There’s been a lot of discussion online recently about autographs and what fans should pay to obtain them.
Some comics pros have begun charging a pretty penny for their autographs. And some fans aren’t all that happy about it.
This is one of those subjects I can look at mostly objectively since I’m not a big collector of autographs. Sure, if a creator wants to sign a book I’m buying from him or her, I appreciate that. But pay for it? Not even $10!
Probably since any sort of sporting or entertainment event ever began, fans have wanted their favorite’s signature. It gives you a small part of them that you can keep without being invasive. After all, it mostly takes less than a few minutes for a media star or comic creator to sign their photo or book. It shows you loved what they do so much that you wanted them to autograph it for you. Now THAT’s a fan, goes the reasoning!
The sad thing that’s happened with the advent of eBay and other auction-like online websites is that such treasures as autographs can be purchased, and often they cost a lot more than what the individual asked for them when he or she signed them. Also, comics stores’ websites frequently sell autographed comics that have been authenticated by organizations like CGC, also known as the Certified Guaranty Company, LLC. This will push the price of an autographed comic up, too, but having a guaranteed signature from the comics creators helps fans invest in such things.
This brings me to why I’m not a big autograph collector. It was back in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s heyday, and I was attending a convention when a friend rushed up to me, excited to show me a photo of John de Lancie, who played Q on the show and later incarnations. When I looked at his autograph, it consisted of a capital “J” with a long, straight line extending out to the right.
I realize he had a long line of fans wanting his autograph, but I was somewhat disappointed. One letter and one line? That was it? I remember thinking that I could generate that autograph, too, and I’d charge a lot less!
I know, I know – the point is to get it from the person himself or herself, a little something that you can treasure forever! (I also know why fans pay lots of money to get a photo taken with their favorite stars. Most of the time, this happen with actors, who can happily look interested even if some of them are more interested in your money than hugging you for, say, about a minute or so.)
WHY CHARGE FOR AUTOGRAPHS?
I know a lot of comics pros who do NOT charge for autographs. In fact, many artists will happily actually draw a small illustration for you near their signature. I’ve been told by several that they want to go beyond fans’ expectations, so they do something special for as many as they can.
Here’s why I think some folks want fans to pay for their autographs, take it or leave it. I use a sports analogy in that athletes, be they in baseball, football or whatever, have a limited time in the spotlight. Yes, some people will be fans their entire lives, but when the player is winning Super Bowls or just retiring, the time to strike is when the iron is hot, as one pro put it when I was talking with him about it. With the passage of time, many fans find other players or teams that interest them when they’re not on the TV as much, and the demand lessens.
When you’re on a “hot” comic or are an artist or writer people love, folks will line up around the block to get your autograph. I remember at a recent Baltimore Comic-Con, Jim Lee was there, and I couldn’t see the end of the line to get his signature. I’m so happy when I see things like that taking place.
But I get sad when I see creators I still love sitting at a table at a convention, and no one is talking with them at all. Ever. I always try to engage them, shake his or her hand, and tell them what an impact their work has had on me. I want him or her to know that they’re not forgotten! I do buy books from them when I can, too!
It’s not like the industry does a great job of supporting people who have given years of their lives to comics. (They really should support them more, though, I believe!) Even when a creator has moved on from a high-sales opportunity, his or her bills still have to be paid.
So, like athletes, some creators want to take in what they can while their fans are interested in forking over their hard-earned quatloos. That makes perfect sense to me, especially given the aforementioned lack of support the companies give them when their attention turns to other creators, as it eventually must.
WHAT’S A FAN TO DO?
This all comes down to what fans of a creator will do. Is it worth $100 to have someone’s autograph on a comic you loved? If so, then pay it. If not, let them know the impact their work has had on you instead. Just don’t get a mad on and hound them on the Internet or at cons they attend so you can convince others to think as you do.
I appreciate every comics pro who will sign a fan’s entire collection when he or she brings it to their table during a con. After all, that fan has financially supported that person, likely for years.
I also don’t have a problem with creators who request payment for an autograph. He or she worked hard to reach that level in their career, in my opinion, so I think they deserve to at least request a fee. If people do NOT pay for it, then that person will have to re-examine all this and change how they do things. It’s that simple.
But the point is – YOU as a fan determine the value of an autograph or even completed pages from favorite comics.
Should other creators or fans browbeat comics pros into doing things they want, they prefer? I don’t think so, yet I see a lot of fans saying, “Such and such an artist doesn’t charge for their work, why should you?” Again, if people do NOT pay for these things, that’ll cause a change in behavior, and sooner rather than later. Really.
I’ve seen amazingly long lines to get Stan Lee’s autograph when he’s been at cons I’ve attended. I like that even though I’m convinced a significant portion standing in that line are probably investing in their own future. After all, when DeForest Kelley from Star Trek passed, the price of photographs containing his autographs skyrocketed! I don’t mean to be morose here, but should Mr. Lee move to the Marvel Bullpen in the sky, every book he’s ever signed will be worth a lot more! (I just hate this kind of thinking, though.)
For a while, I bought CGC-approved comics with autographs from a local comics shop owner and sold them on eBay. I thought it might be a business I would be interested in, one that would help me at least keep buying the comics I wanted for the foreseeable future. But the reasoning I just talked about so often came into play, and I just couldn’t in good conscience do it, so I sold nearly all of them. Do I regret it? No, not at all. Would I like to have some of those back, especially with autographs of creators I particularly enjoy? At times, but I would rather buy their great product instead!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON AUTOGRAPHS
You want to make a creator happy? It seems to me that if you ask him or her to personalize their autograph, you’ll often see them smile. After all, not many people will want to buy a book on eBay that says “To Jim, From Stan Lee” especially if your name isn’t Jim! That’s for YOU!
I get tired of online “flame wars,” as they used to be called. If a creator wants more money for a signature than you think it’s worth, move on. DON’T start online hate groups, DON’T haunt them at conventions, and for goodness sake, DON’T seek out their personal information so you can scare them or their families at home or at an office they may work at. Come on, you used to be a fan, didn’t you?
I do have some autographs, including one from Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame. He’s my favorite actor, and he played my favorite character on TV, after all. As I mentioned, I also have a lot of comics that creators have autographed for me, be they Indie books or from the Big Guys. I’m happy to have each and every one of them, but they’re perishable! I’d much rather have the great memories of talking with these people I have instead!
What do you think? Should creators NOT charge for autographs? Share your thoughts below!