Behind the Rainbow Table – My Time Selling Queer Comics at SDCC!
First, a little background.
My fiancée Ann and I have been creating the 18+ queer webcomic Grave Impressions for about three years now – it’s a noir mystery about a gay man aspiring to be a detective and the cases that turn his life upside down. Last year we had the spectacular fortune to partner with the non-profit Prism Comics and be featured guests at their booth at San Diego Comic Con. When the opportunity came up again, you can bet we jumped right on it. This is a little look at what it’s like to work the biggest comic convention of the year!
MONDAY JULY 6TH/TUESDAY JULY 7TH
Since Ann and I were attending SPACE the weekend after SDCC, we decided to take a road trip from our home in Savannah, Georgia and just make a giant loop around the USA. We drove two 17-hour days to make it to San Diego on time for preview night, pulling in at about 10 pm on Tuesday. The beautiful views made the long hours worth it, though!
When we checked into our hotel that night, we were given our first Comic Con exclusive – our key card!
But we were also reminded of the next five days to come. With that, we immediately went to bed, knowing we’d have to be up bright and early.
WEDNESDAY JULY 8TH – SET UP AND PREVIEW NIGHT
Because Ann and I were already in town, we volunteered to help set up the Prism booth so that it would be ready for Preview Night. So we were ready to go by 9 AM, knowing that we were going to have to work straight through until Preview Night was over, twelve hours later. Putting together a large booth takes a lot of time and effort, so we were more than willing to lend our hands to get it set up.
If you’ve ever wondered what the SDCC show floor looks like before it’s all set up, I managed to snap a few pictures in between hauling longboxes of comics and re-arranging tables.
I think between all of us volunteers, we must have demolished an entire case of water. The air conditioning wasn’t turned up entirely yet, so it was still incredibly hot in the hall. At times, it felt as though we weren’t going to make the 5:30 pm cut-off. But somehow, there ended up being a surplus of volunteers and we all managed to get the booth show floor ready in time for Preview Night.
When people come into the show floor, all the Prism volunteers are ready with stacks of booklets on hand. Every year, Prism hands out their Gay Agenda – a list of all the queer programming happening at SDCC as well as what signings are happening at the Prism booth. It’s still super cool to see our names underneath the “Featured Guest” section.
Preview Night is also the one time that most of us have a chance to run and get our shopping done before things get really crazy – and I had a very specific something on my list. If you happened to be on twitter that night and saw the picture of that purple-haired girl being the first to buy a copy of Kate Leth and Matt Cummings’ Power Up, that would be me. No spoilers here, but let’s just say it was a GREAT read!
If you’re an attendee, you get to shop for four hours. But if you’re a vendor like us, you’re there to sell comics and – particularly on Preview Night – reconnect with old friends. There are a lot of hugs and kisses that go around at the Prism booth. We’re all just happy to see one another again. This is our home away from home for the next five days and we probably won’t see each other until next year, so we all have a LOT of catching up to do in between selling comics. We only had the time to take one selfie with our good friend Dylan before things got crazy.
Prism’s booth is located in this great spot right by one of the seating areas, diagonal from the Marvel, Boom, and Sideshow areas, so by 7pm that evening, the booth started to attract the attention of people who had already bought their big exclusive items and were looking to get their hands on some queer comics!
We were exhausted by the time Preview Night was over, but not too tired to have dinner with our good friend Alex. Something we learned about SDCC from last year was that trying to eat at an American or chain restaurant like Spaghetti Factory or Cheesecake Factory is a disaster waiting to happen. The wait is often over two hours long, and usually they don’t take reservations during the convention. This doesn’t matter so much if you’re attending, but if you’re a hungry artist or vendor who has to get up early the next day to work all over again, it’s a critical factor. The trick is to eat Greek or Thai or Indian – or really anywhere that isn’t serving burgers. There’s often very litle wait and the food is dynamite! In our case, we went to this awesome Greek fusion place called Meze and got our chance to enjoy the calm before the storm of the next four days…
THURSDAY JULY 9TH – DAY 1
When we arrived at Hall C at 8:30 that morning, something looked a LITTLE different than the night before. These are called “Chair Capes”. I could never figure out if it was a farce or if this was supposed to be a serious product, but it was marketed as a cape you could put on the back of your office chair. There were little promotional videos of middle-aged men spinning in their chairs, infomercial style. Whatever these were, we managed to snap one up, and so did the rest of the early attendees. Five minutes after the exhibition hall opened, these chairs were left cape-less.
Before the hall got busy, we – and the rest of the exhibitors with us – took a moment to pose in front of the Prism booth in order to have something to post to our social media. This is something we did every single day – it’s crucial for people to know where you’re located and what you’re selling. Only now do I realize that our breakfast sandwich is sitting to Ann’s left. But this accurately depicts how mornings at SDCC go – trying to eat fast and get ready before the doors are opened and people pour in.
Prism is an excellent organization that always has plenty of volunteers ready to help out at a moment’s notice. This made it easy for me to run to a panel that morning and know that someone would be there to ring up purchases and make change so Ann could focus on selling books or taking commissions.
From the moment I knew we were going to SDCC, I wanted to attend the Editing Comics With Oni Press panel. I was really surprised at how empty the panel was, but it was great to be one of the first people to see the previews for Another Castle, The Mighty Zodiac, and Over the Surface.
Coming back to the booth, I found it to be pretty busy! We were all doing a booming business and I think I managed to capture a few hints of the fun and insanity that went on. Regardless of how big the crowds, we were all very happy to be there.
That night, Ann and I went to the Boom! Studios Anniversary party and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party before crashing back in our hotel room in order to get enough sleep just to function during the next day and go to work.
FRIDAY JULY 10TH – DAY 2
Riding the shuttle to the convention center turned out to be a great idea, because I was able to get a picture of how many people were already out crossing the street at 8:30 in the morning — and that stream of people continued on for quite a while before we were able to pull into the convention center.
Getting set up in the morning, it was only day two (though Preview Night was so intense that we all considered it to be the third day), but we were already starting to get a little goofy and stir-crazy. Our friend JD had this great pair of rainbow sneakers that we were all admiring, and when I asked if I could take a picture, the silliness ensued. But this is the fun part about working at a large booth with so many people!
Friday was also the day that the internet wasn’t working all that well. There was a lot of what Ann and I affectionately term “doing the Lion King” – that is, holding the iPad up in the air after you’ve swiped someone’s card and hoping that it will process. That’s one of the most stressful things that can happen, but the volunteers were there to save the day! Honestly, the volunteers at the Prism booth are the best people. From getting us water when we needed it, to ringing up people’s purchases, the entire volunteer staff at Prism did whatever they could to make SDCC low-stress on us artists!
That afternoon, I headed to the Comixology panel “A Comics Life for Me! The Road from Fan to Pro” where it was a great oportunity to listen to some of the people behind the scenes of the comics industry – editors, talent scouts, marketing directors – talk about their experiences and how their paths led them to work in comics. It was also an excellent chance to watch marketing in action, as one attendee who said she didn’t own a tablet was given a free Kindle so she could read comics digitally.
On the way out of the panel, myself and the rest of the attendees were stopped in order to let a group of people wanting to attend a bigger panel, cross. It was, admittedly, the first time I had ever seen a “Panel Line Crossing” sign before.
Saturday, July 11th – DAY 3
I’ll be honest, at this point in the convention, we’re ALL pretty tired – but the show must go on! Saturday was mostly just us all working at the table. But you know, one of my favorite things about being a writer is getting to stand there and tell people about the comics I’ve written. When someone buys one of them, it’s the coolest feeling in the world! I posted the pictures of people who purchased books on my twitter, but here are a few!
Even though we were stuck behind our table and couldn’t get out to see much of SDCC on Saturday, it was great to have the convention come to us. I know that I really enjoyed getting to chat with people who were browsing the Prism booth, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say “wow, it’s great that there’s an entire booth for queer comics!” Equally as awesome were the people who made a beeline for the booth and had the proverbial sparkles in their eyes. They would get really overwhelmed and emotional, and you could tell that they felt they’d found a space just for them at Comic Con.
SUNDAY, JULY 12TH – DAY 4
The final day. Half of the booth was ready to go home, and the other half was slap-happy from how long we had been without sleep (because when the exhibit hall closes, we don’t just go to our hotels – we go out and socialize with our exhibitors, and that can last until the early morning hours). More silliness ensued!
It was all really bittersweet, though. I knew that in eight hours, SDCC would all be over and I wouldn’t see most of these people again for another year. Sunday is the day that everyone exchanges contact information like kids at summer camp, but we all know there’s the possibility of losing business cards in transit.
The volunteers were pulling double-duty Sunday – not only did they have to still have to perform all of the duties of the previous days, but they also were going to have to help take down the booth. I definitely didn’t envy their job, and I’m still so grateful that they were there to help.
When the exhibit hall closes for the last time for 2015, there’s a lot of clapping and cheering that goes on from all of the vendors.
We get one last picture taken of all of us, standing with our books in front of the Prism table, before everyone gets down to business. The sooner all of the artists like myself leave, the sooner all of the volunteers can help break down the booth and pack it up for the next show.
It’s an overwhelming and emotional set of goodbyes, but we have to do them fast before the security guards come around and kick us out for not having the right after-hours badges – they’re real sticklers about that.
That’s another SDCC done, and this year I got the general consensus from those working with us that we felt Prism had made more of a difference by being here than ever before. The comics landscape is changing for the better, and I know I’m happy to be a part of it.
Emily Willis is the writer of Grave Impressions, If The Shoe Fits, and Cassius. She’s been traveling the USA for three years with her fiancée, Ann, attending numerous comic and anime conventions and selling their work. You can find her work at http://www.arbitrarymuse.com or talk to her on twitter at @GICOMIC.