My office window at home looks out onto a central courtyard formed by the backyards (or back lots, really – almost no one in my part of Brooklyn actually has a “yard”) of most of the buildings on the west half of the block. The ground floor of a building around the corner from mine is being converted into a Thai restaurant, and as part of that conversion they are expanding the back section out into a kitchen. For the past four or five months, a team of Chinese construction workers has been diligently altering what was a bare concrete slab into what will be a 12-15 foot high extension with a basement beneath it, about ten feet deep. My office window (and all of the windows in the back of my apartment, actually) look right out on the construction site. It’s been kind of neat to see the process (although it was incredibly annoying when they were jackhammering up the slab, of course.) This city is infinitely malleable – and that’s not to get deep, it’s just true. No matter how permanent-seeming something may be, if you have the know-how, the time and the materials, you can turn it into something else.
Perfect example: I used to live in Hong Kong, and I go back as often as I can. There’s a series of books called “Over Hong Kong” that are entirely made up of aerial photos of the city. They put out a new edition of the book just about every year, because Hong Kong changes constantly. My last visit was back in 2005, and the sounds of construction followed me just about everywhere I went. Human will can change just about anything.
Where is all this going? Well…. I do have a point. Since I last posted, I have attended two cons – the MoCCA con here in New York and C2E2 in Chicago. They’re very different from one another – MoCCA is a long-established small-press con, full of indie books, bizarre zines, cool t-shirts, outsider art, you name it. It’s held in an armory at 27th and Park, and it’s associated with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art here in NYC (a very cool place, if you ever get a chance to visit.) I had a table, and I was there selling Strongman, getting people excited about Strongman 2, and networking/pitching 27 (don’t have a link for that quite yet, but hopefully soon. I tried to register 27.com, but apparently you haven’t been able to register two-character domain names for like ten years – back to the drawing board on that one.) C2E2, in contrast, is a huuuuge con, probably the biggest I’ve been to outside of San Diego or New York. Tons of exhibitors, guests, people in costumes, big booths and attendance from all the big publishers (except SLG, the Strongman publisher – they rarely seem to attend cons outside the west coast).
So, MoCCA first. It was very fun. I touched base with a lot of people I know (every con it seems I know more people, which is as it should be, right?) and sold every copy of Strongman I brought, about 50. I’ve written about this before, but I love the selling aspect of cons. Pitching your book to someone who swings by and getting them to reach into their pocket for some cash – it’s a huge rush. I also, very gratifyingly, had some people come by who had already read the book and just wanted to tell me how much they enjoyed it. I wish I had some substantial new thing for them to read, but I did have a preview book for Strongman 2 with the first issue’s worth of material and a bunch of back-ups. I was selling it, technically, but if anyone was kind enough to tell me how much they loved the book, then they got one for free. But the bigger thing out of MoCCA was the response to 27. I had the first 50 lettered and complete pages of the book with me in a neat little presentation binder, plus the new cover blown up to poster size (scroll down for that – I debuted it in the last post.) People stopped at my table just to ooh and aah over the cover, and often flipped through the finished pages. I was incredibly encouraged by the reaction to my 30-word pitch, which I tried out and refined over the course of the weekend. (That, by the way, was a conscious effort. I knew I would be pitching the book “for real” at C2E2 the following weekend, so I wanted to make sure my pitch was succinct and well-honed.) So, it was a successful and very fun con, almost a dry run for C2E2.
C2E2 was a quick trip for me. I flew in Friday and back out Saturday. It was designed to be a blitzkreig of networking and pitching. The convention itself was beautiful, in a huge space right on Lake Michigan. Unlike many convention halls, it had gigantic windows that let in tons of light and air. It didn’t feel like a basement (hello Javits Center.) I wasn’t planning to go at all until about three weeks before the con, when I won a sort of auction to have dinner with several high-level editors from one of the biggest publishers in comics. Years ago, I heard a story about a guy who did something similar and got to have lunch with Joe Quesada – and got some work for Marvel out of it. I vowed to myself that if I ever got a similar opportunity, I would take it, no matter how much it cost. This was that chance, so I got the dinner ticket and then picked up a very cheap plane ticket and an even cheaper hotel room. Yes, it was an expense, but the opportunity was too substantial (in my opinion) to be missed. You do what you gotta do.
The dinner was extremely fun. Three editors attended, and there were four “regular guy” dinner guests, including me. Another fellow was there to introduce himself as a writer, and the other two guys just loved comics. I took my chance to chat with the folks, told them about my work, and in general just tried to use my networking skills to their utmost. Did it “work”? Well, hard to say so far. Certainly it made me more than just a random email address and possibly a vaguely-recognized name from the comics websites and so on. Also, I passed along a few copies of Strongman to the editors best situated to throw me gigs down the road. Hopefully they’ll read it, and like it… you never know, but it certainly gets me closer than if I hadn’t flown to Chicago.
The other news, though, is that the next day I spent some additional time on the con floor at C2E2 before I flew back to NYC. During the course of those four hours or so, I did some more catching up with friends old and new, and connected with editors from the many publishers exhibiting at the con. Oni, Archaia, Image, Dark Horse, Boom, Marvel, DC, etc. I had dropped off some copies of the 27 pitch the day before, and so I followed up on that as well. I had to leave for the airport at 4, and at about 3:50 I ran into one of the folks I knew, a very talented writer from New York. He told me to hang out to talk to his editor, to just touch base again on the 27 pitch. I did, even though time was ticking, and spoke to the editor after a bit, who told me to hang out even longer, because the head of the company had looked at the 27 pitch and wanted to talk to me. By this time, it was 4, but I said I’d wait – of course. Long story short (too late?) I talked to the main guy and he picked up 27 on the spot. He even mentioned how many cold submissions they get and how rare it is for them to pick one up, which was… well, it was something. With this pickup, which I can’t formally announce for a little while yet, I take a step into the big(ger) leagues.
There is NOTHING I have experienced that feels quite as amazing as having a pitch picked up. I know how hard it is to do – there are literally hundreds of thousands of people vying for slots at publishers, and maybe twenty publishers that could be considered big enough that getting a book out through them is measurably different than self-publishing. I worked at it for almost three full years before Strongman was picked up. Being admitted to the club of published writers – it’s a professional and creative validation like you wouldn’t believe. And even though I’ve been in that club for about 18 months, ever since Strongman got picked up, there are successive levels, like smaller and smaller VIP rooms in some fancy joint. I’m not in the inner sanctum, not by any means, but if Strongman got me past the bouncer, 27 definitely moves me into a roped-off section.
And here’s my point – none of that would have happened if I hadn’t decided I was going to do everything I possibly could to make it happen. The C2E2 dinner/con was an experience that I didn’t need, exactly – it cost me a bunch of dough, and it was a lot of time and effort – but it was a smart play, and it paid off massively. No matter what you’re trying to achieve, you have to take risks, and you have to exploit/leverage opportunities. There’s a direct chain of causality between a decision I made when reading that Joe Quesada story years ago and 27 getting picked up at C2E2. Human will can change just about anything.
You do what you gotta do.
Man, I worked myself into a lather over this topic, eh? It’s important to me, though. More on everything when I have more to announce – the 27 publisher, the Strongman movie, big news!