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