I'm trying to think of the best way to word this without coming off as some sort of dickhead because it's something that really pressed my buttons this past weekend and I feel the need to vent. I write this not only for everyone else to read and maybe discuss but in hopes that the person that did the deed in question will read it too and better understand his actions as well as where I'm coming from.
This past weekend I attended the New York Comicon in Manhattan. The New York fans are some of the best in the world and I always have a really good time meeting them, signing books, doing sketches, or whatever else might come to mind. Along with this I also sell copies of my sketchbooks and lithographs of work I have done to anyone that would like them. I think it's very important to be accessible as an artist both personally as well as the merchandise I sell so I try to keep my prices very reasonable so anyone can afford at least something from my table. For many years now I have had people that would bring all sorts of things for me to sign including comics I've worked on, posters, books, trading cards, and even an action figure or 2. Every once and a while people would bring me pieces of my artwork that they print themselves from the web as well and I would usually sign them but recently stopped in the last year or so, the reason which I will get to in a moment.
This brings us to the event in question. A person walked up to my table on Saturday and produced 6 prints from his bag, 2 were 8.5"X11" and the other 4 were roughly postcard size. He placed them in front of me and asked if I would sign them. I immediately recognized that these were not anything produced by me or Marvel Comics so I asked if he had printed them himself. He said yes so I politely said that I couldn't sign anything that was produced by someone taking my artwork off the web and making their own prints. His response was that not everyone can afford a print or sketchbook and it became obvious that he was getting angry. Again, I explained that this is my living and my artwork is how I feed myself so people downloading and printing my artwork illegally is only hurting my ability to make a living. He then said I was the only one of the 200 artist he has done this with that has refused to sign. I again apologized and explained that I am not the only one that doesn't sign illegal prints. At this point, I had various other people standing around my table and I was a bit flustered by the whole situation since his anger caught me by surprise. He again verbalized with genuine anger and surprise that he couldn't believe I would refuse to sign his prints and then walked off in a huff. I thought on this all weekend and am finally able to put into words what I wish I was able to articulate to the man at the show.
So now you're probably asking, "what's the big deal? sign the damn prints!". Well, for many years I did and about 70% of the time the prints would end up on ebay. A lot of the work you see on my page is done just for myself so I can have original lithographs to sell at shows and appearances so I was never paid to produce the work. My pay comes when I take the artwork to shows and people buy the lithographs. If someone prints something from the web, has me sign it, and then sells it on ebay he has now profited off my hard work as well as taken away a small percentage of me making a living. Contrary to popular belief, most comic artists are far from rich and most of us are just trying to scrape a living a get by so protecting our artwork becomes extremely important for us to continue making a living. Of course, I'm not saying that this person was definitely going to take the prints to ebay and sell them but I can't take that risk and even if he didn't intend to sell them, my feelings on the subject still stands.
So, to that gentleman who asked me to sign your prints I ask him this- If you illegally downloaded a musician's latest CD, burned it to a disk and took it to an event where that musician is signing autographs would you ask him to sign your pirated disk? How about asking an actor to sign your illegally downloaded movie or an author to sign your illegally downloaded manuscript from his latest book? Unless you are completely amoral or vacant of any sort of tact I would guess your answer would be an emphatic "NO". So why would you think it would be any different from a visual artist? I, like any other art, really appreciate anyone enjoying my work. After all, it's the reason I got into comics in the first place but equally as important is my ability to feed myself and my family and put a roof over our heads. Will me signing your illegal prints cause my house to go into foreclosure? Probably not but there has to be a line drawn somewhere and I think I was more than kind to this person in explaining this and feel he had absolutely zero right to get angry.
I can only hope that he didn't realize the full consequences of his actions or how it effects me and any other artist he does this to. As always, these are only my opinions and I welcome anyone who disagrees. Perhaps I am being too harsh or am missing something so I am open to other ideas. In the end I hope the person I encountered on Saturday in New York will read this and have a better idea of where I'm coming from and give his actions a little more thought.
ADDENDUM: We will be discussing this very subject tonight as well as comic book convention etiquette tonight on the podcast "Breaking the Panel". Go to the following link and log in or register to listen in or call in with your questions or comments!: [link]
Thanks for reading!
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