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.