Tales from the Creeped: Convention Sketch Horror StoriesA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: J.D. Lombardi
With convention season in full swing, what better is there to do than coming home with a piece of original art from one of your favorite artists? Fans who attend their share of comic cons over the course of summer/fall have their own sketchbooks or even portfolios that they carry with them, hoping to add a new piece. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to fit on a creator’s “sketch list,” and sometimes we’re not. These days, the luck of the draw determines how early you can get to the show or who you know that can get you in the doors before a show opens just for that one particular artist.
For most of us, we leave our pieces of paper or our sketchbooks with creators in hopes of obtaining a character they’ve drawn in comics. A minority out there will request sketches according to a theme, perhaps getting all the artists they encounter to draw... say, Eddie, the Iron Maiden mascot. Whatever sketch people get, they’re more than happy to show off their pieces with other fans, and it is good clean fun.
But what about those fans who are just a touch outside the norm? They’ll ask artists to draw Wonder Woman nude, topless (even morphing into a pig)…or they’d like the artist to include their likeness in said sketch. Did you ever stop to think about the odd requests that your favorite artists get at comic conventions?
Below you’ll find a few such stories. The simple fact is that there are those among us who look for a little something different in the art they’d like to bring home. Ladies and gentlemen of fandom, I present to you just a few tales for your morbid reading pleasure.
Joe Quesada (Editor-In-Chief, Marvel Comics): Back in the early days of my career, the commissioned sketch business at conventions was incredibly lucrative. There was one show in particular which was huge with respect to fans desiring personalized pieces of artwork. My first year there, I had a waiting list of over 80 commissions before the first day was even done. It was going to be a pretty busy three days. One of the people on the list was this very quiet guy who was near the back of my list, yet he kept coming by my table every hour to see if I was done with his sketch. He would come by, and I would show him where he was in conjunction to everyone else, reminding him that judging by my current speed, his wouldn't be ready until Sunday. I offered on several occasions to take him off this list if he couldn't wait, but he refused; he said he was just a tad impatient. Undeterred, he kept coming back, over and over, anxiously waiting on his full figure sketch of an obscure DC female character. Each hour, each day I could see that he was getting really worked up over this, and it was starting to creep me out a bit.
So, finally Sunday arrived, and near the middle of the day I was ready to begin his sketch, he nearly jumped out of his skin with anticipation. As I was about to put pencil to paper, he ran over, and I finally discovered what he was doing. Seems he was waiting until the last minute to tell me what was really on his mind. He walked over and asked if I could..., well..., actually I don't know what he said because as he said it he put his head down and his hand over his mouth and mumbled into it. I asked him to repeat it and again, he put his head down and mumbled into his hand. Whatever it was, it was important and but he was very embarrassed about it. Once again, I politely asked him to repeat himself at which point he came towards me, gestured for my ear, leaned across the table and quietly whispered into it.
"Can... can you draw her naked?"
Now, this was a deal breaker for me as I've never done nude sketches. I just don't do them. It's not my thing. Nothing against it. It's just my own personal code of conduct regarding established characters from other companies. Anyway, I said no, but he continued.
"Please, don't worry, no one will ever see it.”
”Seriously, no one. I…I put the sketch inside…inside this yellow envelope and put it under my bed with my…other sketches.”
”And then…and then, I only take it out when the moon is full and I look at it and then I…”
At that point I looked at him straight in the eyes and told him that not only would I not do the nude sketch, but now I wouldn't even be doing a full body. I could do a head shot for him, but that was going to be that. If he didn't want the headshot, he was welcomed to drop off of my list. He shook his head, said he completely understood and said he would take the headshot.
So, now I finish the headshot and he's nowhere to be seen. After stopping by every hour on the hour, nothing, nada, zip. As the con was coming to a close, he finally showed up. There waiting for him on my table was his sketch, he walked up carefully. It was weird. You would have thought he was sneaking up on a wild animal to trap it. He reached over to the sketch, touched the paper and then recoiled back in what appeared to be pain. He kept doing this, each time recoiling a bit less but still having trouble coming near the sketch. “It's too hot to touch, it's too hot to touch!” he kept saying. I just shook my head. I guess the sketch finally cooled off enough for him because he picked it up from its corner and, of course, stuffed it into a yellow manila envelope.
He very happily thanked me for a job well done and then reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled wad of bills to pay me. He handed me the money and skipped away on a cloud of air. I looked down at my hands at the bills he handed me... they were soaking wet.
Another satisfied customer, 'nuff said.
Eric Powell (writer/artist of The Goon, Dark Horse Comics) : A cute punk rock chick walks up to me at a con and asks if I would do a drawing of her. I say I don't do likenesses, but I will try. I do the best I can, and she walks away really happy with it.
Behind the cute punk chick is an old woman that puts the Wicked Witch of the West to shame…balding, haggard and about two teeth in her head. She asks, "Will you draw me, too?" I'm horrified, because I could draw her much easier than I could draw the cute chick…because I can draw ugly people and monsters all day long. But if I hand this woman a drawing of what she really looks like, what is she going to do?
I look at her once and never look up again as I draw a generic, pretty middle aged (this woman looked like she was 60-70) woman's face. I hand her the drawing. She looks down at it disgusted and yells at me, "YOU JUST HAD TO SHOW MY AGE, DIDN'T YOU?!"
Ben Templesmith (artist for Fell, Image Comics): I don't really think I have anything much (hey, I do basically one con a year, not much to work with here!)
One time a guy asked me to draw something to freak out his sister..., so I jokingly said "how about a giant hairy cock?"
Yeah, he got me to draw a giant hairy cock.
I promise there are no giant hairy cocks in Wormwoood: Gentleman Corpse, though!
Dan Brereton (writer/artist for The Nocturnals): The best convention sketch horror story wasn't the guy who wanted a "beefcake" sketch or the guy with several volumes of a "fairies and chocolate" sketchbook. It was a show in Canada a few years back. It was a pretty good show, really nice folks. All weekend we couldn't believe how attentive, friendly and accommodating the volunteer staff were; they had the artists covered every which way.
On the last day, toward the end of the show, we were notified we had less than 30 minutes to pack up and head for the airport. Amid the flurry of our packing and trying to finish last minute transactions, the staff who'd been helping us so effortlessly realized I was about to head out. That's when they became pretty much as unhelpful as possible. It suddenly dawned on silly old me why they'd been so ready to get us water, find extra chairs, etc. It wasn't because that was the job they were tasked with. They were softening me up for the kill, waiting for the last day of the show to come at me for free sketches.
At one point I actually tried to accommodate them and that just made it worse. One of them couldn’t decide what free thing she wanted to get and hemmed and hawed interminably. Others plopped their sketchbooks on my table. When it became painfully obvious I wasn't going to make a handful of volunteer staff happy in our last minutes, I just flat out told them I simply had to go. I tried to explain that we had to leave right then and there. Boy, did it get frosty! The entire time we packed our three suitcases worth of books, prints and portfolios; they just hung around and harangued me. It put me in mind of the story of the Beatles when they inadvertently offended Imelda Marcos and the entire Philippines turned on them. It was a flippin' nightmare.
Liam Sharp (artist for Testament, DC Comics/Vertigo): Perhaps most memorably I was once asked to draw a "huge veiny cock." A little taken aback, I nevertheless obliged the fella and produced a sketch of a very muscular, veiny rooster.
In France recently I was asked to do a sketch of Wolverine in a tutu. Now that was funny!
Stuart Sayger (writer/artist for Shiver in the Dark): While at the San Diego con one year a fan asked for a commission. As with so many other fans, I quoted a price. But this fan's reply was, "I'll double it! I want you to draw Wonder Woman with me and we're..." I cut him off and said simply, "I don't draw those kinds of pictures." He was very polite and understanding, but at the same time completely lost interest in my work moving to the next table.
Would you believe that was my SECOND worst experience? The number one all-time was a commission that I agreed to do and then after saying I'd create the piece, the fan asked that his likeness be included as a henchman of the villain in question. No real big problem right? Except that this fan happened to be, well…not very attractive. I had already agreed to do the piece so what could I do?
I took several pictures of his face and tried to draw him in a flattering light but still keep his likeness. My efforts yielded nothing that I felt that I could stand to give to this guy. Finally, in desperation I decided that I would simply light box the most flattering of the photos and TRACE it on to the paper. It was a dead ringer when I finished. Then came the moment of truth when I had to present the piece. He hated it and even asked why I drew him so ugly. I felt bad and offered to give him his money back, which really didn't help things.
He kept the piece pretty much out of spite and anger. I felt awful. I've never worked so hard on a piece that was so hated!
So there you have it. It isn’t all fun and games out there in comic convention land. There are fans with morbid interests, convention volunteers with hidden agendas, and even little old ladies who..., well..., just don’t realize how old they are.
What have we learned today? Is it that…just because we see Power Girl with huge boobies in the comics, that we shouldn’t ask to have our own personal drawing of her sans hero outfit? Or could it be that more men then we’d care to ever know ask artists to draw them hairy cocks? Frankly, all that I’ve learned is that I’ll look over my shoulder when next in a creator’s line at the convention. You never know what sort of person could be standing behind you.