Dollars and Sense: Artist Alley

C2E2 logo Comics Entertainment Convention Chicago

We’re now knee deep in convention season, and I for one couldn’t be happier. Conventions are really the lifeblood of this industry in many ways. It’s a chance for up-and-coming creators to network, a chance for legends to shake hands with old friends, a time when the big news is broken, and most importantly, it’s a chance for fans to experience every aspect of the industry.

As I type this, I’m freshly back from an amazing weekend in Chicago, partaking in all things C2E2 along with my fellow iFanboy and 11’Oclock Comics brethren. The folks at Reed did a wonderful job delivering on a 1st year show that’s only going to get better with each passing year.

In keeping with the spirit of Con Season, I thought I would take this opportunity to demystify my favorite part of a conventionArtist Alley.


What is Artist Alley?
Artist Alley is a place where creators can set up shop for the weekend. It’s a home base of sorts for creators when they’re not otherwise obligated for meetings, panels or signings at the publishers’ booths. My best convention memories usually revolve around Artist Alley; yet it seems that so many convention goers are intimidated by the section and don’t avail themselves.

How does a creator get a table in the Alley?
The rules for Artist Alley differ from show to show, but generally creators apply for a limited number of spots and pay for the right to a table. Sometimes publishers or someone else may sponsor a creator’s attendance (and the con usually sponsors a number of premier guests, as well), but generally there’s a financial commitment from the creator. In addition to the monetary cost of the booth, creators are committing their time — which is a sunk cost few full-time creators have the luxury of enjoying more than occasionally.

Transacting in the Alley
Let’s remember that artists aren’t there solely for your enjoyment. They need/want to make some scratch! And that’s where the symbiotic nature of the comics industry comes into play, because there are lots of ways you can help make it worth their while, and at the same time enhance your own enjoyment of the con.


Darwyn Cooke signing Parker San  Diego Comic-con
Signatures – The most common exchange between fans and creators are signings. It’s the perfect window to thank a creator for their work, coming away with a little keepsake, and yet allowing the creator to meet and greet a high volume of people.

Tips:

  • Have your comics out of their bags before you get to the front of the line
  • Don’t be that guy/gal who brings up an entire 75-issue run to have signed
  • Ask for a personalized signature dedication, proves you aren’t going to flip the book in eBay that night
     


Cost:     Free (Usually)



Photos – Photos are a commonplace occurrence, but this is very much a case-by-case thing. Some creators don't want to take photos b/c their lines are too long. Others don't feel like posing. But if you catch most at a relatively calm time, they'll be happy to snap a photo with you or your loved ones.

Tips:

  1. Always ask before snapping a shot
  2. Offer to email the creator a copy of the photo, they may want to display it!
  3. Don’t confuse a photo with a creator with a photo of a “celebrity” like Lou Ferrigno; which WILL cost you some shekels


Cost:    Free (Usually)


Mike Norton Rules Sketchbook Lulu photo
Sketch Books – Artists often put together books of their artwork for sale. These can range from photocopied, black-and-white stapled books made by hand all the way to signed and numbered, limited edition hard covers. I love these because the money goes directly to supporting the artists, they make a good margin on it, and as thanks most will usually do a quick sketch inside the front cover as a thank you.

Tips:

  1. Feel free to leaf through the book and not feel obligated to purchase
  2. It’s OK to ask if they could do a little sketch in the book if you buy it
  3. Buy because you love the art, not because you think there’s some resale value


Cost:    $5-$50 (Depending on size, type, quantity)



Comics/Trades – This is self explanatory. Many creators have their wares on display for reference and purchase. You’ll usually pay cover price at a table, but again the money goes directly into the creator’s pocket AND you can almost assuredly get a signature for your troubles.

Tips:

  1. Target small press and creator-owned books that you can’t find at your LCS
  2. Be on the lookout for a volume discount, most will give you a deal if you buy multiple items
  3. I would avoid paying more than cover price, you can get the book elsewhere and bring it to their table for a signature


Cost:    Cover price (Otherwise I wouldn’t buy from them directly)


Skottie Young Quick Sketch C2E2 Junk Art Book
Quick Sketches – It’s important to differentiate between a finished sketch/commission that takes time to complete, versus a quick sketch done in your presence that takes no more than a minute or two. Quick sketches usually lack detail or a lot of finishing work, but are still awesome mementos. Every artist has their own particular approach to sketches, so just ask. If I have something I want an artist to sign, and they don’t offer to do a sketch right then and there, I’ll ask. It’s like asking someone out on the date; the worst thing that can happen is they say no.

Tips:

  1. Have a sketch book or paper handy, don’t assume the creator has materials
  2. Artists frequently will do free sketches on those variant sketch covers; and you can buy them on the cheap at the con at dealer booths
  3. Often quick sketches will be at the creator’s discretion, usually a character they’re known for drawing


Cost:    Free – $20 (More than $20 and I would expect some detail/finishing work)


Tom Fowler commission for David  A. Price of Black Panther
Finished Sketches/Commissions – I LOVE commissions. This is my con spending drug of choice. Unlike quick sketches, these are finished art pieces, and as a result are pricier and harder to come by. Because these pieces take time to complete, every artist can only do a finite number. Prices will vary based on the popularity and notoriety of the artist. Head sketches are generally less expensive than a full body sketch. Some artists will add backgrounds, but that’s discretionary. Often artists will charge less for a pencil sketch than a fully inked sketch. And usually multiple characters will cost more. A basic rule of thumb is, the more complex your request, the more expensive.

Tips:

  1. Early bird gets the worm. Above all else, you have to get to creators early in the day/weekend if you want a finished commission
  2. Contact creators or their art dealers ahead of time and find out if they’re doing commissions, and what their process is
  3. Artists should have examples of commissions on display. Don’t assume because you like a person’s sequential pages you’ll love their commissions. They’re entirely different examples of their craft
  4. Make sure you are explicit in what you want BEFORE you agree to a transaction


Cost:    $20-$500 (Varies by prominence of artist, complexity of request)


BPRD Original Art Page Guy Davis posted by 11 O'Clock Comics forum member
Original Art – Many artists will have pages for sale at their booths. I love looking through an artist’s book. I much prefer when the prices are clearly marked, because that allows me to avoid feeling like I’m being sized up for how much I could pay. But don’t be afraid to ask. As to whether you can negotiate? My experience is that anything is fair game, so long as you’re respectful and logical. If a page is marked $500, don’t offer $200. One way I’ve had success is asking for a discount on multiple pages.

Tips:

  1. Many artists use an art dealer to sell their work
  2. Original art can generally be procured online, whereas sketches/commissions can’t
  3. Inkers generally get 1/3rd of the pages from a comic, and are sometimes willing to sell pages for less than the penciler on the same book

 

Cost:    $50-$1000s (It's going to cost you)



Miscellaneous Thoughts

  1. Be polite, and be engaging. Artists want to meet and converse with fans
  2. Shaking hands and saying “thanks” don’t cost a thing, and mean a lot to creators
  3. Many of the creators you wait hours for at the Marvel and DC booths can be found chilling at their Artist Alley booths at other parts of the con
  4. Many creators will offer inexpensive sketches/signings in conjunction with charity efforts like the H.E.R.O. Initiative and the CBLDF
     

Jason is a mutant with the ability to squeeze 36 hours into every 24-hour day, which is why he was able to convince his wife he had time to join the iFanboy team on top of running his business, raising his three sons, and most importantly, co-hosting the 11 O'Clock Comics podcast with his buddies Vince B, Chris Neseman and David Price. If you are one of the twelve people on Earth who want to read about comics, the stock market and football in rapid fire succession, you can follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Jason – AWESOME breakdown. I still have yet to go to a con and this was definitely helpful to make sure that I’m not "That Guy" who has no idea about protocol.

  2. Thanks Kwok! I know my first few cons Artist Alley just seemed…daunting. I wondered if it wasn’t a place for insiders only and didn’t realize the creators very much want and need attendees to engage with them. I just figured an article like this might make someone else’s con experience more palatable, and also hopefully optimize the creators experience, too, since I know there are certain things that can drive them up a wall.

  3. THIS IS A GREAT ARTICLE. very informative. aweSOME

  4. Great article Wood!

    I skipped out on Artist Alley my very first con (NYCC last year) but that quickly changed at Fanexpo last year after I picked up my sketchbook. 

    It’s pretty much the only place I visited at C2E2 last weekend and easily my favourite part of the cons I’ve been to since Fanexpo.

    Forget buying books, chit chatting with creators is so much more fun.

  5. Thanks so much for posting this. I’m planning on going to the Summit City Comic Con and was hoping to get a sketch or two. Keeping this stuff in mind is really going to help. Thanks!

  6. For those who may see a No Hotlinking placeholder (in your RSS reader), apologies. I usually use Creative Commons images but pulled a picture of an Artist Alley from a blog and forgot to check if it was CC. I pulled the picture and apologize for the rookie gaffe!

  7. Or, there can be a beautiful merging of two or more elements (original art and sketches)

    http://s708.photobucket.com/albums/ww89/gabeja/?action=view&current=parkerfull.jpg 

  8. This was the first time I went to artist alley at Wondercon (been there twice) and it was so awesome. I got sketches from some awesome artists. It was great!

  9. Yeah, about two years ago I became far more interested in meeting creators at artist alley and getting sketches than buying any back issues or what not at cons. It’s way more fun!

    I competley agree with your points, Mr. Wood. I’ve only paid over $20 once for a sketch, and that was for an Ethan Van Sciver Sinestro sketch just a few weeks back. At that time he took my sketchbook overnight and gave it back to me the next day. He took his time with it and it’s easily the pride and joy of my collection.

  10. That is a beautiful Black Panther piece.  Is that by the insanely talented Tom Fowler?

     Great article, Jason.  It was a joy zipping and stopping in Artist Alley with ya.

  11. @davidaprice Ha! That is INDEED your Tom Fowler sketch of Black Panther. For those who don’t know, David is one of my 11OC co-hosts and my roomie during C2E2. Tom Fowler also roomed with us, and was cool enough to do awesome commissions for each of us as a thanks.

    Also: The quick sketch is by Skottie Young for someone inside of his new art book

    The original art page is from BPRD, by the incomparable Guy Davis.

    And Ruled! is Mike Norton’s new art book. You can click on that picture and it will take you to a link to buy his book, if you’re interested.

  12. Mr Wood.. your writeup was one week too late. This would have been so helpful in my C2E2 travels last weekend. Thanks for the tip guide.. now, when will Katers write an article about overcoming the social anxiety that prevents people from asking for sketches. (i’m not saying that’s me.. but I did skip asking all weekend and simply chickened out to buy a Chris Burnham Rocket Raccoon print.)

  13. @siraim Sorry! But luckily there are a TON more cons this year, including San Diego, Heroes, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and of course New York. If you make your way to New York, I’ll gladly help you scrounge up the courage. You tell me the artist you want to talk to, and I’ll go up and make the introduction. Pop your artist alley cherry so to speak. 🙂

    As to Burnham, he is a sick and talented bastard! That Rocket Raccoon shooting Galactus (while holding a little groot sapling) was THE print of the con. I tried to buy the original from him but it was already promised to someone else. Goshdarnit. 😉

     

  14. Very good article.  I’ve been doing the con circuit for a bit and am all about the purchase of one inked sketch per-con.  I want to reiterate what Jason said but emphasize with regard to finished sketches there are deals to be had.  In my last 3 cons I got great inked pieces from Valentine Delandro, Jeff Lemire, and Christopher Mitten (Wasteland).  They are all gorgeous and none set me back more than $30.

  15. AWESOME writeup.  Excellent advice.  I have visited a few Artist Alleys and have enjoyed them.  The vast majority of creators I spoke to were very polite.  

    Unfortunately, Artist Alley can also be very depressing.  There is nothing worse than seeing a booth with an artist and no customers.  Last year at Dragon*Con I saw Mike Mignola setting at his booth, seemingly open for business, with no one in line.  MIKE MIGNOLA!  What is wrong with these people?

  16. I’m a big believer in the Hero Initiative and their special events are always worth it. I got to have a beer and a smoke with Steve Dillon for $20. Add to that a sketch, some signing, and a little insider info, and it was a great night.

  17. great article…answered a lot of questions i’ve felt too n00b-ish to ask. 

  18. Very nice – great tips.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had a negative experience with a creator – usually more the fans in front of me in line are the problem. Please, whatever you do, people, don’t be that jackass who brings ever book the person ever worked on. I see those people with their stack of longboxes on a little luggage wheelie cart and I swear to Christ, my sphincter just tightens up. I want to go over there and just push their comics over. Nothing will turn me away from a line more than seeing this crap.

    Also, if there is a bit of a wait, that’s the perfect time to open up your bags and take the comics out. Prep time before the con always helps, too. Have your books for a certain creator together, not randomly placed somewhere in your bag/box/crate/wherever. From what I’ve seen, creators won’t unbag your books for fear of damaging them.

    Again, great article. 

  19. My rule of thumb on signings – bring a landmark issue if you don’t mind it getting marked. It’s an easy decision if you just don’t know which one of many options to choose. Or, pick one issue that you think is just the best work ever. It makes that pice that much more special. Almost any artist will sign gratis. I’m one of the shyest people in the world and I’ve yet to find an artist or creator intimidating. They’re fans of the medium just like us and are glad to meet others to share the love.

  20. Very solid article.  C2E2 this year was a blast and I made out like a bandit in artist alley:

    – Chris Burnham "Rocket Racoon" (sketch, not the print)

    – Valentine De Landro "Nova"

    – Mike Huddleston   "Grunge and Freefall"

    – Jim Valentino "Shadowhawk"

    – Nelson Blake II "Kitty Pryde and Lockheed"

    – Talent Caldwell "Detective Chimp" (probably the best of the bunch!)

     The most expensive sketch (not saying who) was $75, but  all of the artists were very friendly to talk to and eager to do something I’d be happy with.  The rest of the sketches were between $20 and $40; the key is definitely hitting up your favorite artists early and finding outwhat thieir availability is.

  21. Great tips, Jason!   I’d add some for getting sketches/commissions: * Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If it is not specified, make sure you know if you’re getting rough pencils, finished pencils, an inked drawing, etc.   * I like to bring my own pad of 11×17 Bristol pape.  Not all artists have paper, and some have poor quality or small paper.  Usually if you ask for your commission on paper you provide they are happy to use it.

  22. Great article! I’d didn’t know how much fun I was going to have in artist alley!

    I got a beautiful inked comission of a Barbara Gordon Batgirl (which was timely considering the POW) from Reily Brown. I had no desire to drop some money on art this con but Reily was so damned friendly, talkitive, and talented, I couldn’t resist. He even stuck around to hand me my sketch after I got out of a panel late on the last day of the con.

    The only person who beat out Reily for nicest guy at the con was David Mack who was the most pleasent person I’ve met in my life. My significant other drop crazy money and got a quick painted piece from him because of how kind and gracious he was.

    Other great folks at the con: Geoff Johns – Stuck around for more time than needed to sign everyones stuff. Seemed a little drained but what more can you ask of the guy! Amanda Conner – Talked to everyone like we were her best friends in the world. Awesome lady! Chris Burnham – chatted with us like we were drinking buddies. That RR print was incredible. Skottie Young – Wish I would have asked for a sketch in the hardcover he signed for me but it was okay since I got to see him joke around with his kid and wife. Danielle Corsetto – Gave me the best 5 dollar sketch I’ve ever seen. Gordon McAlpin, Joe Dunn, Tom Brazelton – if you like movies and comics you cant go wrong with these guys and meeting them just made me a bigger fan.

    The only person I was disappointed with was Jeph Jaques from Questionable Content. He gave me a really crappy sketch and didn’t really engage at all. He gave me the "$5 bucks then gtfo" vibe.

    So yeah C2E2=Awesome

  23. By the way, My tip #1 above comes from experience.  I once paid a  fairly well know artist $150 for a sketch, assuming that for this price it would be tight pencils or inked.  What I got was really loose/rough pencils.   This would occasion me to add another tip, which I wish I would have done at the time, and that is to not be afraid to say so if you are unhappy with a sketch.

     Just so I’m not all negative here, let me say I have gotten well over 100 artists alley sketches over the years and that was my only really negative experience.

  24. Bob Bretall brings up a nice point of elaboration. Communication is key, and it would be nice to assume that every artist feels compelled to give you a finished, inked and publishing quality piece or art just because they’re charging you $100-$200-$300. But not all artists are created equally. I don’t want to name names, but I’ve seen $20 commissions that were fully finished pages, and $300 commissions that were effectively rough pencil napkin-sized head sketches. Caveat emptor. It’s much harder to cry foul if you didn’t specify before agreeing.

  25. Re: bringing your own board for sketches…if you’re paying for a sketch that probably wouldn’t be a problem, but more and more artists are getting cranky about doing freebies or cheapies and finding them on eBay within 24 hours.  There are artists who literally won’t do sketches at all because of it (Stuart Immonen is one), and artists who do quick little nothing sketches that are personal for you, but nothing you’d feel like selling. Some artists are even starting to insist that sketches be done in bound sketchbooks to lessen the chance that someone will sell the piece.

  26. Also when you’re in the artists alley, make sure you look around everywhere, because there were some amazing artists who didn’t get too many people to go up to them because their booth was around teh corner or in hard to see areas. I am still kicking myself for finding Humberto Ramos to get a sketch.

  27. @kts Is that why Immonen doesn’t do sketches anymore?  That’s a total bummer.

  28. That’s what I’ve been told…he did a signing at a TO comic store a year or two back and he was very explicit that he would not draw anything.

     

  29. That’s how it was at Fanexpo, picked up a sweet ass sketchbook instead.

    I know Allred doesn’t (usually?) sketch either which is fucking tragic.

  30. Great article, and a great breakdown of this kind of thing for newcomers. A few years ago I too was lost whenever I first went into an artist’s alley, and worried about such things like looking through their sketchbooks and original pages and things, so this will definitly be a big help to people going to their first big cons.

  31. I haven’t been to a comic con yet but plan to go to one soon so this is awesome advice. Thanks for the great article Jason. I’ll put your ideas to use.

  32. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great stuff, Jason. I’m big on commissions as well. Love displaying original art around my writing desk for inspiration.  

  33. Awesome article Mr. Wooood.

  34. Re: Bringing your own paper…..

    I was referring ONLY to using it for paid sketches.  I tend to mostly get paid commissions.

  35. Also, I encourage artists to personalize their sketches for me "To Bob – ", as I’m not interested in turning around and flipping them on eBay.

  36. Don’t get too offended if a creator won’t shake hands. Very often it’s merely a matter of self preservation for them. Would you like to shake the hand of everyone at the con?

  37. I have to say this was one of the most informative articles I’ve read on here in some time!  I only recently went to my first big Con and this would have helped!!!!  Thanks very much!

  38. Shaking hands has a cost. Its pestilence: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/3/26/

  39. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a creator to personalize something and it COMPELTELY mellows them out and they become engaged in talking to you. The eBay flipping has really (and understandably) worn down a lot of guys, so when they KNOW you don’t intend to flip things, it’s much easier for them to relax and just be themselves.

     

  40. @Bretall and @Wood – I was just thinking that same exact thing – I got awesome Darwyn Cooke, Bill Sienkiewicz and David Lloyd sketches inside a couple hardcovers, and all because I asked them to personalize it. Probably three of my favorite con experiences (especially since Sienkiewicz and Lloyd were sitting at the same table :D)

    @muddi900 – Bring hand sanitizer!!! Squirt a little on your hands before you engage the creator, and then after you do so because chances are the person in front of you in line has Hep C, what with that hacking cough and all.

    But from now on, I think I’ll use the Iron Guard anytime I meet anyone. 

  41. That article should be reprinted in the pages of every convention program.

     I WISH I had read that before my first show.

     Nice job man!

  42. Awesome article Wood.

  43. Great article on etiquette at the Artist Alley.  My first con I was hesitant to tiptoe through (I finally did and now the alley and small press are my favs), but these tips would have been super helpful.

  44. Thanks Jason. Not only did you give us all some helpful hints, you flushed King DAP out of hiding for his annual comment!

    At Mid-Ohio last year Chris Sprouse was doing free "sketches" that were full-on finished penciled AND inked busts. It made for a slow line but was awesomely cool of him.  I opted just for the ‘graph and a copy of Ocean for time reasons but still, awesome.

    Couple of addenda.

    1) If you’re going for a commission have some reference handy. Yeah, every artist probably knows Superman’s costume and figure, but unless they’ve worked on a character – and recently at that – they may be anywhere from unsure of certain details to absolutely clueless about what that character looks like. Don’t have something handy? Go hit a quarter bin and find a book featuring said cape.

    2) Have an idea what you want. I used to think it would be cool to just tell the artist "draw whatever you want." Then Skottie Young set me straight in his convention tips segment on an early 11 O’Clock. Artists are there to work. They don’t have time to make those decisions for you. Know what you want, ask for it, and let them get on with their job of making you a memory.