‘Be Your Biggest Fan’
Nerdvana presents Small Press Saturday – aka, Lessons Learned Self-Publishing Comics
Imagine walking into an art gallery, and next to every painting, photograph, and sculpture – that work’s MAKER, watching you approach and observe their art.
“Would you like to look at my painting?” the artist asks.
“Uhm, sure,” you reply.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, the artist blurts a summary of what you’re seeing in the painting. Then, they tell you how much each painting costs. You nod nicely, and just as you’re about to walk away, the artist insists that you take a business card to follow them online. Not the most cultured exchange, right?
Consider THIS: You’re browsing Spotify. You see a new album you might like and you start to play the first track. Suddenly, the musician bursts into the room and asks, “Have you heard about my new album?!” Then he WATCHES you listen to it and asks if you’d like to add it to your music library, right NOW.
That’s what every comic con artist’s alley sounds like. Like car salespeople that don’t know if the cars RUN. If you read my last column, you know I advocate displaying your art in as many places possible, including live events. The elephant in that argument is, those events include me, IN PERSON, behind a table, right next to my work. We spend so much time with our art in the studio, we don’t often think about all the time we’ll spend with it afterward, when it’s done.
For all the countless comic cons, comics shops, small press expos, zines fests, art walks, craft fairs, DIY boutiques, and anywhere else that’ll have me, I’ve learned a lot about representing and selling my art, and I’ll unpack many of those lessons in future articles, but the BIGGEST, most important mantra I remember for these myriad experiences is:
“Be your biggest fan.”
At so many of these events, I see artists disengaged, sitting quietly while passers-by look at their stuff. The creator MAYBE says hello, barely makes eye contact. Doesn’t stand. Sometimes, the creator defaults to a script and ignores organic opportunities for conversation that could prove more productive, or, worse, they engage in meaningless smart talk and never mention their art. You’d never know, this is the person that MADE that stuff.
You HAVE to be your own biggest fan. You have to recommend your work with the same passion you’d recommend your favorite movie or song. You have to speak about it confidently, knowledgably, and even insistently. A potential new fan’s level of interest in your art is directly proportionate to YOUR level of interest in your art. The same energy you applied to MAKING it, you HAVE to apply to SELLING it – or, what’s the point?
Many artists are inherently self-critical, and that’s actually a GOOD thing. Self-doubt reveals that you CARE about your work – so the concept of being your own biggest FAN is difficult for many artists to grasp. The lesson here is, even if your art isn’t meeting your standards, you can STILL sell it on the merit of why you’re making it at all. In other words, you don’t have to be a fan of your product to be a fan of your PURPOSE.
For example, what’s my minicomic, Amazing Arizona Comics, about? When passers-by ask me at all of those events, my default answer is usually, “Amazing Arizona Comics is a minicomic that satirizes local news and culture with superhero adventure.” Concise pitch, right?
Wrong! That’s a great MISSION STATEMENT, which is also very important, but it’s hardly a reason for someone to BUY it. I make Amazing Arizona Comics because I love superheroes, and it excites me to imagine them in my own backyard! Remember that time when the Tempe Town Lake Dam burst? What if SUPERHEROES did that? In my wildest imagination, superheroes are responsible for Arizona’s inherent strangeness, which means THEIR stories are OURS, too. That’s the kind of comic I’d want to read – so it’s the one I make! What my comic is about is something I’M about, too, and that’s energy I should exude, talking about it.
Did you see Top Gun: Maverick? My favorite part of the movie was the first 30 seconds, where Tom Cruise, playing himself, assures the audience that they’re about to have an incredible cinematic experience. He doesn’t pitch the story or summarize the plot — he simply expresses that he and the crew had a great time making a special movie. It’s short, it’s sweet, and he MEANS it, and that’s all we, as an audience, are asking for.
Artists that stay connected to their inspirations ask different questions of their audience. Suddenly, “Have you heard about my new album?!” becomes, “Are you ready to DANCE to my new album?” The painter’s “Would you like to look at my painting?” becomes “Can we share a this emotional moment together?” The fan and the artist should be so equally excited, you can hardly tell them apart.
Imagine walking into an art gallery and standing next to someone looking at a painting. Imagine striking up a conversation with that fellow observer, about how the work makes you feel. You’re both totally consumed by the vibe, and you mention that you like the work so much, you’d buy it, if you could.
“Why couldn’t you?” your fellow observer asks.
You reply, “Because I MADE it.”