By Dirk Manning
To close out 2013 I decided to go on the road for a signing tour consisting of 13 comic shows in 13 weeks… but before the tour was over it grew into a massive 15 shows in 15 weeks.
I learned a helluva lot, in general, about promoting comics, making conventions as successful as possible, and "life on the road" over the course of the tour, and if you somehow missed the columns detailing the first two-thirds of the tour, fear not, as they are discussed here and here.
That being said, let's enter into November's leg of the journey with…
Super-Fly Comics & Games (Yellow Springs, Ohio; November 2, 2013)
As I rolled into Yellow Springs, Ohio I realized how, for this being my ninth consecutive appearance in nine straight weeks (on top of a full-time day job, mind you), I was holding up surprisingly well both physically and mentally.
Part of it, of course, was due to the fact that I was constantly meeting and/or reuniting with so many great people, and of my appearance at Super-Fly was no exception to this rule, reuniting me with my some of my good pals I first met years ago via the Panels on Pages podcast before solidifying our friendship on the road throughout various mutual convention appearances (and occasional in-store signing appearances) through the years.
I've grown to be good pals with the whole Super-Fly crew, and aside from being longtime supporters of my work, it's these fine fellows who convinced me to start the "Story Sketch Cover" phenomenon that is now becoming quite the thing to do these days…
(The idea of "Story Sketch Covers" by writers has become such a trend that Bleeding Cool covered this new fad here.)
Sketch Covers Stories, a great live "Write or Wrong: Live!" writing workshop, and the fun that always comes from kickin' it with the Super-Fly crew aside, the most surreal moment of an already amazing tour to date happened not during the signing, but beforehand when I went to grab a burger.
As I did so, I heard someone yell out "Dirk Mother-F**king Manning!" from across the street.
Now, mind you, as I discussed in the second part of this column last week, people greeting me (or even yelling out to me from across a crowded room) "Dirk Mother-F**king Manning!" is not an unusual experience while I'm attending conventions. It's a tradition (live-meme?) that was started at Detroit Fanfare by artist and friend Tony Miello (more on him later) and now it's just the way things are, y'know?
But to get that kind of greeting while walking down the street in Yellow Springs, Ohio, before I was even scheduled to appear? REALLY?
I turned around to see none other than my old-school and recently reunited pal Steve Greene walking towards me.
I was, of course, shocked almost to the point of speechlessness to see him again.
For those of you who haven't yet read last week's column (or need a refresher), allow me to explain why this was a really big deal: I re-met Steve back at Cinema Wasteland in Strongsville, Ohio (just outside of Cleveland) earlier in the tour when he introduced himself as one of the members of the band Voyag3r who would be performing at my signing at Comics & More in Madison Heights, Michigan the following week. As Steve and I talked, we realized that knew each other from almost two decades prior when I used to cover his former band for a music magazine based out of Toledo, Ohio.
In short, I was reacquainted with Steve – in Cleveland – about an appearance we would have together – in Detroit – only to find out we knew each other back in the day – from Toledo.
And that all happened in the last two months.
Now, I found myself talking to Steve again in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which is about four hours away from his base of operations.
Or, if you choose to look at it this way, this was the now the third time I was seeing Steve in three months after not seeing him for nearly twenty years. Steve claimed that he was visiting family in Yellow Springs, Ohio that weekend (and even had someone with him claiming to be his mother to back up his assertion), but I think he may have been up to something else, considering how by the time I got back to Super-Fly to start my signing I walked in to this unsettling sight of a certain someone sitting at my table, reading by books…
Not one to not be able to take a (cosmic) hint, Steve and I agreed that we would indeed have to do some sort of comic/music crossover with my work and his band's work… so stay tuned for that.
Life on the road, folks! These are the types of experiences that you'll never have unless you go out on tour like this!
Akron Comic Con (Akron, Ohio; November 9, 2013)
The past several years have seen more and more small to mid-sized, one-to-two day comic cons popping up across the Midwest, which is something that can prove wonderful for comic fans and professionals when done right… and I'm happy to say that this was the case with Michael Savene's Akron Comic Con.
One of the things that I hear a lot of aspiring writers talk about is how they "can't wait" to start attending the bigger comic conventions such as San Diego, New York Comic Con and the like… and while that's all well and good, one of the most important things to do first is to start 'plying your trade' (or, in this case, trade paperbacks – ha!) at smaller conventions where it's easier to meet fans, bring exposure to your work, and recoup your expenses.
All too often, up-and-coming creators will scrape and scrimp and save all their money to set up at one big show, only to not even come close to recouping their investment, monetarily or otherwise.
Yes, setting up at big cons is a great goal, but even if you can somehow position yourself to start your convention circuit by setting up at the bigger comic conventions… in most cases I'd suggest against it.
Instead, use those funds to attend a few (or perhaps even several) good, smaller-to-mid-sized comic conventions in your region that you can drive to (as opposed to fly), stay at with friends (if it's a two-day show), and make meaningful connections with attendees and fellow professionals alike.
Vault of Midnight (Ann Arbor, Michigan; November 16, 2013)
Maybe it's the Midwesterner in me but, despite having traveled all over the United States on trips both for both personal and professional reasons, Ann Arbor, Michigan still remains one of my favorite cities to visit.
Sure, there are bigger and busier places one could spend a day (or two) strolling around, but I love this town for its great boutique stores, great restaurants, numerous used bookstores… and of course the mighty Vault of Midnight comic shop.
Many moons ago – back in 2008, to be exact – I did one of my earliest book signing appearances at this great comic shop on Halloween Night, and it marks one of only two times I ever dressed in full "Dirk Manning regalia," (doing so only because it was Halloween night in one of the biggest party towns in the Midwest).
(That's store co-owner Liz and Tales of Mr. Rhee artist Josh Ross with me in the pic, by the way… not in that order.)
Also, since people who've yet to meet me in person at a convention or signing still tend to ask, no, I don't ever dress like that for signings. This was, again, pretty much a one-off thing I did as a gag for Halloween… although I realized, as I prepped for my return to the shop, that the staff could very well have been expecting me to stroll in wearing a top hat and sunglasses like I did all those years ago.
There's a lesson there, folks.
As I advertised at a few of the other in-store signings on this tour, I planned to run a Write or Wrong workshop for aspiring creators at this appearance and, due to the heavy foot traffic the store gets, we decided to have me set up for the signing in the uber-swanky "Ultra-Lounge" downstairs.
Even if setting up downstairs meant not selling as many books, it was worth it to spend time with some very dedicated creators who came down to talk about making comics, as well as an interview by Kasey "JediDash" Pierce of All Things Geeks (which you can listen to at that very link, should you decide you want to hear the voice of the guy whose column you've been reading all this time… and then hear how I respond when asked about my favorite conspiracy theory.)
Aside from that, one of the biggest perks of the evening (aside from setting up a great comic shop run by great people, of course) was yet again getting to hang out with several friends who came out to the store, including Nikki (and her fiancé) and Tony Miello.
Remember earlier when I told you I'd tell you a bit about Tony? Now's that time.
By this point in my tour I had seen Tony five times… and four of those times involved him just coming to hang out and visit.
Tony is a fellow comic creator, and he's one of the best dudes I know. He's a co-organizer of Detroit Fanfare and is heavily involved with WonderWorld Comics, but that never stops him from coming out to hang out at the other stores in his area throughout this tour… or grabbing some cool Japanese ice cream after a signing.
I bring this up because as we up-and-coming comic creators all scrape and claw to get the attention (and dollars) of others, it's important to remember that you won't get there by shutting out others, especially your fellow up-and-coming creators.
Make no mistake: At the end of the day you're going to prosper or falter based on your own merits, work ethic, and talent. The idea of not supporting your peers – or worse, sabotaging them through words or deeds – isn't going to get you anywhere.
This is a discussion for another column in and of itself (he says, making a note to himself), but for now, remember this: If you ever start to get jealous of another creator, don't.
Only you can do what you can do, and to that end, you should support your fellow creators for doing what only they can do, too.
That's the approach that raises the awareness of good creator-owned work for everyone.
Packrat Comics (Hilliard, Ohio; November 23, 2013)
Remember a little bit ago when I said Ann Arbor, Michigan is one of my favorite cities to visit in the Midwest?
Due to its thriving "underground" scene of stellar comic creators (for now), and several great comic shops, Columbus, Ohio is also gaining the same level of reverence in my heart.
Packrat Comics holds the honor (horror?) of being the first shop to ever host me for a comic signing, which is one of the several reasons I make it a point to do signings there at least one a year.
That, and co-owners Jamie and Teresa are both uber-awesome people who run a great, great, great comic shop just outside of Columbus.
Those of you who are fans of that Doctor Who show I hear so much about may notice that this date was also the "Day of the Doctor," so Teresa felt it was only fitting that I commemorate the event wearing the longest scarf I've even seen…
Apparently long scarves have something to do with time travel… or… something? Maybe?
Due to the fact that I return to this store semi-regularly, I of course had a number of "regulars" come by to pick up my latest books… but I also was able to meet some great new people, including Allen Davidson.
Allen came by to talk creating comics, and after we did that for a bit we ended up chatting about all sorts of other things, at which time Allen revealed something rather disquieting about an experience he had in the past when meeting another one of his favorite comic writers.
Specifically, the creator in question (a very established writer who is borderline legendary for his cantankerous nature) publically chided and humiliated Allen when he was a young fan, causing Allen to never approach another creator he liked until we started talking at Packrat.
There's a lot of things I could say about this (again, making notes for a future column), but for now, let me just say this: If you're set up at a comic convention (whether you paid for your table in Artist Alley or are there as a featured guest), you should never, ever do anything less than be polite and respectful to each and every person who comes to your table.
Should you tolerate abuse? No, of course not. That aside, your obligation is to smile, and to pleasantly engage the people who come to your table (as much as possible considering the rest of the crowd and your end goal of also making as many connections and selling as many books as possible).
What really struck me about Allen's story, though, was that as he told it to me, it sounded more and more familiar, until it dawned on me: "Dude… was that the convention where the fire alarm kept going off and everyone had to keep leaving the convention?"
Understandably shocked that I was able to identify that obscure fact about the show in question, I explained, "Not only was I at that show, and not only do I know who you're talking about, but I was walking by when it happened. I saw it happen to you, dude… and I considered going over there and bawling that guy out for treating you so harshly all those years ago."
Given that I didn't have a time machine (oh, where was that super long scarf when I needed it?), I did the only thing I could do, all these years later… and that was this:
It's a small gesture, sure, but it was completed with a big manly hug and the reassurance that the @$$holes are the minority…and even should they become the majority, they shouldn't be given the power to ruin our lives.
That being said, though, you – especially in a professional caliber – should never be the source of ruining someone else's life (or even so much as someone else's day) either.
After the signing was over I was able to catch up with my one of good pals David Lanning and his family at the amazing vintage toy store Big Fun and then to get some Jeni's Ice Cream (a fairly Columbus-centric treat that, while not inexpensive, easily ranks among the best ice cream I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
(Yes… "experiencing." Seriously – check out their flavors! It's amazing stuff!)
Oh, and while at Jeni's, David went and tried to get us all killed with this little stunt…
(If you don't know how that ensemble he's wearing ran a real risk of getting us killed in Columbus on a game day, well, I envy you for knowing even less about college sportsball than even I do. Truly.)
Leaving Columbus behind me I thought about how, theoretically, this could have been the last week of a very successful tour filled with good times and good friends.
As it turned out however, I had three more weeks of touring ahead of me…
Much like my tour was unexpectedly extended, so too has this review of the tour! In the next column I'll share my closing advice and observations concerning what you can glean from the experience and apply to your own comic-creating and promoting ventures.
To that end… we'll wrap this up with a special "Part 4 of 3" next Friday, my friends!
NEXT WEEK: Part 4 of 3? Can we even do that? Of course we can, and we will! The big finale to this adventure – and, again – what you can (and should) all learn from it deserves a column of its own… complete with all sorts of photos, of course.
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of the Nightmare World trilogy of graphic novels and the Love Stories (To Die For) (all from Image Comics/Shadowline and currently available to order from your local comic shop) as well as Write or Wrong: A Writer's Guide to Creating Comics (from Transfuzion Publishing and available exclusively through Amazon.com either in print of as a Kindle e-book). If you enjoy this column – or Dirk's work in general – he'd love for you to support the Tales of Mr. RheeKickstarter. Along with this aforementioned comic-related work, he has also written several short films for BlackBox TV and some other cool projects, all of which are detailed on his newly minted website www.DirkManning.com. Dirk lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook, Twitter and now even www.DirkManning.com on a fairly regular basis… when he's not busy writing, of course. Feel free to follow him at one or all such locations if you're into that sort of thing. Cthulhu is his homeboy.