My latest comic Ice Cream Warriors is now on ComiXology. Click this widget a bunch to get it digitally. I’ll have print copies at Planet Comicon, Heroescon and other shows this summer!

Ice Cream Warriors #1

Ice Cream Warriors #1

Colored by: Anna Goellner
Cover by: Caleb Goellner
Written by: Caleb Goellner
Art by: Caleb Goellner
Pencils: Caleb Goellner
Inks: Caleb Goellner
Colored by: Caleb Goellner
Lettered by: Caleb Goellner
Published by: Caleb Goellner
Edited by: Caleb Goellner
Price: $0.99

Ice cream people fight over the mysterious resource known as Cryogon. I think that’s how it’s spelled? Who can tell with all the shouting in this comic?

Buy now on comiXology!

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 Review

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 Review

Hello! I’m reviewing my new tablet, The Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 – Intel® Core™ i7, 512GB SSD.

Disclaimer: I worked at Wacom for almost two years as their social media dude. It’s on my LinkedIn. There you have it. I got this tablet doing consulting work for them after leaving and wanted to provide an honest, in-depth review because those matter in this crazy world. Also, this post is lousy with Amazon Affiliate links. Clicking on them helps me make comics. Cool? Let’s go.

The Wacom MobileStudio 16 is the Cintiq Companion I’ve been waiting for.

Positives: It’s a beast that can handle ANYTHING, the pen is the best thing in digital art, the screen is beautiful and the texture is a dream to draw on, there’s zero friggin’ offset or lag, it’s basically silent — Holy smokes, this thing rules.

Negatives: The battery only lasts about four hours, it’s heavier than I’d like, it doesn’t come with a stand or a case or a connectivity accessory, the new rocker ring settings are a little too busy, replacement nibs aren’t available yet and the tablet only comes with three.

Rocking some classic TMNT art as my wallpaper — I did *not* draw this haha

Here’s my long personal tablet journey review:

I’m a tablet maniac. I’ve been fortunate enough to try out almost every cool tablet from every cool company over the past several years. I’ve owned multiple Surface Pros, a Surface Book, the iPad Pro, a few Yiynova tablets, a few Monoprice tablets, Wacom AES stuff in Lenovo and Toshiba tablets — and yeah, a Bamboo Fun, a few generations of Intuos Pros, the Cintiq 12WX, the Cintiq 24HD, the Cintiq 27QHD, the Cintiq Companion Hybrid (the one with Android), the Cintiq Companion and The Cintiq Companion 2. I also got ahold of a Cintiq 18SX — the first Cintiq! — and it was a trip. I paid for all of them and returned or sold the ones I didn’t love (or just didn’t have space for!). Currently I only own an iPad Pro and the new Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16.

I’ve never been good at big tablet-ing. I don’t know how to make use of them and I like a clean desktop. I also hate having a bunch of peripherals around — if I could get away with it, I’d never touch a keyboard or a trackpad or anything else while I draw. For these reasons and more, starting with the Cintiq 12WX and continuing through the 13″ Companion line, I’ve gravitated toward smaller screens and tablets with buttons *ahem* ~ExpressKeys~ on them. I got into drawing digitally years ago on the first gen iPad with a capacitive stylus — basically a metal pen with a rubber nib. That experience was not great. When I got my first Cintiq circa 2013 I was euphoric, even though it didn’t have a hi-res screen, just because the pen was righteous. The euphoria’s continued through the Companion line, but not without hiccups. I’ll talk about those in a second.

Saying goodbye to the Cintiq Companion 2 and activating the MSP16

Anyway, for the past year or so I’ve been inking comics almost exclusively on my iPad Pro. I had a Surface Book that I loved, but the pen never stopped feeling like rubbing rubber on glass (like on that G1 iPad!) and I couldn’t stop noticing pooling distortion when I’d draw. Who can stand watching a rainbow ripple around their pen all the time? Not this guy. I also had a Cintiq Companion 2, which I used to draw dozens and dozens of comic pages.  I loved my Companion 2 even though it was heavier than I’d like and had a pretty short battery life of about 3.5 hours. Oh, and it was LOUD. Not as loud as a hand dryer, but about as loud as the MacBook I had in 2007. All that said, it was still the best thing on the market for me by far — best pen, most powerful specs, most portable, etc. The iPad Pro came along a year later, though, and I started using MediBang Paint — a freemium Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint clone to make comics on it right away. I preferred its 4:3 aspect ratio to the widescreen aspect ratio on the Companions (and the Surfaces until recently) and the portability, battery life and familiar interface just made it a better day-to-day device for making my kind of comics. I’d draw all of my pages on the iPad and port them over to my CC2 for coloring in CSP. It wasn’t a perfect workflow, but it worked for me. The Apple Pencil is not as good as a Wacom Pen or the Surface’s current N-Trig pens (or Wacom’s AES pens), but I kind of like its limitations when it comes to drawing line art.

So when the Wacom MobileStudio Pro got announced (MobileStudio isn’t a typo, btw, that’s ~branding~), of course I had to have one. I’m always going to own a MacBook to write on and probably an iPad to read comics on, but I’m dying to have fewer screens in my life. I have messed with way too many dadburn tablets, man. I just wanted a perfected version of the Companion.

This is it. Or as close to it as science will currently allow.

After years of 12-13″ tablets, I sprung for the 16″ MSP mostly out of stupid tech person vanity. I wanted the biggest, most powerful thing. If I weren’t obsessed with this stuff, I’d have sprung for one of the higher end 13″ versions. They’re sick. Anything with an i5 processor or better is going to kill it for making comics unless you use crazy brushes on 1200 DPI canvases or do wild 3D modeling, etc.

Me? I need something that will shred on 600 DPI pages in Clip Studio Paint EX, SketchBook and my other art apps of choice. This MSP16 yawns in the face of such tasks. It’s the tablet of a warrior.

Open the box of the MSP line and you find a tablet, a new cigar case-like case (that holds the pen and has a screw top containing extra nibs) plus the USB-C power cord. There’s also a nice microfiber cloth for wiping off your screen. Get an art glove if you can tolerate the dorkiness factor, though. I couldn’t for years, but here I am using one more and more. I’m through being cool.

Open box

The Wacom Pro Pen 2 rules. It has new, finer nibs. It has “8192 levels pen pressure, tilt and multi‑touch” — so four times that of the previous Pro Pen. That’s an insane number and pretty hyperbolic, but the pen is the best thing you can get and it feels great. Don’t sweat the number unless you decide to become a robot that, like, weighs grains of graphene for space ship parts or whatever. Form factor-wise, the pen is a lot like the previous Pro Pen (including swappable colored rings to ID your pen at a glance if you’re in a studio or just like the flair). The biggest difference is that the side switch buttons are a little bit click-ier and don’t jut out as far. It seems like every new generation of Wacom pens has a less and less pronounced side switch. People have OPINIONS on this, but it feels good to me and you’ll get used to it if you are a person of valor. It feels good to use and I have held probably every iteration of this thing across the Intuos and Cintiq lines. Trust me. If you have an older Cintiq pen, keep it around as a spare. Several of the older pens will still work on the MSP, including the last-gen Pro Pen and Grip Pen. The Pro Pen 2 will not work on previous generation tablets, however.

Wacom Pro Pen 2 (left), PP2 vs OG Pro Pen (right)

The screen is “UHD (3840 x 2160)” so it’s no joke. It’s basically the best thing you can get outside of the Surface Studio right now. There were rumors that the MSP would have an etched glass screen and ditch the usual texture film applied to glass. That didn’t happen for whatever reason — I don’t know anything about what it would look like to draw on etched glass or if this decision was a cost-saving measure or what — but the texture film is still great. It doesn’t diminish the look of the screen and I like the slight matte quality it delivers, plus the friction that it provides while using the pen. Some reviewers HATE the texture film, but just look at it and see if you care. It will make you feel alive.

Extended Wacom Pro Pen 2 case (left), extra nibs (right)

What’s more, there’s some new bonding process that’s put the screen glass closer to all the wild radio tower board guts inside Cintiqs on the MSP. You will notice a HUGE difference. There’s virtually zero offset between the pen tip and your cursor and you’ll experience the least amount of lag of any digital art tool. You don’t notice anything. It just does what you want like a traditional implement. It’s the best thing in 01010101 drawing. You can expect to see this tech on all future screen-y Wacom tools, but the debut on the MSP is IMPRESSIVE. Nothing can touch it at the moment.

Cintiq Companion 2 case (top) with the MSP16 case (bottom)

If you’re a person who is super irritated by pooling on LCD screens, you WILL be able to produce some on the MSP16 — but only if you’re trying. I’ve noticed more on the iPad Pro, and that’s only when I go hunting for reasons to whine about pen displays like a true seeker of knowledge. Don’t worry about it on this thing.

Wacom Pro Pen 2 case feat. instructions/nib remover

Lastly on the screen front — the bonding process I was talking about earlier basically eliminated jitter in the corner of the displays. All Wacom tech up to this point produced jitter when a cursor moved to the corner of a given active area on an Intuos, Cintiq or whatever tablet you’ve used (Graphire and old school Bamboo fans, reach out and high five me through your screen!), but the MSP16 and presumably every other piece of Wacom tech moving forward won’t give you this issue. It’s nice not to have to deal with it anymore, particularly after becoming accustomed to the iPad Pro, Surface and Wacom AES-enabled products.

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 no jitter

The ExpressKeys on this thing are plentiful and easy to use. There are eight normal programmable buttons on the 16 (six on the 13), plus a rocker ring. The new rocker ring is a departure from previous models. It used to be, the rocker ring was just a donut with a button in each cardinal direction slot, plus a button in the center. On the Companions and on this machine that center button is a Windows button. I hate the Windows button. It needs to go away forever. I believe it’s a requirement on third-party machines that run Windows OS, though, so I don’t blame Wacom. On the new MSP, the rocker ring has taken on a form Intuos Pro users — or people who have used desktop Cintiqs including the 24DH or the 27QHD’s ExpressKey Remote — will recognize. Instead of giving users the option to set the four rocker ring buttons to whatever keystroke, click or other touch command they like, the rocker ring is more like a touch wheel. You can set different points to achieve different ranges of commands and sort of slide things around. This is good for things like zooming in and out of a page or changing brush sizes. I kind of hate this feature and want to return to the ways of old, but I also kind of love it. I’m so torn. It’d be cool to have an option to toggle between either format and supposedly Wacom might deliver on that. You listening guys? Please, do that thing.

Cintiq Companion 2 ExpressKeys (left) vs. MSP16 ExpressKeys (right)

The MSP16 comes with a pen holder that locks into the unit’s Kensington lock slot on the upper-righthand side. I didn’t think I’d ever use it, but a few days later I haven’t taken it off. I can see it getting lost if I travel, but it’s useful for now. I’d rather have a stationary pen stand that I can pop on my desk — kind of like what’s furnished on a desktop Cintiq or Intuos unit, but I shall live on.

The pen holder gives you options

On the form-factor front, I like the way this thing looks. It’s matte black and the bezel is thin, which pulls you into the work and helps you get into a flow state. The chrome-y stuff around the ExpressKeys had a Captain Phasma vibe I wasn’t into at first, but it helps you find your buttons in the long run. It’s the sleekest mobile Cintiq yet by far and that’s a very good thing.

What else to talk about? The specs on the MSP line are basically the PC version of the MacBook Pro line in a good way. Pick a processor and a hard drive size and go make cool stuff. My MSP16 has wild specs. It’s got an Intel i7 processor, 16 GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and a, uh “NVIDIA® Quadro® M1000M graphics with 4GB GDDR5 VRAM” (a really nice video card – you could do 3D sculpting or design and play cool games on this thing, easily). My MSP also has an “Intel® RealSenseTM 3D camera and scanning software,” which I haven’t used yet, but plan to check out. The cameras on previous Companions have been famously sub-flip phone, so this is a vaaaaaast improvement. The cameras on the MSP are as good as any contemporary legit laptop or tablet, so be sure to wear a hat if you have to wake up for a 6 a.m. global call for work or something. Your bosses or clients or whoever will be able to see how terrible you look otherwise.

Oh, right. Let’s talk about the stuff that everybody else has talked about. This thing doesn’t come with a stand. I use this one instead. I’ll probably get the official Wacom one once it’s out, but no word on when that’ll be. On the plus side, there are grips on the back of the MSP that are really convenient when you’re carrying or otherwise holding your rad tablet. There’s a pretty funny graphic in the instructions showing you what will happen if you drop or submerge your MSP16 in water. Don’t do either of those things.

Where the stand will connect someday (left), grip-y thing (right)

The MSP also doesn’t come with a case. It’s wide enough where it won’t fit in a lot of 15-17″ laptop sleeves, and that’s kind of farcical to behold. It’s no wider than the original Companion or Companion 2, believe it or not, so it WILL fit in most 13″ cases with a vertical opening, but there’ll be a few inches left sticking out. Supposedly it fits into this cheap sleeve, but I’ve been using an old Companion 2 case with a flap to cover the excess part.

The Companion 2 atop the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 for sizing comparison

This thing is also on the heavier side at 4.45 lbs. Compared to an iPad Pro or a Surface/Surface Book (or even the old Companion 2, which weighs 3.75 lbs) the MSP16 is going to feel a lot more noticeable in a backpack, but for the radness within, it’s worth it to me. Some people may not like the heft if they draw with a tablet in their lap. To those people I say: Stop drawing with a tablet in your lap. You are ruining your back. Think of your future.

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 ports
The MSP16 has three USB-C ports, plus a Micro SD slot

One last topic: Connectivity and other accessories. Like the Companion 2 and traditional desktop Cintiqs (like the new Cintiq Pro 13 and the Cintiq Pro 16 — also great solutions for making comics) the MSP connects to any PC or MAC. There’s a $70 accessory called the Wacom Link that’ll be available soon to accomplish this via USB-C, Mini DisplayPort and USB classic. There may be a cheaper generic option on Amazon someday, but I can’t find one. Nobody is talking about the fact that you can’t just plug a MacBook Pro to the MSP via a single USB-C cable in reviews I’ve seen, but I can’t make it work and I’m me, so… you’ve been warned in case you’re buying an MSP for its connectivity powers.  I suspect in a year or so USB-C dongles will be a lot cheaper and this won’t be such a headache. IMO, the MSP should’ve come with a stand and the Wacom Link. The Companion 2 had both things, you know? Oh, and there’s no keyboard included of course, so you’ll want to grab a bluetooth one or a corded one. The Wacom-branded one fits nicely in a bag, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a reskinned version of this cheap Toshiba one, so choose wisely. Also, also, also — this thing only comes with 3 replacement nibs (two standard, one felt), and the Wacom store doesn’t have any you can buy yet… so ration accordingly for the time being.

So, which one do I get???

That’s the question, right? For most people making comics, I’d recommend the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13 – Intel® Core™ i5, 128GB SSD model. It’s powerful enough to get any comics job done AWESOMELY as long as you can live on 128GB. Between cloud storage options and the tablet’s Micro SD memory card slot, you can make it work if you want to save some money.

Here is some actual Caleb art from my upcoming “Ice Cream Warriors” comic.

Of course, if you can spring for the i7 models — either the 13 or the 16 — they are a luxury cruise ship to the stars. I seriously can’t put my full-spec MSP16 down. Wacom did a fantastic job on the main tablet design and delivered a powerful, premium experience for users who spend their days and nights with their noses to the proverbial digital grindstone. If they can just make these things lighter, pop in a battery that competes with the Surface machine’s and get the accessories included again, they’ll be, like, level 1,000 mages. I’ll be on the lookout in the future, but I am PLEASED with this thing in the meantime. It’s my new go-to. Try one if you’re in the market. It’s the best thing out there.

If you’ve got any other questions, you can hit me up on Twitter.

Emerald City Comicon 2017


ECCC 2017 Buster Moody Caleb Goellner
ECCC 2017 Buster Moody Caleb Goellner

That means you can find Buster Moody and me at Emerald City Comicon 2017, March 2-5 in Seattle at Artist Alley table D4.

I’ll have copies of the Mermaid: Evolution TPB, plus a brand new comic called Ice Cream Warriors! I’m finishing it up this weekend and I’ll post a preview or somesuch once it’s colored. This biz is down to the wire hahahahohgod

C U soon!

New York Comic Con 2016!

Yo-ho-ho! I’ll be tabling with my bud Derek Charm at NYCC 2016! Look for us at Artist Alley table Z2! I’ll have Mermaid Evolution: The Whole Friggin’ Saga, Mer-Pugs, Mer-Pug pins and more!

Caleb Goellner Derek Charm NYCC 2016 Z2

Thanks to NYCC for having me do up a Mer-Pugs promo for the show!

ALSO: Come see me at the IDW Publishing booth where I’ll be signing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Amazing Adventures comics. I’ll be there Thursday from 1-2 p.m. and Sunday from 2-3 p.m. Derek’s got scads of signings too! Click here for the full schedule!

SPX 2016!

caleb goellner spx 2016

I’m tabling with my Task Force Rad Squad co-creator and good bud Buster Moody this weekend at the 2016 Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD! You can find us at table I8, where all the action is.

This show marks the debut of Mermaid Evolution: The Whole Friggin’ Saga TPB (in English!), featuring all three ME chapters, plus my 2299 story, some pin-ups and more! I’ll also have all the Mer-Pug goodness you’ve come to expect.

Mermaid Evolution the Whole Friggin Saga

Can’t make the show? Don’t worry, Mermaid Evolution: The Whole Friggin’ Saga will be up on ComiXology any day now!

See you soon!

Tabling at Comiket 90: An American Abroad

Comiket 90 Tokyo Big Sight
Comiket 90 at Tokyo Big Sight

On August 14th I had the privilege of tabling at Comiket 90, the 90th iteration of Japan’s premiere, bi-annual comic book market. Held at the quad-updside-down pyramid palace known as Tokyo Big Sight, Comiket is easily the most-attended comic book show in the world. With more than half a million visitors over the course of three days, Comiket dwarfs even New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic-Con International’s combined, multi-day numbers. It’s a beast. A strange beast. A kaiju of a show.

Unlike the media-heavy NYCC, SDCC and many other mainstream conventions in the United States, Comiket is essentially one massive artist alley (or a series of massive artist alleys, split up between a few halls) devoted principally to doujinshi (self-published, original or unlicensed fan comics created just for limited runs at cons). For sure, scores of cosplayers pose for photos outside and wander the show floor. Some mainstream publishers and studios like Warner Bros. have booths in a separate area of the show. And naturally, a handful of comics-centric supply companies like Deleter, Copic and Wacom have vendor booths in designated corners of each exhibitor hall. But true to its name, Comiket is a comic market above all else. It’s also completely free to attend, making it one of the most democratic cons of its size. Attendees are suggested to purchase one of the show’s phonebook-sized catalogs, which run ¥2,000 onsite (right about $20 USD), as those funds help keep the show afloat. Attendees can also buy the catalogs offsite, at places like bookstores and manga shops, for ¥2,500 (about $25 USD).

So how did I get to travel to Japan to attend this wild show?  How was it compared to comic conventions in the US? What did I learn that I can share to help empower the next generation of comic book creators with more ambition than sense? I will answer at least two of these questions below in this accessible and SEO-friendly blog post, replete with original photos and video and probably some links to stuff you can buy.

I didn’t know Americans could even table at Comiket. How did a rando like you get to table there?

Honestly? I knew a guy who knew a guy. And they all knew things. Bless them.

As far as I know, there are only two ways into Comiket, assuming you have the financial and temporal means to travel to Japan for several days.

  1. Know somebody who can help you fill out the paperwork and answer any questions you have — and you will have them (like me)
  2. Be fluent in Japanese (unlike me)

Like a lot of comic book creators from my generation, manga and manga-based multimedia like anime, video games and toys played a huge part in my creative development. I’ve always dreamed of tabling at Comiket for a chance to be among some of my favorite mangaka on their home turf. So after a few years of tabling at some of the larger comic conventions in the US, I figured I’d dig into how to get into the show for kicks. One night, which just happened to be two days before the registration deadline, I did. I visited the official Comiket website and its English language portal for visiting attendees and clicked around using Google Chrome’s Translate extension until I found some application info. I felt confident. After all, I’ve been ordering toys and comics from international sites for years. How hard could it be?

It was too hard.

comiket caleb crying
It was just like this

And so, I reached out to a friend and former co-worker who’d been living and working in Japan for years, to see if he could help. I was expecting a polite “You’re insane,” but it turned out he had a friend who runs an organization connected to the show. They asked me for some crucial info. I replied as best I could. Within the next 36 hours I was registered and assured I’d have everything I needed to table at the show. I just owed them the table fee, which was around ¥9100 ($91 USD) for a single day. This fee covered a table with two chairs, plus three entry passes. It’s about the same rate as a bigger show in the US.

That “crucial info” included the usual stuff — name, address, etc. — but the most important info would decide my fate as a tabling artist.

If you want to table at Comiket, you’ll need a circle name and you’ll need to pick a genre you’d like to be represented alongside. I’d heard about circles before, but didn’t realize their importance. I wanted to table as “Caleb Goellner.” It’s how we do things here, and I figured it might help Japanese readers understand that I was a foreigner with perhaps more “western” material. But, as my handlers explained to me, a circle is kind of like your publisher name for the con. It can be whatever you want — for those with pen names already, it’s simple — but it helps explain your work to people who discover you on the floor or look you up in advance with the phonebook-sized Comiket catalog and its online counterpart. I chose “Mer-Bro”.

Comiket 90 Circle Mer-Bro
My circle info from the digital catalog

Picking your genre is even more important. Comiket takes place over three days, between the remarkably doable hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Day 1 is usually a “boys” day and deals in genres generally associated with young men and boys — shonen manga and its ilk. Day 2 is usually a “girls” day and deals in shoju manga and content targeting principally women. Day 3 is principally an “adult” day and is chock fulla’ every flavor of porn a pen can create. Guess which day I was there?

Turns out, there was a little bit of confusion about where to put me since I was a foreigner with a wholly original graphic novel instead of a more traditional doujinshi. To simplify things, I was seated with travelogue artists in a circle area that happened to be located smack dab in the middle of dozens of rows of hentai on Day 3. This was just a little bit wilder than I expected. I’m on Tumblr and Reddit and whatever and I still blushed a little. In the end, things worked out fine, but if I return, I’m going to shoot for Day 1 to try to reach a more targeted audience.

So that’s how I did it.

If you can read Japanese at a high level, you should be able to take care of everything yourself, provided you’re familiar with convention and basic manga industry jargon. You can simply download a PDF and submit it through the site like you would for most US shows. Just follow the instructions. There are a lot of them, but it didn’t seem any more complicated than what I’ve encountered at home.

You don’t really have to wait to get “accepted” like at a vetted/curated show. You just wait a little while for a confirmation e-mail. I want to say I got my confirmation info within a few days. Once that happens, you’re asked for some additional information, along with an image that Comiket can use for its physical and digital exhibitor catalog. The instructions for formatting are very clear, but very specific. So be ready for that as well.

So what’d you take to sell if you didn’t make a doujinshi?

I met a pair of professional translators through a colleague and hired them to localize my comic Mermaid: Evolution, transforming it into マーメイド進化論! It was a straightforward process, but more work than I was expecting. First off, I had never written a proper script for Mermaid (surprise, I know!), so I had to transcribe it from scratch to send to the translation team. Secondly, I hadn’t created a trade paperback collecting the series in English yet, so I had to design and format one. Lastly, I had to erase — and in some cases redraw — parts of my book to accommodate new lettering. One big hitch was that even in Clip Studio Paint, I had no idea how to use fonts correctly or accommodate annotative tools called ruby characters in my re-lettering process. It was a whole thing. But after a few weeks, I finished! The translators and a few native Japanese-speaking friends told me it all made sense, so I sent it to the printer and got copies with time to spare before the con.

Mermaid Evolution マーメイド進化論 manga

I felt legit. I was going to sell my comic to Japanese readers in their native tongue! Just in case, though, I also packed some issues of my Mer-Pugs comic, some Mer-Pugs pins, some copies of Task Force Rad Squad #1 and a few TMNT trade paperbacks I have stories in. I usually sell a short box worth of comics at a 2-4 day show in the US, so I felt good with approximately 65 comics in tow for a single day.

Okay, so you’re approved and have stuff to sell. What next?

I visited Japan for a little longer than a week in 2015, so I was ready to travel to Tokyo and get around by train and all of the logistical stuff that makes a trip a trip. My wife, Anna, was helping out big time as well, so I could focus on lugging around comics and whining about how hot and humid it was (and it was hot and humid – I grew up in the midwest, but Portland summers have made me soft). Here’s a tip for Tokyo in August that I learned from an American friend living in Japan: Go into a Lawson or another convenient store and grab some Gatsby Cooling Wipes. You’ll thank me later.

Tokyo Big Sight 2016 Comiket
Tokyo Big Sight during Comiket 90 setup.

Anyway, we got into Tokyo a few days early. I met with my handlers at Tokyo Big Sight the next afternoon and they got me set up with my official information packet. It contained my three passes, a map of the show floor, and other basics. One of my handlers outlined show rules for me, as well.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • You’re supposed to be able to communicate with guests at Comiket. For me, this meant having some help from a handler, who sat at my table with me for portions of the show. If you go on your own, either speak enough Japanese to get by, or have a friend who can tag along. Most people knew enough English to buy from me while I was alone, but you’ll want the help if you’re not fluent.
  • Comiket doesn’t have creator badges. Or badges for anyone, really. Your passes are holofoil-y paper tickets that gatekeepers quickly rip before sending you on your way through an exhibitor line.
  • Comiket exhibitors don’t really do the huge retractable banner thing we’re used to doing at US shows. To be honest, there’s not really room for them. Some people have thin stands with a poster or two hanging from them, but otherwise you should bring a tablecloth. That’s probably it. I forgot to bring one and I regret it.
  • Tables are small. They’re like what we think of as half-tables in the US. Two seated chairs with people in them is a tight fit. You’ll want to be ready to deal with the space issues.
  • You’re not supposed to hassle people, but you can politely pitch passers-by. Basically say something concise like “I’m selling a comic about a Mermaid. Please take a look.” If you’ve walked through an entertainment or vice district in Tokyo, it’s kind of like how waiters pitch you on coming into a bar, but even more low key.
  • Nobody really seemed to be taking commissions at the show, though you probably can if you can get people interested. Fans are mostly just expecting new comics.
  • At US shows, most people kind of expect a signature when they buy something. At Comiket, everyone acted surprised by the offer. Go figure!

Cool. So how’d your day at Comiket go?

It was great. Hot. But great. Better than I’d hoped.

Here’s a rundown of my day.

My wife and I woke up at 5:30 a.m., went for a run, and got ready to hop on a series of trains from where we were staying in Shinjuku to the station outside of Tokyo Big Sight in Ariake. It was about an hour commute, exacerbated by packed train cars. You’ve probably seen footage of people being squeezed into trains during rush hour in Tokyo. Our first few trains were empty (Sunday mornings are typically quiet), but as we began transferring closer to the show, the crowding bordered on mythical. Fortunately, nearly everyone was headed toward the same comic-filled destination, so spirits were high despite the increasingly lessening impact the train air conditioning was having.

Train station sweatiness for all
Train station sweatiness for all

Once we got to the Kokusaitenjijoseimon station, we made our way up an escalator and out of its heavily anime ad-decorated interior onto a paved path leading up to the expo center.

comiket 90 exhibitor line
Exhibitors making their way toward Tokyo Big Sight

Tokyo Big Sight is one of the coolest convention centers I’ve ever seen, like something you’d see on the Vegas Strip, only… nice. Really nice. If you arrive via the train station, you walk through a bit of a shaded pavilion onto series of wide staircases up into the main floor of the facility, then into one of the main hallways, which is walled with a series of halls on each side. We rolled in around 8:30 a.m., which is prime time for exhibitors to show up, but still early for fans, who have to wait until 10 a.m. to enter.

comiket exhibitor tickets
Tickets to ride

Getting into the show as an exhibitor was surreal. Maybe the lowest-impact check-in to a show this complex. We simply walked into the building alongside a bunch of other exhibitors, handed one of a dozen volunteers our tickets at the entrance line, and made our way toward my table. It was easier than getting into a matinee at a chill suburban movie theater on a Tuesday.

comiket 90 line
Comiket fans patiently waiting
comiket 90 crowds in line
This is true comic show stamina

Meanwhile, thousands of guests were waiting in lines stretching from the entrance all the way back to the train station. It was something to behold. I’ve never seen anything like it, even at major outdoor music festivals. Guests seem relaxed. Many of them were sitting, passing the time in tranquility before doors open and the (crazy organized) race inside began. I credit the relaxed vibes chiefly to the army of volunteers, who keep everything flowing in what feels like one fluid motion. In their neon green hats (with many wearing work gloves) they were unto a legion of Luigis. 2013 was eating its heart out.

comiket 90 opening
The relative calm before the storm

Once inside, we made our wall through the main hall and over to the West Hall, where I thought my table was, but turned out to contain two massive rooms housing some of the publisher booths and other circles. It only took a moment to realize my table was in the East Hall across the way, which housed around than half a dozen connected rooms of tables. I was relieved, because the AC hadn’t been turned on in the West Hall yet and it was… less than comfortable. Once in the East Hall, we quickly located my table with the help of a volunteer, who could tell I needed a boost.

Comiket 90 Map
Map courtesy of Comiket
comiket caleb goellner map
Enhanced map for scale. There are TONS of creators at Comiket.

At my table — East Hall 5, table 53B — I had about 45 minutes to meet my handler, arrange my wears and meet my neighbors before the halls shut down to prepare for the grand opening. I tabled next to a group of Japanese/Finnish comic creators who publish a an anthology that they sell at shows across Europe and Asia, along with a local creator who published manga about what it’s like to be a voice actor in the anime industry. As I mentioned earlier, we were in a cluster of tables representing mostly foreigners and local creators who published travelogues and associated “real world” works. Mermaid is basically Guy Delisle fare, right?

caleb goellner comiket 90 table setup
Setting up my table

Before I realized it, several announcements had rang over the PA and the doors were open, with the AC kicking on.My wife caught a bunch of good footage of attendees being unleashed in waves. The volunteers have to do a lot of crowd control, no matter how chill the otaku at this show might be. I sat several rows down from the hall’s main entrance and watched from afar as a flood of thousands of fans poured. Exhibitors and volunteers clapped in appreciation — and I did appreciate it. It felt kind of like cheering the starting lineup of a pro sports team as they run onto a court. Considering how long attendees had been waiting, they deserved it.

Right away staff came by asking for a copy of my comics for the show and their assigned registration cards. Basically, there’s an organization that collects one copy of each debut (and just your new work created for that show — no worries about giving them a copy of EVERYTHING you bring) and inserts a sticker with your work’s info and price. It was a quick process and I was happy to contribute copies of Mermaid and Mer-Pugs. Now I’m in the Comiket history books.

comiket 90 lines
Looking back on the fans in line from the top of the stairs

I had no idea what to sell my work for. Most people have things priced to move. I stuck with ¥500-1,000 (around $5-10) for my books, depending on page count.

comiket caleb goellner price sign

I was busy most of the day, with some slowness between bursts of buyers. It was more or less like any show I do in a new city where I don’t have any returning fans and have to be social to engage new ones.

comiket 90 caleb goellner

A friend in Tokyo had advised me on a few expressions I could say as people walked by. It was a big help. A simple “Irasshaimase” goes a long way to welcome people to your table and figure out what you’ve got on hand.

Maybe a quarter of my buyers were Americans abroad or otherwise English-speaking foreigners living in Japan. Otherwise, almost everyone was Japanese. Most knew enough English to ask me about my books and inquire about my trip to Comiket (I wish I’d known more Japanese, I was really grateful for their courtesy). A few knew very little English, but we got by as they pointed to what they wanted and I pointed to prices. My Japanese handler who spoke a plethora of languages and studied in America was crucial to one or two interactions that would’ve otherwise been a simple exchange of money and goods. I got some nice feedback and got to show my appreciation more elegantly than by clumsily smiling and nodding. Many were also kind enough to add me on social media after the exchange. I got a few nice notes that night, too, from people who enjoyed the books and appreciated an American artist coming to the show. I… may have teared up a little.

comiket 90 halls
Nearly every area of Tokyo Big Sight is packed during Comiket. Here’s a portion of the hall between the two main exhibitor areas.

Before I knew it, it was 4 p.m. The show was over already. I’ve done long days at major cons, but even at several hours shorter, Comiket took it out of me. A combo of the trip, the heat, jetlag and my brain being on fire trying to remember my crude Japanese probably added to the fatigue. An announcement chimed over the PA and the crowd erupted in applause as a stream of volunteers rolled in from outside to tear things down. It was all I could do to pack my comics up in the minutes that followed. When I looked up, half the room was empty and almost all of the nearby chairs had been loaded onto wheeled racks. Many tables were beginning to be stacked as well. Comiket does NOT mess around.

comiket 90 volunteers
Comiket volunteers roll deep

Relieved, we made our way out of Tokyo Big Sight and soaked up the evening view, taking the long staircases down to the train station. It was super peaceful as we left, with the sun beginning to set in the distance. Chill vibes, you know? The station itself was packed, with a line winding 7 rows thick just to get to the ticket machines, which I’d never seen before even at the busiest stations. Fortunately, like all lines in Tokyo, it moved efficiently.

We tripped back to the hotel many comics lighter, dizzy with dehydrated euphoric exhaustion. I’d sold nearly all of my books and hopefully made an impression on some mainstream manga readers. I didn’t get discovered by Shueshia and instantly become the latest star artist in Shonen Jump, but as I downed what felt like my 30th bottles of Pocari Sweat and Boss coffee of the day, it felt like maybe a version of me somewhere in the multiverse might’ve.

All that, and you didn’t go shopping or check out the cosplay scene? What’s wrong with you?

I did take a few restroom breaks (like almost everywhere I’ve been in Japan, they were super clean despite being at a huge comic show), taking a few extra minutes to wander around. It was so hot I didn’t spend much time peering the cosplay up close and settled for taking it in at a distance before returning to my table. I saw a lot of people dressed as Berserk characters — mostly Guts, which makes sense because the new CG anime is in full swing. Otherwise it was mostly, like… fetish characters? I couldn’t ID a number of the more risqué crew, but maybe they weren’t specific characters? Anyway, there’s a ton of cool stuff I know I missed, and you can find that on the cosplay corner of the internet in vivid detail.

comiket 90 crowds
Literal organized chaos. The volunteers, staff and police do a great job keeping things moving.

Oh, one other observation: I saw maybe 50 people in Marvel comics tees or assorted character apparel. Zero DC stuff. Curious.

cosplay comiket 90
The only non-smarmy, genuine “m’lady” I’ve ever seen

Another total aside: There’s no music at Comiket to speak of. I loved it. I mean, I don’t mind hearing the Star Wars theme a few times a day if I gotta at a show in the US, but I did not miss the oppressive pop and sci-fi theme dissonance a lot of cons serve up. The light din of the crowd was all the noise I needed.

comiket vendor booths
Vendor booths are pretty chill at Comiket. There’s only a handful and they’re all very relevant to comic creation.

Although I didn’t see much familiar cosplay, I did see one Deadpool on my way out. He really wanted my attention. I wish I’d taken a picture as we high-fived.

I also saw a dude wearing a shirt with a piece of red white and blue sushi with a dick on top of it labeled “U.S.A.”. I did get a picture of that. He was very happy to have an American take interest. No, I’m not posting it here. My mom might read this.

comiket east hall
Day 3 at Comiket is enough to make even me blush

Long story short, I was there to connect with a new audience. Exhibitor tickets only cover the day you’re set to peddle your wares, so I focused on manning my table.

So was Comiket worth it for you?

From a financial perspective, this was a total vanity trip. A kind of working vacation. Nobody at Comiket had ever heard of me, and none of my mainstream comics have been released in Japan yet (although my TMNT stuff is on the way). I had to cover translating, reformatting and reprinting my comic, plus lug it from PDX to Narita. We cashed in some miles and got a really solid deal on our flights, picked a chill hotel, did a lot of walking, and didn’t splurge on extra stops in Japan (We wanted to hit Kyoto, but saved it for next time). But still, I had no economic reason to go and had no reason to think I’d make any money. In fact, I was prepared to just pass out my comic as a free promotional item if I had to, to make it worth all the work. Fortunately I didn’t have to. I only had a handful of books leftover at the end of the day, having sold everything else.

But yeah, I had a rad time. It was well worth it to me.

caleb goellner comiket gif
I promise I didn’t actually make this face at any point in the day.

Every — I guess indie cartoonist or whatever I am at this point in my comics journey — has their daydreams. Mine was to maybe interact with a mangaka I’d heard of in some fashion (I did!) and maybe meet an editor from a publication I’d heard of (I totally didn’t!) and potentially get the wheels turning on releasing some of my stuff in Japan (…we’ll, uh, see). But my earnest real-world goal was just to go to the show, walk around, interact with attendees and generally be a part of the event. I did all of that and didn’t pass out from the heat, plus I had several days to see friends, explore Tokyo some more, and generally experience Japan and practice some Japanese. It was a great trip.

Would you do anything differently?

I think so! My easiest seller at the show was Task Force Rad Squad. People really latched onto it in no small part thanks to the art of my oft-co-creator Buster Moody, but also perhaps due to its tokusatsu flavor. One reader who picked up several of my comics sent me a really nice message and mentioned that there’s a growing appetite for American fare (“Amecomi”, as some fans call it) among the core Japanese comics readership. So if I get to go back, I think I’ll:

  1. Table on Day 1
  2. Brave the corporate booths to try to network with editors and publishers
  3. Focus on my higher-end English-language comics
  4. Know WAY more Japanese
  5. Figer out a chill way to hange a poster, and bring a tablecloth to look more legit (I could honestly stand to bring my own tablecloth to domestic shows, while I’m thinking about it…)
  6. Communicate with more people into Amecomi via social media a few weeks in advance, if I can crack that community
  7. Maybe go to the winter show? It’s right at the end of the holidays, stretching into the New Year. The timing is weird, but the cold is preferable to the heat!
  8. I might fit in better at Comitia since that show is focused on original work rather than fan comics. It just took place at Tokyo Big Sight, so I kind of wish I could’ve done both shows in one trip!

I have more questions. Can I ask you more questions?

I can try to answer general questions on Twitter, yeah! I’m at @calebandrew

comiket 90 caleb goellner tokyo big sight