My Experience at the Kaigai Manga Festival

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Pictured: The Fast Track to Bankruptcy 

On November 23rd, I had a table at the Kaigai Manga Festival in Tokyo. How it went depends on how you look at it. On one hand, I had the best sales I’ve ever had. On the other hand, it was my least profitable show ever.

To understand why, I should explain how comic book conventions have gone for me historically. Over time, there’s been a trend towards higher sales. I attribute this to better table presentation and sales technique, and to being more selective about which shows I go to.

That said, it’s important to put this “upward trend” into perspective. My work hardly has universal appeal, I only have three different things to sell, and I haven’t put out anything new since 2008. For even my best show, I’ve never made more than a few hundred dollars in sales.

That’s fine, but only if expenses are low as well. Up until now, I’ve only done shows in Minnesota, my home state. With no plane tickets or hotels to pay for, my expenses have just been for the table rental itself, which is negligible in the scheme of things.

Which leads me back to the Kaigai Manga Festival, the first show I’ve ever actually had expenses for.

I currently live in Kyoto, so I didn’t have international plane tickets to pay for or anything. But getting from Kyoto to Tokyo and back is actually pretty expensive, especially if you’re unwilling to take an excruciating, eight hour night bus. In order to get there and back comfortably in a single day, I had to buy two full price Shinkansen tickets. (You can get discounted Shinkansen tickets, but not for early in the morning or late at night, which is what I needed.) These travel expenses ate into my record sales to the extent that financially, the show was basically a wash.

But before you think I’m down on the experience or regret doing it, I’d like to briefly talk about what was, previously, my least profitable show ever. That being the first show I ever did, SpringCon, back in 2010.

The show is very super hero-centric, so not exactly my crowd. I only had two things to sell. My table looked awful. My “sales technique” amounted to sitting hunched over my drawing pad, ignoring anyone who walked by unless they addressed me first. I honestly can’t remember how many books I sold, but I do remember figuring out I couldn’t even pay myself minimum wage for the time I spent there. At the time, I was disheartened.

But as I eventually discovered, same day book sales aren’t the only reason to do conventions. The show allowed me to reconnect with members of the Minnesota cartooning scene after a long absence. These connections were gratifying in there own right, and also eventually landed me a few paying gigs.

At the Kaigai Manga Festival, I met a representative for a major Japanese book store chain who felt my work might be a good fit for their English book section. Time will tell if that pans out, but if it does, that could result in sales over the next few years that wouldn’t have occurred if I hadn’t been at the show.

I also met a lot of great members of the cartooning community, like Victor Edison and Deb Aoki among others. For someone who has devoted their life to comics, I’m embarrassingly out of touch with the current comics scene, so it’s good to get a chance to reconnect with it a little bit.

If the travel expenses weren’t an issue, I’d definitely go to Kaigai Manga Festival next year. It’s well run and as I said, resulted in my best sales ever. If you’re a cartoonist who lives in the Tokyo area, I’d recommend it.

As it stands, with the travel expenses being what they are, I’m still deciding if I’m going to participate next year. It might be worth doing if I combined it with a mini-vacation to Tokyo or something. We’ll see.

That said, sales were encouraging enough that I’ve decided to try a similar show in Osaka next May. I can get to Osaka for one-tenth the cost of getting to Tokyo, so if I manage to pull off similar sales, it’d be well worth it. More details on that in the months to come!