The Comic Pimp: Issue #27

Fri, March 12th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
James Sime, Columnist

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CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS

In the past The Comic Pimp has profiled a plethora of methods that can be used by creators and publishers to help market comics within the comic stores. And profiled a number of the effective techniques used by myself to help grow my customer base outside of the traditional comic buying public. I've written about bagstuffers, in-store events, the commuter converter program, email press releases and ashcans as a variety of low-to-no-cost promotional techniques. But you know I haven't talked about contests yet.

Can contests really help sell comics? You bet they can!

A contest is a competition on which a winner is selected from among two or more contestants. And running contests is an eternally popular promotional tool that is used throughout every industry. You see contests all over television and in almost every paper. The words "win" and "free" are hammered into the minds of consumers the world over and are so popular in fact that I don't even bother to look at those "win a free trip to Hawaii" or "enter to win a free SUV" boxes at the corner store anymore.

But businesses keep running contests because people keep entering them. Because everyone likes something for free.

Now thankfully the comic industry doesn't run as many of these kind of competitions as some other industries do, and I certainly don't want to see the same level of contest over-saturation that you see in every grocery store isle or popping up in browsers on millions of pages throughout the internet. That would drive me nuts, when overdone contests become ignorable at best and annoying at worst. But just because the comic industry isn't flooded with competitions doesn't mean that clever creators and publishers and retailers can't use this popular promotional technique to get more people to pick up particular comic books.

In fact, with the comparably few of these kind of competitions the comic industry does a contest can be a much more effective promotional tool than it would be in the context of the grocery store or local paper. Here in the comic industry a good contest is more than just an opportunity to get something for free. It's something special.

A while back I ran the Hawaiian Dick Cocktail Contest in conjunction with the comic's creators and the fine folks at Image. It was pretty simple to do. B. Clay Moore had sent us some signed "Hawaiian Dick" ashcans along with some tiki mugs and I wanted to do something special with them. I decided that running a "create an original tiki drink" contest would be a fun way to help Clay and Steven Griffin promote their ultra-hip 1950's tiki noir comic (not to mention that I'd have an excuse to fire up the Isotope blender and try some island cocktails that had never been invented before!) Once Clay heard what I wanted to do with the ashcans and tiki mugs, he quickly up-scaled the competition by agreeing to print the grand prize winner's name and cocktail recipe in the "Hawaiian Dick" trade paperback. And if that wasn't enough, he also agreed to have the series main character order one of the winner's cocktails in the next volume of the series.

Pretty damn cool.

It was a blast working on that contest, and people had a great time entering it thanks to all the glorious winnings they could get (that Clay is the man!) It also got some people to stop at their local comic shop and take a look at the book to see what all the fuss was about. And since the book in question was "Hawaiian Dick," they usually went home with a copy for their collections.

Contests can kick ass. I got thinking about the promotional gold that contests can be recently when regular CBR poster JimmyKitty asked me some questions about contests on the Comic Pimp message board. Admittedly, I haven't done the best job managing that particular board as I keep myself on such a hectic schedule and barely have enough time to get this column done each week. But still, I haven't been nearly as active as I'd like to be on that board. Trying to shuffle my time between running a business and setting up my special events and writing this column keeps a man busy… but just because I'm busy doesn't mean I can't pick up the pace a little more and take care of some additional business. As long as you're still alive you can always step it up. So I've decided to make a concerted effort into whipping the Comic Pimp message board into shape. But sometimes posters like JimmyKitty come up with such great suggestions that instead of just answering his questions there I've decided to answer these contest questions right here in my column.

So let's get to Jimmy's questions, shall we?

Comic Pimp, so let's create a hypothetical.

We have the book published, we have promotional materials, and we have a list of retailers to work with. But how to make it all work? Let's say a "contest / promotion" is created. Supplies of "prizes" are limited since nobody can truly offer prizes to every retailer in the country - and not all deserve them. So, let's say we'll offer something juicy like a T-Shirt of the comic in question. The creator has 50 shirts and wants to use them as promotion. To make this attractive to retailers what would be the best promotional avenue?

1 - Store display contest? Retailers who use (or even create their own) promotional materials take a picture and send it in for the prize? A lot of work for a single T-Shirt, no?

I think store display contests can be a great way for creators and publishers to run contests for retailers!

Dave Sim did one of these a few years back where the shop with the best "Cerebus" display would get Dave to fly down and do an exclusive in-store with them absolutely free of charge. Dave paid for everything. His plane ticket, his hotel room, his food. Entering the contest didn't cost the retailers a dime, and having Dave come in to do the in-store didn't cost the retailers a dime either. He made it incredibly enticing and easy to enter this contest. While there could only be one official winner, in the end "Cerebus" was the real winner as Dave insured that glorious "Cerebus" displays were erected by passionate storeowners everywhere.

I thought it was a fun and very smart contest, which I suppose isn't a surprise considering it was a contest run by industry visionary Dave Sim. I would've loved to have had the opportunity to own a store when he did this "Cerebus" contest, but luckily I got to own a store when he finally published his 300th issue instead. What a milestone! I couldn't respect Dave more for his dedication, his vision and for his incredible accomplishments in the industry.

And for doing one of the most kick ass promotions I can think of.

2 - Stores that sell the most? Retailers who prove they've sold out of the book in question can apply for a free T-Shirt. Provided they've ordered more than 2 copies.

Not bad at all. I would set the minimum a little bit higher than just two copies, personally, because I think that if you keep your expectations low that in a subtle way it tells the retailers that it's okay to order low on your book. Raise the bar in every way, every day, and you'll get better results.

The only problem I see with this kind of sell-out competition is that, unlike the display contest, it's strictly retailer-based, and doesn't do any of that broader kind of promotion for you at all.

3 -Stores that order a certain amount? Why not just give it to the stores that qualify once they reach a certain number of ordered books.

That would be easy to do through Diamond. Every month companies offer ordering incentives, like those special issues of Transformers that sell for ungodly amounts of money on eBay, and often times posters, t-shirts, discounts and other freebies are offered to retailers if they meet specific ordering plateaus.

Recently a publisher (Silent Devil Productions) offered a Dave Sim style no-cost-to-the-retailer-in-store based on "who orders the most" idea to help promote their upcoming "Silent Forest" original graphic novel. They have offered to travel to any store that purchases the most books anywhere in the main 48 states.

It's a damn good idea that I'd like to see more of. For creators and publishers this can be a really effective way to help promote a book or a line of books. Why Marvel and DC don't do these kind of promotional contests is beyond me.

4 -Retailers that you want to keep happy? Forget the contest, just send it to the retailers that will talk you up, and use it as a bribe?

As I've said in a previous column, it's always in your best interest to keep your retailers happy. You don't have to bribe them in order to do it, but it can't hurt.

5 -Use the readers / customers? Have the fans of the book send their receipt / proof of purchase and the store address. If they win, the T-Shirt is sent to the store for the customer to pick up (thus the customer is happy not only with the product, but also the store). In short, make it look as if the store helped them GET the T-Shirt.

Hell fucking yes! I think this is an absolutely great idea!

I like it that you appeal directly to the fans of your book and you give them something a little extra to thank them for the support. But more than that I like the smart twist you've put on it wherein you emphasize the positive relationship between the consumer, the retailer, and your book. It's a simple and elegant way to build the relationship between the store owner and you, and this is definitely one competition that I think almost every retailer would be happy to participate in.

And the best part of all is that you end up keeping your book in the retailer's mind. If you start sending out a couple of these each month you can bet that the retailer is going to remember the comic's name, and perhaps pick up a few extra come ordering time.

And there's nothing wrong with that!

As long as contests don't get over-saturated in our industry I think they will remain an excellent promotional tool. Remember the less work and the most money you can make for your retailer the more he or she is going to like whatever kind of promotion you want to do. And any kind of promotion that makes your book and the retailer's store look good is going to be appreciated.

Now that we've pretty much covered the contest end of things for the week, I've got a couple other things I want to include in this week's Comic Pimp…

Jane Irwin, self-publisher and creator of "Vogelein: Clockwork Faerie," recently had some very nice things to say about me. Even though I'm a well-known comic retailer, I still get all fan-boy geeky about people who make comic books I love, and Jane Irwin is definitely one of those. Not only does she make some kick ass comics but I think Jane's one of the coolest people in the entire comic industry. Few people regularly go as far out of their way to share their knowledge as much as Jane does, and she is simply one of the most valuable resources for anyone interested in making comic books. Check out her excellent Resources for Self-Publishers, read her great advice in this thread on the Isotope Virtual Lounge, or go to see her when she does panels about self-publishing at conventions, you won't be sorry you did. Also she's full of great advice in person too, this year at APE I saw her devote serious time at her table answering question after question from aspiring creators and self-publishers.

Wait a minute. You say you don't know about Jane Irwin? Well then, you've got to read her comic.

  Chapter one, page 9 Chapter one, page 10 Chapter one, page 11

Ever since I first read it I've been a vocal fan of "Vogelein," and couldn't have been happier to get collected editions of the series into my store last year. It's an immensely charming book about a mechanical fairy created during the seventeeth century that must be wound each day like my grandfather's favorite watch. When Vogelein's old friend who had been taking care of her dies she must find someone new to be her caretaker... in a new world that no longer believes in such things as fairies and magic. Jane Irwin's modern comic book fable tackles some deep concerns with independence, diversity and individuality in the form of a simple fairy tale. It's one of the things that I think makes "Vogelein" so special.

Chapter two, page 4 Chapter two, page 5 Chapter two, page 6 Chapter two, page 7

With a first printing success, a new printing coming down the pipe fast, and being named to Booklist's Top Ten Graphic Novels for Youth the buzz on this book is only going to grow. And deservedly so.

"Vogelein" is also a really great comic for turning new readers onto the world of comics. A great book with terrific mainstream appeal outside the comic industry is pure gold for a retailer like me who keeps outreach as a prime directive. And what comic storeowner wouldn't make bringing in new people a top priority? Because even on the slowest day of the year the comic shop probably sees one or two new faces come walking in the front door. And books like "Vogelein" that appeal to potential customers as well as the customers the store already has are the books that help make the comic business grow.

Thanks Jane. For the kind words, for your righteous work helping others in the industry, and for making such wonderful comics.

Go fool around on Jane Irwin's website:

Regular readers of this column will know I keep the after-hours at my shop buzzing with in-store activity and that my appetite for the spectacular and the outrageous is voracious. Some people love that about me and the shop I run, and others seem to hate it, but either way I've gotta be true to myself. And I've gotta be true to my business.

So in the interest of spectacular and outrageously good times, let me invite my readers to join us as the Isotope risks the wrath of the FCC during an evening of larger than life good-ideas-gone-bad world premiere television! Find out why the live-action comic book HEL ON ICE is the darling of San Francisco television scene. Feast your eyes on oversized television entertainment broadcast on the Isotope storefront, indulge your eardrums with live dueling DJs, wet your palate with the Isotope's own liquid liver libations. And meet Bay Area comic creators Marc Nordstrom and Aaron Farmer of B-Minus Comiks.

Join us in glorious celebration of the psychotronic black mojo tv show that brings the B-Minus Comics world to terrifying life with generous doses of horror and sci-fi shlock. Marc Nordstrom and Aaron Farmer are pulling out all the stops to debut the second episode of San Francisco's favorite monthly half-hour cable sensation HEL ON ICE in over-sized style for Isotope denizens. With twice the Surgeon General's recommended daily allowance of blood-spilling satanic puppets, slow-motion slashings, vinyl catsuit vixens, and zombie shark wrestling.

Miss it at your own peril!

Remember how I said that I was going to be devoting more time on the Comic Pimp Forum? Well so should you. Come talk about industry issues, ask questions, preach the gospel of the great comic books or discuss this very article on the Comic Pimp Forum. I'll be around.

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