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Artist Alley Booths: 7 Awesome Tips to Take the ‘Starving’ Out of Artist

Artist Alley: a comic book artist’s best shot at appealing to a large, interested audience. The much beloved home of comic book pencillers, inkers, and colorists. Well, perhaps not so much “beloved home” as “ink-and-blood-stained battlefield of cutthroat marketing tactics.” With the economy sucking as hard as the Eric Bana Hulk movie, things like a print of Thor eating spaghetti while Batman crochets a new cowl kind of go on the backburner in favor of things like “rent” and “food.”

Want 7 tips to sell in Artist Alley anyway?

The folks who do make the financial and time commitment to attend comic book conventions and wander down Artist Alley are potential customers you want to snag. After all, you became a comic book artist for the big bucks, right?

…right?

Label prices prominently

Cat Staggs Celebration IV Artists Alley

Cat Staggs shows off her stuff in Artists Alley at Celebration IV. Note the highly visible price list.

When pricing is not provided on labels or a price sheet, a customer generally has one of three concerns: a) “It’s probably super expensive,” b) “The artist is going to size me up and try to fleece me. I shouldn’t have dressed as Bruce Wayne,” or c) “I may enter a zone of awkwardness if I ask for a price and then walk away.” In any event, you make the customers uncomfortable, and they’re gonna bolt. Be upfront with your pricing, and even include a “but let’s make a deal!” underneath to give those battle-ready negotiators a chance to spar for a bit. Selling in Artist Alley is a full-contact sport.

On the other side of the pricing spectrum (i.e., freebies), label those as well. People are shy about grabbing a bookmark or a pin, because some artists charge and others don’t. Make sure you’ve got the freebies labeled as such.

Speaking of freebies…

Offer freebies

Everyone loves them. Brand-wise, it’s good to have some form of your own art on there, which is why CMYK (full color process) printing is the way to go.

Customized mousepads with CMYK printing are unique, the full color processing ensures you won’t lose any detail, and it’s definitely appealing to nerds. Many personalized tote bags or custom messenger bags also offer full color printing, and they’re ideal at a convention where people expect to be toting around lots of stuff. By giving these away on their own or with purchase (or even selling them), you can create an army of walking billboards.

Casey Heying Artist Alley Booth

One of my favorite artists (whose Green Lantern print is one of my most treasured pieces), Casey Heying, shows popular characters up front as well as his own original art prints and books.

Have popular characters AND original art

Great art of popular characters will definitely sell. Unfortunately, Artist Alley is also THE most competitive place to sell your art; your competition is literally steps away. What else do you have to offer?

Your original art!

Whether it’s in print form or comic form, it’s important to show that you’re not just an imitator; you’re an innovator. These conventions are filled with networking opportunities and industry professionals that could be the hook-up for your next gig. The best overall Artist Alley advice is this: make sure your imagination is as visible as your re-creations.

Engage passersby

This subsection should have an addendum: “But not like a construction worker in a sexual harassment training video.” Despite a claim made by my four-year-old self, negative attention is not better than no attention. I’ve heard everything from the generic “girl in the red shirt, c’mere,” to “hey, buy my comic” from well-meaning comic book artists without any finesse. This isn’t just advice for selling in Artist Alley. This is advice for LIFE.

While comic book enthusiasts are not widely renowned for their superior social skills, there are still plenty of ways to strike up a conversation with a total stranger. Comment (appropriately) on a cosplay outfit. Ask a question about a book they’re carrying or even relate it to your own work. Toss out your pitch, “How awesome would it be if zombies had the powers of snakes and spiders?” But make sure your attention-getters are broadly appealing enough that you’re not alienating potential buyers.

Speaking of which, you really ought to…

I imagine having a boner may make potential customers LESS likely to visit an Artists' Alley booth.

I imagine having a boner may make potential customers LESS likely to visit an Artists’ Alley booth.

Know your audience

Perhaps you sell pictures of bunnies snuggling in a basket of feathers. Or perhaps you prefer to draw barely-clothed vixens slowly peeling bananas with their mouths. Whatever. Beware the pros and cons to appealing to a niche within a niche. This lovely fellow appealed primarily to straight men (and perhaps lesbians and bisexuals) with his advertisement. And certainly that’s the largest makeup of comic book convention attendees.

Problem? Female attendees are growing in number, and statistically, we’re more interested in Superman’s arms and Batman’s buttcheeks than this little number. Plus, my inner feminist wanted to give him a lecture. I restrained myself… by going nowhere near his table.

Create a series for upselling

I got suckered in big time on this one. And I say that without a hint of buyer’s remorse. Artist Terry Huddleston has a gorgeous series of headshots featuring the good guys and bad guys from both Marvel and DC. He’s even got Robocop and Speed Racer for good measure. He traditionally sets them up as a large mural behind his booth, drawing attention from nearby rows.

He offered prices for individual prints as well as sets in various increments. And based on the 37 minutes I spent haggling, he’s also open to negotiation. I walked away with 10 prints, which is 10 more than I had planned on buying when I approached his table. In fact, this list of Artist Alley advice could just be replaced with: “Ask Terry Huddleston how he does it.” Check out interviews with Huddleston to reveal some insights on how he maximizes his space in order to maximize his profits and shows that talent, passion, and knowledge combined can make selling in Artist Alley a successful, full-time business endeavor.

The appeal was that he had a variety of styles, but within those styles, he offered several possible combinations to create a unique collection tailored to each buyer’s interests.

The result? I have the entire Justice League hanging on my wall.

Take it from Terry: a collectible series makes sales multiply.

Don’t set up anywhere near Northern Illinois Lego Train Club

Setting up here? You’re definitely digging in the wrong place.

Seriously. There’s just no competing for attention with these guys.

Artists, how do your marketing strategies and art prints fare in the Artist Alley? Any advice for selling in Artist Alley for newbies? Buyers, what do you find attractive about a booth? How can artists convert an interested passerby into a customer? Sound off in the comments below.

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!

Image credit to Official Star Wars Blog and ParkaBlogs.com.


Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    All amazing tips, Jana! As a first time attendee, I was struck by the booths that had TONS of stuff, or practically nothing. I particularly remember wandering around Artist Alley on a Sunday afternoon and I walked past an artist (and for the life of me, I can’t remember his name and it kills me) who only had a few piles of prints. My attention was immediately sucked in, and I ended up walking away with a sweet print of The Green Lantern Corps designed like an old-timey war recruitment poster. Maybe it was because it was the ending hours of the convention, or maybe he just wanted to keep it simple, but either way, the minimalism creates a stark contrast to the overloaded booths surrounding his.

    That isn’t to say, though, that I was completely booth-blind to the large displays, either. I remember Huddleston’s (and that darn kid with the half-naked lady) booth very distinctly. Out of all of your tips, I believe that engaging passersby is one of the easiest and cost effective methods of attracting potential buyers, and only one single booth did that to me. And you know what? I totally bought their comic.

    And yeah, never set up by the Legos. You are spelling your own doom. I couldn’t even tell you which artists were by the Legos.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks for giving me your thoughts as a first time convention-goer. This past year marked my sixth year of convention-going, and I’m sure there are things I take for granted or fail to notice after having gone so many years.

      I hadn’t thought about swinging the opposite way and going for a minimalist design. Although I can see how it draws attention, I might think the artist was unprepared. I’ll take a closer look next time. Very interesting.

      Also, that Green Lantern poster sounds awesome. Let me know if you remember the guy’s name or find his business card. AH, CRAP! I should have added “have business cards” to the list.

  2. amy

    There’s so many awesome one-liners in this post, Jana! You had me cracking up a few times like with this gem, “or c) I may enter a zone of awkwardness if I ask for a price and then walk away,” even though I’ve never attended an event like this, I know I’ve felt this way at community festivals and stuff. There’s something so weird of asking a stranger how much something is and then feeling like a cheapo because it’s too expensive, so you awkwardly shift away. By having a sign with prices that feeling wouldn’t exist, yay!

    Great stuff, Jana!!

    • Jana Quinn

      No one likes the zone of awkwardness, and yet it exists in so many retail situations. Why do people do this??

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    My favorite tip:

    “Have popular characters AND original art”

    Originality is key in almost any creative endeavor these days, and aspiring artists would do well to recognize that. I’d probably say that of the booths I visited at ACen this past summer, the ones with original artwork and items on display were the ones I found most intriguing. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for Star Wars-themed items and whatnot, but I tend to hold originality in high regard when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    Everyone in Artist Alley should be following your advice, Jana. Great post!

  4. josh wurtz

    I am a sucker for the artist alley, I have spent a few $$ there myself. An these are what get me as well. Someone that will come out and engage me, have the prices already set so you don’t have to ask, etc. One of my favorite artsits there, Cory Smith, did pencil sketches and would color in the eyes for you for free. Everyone one of these tips definitely get me to stop at someone’s booth!

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Josh! The added bonus of watching an artist at work – whether she/he’s sketching at the table or adds the eye color – can also be a powerful draw.

  5. Amanda

    Great post Jana! I have no experience with artist alley, but your post makes me curious. I love that you mentioned pricing. Unfortunately, for most of us, it makes a big difference in our decisions, and if it’s not clearly marked, will most likely discourage sales. I checked out the link for Terry Huddleston’s artwork; those are awesome–the Joker’s headshot from Dark Knight is my favorite! I love his use of detail and color!! =)

  6. Jill Tooley

    Right on, Jana! Artist Alley is my favorite area of any convention, but some artists are better at this stuff than others. Price labeling is one of the big ones! If I see something I like but there’s no price on it, I automatically assume it’s either A) too expensive for me to actually purchase or B) not for sale. I always feel stupid asking artists for a price and then walking away if it’s too steep, so often times I won’t even bother asking at all.

    I’m also more likely to buy from an artist if they say hello to me when I approach their booth. High-pressure selling techniques deter me, but friendly conversation ropes me in. I tend to walk right past the artists who spend the entire con with their heads down, never uttering a word! It’s one thing if they’re working on a custom piece, but it’s quite another if they’re simply avoiding all discussions with potential customers.

    I love this post, and I also shared it with a friend of mine who sells his stuff at cons. These are excellent tips for anyone who relies on their art to make a living! :)

    • Jana Quinn

      The unpriced (Depriced? I know priceless isn’t right…) issue is a huge barrier to converting passers-by to customers. I would love to hear a retailer’s opinion on why he/she thinks it’s effective.

      • Jill Tooley

        I’ve actually heard that some retailers keep price tags off of their items because they want to inspire conversation with passersby. However, I just don’t see the point of that. Why not give your customers the prices up front so they don’t have to pester you for them? Does…not…compute…

  7. Amber Graves

    Thanks so much for this! I’m going to be selling my stuff in Artist Alley for the first time for this coming Anime Expo, and possibly the Long Beach Comic Expo and I am quite nervous about the whole thing.

    Now I just need to figure out where to get stuff printed and how to figure out how many prints to make of each image. I also still need to figure out what the best button maker and size to get is, although due to the detail in my art I’m leaning towards the 2 1/4 inch one.

  8. laurie

    couldn’t find the date to this?
    so excuse me for commenting if its old. was googling artist alley.
    I do find this article very informational.

    just a tid bit about that poster of Lorane,
    I think it unfair that its ok to sexualize men for straight female/ gay male audience and not have a sexy poster of a women of a long running rock and roll comic. Both is using sex to sell. As for me, I’d stay away from batman’s butt picture just as much even though I’m a straight female, because I’m not looking for that in my comics. So just cause female readers are increasing doesn’t mean we all want sexualised men (which is still a niche in a niche).

    Plus he’s part of a nice podcast called ‘webcomicalliance’ which range from 3-5 chatting about comic issue.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks for stopping by, Laurie. The joke about Batman’s butt was tongue in cheek.

      My comment was meant more along the lines of perhaps staying away from scantily clad women (or men) as the ONLY bit to your advertising, especially since more women (who may be offended at the disproportionate body and eye-rolling dialogue – What self-respecting, rational woman uses sex as blackmail?) are attending what was may have once been considered a “boys only” club. I suppose the dialogue bubble made me roll my eyes a bit harder than the near-naked figure; I should have been clearer in the article.

      Anyone interested in rock and roll or drugs (topic of the comic per the creator’s Facebook page) might scoot past without ever knowing there was any substance beyond a dewy-eyed stripper. If the main purpose of the comic were to be sexually stimulating in nature, then the advertisement hit the nail right on the head. If it wanted to appeal to people who are interested in the 70’s and/or rock and roll, then it missed the mark.

  9. Len Robertson

    I find all the advice interesting. I’ve been to Chicago Comicon three times now and had a portion of a table with Matt Hansel, but I was more observer than marketer. I was so not with marketing that when a local TV station found I had an award winning sic fi novel and interviewed me, I had no idea what to say. At the time, I told myself it would not happen again. Your advice helps hugely.

    By the way, if you see go to this years Chicago Comicon and see a blond haired, white bearded contestant for an Earnest Hemingway look-alike contest, it’s probably me.

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