I've been thinking a lot lately about the state of Artist Alley at comic conventions...mostly because I participate in several per year. It's been a controversial place as of late. There are lots of different types of participants in The Alley: the established comic pros, who are mostly selling original art that's been published; the up-and-comers like myself, pushing the latest projects they've completed with some prints and fan art mixed in; small press publishers who are trying to get their products noticed and into as many hands as possible. Lastly, there are those who have been dubbed by many as "wall of prints" guys, who don't actually draw comics. They draw lots and lots of fan art, and they display said art on giant displays that dwarf the rest of the artists on the row.
Among these are artists who actually take artwork that they find on the internet, print it out, and pass it off as their own. Sometimes, this found artwork is run through some sort of filter in Photoshop. Other times, it's just printed as is.
Most people going to cons (at least, those people who understand that the above artists aren't affiliated with Marvel or DC...I actually didn't realize this when I started going to cons) see that this is theft. It's been going on for a while, and established pros are starting to get really fed up with it. After all, this stolen art was made by people that they might be personal friends with - it's not just a matter of principle. People that they care about are being hurt.
Promoters are starting to stand up to this sort of sordid behavior as well. Some are ejecting these thieves, while letting artists who produce their own work do as they please. There are others, however, who are enacting a "no fan art" policy, only allowing artists to display Marvel and DC characters if they actually work for Marvel or DC. Dallas Comic Con has enacted a strict policy against fan art, even threatening to eject violators without refunding the cost of their table (see www.bleedingcool.com/2016/05/1…
). According to Mark Walters, founder of the con, this might even extend to cosplayers who sell prints in the near future.
To me, this seems like drastic overkill, using thievery as a pretext. The contention is that these WOP guys are taking money out of the hands of established pros, who have put in the time and deserve the money more. Is this really the case, though? Is the guy who has his big wall of "okay" fan art outselling Neal Adams sitting next to him, who can sell one piece of original art for several hundred dollars? Think about it: you have to sell twenty $5 prints to equal one piece of original artwork, which typically sells for $100+. That pro, who may well have a free table and hotel room if he's been in the industry long enough for name notoriety, only has to sell a fraction of what a no-name seller has to sell to make the same profit.
Also, are artists in Artist Alley really competing? There's a common misconception, not only on the comic convention floor but also in general business: there is only a finite amount of money, and we have to fight each other for it. In a broad sense, that's true - people bring a certain amount of money into a convention, just as there is a certain amount of money floating around in our economy. But a con-goer brings $100 cash into a con, does that automatically mean that they're going to spend all of it? Or, for that matter, does it mean they won't hit up an atm, use a credit card for vendors that accept it, ect? Won't artists and vendors use some of that money to buy other stuff, doubling the transaction value for each bill? The con floor isn't a zero-sum place. If my fellow artist makes a sale, that doesn't automatically mean that I lost that sale. That buyer may never have bought from me even if the seller who made the sale had never set up his booth. He might buy from me as well, too. He might also buy something from the cosplayer two booths down, then get something signed by the celebrity in the back. If he runs out of money and still sees stuff he wants to buy, he'll either bring more money tomorrow, hit the ATM, or decide to keep his money to himself. None of the above decisions involve one seller hurting another.
My point is this: don't use a legitimate sin as a pretext to force out aspects of fandom that you don't agree with. Let the cosplayer and the WOP person make their money, and let the fans decide what they want to spend their money on. As someone who makes money at cons, then turns around and spends it through utter lack of willpower, I want maximum freedom as both a fan and a seller. I'm probably not going to spend $100+ on an original comic page or sketch cover, but I'll spend $15 on a cool print (I usually don't buy from the WOP, but there are lots of great artists who don't work for Marvel or DC who do great Superman and Wolverine art) and $50 on a cool sketch. Let me have the option of buying both. And, as a seller, I may not be a veteran with a name and a storied career, but my small run of Ninja Turtle prints isn't taking money out of Kevin Eastman's pocket, so I don't see the harm in selling it.
Okay, time to wrap this up. In closing, I certainly wish Dallas Comic Con well, no matter what stand they take. If your opinion differs from mine, please feel free to comment below. I'm not going to attack you, call you names, or be a big meanie. Also, speaking of cons, I'm going to be at MobiCon in Mobile, AL this weekend. I'll be selling comics that I've worked on, original artwork...and fan art prints.