I recently got asked on my Facebook page if I could share my thoughts on fans asking for autographs and sketches at conventions. I thought others who are new to attending conventions might enjoy hearing the basics of this process. I can only offer my perspective, but it might prove useful for anyone approaching other artists or celebrities at conventions as well.
Speaking for myself, I’m happy to sign anything I’ve worked on for fans at a convention, whether they’ve bought it from me or not. Sometimes you’ll see celebrities at conventions who charge for their autographs, or will only sign the items they’re selling. This tends to be most common with actors selling photographs of themselves at conventions. Usually celebrities with these kinds of restrictions will have signage at their table clearly stating their policies.
While those policies can be frustrating, keep in mind that such revenue is probably a big factor in that celebrity being at the convention at all, and convention appearances may be an important source of income for them. Often the celebrity is willing to sign a personal item for a fan, but if I’m going to wait in a signing line to speak to a celebrity at a convention I try to purchase something from them as a courtesy. I feel like it’s my way of paying for the opportunity to meet them and have that brief exchange with them when I get my turn at the front of the line. Otherwise I’m taking up their time and trying to get something from them for free when they’re trying to make some money and there is a line of people behind me waiting to do business with them.
Regardless of what a given celebrity’s policy is, if you’re going to ask for a signature on an item you’ve brought or for a photo with them, ask politely. And if they decline, accept that decision politely. You might think you’re only asking them for a small thing, but to that celebrity, doing it for you may make them feel obligated to do it for everyone. And that might be more of an obligation than they can afford to make.
As far as asking for artwork, I’ll often have fans ask me for a free sketch, and typically I’ll politely decline. I’ll occasionally throw in a quick head sketch with a signature for young fans at the conventions, but it’s at my discretion. It’s something I like to do for kids, but it’s very dependent on how much time I can spare at that moment. On the other hand, when an adult asks for a free sketch, it can come across as “I want the service you’re charging for, but I don’t want to pay so why don’t you just give me something for free?” Also, although this is rarely the case where I am concerned, it’s important to note that sometimes an artist is at a convention but they aren’t doing commission sketches at all. They might be there to sign autographs and sell pre-made prints or books, but aren’t drawing at the show.
(Here’s a tip – If you want a sketch from an artist at a convention and can’t afford what they’re charging, be on the lookout to see if they’re doing a signing for a publisher. Sometimes an artist will be doing quick sketches for free in such a setting that they aren’t doing when at their own table. Free sketches tend to be relatively quick and simple – you get what you pay for – but they’re better than nothing, right?)
Regardless of the setting, if you ask for a sketch, again – ask politely. And if the artist declines, accept their refusal politely. It’s expensive for creators to travel to attend a convention, and often they’re paying for that table in an Artists Alley. Commission sketches are a big part of how artists try to offset some of those expenses – with no guarantee of making enough to show a profit.
As a rule, creators and celebrities love meeting fans. It’s always great to hear from people who enjoy your work. But there are mercenary fans who try to ruin it for everybody. It’s not uncommon to see a convention sketch or autographed item for sale on eBay or elsewhere, usually for a higher amount than what was paid to the artist/celebrity (assuming they were paid anything.) And, the surest way to make a creator whose work you enjoy feel terrible is to act entitled and treat them as though by showing up they’re now obligated to do whatever you ask of them. So, well, don’t do that. Just be polite and courteous and you’ll both have a great experience!
Don’t get me wrong on any of this – I love meeting fans. I really enjoy attending conventions and encounters with fans are almost always the biggest highlight of the weekend for me, and I think most comics pros feel the same way. But I’ve been approached by a lot of fans both the right way and the wrong way, and the fondest memories are definitely of the fans who did it the right way!
So for the final time – our two recurring themes:
By all means ask for that autograph, personal photo or whatever, but do so politely.
If the answer is no, accept that answer politely, and understand that there may be a good reason that no needs to be the answer.