I had originally starting writing this column right after returning from C2E2 a few weeks ago, but I had to stop and give myself a “cooling-off” period after realizing that what I was writing was quickly turning into nothing more than a giant recounting of the awesome events I participated in (including THREE different panels – which still blows my mind) and the great friends I was able to kick-it with over the extended weekend in Chicago.
So, if you were one of the awesome people – or involved with any number of the great panels, podcasts or events I was involved with – and you all know who you are… THANK YOU.
In its second year C2E2 is already establishing itself as one of the premier shows of the Midwest… so if you’ve yet to experience it in all its glory, I give my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION that you consider doing so next year.
(If you’re really curious about the awesomeness that was C2E2 for Dirk Manning, you can connect with me at Facebook to see the pics, links to the podcasts and panels and more. Just include a note so I know you’re a “Write or Wrong” reader and not some creepy stalker, OK? Thanks!)
That being said, let’s talk about conventions – and how they relate to you as an aspiring professional, shall we?
After all, if you’re reading this column there’s a better-than-average chance that you’re interested in or otherwise aspiring-to-be a successful comic book creator, and as I’ve mentioned in several earlier installments of this column throughout its run to date, attending conventions can be a very useful tool in your establishing yourself, your brand, and ultimately moving your product.
(By this point I hope you know all of the “con basics”… but if not, take a moment to go back and read (or re-read) “The Dirk Manning Guide to Making Sure Your Professional Experience as a Smaller-Press Creator Doesn’t Leave You Feeling Like a Completely Dejected Loser.” from waaaaaaay back in Write or Wrong #30: The Wrath of Con. Four years later it still holds up dang well, if I do say so myself, which is good since that was the point when I originally wrote it.)
In the aforementioned “Guide” I mentioned five key tips to adhere to when attending cons, but the one I spent the least amount of space on at the time was point #3, which was “Dress Professionally.”
Allow me to expand upon that a bit now, but not before apologizing in advance if I get a bit preachy, as this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart.
My friends, if you’re attending a comic convention as a fan, your only concern should be having fun. Take books to get signed, meet some of your favorite creators (and discover some new ones), buy some cheap comics, wear a costume… do whatever you want as long as it’s polite and legal.
Cons are meant to be a social gathering for people who like comics, and if you’re attending a comic convention and not having a good time, well, you need to be taking notes from the Panels on Pages! Crew, because those guys and gals are friggin’ insane.
So, again… if you’re going as a fan… no stress. Go, be crazy and have fun.
If you’re going as a professional or an aspiring professional, though… the rules are automatically a bit different for you whether you like it or not.
The minute you decide to go and represent yourself as someone who is (or wants to) make comics, you’re in a different category from most other people at the show, For you this can be a fun trip, sure… but it’s also now a BUSINESS trip… and because of that, for starters, you’re going to need to dress the part.
Because business meetings require business attire.
I realize that this is “common sense” for most of you out there who already work jobs, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people throw their common sense out the window in regards to how to conduct business when at a comic convention.
Way too many times I’ll broach this topic with someone only to hear them rebut me, saying: “But Dirk… it’s only comics, man…”
To which I reply, in a booming voice that shakes the Heavens and makes small children cry out in the night: “No… it’s not ONLY comics… it’s COMICS… and it’s a JOB just like any other JOB… and when you’re on the job you should always dress like a professional!”
And then, once the echoing is done ringing through the skies the small childrens’ cries die simmer down to mere whimpers that little light bulb will go usually go off over the head of the person to whom I’ve spoken and they reply “Huh… I guess you’re right.”
At this juncture I usually nod, wistfully, and then buy my newly enlightened friend a Shirley Temple.
Make no mistake, folks, making comics is WORK… until you start making money at it, of course, at which point it officially becomes a JOB.
Regardless of whether it’s a work or job, though, the fact of the matter is that when you’re creating comics you’ll be doing a lot of it at home alone (be you a writer or artist)... and while you can do a lot of this in your pajamas (as I did with the first draft of this very column), that doesn’t mean you should go out in public dressed in your pajamas, you know what I mean?
When you’re going to a convention – be it to set-up at a table or merely wander the floor networking – if you’re going there to do business – you should look the part.
Dress for success.
I know, I know… no one wants to go to a hot and stuffy comic convention dressed in a three-piece suit, and while I’m not necessarily implying you should, per say, I’m saying that you should be aware of what you’re wearing and the first impression you’ll be giving editors, publishers and/or potentials artist you’d like to work with.
Because I’ll tell you what… no one who’s at the show to work is going to be impressed with you beat-up… oh, I’m sorry… “vintage” Spider-Man T-shirt and ripped-up jeans. If you try to talk to established professionals looking like that you’re at best setting yourself up for failure and at worst going to come off as terrible immature and social retarded… says the guy whose public image is that of a guy in a top-hat and a black scarf.
About that, since I’m sure some of you might suspect that I don’t practice what I preach, here…
In regards to the “outfit” most people associate with me (and assume I wear everywhere I go)… while I hate to burst any bubbles out there … the fact of the matter is that I do NOT go to shows wearing a black scarf and top-hat.
Why? Because it would make me look like a jackass… which is something I’m not.
You may remember a few columns ago when I talked about “branding” and the importance of creating a “brand” for yourself, yes? Well, me deciding to use the picture/avatar of myself in the top hat and scarf was part of a gag my friend/letterer/artist pal Jim Reddington and I put together when we needed an “head shot” photo to use for some
… and since it was a horror book we decided to have some fun with it and use the “spooky” picture just for giggles.
Well, before we knew it the picture took on a life of its own – to the point where now it’s what people associate me with more than anything else, hence my decision to stick with it.
In fact, last year I finally broke-down and bought a collapsible display for conventions featuring that picture of me just so it was easier for people to “recognize” me at my table… and the upswing in traffic was instantly noticeable, to the point where other professionals would come up to me and say “OH! DIRK! There you are!” upon seeing me sitting in front of it.
Conversely, I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ll introduce myself to another professional at a con and they’ll say something like “DIRK MANNING! So you do have a face!” or “DIRK MANNING! So this is what you look like, you handsome devil!”)
I really don’t mind the ribbing, of course (or mainly being known as a mysterious guy who wears a top hat and scarf all the time) because, again, it started as a gag and most people realize that it’s just part of my “brand” now.
After all, when most people hear the name “Dirk Manning” they immediately visualize the picture of the guy wearing the top hat and scarf… and then go on to think about the stuff I do write such as NIGHTMARE WORLD, “Write or Wrong”, FARSEEKER, etc.
And I’m obviously OK with that, too. Heck, five years ago this was the type of notoriety and “brand-recognition” I would have all but killed for.
However, all of that being said, I don’t dress like my publicity photo in public.
In the name of full disclosure (remember, I’ll always be honest with you guys and gals), I did try it on two separate occasions shortly after we started using the publicity photo: Once it was at the extremely strong urging of a publisher I was working with at the time, and the other time was for a Halloween signing. The end result was the same both times: People thought I was a cosplayer and not a writer… and the scarf made it hard to tell people otherwise. Say it with me, folks: NEVER… AGAIN.
If you’re going to a convention as a professional, for goodness sake, dress in professional attire, even if it’s just a polo shirt or dress shirt and a nice pair of slacks.
However, in the name of being specific, allow me to elaborate for a moment:
• Wrinkled clothing of any kind is not professional attire.
• A faded T-shirt of any kind is not professional attire.
• Any shirt featuring anything to do with a video games is not professional attire.
• Any shirt featuring anything to do with any TV show or movie is not professional attire.
• Any short featuring a cartoon character or pop-culture “inside-joke” image or slogan on it is not professional attire.
• A button-down Hawaiian-style shirt with a giant picture (or pictures) of your favorite comic book characters on it is not professional attire.
• Any old concert T-shirts featuring your favorite obscure/broken-up band is not professional attire.
• Anything with skulls on it is not professional attire.
• Poor hygiene is not professional attire. I don’t’ care how many people you’re sharing a hotel room with… take a shower every day, wear deodorant and brush your teeth at least once a day. (I’m not trying to be demeaning here… but I see this excuse used a little too often to not mention it here.)
• Attending the con Sunday morning with a hangover is not professional attire… unless you’re Raven Gregory. If this is the case it’s both expected and required of your job. Since you are not him, though, you should not show-up to the show to follow-up with professional contacts hung over… or reeking of stripper juice, for that matter.
• Failing to have a business card handy if someone asks for one is not professional attire.
• Hats of any kind are pushing it at best… although some people can pull the hat thing off better than others. Use with extreme discretion, though.
Now… all of that being said… here’s one more piece of free advice for you: WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES.
Those of you who pay attention to such things know that the FIRST thing people look at when evaluating another person is his or her shoes (seriously… watch for it and you’ll see what I mean), and the type of shoes you’re wearing will tell people a lot about you.
Considering this, you might want to invest in a nice pair of dress shoes before going to a show as a professional. If you do, though, also invest the few extra bucks in some nice instep-cushions for them. They’re not terribly expensive (you can get them at almost any grocery store) but they will make a huge of difference for your feet after standing/walking on a cold concrete/pavement floor for a day or three.
(Honestly, if I know I’ll be behind the table for most of the day (which is more often than not the case) I sometimes even cheat and wear some nice looking sneakers, but I do slide on dress shoes every time I step away… even to go to the rest room (just to be safe). After all, I don’t want to be seen/judged/known as the guy who’s wearing tennis shoes with dress pants, a dress shirt and a sports jacket, you know?
(Yes, it works for the David Tennant version of Doctor Who… but neither you nor I are he. Deal with it.)
The bottom line, my friends, is this: Don’t forget that your work in creating comics doesn’t stop with what you produce either online or in print. People will associate and irrevocably link you to your work, so, please, keep that in mind when you’re making in-person professional appearances to promote your work or network with other professionals.
One of the key differences between people who succeed in this industry and people who don’t is attitude… and I can guarantee you that no one professionally working in comics today sees this job as “just comics”… and if they do, well, they’re the extreme exception to the rule.
Any of you who’ve followed me or this column through my journey to date know darn well that I’ve scraped and clawed and fought to get to where I am to date… and part of the reason I’ve done it is because I never saw this as “just comics.”
It’s COMICS… and while it’s fun, it’s still both work and a job (and, truth be told, a second job to many of us)… and part of succeeding at it means following the basic requirements that are expected to be met by anyone at any job anywhere…
Including the comics industry…
And that includes dressing for success.
NEXT TIME: I have a laundry-list of topics I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to, ranging from how to pace your stories to not seeking perfection to the concept of “all ages” comics to “when to quit” (which is not nearly as morbid or defeatist as it sounds). I’m sure I’ll be covering one of those next time… so keep an eye out, folks! It’ll be up here soon!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy series with artist Len O’Grady being hosted by those fine folks at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing columnist for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy writing, of course.
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