Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
Why do you keep a con sketchbook?
Thanks for the softball this week, buddy. It’s much needed in the midst of organizing against a healthcare bill designed to kill. But that’s enough of a reminder of the dystopian reality we spiral further into each consecutive day…
Let’s talk about sketchbooks!
I began my sketchbook a little more than 3 years ago at a convention in Kansas City. For those who haven’t seen me share it before in various articles and tweets, it’s a Kirby themed collection. Each artist who contributes has one page to draw any Jack Kirby creation of their choice. It’s a simple pitch and I cover whatever the asking price is for a bust or small page for them to cover whichever imagining from The King’s mind that strikes their fancy.
It has been an immensely rewarding project, and one that has grown with each convention I’ve attended in the intervening years. Just to give you a brief idea of how big this sketchbook is, here are a few stats:
Total Number of Sketches (and Artists): 62
Most Drawn Character (Tie): Darkseid by Freddie Williams II, Ray Fawkes, Yanick Paquette, Ramon Villalobos, Rod Reis, and Walt Simonson
The Thing by Andrew Robinson, George Perez, Eleanor Davis, Derf Backderf, Steve Dillon, and Paolo Rivera
Second Most Drawn Character: Big Barda by Brian Hurtt, Fiona Staples, Robert Wilson IV, Annie Wu, and Robbi Rodriguez
Third Most Drawn Character: Etrigan the Demon by Phil Hester, Valentine De Landro, Tom Mandrake, and James Harren
Most Unexpected Character: The Space Baby from 2001: A Space Odyssey drawn by Michael DeForge
Most Original Take on a Character: Doctor Doom crossed with Kamen Rider by Ron Wimberly
I hope that provides some sense of the variety of creators and characters contained in this little 6” x 8” sketchbook. That’s what happens when you drag a project like this between mega cons (e.g. San Diego) and indie expos (e.g. SPX). You pick up a lot of ideas in a lot of styles. I think the results speak for themselves, but I’ll breakdown why I love carrying around this sketchbook a little bit more.
First of all, it’s a matter of convenience. When you attend comics conventions you want to pick up swag and art to remember the experience and people you met. On my very first trip to San Diego Comic Con I packed an entirely empty suitcase and it was jammed full on my return trip. There’s an impulse to buy a book from every creator you admire, and that gets heavy fast. Rather than carry around a roller bag or make constant trips back to the hotel room, a sketchbook allows you to obtain great pieces of art without weighing you down.
Second, that sketchbook encourages you to support artists while you visit their tables or make small talk. Cons are a lot of fun, but they’re also a business for anyone behind a table. They likely spent cash to get where they are and need to at least make that money back in order to keep making comics. Sketches aren’t free and you should never assume they are. Having a sketchbook provides you with an opportunity to engage with an artist whose work you love and to support them in the most direct fashion possible.
Third, it offers a new convention experience. Oftentimes we find ourselves hanging in the same panel hall or waiting in long lines because there’s nothing that needs to be done at that very second. Conventions can feel like long periods of waiting filled by brief periods of excitement. A sketchbook encourages you to scour artist’s alley and talk with individuals you might have previously only asked for a signature. It’s a scavenger hunt where you can never lose. Since I started this collection, I’ve found myself spending much more time in alleys and talking more with the creators whose work I spend so much time with.
Finally, I would recommend starting a sketchbook because it will have personal meaning. The great thing about having your own collection is that each page contains a memory.
I can tell you about the time I had coffee with Louise Simonson before Walt drew Darkseid. I can tell you about Alex meeting Fiona Staples in order to obtain a Big Barda while I had to be elsewhere. I can tell you all about George Perez or Steve Dillon carefully penciling together rocks as they told stories and asked questions, before it suddenly became clear they were drawing The Thing. Each page of that book means a lot to me, and I’m grateful for every experience along the way.
For me there’s no purer way to engage with comic artists at a convention than through a sketchbook. It lights a fire under your butt to tell artists how much you appreciate their work and encourages you to support their artwork. In that process you get a small glimpse of insight into the creator whose work has impacted your life and a memory you will carry with you as long as you can open the pages of that little book and see their work inside.
A sketchbook can be a constant reminder of why we love comics and how much we appreciate the people who make them. I think that’s pretty great.