I had a great time at APE!
I truly enjoyed my entire time spent at the show. Being only a two day event, and local for me, keeps things simple since I don’t have to plan far in advance or be away from the office for very long. The typical APE attendee is hip and sophisticated that allows for a good engaging conversation. Plus the show is mellow which allows me the time to talk at length on a more personal one-on-one basis when compared to a busier show like Comic-Con. I don’t mind a bustling engagement, but I like the balance of a convention like APE that provide a bit of a break from the more intense nature of a larger event. Due to my work schedule, I don’t have a lot of time to chit chat in emails and on the phone, making an event the best place to get my attention. The shows helps me gain valuable feedback to see how people perceive me and Flesk so I better understand what needs to change and what is working well.
One thing I learned came from two separate groups of people. The first group to enlighten me was a group of students. The second was from a dinner party on Saturday night. (This included Stuart Ng, Craig Elliott and more.) I found out there is a perception that is shared among these students and a few of the people I spoke with at the dinner. They communicated with me their belief that the individual artist books I publish have to be within a certain vein. Here are some of the terms I heard: realism, award-winning, high-caliber, fine artist and intimidating. They confessed they didn’t think I was interested in cartoony, stylistic, super-hero or alternative art, or even younger artists—which happens to be far from the truth. I have a wide range of interests that I will reveal in future blogs and books I publish. I have no intention of limiting the types of books I publish to a specific genre. You can expect some diversity in the future. As an example, a goal of mine, which I began pre-planning last year, is to start a new line of animation artist books. I’ll take a few years to start getting a steady stream of animation titles out, but it is going to happen.
Craig Elliott was kind enough to join me this year. Besides being an amazing visual development artist and character designer working in the animation industry, he has a dynamic range of skills that appears in various ways. At APE, Craig had a selection of prints focusing on his personal fine art celebrating real woman in all of her glory with curvy, healthy features that appeal to both men and many women. Craig was there to show off his portfolio, sketch for people, sell prints and his jewelry, and promote our upcoming book, The Art of Craig Elliott. He is perhaps the kindest person I know. I enjoy spending time with Craig knowing (hoping, really) that some of his good nature will rub off on me.
I took note on what was selling the best at APE. This year was a surprise. And it would not have happened without the enthusiasm of George Cwirko Godycki. George is an instructor and highly-creative artist (I picked up three of his originals) at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He takes great interest in the work of Petar Meseldzija. George was rounding up students and praising The Legend of Steel Bashaw all weekend long. Thanks to George, if you add to the title already being popular on its own, it was our obvious top seller.
This leads me to an interesting story. All books that I publish are a risk. When you are investing your time and money into anything and expect to make some money off of it (in my case so I can keep publishing more books), the project is a risk. There are people out there that will tell you, “It’s like printing money!” and other such beliefs, but you really can’t say for sure until you have actually made the effort.
A year ago at APE, I had just released Petar’s The Legend of Steel Bashaw book. I told Petar very few people know who he is and we would have to build his name here in the states. This was the riskiest book I have published since Petar had hardly any built in audience and practically no name recognition. I sold only 18 copies of the book to Diamond Comics Distributors and a couple copies at APE last year. The book, in all intents and purposes, was a major bust. Never had a book I published sold so poorly. However, I foresaw this happening and knew we would have to push and hand sell The Legend of Steel Bashaw one copy at a time. I was confident that the word would get out there, albeit slowly. I told Petar to be patient and good things would happen. I felt (and still do) that he is too dang good for people not to notice his work. Here we are a year later, The Legend of Steel Basahw is my bestselling book at APE, and sales are picking up through the distributors.
A typical big publisher will release a book and if it does not sell well immediately, it will remainder and dump the book, write it off as a loss, stop promoting the title (and artist) and move on to the next possible big hit. What I believe in is following your gut, making a great book, and then doing whatever you have to do to share your passion about the artist and sell that book over the long term. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Petar’s star rising. He is a wonderful person and he deserves it. I’ve told Petar that once The Legend of Steel Bashaw makes its money back, then we will do an art collection. That has given him ample motivation to promote his book on his end. I also learned that many students praised Petar’s ongoing blog on his own site as well as the one on Muddy Colors. (Links can be found at the bottom of this blog.)
Runner up for the top selling spot was the Bruce Timm Naughty and Nice Teaser. People are going nuts with anticipation for the upcoming main Timm book, as am I. Our Flesk Prime book also did well, especially given that Craig Elliott was there to sign them.
One of the things I enjoy about APE is discovering a new artist whose art will blow me away. APE is an affordable show to set up at and caters to new artists that may not get the chance to exhibit and gain exposure elsewhere. You will find all types of interesting creative people. There are fun discoveries all throughout. Here is a list of a few standouts whose works I thoroughly enjoyed either seeing for the first time, or revisited based on my seeing them last year; Brittney Lee, Liana Hee, Genevieve Tsai, Glenn Kim, Michael Manomivibul and Emonic.
Chris Diaz took portraits of many of the artists, creators and publishers (including myself) at the show. He posted a slideshow worth watching on Vimeo, a link that you can find at the end of this post.
Shelly Wan was exhibiting with Eidolon Fine Arts. I like to remind her about how absolutely amazing her work is. I remember her coming by my booth in San Diego in 2006 and her showing me her art for the first time. I firmly believe she has a bright future.
I believe APE will grow and become the place for newcomer artists to get his and her feet wet. I believe it is a very important show in terms of initializing yourself into exhibiting, gaining confidence in talking to people, showing off your art to the public, getting feedback and promoting yourself. If you are a new artist and want to grow this is the place to do it. It does take patience though. Don’t expect a whole lot the first year, but try it for three years and go from there. Be committed and make it work. Take advantage of what is there. Here is an example of what I mean. I walked the show on Sunday and found some people behind their table who looked tired, defeated, bored, or lacking in spirit. This has prompted me to offer some unsolicited advice to those who are new to exhibiting. I know it isn’t always easy to be energized, but try and be welcoming without being aggressive. Don’t worry if people buy something or not. I never do. If someone comes by it is an opportunity for me to chat a little bit and possibly reinforce a current relationship or start a new one. Be genuine. Keep it natural to who you are and don’t force anything. But, do look like you want to be there and don’t sit there staring at the ground when people come by. I’m not saying I have the process down perfect, and I know it isn’t always easy. I was shy when I first exhibited. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. But I kept at it until I gained the confidence to engage with people at shows. Quit when you are at home, not at the convention.
My last topic will be about the people who run Comic-Con, Wonder-Con and APE. There has been a lot of flak that they have received about the direction of Comic-Con and that they don’t care about comics anymore. I am here to tell you that is absolutely not true. If you ever get a chance, talk to these guys and you will see how dedicated and passionate they are about comics and the arts and how hard they work to make these shows possible for us to exhibit at and raise awareness of this field we all love so much. Next time you see a Comic-Con staff member, be sure to thank them.
On behalf of Craig Elliott, my friend James Walker who helps me out at the shows, and myself, thanks to everyone who came by our booth at APE!
See you next year. William Stout has confirmed he will join us for 2012!
Text and photos © 2011 John Fleskes
The Art of Craig Elliott
Craig Elliott website
Alternative Press Expo
The Legend of Steel Bashaw by Petar Meseldzija
Bruce Timm Naughty and Nice Teaser
Petar Meseldzija Blog
Stuart Ng Books
Chris Diaz APE pictures slideshow