Some of the best stories and art you’ll find will be at local conventions and expos. Some are run by nonprofits, such as the Small Press Expo, while others are run by colleges and universities to give their students a chance to show off and gain experience.
These smaller shows are great opportunities to connect with small publishers, editors, artists, and writers in ways that can be difficult at larger conventions. It’s a lot easier to chat in a crowd of a few hundred instead of a few thousand! And these connections can be great to look back on when looking for people to collaborate with, or to simply find new friends in the space or authors and artists you admire.
These expos also often feature panels and demonstrations from working artists, where they can get into their process, techniques, and inspirations, and it’s easier to talk to them and ask more specific questions. These are great places to talk shop and learn more about the craft, whether you’re also a cartoonist or just want to explore the perspective.
Artist’s tabling at these smaller conventions often show off more niche and experimental work. When I recently attended MICE 2022, I saw artists showing off mixed media comics, experimenting with format, and selling limited run prints, shirts, and, in one case, home-made cat toys to go with their books! (My cat definitely approves).
As an artist tabling, you can meet your table neighbors, which can include indie publishers, learn more about your local comics and book scene, and also test the waters with your original work! Many artists I spoke to had shorter 10-20 page comics that were test-runs of long-form, one-day-to-be graphic novels. These are great ways to get eyes on your work, and to also show proof-of-concept to anyone you pitch to.
These conventions and expos are pillars in the comics industry. They’re great ways to meet peers and make friends with people with similar experiences, to learn and gain inspiration, and to get lay of the land on what’s popular and what speaks to you. Aside from that, is there really any better feeling than getting to talk to an author or artist about their work in person? Or having someone ask you to sign your zine or book?
Cindy Harris (she/they) is a comics artist and illustrator that works in the publishing industry. She has worked as a letterer, editor, illustrator, and writer, and loves stories about identity, relationships, and growth.