11.03.2017

Sketches: Fall 2017

Some recent traditional art from commissions to personal work.

Dougie. Jones.

Hive-themed Hunter from Destiny.

Mayflower commission.

Cap'.

Link!

There and Back Again: DINK 2017

Denver, Colorado!

It's about a 8 or 9 hour drive from Kansas City to the mountains, but the mind-numbing traffic we hit at rush hour on Friday added an extra hour to the trip. But hey, at least there were mountains to look at! Affordable hotels can be found in the greater metro area and the Saturday and Sunday journeys into downtown for the con were quick commutes from them (and thankfully devoid of that traffic of terror).

From a journey to Lake Dillon.
DINK is a young con that has seemingly been born as a response to Denver Comic Con's current giganticism, popularity, and celebrity-focused appeal (which is not to single it out - most bigger cons run on the exact same threads). Conversely, Dink has no celebrities from movies or television, it's cozily situated in a historic, three-level building where you can see most of the exhibitors from any spot on your current floor, and it prides itself on its independent culture.

Walking around, there was a refreshingly different selection of books being pitched, from self-made zines to high-quality graphic novels. Most looked political or subversive, pop-culture or counter-culture in nature, perhaps especially so as a reaction to the election. I used to think Mayflower looked somewhat 'alternative' (whatever that means) at most cons where superhero stories populate the artist alley tables thoroughly, but at DINK I felt like my books looked like Saturday-morning cartoons (in better days when those actually existed).

One of the highlights from DINK was talking to Felipe Echevarria (http://www.felipeechevarria.com/) whose sequential work is reminiscent of the style of art and storytelling I've been studying lately to improve my own work. I went home with his advice and almost immediately turned around some the problems I was currently struggling with in Mayflower's sequentials.

Felipe Echevarria's art for a Psycho adaption.
Sales were okay. While the con's focus was refreshing, alternative and niche also seems smaller. From behind my table, it felt as if there was a lot of young adults but very few families, and the Weed-Tours were interesting - at least the guy selling black-light posters looked like he was making a dime!

If I lived in the area I would definitely attend again. With the car running on fumes as it is right now, I'll likely let the con grow a couple of years before returning.

4.16.2017

The Mayflower 2016 Midwest Tour - In Review

Roll For Initiative

2012 was the first year I exhibited at a comic book convention to promote my art. I had attended cons as a fan of the medium for as long as I can remember, but that initial leap to the other side of the table was nerve-wracking when I finally took it.

The experience ended up going wonderfully and I was blown away by its ability to motivate and justify my aspirations. Although the Internet can be a great outlet for art, the feedback and reactions you get never feel the same as someone in the flesh getting excited by your work. I left that Planet ComiCon in Overland Park wanting to drive home and immediately start my magnum opus... though I probably just fell asleep - I always underestimate how much sitting behind a table all day can exhaust you!

I was incredibly lucky in randomly getting sat next to Seth Wolfshorndl who is, without hyperbole, the nicest guy I've ever met at a convention. He set the tone for the kind of table I wanted to present and the outlook I wanted to have for my own convention experience. I probably would have quickly become a cynical jerk if that first con had started on a different note. Instead, I couldn't wait to table again the next year.

Seth Wolfshorndl

After I had a number of local cons under my belt and started making my own comic, Mayflower, I took a step out of my comfort zone once again and ventured to the 2015 O Comic Con in Omaha. My first real 'away con', Omaha ended up going perfectly and even provided a profit despite travel expenses! This success was the catalyst for signing up for many more away cons for 2016 and what I coined "The Mayflower Midwest Tour".

...Here's how it went!


From Spacedock to the Delta Quadrant



Planet ComiCon
This was the fifth time exhibiting at my 'home con' so they're actually starting to blend together in my memory, but I always do well here. This is mostly thanks to no travel expenses, which means there is a lower threshold to cross to be successful. It's also where I see the most returning Mayflower readers which is the single best form of motivation to keep making the comic (besides coffee)!

2016's Planet ComiCon had a slightly higher table cost and for me, slightly worse sales than previous years (which seemed to be a shared experience among creators). Some theorized that Stan Lee's big appearance shifted visitors' spending priorities. That may be true, but I also think it may come down to the staggering number of artist alley tables that the con sells now. It's pretty hard for an attendee to not be burnt out after the fiftieth sales pitch they've heard -  let alone the hundreth and beyond!

I hope in future years this con doesn't eventually outgrow the comic creator aspect.


Space City Comic Con
Also known as "The Great Texas Catastrophe".

We had such high hopes! And extended vacation plans along the coast! Oh, how wrong we were...

The first trial of this gauntlet was staying alive and sane through Dallas traffic on the journey there. Remember Mousetrap? It was city-sized version of that. And we weren't even there at rush hour...

The next trial came shortly after. We went from driving in perfect weather to a blinding maelstrom on a crowded highway in the matter of seconds. Visibility was reduced to five feet ahead. Semis and overpasses materialized out of nothing right in front of us. To get down a section of highway that would have normally taken five minutes took us an hour, our hands tight and mouths grimaced the entire time. We survived and made it to Houston... but we should have taken that storm as an omen.

The view from inside.

Even during exhibitor sign-in something about the con felt a little off. There seemed to be miscommunication happening between show organizers, volunteers, and the convention hall staff. The hall itself was large, but the layout bizarre; at times it was labyrinthian, other times wide open and bare.

The con started the next day with little fanfare, no announcements (which continued for most of the show), and very few people. The prices at the door turned out to be very expensive and VIP lines ended up longer than the standard ones. Magicians were placed distractingly in the middle of an aisle between famous comic creators. Few restrictions and regulation meant some booths had music, spotlights, and ten-foot-tall print towers distracting attendees from nearby tables. We even experienced a booth across from us stand in front of their table with a puppy to draw people in and away from us.

Rumors also began to spread about celebrity guests not being informed of their own panels, AV teams not being paid, and even the Sons of Anarchy cast being conned out of their money. Ron Pearlman and Danny Trejo are not people you want to make angry! And it turns out... most of what we heard was true!

I would highly recommend everyone, from exhibitors to attendees, to pass on this con - that is, if it somehow manages to resurrect itself from this disaster and the subsequent lawsuits.

After the con, we headed south to the coast with what was left of our optimism, assuming a Monday would be a good time to visit... that is until we realized it was Memorial Day weekend. Mountains of litter and swarms of mosquitos sent us packing within the hour in true misery.

...In a way though, it was a fitting finale for the trip!


River City Comic Expo
The drive south from Kansas City to Arkansas gets prettier as you go along, especially around the border. Rolling hills covered in woods accompany you as you curve around La Fayette and head towards Little Rock. Once there, the town itself reminded me of Kansas City, from its metro layout to the general tone around downtown and the attitudes of the people themselves.

This was a small con but it was balanced well with quality vendors and guests. I got to speak to G.I. Joe myth-builder, Larry Hamma, and meet artist and inker, Tom Feister, as well as the granddaughter of the legendary Frank Frazetta.

Attendance and sales were on the low side, but still decent for a young convention. I likely can't justify the cost next year but I'll keep an eye on it for the future!

Spectral Void by Chad Thomas.


O Comic Con
Pretty great once again! A medium-sized event and the only game in town - perfect for comic creators! See my in-depth post about it here.


Kansas City Comic Con
Great people, but slow. I hope it continues to focus on the comic side of things in the future as it finds its niche. Post here.


Cincy ComiCon
A con about comics! Cool, authentic, great creators, but as the underdog fighting off the bigger con in town, this one ended up a little slow. Full post here.


Do-Deca Con
This was a small convention in Columbia, MO, that I tried due to its proximity. I initially thought the location (a wide hallway inside a stripmall) would spell doom for me, but I ended up making enough to justify the table and the hotel night required to exhibit. I think the only downside was that the convention seemed geared a bit more towards anime and novels and was light on the comics-side of things. It will be interesting to see how it grows in subsequent years, though, and it's always a bit bizarre to return to where I lived for four years. The new comic shop in town, Distant Planet, really shines in quality and atmosphere!

Art by Jim Mehsling


A Numbers Game


Total Sales
#1 - Planet Comicon
#2 - O Comic Con
#3 - Cincy Comicon
#4 - Space City Comic Con
#5 - River City Comic Expo
#6 - DoDeca-Con
#7 - Kansas City Comic Con

Comic Sales
#1 - O Comicon
#2 - Planet Comicon
#3 - Cincy Comicon
#4 - Space City Comic Con
#5 - River City Comic Expo
#6 - Kansas City Comic Con
#7 - DoDeca-Con

Profit of Away Cons After Travel & Table Costs
#1 - O Comic Con
#2 - DoDeca-Con
#3 - Cincy Comicon
#4 - River City Comic Expo
...
#5 - Space City Comic Con


Challenges In the Experiment

Looking back, here were the main issues I faced during the tour:

Losing Money
Only the #1 and #2 cons of the above list concerning profits of away cons were actually positive numbers. Every other con, with tables, hotels, and gas added up, were net losses. Cincy and River made back about half of the expenses; Space City was a big loss.

This doesn't mean they were bad conventions or experiences (well, expect for Space City), and I'm certainly not in the field of comic books for the hoarding of gold, but it does mean my objective to grow Mayflower in printings and appearances gets curtailed temporarily. I have to choose cons wisely so that I can keep this project a positive vector and not a wallet-suck. The trouble is that today there are so many cons popping up it's almost impossible to predict how they're going to go. Until the current flare up of events dies down, it seems like trial-and-error is the only way to find out.

Losing Motivation
As I described at the start of this write-up, there are powerful and unique things that a convention can give to an artist - from meeting new readers to discovering similar creators that you can swap war stories and critiques with. There's inspiration, motivation, and more.

...But sometimes that magic doesn't happen, especially when exhibiting becomes routine. The more you do it and the more the cons start to blend together, the less potent the good vibes can be.

Worse, when attendance and sales are low, and you haven't seen the sky in eight hours, you can start to get cynical - about other exhibitors, about the convention as a whole, or, if you're like me, about yourself and this insane career path you're attempting.

There were also times when I felt like a sheep in a wolf pack, foolishly attempting to sell a somewhat-quiet book about space in the midst of a loud, medieval bazaar. When there's piles of trending, licensed memorabilia (some of which I own, of course) on your left and artists advertising their work with spinning neon lights and aforementioned puppies on your right, you start to feel out of a place. As you see your potential audience skip the entire aisle to avoid your neighbor who is yelling at every person who walks by, you wonder if you're helping your project at all.

...Perhaps breaking into libraries and shelving copies of your comics (and entering them into their computer system) is a better way to go?



Yearly Sequels

There we are! 2017 will be a little less busy for me as I try to recoup some of the losses from this experiment. But in 2018, I plan to hit some of the bigger cons in the nation with the complete first arc of Mayflower in towe.

I hope some of this write-up may be helpful for other creators taking their art on the road!


9.22.2016

There And Back Again: Cincy ComiCon

A couple of years ago I went to the bathroom.

More importantly, I did so at a comic con here in town and while I was away from my table, Tony Moore, artist extraordinaire and co-creator of The Walking Dead, walked by and gave a flyer to my girlfriend (who was watching the table) and said something about "nice colors".


The flyer was for the convention that Moore shepherds, Cincy ComiCon in Cincinnati. Well, if you want to be pedantic about it... it's actually held on the northern tip of Kentucky. But a block down the street from the convention hall lies a view of the Cincinnati skyline across the river. Close enough!


Upon investigation, the guest list and show focus was enticing. A comic con actually about comics and comic creators? That's actually somewhat strange in the current climate of cons. So it went on the short list for possible cons to hit when I decided to try to expand Mayflower's reach this year. The table was affordable and it ended up being feasible to drive to and pay for, so away we went!

It's a nine hour drive from KC to Cincy, and to avoid taking more than one day off from work we left in the late afternoon Thursday, stayed in Evansville for the night, then headed up the rest of the way through Louisville and into the Cincy area the next day. Although staying at the official hotel across the street from the convention center would have been cool, I'm not ready to spend that high of expenses and elected to stay out of town near the airport and just do a little commute in each day. The cool thing about that commute was that the way into town along North 71 goes around a big hill and then dramatically reveals downtown Cincinnati to you each day like it might have been Minas Tirith.

You couldn't drive straight into the Northern Kentucky Convention Center to unload like some cons. Instead they had a series of loading docks with cargo lifts you could back your car up to. It surprised me that volunteers were there with carts ready to help me load in - I've never had that kind of help before! There was parking right across the street from the hall that wasn't too expensive which was also mighty convenient.


The show didn't start till 3pm on Friday, which seemed smart to me, not to mention a nice cushion for those driving in. The show floor itself seemed smaller and held fewer guests and vendors than I expected. That may have been because of the food and drink area being located on the level directly above it, though.

Foot traffic picked up Saturday around midday like your usual show, and there were a number of folks who picked up Mayflower on Sunday after having had a think on it for a while, but overall there was never that magical flood of attendees that you hope for. Apparently, the larger Cincinnati Comic Expo is held only two weeks after this one, so that probably explains it. It seems that there's a schism between two vying comic cons in every big city!

On the positive side, the ratio of original comics versus everything else you might see in artist alleys was great. Looking at all the pro's portfolios was lovely, too. I wasn't able to attend any of the panels but they sounded less like your usual Star Wars vs Star Trek, and more about insight into the craft of comics.

We had to leave a little early on Sunday to make the nine hour drive back in one night. Coffee and a Discworld audiobook later and we were back home at 1am. Sales were less than I had hoped but I was able to pay for the table and half of the hotel nights at least.

I wont be able to afford to go back next year but perhaps in a few years I'd try again with more comics under my belt. If I lived in the area, I'd definitely go just for the talent brought together in one place.

Creators & Creations
  • This Off Beat Town by Jake Smith. I got really excited by the skill and style that oozed from this guy's art. Like Rumble? Then check this out for sure.


My Sketches


5x7in Enterprise (Kelvin Timeline):


8.18.2016

There and Back Again: Kansas City Comic Con

Another convention in its second year, Kansas City Comic Con is KC's newest con and a counterweight to the long-running Planet Comicon. But just because it's the upstart underdog doesn't mean KCCC isn't legitimate. In fact, even in its first year the convention felt huge, and this year was no different.


While Planet Comicon has grown into a massive media event mostly focused on enticing attendees by way of celebrities, Kansas City Comic Con seems more focused on the artists and creators of comics and related media. KCCC has been very accommodating to the exhibitor so far; you're not talked down to and your table isn't hidden away behind everyone else. Being in my own backyard as well makes it an easy choice to attend.

Last year, despite a table location that had us staring at a pillar, we made a good amount of sales, picking up a lot of followup buyers who had grabbed Mayflower #1 from Planet Comicon and needed to know where the story went in #2. It seemed like Kansas City could support two big cons.

This year KCCC was a bit slower, though that had nothing to do with the quality of the con itself. Personally, I think it had to do with Planet Comicon 2016 happening later than it normally does and thus not giving the town enough time to recharge its desire for convention-ing (there was less than three months between the two cons this year). Other factors may have been just all-around bad timing, with kids starting the new school year and other events around town. It's hard to say as there's so many factors that determine how a convention is going to turn out, for the individual exhibitor and as a whole. That's one thing that I've learned from this Mayflower Midwest Tour: I can not predict how a convention is going to go.

Hopefully next year the con finds that sweet spot in the calendar. I'd love for it to evolve, too, and perhaps focus even more on comics and creators. It may also need to downsize slightly to bring a better focus to what's there. I'd love for KCCC to gain a reputation as the more niche comic convention, distinguishing it even more from Planet Comicon and drawing in a different crowd from around the area.

While our sales were low, and at times manning the table tested our boredom-meters, it's still always lovely to link back up with old artist friends and discover new ones. Since I didn't have any commissions this time, I've included some of the art by the creators I talked to.


Creators & Creations


  • Rook City -one of Missouri's funnest comics- by Seth Wolfshorndl and Elton Gahr, has finally been collected in a trade paperback! You'll meet goth kids and real vampires, attend supervillian conventions, and more.




  • Steele VS by Scott Schmidt, whose Canadian Mountie takes on supernatural enemies, albeit in a grounded, historical-fiction world.




  • Rebecca Mayer, who taught me the difference between Orrgo and Clayface.




  • Chelsea Mann, who continues to impress with masterful color palettes in her prints and in her comics.




Next on the 2016 Midwest Tour: Cincy ComiCon, and Dodecacon!

7.15.2016

There and Back Again: O Comic Con!

Before diving into this year's show, let's rewind...

Last year, 2015's O Comic Con! felt like an experiment - an operation. It was only my second convention that required traveling to and my first con that I had to actually book a hotel for. Previously, I was able to stay with friends for a Project: Comic Con in St. Louis, and a few one-day Midwest Geekfest events in Columbia, MO were close enough to not require hotels. These were fairly simple, thrifty experiences. But traveling, staying at a hotel, and being self-sufficient away from my home (my castle), was out of my comfort zone. It was also a bigger expenditure of money and thus a bigger pressure on me to sell well at my table. And having a financially successful show can be completely hit-or-miss, often with no reason why.


The drive to Omaha from Kansas City is 3 hours, so it's really just a hip, hop, and a podcast away. The views on the road aren't too shabby either (There's actually some hills!), not to mention the town itself is cool, too. Surprisingly, Omaha actually has more quality comic shops than KC, with Legend Comics & Coffee being one of the best comic book stores that I've ever been in.

The 2015 O Comic Con! was also their first year putting on the event and, now that I've traveled to a handful of more cons since, I can say it went smoother than many shows in their third or fourth year (like the disaster that was known as Space City Comic Con). With two issues of Mayflower, we did surprisingly well, met some great artists like Tim Mayer and Artun Gökçen, and left with good memories. The operation was a success. The experiment gave me the confidence to pursue travelling to shows. And so this year we planned to travel to five conventions outside of KC, including Omaha again.


O Comic Con! 2016 was a good sequel for us. Lots of returning readers, new creators to discover, and fun cosplay to watch walk by. The location for the event seems to have already hit its capacity in year two so it will be exciting to see how it develops in 2017. The only negative we experienced was based on the fact that the row we were assigned to was facing a black curtain instead of another series of vendors and creators. This made the row seem emptier (because it was) and, as the weekend went on, less popular with visitors. Luckily, we were on the edge of the row next to the outer isle and were able to snag a number of people from that direction (I ended up shifting my banner and easel 90 degrees towards that outer isle to help). In the end, we actually sold one more copy of Mayflower than at my local, much larger, Planet Comicon, so I can't really complain! But... I guess I did anyways.


Highlights

  • Jeffery Combs (of many Star Trek roles) paused at my booth.
  • Adorable monkeys were in attendance.
  • A Q&A panel with the original Mads (Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 brought joy to my heart.


Creators & Creations Discovered



My Commissions & Sketches

Thanos:


Spider-man and Spider-man 2099 sketch cover:



Iron-Man sketch cover:


...And one for fun:



Next on the 2016 Midwest Tour: Kansas City Comic Con, Cincy ComiCon, and Dodecacon!

7.14.2016

Once More With Feeling

This blog has existed before. Now it will exist again.

...Well, hopefully. If I lose it in the upper shelves of the Internet closet again, you can look forward to reading an eerily similar post to this one five years from now.

That's about how long the last version of Comic & Concept lasted: from my last year of college to the abyss of post-college nothingness that awaits you if you chose a ridiculous profession like comic book or concept artist. And that iteration of Comic & Concept will remain, but now grow no more. I toyed with the idea of revising it, streamlining it, or deleting tangential posts I no longer wanted included, but it felt better in the end to keep it the same and instead make a clean break.

The blog that now rises from its ashes will be updated more frequently and, while still documenting my art, it will also host other writings and meditations, from fiction to non, with a bit more of my brain poured into it. Maybe my heart, too.

It's taken a while to realize it, but I'm as much a writer as an artist and, like keeping a sketchbook, you must continue to practice your craft. So, I'm making this a place I'm comfortable and proud of, hence the clean break. I'm making this a place for me to experiment, learn, and unfurl thoughts long-wrapped in my mind. I'm making this a quiet conversation that you remember the next day.

I'll see you again,
Levi