So, got any plans for this weekend? Of course I'm joking, because this weekend is obviously New York Comic Con. I know this because I can feel the salty mixture of panic and excitement wandering through my bones. Every NYCC feels more packed, both in the number of to-do items on my itinerary, but also in the number of physical bodies trying to squeeze their way through the labyrinthine aisles of the Jacob Javits convention center every October.
But all griping aside, it's Comic Con weekend, and I'm ready for this. I've been to so many comic conventions that my battle plan is purely instinctual now. My battle plan always consists of:
- Don't waste time with panels
- Find one nice '60s issue of "X-Men" to drop mad money on
- Look at original artwork, contemplate buying, but end up not buying
- Pay way too much money for a Marvel Universe figure that you can't find cheaper anywhere else (this year: Beast and/or Scarlet Witch)
- Accidentally bump into Stan Lee on the crowded convention floor (I swear, every year…)
But there's one area that I've left out of that skim-errific list, and it's the area I care the most about. It's why I go to comic conventions, aside from the fact that they're like if Disney World traded out all of their mascots with obscure superheroes (bye-bye Mickey, hello Squirrel Girl). Artist Alley is my favorite aspect of any comic book convention, by far.
Being a lifelong comic book fan, I'm embarrassed to admit that my first proper convention was New York Comic Con in 2008, which I went to in a professional capacity for Wizard Entertainment. Prior to that I had only been to one convention, a tiny one in a hotel in Nashville. It was 1996, I was just out of sixth grade, and I met Stan Lee while wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. Stan Lee said he liked my shirt, thus adding complex emotions to our now annual near run-ins on the con floor. I mean, I know he remembers me, but we just aren't getting the opportunity to really reconnect and reminisce about our time together in Nashville!
Wrong. I know Stan Lee doesn't remember our brief interaction. And that's what this article is about. Not about me bragging about my sweet Stan Lee hang time, but about what you should do when encountering the comic book creators in Artist Alley. That professional capacity at Wizard I mentioned above gave me a lot of insight into what to do when encountering people whose work has, let's be honest, redefined the scope of your imagination and turned you into the person that you are today. Comics. Are. Important. And the people who make them should be revered. Hey, I get it. I'm a fan. But after meeting creators, interviewing them, booking their travel, hanging out with them and keeping a watchful eye on the Artist Alleys for a year's worth of Wizard World conventions (2008-2009 season, represent), I learned that even in the fanboy fantasy world of a comic con, social cues still have to trump nerd urges. The laws of what is okay to wear in public may not apply for a weekend (hello, Star Sapphire and Namor cosplayers), but common courtesy applies at all times.
With that in mind, I will now get all In Your Face about what you should and should not do in Artist Alley at NYCC or any other convention. Keep in mind that I am 100% qualified to give you this advice, and that you should really just relax and believe every single thing I say. I am authorized to give this advice; find me this weekend and I will show you my badge.
1. Assume no one remembers you. And no, I don't mean your friends; mass waves of amnesia don't befall con-goers. I'm talking about the creators. Unless this is a creator that you have spoken to numerous times, where the creator has actually said your name to your face on numerous, separate occasions, just assume that they don't remember you. Comic creators interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of fans every year. I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that my face is not one that has stuck with them, especially if our conversation consisted solely of me telling them how much I'm enjoying their work with Mr. Sinister (Kieron Gillen, remember me from last year?!).
Now, sure, this is possibly just me forcing my lack of confidence on you, the reader, as if it's Law. But I've seen too many conversations that spend minutes awkwardly trying to suss out if the creator remembers the fan to think that's a smart way to go. If you are part of a larger organization, a podcast or website, introduce yourself with that fact. It's entirely likely a creator will recognize the name of that more than your name.
2. Think about your commissions. Getting commissions became an obsession after I started going to conventions regularly, and they are now the only real substantial purchases I make at conventions. But think about how many times artists draw the same characters over and over again. Batman, Wolverine, Deadpool, Spider-Man, the Joker. For a lot of these artists, getting asked to draw something they have never drawn before will seem like a fun chance to escape from the tights-n-capes.
I get two things drawn: '90s X-Force characters and television characters. The X-Force requests are usually met with lukewarm reception. I never get the feeling that artists don't want to draw them, but they are superheroes. They're drawing superheroes all day. I didn't notice this until I started a collection of television characters and saw the excitement creators greeted this assignment with. They look through the entire book excitedly and, in some cases, flat out tell me how much fun they had drawing a television character. And going back to Law #1, an artist will most likely remember "the guy who had me draw Bob Newhart" over "the guy who had me draw another Superman."
3. Don't hover. You have to remember that creators are trapped. They are behind a table in a chair and expected to be there for most of their weekend. This is the big one, because I know you don't want your favorite creator to think of you as "the guy that's keeping me from getting lunch right now." If an artist is drawing, take note that they are working and don't be mad when they can't devote a full on, galaxy-spanning conversation with you. Artists also welcome a break, so if you can tell they are enjoying the talk, keep talking. It all comes down to both trusting your instincts and trusting what the artists say. I've had creators cut my conversations short because they needed basic human things like food and water. Don't take that personally, they probably need food and water, for they are a human person.
The same thing definitely applies for picking up commissions. Usually the artist will tell you when to come back and check on a piece; take their word for it and don't come back before that time. If they don’t give you a specific time, either ask for one or give them a minimum of 4 hours before checking in again (if the sketch is not in a sketchbook, though, give them until the next con day). And unless it's apparent that the creator is up for a nice chat, keep your check-ins to a check-in.
4. Look at the art, not the names. Artist Alley is filled with the greatest artists you have never heard of. Don't go so ga-ga over big names that you overlook the up-and-coming talent right in front of you. If you like a person's art, tell them. Talk to them about it. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the young, unpublished artists are the ones that would welcome hovering. Working at so many conventions, I got way too used to seeing the new kid on the block sat right next to David Finch, constantly having the success he doesn't yet know not only shoved in his face, but blocking his face with a line of Batman fans. The thing is, every person in artist alley paid something to be there. They paid for their table, their hotel room, their airfare, and/or the items they are selling. All of those cost a lot more than the price of your 3-day pass (unless you paid the equivalent of airfare to Australia to buy one on eBay this week). I think it's only fair to give every table the once over. If you don't like the art, I'm not encouraging you to lie. I'm encouraging you to keep an eye open for art you do like, regardless of the name or their resume.
5. Buy things. Remember how I just rambled about all the money creators spent coming to the con? Well, it should come as no surprise to learn that they like making money too. If there's an indie book you've wanted to try out, buy it directly from the writer or artist. To use a very cliché phrase, that's putting your money where your mouth is. You can fake the praise you give them, but you can't fake a $20 bill. Well, you can, but then you're dealing with a whole mess of other problems. Plus these creators will most likely personalize what you buy. The copy of "Moving Pictures" I have has a tiny drawing done by Stuart Immonen in it with a tiny word balloon written by Kathryn Immonen. They did that for me, and I now cherish that great comic way more than I would have if I had purchased it on Amazon.
And when it comes to new creators, buying their prints and comics makes going to cons even more worthwhile. If you can help an unknown artist make a trip to a comic convention financially worthwhile, that's just keeping the industry afloat. That's helping the next generation of creators get footing. And on top of that, you get really cool art. It's one of those "everybody wins" scenarios.
Overall, I think all of my rules can be summed up with "don't be a creep" and "use common sense." I know what it's like to be emotionally overwhelmed when interacting with creators. I was way too emotional about Deadpool when I met Joe Kelly and I ranted about the genius of "X-Factor" #84 to Peter David, who I'm pretty certain doesn't remember that issue fondly. I get it, I've done it, and I will do it again this weekend. But keep your geeking out pure and positive, keep it brief, and be ready to move on to the next creator when the time is right. After all, there are thousands of other comic fans at the convention waiting to do the same to that same creator.
And if you are going to New York Comic Con this weekend, please say hello to me. I look just like my Twitter avatar (which, coincidentally, will look like at least 40% of all the men there).
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).