Convention Tips

Funny thing – after a big convention, there’s always the same behavior among cartoonists. We, of course, talk about business, sales, atmosphere, and so on. But, a big topic of conversation is always fun/weird stories about reader encounters.

The funniest stories are about the truly psychotic people out there, and they probably don’t read this. However, there are some honest mistakes I think people make when talking to their favorite artists.

So, I thought I’d write out some general suggestions for your Arteest interactions. These are all things that merit mention because people do them innocently, without realizing that it can create problems for an artist at a convention. So as not to appear overly cranky, let me state up front that I’ve never had a bad overall experience at a con. I mainly write this blog with the thought that convention-goers might be able to improve their experience by understanding these points.

In addition, I do not speak for any community as a whole. These are just my general observations of interactions between myself, my peers, and readers:

1 ) Accidental Insults

As I often tell Kelly, there is only one compliment any artist ever wants to hear. It goes like this: “Everything you’ve ever done is better than everyone else’s stuff, and each thing you’ve done is better than the last, and the latest thing you’ve done is the greatest of all.”

Now, obviously you aren’t gonna be delivering that compliment very often. However, it’s actually a decent guage of what NOT to say. For example, don’t say some version of “you’re my 4th favorite comic” or “once I finished reading XKCD, PBF, QC, PvP, PA, and MT, I finally got to yours and it was pretty good.” In your head, these may be high compliments or funny stories. But nobody wants to hear that you’re their third favorite, especially when you’re talking about someone’s life’s work. Like, would you tell your significant other that he/she is the 4th best lover you’ve ever had?

Also, nobody wants to hear that they were way better 5 years ago. Hell, it may be true in some person’s case, but what’s the use in mentioning it at a con? You don’t call up friends to tell them they’re less witty now than they were when you first met, do you?

These things are all fine to say online, of course, but if you want to have a good interaction with an artist, those types of “compliments” are a bad starting point.

2 ) Getting sketches

If an artist does sketches for free, she’s being very nice. Volunteering to do free sketches all con long is fun, but it’s murder on your drawing hand. Try gripping a pencil tightly for 8-10 hours a day. It’s not easy.

So, you shouldn’t expect amazing work. If you want amazing work, you can always pay an artist. Hell, you don’t have to pay much. A lot of webcartoonists are “working artists,” meaning they could use 100 or 200 bucks for a commission. If you want something really specific or intricate, don’t expect it for free.

Also, and I can’t stress this enough, if you’re going to request a sketch, come up with your own idea. 50-75% of people say “draw whatever you like!” I appreciate that people do this because they think you’re going to be very clever. That’s very nice, but the pragmatic result is that the artist will probably draw you something he’s drawn 50 times before. This isn’t out of meanness. It’s just hard to come up with funny ideas on the spot for 10 hours every 5-10 minutes. You might luck out and get something cool, but the odds are you’ll get something that the artist has an easy time drawing. If you come with an idea in mind, you’ll get something more fun and more interesting, AND you’ll get your favorite artist’s take on YOUR idea. Pretty cool, right?

3 ) Showing an artist your stuff

Not every artist is cool with looking at your portfolio, but many are. In my case, I probably get stuff from 30-100 people depending on the size and length of a convention. And, truth be told, I won’t look at all of it. If you want my attention, your best bet is to give me something that will impress me in (literally) 30 seconds. If it’s amazing artwork, you’ll get me. If it’s an awesome joke, you’ll get me. Outside of that, you’re probably better off with a more “grass roots” approach to connections.

Another thing – specify at the outset if you want critique or are just passing along material. I’m happy to do either, but if you don’t tell me you want my thoughts, I won’t give them out of fear of being a dick. If you want my thoughts, give me something I can look over in a minute or two, and I’ll happily oblige.

Please note, not everyone likes doing this. Some people will say “no,” and others will say you’re great out of awkwardness/kindness. Be prepared for that as well. Like with free sketches, portfolio notes are really a gift to people who ask, and should be treated as such.

4 ) Chatting

Unless you’re a good friend of mine or we have business to discuss or you’re working in area I’d like to hear about, it’s courteous for you not to chat too long. Here’s why: If there’s too big of a crowd in front of me, I miss out on readers. I do conventions partially to meet people, but also to make money (or at least break even!). So, in that regard, paying customers have to take priority. If you hang around to chat for 10 minutes, I can’t really get through to them.

If you have something you really really want to talk about, wait till there’s a lull, and come back by. The best time of day for this is usually early morning. If you really want me to like you, offer to help with setup while we chat. As I said earlier, most of us are “working artists,” so any sort of assistance is greatly appreciated.

5 ) Abusing kindness

This one should be obvious, but isn’t always. If a person is offering free buttons, don’t take 50 and expect them to appreciate how cute you’re being. If someone’s offering sketches for a dollars, don’t bring a 20 dollar bill and tie them up with 20 sketches over the course of 2 hours. Offering free or cheap things is something artists do as a fun way to interact with fans and promote. In other words, it’s not at a fair market rate, so it requires no cleverness to game the system.

I’ve had experiences like these, and the weird part is always that it’s with people who think they’re being cute and that I’ll appreciate the humor. I appreciate that in the abstract it might be funny, but at the time, it’s not cool. It’s not cool in the same way that eating a pound of free sample cheese isn’t cool. Yeah, it’s kinda funny, but you’re messing up things for some store clerk, and for everyone else who behaves himself in an abusable system.

6 ) Asking questions

In a similar vein to the point about asking for specific sketches, if you are asking questions of a panel, always ask specifics. “Where do you get your ideas?” is a bad question because it’s not very specific and doesn’t have a proper answer. “What’s your writing process?” is a good question, because it is specific and does have a proper answer.

This isn’t for our benefit, though. It’s for yours. If you’re asking a question at a big panel, it’s probably the only question you’ll get to ask. If you want a good answer to a question, your goal should be to get a me a little off guard by asking a question I didn’t expect to answer. Try to be insightful, and make sure you’ve done your research. A lot of questions have been answered in online interviews a million times. If I’ve answered it before, you’ll probably get an answer by rote. If it’s new to me (or something I like to blab about), you’ll get something good.

7 ) Being creepy/obsessive

Being a super-fan is awesome. I really appreciate it. But, there’s a line. I’ve heard stories about fans showing up at an artist’s house! Or stories about guys hitting on female artists. Or stories about long long highly personal letters.

The problem isn’t that the artist thinks you’re crazy – it’s that the artist doesn’t know! If you send someone a 10 page explanation of why you think they’re amazing, that’s very nice of you, but it’s so weird, it can be a little scary. The kind of person who writes such letters isn’t (or at least doesn’t seem to be) a terribly well-adjusted person. Havingg a person who doesn’t understand social rules be obsessed with you is a worrisome prospect.

8 ) Offhand jokes can be scary

I make jokes about murder. That doesn’t mean I find it funny when you joke about killing me in an email. I always assume that shit like this (which is, incidentally, very rare) is just a teenager who doesn’t understand why it isn’t funny to me. But, it’s still freaky. On my end, I don’t know if you’re doing an impression of a crazy person, or if you’re an actual crazy person.

All of this goes triple for conversations at conventions.

9 ) Be kind to merchandise

A running joke among webcartoonists is to walk up to a peer’s booth and pretend to touch and rearrange his merchandise layout. This is only a mild exaggeration of what actually happens sometimes. Most people are respectful, but others will pick up a book, thumb through it roughly, and put it haphazardly back down. This isn’t a huge inconvenience for the artist, but it’s a bit rude. It’s sort of like making a mess of your table at a restaurant. The waiter won’t mention it because you’re a customer, and (after all) it’s his job to deal with you, but it’s still kind of a dick move.

Additionally, for a lot of cartoonists, merch is the biggest revenue source and cons are a big part of that. I remember more than one artist telling me he/she went to certain cons purely to make rent that month. So, if you scuff up or dog-ear a book, bear in mind that (unless you buy it) you’ve just crossed from Rude-land to Dick-topia.

_____

Hope that all sounds good and doesn’t sound too crotchety. I suspect a lot of readers would like to be on good terms with the artists they like (I know I feel that way about artists I like), and the above is a good way to go about it, while also getting good results for your money and time.

Happy conning!

Zach

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24 Responses to Convention Tips

  1. Ataris says:

    Spot on guidelines for any sort of convention really. Well done.

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  3. Desiree says:

    Something to include under how “Not to be creepy” – when asking for an autograph, do not ask the artist to write anything horribly personal. I’ve been to more than one Con and been asked to write “Love Always and Forever my darling slave,” as the dedication by someone I’d just met that day. Obviously he wanted to create an impression on future friends… my impression I’m sure was vastly different.

  4. Albedo12 says:

    Can I expand on question 2? I should preface this by saying I am not an artist myself, just a fan. I agonised perhaps a little too much over coming up with clever ideas for sketches, which was stupid of me. At the end of the day, if you just name your favourite character you’re not going to be booed out of the convention hall for lack of originality.
    Just don’t panic and freeze up like I saw one guy do. He just stood there, staring, his mind blown by the prospect of personalised art.

  5. I’d add: don’t let your young child grab/bend/mishandle the merchandise on a table (even if it’s the table of person next to the one you’re interacting with).

    My weirdest interaction with someone who thought they were being helpful was a woman who decided to take it upon herself to rearrange the entire merchandise display I was sharing with another author. Of course she didn’t ask permission, because obviously she was just being so helpful that we were bound to be thrilled. Sheesh

  6. The Dude says:

    Amazing! You are experiencing all the drawbacks of fame with only an infinitesimal amount of its financial return. May I suggest a change of profession?
    Personally, I don’t care about the artist – only about the work. Just like anybody else, I’ve stumbled upon famous people, but didn’t bat an eyelash… fanaticism is stupid behavior. (but beware, you can be served with a one way trip to Gitmo for saying that out loud in the US)

  7. Rylan says:

    I generally find it easier (probably more so after reading this) to talk to people I admire from afar (such as here, on the internet). I’ve never been to a Con, and if I went, I’m not sure I’d do much more than stare in wonder at all the stuff around me and sheepishly buy merch. Because I’m a people person and all.

  8. EspoMarkers says:

    Thanks for this insightful post. I’m planning to attend a few cons and a guide like this is a big help

  9. Marty says:

    Something to add. Please don’t say: “If I had money I’d buy this” or launch into some explanation on why you can’t buy it. It’s not really a compliment. It’s just awkward.

    Also, if an artist is open to haggling on a price. Be respectful and obey the main rule of haggling: NEVER ask for less than half the original price. Hell, don’t even start at half. It’s just rude. It’s not cute to offer a dollar for a higher priced item either.

    • Grae says:

      Although I agree in the instance of buying merch at a con that it is a dick move, the main rule of haggling is totally not to never ask for less than half the original price…

      For instance, haggling in Kenya — mzungu (white) prices start as high as ten times higher than for Kenyans.

      A better rule of thumb would be to start haggling at half what you would be willing to pay. Then if you come to an arrangement, both sides feel like they got something over on the other one.

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  11. Donnchadh says:

    Telling someone you’re their fourth favourite is obviously a no go, but how’s the more vague “You’re one of my favourites”?

  12. Squirrel Boy says:

    Adi Granov was doing free drawings at my local comic shop and I was totally unprepared about what to ask him! I went for Domino out of X-Force, thinking she was a quite well-known character, but he had no idea who I meant! In the end I asked for War Machine in an attempt to be a tiny bit creative and got a great drawing! Just a shame I couldn’t think of something more interesting for him.

  13. Chris Flick says:

    First off, I freely admit that I give my promotional postcards out like candy on Halloween. That being said, please trust me that I’m not the least bit offended if you come walking near my table and i offer you my card and you decline. As a fan for many years, I’ve often declined offers from a great many artists myself so I know how it goes.

    That being said, if you do accept an artist’s promotional material (business card, postcard, flyer, etc) and you DON’T really want it, at least do the artist a favor and throw his/her stuff away at the OTHER end of the convention hall instead of at the trash can two tables down from where he is.

    i don’t care about people throwing my stuff away – just don’t do it in my line of site, okay? We artists already have fragile egos as it is… we don’t need any additional help. :-)

  14. Herplord says:

    This is pretty insightful. I’ve never been to a convention but I always worry about how Not to Be A Dick to people.

    I mean on one hand you’ve got this person you admire, and has very obliquely been a part of your ‘life’ (I mean reading their product five minutes a day, as opposed to eternal lovers)- and you maybe want to stand out as being the Best Fan With A Good Sense Of Humour- but at the same time you don’t want to be creepy or hold up the train of other people or whatever.

    I donno- I’m not great at these things (autism) and it’s really cool that you’ve explained a lot of the pitfalls that wouldn’t be obvious to me and I guess other people as well.

  15. wayne beamer says:

    Zack,

    Having been on both sides of the table in artists alley and dealers rooms, most all of your suggestions make sense to me. Let me tell you about a dilemma I had at San Diego last summer…

    Met an artist in the alley whose work I really enjoy in the AA area there. Even though I wasn’t looking to buy a piece of original art from him, and was sorely tempted, I didn’t.

    Here’s why: He didn’t list a price on any of his originals, nor would he quote me a price on any of them. He said, “Make me an offer.” Because I hadn’t bought or priced original art in a while, there was no way I was going out on a limb to embarrass myself or insult this very fine artist on the chance that I would low-ball him. And, he wouldn’t budge on pricing them either.

    How would you have handled that situation? I’d love to know.

    Thanks,

    Wayne

  16. Duncman says:

    Are you prepared for the inevitability of countless people thinking they are being cute by doing these exact things at the next con you attend?

  17. Grae says:

    Does this mean you’re taking commissions?

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  19. Nathan says:

    My trouble with meeting artists at cons is that I’d love to have a conversation, but I have no idea what to say and so it’s just kind of awkward to stand there.

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