Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Boston Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Adam Hughes Stops Doing Commissions

I rarely post more than once a day so this is a rambling piece about commissions I am writing spur of the moment during a small slice of free time. So if in the end it is incomprehensible or a rant, I am sorry. 

Some bad news has come out as a result of activity at the Boston Comic-Con. Because of some bad behavior, Adam Hughes, who was one of the headliners, has stopped doing commissions at conventions.

As usual and as warranted given his talent, a throng of people ran to Hughes' table in hopes of getting a commission from him, the commission equivalent of a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket. One of the folks getting a commission turned around and put it on EBay the very next day. This behavior irked Hughes to the point he has declared he will stop doing commissions at conventions other than pre-arranged ones that he has put on EBay. Thanks to Bleeding Cool for breaking the story; here is the link:

Now, as a big time commission buyer, I have to say that I am a bit conflicted about this story. I can completely understand that Hughes wants to make his art for fans and not for people who want to turn the piece around for a profit. I also know that the owner of the art has the right to do with it what he wants. But as a big time fan and as a commission collector, I am totally on Hughes' side of that argument.

But here is the 'on the floor' nitty gritty of the situation about commissions. Here is what it is like to be a commission collector and why it really bothers me that the man who put this sketch on EBay even got the piece.

I consider myself lucky that I have a well paying job and the financial flexibility to have money to spend on commissions. I could afford the $400 Hughes charges for a commission which I know already puts me ahead of the game in this economy. And I would love ... LOVE ... having a Hughes commission for my collection. LOVE IT! And yet, at this convention, despite being in line 3 hours before the doors opened and 11th in line overall (a choice spot), I did not go to his table to try to get one.

If you are interested in commissions at conventions, you need to strategize on who you want to get pieces from and in what order you are going to go to them. You see, the hottest and biggest artists commission lists always fill up quickly. You literally have to run to their table on day one to make sure you get on their usually short list for commissions. If you approach a bigger name artist even in the middle of day one, you are usually out of luck because their lists have filled. Even worse, sometimes slots on commissions lists are filled by vendors before the doors even open to the public. So before the doors open you need to have a rough idea of who you want, who will fill up first, who will be available later so you know who to go to quickly.

In Boston, I didn't even know if Darwyn Cooke was doing commissions but I knew if he was and I wanted one (which I really did), I needed to be at his table within the first few minutes to get on his list. So rather than head to Hughes, I went to Cooke. I learned Cooke wasn't sketching within 10 minutes of the doors opening. And in the 10 minutes it took me to learn that ... 10 minutes ... it was too late to head back to the crowd at Hughes table and get my name on his list. It can happen that fast.I crossed Cooke's name off my list and moved to numbers 2 and 3 on my commission wish list. That is the frustrating part of being the fan.

Now Hughes has to deal with the maddening crowd at his table in those first minutes and that can't be easy. He takes a long list of names at the start of the show and then peruses the list to decide which one strikes his fancy ... again I understand that as well. He needs to be struck by the muse. And he takes a long time to do the commissions which is why they are so incredible ... again I understand that as well. But that means he can only do a handful of commissions over the course of the convention. It is completely worth it. His stuff is just mind-numbingly wonderful.

Now if I had been lucky enough to get my name on his list, that would mean I would need to put $400 aside just in case I was one of the people chosen. You see, I wouldn't be guaranteed of a commission but I would need to be prepared to pay for it if I was lucky. And for me, someone who collects commissions and enjoys my commissions, someone who likes interacting with the creators and wants to get commissions, I would rather spend that $400 on art I know I am going to get rather than leave with the $400 in my pocket. Does that make sense?

Hughes clearly isn't happy when people get a full commission from him and then turn it around quickly. So maybe if I had gone to Hughes first, showed him the little photo book of my collection, including a picture of the wall I have many hung on, talked to him about how I am a true collector, clearly not someone who resells, I might have had a chance. But that initial crowd is so massive and pressing, that there is little time for that level of interaction. It is just a gathering of names on a list. That means people like me ... a 'real' fan, and yes I am gagging writing that ... lose out to someone like this person who hung around, begged and pleaded, and then put the piece on EBay for a profit.

And even if I was able to give my pitch, showed how I am not a 'reseller', there are probably a bunch of people just like me who have a similar story. And I would still have to put the money aside in hopes I was the winner of the lucky commission, knowing chances are still low. It really is a lottery. I'd still rather spend that money, giving it to other artists, than take that chance.

I don't know if there is an easy solution for Hughes concerns and my concerns. Who knew that lingering and begging helped? But I am a grown man. I really don't want to beg nor should I have to. Nor do I want to have to hold out hope that he will do my piece while the other artists I might be interested in have their lists fill. Remember, sometimes 10 minutes is all it takes for a list to fill. You sometimes have to run to an artist's table.

Maybe if Hughes decided within the first 30 minutes who he would be doing commissions for it would allow people like me the time to know I am not the winner and still be able to move on to other artists.

But now I won't even have the chance to get a Hughes commission. I'll have to be happy with the quick sketch I got from him in Baltimore last year seen above.

Perhaps the irony here is that Hughes gets to act like the spurned artist AND now put his commission slots up for bid on EBay and make a ton of money (which I don't begrudge him at all). The guaranteed commission for this con that he put on EBay beforehand went for over $3K (I stopped checking after that). This commission being flipped had already hit near $2K. There is no way I will ever ever be able to be afford one now. Good for Hughes that he is able to make that much money on his work. It just means he won't be able to interact with all fans at the level of sharing his art. That price will limit the fans he can reach even more than the $400 price tag did.

To be clear, Hughes isn't the only artist who takes a long list and then cherry-picks the commissions he wants to do. JG Jones does it. In the past Tony Harris did it. And that is completely their prerogative and it doesn't upset me. They have the right to do the work they want. It just means that as much as I would like to get pieces from them, I probably never will. I never put my name on those kinds of  lists. I don't want to take the chance I'll come up empty when I can put the money into the pocket of another artist. And that's a shame, because I would love a piece from any of these artists, especially Jones.

Anyways, I hope the guy who derailed all future Hughes commissions is happy. Because a lot of people are wishing him ill will.


Martin Gray said...

What a bunch of frustration! Have you thought about contacting Adam Hughes via his agent or whoever and asking for $400 worth of art?

Mind, him being a creative fella, he'll likely change his mind and be working at shows again within a year or two.

Anonymous said...

There is always one jerk to ruin the fun for everyone.


Diabolu Frank said...

I'm still learning how convention commissions work, but the good thing is I'm learning in Houston, which is a completely different scene.

My first experiences were from last year's local con. With the possible exception of J.H. Williams III, everyone who was sketching was still available at midday on Saturday. For $40-$50 I got a bust from Ethan Van Sciver without any significant wait to talk with him, and a little over three hours to get the piece done. I waited 45 minutes to an hour in line for Humberto Ramos to draw me a $30-$40 bust on the spot while I waited. I was rather indecisive with Andy Kuhn, but once we settled on a subject, I paid $40-$50 for a full figure drawing that took about two hours. I think I paid $50-60 for a Marat Mychaels bust, no line, done in under 45 minutes. I could have gotten a Rob Liefeld, but I think he wanted $150 for a bust, which was not going to happen. I caught a deal with an artist who shall remain nameless for two figures at $100, but part of my penance for that deal is that I'm still waiting for it over a year later.

As you can probably tell, Adam Hughes deigning to bestow a commission for $400 really ticks me off. I see where he's coming from, and good for him that he can charge those rates, but I wouldn't have anything to do with him or his swollen head. I wonder if he ever considered the possibility the guy didn't like the work, an experience I've had? If I got drawings of characters anybody else liked, I'd seriously consider unloading some of the pieces that I never warmed to. I paid for the things, so I should be able to recoup the loss if I end up unenthusiastic with the result (and can maybe pay for something I like better.) I don't see it as a "gift" if I bought it for myself, and if the artists want to charge more and think they can get it, more power to them. Just don't act like taking $400 is doing somebody a favor, or go whining to Bleeding Cool because you want a bigger cut of a commission's value after the fact. If you feel you're a Rolex, sell to Rolex patrons.

Anyway, I hope to collect last year's dangling piece this year, and am strategizing getting the most bang for my paltry student buck. If not, another lesson learned...

Jackson Gee said...
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