By Abby Haywood
For a lot of artists, the idea of getting a table at Comic-Con sounds pretty good. Who wouldn’t want a chance to meet cool people and get paid to make fan art? The problem is that having a successful table can be harder than you think. With many pricey art schools not properly preparing students to monetize their work and leaving students on their own to figure out how to stand out in a sea of other creators, establishing yourself on the convention scene can be brutal.
So, on the opening day of the recent Grand Rapids Comic-Con, I put on my press badge and stepped onto the con floor with a purpose. Once inside, I headed straight to Artist Alley to find the secret to success. There, I met Comfort Love and Adam Withers, aka Comfort and Adam, the self-proclaimed “two-headed hydra of comics.”
Comfort and Adam, both graduates of and former instructors at Kendall College of Art and Design, have been full-time artists since 2009, and have been tabling at conventions since 2003. As a husband and wife team they collaborate on every piece of art they create, both having a hand in everything from the design and line art, to the plot of their comics. The duo has created three different comic series, written a how-to book on self-publishing comics, and designed hundreds of art prints.
The following is Comfort and Adam’s advice for artists trying to make a name for themselves in the comic and convention fields.
There’s never going to be a “perfect” moment to start creating and selling work, so don’t wait until you graduate. Carve out some time here and there to work on your passion project now, even if it’s just for an hour or two. Or, take a weekend to table at a local event. Comfort and Adam started doing shows while they were still in college and recommended others do the same because, “If you want to do art as a living, or create stuff… I think… it’s better to dip your toes in and make your mistakes early, and get it out of the way early,” Comfort said.
So, what are you waiting for?
Comfort and Adam advise aspiring artists to take classes outside their major. For example, if you are an illustration major, they recommend that students take a couple graphic design classes. Graphic design plays a big role in poster / art print design, any branding for your art business, and layout of comics.
“Design comes up a lot more often in illustration than you might anticipate…” Adam said. “We’ve had to do logo design. When we letter our comics, lettering is graphic design. There’s a tremendous amount of time that goes into something that nobody’s going to pay attention to unless it’s bad. If it does it’s job, you don’t even notice, but to do that job you need to understand design, you need to understand layout, you need to understand eye path and contrast and all of these things that are core principles of graphic design that an illustrator might never touch on… There are ways to do this job where we wouldn’t have needed to know these things. But because we know those things, we’ve been able to do things that a lot of people in our profession can’t do.”
What art school is… and isn’t
Don’t assume your art school education will teach you everything you need to know to monetize your work.
“They can teach you a fair bit about how to do the work, but they don’t prepare you to do the job. And there is a difference,” says Adam. “Art school gave us a lot, and there are a lot of things we learned, and we met each other, and it was wonderful. But everything we know about making comics, everything that has made us successful in the comic book industry, we had to teach ourselves.”
What work to bring to a con
Because conventions are chock full of talented artists, you’re going to have to be strategic in order to stand out from the crowd. One of the best ways to do that is to include fan art alongside your original work because, according to Comfort, “It’s the shiny lure on the hook for other people.”
The bonus is that creating fan art will give you an excuse to catch up on some of your favorite shows.
People are more likely to want to support you if they think you’re a nice person.
“The thing we always tell people is… you are the product you’re trying to sell, you’re not selling your comics, you’re selling yourself as an experience,” Adam said. “People get to know you, and they like you, and if they like you they wanna support you by buying your stuff. Everywhere you look, there are amazing artists. Everybody here can draw, everybody here can present you with a story one way or the other, whether it’s purely through images or with writing. We’re all here because we know what we’re doing… What makes you stand out is who you are, your personality. And so… be a good person, and hopefully that’s not hard to do.”
And if you’re past college and regretting that you didn’t start working on a comic sooner, no worries.
“It’s never too late to start, because there is always a way that you can find to get your foot in the door,” says Comfort. “And if you’re passionate about it, that passionate… quality drives you to do that work. You’ll find a way to get there.”