Robot 6

Quote of the day | Dustin Harbin vs. small-press comic cons

Don't mess with Dharbin

Don't mess with Dharbin

“I can’t BELIEVE MoCCA’s table prices. They are drinking the same hubris Kool-Aid as SPX. Why are the charity shows always the cheekiest? I saw it and I was like *slaps head*. Although to be fair, I’ve never exhibited there, just been a crowded hot attendee. (I read some interviews with them after the super hot year, they were all like ‘hey listen, it’s summer, it gets hot.’) Not to mention how expensive NYC is in general! Just makes it easier to skip. Also today I got my acceptance letter (???) for APE, after applying 3 months ago. Due date for payment: 1 week from now. I had always heard about how well-run HeroesCon is from guests, but now I see why. Indie shows are organized like block parties. Except the kind of block parties where they charge you like $50 to come in, then charge you for beer too. ‘Dude it’s for charity!’ SPX is pretty fun, but TCAF is the best one easily–plus Toronto = my favorite city! Wait, please exclude TCAF from that mini-rant. TCAF is a dream, a dreammmm. Other shows take note! Okay back to lettering, sorry.”

Cartoonist, Casanova letterer, and “nicest guy in comics” candidate Dustin Harbin has an uncharacteristically grumpy moment on Twitter over the prices that the MoCCA Art Festival is charging exhibitors, and the administration of indie/alt-comics shows generally (except TCAF, of course). It’s hard out there for a minicomics creator.

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30 Comments

I’ve been sitting on this for a while now, but I must take umbrage with Harbin’s “nicest guy” label. As I’ve not only witnessed it first-hand (at a mini ‘Heroes’ con where he loudly accused my girlfriend from across the room of stealing (she didn’t) and then refused to apologize or even conceivably suggest that he was wrong, and told me he was going to kick me out for confronting him, and then pointed to a random child and said I was scaring the kid by raising my voice) but upon accounting this story to others, had similar “fuck that self-important petty man” from attendees of his events and some comics industry people that surely want to remain anonymous.

Of course, blah blah blah Mr. Harbin has the right to defend himself here, this is but one’s jerk’s opinion etc.

“nicest guy in comics”

The comics industry must be filled with the biggest, loud mouthed, jerkiest jerks to ever walk into a jerk store if this is true.

On topic, I don’t think 400 bucks for a weekend is too expensive. I don’t really know what he expects, or wants. And a lot of this sounds like the typical small, annoying things we all deal with every day of our lives (getting one week’s notice to pay for APE, for instance) and doesn’t seem worth pitching a hissy fit over. Go, don’t go, none of this is that big of a deal.

the prices of some small press shows are really crazy. that’s kept me from getting tables at a lot of them this year (and Heroes isn’t necessarily more cost effective — the expense of show + hotel is still pretty high comparative to what a non-big name small press creator would make in sales). however, SPACE in Columbus is a great value (i think the tables for the 2011 show are only $65 and that’s after the reduced-price cutoff date). i’m helping organize a small press show (not comics exclusive, but still gonna have a bunch of local comics creators) here in Pittsburgh for the fall and we’re only planning on charging $25 a table. granted, it’s a smaller show, more local, and funded by grants… but still, that’s a long way from the $300 or $350 a table some of these shows charge.

Sean T. Collins

August 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

Yikes.

Dustin’s personal merits or demerits notwithstanding, he’s FAR from the only person i’ve heard complaining about MoCCA’s table prices in particular, going back a couple years now. Here’s Cheese Hasselberger, for example.

I’ve tabled at APE, and split the cost between some friends.
Even w/ out that, it’s pretty reasonable.
Though, I’d say the opportunities to do much serious selling or networking are kinda slim just cuz of who goes to it.

He also kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, and then he pointed to the baby and told it it was scaring another baby.

CRAZY!

My message had a point beyond some mild character assassination, but I must’ve accidentally deleted it or something. Namely, there’s some hustling going on here. MOCCA is in New York. SPX in DC. Indeed, as someone who has lived in both of those places and currently lives in North Carolina, comparing Heroes’ prices, set-up, to those of SPX and MOCCA is insincere. If someone objective can crunch the numbers and disprove this go ahead, but um, yeah, it’s so much cheaper to do anything in N.C. Duh. The only person more bullshit than the guys asking for a ton of dough and claiming community are the guys that have a stake in all of this, and go after these guys for being bullshit. You smell me?

Whoa Nellie! I just saw this–Sean, your piling all my tweets together in that monster graph makes me sound pretty manic. Which is I guess maybe how I sound.

A couple of clarifiers really quick:

1) I would never compare HeroesCon with MoCCA or SPX or APE in terms of focus or cost-effectiveness for indie cartoonists. It’s a whole different ball game–Heroes is a “mainstream” show with an indie component, not a dedicated indie show. When I worked there I was pretty open about profit expectations with guests, and worked pretty hard to make the trip as cheap as possible where I could. Plus we comp tables anyway for all our invited guests–literally, the entire guest list–so table cost doesn’t come up there anyway.

2) APE is not at all overpriced–I got a half-table there and I think it’s around $130 or something like that. And I would hate to paint them with the same organizational brush as all indie shows–after all, they did have an application process, and I did receive a letter in the mail like 3 months before the show letting me know I was in. The check deadline is strange, but just might be timing or whatever. This stuff happens.

3) My beef with high MoCCA problems is a market one–NYC is already monstrously expensive to set up at as an exhibitor, before you even get to table costs. The last few years of MoCCA have been rather famously hiccuppy, and it’s not like the room is selling out at the Armory either. I would love to set up at MoCCA because I’m an up-and-coming cartoonist at the point in his career when it’s time, but the cost is prohibitive to me, especially considering the headaches that seem to go with them. I have no beef with MoCCA in particular, but as someone going to turn a profit, that has to be my first priority.

4) Regardless of all this, I’m largely of the mind that shows charging an entry fee should not be charging their exhibitors exorbitant rates, especially indie shows. A show like TCAF charges a fair rate (I think maybe $300?) but they have no admission fee, which means the crowds that show up are larger, more diverse, and more ready to spend money on something new. The exhibitors are in a way the “draw” at a comics convention–they’re what you’re hoping will pull attendees in, as well as stuff like programming, ancillary events in the host city, etc. In a pure market setup, the table cost the market will bear is correct, whether or not I find it personally fitting for my own economic needs. I think a curated show, which someone putting together a list of exhibitors based on there value to the show and each other, is far better, not to mention creates a gestalt on the con floor that’s positive for all involved, from guests to attendees to organizers.

5) That’s all.

Then what’s your point here? That MOCCA is too expensive for you? I’m genuinely confused. Certainly your twitter messages gave off the air of it being more than “man, I don’t wanna pay that much” but that’s what this sounds like. Yes, other people have this opinion too, but: And…..? Indeed, the Heroes comparison was brought up here because you brought it up in your twitter messages as well. A whole lot of half-steppin’ going on here it seems.

Yes, I agree.

MoCCA is over-priced, AND is too expensive for me. SPX is overpriced, but is not too expensive for me. TCAF brings so much value to the table that I’d probably pay more for a table there if I were asked. My original HeroesCon references were in terms of organization, not price–Sean quoted them all together, but originally those Twitter bits were part of ongoing conversations between me and other people on Twitter, and thus there was interplay that is missing here.

I appreciate that you have a beef with me that doesn’t have anything to do with this, but just relax a little bit.

Nah man, this isn’t “beef”, I just disclosed something because well it seemed like the “real” thing to do. Also, it’s pretty cool to acknowledge my first message only after I civilly responded to ONLY your convention comments.

But indeed, how you treated a person at one of your conventions, as you vilify other conventions, essentially calling them on their bullshit, does have a direct correlation. But whatever, let’s pretend that never happened and I haven’t heard similar stories and we’re just talking your tweets:

You’re playing fast and loose with what you said in those tweets…you stretched it beyond a simple money issue (organization, hotness of a convention etc. are also invoked). If your only point is “this is too much money for ME to pay” well that’s pretty silly.

Well, I felt like ‘Wilson’ by Clowes was a little too much money for me to pay. If I commented on that and that alone, that’d be one thing. But If I compared books of similar stature, length, printing quality, etc. and then claimed “hey bro, I’m just saying I won’t pay 22 bucks for ‘Wilson” that’d be insincere.

Pshaw, you for sure have beef. I ignored it originally because I thought it was the correct thing to do, but you seem like you have an ax to grind here. It’s cool, I don’t fault your right to have beef.

But you’re also putting words in my mouth: I’m not calling anyone on their bullshit; I was originally commenting on something on Twitter, a social network famous for its narcissistic self-involvement. I.e., I was just flapping my gums, and by Sean excerpting it all here, maybe you’re inferring a manifesto where there isn’t one.

My original point was that I thought MoCCA was overpriced for tables, and then I expounded on that in the process of conversations with other people. I’m speaking as someone who’s worked in comics since before Marvel bought Heroes World, and who’s been centrally involved with the organization of a major convention since 2003 or so. While I can be wrong and often am, I’m for sure qualified to speak on the subject and don’t appreciate you nitpicking my sentence structure internet troll style. It’s not classy, and I don’t have any–read, zero–responsibility to you to explain my words, what I meant by them, or what if anything they have to do with you.

Of course dude, you don’t have to explain anything to me, but you responded here big homey. I mean, this is the internet so this was over and would’ve been over even if I hadn’t mentioned something that I maintain is relevant to the argument (that a guy invoking how conventioneers are treated is something of a jerk himself to convention types). I think that’s reasonable.

I didn’t say you weren’t qualified to speak on the topic (talk about putting words in one’s mouth!) and I don’t think I’m nitpicking your sentences at all, I think I’m trying to figure out what you meant beyond “man, MOCCA, too expensive for me” because you’re clearly saying more than that. And I don’t think Twitter is an excuse for not making sense.

You’re right: responding to you was totally dumb.

The internet can teach you many things, one of which is immediate regret for thinking you can reason with trolls.

Remember, feeding them only makes them stronger.

Damn it Laura, now I’m hungry.

Lolz here. In what internet world would what I’m doing be considered “trolling”? Especially on a argument based around some rather aggressive, names-naming, histrionic tweets?

I think I’m being reasonable. Even my only troll-like quality (mentioning a personal anecdote that indeed, cannot be substantiated by anyone) is in direct support of my point, which all stems from fundamentally disagreeing with Harbin’s tweets, which I did read in their original context as well as aggregated here on Robot6.

I wasn’t playing some dumb game of “I gotcha” close-reading your sentences here at all, I think that the points about MOCCA and SPX, etc. were pretty silly, and really irresponsible, and I disagree with them on a couple of levels, which I’ve articulated/asked you to explain further. Your response has been “I didn’t mean that…or that…or this either!” which seems weird to me. If what you say on Twitter doesn’t mean anything, why are you saying it?

S.P.A.C.E. (in Columbus,Ohio) is still only $65 for a full table. It’s been that way for a few years. That’s breaking even for the space and a little promotion.

Personally $300 is my ouch point for tables. Which is pushing it as on average, I’m lucky to make most of that back. Especially at a mainstream show where I don’t get the ‘promotional’ aspect part of it. Your money’s better spent online. $75- $200 is fair for a full table. Not many shows charge that anymore for an artist alley space. I stopped doing one show after they stopped comping tables.

I’ve never bought table space at SPX. For me it’s just been simple math. At the stage I’m at, the number of books I have etc., I can’t see it being a good business move. Even if I covered my table/hotel/travel costs etc.- covering your costs is NOT good business. Making a profit IS good business. And yeah, I know exposure, meeting people etc. but you can do that just by showing up at the show, shaking hands and giving/trading books. I used to be in bands and there were venues that had pay-to-play policies. I never paid and those venues never lasted. I got paid. But comics man. What is wrong with comics? People waiting in line to pay a bunch of money to give their work away. It’s so desperate. So sad. I don’t get it. But, that’s just me. Maybe to some folks it’s just something they want to be a part of and are willing to lose money on it. And that’s okay. Have fun. Personally, I’ve decided I’d rather lose money making comics than lose money promoting comics.

Tom, another good show here in NC is Asheville’s um… crap, I forgot the name.. FANATICON, that’s it. Tables last year were CRAZY cheap, I think less than $50 before a certain date, and they had reported attendance of over 2,000 people. I heard tons of positive things from exhibitors, even from friends of mine who are grumpy with shows.

Another (much smaller) indie show is Athens’ F.L.U.K.E., which is run by Patrick Dean–really good people, not a huge turnout but it’s a great show for minicomics and Athens is a cool little town. Watch out for speed traps.

Shannon, SPX is expensive, even over-priced considering their $10/day entry fee for attendees, but I’ve had good luck there exhibiting, I usually at least break even and would maybe even profit if I didn’t hit the bar every night. I have some problems with it on a macro level, but I’ve NEVER had any problem or even hassle with exhibiting there, and while Bethesda is arguably the least interesting city in all the world, having everyone mashed into that one hotel room sure is fun-times.

Yeah I wanna go to SPX and I know I’d have a blast. I need to go. I don’t think I’d need a table though. For the price of a table I could knock out a pretty big minicomic print run. (Or feed my family that month.) Having a table will make more sense for me when I have more books with thicker spines and higher price points.

Tom Spurgeon at comicsreporter.com does a much better job than I of making the point I was trying to make about comics’ desperation. “What gets in the way is that comics people tend to do things according to momentum and tradition and self-wounding desire as much as making clear choices based on financial prudence.”

I get the tradition, the momentum and I totally get the love of hanging out with your comics pals. It’s that “self-wounding desire” that makes me a little crazy.

Clearly, I’m not wanted in this conversation but whatevz…

I think “self-wounding desire” is UNDERRATED here. I’d add that indeed as a freelance writer who has to do some hustling (though nothing compared to that of an up and coming comics person), and an attendee of pretty much every convention mentioned here at one point or another, I think that this focus on profits or the supposed “bottom line” is a bit problematic and short-sighted.

Breaking even shouldn’t even be a goal or rather, the initial risk/loss of money/loss of time often pays off in a weird different indirect ways much later. For example, it seems like SPX in particularly is hugely communal and overwhelmingly relaxed and I think I could probably name EVERY table there If I thought hard enough. I’ve since seen some of the dudes’ work who I didn’t get to buy or just plain wasn’t interested in then, in other places since. That’s a kind of familiarity and awareness of an artist work that doesn’t translate to “3.25 for your mini-comic”. So even if TABLE X didn’t make any money at the end of Sunday, their visibility helped them or will help them in the future. It’s a real type of investing besides “if I drop this much on a table and can harass/guilt enough people into buying my mini comic and I only eat from the dollar menu, it was a success!” Man, fuck that.

I’ve often driven 6 hours to do an interview in hopes it’d be picked up by a publication later. I’ve often spent more than the paycheck I was getting for a piece on expenses b/c it’s all an investment, it’s all “Well the end result is bigger than this 700 bucks I’m getting”. I think the kind of prudence Spurgeon mentioned actually hurts an artists chance.

I know plenty of say, DJs who’ve spent all the money they had to get to a non-paying gig because it was “worth it”. I know other DJs who say “fuck that” and play the same hole in their town for 200 a night. Guess which ones are making more money now? Not the “prudent” ones. And while there’s certainly a balance (and that’s no doubt part of what y’all are saying), I think even that’s a kind of pseudo-savvy that leads to a lot of middling, hedged bets.

I think what Brandon suggests is true of art in general, and can be true in comics; I do think it’s less true in comics. Comics is so focused on unearthing new talent it usually removes the exposure angle from putting yourself out there in the same way that artistic arenas like prose or music or screenwriting or playwriting or acting can cite exposure as a huge issue. I know people disagree with me on this, though.

For someone in my position, doing shows serves both purposes–I definitely get a bunch of new readers whenever I do a show, which translates down the road. But just from a business/paying the bills aspect, I have to be able to justify a show financially in order to afford to do it. I’m pretty lucky in that I was fairly well-known in comics circle before I ever started making comics, so I get to jump ahead of the line a little bit there, in terms of getting a first look from a lot of people.

The super indie side of comics is a really weird one for business though, it’s a strange little market that’s sprung up. Doing a show means you have to have enough books to sell to make money, and a certain percentage of NEW books, etc. Which means you make comics in order to have content for minis or books or whatever; there’s a side benefit of a con as creative propellant. That’s certainly the line I’m following–I would not have gotten my diary comics collection done if I had not HAD to get it back from the printer in time for SPX. Ditto a mini I’ll do before APE–the con circuit exists not only as a forum for commerce and self-promotion and beer-guzzling, but is its own series of goals and benchmarks.

Man, but yeah–at my level, even if I have an outrageously successful SPX and triple my outlay, that’s what, like $1000 profit? Which a week or two worth of salary in a regular job. So yeah, money’s important, you have to juggle.

Can you clarify your last point Tom? I have ideas about it but I’m not sure if you mean “unearthing new talent” in terms of the mainstream comics industry, both superhero and book publisher; or if you’re saying that since the comics industry is so geared toward exposure and cons and portfolio reviews and all that that it becomes moot since EVERYone has to hustle on some level; or … I’m not sure.

I won’t argue with anything there in Brandon’s last post. Each individual creator and/or publisher has to weigh that investment and see if it fits their strategy. Or maybe they have no strategy but just want to have some fun at the show. That’s okay too.

But when you have an argument about table prices at these kind of small press shows it is important to remember that a big part of the way these shows promote themselves and I assume a big part of the reason these shows exist is the idea that they are a benefit the art form. That they promote it, they encourage it, they nurture it and give it a platform and a place to be showcased. If that is the case, then I think it is important that the folks behind these shows do everything they can to make sure the show is accessible to the creators and publishers. As in, keeping the tables as cheap as they can. As in NOT continuing to raise the prices just because the demand seems to justify it.

I’m saying that many non-commercial related advantages to certain endeavors seem to me more important in other fields than they are in comics. So while I agree with Brandon there are times to invest in your comics that way, I think bringing in examples from other artistic endeavors is an inexact thing.

It all depends on how much you think you can make and how much exposure you think that show will give. MOCCA is attended by the anybody who’s anybody in indy and even mainstream comics because of its NYC location so many people would willingly lose money to attend there. Costs are also much higher so therefore the show will cost more. But if you’re already sort of known in those NYC circles then why pay to table? I can understand not wanting to, but publicly bitching about it? I guess I don’t personally get that, but we all have our grumpy moments and we should hope they don’t get thrown onto a blog for everyone to dissect.

If you think that’s pricey, try living in the 90% of the country where the closest show (and by that I mean a 4+ hour drive) might be a Wizard or small regional mainstream show where 99% of the fans won’t even look at your table unless they see a cape or giant breasts hugged by spandex. Last time I tabled at Chicago I talked to one guy who’s not a total unknown in indy circles who had flown out from the West Coast and he’d sold less than 5 mini-comics. Made me feel good that somehow I managed to sell about twice that but it still means losing a few hundred dollars on a weekend watching people walk by afraid to make eye contact like it will give them a disease.

Also… I think it’s a BS move to dismiss someone’s criticism by calling them a troll- in fact, that’s trollish in itself since it’s basically an ad hominem. If you want to be “above the fray” then don’t join in the fray. If I thought some dude falsely harassed my girl friend I’d probably bring it up to if someone called them the nicest guy in comics. Besides, if someone stole from your table wouldn’t the proper thing be to call security and let them handle it.

Probably time to put the lid on this tempest in a teapot though I think there’s an important discussion somewhere underneath the Internet argument aspect of it.

Hey everyone! Come to Athens, Georgia’s FLUKE! Five dollar tables and the show’s in a large bar! Drink n’sell or trade comics! We may not be in a convention center, but you can sell your minis and down a bunch of PBR!

(Thanks Dustin- Also, Robert Newsome is the other head on the FLUKE hydra)

Oops! Sorry Patrick, I knew that too. Yes, Robert!

Joe you have to keep in mind that I wasn’t necessarily trashing MoCCA. And definitely not SPX–I just think they’re overpriced in terms of tables, maybe foolishly so going forward. I exhibit at SPX and pay the cost and suck it up and turn a profit. MoCCA at $400/table is too much for too little value, in a city that’s enormously expensive to… exist in.

This isn’t to say I’m against MoCCA or SPX or want to stamp them out or anything. I also think APE is too far away from me. I also don’t like chocolate ice cream. Viva le difference. And I definitely DO think there’s value in discussing this kind of stuff, both from a market perspective and just from a grousing-on-Twitter more casual way. The fact that Brandon has a beef with me doesn’t have anything to do with it. Even considering that Brandon’s beef is totally deserved–I DID falsely accuse his girlfriend of stealing, and not only that I did it in the rudest, stupidest, most idiotic and insensitive way possible. But that doesn’t have much to do with MoCCA or SPX.

As for me being the nicest guy in comics, I’m for sure not. So eat it.

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