Cartoon and Illustration

What to do at a Comic-con

As a public service to everyone out there who might be considering visiting a comic convention (a.k.a. Comicon or Comic-con) in the near future, today I’m going to offer a few suggestions for activities you may want to take part in.

I will be handing out this short list at Marble City Comicon next weekend (Knoxville, TN, April 25-26, 2015) in hopes that I can educate various people who might come to me with quizzical looks on their faces (I’ve been seeing a lot of those in recent years).

First the list and then I’ll explain the reasons.


Instructions for First-Timers!  Things you can do at a comic-con!

1.  Get Celebrity Autographs

(Some charge, others would be happy if you buy an item so they can sign it and still pay bills when they get home.)


(Many small publishers depend on such sales.  ALL comic book dealers do!)

3.   Buy a Convention Sketch or Original Artwork

(Comic artists are NOT all millionaires, and need to pay the rent somehow.  Buy something and they’ll love you forever!)

4. Compliment someone’s Costume!

(Cosplayers work really hard making their costumes and do so for the fun of it!  Show your appreciation of their craft!)


Okay, that’s the list now for the reasons.

In recent years I have been seeing more and more people come to comic shows than ever before.  This is great and I believe it’s reasonable to assume the publicity that shows like “Big Bang Theory” have caused some people to become curious about comic book conventions.

However, there’s only so much detail that can be covered on a 30-minute situation comedy and many people show up for a comic book convention with no idea of what to do other than simply wander around with a puzzled look.

I’ve been doing comic book shows since the late 1970s–first as a fan and then as an artist.  Back in the day those of us who were into comics as a hobby scoured fan magazines like Comic Journal, Comic Buyer’s Guide, Comics Scene, etc. to get information on what to expect at comic shows.  It seems that now, nobody knows what’s going on at a show–thus the puzzled looks.

(An aside here.  I cannot count the number of times that I have told someone in my hometown that I was going to a comicon only to have them say:  “Didja go in costume?”  I don’t do that.  At least not in the past 30 some years.  Not that I’m bothered by those who do–but I’m a professional artist and I’m busy trying to sell my books, not impress people with my costuming skills.  Different program track for me.  I’m trying to make a living.)

So at my last convention (SC Comicon) after a lot of work trying to make a reasonable amount of sales on Saturday and well into Sunday a woman wandered up to my table and said, “I’ve never been to a comicon before!  What should I do?”  A light bulb went on over my head and I realized that nobody is educating people out there in the rest of the world as to what they CAN do at such a show–which may explain some of the difficulties I’ve been having selling work at recent shows.

That’s the overview.  Now the line by line breakdown.

1.  Celebrity Autographs.  Every comic book show will claim they are the “real deal”.  That is, they are truly devoted to comic books as an American art form.  But they still will book media guests–stars and non-stars of recent and vintage TV shows and movies who are there trying to sell autographed pictures of themselves as well as get fan support in hopes of getting cast in some future program or motion picture.  The fact is that working as an actor is often a feast or famine proposition.

These guests bring in the masses like almost no comic book creator would.  So I welcome them.  They are often really nice people (99% of the time) and are truly interested in others.  God bless them.

But it does tend to take the focus off of the actual comic book creators.

2.  Buying Comic Books.  It used to be that’s what comic shows were.  Massive swap-meets where people who were looking for a particular issue they’d missed came to pick up that treasure.  A lot like the antique road-show–comic shows grew out of the flea market mentality and were very down to earth affairs.  In the 1980s and 1990s there were hundreds (if not thousands) of professional comic book retailers traveling the country on the convention circuit.  Nowadays I see maybe a half dozen comic retailers set up at a many comic book shows.

As an adjunct to the comic book retailers, many small-press publishers popped up and would offer their particular comic book to the same reading/buying public.  I’m seeing less and less of this because people who show up for conventions will often come with no idea that there might even be something to buy at the show.

A familiar refrain is, “We didn’t bring any money.  Is there an ATM around here?”  As a remedy to this many small-press publishers (including myself) have taken to carrying a Square Reader for credit cards around with them to shows.  If you are at a show and surprised to find there’s neat stuff to buy, no problem!  We all take plastic these days.

3.  Buy a Convention Sketch or Original Artwork.

I don’t know why this is such a hard concept for people to understand.  Comic books are filled with artwork.  All those pages have to have been drawn by someone and many of them are still being drawn in the old fashioned way–on a piece of paper or bristol board, and the artists are often more than willing to part with those pages for a price.  That is so they can pay their bills.  We aren’t all so successful that we can afford to turn down original art sales.

Here’s the funny thing–original art is one of a kind.  Toys, trinkets, prints, comics, etc. as much as I love them too are all mass manufactured in some way.  When I was growing up, to simply have in my possession a single page of comic book artwork was more precious than almost any earthly treasure I could imagine.  I still have the first piece of original artwork I ever bought (a Gil Kane StarHawks page).  So it is strange to me when people wander by and aren’t interested in buying a single page of original artwork!

For those who cannot afford an original, or do not find the particular comic book they love represented in an artist’s pile of pages–there’s always the convention sketch.  That is, you walk up to an artist and ask them if they’re sketching (99% of the time they ARE) and then tell them what character or characters you’d like to have drawn.  Plunk down a nominal fee (usually $20-$50 for any competent professional) and in an hour or so you’ve got an original one of a kind drawing of your favorite character.  What’s not cool about that?

4.  Cosplay.  This is what the common man seems to think is going on at comic shows, period.  Admittedly there is a lot of it going on.  And I am a big fan of the folks who take the time to craft their costumes to fit their personalities and, in many cases, train their physiques to fit the costumes as well.  It’s a lot of hard work and many of them do it purely for the fun of it.

But the point is not to go around gawking at the people in costumes.  Nor, worse yet, groping or deriding those in costume (any of that sort of behavior is already too much).  If you like a cosplayer’s outfit, say so.  They live for that.  Ask nicely and they may even let you take their picture.  If you don’t like their outfit, or how they look in it–tough.  Remember, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth about conventions.  Hopefully some people will pass this information around and it will help everyone involved.  If you are reading this, feel free to pass this information along to others.

A final piece of advice about what to do at a comicon–make a friend.  They’re all around you.  They like a lot of the same stuff that inspired you to come out to the show in the first place.  It’s not just about money–as much as I may gripe about that–it’s about people.  Be a friend, people need friends.


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