Something is stirring in Artist Alley.

As with every other aspect of the comics business, selling art in Artist Alley has become a lot bigger deal with the increasing number of comics conventions. We’ve all seen the gradually rising banks of prints and sketches poking up, like real estate development gone bad. It wouldn’t be so bad except that usually the higher the display, the crappier the art. A whole niche business in the comics world has risen up: making prints of familiar characters, sometimes with funny slogans or crossover humor — a Hobbit wearing a stormtrooper’s helmet — and selling them. The giant displays usually consist of rows and rows of prints on 8 1/2 x 11″ paper, just xeroxes of little more than doodles. And yet people make a lot of money selling these prints; for some it’s thousands of dollars a show. Multiply that by a convention every weekend and you have a pretty good income.

Some of the art is ok, some if crappy and some is just ripping off other people’s ideas and images. And the real artists of the alley are getting fed up with it.

A few weeks ago artist Aldrin Aw, universally known as Buzz, got angry while he was tabling at Wizard World Minneapolis when he saw one of these vendors passing off Simone Bianchi’s work as his own, and worked with convention organizer to get the artist removed from Artist Alley. This artist, Tim Lundgren, went on to to remove his Etsy page but not before calling Buzz some names. The story of Buzz shutting down the ripoff artist went viral and has sparked a much larger conversation about what to do about these ripoff vendors. Today on his FB page Buzz called for a movement:

“Bring Artists back into Artist Alleys”

Enough is enough with these print vendors occupying Artist Alleys!

To Show organizers, please do not sell table space to print vendors disguised as artists. They are robbing you of actual artists appearing at your shows, they are also bamboozling you and not paying for a vendor’s booth. IF THEY ARE NOT THE PERSON WHO CREATED THE IMAGES BEING SOLD,THEY DO NOT BELONG IN ARTIST ALLEY. 

The experience of going to an Artist Alley is not just about buying prints, it’s about meeting the person who created the art you are buying, talking to them, getting autographs, and perhaps if you are a budding artist, getting some inspiration or advice in how to become a better artist. Most importantly, YOU ARE DIRECTLY SUPPORTING THE ARTIST. 

And please separate crafters from the rest of the Alley! A comic book artist should not be setup next to a table selling tchotchkes!

To my Fellow Artists, Demand that the show organizers do not place print vendors in the alley. Make a stand, do not appear at shows that sell Artist Alley tables to vendors. And if you cannot attend the show yourself DO NOT HAVE A TABLE SELLING YOUR ART IN THE ALLEY. I don’t fucking care how famous you are, if you are not at the show,your wares should be sold in vendor area. 



Gail Simone also had some witter words about this yesterday:

I’ve been making a bit of a study of this phenomenon on my recent con travels. While I didn’t spot any overt rip off artists at Awesome Con, there were certainly a lot of people selling home made prints of varying quality. I’ve talked to the pros about it, and a lot of them just roll their eyes at the phenomenon. I suppose when you’re a Bill Sienkiewicz your art sales aren’t really going to be impacted by someone selling xeroxes next door. But for people on a more marginal part of the business it can have an impact. The way displays are getting higher and higher is definitely pissing off some exhibitors, but an uneasy truce seems to reign in the normally non confrontational world of comics. 

Still, I’m amazed that so many people spend $15 for these shoddy prints. What do they even DO with them? How do they have wall space?


At WonderCon in March I talked to these two fellows. they are certainly not the kind of total swipe artists that Buzz wrote about. Andrew Day does storyboards (including those great Mayhem ads!) and comics. Caleb King has his own webcomic. But they admitted that their vertical banners were a way to stand out in the crowd. Day told me that he’d tried doing his own indie comics but after not making much progress with his own creations, it was just easier to draw Superman and Batman and make money that way. They seemed like decent folk who had just adapted to find a way to make money in the great travelling circus of con.

I guess for a lot of people it’s that simple: it’s the path of least resistance in a market that doesn’t always prize originality. 

I’d like to think that consumers are intelligent enough to tell the difference between the original artist and a ripoff, but that obviously isn’t the case, and some policing by the authorities — or maybe just the formidable Buzz — is necessary. 


As for the height restrictions, most shows have a cap of 10 or 12 feet for displays. A lot of people go over that, but rarely get complaints and so the high rises stay. Once again, until there’s a crack down, the building boom will continue.

The Artist Alleys of the convention circuit have become a strange, marvelous little society all their own. For many real artists, it’s the only way to make a living in a business where steady page rates are only for the 1%. For working cartoonists, it’s a key supplemental income. (Theres one artist, Mike McKone, who actually doesn’t have a permanent address but wanders from show to show, selling art. He’s been doing this for an impressive three years.) For shows it’s a lively, colorful draw that also helps pay for exhibit space. For fans it’s a special opportunity to talk to creators they admire and pick up one of a kind art and collectibles. Overall, it’s a pretty wonderful thing. With a little pruning here and there it will stay wonderful.


  1. At a geek culture show like AwesomeCon, attendees are mostly interested in existing properties and derivatives thereof. It’s no wonder that people want to buy prints targeted at their fandoms. These artists are catering to audience demand.

    Rip off artists are reprehensible, but the ones who create their own works? If they can tap into the commercial market I say more power to ’em. Some are just really dedicated fan artists and would make the work even if they didn’t have a market beyond Tumblr.

  2. To me, its like being in a cover band. You can dress like the popular band, put on a good show and have fun with it. I get it. You’re a fan too and you want to share that love with like minded people. But I think I prefer to write my own music that would barely sell because I am a no-name. To me, that is a more fulfilling life. I’ve made something. I’ve put it out into the world. I contributed to the big book of humanity. Its that journey in art that gets me off. Whatever this is, the wall of print people… not me.

    I don’t begrudge anyone who is coming to it HONESTLY and doing it. I have friends that do it. But majority of them also sell their own comics with it. It supplements the income and pays the bills so they can do their real art. They’ve found a loophole in the system. And good on them for reading the customer base and being smart about it. Cause I think they’d rather be just self publishing. We ALL would, I think! But until the mentality of the consumer changes, we’re stuck with what is. So we can either play the game or get out. Or be a self publisher and use things like Kickstarter like I did and PAVE YOUR OWN AWAY!

    Its much more rewarding.

  3. This was very insightful and somewhat vindicating. I am a graphic novelist who publishes with an independent publisher (not a vanity or print-on-demand, but also not an IMAGE or Marvel). My books are entirely of my own creation and I try my very hardest to promote and sell them at cons. I recently just got back into the con circuit and watch now, more then ever, as people would breeze by my booth not recognizing anything and suddenly freak out and crowd around the ones on either side of me with towering displays of Pokemon, Doctor Who and Spider-man fan prints. I’m not complaining, I get that they’re satisfying a market of familiar material, and I am proud of surviving in a sea of fan art with my creator-own material. The funny thing is, I was considering doing the fan art myself to draw in more crowds, but after reading this…I question whether or not I’d just be watering down an already over saturated market. The real problem is, the conventions are just getting WAY too expensive for artists who are trying to bring originality to the field. I don’t know what side I’m on yet, but this has definitely opened my eyes more.

  4. The ones who are blatantly ripping off images created by other artists, as in, pretty much photocopying and passing it off as their own, should be held accountable. It shouldn’t be difficult to do once these Artists Alleys are set up. I quick look up and down should do it. As for height displays, I’d say that’s a separate issue entirely and should be dealt with just like any other vendor taking up more than their fair share of space. I wouldn’t necessarily jump down the throats of consumers. They pay to get in there (usually) and don’t know any better. If it’s for sale, then it’s for sale. It’s up to the convention’s organisers to deal with unscrupulous vendors. The ignorance on the part of people purchasing these ripoffs is somewhat understandable.

    I don’t agree about the tchotchkes. Why can’t they be set up alongside others? It’s still artistry. Seems a bit silly to demand they be somewhere else. Just my take on this based on my own experiences.

  5. So how do they rectify commissioned sketches by artists that are not necessarily owners of the property or owners of a license? This would effectively end any commissioned sketches at conventions as well wouldn’t it? The people selling prints of other peoples artwork and passing it off as their own are the real problem, I have total agreement in that. But for the comics industry to “crack down” on anyone drawing a picture of a character is fucking ridiculous. If you put the time in drawing inking sketching creating an original piece of artwork, you should be able to sell it without the fear of getting your ass sued off by some ginormous company. That’s my opinion and its certainly not the law, but seriously Marvel/DC whats next, you gonna put out lawyers in high schools to sue kids drawing pictures of their favorite characters for their friends? Its big versus small, and the big guys have the most money to blow on such nonsense, so ultimately the little will lose out. And in doing so the fans will as well.

  6. Several thoughts on this article.
    1) it’s funny that the pros who do this very same thing don’t get targeted. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen Greg Horn take up 3-4 tables in artist alley with his “team” selling his artwork…. no greg in site.

    2) Most of the print vendors in artist alley are not ripping off someone else’s artwork. There are some like those splatter guys and some of the folks just tracing movie images but most are artists who are drawing the characters they love for fans who are looking for just that.

    3) It’s funny that the pro’s are the ones who complain about these things but they themselves do not offer an alternative for the customer. If the customer doesn’t care that an artist who worked for spider-man is signing books and that artist isn’t selling a variety of prints with the characters fans want….then that’s that creators own fault. The popular creators make buckets of money (ask J.Scott Campbell) and there are plenty of people shelling out money for original sketches from guys who work for marvel/dc. That has nothing to do with print walls.

    4) I do agree that artist alley should be for artists selling their product (prints or originals…whatever) but for those representing other artists (print vendors) there isn’t a better alternative. Take Wizard World for example, $300 for an artist table a table that is roughly 2 feet wider with the same print wall set up would cost over $1000 in the vendor area. There are definitely print vendors making more than that at shows but not that much more…. and if that person really is a print vendor representing an artist then there is probably a profit split in the works.

    In short, if pros want a pros section at cons… they should demand one. if pros don’t want an artist alley section then it’s simply because they want more money. they aren’t protecting the fans because the fans are getting what they want. if shows want to eliminate print vendors from artist alley then they should provide an alternative.

  7. @Adam Talley – not all these guys are like cover bands unless you know of bands who charge people to watch them mime to the songs of the original artists!

  8. Calling 3D Artists ‘tchotchke’ sellers is highly offensive and dismissive to the artists. They take just as much time and talent as a print artist, if not more time due to inability to mass produce large numbers of prints repeatedly. As someone who solely sells original 3D works in the artists alley (as well as some original prints), you had me agreeing with you up until that point. Why even put that in this context? Are you trying to lump us with ripoff artists? That is dismissive, uninformed and elitist.

  9. The original manifesto seems to be aimed at “comics professionals” vs. “everyone else”.
    So… Mr. Aw may wish to revisit the manifesto, make it more specific and clear.
    Otherwise, this is just a rehash of the “Artists vs. Writers” debate from the 1990s, excepts it’s “Artists vs. artists”.

    Is a person selling prints of their redesign of a Superman movie poster welcome in Artist Alley?
    What about infographics?
    They’ve been featured in art galleries, so they’re an Artist, right?

    Yeah, I understand the animosity towards the “Wall of Prints” dealers, but again, if the image is their own work, even if the character is trademarked, what’s the distinction? That they haven’t gotten a paycheck from the rights holder, but Mr. Boldface Name has?

    What if the person can draw “on model”, recreating a style similar to a famous creator or franchise?
    How do you differentiate “style” from “swiping”?

    What if an artist recreates a cover, like Strange Tales #169?

    What’s the difference from getting a sketch cover from a person who actually worked on the comic book, and everyone else?
    Should Dan Parent stop sketching non-Archie characters at shows?

    If Neal Adams recreates a variant cover originally inked by Buzz, but does the inking himself for the print, is that problematic, since the original artwork is being appropriated? (This is academic at shows… Neal Adams has a large vendor booth far from Artist Alley. Or is it? If they’re in the same building, even the same exhibition hall, isn’t that the same as being a few rows over?)

    What if these print dealers move out of Artist Alley and set up as a vendor, just like Neal Adams and Alex Ross?
    Does that solve the problem?

    How do you curate Artist Alley?
    What’s the difference between “small press” and “self-published”?
    Should Artists Alley be segregated by artistic medium and expertise?
    Does that mean writers get their own section as well?

    My suggestion: let the rights dealers police their IPs.
    If a blatant swipe is happening at a show (as Ms. Simone describes above), then notify con staff.
    Post the pictures online, and let the court of public opinion decide.

  10. There is some confusion about what ‘we’ are upset with.
    A dealer reproduces a comic cover on a t-shirt? a No-No, right?

    A dealer sells prints of already published art panels, without permission. a No-No, right?

    An artist redraws someone else’s already published work, and sells it as their own. A No-No, right?

    An artist draws new poses of a corporation’s copyright character and sells those original sketches.
    Still a No-No, or this one is okay?? Right now, I believe most of us think this is okay.

    Finally, an artist draws new poses of a corporation’s copyright character. He makes prints of them.
    Still a No-No, or this one is okay??

  11. See, I’d much rather spend my money on something handcrafted by a 3D artist like Trish than one of Buzz’s photocopies he sells for ten bucks each. I’m all for booting plagiarists out of shows, but he just comes off as an asshole when he starts insulting artists who put their time, effort, and talent into each individual piece they sell as opposed to running off unlimited copies at FedEx.

  12. I don’t understand people trying to draw arbitrary lines in the sand. A pro making sketches of an IP character is illegal. Everything from originals to prints to any re-imagining under the sun in any media, ALL OF IT IS ILLEGAL. One person’s line in the sand is another’s fair-play, all depending on their sense of personal fairness, and colored by their perceived loss of income. I agree, let the IP holders do the work and take the initiative, otherwise we have wild-west cowboys deciding the rules that fit their purpose.

  13. Ironically, Buzzs commission list clearly states

    “Prices are for non original characters (example: superman, batman, wonderwoman, etc).”

    He’s the IP owner of those properties?

  14. I think one of the things we can all agree on is that people like this: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2016/04/18/swipe-filter-joseph-bayer-and-everyone-else/ Need to be stopped. Taking a piece of art created by another artist (whether the original artist has a license or not) throwing a couple of splatters on it and calling it original is ludicrous and shameful. Sure, I’d be happy if every table in Artist Alley was an island of originality, BUT banning people like Joseph Bayer and Ginger Zapped from cons is a very good and big first step.

  15. What needs to happen is Marvel / DC / Image needs to go in and say, “No more prints of our IPs”

    That will end everything that Buzz finds offensive. It will also end a revenue stream for himself. I personally bought a Buzz print at ECCC this year. But if you want to slay the dragon, go to the knights with the biggest swords.

  16. Kinda of a weird focus.. it starts off by bashing artists who sell prints in general, then it goes to people who actually rip off others’ works (which should be punished) and then ragging on people with higher displays…?

  17. I’m equally concerned about the people that “employ” third world artists at little to no money, then sell their prints under the guise of of a “studio” for huge profit.

    I’ve seen these leeches at every Wizard show,

  18. My understanding from a conversation with a representative of Neal Adams Continuity is that an artist creating an original piece of artwork (i.e., comission) featuting a copyrighted character is considered an “artistic interpretation” and as such the sale of that original piece of artwork is allowable under the law.

    However, if that artist made and sold *prints* of that artwork, then that would be a violation of copyright…

    This is interesting, given that Continuity does both, though they may have made special arrangements regarding selling prints with the copyright holders…

  19. @JB
    Obviously, you really don’t know what you are talking about. At least Mr. Aw sells his original artwork at $10 a piece than taking someone else’s hard work, blatantly calling it his own, then selling it for double the price. Plus, he is ALWAYS sketching something at his table whether it be a commission or something he’s working on. He even draws on blank comic book covers. Wow, what a concept!

    Most artists put their blood, sweat, tears, time, and effort in to each piece of artwork rather than Xeroxing copies at FedEx. Maybe you need to check up on that.

  20. Heidi, you really should reach out to the promoter of the new Dallas Comic Show for a comment on this. BleedingCool recently ran a great article about them. They announced early this year that they have a strict “no fan art” policy for their artist alley, and are encouraging creator-owned properties and original work. Their April show was great, felt like the classic days of artist alleys where it was all working creators or self-published small press, and not just cookie cutter print sellers. These guys are making a stand, and it could be the start of something great.

  21. Buzz is the last person in the world to be complaining about people ripping off IP what with him selling those prints of Jimi Hendrix he totally stole right there in the photo.

  22. @ozymedea, How did he steal the Jimi Hendrix print? It was made from a watercolor painting Buzz did using a photo reference. It’s his original art. I bought the same print from him in NYCC.
    You’re clueless.to what you’re talking about.

  23. @Tnolan. I think the point being made is Buzz appears to be selling prints of an original piece that he did of Jimi Hendrix. Did the artist reach out to the Hendrix estate to secure permission to make and sell prints?

    If yes, good for him. If no, seems hypocritical.

  24. Andrew Day is a friend of mine as well as a professional advertising artist and a strong cartoonist who I’ve bought solid original comics from. If he’s the face of so-called “scam artists” at these shows, then the problem I’ve seen so many people talking about on social media is grossly exaggerated.

    And that’s not me saying that there aren’t guys who are just photoshopping other people’s art and passing it off as their own, and those guys are justifiably scum. But if people are going after artists with that claim just because they drew their own picture of Superman, this whole conversation is getting a bit witch hunty for me.

  25. Hmm..maybe my reading comprehension is off,but I don’t see anywhere in what Buzz wrote that he was crusading against IP violators. He just doesn’t want vendors in Artist Alley. He wants people selling prints to be the actual artists who drew/painted the original art those prints are made from.
    The part about the crafters are a bit confusing though.

  26. Artist’s Alley (AA) should be populated by artist’s of all dimensions, skill-sets and measures. If a show wants to curate and quarantine a “pro section” (however that’s defined), I guess that’s okay but I prefer to sit among rookies and veterans and odd-balls (like myself). It keeps the energy of AA diverse and exciting.

    Draw & sell what you want (franchise companies WANT you to perpetuate their I.P.) as long as it’s tasteful and you’re not stealing someone else’s art. You steal, you get ousted. Dig?

    I’m not a fan of what Roy Lichtenstein did — appropriating & recontextualizing comics art for pop art — but that’s not what these thieves are doing with the flick of a filter on Photoshop. It’s Artist’s Alley NOT Crime Alley.

    I exhibit at different types of shows; from indie to mainstream to pop culture, and I do my best to hawk my creator-owned wares while, occasionally, appealing to what is hip. I don’t draw actors portraying characters (celebrity art is not my cuppa) but an original sketch or reprint of an original sketch is between the artist and the buyer. Reggae dubs it “version.” Who doesn’t love an original version?

    The industry KNOWS how tough it is to squeak by and gives a lot of latitude to creators and its fans. Don’t abuse it, is all.

  27. Tnolan: Unless you get explicit permission by the author of a copyrighted/trademarked photograph (which usually will include a demand for proper legal attribution), duplicating, in any way (which would include rendering it non-photographically), a photograph that you, yourself, did not take is illegal. Rendering an image of Jimi Hendrix without his estate’s attribution clearly noted is okay–as long as the image doesn’t look like Jimi Hendrix (I guess a “cartoony” image might pass–as long at it didn’t look like any of the virtually tens of thousands of previously published cartoony renderings made in the past 50 years).

    I tried to make that distinction a few years ago (when a similiar, but far uglier, conversation about Artist Alley “theft” erupted here) regarding Alex Ross’s use of unattributed photo references of Fred McMurray, Kathy Ireland and Michael Gray for a published image of the Marvel Family (McMurray’s image may have been in public domain in 1991 when the image was published, but Ireland’s and Gray’s certainly weren’t). At the time that distinction was completely misinterpreted, not surprisingly, by most so-called funnybook “professionals.” who seem to think that they can “create” an “original” design of a copyrighted/trademarked (but not by them) 50-to-70-year-old character (I just made a conservative back-of-the envelope estimate that Batman has likely been uniquely rendered more than a quarter of a million times!) and sell it without themselves being just as guilty of the ethical, if not legal, breach they’re accusing of others.

    In fact, it’s the duplication itself, not the sale, per se, of a copyrighted or trademarked image that’s illegal. It’s just as “wrong” to do it in the privacy of your own home. Prosecutorial discretion comes into play here but the law itself makes no distinctions. (There was some self-proclaimed “expert” jackass who tried to “teach” me copyright law during the discussion last time because his brother had read some web pages he googled or somesuch–I pissed him off because I didn’t give him the deference he felt he deserved as a “big name funnybook professional”).

    IP theft in comics and cartooning is as old as cartooning itself. Busch was ripped off by Dirks, who was ripped off by Kneer. Neill ripped off Denslow. Moldoff ripped off everybody. All work, creative or otherwise, is made with the sweat of those who came before. Only the ignorant (or Republican politicians [or am I being redundant?] choose to be blind to this truth.

    Are there shades of guilt? Is the person who merely photocopies the work of others and claims it as their own less ethical than someone who duplicates a work in a totally different medium or style, adding his or her own talent and meaning? Absolutely! But it’s all a matter of degree.

    Ethics aren’t black and white. But rules have to be. And the rules of a con’s Artist Alley are decided by the promoter, not the artists. The artist has the choice to follow the promoter’s rules or go sell his wares elsewhere. And as a commercial endeavor, the ultimate arbiter is the consumer. If the consumer just wants a pretty picture and doesn’t care if it’s “original” or not, that’s the breaks.

    Most people choose a picture to hang over their couch because the colors match the upholstery.

  28. And, yes, I know that copyright law and trademark law is substantially different. I reference them both together since the discussion is actually about iconography. not actual legalities, innnit?

  29. Fans always think they own the things they like. That some other fans decided to follow this and make money is just a symptom of one of the many areas of rot within the culture.

  30. I feel like two things are being elided into one here. First, are ripoff artists. They steal someone else’s art, throw some filters on it and BOOM. “Their” new art. Not cool, totally theft.

    Second are all the people who’d really like to be paid to draw Superman, Batman, Poison Ivy, whatever, who draw a piece starring this character and think “That’s pretty cool, that will sell, people will think I’m a good artist”, and sell prints of it at the con. Now, some of these people are good artists, and some are not. Some of them actually make their living drawing comic books!

    These are two different things, let’s not pretend they’re the same thing. Stamping out one is not the same thing as forbidding the other.

    I can see that publishers may choose to change their mind on the second category. That is absolutely their right, but they have not done so in the past and everyone doing their own take on classic characters has been a staple of comic con culture at least since the late 90’s. A lot of really good artists get their start that way. I don’t know that it’s really that much worse to sell prints than to do it on commission, which many comics artists do.

  31. As someone who buys original art whenever I can afford it –

    And as someone who has had a 9 inch scar under my hairline, reaching from the right side of my head to the left since I was 15 years old, as well as currently being at the point where I have to take pills twice a day to prevent my brain from sending messages to my heart to randomly speed up its beating which would otherwise lead to heart failure –

    I’m fascinated that these national-level folks decided to make the first official recipient of their violence-laden, high school public taunting a small-time local who is mentally ill rather than go through the offical channels available to them, just like when they purchase space at cons.

    I’m fascinated, and not soon to forget their names, as well as the language and methods they used

  32. 90% of everything in artist alley is ripped off. Somehow artists have made the distinction between stealing artwork and stealing intellectual property. It’s all taking someone else’s work to make money yourself. Until artists remove their illegal fanart (selling unlicensed fan art is always illegal there is no exceptions), they need to stop whining about people stealing their stolen art.

  33. “And please separate crafters from the rest of the Alley!”
    The 5 hours I spend sculpting a piece is not less of art than the 5 hours you spend to draw a piece. It’s ARTIST ally not 2D ally.

  34. I disagree about crafters. Just as a shopping mall doesn’t lump all the jewellery stores together, it’s bad to separate out the crafters. They are artists too, and work just as hard on their craft (I’d prefer the term artisan to crafter). I’m a digital painter, but I got lumped in with the crafters at Tucson Comic Con because I had keychains and jewelry. Sales were awful because they pushed crafters to a weird section away from the rest of artist alley so no one visited us. As a con goer, I love it when it’s all mixed up.

  35. Misty and Meagan I’m interested to know what you create that belongs in a C’OMIC con’s artist alley. If it involves any properties you don’t own, then you don’t belong anywhere. You are simply breaking the law.

  36. Anime Expo was the worst this year for such things. Even when reported, the staff outright refused to do anything about an “artist” taking art from Pixiv, Deviantart, etc. that they weren’t the artist of and using them to make prints and other bootleg merchandise for sale. Their rules amounted to “if you aren’t the actual artist making a formal complaint- and you have to prove you’re the artist by showing off your original psd files that you almost certainly don’t have with you- then we don’t want to hear it. oh, and we won’t kick them out, make them give refunds, or do anything besides making it not for sale, because we couldn’t care less”. Truly sad, AX has fallen a long way in this.

Comments are closed.