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It's Con Season! Autograph Etiquette

Written by Zenguru on Sunday, April 11 2010 and posted in Columns
It's Duck Season!  It's Wabbit Season!  No, it's Con Season!  Here's some hints and how-ya-dos for getting autographs from your favorite writers and artists! Ah, yes.  Con Season is already well under way.  And the biggest shows have yet to stroll our way.  But whether a show is big or small.  We can't help but want to devour it all.  If you're anything like me, you love getting comics signed by your favorite writers and artists.  I've slogged my way through comicons for the past 15 years or so and I've met many different comic creators in the process.  And they all have different rules for signing and/or selling stuff.  Gradually, I learned there is a particular etiquette to getting stuff signed.  I had to learn that I can't always get everything I want signed, but I can get the stuff signed that means most to me.

So I thought I'd present a column listing my experiences in getting autographs and maybe dole out some semi-useful advice.  Who knows?  Maybe you or someone out there would like a few pointers on how to approach these pop culture celebrities.

Well, first you check out the guest lists.  Pick out your favorite people and select books to get signed.  Sound easy?  Sometimes it is, but not always.

Some people may select books out of collectibility.  It sure would be nice to get Herb Trimpe to sign that Incredible Hulk #181.  Or how about getting Frank Miller to scribble on your Daredevil #181?  And then there's the nostalgia factor.  Everyone knows Todd McFarlane made his bones drawing Hulk and Spider-Man.  But what if you feel that irresistible pull to get him to autograph that copy of All-Star Squadron #47?  I certainly could have gotten Miller to sign that Daredevil issue, but opted instead for a copy of Orion #3.  He did a back up in that book.  Why get that signed?  I liked it.  It was a neat little story.  And probably no one else in the world has a copy of that issue signed by him.

You could also look into runs on a particular title.  I went to a show in Akron back in '96.  Some of the guests attending were Karl Kesel, Cary Nord, and Matt Ryan.  So I got them to all sign their run on Daredevil.  All issues from #353 to #362 triple signed.  What a feeling that was.  Especially since two of those guys don't seem to do many shows anymore.  Cary Nord's up in Canada and I've yet to see Matt Ryan appear on a major guest list. 

Oh and then there's the question of how many books do I take?  That can be a problem.  It's one I've struggled with in the past.  Sometimes there'll be so many guests on the list, I won't know who to get signed first.  Other times, there will be a few who have so damn many books out there, I literally cannot choose what to bring.  I was letting myself get overwhelmed.  So if I go to a show with a lot of guests, I usually bring about a dozen books per person.  If I'm going to meet all these people in a single day, I need to keep my load as light as possible.  If I attend more than one day, I can take more and divide the labor appropriately.

It's natural to want to have everything signed.  But even a wishy-washy fanboy like me knows it's not possible.  A good thing to do is allot some time before the show arrives for sorting books.  Because I can't make a choice I don't want to change five minutes later, I start setting books aside about 3 months before a show.  That's usually enough time for me to pare my packload down to a manageable travel cargo.  I've gotten now so that I have room in my trunk for other things besides comics.  And my fuel consumption rate has gone down.

Now you're ready to get stuff signed right?  Well now you've got to prepare yourself for what you'll find as soon as you get there.  Waiting in line is a given, but how long is too long?  Some lines take forever, some don't.  It depends on the guest.

There are many guests who will sign nearly everything you have.  That sounds great, but most of those lines are the slowest moving lines at the convention.  A lot of guests will take your entire stack all in one turn.  If you're in line for someone who does this, show as much patience as you can.  They'll get to you eventually.  Wouldn't hurt to bring a small snack and a drink with you while you're waiting.  As long as you don't feel like Hoover Dam is about to blast your underwear to smithereens, you should do fine.

Then there are the lines that impose the taking of turns.  That is, get anywhere from 5 to 15 books signed, then go to the back of the line for another turn.  This take a while, too.  But most who have the patience for it feel it's worth it.

Always, ALWAYS, take your books out of your plastic bags and boards.  Nothing pisses a guest off more than having to do your job for you.  Plus you run the risk of having the guest rip or fold your book in ways that make you cringe.  At Pittsburgh Comicon '96, I made this mistake while in line for Rob Liefeld.  I came up to him and he said "What?  You didn't take them out of the bags?"  Red-faced I proceeded to do so and let people cut in front of me until my stack was fully prepared.  Only then was Rob happy to sign my run of Youngblood.

Another story:  I was in line for Herb Trimpe at Mid-Ohio Con '07.  I dutifully had my unbagged run of Shogun Warriors in my loving arms.  But the guy at the table, three places ahead of me, had a stack of 30 all still in the bags!  Herb was a class act and signed the books.  BUT...he made a point to educate the person on his unwitting rudeness.  It wasn't just a case of being rude to Herb.  It was also a case of the guy being rude to everyone waiting in line behind him.

Fair warning people.  If you bring a stack of stuff without taking it out of the bags, people in line behind you will mercilessly harangue such behavior so much that your shame will not dissipate until your grandkids go to college.  You'd think unbagging comics in line would be a given, but I'm surprised at how often I still see this happening at cons.

Every guest has their own rules for signing books.  Even if most of them just sign everything in one fell swoop.  The best thing is not to assume you're exempt and respect their limits.  Nothing ruins the experience more than chucking a huge stack of books on the table and seeing the air go out of the guest's face.  Don't be afraid to ask what the limits are.  These people will be happy to tell you.  And you just might get something pleasant out of the experience you weren't expecting.

Here's some examples I personally witnessed of what not to do:

Akron-Canton '97:  I had a nice talk with Paul Ryan about the direction Flash was going to take after his writers switched from Mark Waid to Morrison/Millar.  He took a piece of cardboard and did a rough sketch of what Wally's speed force suit would look like.  The sketch wasn't for me, it was just a demo.  I smiled, said it was cool, and moved on the next guest.  The guy after me wanted a sketch.  Paul said he wasn't doing sketches for sale at that time.  The guy whined and said "C'mon!  Just like the one you did there for that guy!"  That was the first time I met Paul Ryan, but I've since learned he has little tolerance for people like that.  If his wife was not there to calm him down, that guy would have got that sketch on his eyeball.

Pittsburgh Comicon '99 (or was it '00?):  A retailer who shall remain nameless brought around a dozen copies of the Avengers #12 headshot variant to be signed by George Perez.  Perez later learned this fellow sold those copies at the show for a very high premium.  From then on, Perez vowed never to sign multiple copies again.  Don't know if he's maintained that rule since, but it was a dirty trick.

The lesson here is don't be a jerk and generally you'll get what you want.  Trust me, they do remember.

Remember that some guests sign everything and some don't.  It depends on the guest or on the time of day or the condition of the line.  Some will even cut off the line at a certain point so they can take a break.  Hard to believe, but they gotta pee just like you and me.

Some guest's limits are very strict.  It's great whenever Stan Lee shows up at a show.  But you're lucky if you get even two books signed.  Hey, he's an old guy.  And have you seen how insane his line can be?  Keith Pollard will sign 8 or 9 books at a time.  Maybe even 10 to 12 if the line isn't long.  Every time I meet Mark Waid, he has not failed to sign absodamnlutely everything I have.  No matter what.  Ron Frenz was the same way.  He signed 30-odd issues of Thor without blinking twice. 

John Byrne, when he did shows, signed 10 books per person per day.  Usually a genial, cheerful fellow.  Boy do I have a story about him later.

As many shows as I've attended, there's bound to be stories.  Some good.  Some bad.  And some just gosh darn strange.  Here's some of the stories that stand out to me.

Paul Gulacy at Baltimore '09:  I had a huge stack for Paul to sign.  And from past meetings, I knew he was a dedicated signer.  He was about to sign everything when his agent popped in with "He'll sign everything if you buy a poster!"  I felt like smacking him right then, but it was a fair, if abrupt, request.  So I forked over ten dollars and walked away generally happy.  Fair warning:  Paul Gulacy is a talker.  And a very entertaining one at that.  Be prepared to listen a bit if you get in line for him.

Michael Golden at Mid-Ohio Con '07:  I was holding the first 12 issues of Micronauts.  He said "You got kind of a stack there.  I generally sign two or three for free, but if you buy something off the table I'll sign it all."  Of course, I bought something. 

Todd DeZago at Mid-Ohio Con '03:  At least I think it was '03.  I had a copy of Wolverine #131, the infamous slur issue.  He said he would sign it only if he could mark out the slur with his sharpie.  I refused.  Haven't gotten anything signed by him since.

Greg Capullo at Pittsburgh Comicon '98:  Boy did he have a long line.  He was well into his Spawn run by that time.  I took several turns in line because anything more than 10 books he would not sign.  I heard him say that his sister had died earlier that week and he STILL attended the show.

Julius Schwartz and Superman:  First met this wonderful man at Pitt '96.  This event took place at the '97 show, I think.  I was getting some Superman stuff signed by him.  This was around the time of the Electric Blue Superman.  He asked me what I thought of Superman these days.  I said I couldn't wait for Superman to go back to being Superman.  He stared me right in the eyes and said "I know just what you mean."

Gil Kane at Pittsburgh Comicon '96:  This was the year before he started getting too sick to attend shows.  I had him sign copies of Marvel Tales #191 and #192, which reprinted the Goblin drug stories and the Death of Gwen Stacy.  He was really upset at how he never got any royalties for those reprints.

The Byrne/Kesel enigma:  This was split between two shows.  I saw Karl Kesel at an Akron show in '96 and asked him about a character that kept popping up in the background of Superman when Byrne was drawing the title.  This character was called "Whit" and was a balding, white-moustached, bespectacled fellow who was ever omnipresent in the background of the Daily Planet newsroom.  Kesel said he didn't know what that character was for.  Just that he served some unknown purpose for Byrne.  Later, at a Mid-Ohio Con around '97, I met Byrne and asked him about Whit.  Byrne said he didn't know where that character came from.  Just that whenever he could, Kesel inked him into the background for some damn reason.

John Byrne's reprint signature:  A lot has been said on the internet about this.  I even got accused of plagiarizing someone else's experience when I talked about in on Newsarama pre-exodus.  It was my first ever meeting with Byrne at Mid-Ohio Con '96.  I saw his sign at his table.  I had no multiple copies, no merchandise with his art on it, nothing that was not in line with his rules.  He happily signed the first 9 comics of his 10 comic limit for the day.  The last comic was a trade of Days of Future Past.  He picked it up, paged through it, loudly proclaimed "REPRINT SIGNATURE!!!", and stamped my book.  This action leeched all the blood from my face.  And caused everyone in line behind me to put away their trades while I staggered away in confusion.  Many people call Byrne an asshole for doing this.  I should know, I'm one of them.  Byrne has said on his site that people who go through that just "don't get the joke."  I didn't and I'm afraid I never will get the gist of a prank that disillusions a fan meeting his hero for the first time.  But I don't let it bother me.  Curiously enough, I haven't bought a Byrne book in over a decade.

So you have all these signed book laying around.  What are you gonna do with 'em?  Bag & board is a given.  But what else? 

You can resign yourself to just putting them back where they came from in your long boxed.  You could be like me and label each and every one of them.  And I also record each signed book in a notebook.  Or, you could get those babies certified. 

There are a couple ways to go about that.  Some shows sell certificates of authenticity right there for a fee per book.  This fee can range anywhere from $2 to $5.  Or you could send your books to a company like CGC.  Get 'em slabbed and preserved for future enjoyment, if not future reading.  A drawback for some is that once you open the slab, condition (and value) goes down.  A friend of mine does the CGC thing.  He doesn't do it as much lately, though.  He's found that these books have to get reslabbed and recertified every few years.  And the condition always goes down when it comes out of the slab.  That's the price of a guarantee.

Most who slab comics probably do so in order to sell them on ebay or some other online auction.  I've yet to meet someone who slabs without this possibility in mind.  Same thing for certifying.  Except the certificate doesn't guarantee anything but the fact that book was signed by that person.  So regardless of condition, a book like that doesn't need to be recertified at all.

Is certifying/slabbing a good idea?  Depends.  If you want to sell your collection as a whole, it's good to have a pedigree.  Paperwork goes a long way toward keeping the price above a certain level.  But it you're a nostalgic fanboy like me, you won't be too into that.  A few certificates may be cool, but generally I don't do that.

Well, that's it for this time.  And it's been quite a while since the last, hasn't it?  Dang job keeps me from having a life sometimes.  Yeah, life drives me crazy, but comics keep me sane.  Collecting sure has gotten a lot more complicated since I was a kid peeling comics off the rack at the local 7-Eleven.  I've often wondered if I should have gotten more involved with certificates and CGC and the like.  I've often pondered the investment I've put in my comics and what I think I want to get out of them.  If I was in them for the money, I'd be a straight up CGC Zombie.  That's not for me.  I like to get my comics autographed and just look at them for a while.  And then read them.  And you know what?  It feels great.

So sayonara until next column, Skid fans!  I hope you learned something this time.  I sure haven't.

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About the Author - Zenguru

Zenguru has been an Outhouser since the days it was blue. He's the Rick Jones of The Outhouse. Not always in the mansion, but always around in a pinch. Just don't pinch too hard, okay? He's written a few articles, notably $k!d M@rks, and has published several books of poetry. Lately, he's been writing poems and fiction about diners. He's been reading comics since the mid-70's. He dreams of one day traveling between dimensions to be Jonah Hex's sidekick.

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