My professional agenda for Comic-Con was fairly simple: Soak in the visuals, get a general feel for the industry and do some basic networking. With this in mind, here are some useful tips I learned along the way on how to take advantage of the convention:
- Bring a highlighter. You’ll need it to track the three-ring circus of panels. Comic-Con often has an online schedule in advance of the convention, so it’s possible to do some pre-planning. But it does change/update daily.
- Know exactly what you are going for, and make it a tight goal, instead of "be discovered and become famous." Research how to meet those goals, and who at Comic-Con can help make them a reality. If you are looking for work, check out who is hiring and get information on them in advance. Find out who is looking for the content you are trying to deliver. Are they offering portfolio reviews? Will they be exhibiting? This will save you a great deal of time and energy.
- Network. It’s the obvious one, and it is really easy. But it’s not just shaking hands after panels or in the exhibitor’s hall. That guy waiting next to you in line for the Watchmen Trailer may be a fellow artist, filmmaker, or potential client. Get to know your fellow attendees.
- Self Promote: A business card should be mandatory, a giveaway product is even better. There is a "freebie table" where both companies and individuals give out free promotional items. They do accept drop-offs, however they are vetted for quality and appropriate content. This is not the venue for cheap photocopies on neon paper. Instead think of color prints on good paper/cardstock, comics, buttons, CDs/DVDs, etc. Keep in mind this isn’t a portfolio drop-off. Portfolio Reviews are done on site, and it would be wise to attend those and give out your portfolio through social networking. Instead think "product." For those into guerilla networking, there were some artists, filmmakers and even studios giving out flyers and CDs of their work to those stuck in the various lines. Some left piles of these fliers in specific spots to be picked up. Gutsy, but quite a few turned into litter. Be prepared to cast a wide net.
- Be aware of the "line-fu." In order to get to the panel you want to go to, it’s best to be in line an hour in advance, especially if you want a good seat. For popular panels, increase that to an hour and a half to two.
- Take notes. It feels like you are in class, but your short-term memory will thank you.
- Take a backpack or some other large item of holding for both your purchases and giveaway promotional materials available. Make sure it’s something that you can carry all day.
Now to the meat of the convention…the panels! It is here that I found the wealth of industry experience and information. Panelists were very helpful, however many times they were asked what I refer to as "what-is-zen" questions such as "how do I get published?" "how do you write?" "how do you make your comic a film?" These generic questions often lead to generic answers. Instead, do some research on your own on the generalities. There are many resources online, for example, with the basics on how to write a novel, film a movie, or make a comic. Come armed with a direction or specific questions to make the most of the technical expertise out there. Immediately on the Thursday panels (Entertainment Weekly’s Comic Creators, How to Write a Pitch, Graphic Novels) that I attended, the love/hate relationship between comics and movies popped up. There is no beating around the bush. Movies have been extremely profitable for comics (just ask Mark Millar of Wanted), and Hollywood is also reaping the financial rewards of fresh visions (The Dark Knight anyone?) As a result, there is a tendency by newcomers to tailor their graphic works for film, using cinematic conventions and subsequent visual limitations, instead of working within the looser comics framework. The resulting hybrid becomes less than either in its totality, and editors treat it as such. Another side effect of the comics/movie relationship is the danger of how the public views your work. Mike Mignola, at Entertainment Weekly’s Comic Creators, stated that when people think of Hellboy, they think of the movie first and not the comic which differs in plot. Underscored at both How to Write a Pitch and the So You Want to Do a Graphic Novel panels was that everyone has an idea. But, what editors and publishers want to see is whether you can follow through and have a finished product. Evidence of past finished work, or a full manuscript or draft will attract their notice. Even when doing a simple Q&A at a panel, you will receive more attention. One of my friends at an author’s panel has several unpublished novels. When he asked how best to proceed, he was literally showered with tips from the panelists. Also, your idea should be able to be verbalized into a short pitch slightly less than a paragraph. When the How to Write a Pitch panelists were asked what was a good example, Rob Levin of Top Cow responded, "Snakes on a Plane". The graphics novel panel, organized by the independent comics publisher Larry Young of AiT/Planet Lar had a very mixed panel of authors/writers of various styles. When asked about structure, Steven Grant (Badlands) was more freeform in advising to let the story dictate the structure. However, on the same panel were Adam Beechen and Manny Bello (Dugout, Hench), whose background was film, and they admitted that they were fans of the three-act story. Another one of the major themes in the panels is being open to diversification. J. Michael Straczynski, whose own background runs the gamut of tv (writer/producer, Babylon 5,) comics (writer, Spider-Man, Silver Surfer and several graphic novels), and film (the upcoming Changeling), emphasizes how healthy it is to keep working and active and to not limit oneself to a particular media. If you are a writer, mention whether it’s an article, a comic, a script, a short story or a novel. He further added, to speak with your own voice. Often writers try to write how they think a good writer should write, usually by imitating their favorite authors. Instead, write like you would speak your own story. It will ring more true and make a better impact. Next time, I’m going to bring a bigger notepad.