For the most part, I think this is a great thing for the creators and our industry. While a few might miff at the thought of comics being intruded upon by other industries, it means more chances for starving artists to make money, more money for commissions and prints, and chances to travel to exotic locations that were never previously on our agenda.
More and more frequently, creators are being lured to shows all over the world with travel costs (at least partially) comped. When they arrive, they'll be met by capable handlers, lines of cheering fans, and fancy parties while they're given the brief whiff of stardom that's usually reserved for Mick Jagger.
But not always.
While many of my pro friends are eternally grateful for their careers and for these generous invites, some of the shows are taking advantage of creators--ALL levels of creators--and not following through with what's promised. Believe me, I love traveling and I want to visit all my readers in every country I can, but there's nothing worse than getting to the "convention reserved" hotel room and finding out you wasted your money staying in some foreign ghetto.
So here's a list of Creator's Rights when it comes to comic conventions, compiled from many different conversations I've had with both amateur and professional level creators. Keep in mind this isn't a list of complaints by the elite--most of the shows I attend are still on my own dime, and with so many options of conventions these days, it can only be helpful to compile a list of things we're looking for when we choose a show.
This is also meant to help conventions: there's a lot of money at stake and if you're guests aren't happy, then creator word-of-mouth can sink you. We all gain from communication, so hopefully this will start the ball rolling.
*I'm also including bits about shows which are good examples of getting it right.
1. WORKING FOR FREE
If you expect the creator to sketch for free, please check with them ahead of time and make it clear what you're expecting of them. They're taking days off from being paid by their publisher, so it's fair to let them know whether they can supplement their income. Can they charge for commissions? Can they sell prints? Books? Some creators have an attendance fee, which I think makes more sense for writers, because they're not making money sketching.
And I don't mind working for free. In fact, I'll likely be doing it this week with my great friends at Urban Comics to attend Angoulême. A few years back, they put my wife and I up for an extra week at a 5 star hotel while Hurricane Sandy delayed our flight, while also providing us with some of the best wine I've ever had. They took care of us, so I take care of them by helping in any way I can. They were clear about their tradition with sketching in France, so I'm happy to do it. And I recommend them to everyone creator I can, even providing them with contacts they don't have. Because that's how much I love their wine.
2. UNFAIR SCHEDULING
Before agreeing to a show, I ask to see a proposed schedule. And if I agree to go, then I'll print the schedule out and have it on me in case there's ever disagreement between me and the show about what's expected. But most shows don't have a schedule ahead of time, and this is something I'd like to see changed.
Here's what creators don't want to see: back-to-back signings with no breaks, events that force them to skip lunch, panel discussions that start after 9pm when they'd rather be at the bar, surprise extra signings at the local comic shop, parties where they've raffled off “hang out time” between you and total strangers, and late night duties followed by early morning duties to ensure that you only get 4 hours of sleep.
I did a show in North Carolina with the great Tommy Lee Edwards. And because he's a friend and also an artist, I knew he'd take care of us: when I arrived with Fiona Staples, I knew my schedule, the walking distance to the free dinner, the time of my panel discussions (which I agreed to ahead of time), and we even had someone to grab us from our tables to make sure we weren't late for anything. I highly recommend that show.
3. TRAVEL ASSISTANCE/HAVING A GUIDE (mostly concerns international travel)
There's nothing worse than getting off a plane in a foreign country (where you don't speak the language) and not seeing a representative the show promised you. And reimbursing us with cab fare isn't good enough, because we usually have no idea where the cabbie is going, and having us chase after you for money isn't professional. Better to send a friend in a run down Honda then ask me to take a cab. Even if you're paying your own way, if you're a FEATURED GUEST of any kind that the show is using to sell more tickets, the least they can do is help you around.
I was recently in Brazil where I was scheduled to fly back home 24 hours after the show ended, which is 24 hours I could have spent drawing pages. Luckily they'd hired an event coordinator--when I found out that another creator had a flight back to NYC immediately following the show, I begging the coordinator to switch my flight. Which she did! I'm not saying every show needs a coordinator, but the Supershows definitely should.
As a side note, Brazil also paid each creator for giving a 2 hour talk. So even if we didn't make money selling prints, we were guaranteed at least some income for our time away.
4. BAD HOTELS
A bad hotel can ruin a trip. I've walked into convention hotels with greasy windows, unmade beds, and dirty showers. Creators don't expect expensive 5-star accommodations, but being stuck in a bad hotel means you're going to bed and waking up in a bad mood. Even the rooms conventions reserve for guest who are paying their own way should pick hotels that are halfway decent, because most out-of-town guests have no idea where they are.
Also, is there anything to do in the hotel? Do they have a store to buy the toothbrush I forgot? Are their restaurants within walking distance? Are the streets outside safe, or is all the German razor wire just for decoration?
One of my favorite con experiences was at a small show in Pennsylvania. The promoters didn't have much to work with, but I appreciated their honesty from the start: it's in a small farm town with nothing much to do, the hotel is the local Howard Johnson which wasn't amazing but it was guaranteed to be clean, and the town had been hit badly by the economy so they hinted that I likely wouldn't be selling many $500 commissions. But they'd pay for gas, buy a few meals, and told me how they tried to invite other guests I was friends with. I went, I partied, and I loved it.
5. FOOD AND FRIENDS
Here's a convention insurance policy I can't stress enough: invite a group of creators that you know get along, and give them amazing food.
Sometimes even the best shows have problems: higher attendance than expected, a few fans that lack convention etiquette, or broken bathrooms and air conditioners. Some of this stuff gets to me even when I know it's not the promoter's fault, but it's less of a problem if I know there's good food and great friends waiting for me. Inviting a clique of friends will always increase the experience, and the promoters will have a better time as well as they witness stuff no one should ever tweet.
Promoters: if there's one takeaway from this list, then it's this one. DO NOT skip on the food and drink.
Can you think of anything to add? Please comment. Some of these concerns apply more to professionals, but I think it's worth posting just so artists ON THEIR WAY UP will know how to handle the landscape. I'd also love to see a similar list on the side of conventions: what can we do as creators to help? And how can we better understand what our duties are? Please help spread the word by retweeting, linking, and favoriting.