I briefly lived in San Francisco, for about a year and a half starting in late 2000, not long after I had had to close the doors on Rudy Goose Comics. I visited APE as fan and had a great time, noteworthy as having recently failed at opening my own store, I was quite bitter about comics in general. (Them grapes were sour, I suppose.) But it was a cool show, loaded with earnest folks selling comics they had made themselves. I was looking forward to being on the other end of the table.
The venue had changed since I visited APE last. My visit had been at the Herbst Pavillion, which was essentially a big long covered pier on the bay. It was relatively small, with maybe 100 exhibitors. The new location for APE was the much larger Concourse Exhibition center downtown, with room for the 400 or so exhibitors that signed up for 2013. Glass walls allowed natural sunlight in to the exhibition center, or at least in the area that I was tabling in, which alone made it a more pleasant experience than the typical convention venue.
The venue wasn’t the only thing that changed. I would say that the type of exhibitor was very different from what I remembered. There were a lot of people selling sketches, prints and a variety of loosely comic themed DIY crafts. I mean a lot. More of that type of exhibitor than schmucks like me selling “just books.” A little surprising to me, although on reflection, it makes sense… Its a lot easier to make table, travel and shipping costs back selling prints for $25 a pop than it is to make back nut $5 bucks a pop on comic books.
That said, I did OK at APE. Sales were in fact better at APE than any of its east coast peers in size and preeminence. (NYCC, MOCCA or SPX) I think a lot of my peers would call it a good show based on the number of copies in new hands, which I suppose is an optimistic way to look at things. I unfortunately take a more conservative point of view, where for a show to be good I actually have to come out of it making a profit. “Getting your name out there” is fine and all, but hardly a sustainable way to run things. This leads to a strange flip of perspective for me where the good cons are the ones with cheap tables within driving distance from Columbus where I can actually turn a buck, as opposed to the larger more popular affairs. I’ve come to view the former as actual business ventures and the latter as big pay for attendance parties. Fun, but not part of my official schemes.
I met Bob Calhoun, whose great Salon article about nerds counter protesting the Westminster Baptist Church’s Protest of San Diego Comic Con made the rounds a couple years back. I didn’t realize at the time when reading that piece that it was part of a larger book project wherein Bob was spending the year hitting as many conventions of all sorts as possible. The resultant tome, “Shattering Conventions” is a hysterical and yet often disturbing insight into the conventioneer mentality, be it at a convention for comics, guns or lunatic fringe conspiracy theories. I was particularly interested in this book as I was at the end of my own year of doing cons and eagerly traded Nix Western #1 and #2 for a copy of Shattering conventions. Its a real page turner and I was finished with the book by the time my plane landed in Columbus later that week.
APE also brought an opportunity to catch up with my friend Lee Keeler, who has been working for the small press comic magazine, The Devastator. Lee was one of my original Rudy Goose customers, meaning he would often come into the shop to play pinball with the change he got buying comics at another store. The Devastator is a great rag that throws out the type poison pop culture daggers that can only be properly forged and aimed by those who know too much to be innocent.
So you know, APE was fun. I’d do it again if I had the dough.
In fact, I’d do them all again if I had the money. APE, SPX, MOCCA and even the through and through mainstream NYCC had at least elements of the benefits that my afforementioned peers and mentors advised me of. I did get my books into new folks hands. I did do some networking. I do feel that by some difficult to quantify increment my career as a writer and publisher has been advanced. Maybe given time and effort, regular appearances at these events can be parlayed into something a little more substantial than I had thought previously. That “maybe” isn’t quite enough for me to model my business around, but it certainly can’t hurt to take the occasional working vacation to a larger comic convention.