Dilettante 007: Navigating Artists’ Alley

Toucan reading a comic
Steve Liber smiling
Steve Lieber

Comic-Con will be here soon. (For you guys, that is. Not for me. I’ll be at my drawing board in Portland at work on another issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man, the first issue of which just arrived in stores.) I’ve been asked to write a bit more about conventions, so I thought I’d use the opportunity to do an etiquette and advice column. A few years back I jotted down some tips for fans on how to get along in Artists’ Alley as part of a con report on a friend’s blog. Here they are, revised and expanded.

1. If you’re talking to a cartoonist you’ve met before, don’t assume they know who you are. Reintroduce yourself and give some clue that might spark a memory. If you have a name badge, flip it so it’s visible. You may meet hundreds and hundreds of other people at conventions, and it’s impossible to keep track of them all. Two days into a con I’ve blanked on the names of studio-mates and collaborators—people I see every day. Someday we’ll all have creepy science fiction glasses that can do facial recognition on anyone we meet and beam their details onto our retinas. Until then, don’t take it personally when someone doesn’t remember you.

2. Don’t try to come across as an insider if you aren’t one. This almost always creates a bad impression. If you’re an engaged and knowlegeable, fan that’s GREAT. Trying to break in to the business and starting to make connections? TERRIFIC! Trying to pass off stuff you read online as insider knowledge? Ummm … No. You aren’t doing yourself any favors.

3. If you’re spending more than a minute or two at a table or booth, position yourself so that other fans and customers can reach the display. Planting yourself in the wrong spot at a busy show can practically shut a booth down. If you’re lingering to browse, or to ask some detailed questions or just chat, stand off to one side, and be aware of what’s going on around you. That way, other buyers will be able to get a look at what’s available and feel that they too are welcome to visit the booth.

4. Don’t be That Guy. Everyone who has ever worked a booth at a con has a story or two about That Guy. He wants to talk about his plans for installing a warp drive in the Batmobile. He’s angry about the way they’ve rebooted a character you’ve never heard of. And no matter how many hints you drop, no matter how explicit your body language gets, he never realizes that he’s overstayed his welcome. This is a touchy subject—not everyone is good at reading social cues. But if you notice that the person you’re talking to hasn’t laughed at any of your jokes, is continually avoiding eye contact, or seems to be ignoring you, recognize that you’re in danger of being That Guy. There’s a lot of great stuff at the con. Go check out some other booths.

5. Don’t put a cartoonist on the spot by insulting his collaborators. A little tact goes a long way in 
matters like this. If you think an artist ruined your favorite writer’s story, it’s fine to observe that the art didn’t fit the mood, or that you’re “not the audience for this sort of work.” That way, the writer can acknowledge the opinion or politely disagree. But if you tell a writer “your new artist sucks,” you’re going to create an awkward situation.

6. Ask permission before taking photos, and before putting the photos online. This goes for photos of people and art. If you do post a picture of their art, credit the artist on the image, not in the caption. Captions get snipped off all the time. If you snap a photo of an artist’s new poster, then post it at their tumblr without crediting them on the image, that art can be seen by tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people, none of whom will know who made it! This happens all the time on tumblr. It’s not fair to the artists, and it’s a terrible way to show your appreciation of their work.

7. The quietest booth is sometimes the best place at the con. It’s easy to assume the place you want to be is the booth that’s swarming with other fans. The one with the longest line, the craziest crowds, must be the most exciting booth, right? Maybe not. Speaking as someone who has spent plenty of time on both sides of the table, my experience is that the best conversations and the most fascinating discoveries take place at the tables where there’s not tons of traffic. Those are the folks who have the time to talk about the comics they love, to flip through a book and explain the choices they made, to tell a story, to genuinely engage. Fans of most visual media never get that experience.  In comics, we do, and we’re lucky. It can make an Artist Alley visit unforgettable.

Steve Lieber’s Dilettante appears the second Tuesday of every month on Toucan!

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