A day in the life of a Comic Con vendor who runs a booth with his wife, completes up to 15 commissioned caricatures in a day, and avoids drinking water because he has no time for bathroom trips

Katie Warren/Business Insider180,000 people attended New York Comic Con in 2016.
  • New York Comic Con is a massive pop culture event, drawing thousands of people from all over the world.
  • We talked to a vendor about what it’s like to work a booth at the event.
  • He described a hectic 12-hour work day with no lunch break and barely any bathroom breaks – but he said it’s all worth it.

One of New York City’s largest pop culture events, Comic Con, is underway this week at Javits Center in Manhattan.

Hundreds of vendors and exhibitors pay to set up booths at the convention each year, selling comics, artwork, costumes, collectible action figures, and much more.

We talked to two vendors, Mervyn and Nicole McKoy, partners in both business and marriage, who run their commercial art and multimedia design studio, Paper Lab Studios, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They travel to conventions throughout the year, including Dallas Comic Con, Indiana Comic Con, MegaCon in Orlando, Florida Super Con, Raleigh Super Con, and Katsucon in Maryland, and others.

Mervyn said New York Comic Con is definitely one of his favourites because of the diverse group of people who attend.

In between conventions, the McKoys do commercial art, custom commissions, and design. Some of their past clients include Burger King and Filthy Food, which makes high-end drink garnishes. They also produce their own comic books in collaboration with various writers, which Mervyn illustrates and Nicole edits.

Here’s what their day looked like on the first day of New York Comic Con.

Mervyn and Nicole woke up at 7 a.m. on Thursday, the first day of the convention, and took an Uber from the DUMBO neighbourhood of Brooklyn where they were staying with a friend.

They got to the Javits Center at about 8:30 to beat the security checkpoint rush and do some light setup.

They had already come in for a couple hours the day before the convention started, on Wednesday, to do some preliminary setup.

The McKoys, who’ve been coming to New York Comic Con for about five years —which is also how long they have been married — said they paid about $US1,400 for their booth this year.

At 10:00 a.m., Comic Con attendees are let in, kicking off one of the most hectic parts of the day for vendors.

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The busiest parts of the day are the morning rush and midday between noon and 1:00 p.m., Mervyn said. Then there’s usually another rush between about 3:00 and 4:00 p.m.

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They can finish between 15 and 30 pieces per day between the two of them, with varying styles and due dates. On Thursday, they took 15 commissions.

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Some pieces they give to their customers soon after they’re ordered and some are shipped later. It takes between 10 and 45 minutes to draw a piece, depending on the request. Mervyn said Nicole is much faster than he is.

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On average, they charge between $US20 and $US80 depending on the type of work, but add-ons such as special characters, backgrounds, and other details can increase the price, according to Mervyn.

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One of Mervyn’s most memorable convention commissions was for a couple who asked him to draw them cosplaying as Ursula and Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” and riding their pet cat.

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In the afternoon, Mervyn found time to create a portrayal of me, which I found delightful.

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Staying hydrated is crucial, but bathroom breaks at Comic Con are few and far between for the McKoys. “The bathroom trip is probably the most stressful thing, especially on Saturdays and even more so for Nicole,” Mervyn said.

“The other side of the hall has super small bathrooms, and the side near the entrance, while larger, is too far and can take at least 45 minutes to get to on Saturdays,” he said.

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Mervyn said they try to time their trips to parts of the day when the booth isn’t too busy. “Nicole is more strategic and I just avoid drinking water,” he said.

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Mervyn said they see some wild things at conventions.

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At one convention, Mervyn said he saw a woman dressed as Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones” get thrown out because “she literally only had on dragon tassels.”

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At MegaCon, he once saw a brawl break out when somebody bumped into a vendor’s collection of collectible statues.

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But most of their day is spent chatting with Comic Con attendees and taking their varying requests.

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Mervyn and Nicole don’t exactly get to take a lunch break. At some conventions, they have people helping them so they can leave the booth, but at this one it was just the two of them.

They ate at their booth, munching on sandwiches from the same bagel spot in DUMBO where they had grabbed breakfast that morning.

The McKoys make around $US800 to $US1,000 a day in commissions at New York Comic Con, Mervyn said.

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Comic Con’s show floor, where the McKoy’s booth is, closes to guests at 7:00 p.m. On Thursday, they had a commission run a little past closing time. After that was finished, they started shutting down their booth for the day.

“Most vendors were gone, so it was Nicole shutting down the booth and me dilly dallying,” Mervyn said. They covered their wares with a large tarp. Despite the long days and lack of breaks, Mervyn said it’s worth it because of the freedom they have, the opportunity to travel …

… and seeing the excitement of people picking up their art. “We’ve had sceptics surprised, kids freak out, parents cry, and couples connect,” Mervyn said.

Mervyn and Nicole left the Javits Center at about 8:30 on Thursday to head back to DUMBO and meet some colleagues for dinner …

… and get ready to do it all again the next day.

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