I’ve made comics for most of my life. Most of these are drawn in sketchbooks that the rest of the world will never see, though I also have occasionally self-published minicomics and done some work for small press anthologies.
In 2018, six days after my forty-third birthday, the angel of death walked up behind me in a meeting and whispered over my shoulder, “I think you’re talking shit about this comics thing.” Right then and there, on a work handout, I drew the first page of Meeting Comics. I’m now over seven hundred pages in. I’ve still got the day job, and I work on my comics at night.
I started tabling at zine fests, comic shows, and assorted good-intentioned shitshows later in 2018. There was an extended break in comic shows on account of a certain pandemic, but I have now been back in the game for about a year. In February 2023, I set up at NOICE (Norfolk’s Original Indie Comics Expo) in Norfolk, Virginia, which is consistently one of my favorite shows. Here’s how it went.
On Friday, the day before the event, Adam Meuse, Max Huffman, and I piled into the Meuse family’s enormous van and headed northeast. We only have to travel about three and a half hours from my house in central North Carolina to Norfolk, and it would be possible to drive up, exhibit, and drive back home all in one day, but that would suck. As it happens, I used to be a comic retailer, and am friends with Greg Thompson, proprietor of Local Heroes Comics in Norfolk. He has been kind enough to allow the three of us to stay with him since NOICE began. This is how he balances his karma for not allowing his employees to go to funerals.
Events like NOICE are not just about selling comics. They’re about socialization, as well as socialization’s business-casual-wearing-but-otherwise-identical cousin, networking. I like doing these shows because I get to see and talk to other cartoonists, several of whom I actually like! It’s hard for me to socialize at the show itself, especially if it’s busy, so having some time before and after is an essential way to scratch that itch, assuming other cartoonists are in town too. And hey, if they’re not, there’s always Greg Thompson!
Speaking of Greg Thompson, he was one of the three originators of NOICE. He sponsored the show this year but stepped back from administrative duties, which means that the show was organized by his fellow NOICE creators Greg Steele and Juan Marable. I haven’t spoken to Greg and Juan about how they divide up their labor on the event on account of I don’t care about any of that.
So how did the show itself go? It was fantastic. It’s one of my favorites because I like the people involved, the other creators who tend to be there, and the cross-section of the public who shows up to buy stuff. I also tend to have pretty good sales days.
NOICE takes place at a brewery. On the one hand, this means that as a vendor you will encounter people who have spent $75 on beer that day fretting over a $5 comic, but on the other hand, you’ll get customers who are more likely to spend due to their altered mental state. Exhibitors just need to make sure there’s someplace on their table where a browser can set their beer.
The event ran from noon until six on Saturday, February 4. This is the right length for this show, and, in fact, for most shows, including most that are two days long. There were just enough exhibitors that most attendees could probably find something they liked, but not so many that it’s hard to visit them all. Because of this balance, NOICE is one of the only shows where people say they’ll be back after they look around and then they actually show back up.
A lot of this has to do with the organizers not cramming the room full of exhibitors in the name of being able to offer MORE MORE MORE! Many events make me feel like I’m in a clown car. When I’m squashed up again other exhibitors and the people trying to browse my table are constantly being bumped, that might just be too many people. There was room at NOICE to move, but it never felt empty. I know that this is easy for me to say because I was one of the lucky exhibitors who got into NOICE, but as far as I’m concerned, they had the perfect amount of exhibitors for the space.
I sell a mix of stuff. I’ve never had the “book of the show” at a comic event. When I sell a lot, it tends to be because I have multiple categories of merchandise and enough space to display it. These are the categories of merchandise that I brought and their percentages of overall sales.
COMICS: This is my ongoing series, Meeting Comics, a couple of related zines, and the one copy of Adventure Time #1 with my cover art that I sold. This takes up the most space of any category and had the smallest amount of sales of any of them, but this is what I care about. Meeting Comics is my heart, so it gets the display space.
STICKERS: This is how I nickel and dime my way to profitability at these things. I always sell some Meeting Comics stickers but the more general-purpose stickers are where the money is. My biggest sellers were SEE Y’ALL IN HELL and FUCK AROUND AND FIGHT ALF. I also did well with one of my newer Meeting Comics stickers, which I created as a challenge to myself: How could I create a Meeting Comics sticker that sells like a pop culture sticker? Why, by cheating, of course. I mixed in pop culture. And nudity. Anyway, most of my stickers are three bucks or two for five. I do a lot of upselling in this category by mentioning the two-for-five thing.
BOOKS: This is the Meeting Comics book from Adhouse, which collects the first six issues of the series at half the price. It’s an easy answer to “where should I start”, and it’s also a solid upsell when people are looking at one of the first six issues. This book is also my passport into the land of legitimacy. I can sometimes see people start to take me more seriously when I tell them that my collection was published by beloved indie comics juggernaut Adhouse Books. It’s like a little light goes on behind their dull eyes. The books take up less display space than the other three categories, so this is the category that’s really punching outside its weight.
ART: I brought two little portfolios of art. One is full of 5”x7” drawings of cats, ladies, monsters, and characters from my comics, all priced from $10 to $50. The other has bits of process art from my comics, like first tries at panels and character outfit sketches, all priced at $5 each.
I don’t always have the same stuff at a show. My setup is always changing. For one thing, I have released twenty-six comic issues in the last five years, which means I rarely have the same amount of comics at more than one or two shows. Sometimes I have to split a table with someone else, and it limits the area I have to display my wares. I hope to self-publish volume two of Meeting Comics in book form soon, and at that point, I intend to move toward letting the first twelve issues go out of print. I’ve sold Meeting Comics hats in the past too, but they move slowly and take up a lot of space, so I didn’t bring any to NOICE.
In the end, this turned out to be not just a fun show, but a show of very solid sales, possibly the most I’ve had in any single day at a show. Part of that is that I’ve refined my stock and my pitch considerably over the last several years, but part is that NOICE is a great venue for selling comics. I hope to see you there next year, but if you can’t wait for that, catch me this year at Heroes Con, SPX, or CXC.