Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait

No matter how much an astronaut sacrifices, no matter how hard she's worked to get her shot, there has to be a moment -- probably right after a million and a half pounds' worth of propellant lights up under her -- when she wonders if she's made an error. Having put every last ounce of myself into the promotion of Nonplayer over the last few weeks, I suddenly have a similar feeling of unease going into the debut weekend.

Promoting something does some pretty strange things to your head. For one, there's the endless bragging. I've been looking at my comic for long enough that it's hard to see past my own mistakes, but that doesn't square very well with the job of being a salesman. Sadly, I don't think people will rush to pick up the book when I tell them to "check out Nonplayer -- on one panel, a character's eyes don't quite point in the same direction!" So I'm trying to be a good cheerleader for the book. I recognize the necessity of it, but it does go against a lifetime of programming that says "stop talking about yourself, douchebag."

The tone of my relationship with the public has also changed. When that relationship was conducted solely through this blog, I was able to interact with commenters as individuals -- to look at their work, to get a sense of who they were as people. There was a refreshing lack of anonymity. We were sharing and caring! And since very little was said about Nonplayer outside the walls of this comfy little garden, I was able to parse every comment and benefit from it, regardless of whether it was critical or supportive.

Well, now there are more people talking about the book outside these walls than there are here in the garden. It's tempting to wander the web to read what people are saying -- few things are more intoxicating than hearing a stranger say something nice about you. But it doesn't take long before the whole thing starts to make you a little queasy. When that anticipation gets whipped up past a certain point, you start to wonder if there's any way the work itself will live up to readers' expectations.

Regrettably, I've even bought into some of this hype -- when I finally opened the first shipment of books, my first thought was that they looked awful small. Apparently my sense of the book had become so inflated that some part of my brain had expected the book to be physically larger than a normal comic. Weird, right? I'll be selling copies of the first issue at WonderCon this weekend, so we'll see if others have this reaction.

Out there beyond the wall lurk negative comments too, about which the less said the better.

Of course, there's one very big elephant in the room: each issue of Nonplayer will take a few months -- maybe even many months -- to create. Nobody wishes more than I do that it would come out faster -- after all, I'm trying to make a living off of this thing, and more than one retailer has explained to me that every day that passes between issues is money lost. My stomach makes a foreboding gurgling noise just thinking about it.

I certainly get why both I and retailers have cause for concern -- in both our cases, it's a matter of making financial ends meet. It was that financial imperative that prevented me from doing all six issues before releasing. I'd never have gotten anywhere near the finish line on my own dime.

I also remember what it was like to be a kid waiting for a late comic. I had a vision of the artist spending his days jet-skiing and partying while I waited patiently for him to get back to work. Sometimes I still fall prey to that kind of thinking, which is why I get antsy when I spend even a couple of hours away from my desk.

But that's probably not very good for the quality of the book, in the long run. Nonplayer #1 was made in a commercial vacuum -- no deadlines, no editors, no readers to impress. And though the commercial context has changed, I'm doing my best to preserve that sense of calm while working on the second issue. I need to be able to take chances, to make mistakes, and to start some things over when they don't work. This started out as a learning process, and I want to keep on learning. I want the second issue to be better than the first.

I'm very sorry for making folks wait between issues. I really do hate to inconvenience anybody -- I'm pretty sure I hate it enough that it qualifies as a neurosis. And the thought that I'm grabbing the attention of so many readers, only to disappoint them en masse, is putting a bit of a damper on all the recent good news about the comic's reception. I feel like I'm jumping up onto a big stage, only to have my pants ripped away at the last moment. Ta-dah!

All that said, if you'd one day like to hold a nice fat Nonplayer trade paperback full of noodly, self-indulgent artwork, then you may want to say this when you meet me:

"I can wait. Pace yourself."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pounding the Pavement

Four days to Final Order Cutoff, the last day that comic retailers can order copies of Nonplayer #1 (which hits the stands in less than a month).

It turns out that the work of making a comic doesn't stop when you send the finished pages off to the printer. There's this whole other magical, impenetrable thing called "promotion." I don't have much experience to inform my decision-making in this area, so I've opted for the blunt-force approach: I'm contacting individual retailers and reviewers one-by-one via email. I'm sure there are useful force-multipliers that I'm overlooking (for example, a shout-out from somebody like Patton Oswalt, Chris Hardwick, or Felicia Day would probably quadruple my sales, but I don't really know how to make it across their fan-moats). If anybody has any good ideas, I'm putty in your hands.

So far, I've focused on Twitter, the Nonplayer website, this blog, DeviantArt, and the Project Waldo Facebook page. A word to the wise about DeviantArt: when you open your account, pick a username that relates in some way to your real name (or which is at least relevant to your interests). I chose "hughferriss" out of habit (many years ago, it was the only numeral-free name I could find for a Yahoo account). Now I've got thousands of people out there who think Nonplayer was written by a guy named Hugh Ferriss. I am not Hugh Ferriss. Hugh Ferriss was an extremely talented architectural renderer of the art deco era, and I certainly wouldn't mind being him, but sadly I am not him. This is enough of a problem that I'm considering opening a new DeviantArt account, even though I've already got a couple thousand people following the hughferriss account. It'll take many hours to get everything set up again, and I'll lose a lot of followers. Don't do what I did. (Edit: I went ahead and set up a new account -- one with the word "Nate" right there in the username. That's two hours I'll never get back.)

One weird thing about promotion is that it requires constant bragging. It's awkward in the same way that writing a resumé is awkward. I've decided to treat the Nonplayer website as the rah-rah outside voice and let this blog be my inside voice. Also, I'll be posting new art here soon.

Anyway, I've been sending personalized emails to comic shops, websites, blogs, podcasts, and magazines. I'm seeing about a 30% response rate, which is a little better than I expected to get through the unsolicited email approach. If you do something similar, I recommend finding out the name of your key contact and using it in the greeting, and then working the name of the store or website into the first couple of sentences. This is your way of saying "this is not spam." The other thing I try to do is keep it short. My story synopsis is one sentence long, and then I toss out four positive one-sentence reviews. I try to keep in mind that retailers and reviewers probably get thousands of unsolicited emails, and they're not likely in the mood to follow me on a wondrous journey through the labyrinthine backstory of Nonplayer.

By far the biggest promotional boost has come from you guys -- many of the shops I've contacted have told me that preorders have been coming in, and they've upped their orders as a result of customer interest. One good example is Comics Heaven in Stockholm, Sweden. When I first contacted them, they wrote back to tell me they didn't plan on stocking Nonplayer until it came out in trade paperback. A week later, I got an email from Dan Cooper at DICE, who said he'd gone around his office talking up Nonplayer and then gone into Comics Heaven to order fifteen copies. And a week after that, the shop contacted me again to report they'd upped their orders. That was a great feeling, knowing that somebody was excited enough about the comic to go to bat for it like that.

If you're interested in helping out, please swing by your local comic shop this weekend and remind them about Nonplayer. Tell the owner that if he/she contacts me at nonplayercomic [at] gmail [dot] com, I'll send them a signed poster. I've listed the shops that haven't gotten back to me below -- if you see your favorite shop on this list, please hit them up for a copy! And if you don't see your favorite shop on any of these lists, now's the time to drop them a line. After Monday, it'll be too late.

North American shops that have not confirmed interest in Nonplayer, in alphabetical order:

8th Street Comics, Saskatoon
A-1 Comics, Sacramento, CA
Alternate Worlds, Cockeysville, MD
Amazing Stories, Shrewsbury, NJ
Atomic Comics, AZ
Bedrock City Comics, Houston, TX
Books, Comics, and Things, Ft Wayne, IN
Bridge City Comics, Portland, OR
Captain Nemo Comics, San Luis Obispo, CA
Chicago Comic Vault, Chicago, IL
Chicago Comics, Chicago, IL
Comic Heaven, Willoughby, OH
Comic Smash, Los Angeles, CA
Comic Stop, Redmond/Lynwood/Greater Seattle, WA
Comic Store West, York, PA
The Comics Keep, Bremerton, WA
The Comics Place, Bellingham, WA
Comix Connection, York, PA
Comix Experience, San Francisco, CA
Corner Comics, Totem Lake, WA
Cosmic Comics, Bellingham, WA
Cosmic Monkey Comics, Portland, OR
Danter Room, Olympia, WA
Dark Tower Comics, Chicago, IL
Desert Island, Brooklyn, NY
Dr Comics and Mr Games, Oakland, CA
Dreamworld, Culver City, CA
Earth 2 Comics, Sherman Oaks, CA
Excalibur comics, Portland, OR
Fantasy Shop Inc., Saint Louis, MO
Forbidden Planet, New York, NY (note: Forbidden Planet UK is fully on board)
Golden Age Collectables, Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC
Golden Apple Comics, Los Angeles, CA
Heroes Comics, Fresno, CA
Isotope Comics, San Francisco, CA
Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash, Red Bank, NJ
Karen's Comics, Portland, OR
Lone Star Comics, Dallas, TX
Lost World of Wonders, Milwaukee, WE
Meltdown Comics, Los Angeles, CA
Midtown Comics, New York, NY
Mile High Comics, Denver, CO
New England Comics, MA
Olympic Cards and Comics, Lacey, WA
On Comic Ground, San Diego, CA
Phantom of the Attic Comics, Pittsburgh, PA
Purple Earth Comics, Huntington, WV
Ron's Coin and Book, Yakima, WA
RX Comics, Vancouver, BC
Silver Snail Comics, Toronto
Source Comics and Games, MN
The Secret Headquarters, Los Angeles, CA
Things From Another World, Milwaukie, OR
Third Coast Comics, Chicago, IL
Universe of Superheroes, Jacksonville, FL

And stores outside the United States that have yet to respond:

The 3rd Place, Dublin
The 4th Dimension, Dublin
Album Comics, Paris
Alternate Worlds, Windsor Victoria
Comics Etc., Brisbane
Comikaza, Israel
Comix, Brazil
Dynamic Duo Comics, Adelaide
Good Fellows, Helsinki
HQ Mix, Brazil
Pep Comics, Netherlands
Pulp's Comics, Paris
Story, Dublin
Sub City, Dublin
T3 Terminal Entertainment, Frankfurt

But let's end on a high note! These are the North American stores that HAVE shown interest in Nonplayer:

A Comic Shop, Orlando, FL
Alakazam Comics, Irvine, CA
Arcane Comics, Seattle, WA
The Beguiling, Toronto, ON
Challengers Comics, Chicago, IL
The Comic Bug, Manhattan Beach, CA
Comic Oasis, Las Vegas, NV
Comicopolis, Santa Cruz, CA
ComicReaders, Regina, SK
Comics Conspiracy, Sunnyvale, CA
Comics Dungeon, Seattle, WA
Cosmix, Montreal, Quebec
Downtown Comics, Indianapolis, IN
Dreamstrands, Seattle, WA
First Aid Comics, Chicago, IL
Floating World Comics, Portland, OR
Graham Crackers Comics, Chicago, IL
Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, Charlotte, NC
Newbury Comics, MA
Planet X Comics, York, PA
Strange Adventures, Halifax, NS
Third Eye Comics, Annapolis, MD
Titan Gaming, White Horse, YT
Unreal City, Saskatoon, SK
Vault of Midnight, Ann Arbor, MI
Westfield Comics, Madison, WI
Zanadu Comics, Seattle, WA

And the fine stores abroad that have shown interest:

Comics Heaven, Stockholm
Dave's Comics, Brighton, UK
Forbidden Planet UK (in a big way, at 16 stores -- all but Edinburgh, the manager of which reportedly isn't all that into the comic)
Gosh!, London
Kings Comics, Sydney
Mega City Comics, Camden, UK
OK Comics, Leeds, UK
Paradox, Poole, UK
Travelling Man Comics, Manchester, UK

Thanks for all your help, guys. None of this would have happened without your support.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Emerald City has come and gone, and it's time to sit down with this big sack of memories and sort them out into neat little piles.

First off, thanks to all of you who came by to visit the Nonplayer booth in person. Everybody was eager to talk shop, and it was a pleasure getting to put faces to names. I feel like I'm writing this blog for real people now, rather than for a bunch of disembodied internet beings. I hope the folks I met this weekend turn out to be an accurate sampling of Nonplayer readers in general, because every age group, gender, and lifestyle was well-represented. The only thing you all had in common was niceness and smarts. I especially enjoyed meeting all your kids (and I'm proud that I thought to laminate my sample comic before it was drooled upon by so many babies). And to all of you who bought posters, I hope you like them!

Which brings me to a bit of business: those very posters are now available for purchase at the Nonplayer online store. One last time, here's what the two 11" x 17" posters look like:

 

Thanks in advance for supporting Nonplayer -- as has been previously discussed in this blog, my wife and I ended up dipping pretty deeply into our savings to get Nonplayer out the door, and this is our first opportunity to slow (or even stop) our inexorable descent toward coal-faced street urchindom.

If you do get a poster, please let us know how the ordering and shipping experience went -- this is our first time selling merchandise online, and we want to make sure nothing's amiss in the poster pipeline. I'd love to hear what you think of your poster, as well. Those who saw them at the convention seemed very happy with the quality of both the printing and the cardstock paper, so I hope that trend continues!

Okay, back to the convention.

I met so many cool people. It was very strange to be sitting next to Nick Spencer during the Image signing. I mean, the guy who writes Morning Glories is right there next to you, and he's treating you like you deserve to be there! He's a really nice guy, and I'm sad I didn't get more of a chance to talk with him. And then just around the corner was Nathan Edmondson, who gave me a couple of free (and totally rad) comics of his own. How have I not read "Who is Jake Ellis" before? I have to say, people named "Nathan" sure do seem to be slightly more awesome than everybody else. And before I forget, Tonci Zonjic is amazing, too. That's one beautiful comic.

Image

Edmondson and Zonjic's "Who is Jake Ellis?"

Of course, as an artist, I was especially excited to meet some fellow doodlers. As expected, I was completely starstruck. Like, to my left during the signing was Ryan Ottley, of "Invincible" fame. The whole time I was supposed to be pimping my comic, I just kept looking over at his pencils and being blown away. There was this one spread of the Hulk punching a dude (I think it was the Hulk) with all these tiny action panels behind the main event, and it was like a little master course in how to compose a two-page spread. That guy. Wow.


Ottley's "Invincible"

And then a little farther down was Brandon Graham, who is another one of those guys who sends me into fits of I'm-not-worthiness. I don't know how much of his work you've seen online, but Multiple Warheads is going to incinerate the comics world and leave it badly irradiated for decades to come. Brandon's color is like ice cream for my eyeballs. If you aren't already aware of his blog, go check it out right now. It's my favorite.


Graham's "Multiple Warheads"

Maybe the biggest surprise of the con was Emi Lenox. I'd already known she was a ninja in the autobiographical comic genre, but when I saw her entry in the Monsters and Dames convention book, I realized she'd been keeping some very big guns in reserve. If she ever lets you beat her at a game of pool, resist the temptation to put money on the next game. If she plays like she draws, you're going to lose your shirt. I hope she gets to do more color stuff soon, because it's super sweet.


Lenox's "Monsters and Dames" Illustration

And those are just the guys I could see from my seat! I bet there were other supertalents just on the other side of the partition. How I'm supposed to make my mark in this sort of company is beyond me, but I'm happy just to have been there. I feel like Moonlight Graham -- somehow, I got bumped up from the minors to play right field for one inning with the Giants.

So that's Image. I still haven't gotten to Frank Quitely and Frank Cho, who frank-ly (HA!) were two of the nicest guys I met at the convention, and who both said some really nice things about Nonplayer. I have trouble understanding how guys who work at that level don't get completely full of themselves. Cho kept asking me if I wanted anything from the concession area. FRANK EFFING CHO. I'm supposed to be anointing his feet with fragrant oils, not taking bottled water from him. And Quitely just showed up at my booth and starting chatting with me about Manga Studio -- we'd been talking for some time before my table-mate Joe whispered to me to ask the guy his name. I'd just thought he was some cool-looking Scottish dude. Sigh. Frank Quitely. Thanks to the devious Ales Kot for bringing Quitely over and then gleefully keeping his mouth shut while I lectured the legendary artist about IllustStudio. Ales, you are a bastard.

Keep an eye out for Ales, by the way. He's quietly wrangling the best artists in the business for some very interesting-sounding projects.

The high point of the weekend came yesterday, when Frank Cho introduced me to hero-since-childhood Geof Darrow. People say you should never meet your heroes, but I say pooh to that. Darrow not only looked at my comic and liked it (possibly for reals), he regaled us with all sorts of stories about Hard Boiled and then gave me one of his drawings! I'm sure I was a blubbering shmoo the whole time, but he was warm, funny, and generous. Geof Darrow: first he blows up my conception of what's possible in a comic, then he turns out to be a swell fellow. My wife said that when I got back to our booth I was beaming. Joe and I just kept giggling about it for the rest of the day.


Geof Darrow and some skinny dude

And that brings me to Joe Keatinge, who offered to share his table with me at the very last minute, long after I'd given up on having a place to sit. Joe is a force of nature -- I've never met anybody as enthusiastic about making comics, or as persistently supportive of everybody around him. He's sort of a volcano of pep. He co-edits the Popgun anthologies (which I finally read last night and enjoyed immensely), and I totally get why they gave him an Eisner for his trouble. He's working on some new top-secret stuff right now, and I can't wait to see how it all comes out. If you see him, be sure to remind him to keep drawing. He's another one of those double-threat guys who's way too humble about his chops, but I think if we work together, we can guilt him into making us some more pretty art.

Finally, Joe got me to start taking Twitter seriously this weekend (and then graciously told his many followers to follow me, as well). I'm @NateSonOfSimp, and I look forward to learning if the hashtag has any function other than turning a tweet into a mini-version of Stephen Colbert's the Word.

It was great meeting you guys -- thanks for making this weekend such a great experience.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Emerald City Update

Nonplayer now has a table at Emerald City: L-10, at the rear of the main hall to your left as you enter (against the wall, to the right of the men's room). Poster signing at the Image booth is still scheduled for 11am - noon today, but I'll be at L-10 doing exactly the same thing at all other times.

I've really liked the people I've met so far. Lots of folks making their own ways up Mount Comics, and it's all very inspiring.

Hope to meet more of you today!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Correction

It looks like my initial poster-signing schedule was erroneous. It turns out the convention center opens at 2pm tomorrow (Friday), which, it turns out, is after the planned 11am signing. So it looks like I'll just be doing it on Saturday from 11am to noon. Until that also turns out to be wrong.

I'll be at the convention all three days, and the posters will be in boxes behind somebody's table, somewhere. If you see me roaming the floor and you want a poster, we may have to conduct the transaction like a smack deal. I'll send a runner to the stash and have it brought out to you, barring the appearance of 5-0.

Still ironing out some kinks, obviously.