Monday, August 29, 2011

Sketches, Commissions and Comic Conventions

This is my first post in just over a year so I may be a little rusty. Bear with me.

I attended the Baltimore Comic-Con for the third time just over a week ago. Having attended a few different conventions on the East Coast I can safely say that Baltimore puts on the best show. I was going to write a short recap of the day's events, but the more I thought about the show, and the more I thought about why I love this particular convention, the more I realized that all I kept thinking about was the amazing artists that make up Artist Alley. So I thought it was a good idea to focus on that exclusively.

When I attended my first comic book convention back in 2005 I had no idea what to expect. I'd never been to one, nor did I know anyone else who had. I assumed there would be vendors selling comics, t-shirts and action figures. I also knew that the various publishers (DC, Marvel, Image, etc.) usually set up booths to promote their books and various other projects. But what I was not prepared for was a little section known as Artist Alley.

For those who don't know, artist alley is a space on the convention floor where artists, both well-known and up-and-coming, can display and sell their work. This blew my mind. I had never seen this much comic book/sci-fi/anime inspired art on display like this before. It was like someone created an art gallery just for me. There was so much to take in that it was a little daunting the first time out, however the excitement I felt over having the chance to meet so many talented artists helped me forge ahead.

Typically the artists are selling some combination of original art, sketches, prints and sketchbooks. Some have even published their own comics or graphic novels and those are available as well. The first few conventions I attended saw me leaving with tons of prints. I was buying those up like crazy. I was almost oblivious to the fact that you could actually have an artist sketch you a character. I learned about that from a seasoned convention attendee while we were both standing in line at Wizard World Philly.

I was standing in line waiting to meet an artist in the hopes that he would sign a few of my comics. While waiting I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me. As we were talking I noticed that he was dragging around a small suitcase on wheels. I assumed they were full of comics for this artist to sign and I was thinking "Great, now I have to stand behind this guy while he has every friggin' comic he bought since he was six-years-old signed." Thankfully that wasn't the case. While we were talking I mentioned that I just started going to shows and I was a little overwhelmed with all the things to see and do. At that point he leaned down to open his suitcase. It was full of sketchbooks. He told me that when he comes to conventions he always finds his favorite artists and has them draw a character in his book. He collected them for years and was easily in possession of hundreds of drawings. I was like, "Hold on. You can actually get an artist to draw something right in front of you? And you get to keep it?!" From that point on my approach to conventions changed substantially.

Over the last few years I've devoted the vast majority of my convention time in artist alley. I've started to move away from prints focusing exclusively on getting as many sketches and commissions as I can. The prints are beautiful, and you can tell the artists spent a lot of time and energy on them, but I love getting something unique. Plus, if you opt to get art commissioned, you may have the opportunity to kick ideas around with the artist and come up with something really special.

So far I've gotten nine pieces commissioned at various conventions. I'd love to have more but I must admit that I'm a little shy when it comes to approaching the artists I really like. I'm always overwhelmed by their talent and since I'm not very educated about art terminology I'm afraid of saying something about their work that I feel is complimentary but they take the wrong way. I'm trying to work on this because there are so many awesome people at these shows that I know I'm missing out on getting to know cool and talented people.

Here are few of my favorite sketches.......

Green Lantern

This was my first official sketch. I got it last year at Wizard World Philly. It was done by Tom Hodges, an artist known primarily for his work on a series of official Star Wars webcomics. What fascinated me most about Tom's technique was his use of colored construction paper. The color was chosen based on your character. If you asked for Green Lantern, you got green. If you asked for Catwoman or Batgirl you got purple. If you asked for Harley Quinn you got red. And so forth. At first I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out but I couldn't be happier with the final result.


Ariel was done last year in Baltimore by Mike Maihack, creator of the webcomics "Cleopatra in Space" and "Cow & Buffalo." This was the first sketch of the day and it was done for my wife. She's a huge fan of The Little Mermaid.

Red Sonja

This was also done last year in Baltimore by Erica Hesse. Erica self-publishes her own comic book "The Key," and creates art focused primarily on pin-up, burlesque, roller derby, horror, hot rod, and comic book related art. This was also done for my wife. Red Sonja is her favorite comic book character, followed by Harley Quinn. I was a little jealous of this one. It was the last sketch of the day and it was a great way to end another awesome convention in Baltimore.

Rogue and Batgirl

Although these were drawn at two separate conventions they were both done by the same artist, Tressa Bowling. Rogue was done last year in Baltimore. I was walking through artist alley and I caught a glimpse of Tressa's sketch cards out of the corner of my eye. I knew instantaneously that I was walking away with something from her table. I loved the colors, the expressions, and how she was able to capture each character's personality in such a small space. In addition to her sketch cards, Tressa has also put together quite a portfolio of portraits that you can see on her Deviant Art page. I noticed that she was offering sketches so I decided to get one. For some reason I was extremely nervous approaching her table and I must have stood there like a psycho for what seemed like an eternity trying to decide on what character to ask for. Although her sketch cards covered characters from Catwoman all the way to Bill, Sookie and Eric from "True Blood," I always freeze and choose a superhero. So I asked for Rogue. The results speak for themselves. I love the costume, the way she captured the white streak of hair, and the added touch of that quote put it over the top.

When I rolled in to Baltimore this year Tressa was the first artist I checked to see if they attended. I pulled out my sketch pad in the hopes that she remembered me. Thankfully she did. I've been going through a real Barbara Gordon/Batgirl phase (probably based on the fact that she's taking up the mantle again thanks to the DC Reboot), so that's what I asked for. Unfortunately I wasn't able to pick this one up at the show because I was there for only one day (#fail) but Tressa was nice enough to mail it out to me along with a Catwoman sketch card!! I LOVE the way she came out. You can tell I know absolutely nothing about art because I stared at this thing for about 25 minutes trying to figure out how she did the shading on her cowl and in the cape :-). There's something special about Barbara Gordon and I can't seem to put my finger on it. Maybe it's because of what the Joker did to her in "The Killing Joke" and how she was taken out of the game way to soon. I don't know. But this sketch captures the beauty of that character and makes me even more excited for her return.

In addition to her amazing art, you can check out Tressa's podcasting skills over at Beaucoup Pop.

I have more sketches but these are my favorites. Just looking at them makes me anxious to get more!!

I don't mean to end this on a serious note, or to get overly "preachy," but everyone in artist alley is their on their own dime. They are not being put up by a big publisher like DC or Marvel, nor do they have a huge marketing machine behind them. They are just regular people trying to reach others with their art. I'd much rather take the time to meet them, shake their hand, and support their work then stand in line for 9 hours to meet Todd McFarlane for 3 seconds. Now there's nothing wrong with going to a show to meet those types of creators. Let's be honest, if it wasn't for them we wouldn't even be at that type of convention. But don't overlook the amazing talents in artist alley. You'll be amazed at what you find over there.


Matt Seckman said...

Nice post Chris. I love the the guy who used colord paper for the Green Lantern. What a novel idea! I'd love to get a Catwoman done that way.

And by the way, I now hate you because you are in posession of two of my favorite sketched cards done by Tressa (that I don't already own). ;-)

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

@Matt When he pulled out the green paper I started to get worried but it all worked out in the end. I'm pretty sure he did a Catwoman and posted it on Twitter. I'll have to track that down. All of his sketched came out awesome.

I definitely lucked out with Tressa's sketches. They are amazing. The Batgirl is framed in my home office. Maybe she'll make you one for Christmas. (Hint Hint)