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Editorial – Tainting the interaction between creator and fan

At the age of 51 I attended one of  my first “big” comic conventions at this past weekend’s Baltimore Comic-Con, a statement which may surprise many.  But, given my geographical location and the significant financial investment it takes for me to go to the big shows it’s just more realistic for me to attend the number of smaller, more intimate shows which are sprinkled around the upstate New York region.  At those shows I’ve never paid for an autograph but in Baltimore I saw the trend which is drawing a line between the fan and the creator and became a topic of conversation at the show, in social media and touched upon by The Bleeding Cool.

Photo via Bleeding Cool

On Saturday I waited in line for Darwyn Cooke to show for over two hours due to a communication mixup (thank you Jimmy Palmiotti for the humor and the Twizzlers!). I spent some time talking with a fan who had a number of books to be signed while I stood there with my one copy of  the Absolute edition of DC: The New Frontier.  When Cooke arrived the man allowed me to move ahead of him in line as he was waiting for someone from CGC to come and witness the signing of his books.  I couldn’t help but wonder how it must be for a creator to have someone ask for a signature only to make a book more valuable on the secondary market for the benefit of someone who didn’t contribute in the creative process.

At the center of the issue this past weekend was Neal Adams, who had a rather large presence at the show in terms of both floor space and prints for sale, including sales people who enthusiastically encouraged you to buy the prints.  If you did, you got an autograph for free but if you just wanted to  have your picture taken with Mr. Adams or have him autograph a book you needed to cough up $30 each.  During the weekend Adams proposed that others should follow suit and that’s when the buzz about the subject began.

While I personally was disappointed with Adams I get his point….to a point.  For many convention goers who have paid for tickets, hotels and other travel expenses just so that they can meet a creator who did something that meant a great deal to them the practice of charging for autographs is a bit of a slap in the face.  I’m not there to make money off of anyone – I’m there as a fan to share my love of comics with the people who create them and a signature or photo is a way to signify a moment in time which has some personal significance, not a way to make my books more valuable on the secondary market.

Green Lantern V2 #134

Case in point – the absolute highlight of my weekend was getting to meet Marv Wolfman and Joe Staton, the creative team who worked on Green Lantern after Denny O’Neil and Mike Grell left the series.  Their work on issue #134 had a tremendous impact on my life in terms of how I approached living with the ramifications of surgery at birth and quite probably saved my life on more than one occasion.  I know it sounds dramatic but it’s true, and to be able to share with them what that issue meant to me had great personal value, and Marv’s reaction indicated that it meant something to him as well.  I now have my copy signed by both creators and I’ll recall the experience every time I look at the issue for the rest of my life.

Does this make Adams a jerk for asking for money?  The answer isn’t as clear cut as it may sound.  An artist of his reputation adds significant value to a book he signs and if someone is going to make a buck off a signed book isn’t he entitled to a piece of the pie – especially when he’s making that pie much more valuable?  What was once a chance for a reader to meet comic creators has morphed into a business opportunity for an increasing number of people who are negatively impacting the convention experience.  Can you really blame a creator for looking out for themselves when others are using them?  I see that side but fans are being caught in the middle and their experiences are getting tainted, and in the end it seems like there’s such an easy way to resolve the problem.

I promise as a fan that I’ll bring just one or two things to be signed that mean something to me.  I won’t bring a whole stack or have CGC there to put a stamp of authenticity on anything.  Because that would ruin the honest interaction between me the fan and you the artist.  I’ll gladly make a small donation to a charity for a signature when the creator has a donation jar at their table as well.  In return all I ask is to be treated fairly as a fan, and if you want to limit the number of items that can  be signed, or charge a fee per book after a certain threshold – that I can get behind.  There’s a purity to the convention experience that is getting ruined and at the end of the day all we can ask is that we find a way for everyone to be treated respectfully.

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