An artist, writer, and super friendly person, Rebecca Hicks is the creator of cutesy monsters and inquisitive little vampires, who feature in an online comic strip. She’s also created several books with her characters and takes her creations to multiple shows and conventions year-round.
I consider Rebecca both an inspiration and a friend, and I am super grateful that she let me throw all these questions at her.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED WITH LITTLE VAMPIRES? HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THE COMIC COME ABOUT?HOW DID YOU START OFF?
R: The Little Vampires exist because of diabetes.
My diabetic husband, James, checks his blood sugar levels by jabbing a small needle into his fingertips throughout the day. One day in the early part of 2007, he made a comment about how his fingertips looked like they were being nibbled by little vampires. An image of tiny nibbling vampires popped into my mind, and I just couldn’t stop imagining what their lives would be like. I eventually wrote these ideas into a narrative, illustrated it, and self-published the book Little Vampires. I continued telling their stories in webcomic form starting in 2009.
That’s the short version of how the Little Vampires got started. The reason I’m still going is because of the love and support I’ve gotten from so many different amazing people!
WHEN DID YOU ADD THE MERCHANDISE, PRINTS, ETC?
R: I added merchandise to my convention tables as soon as I could. I started with the book, added some art prints, then hand-made magnets. I was familiar with the webcomic business model even before I started the webcomic, so I knew the importance of having merchandise. Gotta have the MERCH!
WHEN DID YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO LEAVE THE WORLD OF “STANDARD” EMPLOYMENT? DID YOU EASE IN WHILE STILL WORKING A TRADITIONAL JOB OR DID YOU JUST JUMP?
R: I wrote the book while I was still an elementary school teacher. I promoted it at conventions during school breaks, and worked on more content whenever I could. James and realized after about two years of this that I could really make something of it if I could work on it full time. So I applied for and was granted a year leave from my teaching job. I made so much headway in that year that I decided to become a full time writer and artist.
WHAT IS AN AVERAGE WORKDAY LIKE FOR YOU? HOW MANY HOURS A DAY DO YOU WORK ON AVERAGE?
R: I average about 10 to 12 hours of work each day, including weekends. And that work is incredibly varied from day to day. Since I’m an independent creator, I’m responsible for four categories of work: creating content, publishing that content, marketing that content, and managing a small business. A large business would have several employees working within each of those categories!
James helps so much with the tech aspects of my work, and with the taxes and finances. He also helps me manage travel arrangements for conventions, and with managing product inventory. He does this in addition to his full time job! The rest is on me.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN EXHIBITING AT CONVENTIONS? WHAT WAS THE FIRST CON YOU DID AND HOW DID IT GO? (WHAT WAS THE AFTERMATH IN TERMS OF HOW YOU MOVED FORWARD?)
R: The first con I ever exhibited at independently was Super-Con in San Jose in June of 2007. Before then I’d done a few shows to promote the comic book I was writing as part of a larger comic universe created by a friend. I was promoting our books at Super-Con, but was developing the character design of the Little Vampires at our Artist Alley table. I got more attention for my rough character sketches then I did for the comic book I wrote. So Super-Con helped me move forward in that it helped me realize that the Little Vampires was where I should focus my attention.
WHAT ARE THE MOST CRUCIAL THINGS YOU HAVE DONE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS?
R: I often say that “I’ve built my fan base one person at a time.” I say that because it’s true! I’ve grown my business by exhibiting at conventions and talking with people that take an interest in my work. I also talk with other artists, not so they’ll promote me, but so I can learn from them. They’ve inspired me to grow as an artist, which has also helped me grow my business.
WHAT PLANS DO YOU HAVE FOR EXPANSION?
R: Exhibiting at conventions has been great these past ten years, but tables keep getting more expensive, and convention attendees only have so much money left to support independent artists after buying photo ops with their favorite celebrities. That means I cant’ rely on just conventions for income anymore. I just ran my first Kickstarter, which was, thankfully, a success! So I’m continuing with expanding my online presence.
WHAT OUTSIDERS HAVE BEEN MOST IMPORTANT TO YOUR BUSINESS SUCCESS? (E.G., CUSTOMERS, SUPPLIERS, MENTORS, ETC.)
R: Okay there are seriously too many to list, and if I did list them I know I’d still be leaving out a ton of people and that thought gives me hives. But I will risk those hives to give a shout-out to my patron goddesses Jess Miller and Margaret Mannatt.
When we premiered the Little Vampires book at San Diego Comic-Con in July of 2007, it was Jess that picked it up and said, “I have to show this to a friend.” That friend was Margaret, who asked if I would like to have an author signing at the independent bookstore she owned at the time. It was that support from Jess and Margaret that REALLY let me know what I had begun to suspect at Super-Con; I really had to keep creating Little Vampires stories!
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST EFFECTIVE MARKETING TACTIC OR TECHNIQUE?
R: My most effective marketing technique at conventions extends from my belief that, as a creator, I need to make anyone that comes into my booth feel welcome. So I make them feel welcome as best as I can. This means listening to extroverts, leaving introverts alone to browse, and making sure my merchandise is accessible to people in wheelchairs, for example. And it means making people laugh when I can, even if I’m not feeling very social at the moment.
The only people that are not welcome in my booth are straight-up assholes. My marketing techniques do not extend to them. I do not need or want their money.
WHAT’S THE WORST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
R: “Exhibit at my convention, it will be the best convention.”
Not all conventions are created equal, believe me.
WHAT THREE PIECES OF ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS STARTING OUT TODAY?
R: No one owes you anything other than decency and respect.
No one owes you anything no matter how much you want it.
No one owes you anything no matter how skilled you are.
Basically, check your entitlement at the door and get to work, people!
IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO START YOUR CAREER OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY? WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR FAILURES, AND WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THEM?
R: If I could start over, I would have fewer different pieces of merchandise. I probably would have had one t-shirt design to start, for example, instead of four. My product failures have usually been a result of doing too much at once. I realize now that I’m a slow artist that needs to focus on no more than a few things at one time.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SATISFYING MOMENT IN BUSINESS?
R: There have been many, but having my Kickstarter fully fund in two days was HELLA SATISFYING! It was such an amazing confirmation that I do work that people want to support. That’s one of those things that I know, but don’t know, you know?
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT LIVING THIS CREATIVE LIFE?
R: There are so many loving humans in my life it’s overwhelming. And I met so many of them because of my creative career! That is my favorite thing about doing this.
EXCLUDING YOURS, WHAT COMPANY OR BUSINESS DO YOU ADMIRE THE MOST?
R: This is like that question about who has been important to my business. There are too many to list! And I can’t say I admire one the most because there are so many I admire for so many different reasons. But I’ll narrow it down to two because I love you.
I admire businesses that try to make customers feel welcome, and that use good design. So I admire that about Disney, specifically the Disney parks. Talk about creating an immersive and welcoming customer experience!
On a smaller scale, because we are all smaller than Disney, dahling, I admire my friends at Steam Crow. They are SO good to their fans, and have built an entire club around them. On top of that, Daniel and Dawna both have crazy good design skills.