A BRIEF WORD ABOUT SKETCHBOOKS AND MANNERS
So last weekend was SPX, the Small Press Expo, and it was great. I had a great time, the Ignatzes were great, I met a bunch of amazing people and had the best sales I've ever had at an SPX. I'll say more about all that later--I'm working on some diary comics about the weekend, so you'll get your con report complete with inkwashes and scratchy drawings.
But for now I'd like to say a different thing! After I got back home, I was in a grumpy mood--I think all of last week my body was fighting off some sort of convention muhungus and I was a little snit all week--and I grumped aloud on Twitter about how much I hate themed sketchbooks at shows.
A word of explanation: there's a longstanding tradition at comics conventions of carrying around sketchbooks and getting your favorite artists to draw in them. And within that tradition is a second tradition of having a theme to the sketchbook, like "zombies" or "clowns" or something. "Superheroes On Bicycles." Some of the better ones I've seen are Sean T. Collins' Bowie sketchbook and Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer's Little Golden Book sketchbooks, which are blank Golden Books that they've gotten some preposterously good sketches in from guys like Dan Clowes, Jaime Hernandez, Charles Burns, etc.
A lot--a lot--of people have themed sketchbooks. I had one once, although I quit bringing it to shows a couple of years ago. Now that I'm behind a table, I almost never have the time to look around the show at all, much less collect sketches. That's really the problem: now that I do comics and illustration full-time, I go to shows to make money first and foremost. In the case of this year's SPX, I was working hard to make a full two months of rent, so I was all Eye of the Tiger all weekend.
There are two main problems to doing sketches at shows, for me. The first is that they take time away from doing anything else. When you're curled over a sketchbook, you're not visible behind your table, you're not engaging with the people on the other side of the table, and you're probably missing sales. And secondly, if you're like me at a show, you've probably had very little sleep, maybe drunk too much the night before, have completely forgotten to eat in all the hustle and bustle of setting up before the show opens, and thus have got shaky hands and blurry vision. Meaning anything you draw is going to be the worst drawing ever.
But that's not the fault of the person asking for a sketch. That's my fault for drinking too much and sleeping not enough and eating too late and not being good at drawing on the fly. I grumped on Twitter about my dumb old themed sketchbook hatred, and within a couple hours I got an email from a friend of someone who'd asked me to do a sketch at the show. She was hurt and upset; she felt bad about "insulting my pride." She was probably pissed too (I would have been), but the emailer was too nice to say so.
Here's the thing: I still hate themed sketchbooks. And I feel like I should have the right to hate them, and to say so publicly. Right? But the problem is--beside the 100% lack of interest I have in offending anyone, no matter how noble and necessary my opinion might be--that the person asking me for a sketch didn't do anything wrong, and didn't deserve to feel like like they had.
You go up to someone at a show and ask them to do a sketch, and if they don't want to they should say "no." I could have given all those reasons but I didn't--I could have pointed out that it was just 20 minutes before the show closed and I really needed to start packing up, but I didn't do that either. Even better would have been to just post a sign that said I charged for sketches--that's a nice natural way to slow demand, not to mention solve that problem of not being able to make money while sketching.
But all that's more complicated than just saying "no," and/or having the class to not make someone interested in you and your silly comics feel like they'd done some great crime by politely asking for a sketch in their book. It bugs me to death when I see other artists disrespecting their readers, or complaining publicly about what a burden they are, or acting like now that a few people give a crap, their poop smells like pickled ginger. Blowing off some steam privately is one thing, but I feel terrible that I let myself act all entitled because I was tired and grumpy and someone had the gall to ask me for a sketch that I agreed to give them.
I mean, I don't feel that terrible, don't worry. But I did contact the person and did them what I'd planned to be a nicer version of the sketch they'd asked for (the one I did in the offending sketching was predictably shaky and terrible). Perhaps fittingly, I tried to get too fancy and messed the drawing up with watercolor, but it wasn't an ironic mess-up--just my regular clumsiness.
Anyway. A humbling lesson. I'm not nearly famous enough yet to be putting on airs, and I hope that when I do get that famous, I'll have the class to not act like a little hussy when someone has the temerity to do a perfectly normal thing that I happen to find inconvenient. Until then, I'm very happy that the person that emailed me did so with much more class than I might have. And that the sketchee was kind enough to accept my apology and my (bumbled) replacement sketch. Good to have a better example to live up to.