PROMOTIONAL GOLD: NOTHING BEATS IN-STORE EVENTS!
I sat down at San Francisco's oceanside Louis' restaurant with Joe Casey, Larry Young, and Ryan Yount this morning for a post "Codeflesh" launch party breakfast. Despite having only six hours of sleep between the four of us, everyone was looking and feeling like a million bucks because we knew that the launch party we threw the night before was one hell of a good time. As usual, the Isotope customers and staff blew our schedule out the door and our 12 hour marathon event stretched into a 15 and a half hour "Codeflesh" celebration.
Three days ago I knew who Joe Casey was, I was familiar with his work, and had communicated with him over email to help set the event up, but he wasn't someone I actually knew. I'd been very briefly introduced to Joe on the floor of the San Diego Comic Con, but that convention was such an incredible zoo that he was quickly swallowed up in a throng of comic fans, pro wrestlers, and movie stars. On his end of things, Joe didn't know me any better. He's a regular reader of this column and had heard good things about my store, but he had never actually been in before and had pretty much no idea what to expect from an Isotope launch party.
And even if he had, he wouldn't have believed it anyway.
I love comic conventions but I never liked creator appearances at comic stores that had the same creator-behind-a-table and fan-standing-for-hours-on-end-in-a-line atmosphere. It's a creator at a comic store, for fuck's sake! I never understood why these things had to be such unpleasantly impersonal experiences. At my store I throw kick ass parties and let the creators and fans mingle freely and talk about comics… because after all, that's what we're celebrating. Comics.
Although I know it's a fairly atypical approach to these events, my guests always love it. My customers get to actually hang out with the creators who make the comics they love and the featured guests get to just have a good time and not be human autographing machines. Big names or small, this is just how I like to run my events. I've hosted events with some huge names in the industry and this method has been nothing but universally appreciated by everyone.
One look at Joe's smiling face and you could tell he was completely warmed up to this idea immediately as he walked in the door. In our enthusiasm the party was already well underway and dozens of people were hanging out reading their freshly printed copies of "Codeflesh" and checking out our glory wall adorned with the first twelve pages of Charlie Adlard's beautiful original "Codeflesh" artwork.
The book itself went over huge with our usual crowd of industry professionals, comic aficionados, and hip San Francisco personalities. We hosted wave after wave after wave of cool comic folks and showed them all a great time. Industry professionals who were among the revelers included our amigos Mark Nordstrom and Aaron Farmer of B-Minus Comics who were pimping books with their usual panache and flair, Sho Murase whose absolutely amazing "Sei: Death & Legend" book from Image Comics hit the new arrivals rack the very same day and was burning up our cash register, Kieron Dwyer of "LCD" and "Last of the Independents" was on the scene showing off his hot new artwork from the latest issue of Beckett's "Terminator 3" comic, Ryan Yount and Andrew Boyd of "Scurvy Dogs" fame were in attendance, S. Edwin Irvin and Todd Rapisura represented for the fine publishing house of Absence of Ink with additional copies of "Pop Gun War" for my store's shelves, and of course AIT-PlanetLar publishers Larry Young and Mimi Rosenheim… and Joe Casey himself.
Every event has it's own unique style and this one had a great twist! Joe had issued an open challenge to all to bring in any comic he had ever written and pick out a favorite page. But Joe wasn't going to answer trivia questions or anything boring like that. He was going to read these pages aloud complete with faux pomposity and funny voices! Definitely a highlight was hearing Joe read from "Batman: Tenses" in his best Fred Schneider (of the B-52's) impersonation, but the reading that had the assembled throng wiping tears from their eyes and clutching their stomachs with laughter was several pages from "Codeflesh" as read by William Shatner.
For the entire event our phone rang non-stop with party people from around the globe congratulating Joe on the release of the "Codeflesh" collection. That was awesome! Among them were a call from Craig McGill in Scotland, Harris Editor in Chief Maureen McTigue from New York, "Last of the Independents" author Matt Fraction from Oklahoma City, and Antonny Mazzotta of the gorgeous up-coming "Bombaby" comic from our friends at Slave Labor Graphics. We attempted to reach "Codeflesh" artist Charlie Adlard by phone but decided not to interrupt Mister Adlard's London sleep time.
Sequential Tart's Adrienne Rappaport snapped off pictures on her digital camera, beamed them through the store's wireless DSL and posted them live on the Isotope Virtual Lounge for the entire world to enjoy as the party happened. That was so cool it, well, it redefined what cool is.
As the clock neared four in the morning and I was locking the door for the evening I was struck by what a fantastic event the whole affair was. Joe had added his own mark to our ever growing Comic Rockstars Toilet Seat Museum, our customers had bought us completely out of the ultra-sexy "Hip Flask" limited edition hardcovers in only a few hours, fine adult beverages were enjoyed by the over 21 set, and the love for the "Codeflesh" was truly spread amongst all!
Joe Casey was blown away by the turn out, the sexy and stylish attendees and by the outpouring of support for his work. The only thing that could have made this event better in my opinion was if we could have scheduled a flight from London for Charlie Adlard so that he too could have enjoyed this terrific launch party.
For Joe there was one other thing that could have made the event more enjoyable…at breakfast he told us he was disappointed with his Shatner impression and swore to hone and perfect it for our next Joe Casey in-store event.
Now Joe Casey is a professional, that guy has clocked thousands of hours in hundreds of comic stores across the country doing in-store events. Joe's written enough great comics that his name alone will draw a decent crowd and he's also a rockstar in a band… so you know that when the spotlight is on him he knows how to work the crowd and kick out the jams.
But, you know what? Chances are you're not Joe Casey.
Not every creator out there has the name recognition, or the fan following that a guy like Joe does. And not every creator has the luxury of getting to launch their new book at a store that throws wild, free-form in-store events like the Isotope. But so what? Just because you're not Joe Casey doesn't mean you can't go do an in-store event to promote your work at your local comic shop and get all the same one on one promotional time with your potential customers. It doesn't matter who you are, how well known you are, or how popular your book might be. Getting face time with your customers will always be the single biggest promotional asset you have. If you're reasonably socialized and have an enthusiasm for your work you've got to get into those comic stores to promote your book!
From a retail standpoint in-store events like last night's "Codeflesh" launch party are exhausting, but in my mind there just isn't a better use of my time and energy than to throw a cool event for creators and my patrons to enjoy. I love having something exciting to tell my customers about and I love doing what I can to share my enthusiasm for a particular book with everyone who comes in the door. Also I like throwing in-store events because even the smallest in-store events are great for business.
I may be an energetic pimp of funnybooks, but I'm also a businessman and I know that in the world of retail one of the best ways to run circles around the competition and to increase customer loyalty is by giving your patrons added value. Some businesses like to give out t-shirts and gift certificates, some like to run contests. I like to throw great parties with great comic people.
My favorite suit store doesn't just sell and stock the swank threads I like to wear, they've got great customer service, they know me by my first name, and have one of the funniest tailors I've ever met. And they even send me a card wishing me a happy birthday every year.
Added value makes money and it also makes my job fun. I love giving my customers the Isotope experience by providing an exciting, stylish and innovative environment and lavishing them with excessive extravaganza. Throwing in-store events with comic creators is one of the ways that I give my patrons added value, it's also one of the things the Isotope is famous for and I think they are fun as fucking hell.
So let's say you're a comic creator who isn't Joe Casey and you're going to be setting up an in-store at your local comic shop. What can you do to make an in-store as successful and great of a promotional tool as possible?
Here's my recipe for a kick ass in-store:
First of all, show up with some cool stuff to put on the table and show off, it will give you and the customers something to talk about besides the "pitch." Original artwork, developmental sketches, script samples and other kinds of behind the scenes items are always popular. The comic industry is filled to the brim with aspiring writers, artists and publishers; and those are your customers. Think about how interesting that behind the scenes stuff must be to each and every one of those potential customers. Think about how interested in that kind of stuff you were before your book got published or printed.
Now think about the huge sacks of cash that are spent on Criterion edition DVD sets and other extra-feature (AKA "behind the scenes") DVDs every single day. People pay to peek behind the wizard's curtain, and you can show it to them for free... why not use that "freebie" as a promotional tool?
But you know what? If you're going to learn to use promotional tools from The Comic Pimp, I'm going to tell you how to take it to the next level and get some serious comic pimpin' done!
Instead of bringing armloads of behind the scenes stuff, print up a pile of ashcans or mini-comics with promo art, script pages, and thumbnails as well as a few pages of the actual comic to act as a teaser. That's hot!
Granted, it's going to cost a little bit of money, but it will be worth every single penny because they're going to expose many, many more people to your work than would otherwise look at it. If you are reasonably socialized and can talk to these customers you're going to get people checking out your work and you're undoubtedly going to sell some comics to them.
Ashcans or mini-comics (whatever you want to call them is up to you, they're the same thing as far as I'm concerned) are an incredibly cheap. And they are an easy and effective way to let the people know what your book's about, what it looks like, who is publishing it, when it's coming out (or if it's already out) and who the creative team is.
Now that's a damn good way to promote your book during an in-store. In fact, compared to what most creators do for their in-stores, that's real damn good, baby!
If you want to pimp that book the best you can you must put the date of the appearance and the store's name and logo on that ashcan! That's right, print up new ashcans for every single in-store appearance. This is the fucking promotional goldmine!
The reason why is twofold:
#1. Even if these customers don't give a crap about you and your book, they will appreciate you making them and the store they shop at special. Many comic readers are hardcore store loyalists and the better you can treat their store the more they're going to like you.
But that's only if they think you were the one who made those teasers in the first place. In all likelihood they're not going to even consider that you spent hours at Kinkos running off ashcans. They're going to think the retailer paid someone to do it, not for you, but for him… but that's good for you as a creator because it makes you look like somebody really, really important!
Instead of these people going "oh there was some guy at the comic store today, but he wasn't anybody cool" they're going to take a look at that ashcan and say, "this guy was at the comic store today, I never heard of him before but he must be somebody important because look at the cool ashcan the store made just for him."
It's all about perception, and you control what people perceive by how you act and what you do. Make them feel special and they are going to remember you and your book. Guaranteed.
#2. The store owner is going to fucking love you. Because you not only came into the in-store prepared to pimp your work like a god-damn professional, but you also promoted his store and made him look like a fucking genius for getting such a huge up-and-comer in the industry like yourself to show up in the first place, and you made him look like a fucking rockstar for making an exclusive limited edition ashcan for you to autograph for his customers! Can you say "added value?"
REMEMBER: Most creators don't think about this when doing in-stores but your real objective is to sell your book to the retailer. That's the guy who does the orders. And the re-orders.
You want the retailer to like you and your book. The easiest way to ensure that he doesn't just like but loves you and your book is to make his store look like the coolest comic book store on the fucking planet and to make people put money into his cash register!
Do both of these things you will have an incredible ordering (and re-ordering) customer. For life.
To check out the photos of Codename: Joe Casey check out the Isotope Virtual Lounge
As always, feel free to pontificate on industry issues, preach the gospel of great comic books or discuss this article on the Comic Pimp Forum