Angry Artist Alley: Does Fanart really help? (opinionated RTX2016 experience)

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I need to stress that this entire article is based off of my one trip to Texas in Roosterteeth Expo. Therefore, there is no scientific whatever evidence if this happens to everyone at any con, or if it was coincidence and is entirely my own opinion. I just want to share my own, PERSONAL experience, and I want those who have tried this technique or similar to tell me how their experience was as well. Am I the only one who has experienced this? I don’t know, but if you have a story to tell, feel free to leave a comment! This article may or may not apply to you, because you are one artist and I am another, and we both likely live in two very different situations. But I’d love to hear if these situations are similar with other people or not.

So one day I decided ‘Hey i’m not gonna sell fanart, i’m going to sell my original art’ with the mindset that I’ve learned ‘no one really buys fanart’. Because let’s face it–most people go to conventions to make bank, and the majority of people making big bank is just drawing and selling fanart prints of the most popular intellectual property they can figure. Or some sort of niche. I mean…it works, that’s why you see it everywhere.

I was helping Jason Shiga with printing his comic Demon for a while, and through many lunchtime conversations, he convinced me to be brave and just make my own thing. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Money defecit. But hell, it’s a risk I will take if I want people to see MY work, if I want to share my OWN personal stories. But where would I do this with lower risk?

Roosterteeth Expo. Bam. That’s what I thought. I was very, very, VERY far from being right. But at the same time, far from being wrong too.

In the ‘agreements’ section, it mentioned that you weren’t allowed to sell ANY Intellectual Property that you do not have written permission to sell. I was totally stoked! A convention where you can’t sell fanart with official permission? So everyone’s selling original art? I bought a table, packed my bags, and took a trip to Texas. RTX2016 was my first gaming convention, my first out-of-state artist alley, and omg my first convention where everyone just sold original art.

BUT I WAS WRONG. Far from it! Like totally fucked, as every table except two (mines and Tanya Burr had some amount of fanart on it. Some entirely of fanart. Apparently, they meant ‘Intellectual Property of their own work’. So wow I was very, very screwed. But then, this is the big moment–will people REALLY buy my work even if it’s not fanart?

In Roosterteeth Expo, you could technically show fanart of their stuff or give out free art of their stuff, which I took advantage of. I had a fanart display on half my table to draw in customers, while the other half was my actual artwork.

I had an entire display of tiny custom RWBY nendoroids! Not for sale, of course. Just display. Here’s a small sample of what was on the table:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Custom Ruby Nendoroid

Wait a minute…scenery looks a little…different today ;) Come visit booth 925 at RTX2016!

A post shared by Jackie (@pennydox) on

 

And even freebies like this:

I WAS BASICALLY SELLING ONLY ORIGINAL ART, SURROUNDED BY TABLES FULL OF FANART. I totally screwed myself over. And of all conventions, this was the most expensive, ever.

Friday and Saturday:

This is what I saw: That display REALLY drew in a crowd of customers. I encouraged photographers to take photos and tag my name and table. It was a HUGE success! Even some voice actors/actresses and animators from RWBY came to check it out! People were wondering if it was official merchandise, and it was so overwhelming. It was working! Well, until they turn their heads a little to the right, and see a print artist who decided to tape their fanart prints on the other side of the display and walk away. By the way, don’t ‘double-side’ your massive wall of prints, because you’re taking advantage of your display and it’s a real dick move to the people sitting next to you (your display should be pointed towards YOUR table, not someone else’s. It absolutely does not help bring attention to the other person’s table, if that’s what you’re thinking. At conventions, you can’t tell any artist to fix anything because then you’re just considered a dick on social media (at least i can write these blogs, right?).

This is what I also saw: The fanart that was drawing the hoard of crowds to my table did almost NOTHING to benefit the art I was actually trying to sell at my table. I really mean it–nothing. They didn’t bat an eye in that direction. Even when I was giving my free minicomic, CONventional, in the direction of my art. They really didn’t care. Like somehow a piece of my dignity was ripped out because people only cared about the display but not the work I was making. Hope was really downhill. I couldn’t even pay back for half the table from the profits of Friday and Saturday combined. And I’d like to emphasize that artist alley was less than 20 artists with a 44,000+ crowd.

Sunday. The last day.

Now this one, I did something different. I realized it was the display that’s making it difficult to grab any attention, so I dumbed down the display so that it looked much ‘less’ interesting. It was a bit more bland. Minimal props, and the table was brown instead of moss-green. None of the characters popped out as much because they weren’t shown with their weapons or normal outfits. So……what happened?

What happened:
The eyes trailed towards my work and less on the display. People started picking up the comic on display. I’d say the majority of those who picked it up ended up asking for the price, and many of those actually bought the comic. I got a lot of great comments like ‘wow I don’t see people making stuff like this much these days’ (i think they were mentioning more like non-vampire/werewolf horror comics, not original art shtick). In fact, I didn’t notice this until I went home, but half the comics I brought to RTX were all sold–the most I’ve EVER SOLD EVER. Seriously, just on Sunday. I also got a number of commissions on the last day too! To be honest, I didn’t think the majority of my profits would just come from selling the one comic I had on my table, not commissions. My other work didn’t fare well, which is an incredible disappointment, but in the future, Ihave plans for this unsold cute merchandise, so it’s okay.
COVER PAGE_previewAbove: The cover of ‘Eerie’, my horror comic, was the item that sold the most on my table. This is the second time it’s ever happened to me. The first time was at Krakencon, coincidentally in a row of tables that didn’t allow fanart as well. 

Of course, the table next to mine was still the bummer to some of my business. Many people who turned their head to the right often just continued to walk to the right. The table to the left was courteous enough to only put their display pointing at their table, so I was really damn relieved, considering the dilemma I was in. Again, I gotta stress-if I said anything like ‘please take down your prints facing my table’ that day I’d be such an ass, and thanks to the internet and social media, I’d just be flamed about it. But now I can fume a little, as it’s mostly anonymous now. I ain’t gonna say who it is, but I mean…just don’t do it in the future, I guess. All of you. It gives your business an advantage, but it’s a bigger disadvantage and a bit insulting to those around you.

Conclusion:

Fanart is amazing, it really brings a lot of attention to my table, BUT it doesn’t help people see my original work at all.
Fanart really does take away from my work. It grabs attention, but not quite the business I wanted. In the future, I know I’ll definitely NOT have a kickass fanart display. But I *may* sell some fanart, but only at a VERY minimal amount. And make sure it’s spread out smack in the middle of my original work, instead of the other way around. What really drew the customers was the ‘mystery’ of what the heck my table was about. Something any comic artist should do is learn to pitch their comic in less than two sentences. Mines was literally ‘oh it’s a comic with some short horror stories. About a barber, a tongue fetish, and loose teeth’ Simple, yet effective.

From this experience, and my past experience at Krakencon’s Indie Artist Alley (a set of tables that aren’t allowed to sell fanart), I can confidently say that if you are really serious about advertising your personal work, make the sacrifice of tossing the mass amount of fanart at your table. You will probably lose a lot of business, but your sacrifice will allow people to keep their eyes on your prize–your personal work that you really want to share. If your followers love your work enough, they’ll commission you anyways.

In the end, I could not earn enough profit to pay for the table, trip, and food, BUT, because I was distributing my CONventional comic to all sorts of people at the con, I have definitely successfully grabbed the attention of east bay convention-attendees, some texas cons, and now it’s really going somewhere. This was the main intent, and because I was able to give it to various press/media/even staff from Roosterteeth, I’d say it was a successful con!

This entire stack was gone before the second half of Sunday (and i had to hold back on Friday and Saturday too). I am really happy that all the people, press, media, and even staff from Roosterteeth got them. Hello New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Singapore, UK, and everywhere else! Welcome to CONventional:

My fat stack of FREE minicomics. I hope they're all gone before the end of RTX!

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More info on CONventional

ARTIST HIGHLIGHT______________
Okay, this is a bit different. This time, it’s a KICKSTARTER! Woot woot!
Ben Seto’s ‘Skullbunnies’ was one of the darn cutest comics I’ve ever read, and one of the first comics that brought tears to my eyes (no seriously, I’m not kidding). It was mostly tears of joy though..it was so damn cute. Ben has done some real amazing watercolor work, and is compiling all of them in a book! If you look at the info, it says ‘192 pages’. And yes, he’s made a LOT of illustrations!
So just check it out, and back the project. If you’ve never read Skullbunnies before, one tier comes with the comic itself :D

 

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