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Devourer of Words 042: Fandemonium

Marc Bernardin for Comic-Con International's Toucan Blog

You might not be there yet, but if you’re a published writer, you will get fans. Because here’s the thing: every comic is someone’s favorite. Even if 99 out of a 100 people are like, “Meh,” that 100th person might be in love.

It is what we hope for, as creators: that the work resonates with an audience. But with that resonance will inevitably come interaction. That person who comes to that local store signing, the fella who drags a short box of comics to a convention appearance, the bloke who wants to buy you a beer—you will find yourself face to face with your reader.

Once you get over the natural disadvantage that can come with this interpersonal transaction—it will never be not weird talking to someone who knows more about you than you know about them—there are three things to keep in mind.

They’re Nervous, Too

While comics is a collaborative medium, we do much of our work in solitary. It’s totally okay if you feel a little bit of social anxiety. Interacting with the public is inherently weird. And they are not expecting you to be some kind of TED-talk-ready personality. Just take a deep breath and move on to …

Be Gracious

Thank them for buying your book. I know it sounds obvious, but still: comic books are increasingly becoming a luxury item. They are only getting more expensive—and if someone is making the effort to travel to an actual brick-and-mortar store to buy your work when they could be buying ANYTHING else, and then making the effort to come and see you, that’s worth a thank you.

Be Mercenary

And I don’t mean shoot them for money, I mean do this: shake their hand, look them in the eye, ask them their name. Engage in whatever small talk ensues and then, when it’s clear the interaction is coming to a close, thank them BY NAME. It is such a small thing, and costs so little to do, and it will mean so much. Because you made the effort. Yes, it seems calculated—like you’re faking sincerity. And it kind of is … but what matters is the result. That fan feels good about being a fan. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

And if you are out in the world, outside of the normal context for a fan interaction, do all of the above anyway. It is easy to chafe and get chilly. Don’t.

About a decade ago or so, I was having lunch with a writer/director while I was working at Entertainment Weekly. When we were done, he was catching a cab to go somewhere fabulous and I was going back to the office.

In the time it took to walk from the front door of the restaurant to the street, he got stopped three times by people who wanted take pictures with him. (And this was long enough ago that they weren’t selfies on iPhones—they were honest-to-goodness cameras.) Every person who asked got a “Absolutely, come on in.”

After the impromptu photoshoots but before he got in the cab, I asked him why he was so cool about that. And I’ll never forget what he said: “That person will only ever meet me once. And they will remember how it went down. Every time someone mentions my name, that person will either be able to say, ‘That dude was really cool’ or ‘That guy was a schmuck.’ And that will be his or her impression of me for the rest of their lives. So if I’m having a crappy day, or if I really don’t feel like talking to anyone, how much does it cost me to put all that aside for 30 seconds? To maybe make a fan for life?”

If you only have one shot to win someone’s allegiance, and if it costs nothing but time and attention and a modicum of grace—don’t throw away your shot.

Marc Bernardin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of each month here on Toucan!