatever, but i remember reading this article and going “yeah, that makes a lot of sense!!” i don’t know. i still think American culture has “slowed” down in some respects, there seems to me to be less of a difference in pop culture/art material in the past decade as opposed to the gaps between previous decades, but i think that’s probably because of the
    internet which in itself is a huge change. movies in particular do seem like the same old shit they’ve been for the past 10 years, though, don’t they? i guess the main difference is more superhero movies. but it’s weird thinking how movies in the 1960s are so different from movies in the 1970s, then 1980s, etc., not the fashions and stuff like you were saying, but just the subject matter, the techniques, the “look,” while i can’t think of how to articulate the differences in film from 2000 to 2010, the “look” and techniques used over the past 10-15 years seem the same to me. but again, maybe you’re right, it’s just that i’m “in” it so i don’t notice it as much. i do feel like there’s SOMETHING there, though, i just can’t put my finger on it.

    so back to what you guys were talking about on the episode, how do you think people wanting the same characters over and over and riffs/remixes of existing material plays into it? it does seem like that’s happening more and more, but then again people are also loving Image’s new material and every so often there’s a break-out hit like Scott Pilgrim. but there does seem to me to be a lot of people clinging to familiarity more than ever.

  16. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Gello Apocalypse webcomics

  17. 13 nick marino

    I agree that movies from 2003 don’t feel that different from 2013, but I definitely think that’s the living in it effect. Justique and I were watching a 20-year-old episode of The Simpsons last night and I couldn’t believe how ancient the references sounded! It blew me away. The references were so old (not even dated, but old!) that I almost didn’t get them.

    Also, this weekend I was watching a movie from 1999 and I remembered the CG being really good. But when I saw it I was like fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck that’s so hokey! The water was a terrible CG pattern as opposed to anything that actually looked or moved like waves. Only a few years ago, I thought it looked so good. What happened?!?!?!?!?

    But yeah back to the topic, I think you’re onto something with the remix culture concept and how that’s affecting the taste of the modern con-goer. They only want remixes of what they already know. I can’t remember the last time somebody bought my comics because they sounded so new and original. Normally, they’re like “This reminds me of FILL IN THE BLANK!!! I have to get it!” It’s like they get more excited by finding more of the same than they do when they discover something that feels fresh.

    I think part of that is because remixing and sampling has become such a phenomenon in the past couple of decades that people respond to it when they see it, even if the response is subconscious. But I also think it must be something deeper that’s compelling people. For some reason, more than ever, they want to leave their home (where everything is familiar) and venture out into the world to find more things that feel familiar. I wish I could put my finger on why it is, but it’s definitely something that I’ve seen at nearly every con I’ve ever exhibited at. WHAT DOES IT MEAN???????????????

  18. 14 ross

    but you’re still kinda focusing on the little technical things, like of course the references in Simpsons will be old, that’s just the plain old passage of time, and CG in an older movie being not as good as you remember is just technology. i’m trying to get at the more cultural and creative aspects of it! i don’t know if i totally agree that it’s the living in it effect for 2003 vs. 2013, maybe a LITTLE bit… ;) i really think the internet must have a lot to do with it, people being able to share culture in a massive way. plus it seems like a lot of Hollywood movies, at least, have gotten so streamlined over the years that they all start to feel samey.

    i was reading another post a while back, another one i can’t remember anything else about, heh, but the author used the term “recognition glee” for what you’re talking about. there’s something super powerful and compelling about seeing something you recognize, even if it’s in something like Family Guy where all they do is point to something familiar and that serves as a joke/reference, and people love it because they know what the thing is being pointed to. it’s like a foothold in something unfamiliar, something to grab onto in unfamiliar waters. there’s gotta be more to it than that but i have to think about it more.

  19. 15 nick marino

    I remember you mentioning recognition glee before. That definitely seems like a popular phenomenon right now. I feel like the entire concept of geek culture is based on recognition glee. “Recognize this previously obscure and/or niche thing? IF YOU DO, YOU’RE A GEEK.” hahaha

    As for our debate, I dunno what point I’m missing because I thought I had an entire comment about significant cultural changes in pop media in the past 10 years, like cultural attitudes and fashion and expression. So you’re kinda confusing me.

    WE SHOULD PODCAST ABOUT THIS TOPIC. I lose track of my points when it’s over the course of a week through a few small comments. But in a contained conversion. I’ll be able to keep track of it better.

    I know I could go back and reread everything we wrote but UGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH that’s so much work! ;)

    Basically, I’m right and you’re wrong.

    KIDDING! I think you have a really good point. I’m just being over-emphatic about the small flaws I see in the argument. Frankly, I see both sides of it. Things don’t feel that different to me if we’re just talking about one decade. But then when I think about it, they seem pretty significantly different. So it’s like on one side there’s my emotional analysis of the minimal difference between decades and there’s there’s my intellectual analysis, which communicates a greater difference to me.

  20. AudioShocker Shoutouts!

    Wet Moon comics

  21. 16 Jesse Acosta

    This was a really great episode. I’m glad I’m not the only one with that debate going on.
    First couple cons, I sold an anthology that I was in and a ton of prints, original art, and paintings. After about two years of this I felt like a hack. I should be promoting comics if I am at a con calling myself a comic artist. So now I always have new mini comics to share. But I do try new prints now and then, because those honestly are a big portion of my return. It’s a real give and take about prints vs comics. Im living in Washington state though, and it would be more than a day trip to hit a con about mini comics or zines where I feel I could do better.

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