Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! In this week’s episode, my fine feathered friends, we’ll examine the delightful art of autograph-seeking at the con. Whether it’s that one celebrity you need to complete your Serenity cast poster (looking at you—eventually—Morena Baccarin!), your fave artist in the Alley, or maybe even those Critical Role cats for your first-edition DMG, signings are a major feature of most larger cons. Now you’d think there really shouldn’t ought to be a ton of planning or strategy involved here: stand in line, enjoy the 7.8 seconds of contact, re-bag book, rinse, repeat—but, oh, my lovely little neophytes, you’d be so, so wrong.
Case in point: remember that Firefly poster I mentioned all the way back in the first paragraph? I once stood in line for the better part of 7 hours, with no food, drink or place to sit, for about 15 seconds each with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin and Summer Glau. Ninety-nine percent of the entirety of my con day that day (the only day I was at that particular event), standing in line. Not my best-planned day. (Totally worth it, but that’s beside the point)
If you want to avoid such an experience (and trust me, or at least my soccer ball-sized knees, you do), read on.
Ok, so first off, as has been previously suggested, you want to plan ahead as best you can. Monitor the event’s website in the weeks and months leading up to the con, not just for what talent are going to be attending, but what days they’ll be there, when their signings are going to be, what tables they’ll be at, etc. Often, particularly for higher-profile celebrities and creators, they are only able to attend one or two days out of a three- or four-day event. Also, they’ll frequently be participating in panels, interviews, photo ops, charity events and the like, as well as addressing their own bodily functions (news to me, but apparently even though Wash is dead, Alan Tudyk still has to eat and occasionally go poo; who knew?). Knowing the schedule ahead of time will help enormously as you’re navigating the floor the day of the show.
Oh—and prepare yourself for some occasional disappointment. Just as for the rest of us, sh#@ occasionally happens, even to movie stars and comic artists, and folks sometimes have to bail; try not to hold it against them (so, next year at C2E2, right AH!?).
Let’s talk celebrity autograph hunting first; then we’ll address Artist Alley.
Some cons—the Wizard World shows began doing this several years ago, for instance—will sell specific signing period tickets, ie, Bruce Campbell at 2pm, which can be very helpful. Just make sure you’re in line for the signing by several minutes before (or, depending on the personage and their popularity, several more).
Most, however, do not. Which means you’re going to have to figure it out yourself.
Now, if you’re talking about a major geek culture celebrity—Stan Lee when he was around, the Critical Role cast, that Robert Downey Junior guy—plan on being in line at least two hours before the signing, and have some snacks and a drink with you; you’re in for a marathon. If they’re allowed, bring a folding stool; if nothing else, you’ll have no problem selling it for at least 25 times the purchase price to someone who didn’t bring one. Bring a friend with you, and tag-team it; let her wander the con for an hour or two, then you take your break. My bud Tom and I worked the Stan Lee line that way a few years back, and the three-hour wait was a heap more pleasant for it (not to mention the fact that an opportunity for a bathroom break was greatly appreciated). Be pleasant, have some deodorant spray with you (it can get kinda stinky in those lines at times), and bunker down.
Believe it or not, lines can actually be enjoyable, with the right attitude—I got a kick out of seeing all of the books and items folks were looking forward to getting signed by Stan Lee, as a for instance, and the stories they told about how and when they’d acquired them. That, to me, is what comic collecting is all about: stories. Even if the guy in front of me kept farting. Which, I suppose, has its own place in the lore…
As I’ve mentioned before, if it’s at all possible, get your auto’s collected on Friday, and ideally mid-day. Fridays tend to be the least-attended day of the con (people are still at work/in school), which means lines tend to be the shortest, and tempers tend to be the longest. Absent that, look into Sunday, near closing time…though this comes with a pretty major caveat: make sure the talent is still going to be there. Exhibit halls tend to clear precipitously after around 1pm Sunday, almost no matter the con, as folks are checking out of hotels, hoping to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic, or realizing they’ve outspent their budget by 275% or so, which creates an opportunity for shorter lines—again, if your particular hero is still present. Saturdays tend to be the most heavily-attended days, so plan on there being long lines for everything.
Now, on to working Artist Alley, my personal fave con experience.
On this one, it’s especially valuable to plan ahead. As I’ve mentioned, my go-to con each year is C2E2, and the Alley there is enormous. Twenty-six or more rows, of more than 20 tables per row, some with more than one artist/writer…all with fairly marginal rhyme or reason as to where they are—you get the picture. Utter, joyous chaos.
I typically make at least three runs through the Alley over the course of the con: the first to collect signings (mostly on Friday), the second to take things in, scout out prints/books/etc. that I’m interested in and talk to the creators about their products, and the third to actually make those purchases. Trying to do it all at the same time, I’ve found to be…less than pleasurable. Books and prints get bent, things get lost or dropped, dogs and cats living together…it’s just not good.
A few days prior to the con, I’ll go through (again, ‘cause let’s face it, I’ve been obsessively checking the list of attendees since at least six months before) the list of who’s going to be there, and determine which books I want to get signed. I do my best to limit the number I’m having signed by each creator, so as not to be a jerk (more on that later). Once I know the table layout (usually to be found on the event website about a week before the show, or else in the show program and again, posted in and around the Alley itself), I’ll organize my books in the order of table location, so I don’t have to go digging through all my stuff to find them. Then, as I’m re-bagging the books I just got signed by one creator, I’ll take out the ones for the next creator, and un-bag them so they’re ready to go. Easy-peasy. Well, sometimes.
Be complimentary and pleasant, be thankful. If you have a particular anecdote or insight about the artist’s work, feel free to share it—but don’t make it a 20-minute diatribe. The vast majority of the creators I’ve met have been very pleasant and giving people, and love to meet their fans and discuss their work…but they have work to do. Respect that.
Oh—and if you find a particular artist or writer physically attractive, make sure to not say a word about it. They are creators, not burlesque performers. They’re there to sell their work, not their bodies. I was standing in line at Jenny Frison’s table at C2E2 last year, and I kid you not, she must have been hit on at least 5 times in 5 minutes; frankly, I was waiting for her to put up a sign reading “female guests only.” Really guys (and yes, it is almost universally guys)—if you wouldn’t speak that way to a coworker, or a family member, don’t do so at the con.
Now, some etiquette when it comes to autograph-seeking:
First, respect the fact that while you’re there enjoying some escapism, shopping for bargains or meeting your heroes, those heroes are in fact working. Whether they’re artists, writers or actors, they’re sacrificing their weekend to make a living—and to many of them, the income they derive from that weekend tending their table well and truly does allow them to make ends meet (‘cause as glitzy and glamorous as the comic book industry seems to us workaday shlubs, trust me—unless you’re Frank Miller, Neal Adams or the like, you’re not bathing in hundred dollar bills). If they’re busy finishing a piece, let them finish it. If they say they have to take a break and grab something to eat/attend a panel/relieve themselves, allow them to do so, with grace.
Many of the Artist Alley folk have begun charging a nominal fee to sign their books—typically a few dollars, either to themselves or to the Hero Initiative or some other charity. Amy Chu last year charged $2 for an un-personalized signature, but wouldn’t charge for a personalized signing. This serves the dual purpose of enhancing their income, and limiting the number of people piling on 120 books just to resell them later. Don’t complain about this, for either reason. You are enhancing your item’s value by having its creator sign it—they should be able to experience some of that increased value.
Two, don’t be that guy (or girl). You know who I’m talking about. That guy who rolls up with a cart of six longboxes, making everyone wait while he gets every issue of Thor signed by Walt Simonsen. Or that woman who snickers and complains that “you already get paid to do this by Marvel—why do I have to pay you $10 just to sign it?!?” The schmuck who insists the artist should bend their rules or boundaries “just this once,” trying to sneak in a selfie without permission or getting three or four books past their limit. The aforementioned putz who feels the comely artist’s day will be made by him calling her a babe. Just don’t.
Three, be prepared. There is very little more annoying in con life than waiting for the person who has to spend 10 minutes shuffling through their longbox of randomly-stuffed books to find the three they want to get signed, then another five as they painstakingly un-tape and un-bag them. Take care of that while standing in line, or while approaching the table, really.
And that should do it—enjoy your treasures, and more than that, enjoy the unique opportunity to meet and interact with the creative superstars responsible for so much of our entertainment experience.
As an alternative to all of the above, if you’re looking to get your books signed (or are ok with purchasing a book that’s already been signed), you don’t mind missing the opportunity to meet the creator yourself or just don’t have the time or patience to tread the lines, there are some folks who specialize in doing just that on your behalf, often at not-ridiculous cost. Here, I’ll give a shout out to my friend Joshua Goes and his band of merry folk at PulpCulture Comics. If you’ve been to any of the Mighty Con shows in the Midwest over the past few years, you’ve likely at least seen him—he’s usually there with his massive collection of artist-and writer-signed (and sometimes remarqued) books as well as some interesting overseas foreign-language printings (I believe he had a Conan #1, printed in Turkish at one point). If’n you’re interested, hit him up at https://www.facebook.com/PulpCultureComics/, or check out his eBay shop at https://www.ebay.com/usr/pulpculturecomicscollectibles?fbclid=IwAR1fACutf8wcvq9VX807lioU90xQjqRnfNzb1mzOKaO4dET61QB9HiZWpqA.
Carry on, my wayward sons (and daughters)!