You’ve probably heard the story by now. A young upstart comic creator by the name of Sean Von Gorman handcuffed himself outside of Forbidden Planet in NYC and refused to come unchained through rain or sleet or snow or being shown a picture of another man’s testicles until every copy of his new graphic novel, The Secret Adventures of Houdini, sold out. Neil Gaiman (yes, that one) called the stunt “a NY publicity stunt that’s, er, a proper old fashioned publicity stunt” and the story was picked up across the Internet. Sounds crazy but what’s crazier is that it actually worked.
The Secret Adventures of Houdini, written by Todd Hunt and illustrated by Von Gorman, follows Houdini’s descent into the secret world of the supernatural. Armed with a sharp wit and near super human strength, Houdini finds his resolute disbelief in the supernatural challlenged as he delves into the layer of an NYC religious sect determined to raise the spirit of Thaseus Cipriano.
We talked to Von Gorman about promoting comics, what it’s like to be handcuffed to a pole and what he’s got planned for the second volume of Houdini.
So the stunt was a success! The Secret Adventures of Houdini sold out on one day at forbidden Planet. Tell us about it! Weirdest thing that happened? Any trouble with the cops?
Absolutely! Thank god or I would still be out there! This is actually the second time we’ve sold out at FP. The last time was under 24 hours this time with online sales took about 9 hours! They told us we outsold every other mainstream book except for Justice League, and Avengers. Take that New 52!
The weirdest thing that happened had to be this guy who was walking down the street with a sign that read “Need money for weed” begging for change. He approached the group soliciting coin and saw I was chained to a pole. He was like “Whoa, what this?” I explained I was promoting a book about Harry Houdini. He said “Man, I got something to show you.” He pulls out his cell phone and shows me a picture of a man holding a small glass jar. On the jar it reads, “Houdini’s Testicles.”
Basically, he walked up and show me another mans nuts.
Oddly enough no trouble from the cops until someone placed a 911 call to report a “Man chained to pole being repeatedly stabbed!” Two police officers broke up a little crowd we had gathering as I was being interviewed for Forbidden Planet’s Daily Blog. [They were] very dramatically shouting, “I need every body to BACK UP!” Then the officers asked me what I was doing. I was very calm and cool as I explained what I was doing with the store to promote a book. They ask if I was being stabbed, I checked obviously, and told them no. Then the officer saw I was holding a silver Sharpie and he yells, “ARE YOU TAGGIN THIS POLE!?”
Why did you feel that something like this was necessary? Why not go a more traditional route promoting the book?
These day everybody is self publishing books and selling online and at cons so we knew we had to be something completely different! We had spent a lot of time bothering out friends and contacts with e-mails and tweets getting word out about the book but in this digital era people get so many bullshit emails that they just look past and just don’t care because its not real to them.
Word of Mouth is the most powerful advertising tool known to man. The reason Batman and Superman sell better than Atomic Robo is that everybody know who he they are. Word of mouth has been absolutely critical to this book. To date we have not spent a single cent on anything other than Books and business cards. I had personally been to every comic store in Manhattan and Brooklyn introducing myself telling them about the book with very little traction. One person walked into Forbidden Planet and asked about the book and everything blew up they immediately found us online and placed their first order.
You’re now the physical embodiment of an indie creator taking a chance. What has this taught you about promoting comics in what sometimes seems like an extremely over-saturated market?
A lot of people were asking what I was protesting for, I told them hunger.
I am a illustrator in New York City. Hustling my wares is something I have to do to eat and support my family. You hear the term “getting yourself out there” all the time, so I did just that. Literally. I put myself on the line and locked myself there for the world to see. All I’m doing is making the act of the hustling into physical art. And I am taking directly to people. You can ignore television and posters but you can not ignore me! It’s impossible!
Hopefully, other artists are inspired by my exploits as a way of advertising themselves. Think of me as Batman. I’ve changed things. Now I want to meet the Joker. Its only going to make for a more interesting landscape for art!
People are ready to hop on the next big thing and especially want to be in on the ground floor. I am appealing to people on a human level, free of packaging or technology to deliver a simple message: “This is an awesome comic. You need to read this.”
The story was picked up across the comics Internet. How are you planning to capitalize on this kind of momentum?
They hard part is over we have the attention, people have heard of us. Now its a matter of getting to Cons. Our first will the at The MoCca Festival at the end of April and will be traveling all over during the summer.
But now its really in the hands of the people reading this. If what we are doing is something that excites you and captures your imagination a take a chance on a book you have never heard of before. You can order it online or go to your local Comic shop. If they don’t have it, have them order it. They are there to sell the comics that you want to read and they will not deny you! What we have here is an opportunity to do something almost impossible this day and age. People have the power now more than ever to decide how they are entertained, its like voting but cooler and you don’t have to put on pants!
The idea essentially is to attract publishers to want to work with us, not the other way around. We are going to do this and anyone who wants to help simply has to board the train everyone else get out of the fucking way!
Maybe the biggest question, how are you going to top this for the release of volume 2?
All I can tell you is that its going to be bigger, and even more Fantastic! Sha-BOOM! (ignites a smoke bomb and vanishes into the Shadows)
Thanks a ton to Sean Von Gorman for taking time to talk to us. You can follow him on Twitter at @VonGormanArt. Want more info about The Secret Adventures of Houdini? Like them on Facebook. If you want to buy the book, you can order it from Indy Planet, Lush or straight from Forbidden Planet.