Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Theft: The Risk of Conventions

(L, © Scott Altmann)

My buddy, illustrator Scott Altmann, shared a booth this past weekend with Dave Palumbo where they hung paintings and had available prints and books and stuff and generally did their best to have a good presence at a very, very noisy and crowded New York Comic-Con. It's one thing when an artist has a humble table at Artist Alley, as I've done many a year, but to spring for a booth adds a couple thousand dollars to your tab. It's not easy to pull off, and not even easy to get--I've tried to get a paid booth at San Diego Comic-con twice to split with other artists, and it's never worked.

Sunday, as the show wrapped up and they were beginning to tear down, Scott noticed that a large ~18x24" or so portfolio had disappeared from his table. At this point, most folk have been shooed out of the hall, but perhaps in the business of hauling out packing boxes and stuff, someone must've walked by and snagged that portfolio. Not easy to do--it was located in the booth, on a table that butted up to the display. Perhaps he'd already closed it (making it easier), I don't know. I do know that I had been chatting with them both up to about 15 minutes before the close of the show, and the portfolio was still there at the time. In that portfolio are pages of large and small drawings and preparatory works, all originals. A lot of money and effort was wrapped up in them. He's begun a post where he's showing some of what was in there, in case any of you see the stuff on eBay or elsewhere. It's a long-shot, but you never know--tweet or Facebook post it enough and it might get scared out of the brush.

Folks probably steal from the big companies at these shows--that's bad, too, but I'm not going to shed too many tears for those with annual profits larger than I'll earn in my entire life, cumulatively. Almost every illustrator I know, however, fights and struggles to maintain their existence. So, this hits home for me. Further, I've had the same happen to me. Let me explain:

I mentioned recently that conventions and my birthday don't mix. There, I mentioned Lucca. This Italian comics and games festival is a highlight of Europe's scene, and I bought a small booth in 2005 while I was living in Italy. It was a week before leaving to England, and the show was fantastic--or would've been. I had a medical emergency that weekend, and missed half the show and my birthday. Further, when we arrived on Sunday morning, I'd had stuff stolen.

Most conventions have pretty good security and so each night, people move their items off their tables and underneath, or to the back of their booths in boxes. Big companies have locked cases or areas for storing stock, but the plebes have to make do with storing stuff in less secure ways. It had never been a problem--shows like San Diego have armies of bouncers that systematically clear each row with arms linked like a human chain. Lucca--not so much apparently, and overnight someone had snuck into my booth, under my table, and grabbed what seemed like two handfuls of artwork in a pile. In that pile were all my original drawings (no bigger than 8.5x11", individually bagged), most of my prints (same size), and about 10 small original paintings (same size). The feeling was horrible--I'd just had stolen from me more money than I'd earned, and more than the costs associated with the convention itself. We'd already missed half the show, and with a day left I had lost most of what was going to sell in the way of small items, not to mention some paintings which I quite liked. Despite the security lapse, which I hope was remedied in subsequent years, the staff were helpful. I filed a police report on-site, which was all I could do. I told them there was no point in me staying since I couldn't sell anything anymore--I only had left to me large items, which you're lucky to sell one of in a convention if at all. Thank God they didn't steal any of those. They offered up a volunteer to drive us home (a couple of hours, which was nice of them, though we spent it silently brooding) and we retreated.

The convention reported it (I think) to the local paper, and a small article was printed in the Lucca paper within days. Then, the impossible happened. Within a few days, just as we were leaving to England, the show's organizer called me on the phone. A package had been mailed or left at the office's door. It seems the thief had had his conscience pricked and decided to return all the original art. They kept the prints, which was fine by me, but within a week or two I had them mailed to me. It was a stunning turn of events after a nightmare weekend.

So, I don't know if Scott's situation will prove as positive, but crazier things have happened.