Comic-Con 101: How to Work an Audience


Whether you’re doing a panel, talking at your table, or doing a public speaking gig— There is a skill you need: stand-up comics called “working the crowd” or “crowd work.” It’s a skill you can learn with a bit of practice that will help you drive sales at a comic-con and make a memorable impression for future sales.

Preparing Yourself

If you’ve read my previous columns, you already know that you need to have a look and be prepared to talk about your project. In previous years, I dressed as characters from my comics. I was the main character for The Fix and did photoshopped covers with myself. So naturally, when I was promoted, I could wear the character costume.

Currently, I dress as a hunter because I’m promoting The Pineys, and the characters are all hunters in a hunting lodge. You don’t have to go that far, but you have to have a unique look. Something iconic and different can help.

YouTuber Tim Pool wears his beanie, and some YouTubers wear business casual clothes— Unfortunately, many comic book creators wear whatever. They look like they just rolled out of bed. Be better than that.

Next, you want to have something to say. Since I’ve done extensive research on the Jersey Devil and South Jersey folklore. I do a whole talk at local libraries and use the material that inspires stories in my books. So, naturally, I have plenty to say, so I’m ready to do a talk from 10 minutes to over an hour.

You don’t necessarily have to have this kind of information, but you need to know everything about your project. Memorize the most likely questions and hit most of the bullet points below:

1: A synopsis of your project. Don’t give away the story; have a few sentences ready to tell people. One is best. “The Pineys is about a family of hunters that hunt the kin of the Jersey Devil.”

2: Details of the notable characters: You can talk about the characters without giving away the story (hopefully). Drop some bullet points about your more exciting characters. For example, “The main characters are the Galloway cousins: Hemingway, Milton, Shelly, and Lewis. Hemingway is the World’s Greatest Hunter, which must be true because he keeps telling everyone.”

3: Your Creative Team: If you have associates working on the project, know something about them to tell your potential fans. Who are they? What do they do?

“Vig Starmax is the cover artist for The Pineys, and he’s a very talented artist from Malaysia.”

4: Your Creative Process: You should talk about how you make your stories, what inspires you, and what inspires your project specifically.

“The Pineys is inspired by the folktale of the Jersey Devil, South Jersey folktales, local history, and urban legends.”

5: Nuts and Bolts: If you’re at a comic-con, fans are often interested in publishing itself. Hopefully, you’ve learned something by doing it. Let the fans know.

“The Pineys are available at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback formats. I order all my books through Amazon.”

So, you’ve got some basic things to say about your project. Some creators have fascinating life facts that interest a potential fan, and some have intriguing backgrounds.

I knew a comic creator that got into comics, but before that, he was a scientist, which dovetailed nicely in his comic about science. Another creator did a comic book about his autistic son and his parenting challenges, which was a very personal project for him.

The creator of Shalom Man told me about how he sold his comics in religious stores since it was a Jewish superhero with a religious theme. If there are any interesting facts, the audience should be made aware. Think of how a news reporter might report on you and your project.

Comic book characters by Night Cafe AI art generator

How Panels Work

In bigger comic-cons, organizers will have “panels.” These are usually an hour, organized in a special room, to discuss whatever topic connects to the creator and/or the convention. The topics can vary wildly, but your mission is clear: Promote your work.

Types of Panels

Broad Topics: These can be anything like The Future of the Comic Book Medium to Do Comic Book Movies Sell Comics? (The answer is “no,” by the way.) Participating in these panel discussions can make you look like a comic book expert.

Fan Topics: These are topics that generally only fans of a specific subgenre would be interested in. For instance, a panel about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or speculation about the next phase of the MCU. These panels are less likely to help you since you probably don’t work on the discussed large IPs.

How To Topics: How to Make Comics, Costumes, etc. If it’s about comics, you look like an expert but be careful. Please don’t give the fans the impression you’re interested in publishing their work unless you want to be a publisher.

Promotion: You’re there to promote your work; a panel about your comic world is a perfect way to make that happen. You’ll need enough material to talk about for at least 20 to 40 minutes. (It usually runs in blocks of one hour, but don’t be afraid of ending early. Panels typically end up running late.) While ideal for promotion, you may struggle to get good attendance.

The best topics are adjacent to your comic book. For example, I can discuss the Jersey Devil and South Jersey folklore because that’s what The Pineys is based on. It’s easy to tie them into my books at the end, but because I’m discussing something broader, it allows me the opportunity to achieve a bigger audience. You can accomplish the same thing by discussing your expertise as it relates to your project or even if it’s just the creation of comics in the medium in general.

Panels to Avoid

I love the fans, but they often make terrible panel guests. Fans attend a comic-con for fun, so like most people, they will be unfocused and in “fun mode.” They might not be careful what they say or how they say it. They also will probably drone on and on because they haven’t done a panel before.

Fans who end up as panel guests are often more concerned about sating their egos than having fun at a comic-con. You’re there to promote a product, and the last thing you need is to be challenged on some minor point by a stranger who may or may not even be serious about the discussion and has virtually no skin in the game during the panel discussion.

And while this can happen with other creators, at least they are attempting to be professional even if they fail. Stay away from panels made up of fans. Other creators and especially other celebrity guests are fine. These people will likely be experienced in public speaking and know when to shut up and let someone else speak for a while.

photo by Pixabay

The Group Panel

The convention may have a moderator if you are on a group panel. Unfortunately, you won’t be running it, and you’ll have to hope the moderator (probably a volunteer) is savvy enough to give everyone a chance to speak. You will have limited time to talk, depending on how many others are on the panel.

You’ll have to gauge the responses of the moderator and the other guests, but assume you’re only going to get to speak once or twice: once to introduce yourself and a second time to make a point on whatever topic the panel is about. Make sure you promote the following things in one of those moments:

1: Where your table is located in the comic-con: Most conventions large enough to hold panel discussions will number the tables and probably hand out a map to the fans. Make sure you know your number and tell the audience.

If there’s no number, give them some landmarks within the convention where you will be. Then, if you make a good impression on the fans, they’ll seek out where you can sell them directly.

2: Your name and the name of your project: If you have multiple credits like me, focus on the one project you’re currently promoting and perhaps your biggest credit. “Hi, I’m Tony. I previously wrote The Simpsons for Bongo Comics. I’m promoting the Pineys: a comedy/horror book series about a family of hunters that hunts the kin of the Jersey Devil.”

3: Be fun and have fun: Depending on the panel’s topic, have fun with it. Don’t be negative, even if the other panel guests go down that road. No one wants to sit through a bitchfest about how expensive and awful it is to publish their comic.

They want to hear the positives and how to make their dream come true. That doesn’t mean you should lie about a bad experience if you’re offering some practical advice in avoiding a mistake, but couch it as a learning experience that helped you grow as a creator and publisher.

4: Don’t be drunk and/or obnoxious: On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’re not a rockstar. It may feel like that if you get all the attention, but remember, fanboys, that attention is power— And with great power comes great responsibility. I’ve seen creators get drunk and act like clowns at panels. It will probably be a funny story to tell in the hotel bar, but it’s unlikely to make the fans enjoy your discussion.

Solo Panels

These are the best panels because it’s 100% focused on you, but this may be intimidating for the novice public speaker. Breathe. Relax. The people in that room came to see you for a reason. Either they are already fans, or they liked the description of your panel in the comic-con guide. There are almost no reasons to be nervous; the fans are on your side.

1: Start on time: Absolutely do not start early. Fans look at the guide and need time to find the room. So starting a few minutes late is okay.

Comedians warm up the crowd by asking questions like: How is everyone doing today? Are you having a good time? Where are you folks from? We’ll start in a few minutes; I’m just waiting for people to arrive. What’s everyone’s favorite comic book? Raise your hand if you’ve seen my comic book before.

2: When you start, be official and introduce yourself: Say something like, “Okay, I think we’re going to get started here. My name is….” If the door needs to be shut, ensure it’s closed even if you must do it yourself.

You want to take control of the room before you begin, and you also want the room to quiet down if there’s talking. Don’t silence people, but if you officially start, people will calm down and be quiet. Tell them your name, project, and why you’re doing the panel.

3: Take your time: Public speaking can make people nervous, and nervous people tend to rush. You might find moments of silence unbearable when you are giving a speech, but that’s all in your head.

Practicing at home and videoing yourself is the easiest way to cure this. Then watch the video. Note the pauses. They will seem longer as you experience them than watching them afterward.

4: Engage with the crowd: Hopefully, you did a little bit of that already when you asked them some questions. Work in some questions you’ll ask the audience in your talk.

For me, when I’m discussing the Jersey Devil— At one point, I will ask the crowd: There’s a Founding Father who has a connection to the Jersey Devil. Does anyone know who that is?

Since most people know a few of the Founders, I let them guess. I don’t need them to tell me; I know it’s Ben Franklin. So instead, I’m asking to get the audience involved in what I’m talking about it. That interaction will relax the audience and draw them into your words.

For a talk about publishing your comic book, you can ask: Has anyone here ever published their comic book? How many pages are in a typical comic book? Does anyone know? I’ve just outlined the prices and printing cost; how many comics do you think were in my print run?

If you ask the audience any of these questions or others, ensure you have an answer. Again, the purpose is not to gain the information you don’t have but to engage the audience so they listen more closely. An audience that has to answer questions is more likely to listen more closely so they can answer your questions.

5: Joke with the crowd: The key to this is to not make a joke at the expense of anyone in the crowd unless you are an experienced public speaker or comedian. There’s a way to come off upbeat and fun, but I’d advise against it unless you know what you’re doing. For example, there’s a technique where you pretend to pick on an audience member by constantly going back and referring to him for some reason.

For instance, let’s say one of the audience members happens to come all the way from Europe to visit your panel, and his name is Hans. While talking to him before you started, you found out Hans didn’t understand American fast food.

The running gag in your talk might be that you stop to over-explain basic things about America that Hans probably already knows. If you feel Hans is a good sport and laughs every time to refer to him, that’s fine. If he doesn’t, you may have made a mistake. A good comedian can read the room.

A more straightforward tactic is to be self-deprecating. That means you’re making fun of yourself. You usually can’t go wrong with this because almost no one will object to you making jokes at your own expense.

Physical traits are generally the best road to take but stay away from making jokes about you being incompetent or late. Comic books run on deadlines; you don’t want that association.

6: Use visuals: To emphasize your points, use visuals. Develop a PowerPoint presentation. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a few pictures of your covers, some of the interior art, and art pieces as it develops.

If you have a project like mine, you could give the back story on it just as I give talks on the Jersey Devil and South Jersey Folklore; I have appropriate slides to go with. But, barring that, bring a few comics to hold up and whatever you use as a free handout at your table.

7: End the panel and thank everyone: Make sure you have a clear ending for your discussion. You need to thank the fans for coming out, especially a guy like Hans, if you used him in your talk and made jokes about him. (Ideally, you should give him a free comic if he’s a good sport.)

Remind the room where your table is and invite them to see you. People absolutely need this instruction. It sounds simple, but some people want “permission” from themselves to do things. You give them that permission by stating the obvious and asking them to come by.

Other Events

You may be asked to participate in other events as a guest at a comic-con. Depending on your project and whether or not it has a tie-in toward your comic book will determine if it’s going to boost your sales. At the very least, it can be fun and heighten your profile in the fan community.

Being a Judge

Comic-cons often hold art contests. This is a great way to dovetail into your project and look like a high-profile professional. Be incredibly constructive with your comments.

Contests for non-comic book things like a Cosplay Contest or some game tournament won’t be as effective unless your comic has a tie-in to those contest themes. However, it still raises your profile in the fan community; just be as honest as you can.

Being a Performer

If you got talent and skills, you might impress the crowd. If you’re new at the performance skill, it’s probably a bad idea. (Don’t offer to play guitar for the crowd just because you had two lessons, but if you’re actually pretty good, go ahead.)

I used to do improv and stand-up comedy, so I’m usually ready to go at a moment’s notice. It won’t probably net you a lot of sales, but it might endear you to the con organizers and raise your profile.

Parties

Parties are suitable for networking and sometimes for promotion. Typically, parties that are behind the scenes are with fellow comic-con guests and creators. It’s usually poor form to sell them, but some may express an interest in your work and come by your table the next day.

More fan-related events can lead you to talk about your work and basically do pieces (or all) of your panel in front of a small ground while you drink and eat snacks.

Party photo by Pixabay

Be on your best behavior at these events because people like to gossip, and some faux pas can get around the comic-con quickly. If you spend the whole party getting wasted, hitting on everything in a skirt, and acting obnoxious, it may not translate well to your hungover fans the next day.

Unique Events

Some creators can base an event based on their comic. For example, Jennie Breeden, the webcomic creator of The Devil’s Panties, holds an event at Dragon Con most years and also writes about it in her comic. In addition, some creators have game tie-ins and participate in gaming demos.

Sometimes, if you have the money, you can throw a room party and invite the fans. However, these events tend to be for more prominent creators with an established fan base, so avoid jumping into the deep end of the pool the first time out. Building your fan base before you try something like this is my advice.

Meet and Greet Dinners

Comic-cons sometimes hold a meet and greet dinner on opening day or the last night. Sometimes it’s for VIP guests who paid extra at the con, and sometimes it’s for con volunteers as part of their reward for helping out. You get a free dinner, and as long as you don’t might talking to people, it can be fun and create some sales.

Events to Avoid

If you’re at a comic-con trying to promote your comic, you want to avoid events that either won’t allow you to do that or make you look bad. But, unfortunately, some con organizers can get overly ambitious and schedule something against another event that they shouldn’t.

I was invited to a Meet and Greet at a comic-con only to discover the convention organizer booked it against another popular con event because he was mad at another organizer. That was N/G. Fortunately, it wasn’t my fault; hardly anyone showed up anyway.

As a veteran performer, I can turn most situations to my advantage by telling jokes, stories, or whatever. Once, I did a virtual event, and the moderator almost steered the conversation into politics. But, long story short, I sensed some hostility brewing in that potential conversation and drove it away.

Photo by Pixabay

Politics today is a hot-button issue, whether it’s who’s running for office or discussions about race and gender. So don’t get roped into some public panel where some pink-haired maniac will put you on the spot. Of course, some people enjoy that confrontation, but it’s unlikely to boost your sales in the room and the comic-con where it happens.

If someone attempts to do this, draw the line and say, “Sorry, I’m just here to discuss my comic book.” If they insist on politicizing your work and the panel, walk out unless you’re prepared for a tense standoff. Very few people are armed intellectually and verbally to withstand a public backlash and come out on top.

So cut your losses and head back to the table. Hopefully, someone like Ethan Van Sciver will be on the panel to verbally cut down the trolls.

Remember that they will be utterly disingenuous if you want to take on the woke mob. So do not debate their points. It’s always a trap because of the way they frame the debate.

They will argue with emotion, not reason and logic. They make it personal and political while trying to draw you out to either say something they can construe as extreme, vulgar, and/or unacceptable.

Your argument always has to be something everyone can get behind, like:

“You’re ruining the panel discussion and the comic-con by politicizing everything. We want to discuss comic books, not you and your opinions.”

But I wouldn’t worry too much about being caught up in something like that. Unless one of your panelists is super famous or comic book famous, it isn’t very likely to happen.

The woke generally don’t go after struggling creators with small fan bases because, ultimately, it’s about giving them attention to virtue-signal. Without a big crowd, they won’t bother.

If it does happen, take heart. Events like that have propelled plenty of creators into a nice little fanbase after-the-fact. Just don’t get stressed out about being canceled.

Conclusion

Panels and events are about connecting with lots of fans simultaneously. Hopefully, that connection turns into a sale on the spot or later at your table. You’re hoping that fans will walk around the comic-con and create a positive buzz after your event because they enjoyed it.

“Hey, I just saw this guy talking about the Jersey Devil. It was exciting.”

Depending on attendance, I usually get a few visitors at my table after a panel. If it’s lightly attended, don’t freak out. Instead, consider the event your practice for another comic-con when the opposite happens, and several dozen people show up instead.

Ultimately, the panel is a presentation to a potential customer, and regardless of the numbers, you want to create a positive vibe whenever you can.

That’s all for this week, fanboys. See you at the con.

Check out our previous Comic-Con 101, which deals with creator collaborations!



ClownfishTV.com strives to be an apolitical, balanced and based pop culture news outlet. However, our contributors are entitled to their individual opinions. Author opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of our video hosts, other site contributors, site editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. This website contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. We disclaim products or services we have received for review purposes, as well as sponsored posts.

Discover a hidden easter egg

A word from our sponsor

spot_img

read more

explore

other articles

Close Subscribe Card