The Case For And Against Comic Book Creators Charging For Autographs

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There is a big debate unfolding right now in the comic book community about whether creators should charge for an autograph or not when they set up a booth at a convention. This all stems from some happenings at the Baltimore Comic-Con last weekend. Some collect money for charity, others do it to support themselves, but it’s happening more and more, and it’s turning creators against each other, pushing fans to each side of the divide, and causing disagreemens between normally collegial co-workers like Jason Tabrys and myself. A civil disagreement, but a disagreement all the same. And so, with our two differing opinions, it seemed like a good idea to take this fight to the page and lay out our arguments. And, because Jason and I are on the outside looking in on this particular issue, we also invited iconic comic book writer (Daredevil, Kingdom ComeIrredeemable, and soon Black Widow), creator, retailer, historian, and comic book convention staple Mark Waid to give us his take on the overall issue. So, read up on these three unique takes and let us know where you stand.

Creators Should Charge

I’m all for comic book creators charging to sign autographs, whether it’s a charitable donation or a straight-up transaction.

First of all, most of the guests at comic-cons are freelancers. They’re either promoting a book or are there to sell sketches and signed copies of their books. You can’t even get a book signed from some creators unless you buy something from their booth, and nobody seems to grumble about that.

Secondly, sign your name a hundred times in a row. It’s simple work, but it’s work. You pay people for work.

Finally, if I’m getting somebody’s autograph, I’m buying something I intend to keep. Let’s be blunt here, a lot of adults at comic-cons aren’t getting these books signed out of joy. They’re getting them signed to try and flip them on eBay. When some entitled dick shows up with a stack of ten books, everybody knows what he’s going to do. Either you’re getting something you treasure, or you’re a damn mercenary; the former has value and the latter deserves no consideration.

I’m not for, say, Rob Liefeld charging twenty bucks an autograph or kids being turned down if they don’t have money. I think kids should get free autographs, really. And it should be up to the individual creator to do what they want to do; I think the charity jar is a great idea. But if we’re telling a creator that their work has value by wanting their signature on it, it’s fair for them to ask us to compensate them for that value. – Dan Seitz

Free Autographs Enhance The Comic Community

I have a lot of respect for each side of this debate and I’ve happily paid Neal Adams for his autograph, but while I get what Adams is saying when he talks about the cost of coming to a convention (and I know people who absolutely limit the amount of cons that they attend as guests for these very reasons), I still think the industry, as a whole, is better off if creators refrain from charging a mandatory fee (obviously, asking for a suggested donation for a good cause is a fine thing to do).

Adams makes a point about actors who come to these conventions and charge $30 for an autograph, but most of those sessions feel utterly antiseptic as opposed to the warm interaction most comic book fans have with their favorite creators. Simply, it doesn’t feel like a business transaction because it isn’t — you’re getting a little face time with someone whose work you appreciate and you’re taking home a memento from that moment. What is the creator getting? A loyal repeat customer, most likely.

With that said, though, it seems like a common thread within this argument has to do with the fact that creating comic books is a blue collar job and that attending a convention can be a losing game economically. That may come as a surprise when you look around and see that comic conventions are popping up everywhere, but is the wealth of this boom time being adequately dispersed between organizers and the creators that bring people to the shows and provide a lot of the value for people who attend and pay their admission? I’m interested in seeing a deeper look into that question in the near future and its impact on the autograph issue.  – Jason Tabrys

The Professional’s Take

I don’t charge for autographs, but I do encourage donations to the Hero Initiative charity when I do sign. Moreover, at most shows, I tend to bring a lot of single issues for sale for four or five bucks and trades for cover price so that there’s some revenue — but that’s easy for me to do because I own a store and have convenient access to inventory. Other creators may feel like charging for their autograph alone; that’s their prerogative, and I certainly don’t begrudge them. What a lot of fans don’t understand is that most creators don’t get any sort of appearance fee or stipend from the show. They may or may not get a hotel room and/or transportation but, still, as a freelancer, every day away from the keyboard or drawing board is a day of lost income and needs to be made up somehow. Some of us are willing to take that hit and sign for free in exchange for the promotion and goodwill a convention appearance provides. Others aren’t or can’t, and it’s no more my right to judge them than it is theirs to judge me. You wanna charge, you should be allowed to do so guilt-free. You don’t want to charge, that’s your business.

As far as dealers flipping stacks of signed books goes, I have the same general policy that most creators do: if you have more than a dozen or so comics, I encourage you to circle back around to the end of the signature line. It won’t be a very long wait; I have one of the shortest names in comics. I could — probably should — make that dozen-or-so a smaller number, but it’s less hassle to just sign than it is to actively enforce a policy. Also, after thirty years as a writer and editor, my name is on something like 3000 comics in some capacity, so I can’t tell dealers from fans by the size of their stack anymore, anyway. – Mark Waid

So, what do you think?