Comic-Con 101: How to Target Your Audience

Photo Credit: The New York Times

Probably the single most important thing a creator can do besides actually make a comic book is to figure out who is going to buy it. Now you don’t want to be so hyper-focused on your audience as to exclude anyone else, but you need to understand who your audience is to market and promote properly. Not every comic book convention is necessarily going to be a priority for you.

Who Reads Your Comic Book?

When I started with my comic, Jersey Devil, I targeted the classic demo for comic book readers which is 18-35. According to American Demographics back in the day, the split was about even in terms of comic book readers: Half were under 18 and the rest were 18 and above. The Male/Female ratio was about 90/10 back then. These days, I’ve heard numbers as high as 65/35, but I would ballpark it around 80/20, unless your project has a particular girl appeal.

Think of it in terms of a movie or TV show. Would your comic be on Network TV for general audiences or would it have to be a paid subscription-based streamer like HBOMax? What’s the movie rating? G? PG? R? Jersey Devil would probably have been a PG-13 or R-Rated. It would skew male because he was like an anti-hero. (I sometimes described him as Batman with no money.)

From that knowledge, I can better target where I would want to do a comic book convention. My priority was not cons aimed at little kids. My audience is older and this would be a waste of my time. Anime/Manga Conventions? I could eliminate them as well. My artists had American style of comic book art and Manga tends to skew more female for its audience anyway. SciFi/Fantasy cons? Maybe, since they have comic books sometimes, but not Gaming Cons. I had no game tie-in.

Now you might look at that and say, “Hey! That’s kinda like my comic book’s audience. You’re not leaving us with a lot of options!” True, except I also have a hook that makes Jersey Devil unique from most other comics— And that’s what every creator needs, btw.

Cape May County Courthouse promoting my talk at the local library. Picture by me.

The Hook

The hook for the Jersey Devil comic (and my current novellas, The Pineys) is  that they take place locally in South Jersey. Furthermore, the Jersey Devil is a folktale that’s over 250 years old and is New Jersey’s official state demon. This regional aspect opens the door locally for many more events.

I was able to attend virtually any art show in South Jersey that will have me, as well as any event that was connected with South Jersey folklore or the Jersey Devil specifically. (In fact, there are events and businesses here that are named after the Jersey Devil.) To promote the Pineys, I have been doing 4-8 shows or appearances a month thanks to that regional connection.

Additionally, because my comic is a somewhat known quantity it’s easier to sell. People from South Jersey buy it for the sheer novelty of getting a copy. Because it’s something regional, it becomes not just my comic but everyone’s comic who lives here.

To that you might say, “But won’t people out of state not know your comic?” Well, yes and no. The Jersey Devil is a pretty old cryptid, so it does have some cache outside of New Jersey for people into that sort of thing. But if you’re like me, you’re a creator on a budget anyway— I write regional, so my marketing is mostly regional. Sure, I do an occassional show in Philly or Delaware, but as a one-man operation I can hardly afford to travel half way across the country just for a comic book convention. I’m just one guy, I can’t sell enough comics to justify the cost.

I can also do talks at libraries and signings at breweries, book shops, colleges and anyplace even remotely connected to the Jersey Devil. You just have to work the phones and ask the owners. Most are always looking for a promotional event, depending on the business, so I don’t need to go out of state.

But even if your comic doesn’t have a regional hook, you’re still a local creator. It’s something you can still exploit for events and stores that are open to artistic events. But if you have a fantasy comic, you need to be at the Fantasy cons, Scifi at the Scifi Cons, Horror at the Horror Cons, etc.

There’s a con for almost everything. The more specific to your comic, the better. While Pulp Fiction, Western and Mystery are also in the mix, their cons tend to be smaller. But if you had a project related to music or sports, there are many events where you might have an opportunity to sell.

Obscure cons and subjects can also work, if you target your audience. I knew a creator had a knitting-based comic book. In a regular convention, she was uique but mostly ignored. However, at the Knitting Conventions (and yes, they have them) she was a superstar.

The best part about that (and for myself running around with the Jersey Devil) you might end up at an event where you’re the only one with comic books. This can be infinitely more lucrative than a comic book convention where competition is fierce. If there’s only one Jersey Devil comic or Knitting comic or whatever— You’ve basically corned the comic market at that show and if the fans like your work? Ca-ching!

Photo Cred: Pixabay

How to Book a Con

Go to their website. Smaller, local events typically have a Facebook page. Get a hold of the organizer and call them. Be friendly, upbeat and excited about your comic book. (If you’re not excited, how do you expect anyone else to get excited about it?)

Some organizers, especially for the small and local events, can be scatterbrained. Often, their event is new or doesn’t get a lot of support from the main organization that allowed them to run it.

Be ready to describe what your comic is about in one-sentence. Don’t mince words, just be straight forward: “Hi, I’m Tony and I write a comedy/horror book series called The Pineys about a family of hunters that hunts the kin of the Jersey Devil and I’m interested in your event.”

Keep a calendar handy, especially if you already have dates book or other things going on in your life. Sometimes, they’ll book you for the show right then and there and you can put it on your calendar to announce it to your fans. Many times, you might have to fill out a form and possibly send in a table fee. Personally, I never pay more than $50 unless I know the show is going to be killer and more often than not, I target events that don’t have fees. Any show of moderate size or above is of little use to you if you’re a one-man operation like me (see previous article).

My outside set-up at the Veterans’ Museum Food Truck event in the summer. Unshaven because I dress as a hunter with camo hat, hunter vest, etc. and I want a kind of “mountain man” look. The characters in The Pineys are hunters.

Presentation

Your presentation is crucially important at an event and we’ll get into in detail in later columns, but the basics are simple:

1: Dress appropriately: Groom yourself, smell nice and only be in costume if it’s connected to your comic.

2: Be friendly and approachable: Smile, bring up your energy, make eye contact.

3: Be prepared to explain your project and who you are: You will be repeating yourself. It might be awkward at first, but after a few times it will become easier.

4: Be professional, regardless of the attitude of your customer: The customer is always right. Don’t get into arguments. Someone that comes off as rude, may not be very self-aware. If a fan is annoying, just smile and say, “Hey, thanks for stopping by.” Sometimes fans are just having a bad day and being nice might get you a sale. The sale is more important than your ego.

5: Be excited about your work: You’re awesome. Act like it. Even when there’s no one at your table, look happy and energized. No one wants to approach a sad sack with his head buried in a sketch book.

6: Be prepared with change and payment options: I try to keep all my table items rounded to the nearest dollar. I use a smart phone app for credit card purchases.

7: Stay focused. It’s easy to get distracted at a con. You’re there to sell and promote, not take pictures of the cosplayers or gossip with your fellow creators. Networking is another story, but resist the urge to start giving your thoughts on the MCU or DCU.

8: Have signage: A backdrop and table signs explaining the basics of your comic with imagery that will attract your audience, can streamline the process. The Print Place (and other companies) makes collapsible banners that are cost-effective and easy to set up. Go to an office supply store and you can find clear plastic sign holders that you can print out the sign and just slip it into the holder.

9: Have something to hand to fans with your info: Some people use business cards, I print postcards (also at the Print Place) with all my information.

10: Bring food and drink: You’re in business, so treat the con like your job. Pack a lunch and drinks, you’ll save money. Convention Center food is wildly overpriced. If you need to smuggle in food, put it inside an empty comic book box and carry it inside with the merchandise.

The Take Away

If you’re targeting your audience, you’re going to save yourself time, money and frustration. Don’t just blunder into this and remake the same mistakes creators like myself have made. The energy and enthusiasm you put to your project will be quickly exhausted if you’re not focused on the task at hand: Getting your comic into the hands of your readers!

Tony DiGerolamo

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