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Big Fish in a Small Con: Reflections on My First con as a Creator

In anticipation of my next con as a creator–the Madison Mighty Con, this Sunday from 10-5 (come say Hi!)–I started reflecting on my first con as a creator which took place earlier this year.

I had attended plenty of cons years ago, but this past spring was the first time I’d be attending a con as a creator.   Needless to say, this prospect was filling me with more anxiety than usual, so I decided to funnel that energy into something useful by preparing for the convention, starting about a month before the convention date.

mighty con logo

I started by ordering some extra copies of my graphic novels; I took my next step by cobbling together some bootleg signs that detailed my pretty low price points (especially for the first edition which sold at a lower rate due to a blander cover/spine); I continued these preparations with some more bootleg banners that proclaimed my business, my name, and my comic’s name: all scribbled in Crayola marker in my own chicken scratch.

I then prepared for the financial side.  First, I went to the bank to get cash (mainly small bills for change).  Next, I ordered a free chip reader from Square and downloaded their app, liking Square’s user-friendly system and relatively cheap cut.  After a few weeks, I still didn’t have the chip reader, so I ordered a new one, and it arrived a few days later–the same day as my first-ordered chip reader.

square chip reader

Image: Square chip reader

With about a week left, I decided to relax and stop most of my preparations.  Now, this wasn’t because I thought I was completely prepared.  No, I even knew of things I wanted to bring to a con but didn’t feel like I had time to prepare properly, like business cards.  Instead, I made this choice due to my social anxiety and introverted nature: I needed time to relax, charge up, and get the convention out of my mind.  Because, before I knew it, I’d be lost in a deafening crowd, sights overstimulating my eyes; even talking to fans filled me with fear.

This might seem a little odd, an author and publisher who dreads social interaction, but it’s just who I am as an introvert.  I have a love/hate relationship with people, especially since I work in crowded rooms with teenagers during the school year when I teach and since I’m starved for human interaction in the summer, sitting home binge-watching TV and writing.  I love people in the summer when my social batteries charged; I hate them in the school year when my social batteries running on empty.

Tweet about introvert comic

Image: a tweet from me regarding introversion (follow me @cj_standal on Twitter!)

The day of the con shortly arrived, and my girlfriend dropped me off at the Monona Convention Center loading dock, my plastic storage containers and cardboard boxes in scattered around me.  I found a flatbed cart, placed my stuff on it, and wheeled it into the convention center.  And, even though I’d been preparing for this event for so long, I still felt overwhelmed stepping into that center.  I felt like a small fish in a very big con.

While I’d been to Wizard World Con’s about five years ago and big Minneapolis cons as a high school student growing up in Minnesota, I wasn’t prepared for the way this smaller con would intimidate me.  Most other vendors and creators had already arrived and set up their booths, and I dreaded setting mine up in comparison.

Fancy, thick banners with bright images and eye-grabbing font draped over nearby tables; my banner was a white sheet of paper slung over the table, black marker staining its face.  Professionally printed signs hung from metal stands; my signs were manila folders sitting crookedly on the table, prices hastily written in marker.  A rainbow of comics, graphic novels, toys, art and more covered every other booth; I placed my three graphic novels on the table and fanned them out, hoping to compete.

first mighty con bigger pic

Image: my table at the convention

I shook myself, narrowed my field of vision, and stooped down to grab my materials.  I had resolved not to overreact to anything, and I was determined to keep that promise to myself.  My table might need braces, but it would still have one heck of a winning smile.  I set up my table in a haze.  Widening my vision again, I looked at my watch and realized that I had about 10 minutes until the on started, until those doors opened.

Trying to expend some energy, I decided to walk around a little.  I certainly wouldn’t have time to explore too much when the con started, so I wanted to see a little more details about my friendly competition.  A few tables into my impromptu tour and I knew I’d made the right decision: two people I knew were there selling some of their comics to clear out their collection (I knew them from local Madison comic store Westfield Comics, where I’d done some signings).  Not only did seeing some friendly faces and quickly chatting help boost my spirits, but the sight of their booth did too–they had no banners or signs, simply long boxes of comics hauled onto the table, comics loosely organized.  My own crooked smile didn’t see so bad in comparison.

Continuing my tour, I met some other friendly faces, new ones this time.  I stopped because an homage to Hopper’s Nighthawks caught my eye; this painting had Death Note characters sitting at that lonely diner, though).  After chatting awhile, I found out they forgot their chip reader, so I offered them my extra (waiting so long for two to arrive on the same day was a blessing in disguise, I guess).  I also talked to them about the upcoming cons they were attending, and planned some of mine accordingly.  It’s certainly no accident I saw them at my next convention in Dupage, but the story of my second convention is a story for another time…


Image: the actual Nighthawks painting (I couldn’t get an electronic version of the Death Note spun one)

I strolled back to my table, and sat down.  Only a few more minutes to go.

Before I knew it, the doors opened and a crowd of people streamed in.  The first few waves passed me by with a quick hello and a half-hearted smile but without slowing steps.  I wanted to hang my head.  I told myself to hold my head high and redouble my efforts, so I plastered on a smile and continued to cast my line.

Soon enough, people stopped in front of my table, smiling a little more freely, and asking questions.  Some bought my comic, some left only to come back later and buy them, and some left without buying it then or later, but all loosened me up, making me remember why I went to conventions in the first place.  I got to hear about their favorite comics, their convention history (or lack thereof, if they were a first-timer), their interests, and even family dynamics.  This helped me enormously as I signed copies of my comics, writing personal messages in addition to my quick signature, messages that became more fun and unique as the day and my conversations went on.

tommy w me at conImage: Me (on the left) with a fan (the one holding Rebirth of the Gangster Act 1: Meet the Family and Alterna Comics’ 2017 IF Anthology which featured an excerpt from Rebirth of the Gangster)

Payment went as smoothly as could be, although I was surprised by how much cash I was getting and how little need I had for my chip reader.  In fact, I had so much cash given to me that I briefly ran out of ones for change, causing me to break out in sweat in the air-conditioned convention center; shortly after that, a fan paid all in ones, drying my sweat.

The waves trickled to splashes, and eventually the day was over.  The con doors slid closed, and I was left to pack up my things.  Folding my banners and signs and placing my graphic novels in boxes, I let out a sigh.  I set my containers on the flatbed cart and wheeled myself once more to the loading docks, taking one last look at the convention center.

And I thought to myself: “I came here feeling like a small fish in a big con, but I’m leaving it as a big fish in a small con.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

**Note: If you’re in the Midwest/Madison, WI area, join me this Sunday, August 12 from 10-5 at the Monona Convention Center!

And if you want to keep up with me, visit cjstandalproductions.com for news on latest publications, new blogs, free comics, and more!