Comic-Con Etiquette: Getting Sketches from Artists at Conventions

A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Nathaniel MacDonald
If you're hitting the San Diego Comic-Con this year, you're going to be walking the same floor as some of your favorite industry professionals. You might sidle up to their table to strike up a conversation or to buy their new book. You might also be looking for something no one else can get their hands on. You might be there to get unique sketches from some of your favorite artists.

That's a great idea. I like where you're going with this. See, most artists go to conventions with the mindset that they're going to get some drawing done. Yes, they're there to have fun, meet people, and sell goods, but many of them will draw you something if you ask nicely. Let's talk about how to make that a reality.

This guide has two main aims. First, I want you to fill your sketchbook with some nice art from people you like and admire. Second, I'd like this experience to go as smoothly as possible for you and everyone else involved.

Your artist should still be in a good mood after you've asked for something.

Most of my experience comes from soliciting free sketches, but there's definitely something to be said for paid artwork. Besides supporting the artist, you'll generally get a nicer finished product if you spend a little money.

So, let's break it down into a few easy things to remember, starting with the need to...

Be Polite!

This really doesn't need to be said, but be nice to the person drawing for you. In fact, take this a step further and be nice to everyone around you. No one wants to waste their artistic efforts on a jerk. Soothe their fears by being a classy dude or lady. As a bonus, you'll help decrease the sum total of human suffering on the convention floor. Alright!

Make It Personal

Find something nice to say. If you're a huge fan of this artist's work and have read everything they've ever done, this shouldn't be too hard. You can probably list a few things you really like about their body of work. If you're only loosely familiar with who they are and what they do, take the time to learn. Ask some questions! If you can reinforce the fact that they're drawing something for a fan, they'll likely put the extra effort in. More importantly, you'll enjoy your sketch that much more if you have a cool encounter with the person behind the pen.

Respect Their Time

Most sketches are brief by necessity. No matter how long a convention is, time always runs a bit short. Artists often have schedules that they must adhere to. Whether they're talking on a panel or needed at another booth, they'll eventually have somewhere they need to go. At some point, your intended artist is going to want to walk around, talk to people, or sell some goods. You should give them the time they need to do other stuff. That means approaching them early, or waiting for a free moment, or even leaving your sketchbook with them to complete a sketch at their leisure. Not only are you giving them the breathing room they need, but you'll usually end up with a nicer sketch.

I kept catching Becky Cloonan right as she was leaving, so I came early on the last day and she graciously drew this for me.

Know What You Want

Have some idea of what kind of drawing you'd like. Even a vague request can give the artist a decent starting point. That starting point becomes more helpful as the convention wears on and their creative muscles start to cramp. On the other end of the spectrum, asking for something ultra-specific in minute detail will make your artist wonder why they're not charging you for this service. If you are asking for a specific character or setting, have some reference material on hand. And if you're asking for something a little above and beyond what might be considered normal, make sure it's fun. I once filled a sketchbook with small battle scenes between their characters and me. I maintain that the only reason so many people agreed to do it was because they got to draw their characters beating the snot out of an adoring fan. Good stuff.

Scott Morse presented me with a well-rendered picture of me getting a punch in the stomach.

Patience and Planning

Think ahead and do a little research to get the most out of your sketch-finding excursion. First of all, find out where the artist is going to be and when they'll be there. Second, plan to spend a little time on the actual process of requesting the drawing and seeing it finished. If you pop up at the last possible moment, they probably won't have time for your request. And third, it's good to have a few basic supplies on hand for your mission. These include a sketchbook, reference material, a few pens or markers a forgetful artist might use, and bribes. Bribes can be anything from money to mini-comics to candy bars. At my poorest, I've offered little dollops of hand sanitizer and my profuse thanks. Giving small gifts is a simple way to show you appreciate the time this person is putting into your sketchbook.

Jill Thompson drew this after I walked with her from her booth to a scheduled signing.

Support Them

Okay, this is a big one. If you really want to grab your chosen artist's attention, one of the easiest ways is to simply buy something. Conventions are largely business affairs, so flexing your consumer muscle is a solid way to get goods and services. In fact, many artists will decline to doodle unless you've purchased something, and that's okay. Some artists receive so many drawing requests that attaching a price tag is necessary to keep the sketch-hungry mobs at bay. Others simply want to be compensated for their time and effort. If they turn down a free sketch, respect it and politely move on. There's more fertile ground out there.

Have Fun

Take time to enjoy the process. This is more than just a quest to collect pages of custom artwork. It's an adventure in meeting talented people and sharing a fraction of a bigger experience with them. If you're not having a good time, you're just doing work.

Hopefully you have everything you need to get some truly outstanding art. If you're enthusiastic, polite, and see fit to do some planning, you should find what you're looking for. Good luck, and happy hunting!

Nathaniel MacDonald is a tall man with a soothing voice. He owns many shirts. In San Diego, he seeks to collect all the sacred gems so that they may reunite his fractured digital kingdom and restore him to power. Do not follow him on Twitter.

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