A Long-Winded Analysis of Convention Sales, part 1

(Er, they were right here on the old blogging software I used. I’m keeping the drawing ’cause I like it)

Take the comics and run

(because I don’t have any money)

After this year’s Small Press Expo, there was a lot of discussion about sales, and the money cartoonists have to spend on the show, etc. etc.  And the one factor that came up is that nobody knows anything.

When creators greet each other at a comics convention, they ask “How’s the show?” But what they mean is “How are sales?”  And the fact is that sales are the only concrete metric that cartoonists have. You can’t quantify how much your art has improved, or how much you enjoyed the after-party. Those are qualitative measures, and they’re important, but they’re also totally subjective.

And when someone says that sales are “Good” – what does that mean?  You know what your own sales are, but there’s no way to know how that number translates to anyone else – everyone starts from scratch, with only their own numbers as a guide.

Short story: After my first convention (APE in San Francisco) I was feeling a little down. I was having dinner with a group of other gay cartoonists, and Tim Fish asked me how my day was. “Eh, it was okay,” I shrugged. “I only sold about 14 books.”

His response: “You sold 14 books!? On your first day? At your first convention? That’s fantastic!” “Really?” I had no idea.

I still don’t know if that’s good or not, but hearing that from a more seasoned cartoonist made me feel a lot better at the time.

So I want to try to de-mystify the sales process for anyone who’s thinking about selling their own mini-comics at a convention. I honestly have no idea if my results can be extrapolated to anyone else – you might be a better artist, or just be a better salesman, or you might have a terrible body odor that keeps people from buying your books. I don’t know.

But  I’ve kept records of my comic sales from every convention I’ve been to since 2004.

And here they are:

Convention Items sold Money
APE 2004



SPX 2004



APE 2005



SPX 2005



APE 2006



MoCCA 2006



SPX 2006



MoCCA 2007



MoCCA 2008



SPX 2008



MoCCA 2009



PACC 2009



SPX 2009



KingCon 2009



MoCCA 2010



PACC 2010



SPX 2010



Maybe that would look better as a graph:

Huh. That’s kind of an odd line, isn’t it? How about the cash?

Generally upwards. That’s good, right?

I mostly sell mini-comics, for $3 apiece, or 2 for $5. I also have a collection of the first 10 issues of my journal comic, The Amazing Adventures of Bill, which I sell for $25 (that explains the giant spike in the middle – that was the debut of the collection). I’ve also experimented with prints, t-shirts, and selling original artwork, which is why the first chart is labeled “items sold” and not “comics sold.”

Based on these numbers, I consider selling 45 items to be average, since I sold exactly that number at SPX and APE from 2004-2007.

SPX 2010

I sold 54 items at the Small Press Expo this year, and I made $213.  My half-table cost me $150, and I shared a hotel room for one night ($60).  Woo, I made $3!  Of course, I also spent $50 on travel, some amount I didn’t keep track of on food, and then I spent about $60 buying other peoples’ comics (seriously, there were SO MANY great mini-comics at SPX this year!).

So I didn’t make any money, but I came close to breaking even. And compared to previous Expos, I sold more books and made more money than any previous show!  Actually, let’s bust out the SPX numbers and compare year-to-year:

(The 2004 item sales are an outlier, because I was selling a 50-cent comic drawn by Tim Fish, titled “My Life in Gay Porn.” That’s not something I can replicate.)

But my sales aren’t really much higher – 10 items more this year than my average in all previous years.  Cash, on the other hand, is way up, which suggests that my audience is roughly the same or growing slightly, but that I’m selling more expensive items. And, in fact, I started selling original art this year (4 pieces at $10/each), plus the $25 book collection that I started selling in 2008.

The social aspect of SPX is the biggest draw for me – it’s a big comics party, and I get to see tons of people that I don’t normally see. Plus I get to the play “How many free drink tickets can I score?” which is always a fun game (my record is seven). And this year I ran into Carla Speed McNeil at the afterparty, and she invited to submit a comic for the “Smut Peddler” anthology, so I’m collaborating with a friend on a smutty comic for that now! Yeah, making contacts!

Definitely worth it to go back.

MoCCA Art Festival

This is always a great show for me. A lot of people gripe about it, but I always have a good time, and my sales are fantastic. Look at this chart:

This year I sold 93 items, and made $381. That’s twice as much as SPX.  My half-table cost $200 at MoCCA ($210 next year), but I don’t have to pay for travel or a hotel, so it’s actual profit.

Since I live in New York, that means that my friends come out to show, which probably accounts for some of the extra sales. I’m also a former volunteer at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, so I’ve got a built-in audience of fans & friends among the convention staff.  But I don’t think that accounts for all of it – maybe MoCCA just has the right audience for my work.

Anyway, definitely attending again. My application form is around here somewhere…

I don’t think I need charts for the rest of these:


The Philadelphia Alternative Comic-Con is fun little show. It’s only one day, so my sales are about half what they are at most two-day conventions. But tables are only $30, and I can hop on a bus that morning and return the same night for $20, so if I make $72 (like I did this year), I can buy pizza and beer!


I’ll be going to this for the second time on November 6-7 this year. This is a show that I can literally walk to, so anything above table costs is profit. I made table costs plus $50 last year, so it’s worth going back this year.


The Alternative Press Expo: I love the show, but it’s way too expensive to fly across the country. Maybe I’ll do it next year and count it as a vacation.

Okay, that’s enough for now. In Part 2, I’m going to break down exactly which comics have sold, and which ones haven’t.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to find some patterns  – or that you’ll be able to spot something that I’ve overlooked. And that might help me prioritize my next comics project – alongside Bar Scrawl, of course.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions?  Put ’em in the comments!

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