The Table Has Been Turned

On the experience of tabling at a convention, and what I learned from it.

Having regularly gone to conventions since 2010, I felt like I had a pretty good understanding about what the experience was like from all sides. By wandering those sprawling events and talking to creators and vendors, watching the occasional panel, 8 and even cosplaying once, I developed an appreciation of what it’s like to be at a con from varying perspectives. It was a path to understanding through observation, in my mind.

Take tabling in an Artist Alley as an example. I had only ever been on the fan side of the table, but that area in a convention was where I had the most experience. Artist Alleys are my regular haunt at conventions. I had spent hours and hours in those spaces, talking to artists, writers, and creators of all varieties, buying comics, zines, original art, prints, and anything else they could imagine in the process. I may not have hawked my wares at a giant event like a comic con before, but through engaging with those who had, I developed a strong sense as to what it was like.

Or at least so I thought.

The reality is, I had absolutely no idea what tabling at a comic convention was really like until I did it. That was an experience I took on for the first time at New York Comic Con this year. I commandeered Declan Shalvey’s table in hopes of selling SKTCHD ZINE, a special project my wife Amber and I had put together for the event. We called them our “SKTCHD POP UPS.” They were spread across three days — Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — and lasted for an hour at a time. In the weeks leading up to the event, I believed it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal. “It’s only three hours,” I thought to myself as I first contemplated doing it. “How big of a deal can it really be?”

It was a pretty big deal!

It turns out that for all my experience, I didn’t really know what it was like on the other side of the table. Doing so for the first time at NYCC, even for a paltry three hours, was exhausting, overwhelming, confusing, stressful, and anxiety inducing, to say nothing of any number of other emotions I went through. And those feelings didn’t just exist within the hour, but in the time leading up to it and the period extending beyond it. It was a lot.

And they were also three of my favorite hours ever, as tabling at NYCC was an experience I’ll remember — and treasure — forever.

Many things became crystal clear during that experience, though. The biggest was just how little I knew or had even considered what it was like on that side of the table. There’s no guide or rulebook on how to do it right. You just have to do it and learn on the fly, hoping for the best in the process. You absorb a lot of information and adjust as you do. And if you pay attention, there are some major takeaways you pick up quick.

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  1. I’m not a big panel guy.

  2. It turns out standing in front of a giant display at a con that says “DECLAN SHALVEY” is a really good way to disappoint people when they find out a) you’re not Irish and b) you cannot draw.

  3. As listeners of Off Panel assuredly know.

  4. Taking compliments isn’t the most natural thing for me, apparently.

  5. They all signed a new copy the next day, so it worked out in the end. Check your zine, though!

  6. The first day I kept trying to put cash I was given into my wallet, but Amber would reach over, wrest the money from my greedy hands, and put it in the proper place, which was a zipper purse we bought to track cash from sales. I was embezzling from myself!

  7. Cartoonist Tyler Boss also helped, as he and Ricardo Lopez Ortiz stashed another box of zines for me throughout the con. Boss is a boss.

  8. I’m not a big panel guy.