October 27, 2005



Last night I dragged my sister to what could have been the geekiest experience of her life, a panel discussion at Symphony Space featuring book jacket designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd and the graphic novelists/cartoonists/illustrators/artists Charles Burns and Chris Ware. I've been a fan of Ware's ever since I read Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, a true masterpiece that deserves to be read alongside other great works of literature and should be experienced especially by even those who most disparage comics as the exclusive province of children and middle-aged men who live with their parents. Even though many artists have dabbled in and been influenced by comic styles - or even appropriated their style outright - Ware has the unique distinction of being the first comic artist to have his work exhibited at a Whitney Biennial.

Each of the artists gave a quick run-through of their major works and their creative process and took a few questions from the audience, which included the comic art superstar - if there is such a thing - Art Spiegelman. Following the discussion the artists signed books in Symphony Space's cafe.

While waiting in line, my sister and I wondered about how online trading sites have changed the nature of book signings. At a typical book signing a writer asks for your name before making an inscription, rendering the book both personal and, in effect, more difficult to turn around and sell to another person. (Unless he is signing too many books to make personalizing each one an inefficient use of his time, as happened at the last book signing I attended.)

But do fans today have the nerve to ask authors to simply autograph a book without any sort of personalization? "My name? Oh, yes. First intitial e, last name bay." My sister joked that if a writer asked you why you wanted your first initial written in lowercase, you could say, "You know, like e.e. cummings." Smart and funny, that sister o' mine.

A young guy two places in front of us, about twenty-two and with a head of curly hair so unkempt it suggested that he was either a runaway or a struggling artist, had not one book, not two, but ten books for Ware to sign! It's one thing to get one or two books signed, even if you want to turn around and auction them off to collectors. But to use an event like this as your own personal ATM or geek-themed stock market seemed to be an abuse of the good will of the artists who generously agreed to sit and sign each book. Needless to say, those of us who were there to appreciate the artisty of the panelists and not for the resale value of their work were none too pleased. I noticed the people immediately behind this young fan exchanging a few grumbles before Ware was done signing his stack of books.

When I finally got up to Ware I asked him how he felt about people reselling his stuff on eBay. "You can't control it," he said, "but you try to do what you can."

It's a losing battle. I can understand why baseball players now charge for autographs, even the ones they give to fans in the stands, or why some celebrities refuse to sign autographs altogether. Stuff from Ware's earlier appearances in other cities is already available online and it's only a matter of time before at least a few books from last night are offered up to the highest bidder.

Posted by Doug at October 27, 2005 11:23 AM

Re: Spiegelman - yes, there is such a thing, and yes, he is one. How cool that he was there (actually, the whole event sounds cool, I'm rather jealous).

Re: autographs - I'm intrigued by the fact that folks would stand in line for such items when so many authors will pre-sign books for so many bookstores (speaking of which, did you know that Wordsworth closed? - one of the first places I discovered that practice!). I would have thought that folks looking to make a quick buck would just go to their local bookstore and troll for autographed copies there rather than spending that much time on the endeavor. (I'm also surprised that there wasn't a limit on the number of items you could ask Mr. Ware to sign, most signings I've been to restrict it to whatever was bought at that store, sometimes with an added option of 2 or 3 items brought from home.)

That said, I also don't necessarily think that ebaying such items is a bad thing. For our wedding gifts to each other, Marc and I (without discussing it first) both bought rare books found on ebay - it's a nice way to find something unique and special without having to spend weeks exploring all the used book stores in the city (which isn't a bad thing - but as you know, when one is planning a wedding, one doesn't have that much free time).

Of course, if anyone ever suggested that I sell my autographed Adams, Atwood, Gaiman, Maguire, etc. etc. etc., I'd be aghast. But maybe that's just the kind of nerd I am....

Posted by: mcm at October 27, 2005 02:40 PM

It's not that selling stuff on eBay is bad, but I think taking so much of an artist's time if your sole intent is to turn around and sell it the next day is a little rude. But I guess it goes with the territory of being famous, even in limited circles.

Posted by: d at October 27, 2005 02:47 PM