As I type this little missive it’s the early evening of May 24, 2015. Yesterday was the first day of the Denver Comic Con and yours truly was in attendance. I had the chance to meet some of my comic book heroes and to see others for a repeat performance. I shook hands with Klaus Janson after briefly interrupting him doing a Batman sketch. I met Howard Chaykin and bought an original piece from him and shot the breeze for a few moments during a lull for him. I saw Allen Bellman for a second time with his delightful wife, Roz. I chatted with Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada and bought a book from each (Batton’s Zombie Wife And Other Tales of Supernatural Law and Jackie’s Comic Book People) that they kindly signed and inscribed to me. At Jackie’s suggestion, I took her book directly across the aisle to the wonderful Trina Robbins so she could sign a page with her photos in it from days gone by.
The guy I particularly wanted to see, though, was one of my favorite scribes from childhood, none other than Elliot S! Maggin. I managed to catch him at a slow time, so we got to converse for a bit and he kindly signed my original boyhood copy of Superman #300 that I’d previously had signed by co-writer Cary Bates. He also signed my copy of BACK ISSUE #69 containing my article about that book that contained material supplied by Elliot. It was great to meet him and he even posed for a quick photo. Overall, it was simply a fun day.
So, you can imagine my interest being piqued when I noticed a post on Facebook this morning by Elliot, to whit:
“Here’s an interesting announcement: It appears that Denver this weekend will be the last chance to get my sig for free. I just got chewed out by one of my longtime gurus for not charging people who want me to sign stuff I wrote. He says it makes my friends look bad – and he’s got a point. So this is your last chance, kids. Take a deep breath, grab your sunscreen and come to Denver.”
It has generated quite a number of comments in the 9 hours since the original post, but a couple of them bear particular notice, the first being from Stephen Bissette:
“Screw this—I NEVER charge for signatures. I never will. And if it’s a bound SWAMP THING book or TABOO volume being presented for signature, you get a FREE SKETCH in the book by me, too. And any attempt to “shame” me or say my not charging “makes —— look bad” would be met with the laughter and warm scorn it deserves. Happily signed for TWO FULL DAYS what was presented to me at Big WoW! Comicfest in CA last month (only exceptions: dealers with the plastic windows: they’re making money on the transactions, so them, I charge). Another idea: Put a donation jar out for Hero Initiative; if charge “one must,” divert those funds to a good cause instead, as donations.”
A bit later, this from Gary Cohn:
“Easing myself back into the game, I’ve had the same experience. I was surprised by people thinking I’d want money for signing. I didn’t know that was a thing. I had the discussion with several colleagues, because it hadn’t occurred to me to charge for signing. So here’s what I’ve done now that I go to some cons, and will continue to do as I start to put new stuff out: If someone comes to me with a copy or a set of something I wrote, because they like it, I’m happy to sign and thrilled that I’m remembered. I don’t want their money. If someone who is clearly a dealer or speculator presents me with a pile of comics, including several of the same book, I ask if he/she wants my signature because it will increase the value of the book (a dubious notion). If yes, I ask what they were expecting to pay me for signing their pile of comics, and if they’re expecting to make a profit from the books. The couple of times this has happened, they’ve said ten or twenty bucks. That’s been fine. Pays for lunch. A friend I was sitting with signs the first five for free, charges something for each thereafter (I didn’t hear what he charges). If my work has meaning for you, no charge. If you’re simply commodifying it, I’ll take a few bucks from you. I like Bissette’s donation jar idea.”
Several other comments were against the whole notion and it reminded me of the notice I saw from Denver Comic Con about autographs and photos from the celebrities in attendance. Frankly, I was kind of shocked. The average price for an autograph or a photo was $50.00…each. A few were charging up to $70.00 and some were charging less. I wondered to myself who had that kind of coin lying around for a scribble.
I was also reminded that I came to Mile High Comics on Free Comic Book Day to meet and speak with Jim Shooter. They had it set up to where when you walked in the door, you were given 3 tickets to get 3 free signatures, which I thought was pretty generous. Additional autographs came at a charge, but it was going to a scholarship fund. I gave my extra one back and still kicked a $20.00 bill into the kitty. It was worth it to me.
Mike Grell has a policy where his first signature is free before he begins charging.
At last year’s Denver Comic Con Neal Adams was selling prints of some of his more famous work and would sign them for a $20.00 bill. I don’t know if he’s still doing it the same way, but I picked one up, even though I had his signature on my copy of the Famous First Edition of Action Comics #1.
Last I knew Stan Lee was getting $50.00 a pop for his autograph and I seem to recall that just before he passed away, Joe Kubert has begun to ask $25.00 for his, though I think it was to go to a cause like Hero Initiative.
Now I have seen creator’s kindnesses in this arena abused. I was at a show in Portland, Oregon and some twit came up to Tom Orzechowski’s table with literally a box of books and expected Tom to sign them all. He agreed, reasoning that these are the guys that are his bread and butter, but to my point of view, this guy was overdoing it by a wide margin. Not to mention monopolizing a good chunk of Tom’s time.
Interestingly, over the course of the last 8 years, I’ve had wonderful success in getting some of my comic books signed by the creators who had a hand in them and in every case, they only asked for return postage, which I was happy to provide. One creator only asked that I not mention it in his case as he didn’t want to create a situation for himself that he wasn’t prepared to take on. I even have a small stack of letters from Steve Ditko and while he refuses to sign items for fans, he obviously signs each letter.
The only autograph I’ve spent money on was at last year’s Denver Con when Rich Buckler asked (prior to signing) for $3.00, but he also did a quickie sketch of Deathlok. George Perez and Thom Zahler, conversely, happily signed my sketchbook and each did a little sketch with it, completely gratis.
One thing I particularly noted with Allen Bellman yesterday was his delight in seeing his fans of all ages and offering to sign anything free for the kids. More than one Captain America shield bears his autograph.
I’m still not sure what I think of the trend, but I may find that I’m lucky I got the signatures I did when I did (to include Joe Kubert) for just the cost of a manila envelope and a few stamps.
So, to paraphrase the Bard: To sign or not to sign. That is the question. I know we have some professionals who follow this forum, so I’d love to hear your thoughts along with any other readers’.
So, please, what say you?