The Other Side of the Table
Join Adam Arnold as he details his experiences as a company exhibitor with Seven Seas Entertainment at Comic-Con 2005!
For the average convention goer, the thought of doing anything but collecting freebies, buying nick-knacks and checking out panels is as foreign a concept as minding the staff's pleas that they remove themselves from the premises once the con has ended. A little higher up on the food chain, we have the press. The press have the uncanny ability to zip between con locals at the drop of a hat, and with the flash of the badge, they can cut a long line in a heartbeat. They say it's all in the name of a good story, but it's really because they want first dibs on all the free stuff. Having been a convention attendee in both these capacities and gotten my share of freebies over the years, Comic-Con 2005 proved to be a monumental eye opener, as I got to experience my first con as a bona fide exhibitor.
For almost a year, I've been working with Jason DeAngelis to help him build an industry and web presence for his fledgling manga company Seven Seas Entertainment, dedicated to making original American-made manga and using creators from around the world. My involvement with Seven Seas began with their website Gomanga.com, which together with Steve Diabo, my fellow Animefringe co-creator, we built and I continue to maintain. Since then, my involvement has blossomed into something much more, the biggest of which is that I have my own series called Aoi House, which is a harem fandom comedy about two straight guys that join an anime club full of crazed, oversexed yaoi fangirls. So, driving three hours to Atlanta and flying another four to San Diego seemed like a complete no brainer to me.
What followed was a steady stream of bizarre afflictions that befell my person throughout the week, starting with a sunburn from walking around the Bay and downtown area, followed by slamming my hand in a car door. The latter incident is actually quite funny in retrospect. I had just met Jason DeAngelis and Shiei, artist of Amazing Agent Luna and Aoi House, for the first time and we were about to head over to the convention center to set up.
The problem was that Jason's car was so packed that Shiei and I had to squeeze into the passenger seat, and I somehow managed to close the door on my left thumb in the process. Shiei, being the sweet girl that she is, offered me her handkerchief to stop the bleeding. Imagine some random scene from an anime where a cute girl offers you her handkerchief and you're that guy who's too timid to accept, and you have that moment.
Then the union had to step in and stir up trouble. Because it was after two o'clock, the union wouldn't let us unload our boxes at the back of the convention center, and we sure as heck weren't about to carry three dozen boxes for the equivalent of ten football fields without a dolly. So with the five o'clock cut-off looming and the fear of not having a booth on preview night, we made our own loading dock as close to the center as possible. Lucky for us, another vender felt pity and lent us their dolly!
Situated on aisle 1100, directly back-to-back with Del Rey, the Seven Seas Entertainment booth became my home and main base of operations from Wednesday, July 13 to Sunday, July 17. Wednesday and Thursday were the slowest days, which turned out to be perfect for learning the ropes of the special type of attendee interaction that one has to employ at cons. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you're not only trying to sell your books, but also your company. It's a lot like working at the mall in a store like Sam Goody, Waldenbooks or Babbages. You literally need to know your titles inside and out, and be able to sum them up in as few and as exciting words as possible.
Another thing that is impossible is to smile all the time, but if you at least say, "Hi" or ask, "How's it going," then you're able to connect with them for a brief moment, which might mean the difference between them stopping at your booth or just walking by. After a while, you actually start to get a buzz off of it, in that you constantly want to talk to people. It's also a really good way to lose your voice -- as I almost did on Saturday. When it gets to that point, then it means you haven't been taking enough breaks. Trust me, working a nine-hour shift from 10 AM to 7 PM is not something a sane person is likely to do, but who ever said that I was sane?
Comic-Con wasn't Seven Seas' first con -- that honor belongs to Anime Expo 2005 -- but with our first wave of titles (Amazing Agent Luna, Blade for Barter, Last Hope and No Man's Land) all in stores now, and Volume 2 of Amazing Agent Luna making its grand debut at the con, Comic-Con was to be the con where we put our best foot forward. We had no less than seven creators at the con, and we made a push to hype our upcoming second wave of titles and second volumes through a set of free postcards. Five books might not seem like a lot, but come this time next year, that number will be over twenty.
Primarily manning the booth was Jason DeAngelis, Shiei, Yayoi and myself. Off and on throughout the con, we had the writers of Amazing Agent Luna, Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis, and of Last Hope, Michael Dignan, drop by for a few signings. We even saw Ted Naifeh, writer of the Seven Seas' title Unearthly, a few times, but he had his own booth dedicated to his work on Courtney Crumrin, Death, Jr. and How Loathsome.
What was really fascinating to see was just how many people actually came up to the booth to tell me how much they enjoyed reading Aoi House on the website. Each of those people got a signed postcard from Shiei and me, because that really helped to cement the fact that people really do like the series. I mean, it's one thing to read posts on a forum, but it's another to get praise from someone in person.
Shiei seems to have her own fan following as well. Around Friday, she started drawing sketches and people would literally just stand there in awe. Where your average artist alley person might draw a quick sketch and be done, Shiei was actually spending upwards of five to ten minutes drawing these drop dead gorgeous pieces of work. In fact, she drew so much that she drained our thick Sharpe pens and was using different pens on the last day!
On Friday, July 15, with about fifty people in attendance, something monumental happened -- Seven Seas hosted its first panel. It also happened to be the first panel that I have ever been asked to be on, and even after a late-Thursday night Starbucks meeting to plan the panel, I still had no clue what we were going to do. Thus we decided that it would be best if Michael Dignan and I shared the hosting duties, since Michael had recently hosted a killer panel at Anime Expo.
With seven of us (Jason DeAngelis, Ted Naifeh, Christina Weir, Nunzio DeFilippis, Michael Dignan and myself) all on stage, the panel opened with Michael welcoming everyone. We took a show of hand to see how many people had heard of us, and close to seventy-five percent of the audience were familiar with our company. For those that didn't know us, we did a short intro on who we are, and then we each introduced ourselves and talked a little about the series that we're working on.
We kept the panel pretty light, with us breaking for Q&A whenever someone had a question, but the biggest surprise from the panel was the debut of the No Man's Land flash anime, a side-story to the No Man's Land manga that will be appearing on Gomanga.com in August, which literally left people with their jaws on the floor. We also showed for the first time what Unearthly looks like toned, which was the first time Ted Naifeh had ever seen them.
One thing that really cracked up the audience was when I asked Jason to do his Japanese impression. It was totally in bad taste, but it got a lot of laughs. Jason lived in Japan for six years and he can speak fluent Japanese and English, but how flawlessly that he can pull off Engrish is just sidesplitting. Jason did get me back when he asked me to describe my room, which is in essence an otaku paradise.
All in all, it turned out to be a marvelous first panel, and we had people coming up afterwards and asking more questions. In fact, just about everyone that attended ended up coming by the booth to talk even more! We really seemed to click with people, and that just made it even cooler.
The Food Situation
The food in the convention center was hit or miss. One day, it was good, and on the next, it was gut wrenching. Stranger still, the adrenalin from talking with so many people actually kept you from getting hungry. It wasn't until the Exhibition Hall was closed and everyone was exiting that hunger began to hit you.
The area that the convention center is located in is known as the Gaslamp District, which is basically this huge downtown atmosphere where a multitude of shops and restaurants are within walking distance. One look at some of the restaurant's menus will make you go cross-eyed from the shear selections available. Just trying to get a plain hamburger requires an entire menu selection to be rewritten as to not include the things that you don't want. As I recall, I told one waiter, "I'd like a cheeseburger without the cheese." Luckily, I had a far easier time ordering what I wanted at Hooters.
And then there was the Circle of Confusion party. Man, how do I even describe that?
Circle of Confusion is a Hollywood management agency that Seven Seas signed with that was throwing a party on Saturday night. Shiei and I were invited to attend, and we were each other's date for the evening. We ran into Ted Naifeh and his girlfriend, Kelly Crumrin, and talked with them for a while, before Shiei and I went back to our little corner out of the way to talk.
Quite an interesting event, but unless you have someone introducing you around, then it can be a tad intimidating, seeing as you're surrounded by company executives and other creators. Probably the highlight of that party had to be when I went into the restroom. They had a guy in there that gives you a dab of soap for your hands, hands you a towel and then offers you a smoke! Now, that's what I call high-class!
The Actual Con
When I did get to break away from the booth long enough to explore the con, I found myself in absolute awe. Comic-Con is quite possibly the most corporate convention on the planet, with Hollywood and the video game industries having taken over a large segment of the exhibition hall floor to showcase upcoming movie franchises, such as Star Wars, Aeon Flux and The Chronicles of Narnia.
I actually read that if you started at one end of the hall and walked every row to the end, that it would be about three miles, and I believe it. The place is absolutely enormous!
Out of all the panels I could have attended, I made absolutely sure that I didn't miss my chance to attend the Superman Returns panel in which Bryan Singer flew from the film set in Sydney, Australia to conduct a Q&A and to premiere a teaser trailer for the film. Boy, am I glad that I saw that. As a life-long, die-hard Superman fan, being in that audience and seeing that exclusive footage was pure ecstasy. I even got a cool Superman pin out of it!
The thing is, I ended up collecting so much free stuff that I kind of forgot to buy a lot of stuff. I found a wind-up Dalek from Dr. Who and a few DVDs, but I actually bought more on my way home than I did at the con. Maybe that's a good thing, though. Judging from how much stuff I bought at Anime Expo in 2002, I doubt I would've been let on the plane.
I think my biggest treasure from the con had to be the painting of Morgan from Aoi House that Shiei made for me. Out of all the things that I had to find a way to get home safely, protecting that canvas was my biggest concern, and I'm glad to say that it made it home in one piece!
As with any first time, you can always think of things to do better next time. For instance, we should bring a dolly next time, use Velcro instead of tape when hanging up our signs and we should post a full autograph-signing schedule on the net before the con. However, these are really only minor things.
The fact is, Seven Seas did amazingly well at Comic-Con and the team had a blast. And guess what? I'm already planning my trip for next year!
Hope to see you then!
Images by Terra, Shiei and Adam Arnold