When does an artist make the transition from being an amateur to a professional? That’s a question I’ve asked myself in the past, and it still rings in the back of my head from time to time. I’m not working at a big publishing company, and I haven’t had any big gallery shows, but I’ve done alright for myself the last couple of years. Still, when a friend of mine suggested I get an Artists Alley table at this year’s New York Comic Con, I didn’t feel worthy of one at first. Eventually, with some prodding, I decided to go for it and…didn’t get a table. But for $300 I could get half a table in an area right next to Artists Alley! So this past weekend I journeyed to the Jacob Javitz Center on the Westside of Manhattan for this year’s New York Comic Con; but unlike all of the previous times I came to the con, this year I went as a professional artist. Okay so my pass technically said “Exhibitor”, same difference, but it also said “Artists Alley.
I prepared for weeks leading up to the first day of the convention. I made comics, prints, and cards to sell and give, as well as a banner to hang behind my table. I tried to prepare for every eventuality and get myself ready for NYCC. I thought I was ready, but in reality I didn’t know what to expect.
I was excited to have a table, but when I saw what other artists were displaying when I got to Artists Alley on Thursday I kind of felt like a fraud. Lots of creative displays, with different stands and racks to show off art. The woman next to me had a metal tree to hang her cards on. Independent and professional artists alike were selling nice comics with glossy covers. I just had my (partially hand made) comics and my cheap prints that first day, lying flat on my table. I didn’t really feel ready. I didn’t even have everything that I wanted to display. My banner and cards didn’t arrive until after the con started, so I had to wait until the next day to pick them up and bring them over. A part of me believed I was running a con by trying to sell the stuff I did have, and that the people that passed by would see right through my deception. For the first day I really didn’t want anyone to see my work.
Of course all of that self doubt and bullshit was in my head. In reality, people reacted positively to my work (especially when I gave everything away on Sunday); and as the Convention progressed, I became more comfortable behind my table. For all of the doubt that clouded my mind at times prior to NYCC (especially when my orders were screwed up), I found the experience of Artists Alley to be very peaceful and calm. I loved watching people pass by, and seeing all of the colorful costumes many of them wore. I didn’t mind that the tables next to me got more visitors, or that I didn’t sell out of every single comic or print. I was just happy to be there in the first place, and grateful for those who did come over. I found that I was generally happy when someone would approach my table and flip through my comic or look at my cards. Even if they didn’t take anything, I wasn’t offended or hurt. I even met a couple of people who wanted to possibly hire me for work. Even if that doesn’t pan out, I’m glad that I could network with a number of people.
It was the people who made the convention fun. Whether it was my old friends who visited me, or the new friends I made, I had a lot of fun hanging out With everyone. My table mate, along with my neighbors were really nice people who I got to know fairly well throughout the four days. It was also interesting to see their individual styles and how they contrasted, along with the different types of fans that came along. I watched all of the teenagers who visited the table to my left, and all of the drooling men who visited the beautiful young woman at the table to my right. Me? I got a lot of older men and young women visiting me, and I was happy to see all of them. I don’t create art in a vacuum. I want people to see my work, even if I’m sometimes afraid to show it. I’m not going to improve if I don’t get feedback and see what others are doing. If I want to continue to work professionally I’ll need to do just that.
On Sunday, the last day of the convention, I remarked to my neighbor Liss that it felt like the last day of school. In a way, being in Artist Alley felt like being in college again. I spent four days sitting at a table drawing superheroes, talking to artists, and hanging out with my friends. Except now I’m drawing for a living. And I actually couldn’t wait for college to end. When NYCC ended, I felt like I could keep going for a few more days.
Four months ago, I didn’t even think about getting an artists alley table. Now, I don’t want to experience a convention any other way. Seriously, why would anyone want to spend those four days walking around with a thirty pound backpack with 100,000 people suffocating you? I would rather sit at a table and draw all day.