What happens if Fan Art goes away?

There has been a lot of discussion about Fan Art recently. I’m not here to argue for either side except to say that it’s illegal and I believe it overshadows originality. I just finished reading an article by Joel Rivers at Darby Pop talking about the latter.  Not only does it overshadow the original creations that can be found at a convention.  Rivers describes it as the “weird guy with his little books that no one’s ever heard of”. Guess what I’m one of those weird guys, and I have a little book called “The Threat”, and I’m betting that you’ve never heard of it, or that if you have you’ve never read it. I’m also trying to help other weird guys bring you their little books through Stratum Comics.

I started working on my “little book” back in the mid to late 90’s with my friend and co creator Vince Chuter. We’ve worked on it off and on since then, had to make decisions between paying the bills and working on the comics. It was harder back then for indie comics to make it.  There wasn’t the ease to publish online or POD services, basically the only way (that we knew of) to publish a comic back then was to be able to print and sell through 5K copies. Now you don’t even have to print a comic at all.

I’ve been at shows where 85% of attendees walk by without even a glance at the table I’m at because I don’t have a huge wall of fan art behind me. Where they stop at the table next to me and spend 30 minutes perusing the fan art, but then walk right by my table. I don’t draw so I can’t even sit there and sketch fan art to entice someone to come over and talk to them about my “little book”.

This is where the rub is though. What would happen to the entire comic convention industry (with a few exceptions like SDCC and NYCC) if you took away the fan art? Would we see a decrease in artist in artist alley?  Sure you’d have guest artists at the shows, and you’d have artist there who have worked or are working on an indie book, many of them at the table with the creator (if it’s not themselves). But how many artists would be able to make it at the conventions without fan art?

Now, you’d think I’d be ok with this, and I might be. I mean if there was less fan art, attendees at the show would have more interest (and more money) for my little book. Except, would they? I believe in “The Threat” and all of the books I will ever publish. I think if you’d just pick it up and give it a chance you’d be hooked.  So much so that we decided to let you read preview versions of the first three issues for free. That’s not my worry.

Let’s create a hypothetical situation.  Let’s say that Marvel (Disney) and DC (Warner) decides that they are going to make a huge statement that they are going to send legal teams to shows around the country and that they are going to sue artists and convention promoters for Fan Art.  While the artists may be willing to take the chance and go ahead and book shows, I promise you that the promoters are not going to allow it happen.  They’ll be closely looking at every artist as they are setting up and while they might let fan art be displayed, they are going to have a rule that if they catch anyone selling it they will be removed from the show.  So now we have conventions that no longer support artists of fan art. In the beginning not much might change. But as the general public realize they can’t buy a Superman print at the cons are they going to find something else at the show to make it worth the 40 bucks for the ticket and 20 bucks for parking? Some might, but now because of the lack of fan art there are going to be less people paying for tickets.

Now the convention has lost some income from both booth sales and ticket sales. Now they have less money to bring in guests both artists and celebs.  These people aren’t cheap to bring in.  Even an artist that doesn’t require an appearance fee still has to be flown in and put up in a hotel.  For a 3 day show you’re looking at about $1000 per guest. Then you have to tack on appearance fees or a celebs guarantee. For those who don’t know, most celebs require a promised amount from signatures and photo ops.  If they don’t make the promised amount the con still owes them the difference.  So now, without those celebs and guests there are less tickets sold because less people want to come to the show.  This becomes a vicious cycle, or the promoter has to turn the show into something that’s far less a comic convention, raise ticket and booth prices (think Wizard World).

Higher ticket prices mean fewer people going to the show and less money to spend inside for those that do go. So now, I’ve spent more on my table, meaning my overhead is higher, I have fewer people to sell comics to who have less money to spend.  Yes, these people may be more interested in buying an original comic, but I’m not the only one there selling original books and they have less money to spend.

All of this is of course hypothetical. There is also the possibility that artist could start getting licenses to produce fan art, which would make all of this go away. People going to the shows could swap to picking up great art of public domain characters or as Rivers suggested mythic characters like Krampus. Hell, (fingers crossed) they may even turn to picking up great indie comics like “The Threat”.

There is also the other side of the coin. If these artists are able to produce fan art (and again I’m not advocating, they be allowed or should) many of them are going to have to turn to a day job.  Some of them actually rely on conventions as their only source of income going to conventions almost every weekend of the year. If they aren’t able to sell fan art they are going to have to hope that originals, public domain and mythic characters are going to keep up their sales. If not, they have to find a day job. Not all of them will be able to secure a job producing artwork (which there are a limited number of jobs available that pay enough to live on). So now they are behind a desk, or working some manual labor job for minimum wage and when they get home they have no desire to draw. Meaning they aren’t honing their skills, or able to produce submission packs for publishers. Many of these artists could also get noticed by publishers both large and small and find potential work. How many artists currently working in the industry were found by a small publisher and were able to produce work for them until they got noticed by a larger publisher? Would we be losing potential future greats?

Again, all conjecture and hypotheticals, because unless something comes from the larger property owners none of this will ever happen. And while I’d love to think that if it did happen it would do nothing more than increase my sales I’m not so sure that would be the end result. It could just mean the death of a lot of indie books and end the careers of potential greats before they’ve even begun.

What’s the answer? Only the IP owners can really answer that question.  Do they come up with an easier path to getting a license? They aren’t really losing any money from the fan art and could only gain by having more licensed artist out there. Even lowering their fees, they could probably make up the difference in volume. They wouldn’t be able to do a percentage of sales, managing that would be insane, but they could have a flat fee for fan art at conventions.

Of course that doesn’t take into account the overshadowing of originality. I don’t think there is much to say there except that artists need to figure out what they want.  Do they want to forever be beholden to other people’s IP? Or do they want to eventually present a project to a publisher of original work.  Maybe if you start phasing out your fan art and helping to make conventions less about fan art and more about original art we can all do better at shows.

The point of this is to bring up a discussion about solutions to the fan art issues I’ve mentioned NOT the arguments about fan art itself.

Mark SchmidtComment