Given that comic convention season is upon us, I thought it most appropriate to write on the matter of convention sketchbooks! While interning in Portland, OR, last summer I spent some time with one particularly thoughtful writer, Jamie S. Rich. Rich is the author of such graphic novels as the brand new Spell Checkers, You Have Killed Me and Love the Way You Love. I contributed myself to his convention sketchbook of choice but I think I better let him tell you it about himself!
In the old days, you could get just about any comic artist to do a drawing at a convention for a measly $25 (or thereabouts). As a teen on a budget, this meant planning out who I would most want to get for whatever was in my pocket. My very first convention sketch was a headshot of The Shadow by Howard Chaykin (he charged $15 for heads, $25 for full figure); my second was a pretty spectacular Christine Spar from Grendel artists Arnold and Jacob Pander. This was also in the days when small cons could be held in the banquet room at a hotel and San Diego Comic Con was contained by the main hall of the old convention center. You could actually mill about in the aisles and have time to chat with your favorite creator. As the shows got bigger, so did the demands.
I can’t pinpoint the year people started showing up with sketchbooks. The first one I ever saw was owned by my first boss, noted editor Diana Schutz, and hers was a special breed. People didn’t just whip something out at their table, they took it home to draw in. That’s how she ended up with a double-page Matt Wagner drawing of Kirby’s Demon, complete with a poem. I followed suit almost immediately, and worked with the same meticulousness she did. One really damn good drawing a year was preferable to filling up an entire book of freebies. Every artist has a free sketch they do over and over, something that takes less than 30 seconds. The kind of thing they develop because they know a bunch of the seekers don’t even know (or care) who they are seeking, they’re just working their way through the show. Of these, Bruce Timm has made an art of it. His Batman headshot is a masterwork of simplicity.
To stand out from the crowd, many art collectors have moved toward themed sketchbooks. They pick a favorite character or theme and then ask their favorite cartoonists to contribute, hoping that maybe asking Joëlle Jones to do something other than her 100th Dr. Horrible of the day, she’ll have fun and come up with something brilliant. A break for them is a boon for you! I’ve seen Catwoman, monkeys, Yoda, David Bowie, Billy Wilder movies, Madman, Tintin, the Royal Tenenbaums, and even someone once who had every artist draw his face.
My personal sketchbook is Audrey Hepburn. It was actually started as a gift, a portfolio put together by a well-known comics retailer who used her reputation and mine to get folks like Mike Allred, David Mack, Chynna Clugston, Andi Watson, and Craig Thompson (a particularly difficult “get”) to draw my favorite actress. I still keep my regular “do whatever you want” book on the side just in case–some folks find the Audrey book very intimidating–but there is a special pride in having a portfolio no one else could ever possible have.
Smart collectors, by the way, show up with good reference for the artist. And, of course, we are willing to pay. You tip the guy who makes your coffee in the morning, how can you not tip your favorite cartoonist?
To flip through the rest of Jamie S. Rich’s Audrey sketchbook, visit his online portfolio here! Thank you, Jamie, for your excellent advice and thoughts on the highly important matter of convention sketchbooks!