Classic Dungeons & Dragons back in print! - Available now @ Dungeon Masters Guild
My Maker Mantras

My Maker Mantras: ‘The Main Gig’

‘The Main Gig’

Nerdvana presents Small Press Saturday – aka, Lessons Learned Self-Publishing Comics

The very first place I ever exhibited self-published comics was at San Diego Comic in 2001. I was instantly overwhelmed by the experience. What didn’t help was, at our neighboring table, the exhibitor wore a “Free Hugs” sign around his neck and loudly invited passers-by to embrace. I’m surprised so many did! The guy exuded energy, but SO much so, I had NO idea what his comic was about. He hugged way more than he hawked.

At that same show, a guy across from us was in complete misery, glowering at the geeks all weekend long. My friend Brent dared to peruse his comics and later said that they were amazing! If only the guy had the gumption to befriend the potential buyers that glanced his way, he might’ve smiled once or twice over the course of those five days – and maybe sold a few more of his incredible comics.

Somewhere in the middle of those extremes, the artist must exist. Last column, I discussed being one’s own biggest fan – and a misinterpretation of that philosophy might result in cockiness. That kind of bravado could make the creator/consumer experience sound like a used car lot sale. It SHOULD sound like a conversation about two passionate people: one that MAKES a thing, and another that WANTS a thing.

So, how do you express that your work is amazing without sounding like a total tool? I can only tell you what works for me, and I won’t present these personal guidelines as hard rules that dictate success, because, truly, everybody has different standards for how they want to present themselves. Consider the following a series of strong suggestions based on 20-plus years of self-publishing – and here’s the mantra:

“This isn’t a side hustle. This is the MAIN GIG.”

I’m a cartoonist with a day job. I don’t define myself the other way around. I don’t make comics as a side hustle, or as a hobby, or as a passion project. I make comics because it’s my job, or more so, it’s my CALLING, and my “day job” is the side hustle that supplements my income. This mentality prioritizes my time, and it incentivizes getting to the drawing board. I don’t work on my comics when “I feel like it.” I work on my comics TO feel, period. It’s a significant part of my living — and it makes me FEEL ALIVE.

I say that to emphasize the ways I carry myself in public, behind my table at comic cons and shows. I treat tabling at comic cons and similar shows like I’m clocking in to work. I’m a PRO. Here are the policies from any day job I’ve worked, that I’ve adapted into my exhibiting-comics practices:

Uniform. Have you ever worn a red shirt to Target? Eventually, a fellow shopper WILL ask you where the deodorant is. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, I had to wear an embroidered company polo. So, early in my self-publishing, I had a “work shirt” made with the name of my comic on it, the Amazing Arizona Comics logo. I wear it to almost every significant event where I exhibit, and folks often ask where my store is. I take the misinterpretation as a compliment. They see “Amazing Arizona Comics” as a PLACE where I work, which is practically true enough.

Punctuality. If a con day starts at 10 a.m., I’m usually in the convention hall by 9:45 a.m. I don’t party during comic con weekend. While some of my neighbors in artist alley are still showing up on Sundays hung over at 10:30 a.m., I’m selling comics to the early birds walking through our aisle, and MORE so, because I might be the only one THERE. Last year at Phoenix Fan Fusion, I actually got in right when the hall opened to exhibitors so I could shop in advance of the public, not for the advantage over my fellow collectors, but to minimize the time I’d be away from my table buying stuff. Considering a three or four day convention table costs hundreds of bucks nowadays? I should inhabit that space as much as possible.

Gear. I’ve begun carrying my comics and zines to shows in an enlarged briefcase I found at Goodwill. From the moment I start setting up my table, I feel like a professional, pulling my “precious papers” from my valise versus unpacking product from boxes. While I used to scour thrift shops for book racks and stands, last year I went to a professional convention display warehouse and invested in a few custom pieces. If I’m investing so much time in the quality of my comics, why shouldn’t I pay equal attention to the fixtures they stand on? Dress the window, so to speak.

Performance. On an employee evaluation, “performance” is usually a catch-all term that basically means, are you working while you’re at work? In this case, I treat the time at my comic con table like I’m a performer on stage. I’m on my feet. I engage with passers-by. I sketch by request and bait folks into looking at my stuff for the minute or two I take to draw Deadpool. As an exhibitor, I’m in show business — my comics are what I show, and I want attendees’ business. We always use the term “rock star” when we want to excel in something, and I take that evaluation literally.

You may think “professionalizing” a comic con experience like this takes the romance out of being an exhibitor, or even being an ARTIST, but art and sales have one thing in common: their success hinges on building relationships. A one-time sale is great, but successful salespeople know the goal is longer-term: the goal is REPEAT CUSTOMER. Artists love selling a piece of their work, but we all long to have that repeat customer, who’s excited to see our FUTURE work, too. In art, a repeat customer is actually called a FAN.

I preceded these suggestions with the acknowledgement that this kind of structure might not be for you. I dare say, the more resistant you are to any of these, the more I suggest you give at least one or two of them a try. Yes, be your own biggest fan, but also be your own toughest BOSS. I’ve been the guy that phoned it in. I’ve been the guy that sat shyly behind my comics and wondered why nobody liked them. You know what artists like THAT need? They need A HUG.

My Maker Mantras aka Small Press Saturday: Lessons Learned Self-Publishing Comics

Subscribe for free updates!


View previous campaigns.

Powered by MailChimp

Nerdvana Media will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.


Phoenix Film Festival 2023
30 Mar 23
Phoenix Film Festival 2023
31 Mar 23
Phoenix Film Festival 2023
1 Apr 23
Arizona Renaissance Festival
1 Apr 23
Gold Canyon
Phoenix Film Festival 2023
2 Apr 23