MORE PROMOTIONAL GOLD: BAGSTUFFERS
Regular readers of this column will know that I am a retailer who loves to sell the funny books. As I have stressed in previous columns, publishers and creators can benefit themselves greatly by making even the most pimpin of comic pimps jobs easier and get their books flying off the store shelves by doing a little guerrilla promotion. In the past I've preached most righteously on the promotional potential of getting some face-time with customers and doing in-store events to promote your work. And to further drive this point home I've spent several columns dealing with the kind of no-holds-barred uber-events that comic creators and I regularly do to thrill my people, amaze the on-lookers, and to convert the faithless to the wonderful world of comic books.
As I've said before, it doesn't matter who you are or what comic you're peddling there is simply no better way to get people excited about picking up your books than having a great in-store event. Before my recent Ed Brubaker Armwrestlethon the Isotope was home to dozens of Brubaker fans who would gladly take to the streets with an armload of Brubaker books in hand to convert the heathens, but since that event this number has increased exponentially. And it's no surprise. My customers got to find out what an affable, laid-back and fun-loving kind guy Ed really is and since the event we've seen something of a sales frenzy around his books. Sure Ed's books have become harder to keep in stock now and I'm doing more work these days just re-ordering his titles and trade paperbacks and the store is a-buzz with activity when all sorts of new customers who come in the door excited to hear every one of my guests' personal Ed Brubaker anecdotal armwrestling adventures and it's caused my staff more work because they have to keep cramming the cash register with more and more money.
Yeah, those in-store appearances sure are a lot more work!
And you know a creator like Ed's gotta be loving every minute of it, because he knows people are going to be buying his comics and talking about his comics for months and months and months and months. That, my friends, is the power of a creator in-store appearance.
But let's face it, Mr. and Ms. Comic Book Creator, sometimes doing in-store appearances isn't practical. You've got to spend some time making those comics and even the mighty Rolling Stones have grown tired of touring at times. No matter how much you might want to spend your whole life travelling and hitting every comic book store on the planet in the mad quest to promote your creations, the reality is that you're not Madrox the Multiple Man. You just simply can't be everywhere at once.
If you want to represent yourself and your comic at stores that you aren't able to visit, there really is no better way to do that than with something to stuff in every comic buying consumer's bag. A little something to make them take a second look at your work. A little cost-effective tool to take your place when you can't be there. A little something affectionately known around the Comic Pimp's house as a "bagstuffer."
I dig giving guests at my store cool freebies, particularly ones of the exclusive type, because as a retailer I want to do everything that is humanly possible to make my guests' experiences better than they would be if they went to any other store. That's exactly what I love to do which is what made me an awesome bartender and makes me a great comic retailer. I'm into making each trip to my store a memorable one, so I like to add on as much love and excitement as I can. When even small things like knowing a person's name can make so much difference, it's easy to understand why giving my people a little special surprise to go with their sequential entertainment makes me smile with joy. Who wouldn't want to go to the store where they can get free preview materials?
As a creator who grooves on the whole expanding your audience thing, I'm sure you've tossed around the idea of putting together a bagstuffer of your own and wondered what to do to make yours effective or maybe even exceptional. Well before we get right to the "exceptional" part, let's cover those "effective" bases first, shall we?
Every good bagstuffer contains the same essential information. In order to effectively promote your work, a bag stuffer has to be more than just flashy, it needs to give all the information that a customer or retailer might find in a Previews ad. This includes the creative team, the approximate date that the book will be available, the price, length, and format, and I suggest getting your "high concept" in there too. Just a simple, quick blurb about what the book is about will suffice. In fact, if you can make your hook very simple and quick there is a good chance that's exactly how my staff and I will talk about it.
For example here's a kick ass high concept: "Hard boiled 1950's Tiki Noir." It pretty much tells you everything you need to know to want to pick up "Hawaiian Dick," doesn't it? Well it certainly worked on me anyway. If that five-word pitch gets people's attention its simplicity itself to start talking about kidnappings, angry island gods, tiki culture and those oh so sexy island girls. Man, that "Hawaiian Dick" just sells itself!
I believe it's better to follow theory with practice, which is why this week we're going to be looking at some of the bagstuffers I've handed out at my store over the past year and reviewing what I think works and what could be improved about these examples. Any fool with a keyboard and Internet access can spout off theory online (and many do), but I'm a man who is more interested in actual practice than theory. I respect action and more importantly I respect all those crazy motherfuckers in the world who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. So as far as I'm concerned practice following theory is the name of the game.
So let's take a look at some of those bagstuffers shall we?
Our friends IDW understand the value of bagstuffers like this one for their new "CSI" series. In fact, every month these guys bombard comic stores with stacks and stacks of post cards just like this one, so you know they've got it down to a science. IDW gives you all the information you need in order to know that this is going to be a great series. Go ahead, take a look.
You've got the very moody cover up front and on the back you've got a little bit of story info to whet your crime comic appetite. But most importantly, you've got that one thing that is really going to whet your crime comic appetite… Max Allan Collins. If you like great crime drama and I assume that if you're interested in anything called "CSI" you do, then you should know how fucking great Max Allan Collins is. For me, I'm sold on the series with just those three words alone (count them if you like: "Max" "Allen" "Collins"), because Collins remains one of the best authors in the industry. And it doesn't hurt that I've religiously followed his works since I discovered him back in the early Ms. Tree days. But even if I hadn't, the folks at IDW put together a very effective bagstuffer that serves this new book quite well.
Go ahead; read that post card, you'll see what I'm talking about.
Remember how I said that IDW understands the value of bagstuffers? Well, every time IDW launches a new comic, we get a nice fat stack of postcards to distribute. Every single time. While at times it can feel like overkill, I absolutely appreciate their dedication to this often-overlooked low-cost marketing tool.
Postcards are probably the most popular of all bagstuffers; hell, postcards are one of the most popular guerrilla marketing techniques in any industry. Simple, cheap, you can put them anywhere (take a tour of San Francisco club bathrooms sometime) and best of all people help you do your advertising by mailing them to their friends. At a comic store, they again give the consumer something to ponder and the retailer something to give out which "adds value" to their store.
But if you want to talk about adding value, you're going to want to talk about the following bagstuffers that the Isotope has given out…
Exhibit A Press also used the postcard format to promote the release of their "Mister Negativity and other tales of Supernatural Law" trade paperback by Batton Lash. Before I get into what was so cool about Exhibit A's bagstuffer let me say how much I enjoy this series. "Supernatural Law" is always like a little breath of fresh air everytime I read it, and it's a fun read for anyone who likes cheesy horror flicks and wacky old school Perry Mason style court drama. Supernatural Law was dubbed by Publisher's Weekly "Moonlighting with monsters," which I think perfectly captures the elements of great fun and great storytelling that make this such a unique book in our industry.
You will notice that someone at Exhibit A was kind enough to take these postcard bagstuffers and personalize them, "from Isotope." I think that's very cool of our friends at Exhibit A to do that. It reinforces the fact that, hell yes we carry "Supernatural Law" at my comic book store, and it also adds a nice personal touch for the customers. Not to mention that it reminds them where they can pick up a copy of "Mister Negativity and other tales of Supernatural Law!"
Not bad, Exhibit A Press! Not bad at all!
Here's a different kind of bagstuffer; this one was hand printed on a home printer or perhaps color xeroxed. This particular bagstuffer we gave out to promote cool self-published indy comic Plastic Farm. This series is a fun schizophrenic romp full of mad characters and strange David Lynch style storytelling. One look at this flyer and you know what you're in for. The intention here isn't to promote a particular issue but rather a full series, which is why it doesn't have the usual release information. I like that Rafer's decided to pimp all the crazy subplots he's going to throw at you in this series, and give you some mugshots to check out too.
My only complaint here is that the bagstuffer was printed on an 8 1/2" by 11" page, which meant my staff and I had to fold the flyer in order to get this particular bagstuffer stuffed in the bags. Still, only a minor complaint.
Here's something a bit different! Stickers from Mad Yak Press promoting both their "Great Ape" series and their ever popular "Anarchy for the Masses: The Disinformation Guide to the Invisibles." I honestly don't know what it is about things that stick to walls like Spider-Man, but people always seem to groove on cool stickers. I gave these three away last summer and still see those "Great Ape" stickers on sketchbooks that come in under people's arms occasionally.
However, not everyone loves stickers and you should always keep in mind the potential for a retailer to become less than excited about your particular books if some thoughtless customers return the bagstuffers by vandalizing the shop. Just thought it was worth mentioning.
Now we're getting to the best kind of bagstuffers that there are… the mini-comics! There simply is no more effective method for showing potential customers what your book has to offer than by actually giving them a comic.
Last year for the Alternative Press Expo, Chris Pitzer of AdHouse Books, made a glorious ashcan for the Isotope to promote "Project Telstar," an excellent anthology of comics about robots and space. The ashcan, like all of Chris's books has glorious production, from its heavy, blue cardstock cover, to the black, white and metallic blue color scheme, to the beautiful deign elements of the logo and introduction pages. The ashcan is also personalized for the Isotope, a touch that is added value for both my customers and me. That the ashcan featured a portion of the great Max Estes story from that anthology only serves to improve the effectiveness of this terrific bagstuffer.
If you have not checked out "Project Telstar" or AdHouse Book's amazing "Pulpatoon Pilgrimage" I suggest doing so either at your local comic retailer or directly here:
Inspired by one of my previous columns and a discussion with me about promoting comics with multiple subplots that cannot be summed up into a tidy sales pitch, "Less Than Hero" creators Jason McNamara and Tony Talbert made a great mini-comic for introducing new readers to their book, and brought me a big fat box of them to use as bagstuffers.
"Less Than Hero" is particularly wrought with subplots and nothing less than a half-hour discussion could really explain all the things that go on in the course of a few issues. Add to that the fact that the distinctive sense of humor in the series swings pretty wide of politically correct and isn't everybody's cup of tea and you know you'll need more than just a postcard to properly promote this book. The end result was that Misters McNamara and Talbert created an exceptional promotional tool that does an excellent job of portraying the style, theme and attitude of their book.
This mini-comic bagstuffer presents itself as a "compatibility test" to determine whether you and the book are right for each other. Why not take that test right now and see how you score? If nothing else you'll discover how these creators cleverly clue you in to the tone, theme, and style of the book without long explanations.
If you happen to find that you and "Less Than Hero" are compatible enough to get to know each other better, you can order the full comic issues online at:
A tip of the Comic Pimp's scotch glass for the very kind words from the always excellent Steve Higgins in his year-end Advocating Comics column and to perpetually forward-thinking journalist Matt Maxwell for his New Year's resolution Full Bleed column.
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