Some say the hobby of collecting, be it comics, toys or cards, can quickly get out of hand. Some believe that it can become a poison as easily to the wallet as it can a relationship. Comics have been my personal poison for over twenty years and I firmly believe that a man without a poison is no man at all.
This year’s FAN EXPO in Toronto (August 22-24), the largest convention of its kind in Canada, saw a number of attendees, all with any number of poisons. There was enough venom here to satiate all.
In Artist Alley, I eagerly lined up to meet Ethan Van Sciver, famed artist of Green Lantern and one of the big guns of the DC Comics universe. I didn’t want him to “sign” anything for me or to “review my portfolio” or to ask him “how to break into the business.” No. I just wanted to thank him, from the bottom of my fanboy heart, for the enjoyment I’ve received from his visual storytelling.
Also, I wanted to commission a drawing from him.
At any comic book convention, you’ll encounter stands that sell variously-sized pages of original works of art by any and all industry professionals, protected by hard-plastic sheaths and never exposed to direct sunlight. These works can range from $25 to $1000’s, depending upon the artist. Rather than buy pre-made works, there is something special about having some say in what you want a finished piece to look like.
Collecting original art had been on my mind for years, my thoughts often drifting to the movie Unbreakable. I could start my own gallery. I could be Mr. Glass.
But it’s “buyer beware” when commissioning art at conventions. For every great story, you’ll also hear sad tales of disappointment. Sometimes, you won’t get the exact drawing you wanted. Other times, you may miss meeting your artist or retrieving your drawing altogether.
There’s been a story circulating on the internet over the past year of a fan commissioning a drawing from legendary British artist, Brian Bolland. It’s said that the fan paid over $100 for what turned out to be a “quick sketch” on paper the size of a napkin. I was lucky enough to speak with Bolland at FAN EXPO and he seemed an entirely pleasant man even if he did price me out of his own commissioned pieces. Perhaps there was a lesson learned, however. For patronage in Toronto, Bolland wasn’t asking for money up-front and clients could return the work, no harm or foul, if they weren’t happy with the finished product.
This isn’t to say that artists aren’t dependable. They do their best. In fact, artists can make a lot of money selling original works and many of them rely on this secondary source of income. It pays, then, to have customers leave happy.
I wandered the convention for two days, waiting on my finished Van Scriver piece, both elated and scared. There was uneasiness in my mind and excitement in my heart. Would my Green Lantern be drawn standing proud, hands on hips, head cocked, eyes staring off into outer-space? Would a projection of huge hand-cuffs, used to capture the bad guys, be drawn, emanating from his power ring? These thoughts, I discovered, are part of the appeal of the commissioned work – that sense of the personalized unknown about to made known.
My experience of commissioning artwork is one of the good stories. The finished Green Lantern drawing looks better than I had imagined. He was drawn with majesty and daring; pride and no sense of fear. He’s exactly as he should be and the art will look fantastic with a green border inside a black frame, hanging there on the wall of what may one day become a gallery.
Until that happens, it will stay in its hard plastic sheath, away from the window of my bedroom.