Comic Con Survival: My Artist Alley Must-Haves
As another artist alley season comes to an end, I decided I wanted to share a list of things I consider “must haves” when I am exhibiting (at least for me, your mileage may vary, and by all means experiment to find what works for you).
I know lists like this helped me a lot when I started appearing in artist alleys at comic book shows (and other events), so here’s my chance to help out others new to the game.
In no particular order…
Artist Alley Must-Haves (For Me)
- A seat cushion. I’ve experienced all kinds of chairs at different shows. Some were padded, while others are just cheap, thin plastic. Although I try to stand as much as I can behind my artist alley table, sitting on a plastic chair (while working on commissions), ain’t fun. The solution? A seat cushion. Mine has, literally, saved my butt several times. Get one meant for office chairs (has support, etc).
- A standing mat. On the other end of the comfort spectrum, is a standing mat (also known as an anti-fatigue mat). I’ve found standing up behind my table helps with conversation (and keeps me awake). However, the floors at shows are like chairs: they could be carpeted or a cold, hard slab. You never know. My padding standing mat makes a huge difference when I have to stand for hours on a hard floor (transporting one can be tricky however). Tip: Buy an inexpensive yoga mat, cut it into squares, and glue the squares in a stack (alternatively, you could just stand on a folded up yoga mat too).
- A plastic storage bin with a locking lid. I have a plastic tub for all of my (non art) artist alley table stuff. They’re cheap and sturdy, and handy when you’re a one-man show like me. Everything stays in the tub between shows, so I don’t have to repack it all the time. Grab and go!
- Something sturdy to hold prints, books, and original art. Last year, I bought a metal case to hold prints, books, and original art. It made a huge difference, as I didn’t have to worry about any of these items getting crushed in my plastic tub.
- A table-cloth (not thin plastic). Some shows have table coverings supplied, others do not. Play it safe, and always bring your own table-cloth. You can even get fancy and get something custom printed. Stay away from cheap plastic table cloths, as they rip and tear very easily. Tip: Bring a second table-cloth to cover your table and items when you are away or at the end of the day.
- Wire cubes. The life-blood of artist alley tables, wire cubes (aka wire shelves, grid shelves) are affordable, portable displays you can easily customize. Tips: Use plastic ties to keep parts together. Also, if you always use the same layout, consider leaving certain sections of the wire grid tied together to make set up faster (leave enough slack so they can fold over).
- Binder clips for hanging items. I hang prints and more on my wire cubes, so I bought a bunch of binder clips. They’re cheap and super handy (and bright green to blend with the rest of my table). I used to use magnets, but the clips look better and are easier to attach.
- Bags. All of my prints come in bags, and I have extra bags for my books and commissions. It’s an easy extra thing to do, and makes your stuff look better too. Tip: Buying in bulk is the way to go, and get some buddies to split an order with you to keep costs down. I get mine through ClearBags.
- A portable hand truck. My little hand truck (or dolly) was one of the best investments I ever made for my artist ally table. I can carry in all of my artist alley gear in a single trip now, and don’t hurt my back in the process. Stairs are a bit tricky though, but most comic show venues have ramps and elevators.
- A pack of bungee cords. To go along with the hand dolly, a good set of bungee cords is a must.
- A vertical retractable banner. I went back and forth on having a vertical banner for my table for a long while (because of the cost). But, after making the investment, I realized it was a good one. Keep it simple with some eye-catching colorful art. I got mine through eSigns.
- Tape, scissors, extra paper. Bring masking tape, clear tape, and duct tape. You will need them all at some point. Scissors are always handy, and you want extra paper for last-minute signage (or even a “be right back!” sign).
- A simple first aid kit. You can make one that will fit in an Altoids tin, it’s easy. Fill it with bandages, painkillers, cough drops, and stomach relief stuff. Toss it in your plastic bin and leave it there.
- Water bottles. I have two water bottles at my table: a regular one for drinking, and a large “back up” bottle in case I can’t get to a sink or drinking fountain. I use water-color paint, so I need water on hand. Plus, you need water to drink: stay hydrated.
- A Square card reader (or some other credit card reader). If you have a smartphone, there’s no reason not to have a Square reader (or something else). Yes, they take a percentage of your sale, but it isn’t that much, and 97% of something is better than 100% of nothing because you couldn’t take a credit card (and your items should be priced so what they take out isn’t a deal breaker anyway). I also use my Square app on my phone to track all of my sales, including cash. I upgraded to a chip card reader recently, and it’s already paid for itself.
- An external smartphone battery. Or portable charger, whatever you want to call one. Your smartphone’s battery will die at some point during the long convention day, and it’s very rare to be anywhere near an outlet (most shows charge you extra to have electricity too). Invest in a good, high-capacity external battery, not a cheap one from the bargain bin at a checkout counter. Mine can charge my phone several times before needing a recharge. I use it for my new chip card reader too.
- Colored markers for signing. I have a black Sharpie and a silver Sharpie. Tip: Always ask if someone wants their print or book signed. Not everyone does (most do, however), or they don’t think to ask. I also ask if they care where I sign, especially on a print.
- Supplies for commissions. If you are comfortable doing commissions on the spot, do them. Commissions have saved more than one slow sales weekend for me. Offer what you are comfortable with: if you only want to do head sketches, say so on a sign. You don’t have to do elaborate 11” x 17” renderings if you don’t want to (there’s a reason my Random Cartoons are 5” x 7”).
- Snacks! Bring food. Always bring a snack, because you will get hungry and you won’t always be able to sneak away to grab something. I tend to bring some combination of energy bars, nuts (usually almonds or peanuts), jerky, grapes (if I have room for a cooler), apples, and usually a few peanut butter sandwiches.
Have fun exhibiting!
Daniel J. Hogan is a geeky cartoonist and writer living in Michigan. Daniel is available for freelance writing and cartooning commissions (Contact Daniel). This post contains affiliate links, unless it doesn't.