This week the comic industry is bracing itself for the forty-first installment of the San Diego Comic-Con International. The San Diego show is by far the preeminent comic book convention in the world and has been for decades.
In the early 1980′s, when we first started to attend as Comico, International was not yet tagged onto the name. Even then it was the biggest and best Comic Convention though in those days 4,000 attendees was an exciting number, nothing compared to the audience that piles in today.
1983 was our first year attending with a booth and we were quick to realize how easy it was to get lost in the vast auditorium of vendors, publishers and artists. Comico was a small black-and-white publisher at the time featuring five titles: Az by Phil LaSorda, Grendel by Matt Wagner, Slaughterman by myself, Skrog by Bill Cucinotta and our new-talent anthology, Comico Primer. We had our sites set on publishing color books and had begun to promote our intentions.
When we had decided to attend the convention our first priority was to make sure that we presented ourselves as professionally as possible. We had a number of sales representatives from display companies stop by the studio and pitch their product. Most of them were very expensive and very boring. I made a point out of examining each display meticulously, focusing on how each was built and what features best suited our needs. My conclusion was that I needed to build the booth myself because it was the only way that we could afford the type of booth that we wanted. I designed and constructed a booth display out of foam core that was quite impressive. It was covered with vinyl graphics that I applied with a tacking iron. It came complete with plexiglass pockets that displayed our books and had overhead lighting built in. The whole thing folded flat and we transported it in an oversized portfolio.
The design and construction skills that I had developed as a model and costume builder along with the 3-D and sculpture training that I had acquired while attending the Philadelphia College of Art proved to come in handy when it came to selling comic books.
The booth, which would last us for the next three years, gave us an air of professionalism that we had not yet been awarded by our peers. When fans approached our booth we looked as impressive as Marvel, DC and all of the other major players at the time. Our books then were a bit crude but we were slowly building our reputation on grit, perseverance, creativity and ingenuity.
We left San Diego that year proud of the inroads we had made. We had proven that we could be part of the landscape of industry and we had done well networking with fans, distributors, retailers, artists and other publishers.
When we returned to San Diego in 1984 there was a lot more at stake. Our decision to go to color had been realized but not as we had initially planned. The five titles that we had touted the year before were gone. Our commitment to color forced us to recognize that if we were to succeed we needed to send better work to the presses. The new lineup included Elementals by Bill Willingham, Evangeline by Charles Dixon and Judith Hunt, and Mage by Matt Wagner.
We knew that it was going to take much more than a fancy booth to make sure that our product would be noticed by the attending crowd of comics enthusiasts.
We had come back from San Diego the previous year with a huge pile of brochures, flyers, buttons business card, postcards and photocopied samples of art, most of which had been picked up at the entrance of the convention hall. It was easy to lose even the most lavishly produced piece of promotional material in this wild collection of potential paper cuts.
How was Comico going to separate itself and its promotional material from this knot of collateral material?
Stepping outside the box is a long used cliche but one I have always adhered to, especially when it comes to promoting a product. Ironically, it was the box that was the solution for our marketing approach for Comic-Con that year. The box was the vessel for the usual and the mundane. Once outside of it, all I saw was valuable marketing real estate on the box, itself!
We needed a vessel of our own that everybody else’s promotional material would go into.
I went to S. Walter Packaging in Philadelphia and researched bags and found a plastic one that was reinforced, strong enough to carry a lot of paper goods, and printable on both sides. I designed a catchy slogan that featured our logo in two colors and incorporated an ad that we were running in our books. Finally, I plastered the thing with black-and-white go-go checks that made it pop across the room.
As expected, we were the only company that had a bag that was capable of holding all of the goodies that anyone could pick up at registration and around convention hall. The bag was not only popular it was in demand. When bags ran out at registration a line formed at our table. Nearly every attendee carried a Comico bag that year and it was nearly impossible to not see our logo anywhere at the convention center or in the streets of downtown San Diego.
Our success at San Diego Comic-Con that year was clearly “In the Bag!”