coppervale (coppervale) wrote,
coppervale
coppervale

Memories of Comicon, Part II: How to Start With High Expectations

In 1984, I talked my aunt into taking me to the World SF Con in Anaheim (LA Con II) so I could meet Wendy and Richard Pini, the creator and publisher of Elfquest. We paid full memberships so I could walk around sweating blood for three hours at the "End of the Quest" party before I finally approached Richard. He told me they weren't looking to hire anyone, or invest in new books - and I replied that I didn't want a job, or an investment. I just wanted them to know who I was.

I showed him my work, and said that they had inspired me, and I was going to do what they had done, and start my own comics company.

And a year later, I did. A year after that, my company, Fantasy West Publications, was an exhibitor at San Diego.



We started with a mail-order comics company (and briefly rented an old grocery store for eighty bucks a month as retail space, where we sold comics, Louis L'Amour western paperbacks, and Corn Nuts), and started building a war chest to publish comics. The retail thing was difficult to handle (being full time students) and the mail order was mostly an exercise in learning design (the catalogs and order forms) and business (having wholesale accounts, and paying taxes).

We paid for our tax license with an advance from my paper route; and we got audited our first year (but had all our records, so that was basically a day out of school.)

I got a credit line with a printer to print the first issue of my comic, PRYDERI TERRA, as well as four art prints; I got a banker to give me a loan get a booth at the San Diego Trade Show and Comicon; and I talked my aunt into driving and generally chaperoning me, my business partner Jimmy, and fellow comics aficionado Bryan. Everything was in place - except when we picked up the nice van we were driving to San Diego in, we realized it had no hitch for the U-Haul trailer (which would carry the books and prints, as well as the displays we'd constructed in my mother's barnyard).

So we traded the nice comfy van for a U-Haul truck, which staggered across the desert, arriving late in San Diego the night before the show.

Our hotel, the venerable U.S. Grant, had sold out its rooms - including the one my aunt prepaid for. So they gave us the only thing they had left: the Presidential Suite.



Three teenagers and a designer moved into a gorgeous space which became one of the main selling tools of the week. If I was presenting the work to a hesitant retailer, I'd suggest he not decide right then at the Con - but should come by the Grant afterward for drinks in my suite.

They'd show up, wondering if it was all a joke - then I'd ask if they preferred Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, and did they want to sit in the living room or dining room? And then we'd usually make a sale.



It wasn't all charm and chandeliers - I had some serious doses of cold reality about how a publishing business was run, starting with the realization that the standard wholesale price would net me about two cents per book less than the printing cost. And this was after the printer had lost an overlay with the issue number and price on it - meaning we had to buy 10,000 white round stickers and write $1.75 on them.

There were a few days that were really rough, as I realized I was quite possibly in a real mess. The saving grace was that I'd gone about promotion the right way - exhibiting at Comicon - so all the distributors knew who I was, saw my books, and ordered them like they'd ordered all the other B&W books. They even sold quite decently - because despite the so-so writing and iffy cover, some of the art inside (while raw) was respectably cool. And as I point out to students on school visits, done in the SAME STYLE I still use today.



I made relationships then that I still have now: Bill Schanes, now the Senior VP at Diamond, had only been there six months in 1986. I met many other comics artists who are friends to this day, like George Perez and Charles Vess. And I took my first serious steps to becoming a true professional.

We went the next year as well, with more savvy and experience. We had a nicer booth and color posters, and bigger plans. The second issue of PRYDERI was never published (but twenty pages saw print as a preview in THE COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE), since my art was developing faster than I could revise pages. I moved into more commercial art, doing things for some hefty Hollywood-type companies, but kept my hand in comics with a few unproduced proposals: SILAS MARNER, for First's Classics Illustrated line; and a Superman project I called STARCHILD.

Those two projects were merged (converting the Silas Marner material I'd done, with the name of the Superman project) into what, in 1992, became STARCHILD the series.

Next: Now and Then; or, Back To The Future
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    If the book DRAWING OUT THE DRAGONS touched or inspired you, then you should also read the second volume in The Meditations, THE BARBIZON DIARIES -…

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