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Tony Lee on being professional at conventions


Mr. Tony Lee, author of many Doctor Who and soon MacGyver stories, has posted some thoughts on guest behavior at cons, basically saying that if you are a paid-for guest, you should stay a guest after hours, and not just on the show floor.

I’ve seen ‘celebrity guests’ at conventions make children cry because they wanted to say hello to their icon at a time when they weren’t signing, or on a panel – only to be told to ‘**** off.’ I’ve seen other such guests drunk in a convention bar and insulting fans – the very same fans who’s fandom got them invited in the first place – and mocking costumes, outfits or even physical characteristics. I know a couple of writers, artists and actors who I would deem as socially impotent, and I’ve seen them too destroy the belief that a young fan has in them by blowing off a panel because the hall was too crowded, the ‘wrong type of fan’ was in or (more often) shouting at them in a bar. Writers and artists are a solitary bunch – used to working alone. It makes sense that we don’t do well in crowds. But to actually attend such an event and not acknowledge the people who got you there? Insane, in my opinion. And I saw way too much of it in San Diego.

In my opinion, and it’s something I try to live to, if a convention pays for me to fly out to them, puts me up in a hotel? Then I’ll damn well earn that faith. I’ll do panels, signings, meet and greets, whatever’s required. And more importantly, I’ll spend time in the lobby with the fans, in the bar with the fans. Because a convention in a hotel is usually a 24 hour experience. I want to ensure the fans have the best time ever, and come back to the convention next year. I did a convention last year where out of the fifteen guests, I was the only one who actually did this one night – and it was one of the best convention evenings I’ve had. When I do San Diego, New York, even places like the MCM Expo, I’ll hang out in the evening with the fans who I’ve met at these conventions, often over other writers, artists and editors. Not because I don’t like the writers, not because I really like the fans (though many of these are now solid friends) – but largely because I’m still working. I’m still wearing the tie.

I can see both sides of this. While remaining friendly and approachable at all times is a very valuable skill, some socially awkward (or even downright scary) fans don’t respect boundaries, and remaining on “after hours” could be misconstrued.

On the other hand, Tony’s idea of having a “uniform” (tie and waistcoat) that signifies when he’s “on duty” makes sense too.

What does everyone else think?


  1. That’s a little bit black / white, Heidi. I’m not talking about people having to ALWAYS be on call. I say that I am, but that’s a personal thing.

    I’m saying that I think there are people in the business who are paid / put up by a con who could do a little more for the fans than just a single signing, and could be a little more approachable outside of the con. Many are, I just saw a lot more of the other side at SDCC recently.

  2. I think he’s right. I haven’t had any negative experiences with fans so far, but I’m a grown up and can handle that if it comes my way. I’ve had dozens of GREAT interactions with people outside the convention itself, including someone sharing rum with me as we sat in the sun outside Ralph’s, that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

    To me it’s a convention, not a show–there is no “backstage”, and that’s what makes it fun.

    I think bad behavior–from fans and from creators–is totally unacceptable, and positive, inclusive vibes are what I think conventions are for.

  3. As a fan (and not one of those stalkery ones), I really liked Tony’s take on this. I recently attended my first Dr. Who con and was very impressed by the willingness of many guests to interact with us. I’d never heard of some of them beforehand, but I have sought out their work since!

  4. Tony Lee is right. If you’re a paid-for convention guest, you don’t blow off or insult fans just because they dare to approach you outside “office hours”.

  5. As I’ve already told Tony, his message is spot on, at least as far as my approach to cons goes. When I’m a guest at a show, I’m there to sell my books but also to interact with fans and ensure everyone has a good experience. That means spending a few hours at the con bar or chatting up fans at breakfast or hanging out in the lobby. And that’s fun for me,thank goodness.

    I agree with the uniform approach, too. In my real life and at cons, I change my clothes to get more comfortable… But it also indicates a psychological shift. When I trade the jeans and dress shirt for shorts and flip flops, it means I’m in casual mode… But if I’m at the con bar, please come up and say hi and let’s talk comics. Buy me drinks, we can talk all night!

  6. Tony Lee speaks the truth! As bad as some fans can be, I’ve seen just as many so-called professionals acting equally bad or worse. However, because they’re pros (and therefore considered to be a higher form of life than fans), such behavior is generally excused and/or ignored.

    And if only the concept of “being professional” applied to the internet as well…

  7. I totally agree with Tony. Especially on the “work uniform” idea.

    I’m lucky enough that in my day-job I get to work from home about 50% of the time, and in my home office it’s shorts and a t-shirt. But the other 50% of the time I’m on the road visiting clients. Then it’s all Brooks Brothers, including shirt and tie. In fact I’m known for often being the only tie wearing guy on a project. From the time I get up, to the time I get back to my hotel in the evening (often late) , as long as I’m in Brooks Brothers mode, then I’m on duty, even if its hanging about in the bar, or chatting over dinner.

    I try to carry the same approach over to conventions and signings. Although I don’t go for the business look (Somebody named Lee already had the shirt, tie and waistcoat thing!) I have my signing “uniform” – usually a collarless white cotton shirt that my daughter refers to as my “hippy shirts.” When I’m wearing that I’m there on business. I make time for my clients. And my clients are fans, as well as editors, and other creators.

    (One aside I do sometimes wear t-shirts at signings, but that’s usually connected with the book – for instance when I did a recent rash of signings for the Disney*Pixar CARS comic I wore Lightning McQueen t-shirts – which the kids loved. In fact I had one kid come to three consecutive signings just to compare McQueen t-shirts with me!)

    Every convention, and signing, is a business trip, and should be treated as such.

  8. The biggest mistake a professional can make is going to a con and thinking that the panel they’re on is about them. You’re here for the people in the audience who paid to get in, who buy your work and pay your rent.

    I get very annoyed at panels where creators go on and on shooting the breeze with each other and then run out of time for Q & A. The Q & A is more important than any other part of the panel to me.

    As a pro you’re there for (I don’t want to say “fans” because I don’t think it’s our place to call anyone else that, it’s something you can call yourself) the audience.

    I wish I had Tony’s bar stamina. After the con itself I’m happy to talk to people but often I have deadlines that don’t stop because of the con and I’m just exhausted. But I’m always grateful to people who take the time to come out and say hi.

  9. <>

    Right on.

    Every year I talk about our con experience with my group of like-minded friends in comics, and we’re amazed by the people set up in AA who don’t understand This Is a Business. People who don’t acknowledge the potential customers walking by, who are rude to customers, who dismiss potential sales by their actions or dress or attitudes. It boggles my mind.

  10. Not that Wil does, of course – I’D just want to hate everyone.

    And I’ve read the piece by Wil – unfortunately for celebrities there’s this growing league of Ebayers who demand everything signed so they can immediately flog it, who’ll hunt you across a country just so you can be the last on the list to sign a poster – so they can sell it.

    And that’s not a fan to me.

  11. The big question is why we are all so scruffy – what happened to style? The US and the UK seems to an endless sea of people in badly fitting t-shirts and jeans.

    OK, maybe I took the wrong message from this post :-)

  12. In my first five years of conventions, I always wore a cartoon tie with a casual look (what I used to wear at the bookstore). I was a fan, but I figured I would be making a first impression with people, and wanted to be something memorable (how many fans wear a tie at conventions?)

    Now, I’m a bit more casual… usually a sports or dress shirt and a casual blazer (extra pockets to hold stuff!) I’m still polite, maybe even a bit shy at times (I don’t socialize well alone).

    But certainly, as celebrities or professionals, you should be open to meeting people. Those connections might create opportunities later. If there’s a difficult person, there are ways to deal with that. If one is spent after the official hours, then find a private restaurant or retreat to your room.

    And to those creative types running comic book companies? If you know a photographer is coming, change that t-shirt for a polo shirt, or toss on a blazer. You’ll look less like a college frat boy (that is, more professional).

  13. When I’m exhibiting, my con attitre typically is blue jeans, and a button down shirt over a nice t-shirt. One day I always wear a hockey jersey, typically Fridays. I love hockey, and it’s become tradition. If I have to be professional at night for panels or whatever, I don a fresh shirt. Sometimes khaki pants.

    As much as I’d love to wear blazers, it’s just too hot in Chicago in the summer to do so. And these con halls never are air conditioned enough.

  14. I often do a BREAKING INTO COMICS panel at cons and one of my chief pieces of advice is, don’t cosplay. I love fans who cosplay, but you can’t walk up to editors or pros and expect to be taken seriously as a potential employee if you’re dressed as Green Lantern.

    If you want to be taken seriously, dress seriously. See Brandon seifert, Tony Lee, rants hoseley or Brian azzarello for top examples.

  15. I’ve always known that SDCC have treated their “Special Guests” to free flight and
    hotel lodgings for the Con— like Gerry Alanguilan this year http://gerry.alanguilan.com/archives/3563

    But what about NYCC? Do their attending Guests get the same treatment? Are there differences in perks for those Spotlight Guests from the Featured ones?

    From either list, it looks most of the Guests are “local” in the NYC Metropolitan area, so maybe just a Manhanttan hotel is needed; but there are a couple of “West Coast” names in there… does REED foot their flight bill to Javits along with the lodgings? Do Spotlighters get the 4-Star and 1st Class accomodations— and Featureders
    get 2-Star and Coach??

    /curious in Cali

  16. When working for/with our Captain Action Enterprises, Tony really “walked the walk/talked the talk”.
    He’s extremely professional and accountable for scheduled signings and panels at SDCC & NYCC. And he always gives 110% each and every time. His engaging and personable attitude was appreciated by fans – and there was always another benefit. He led by example. Whenever we paired Tony with an artist, it seemed the whole affair would rise to the occasion. Tony sets a high bar for himself and it shows. And we greatly appreciate it.

  17. I love getting signatures from comic book artists and writers. Just a couple signatures, on a couple comics, etc. I don’t do that insane fan “can you sign the fifty Green Lantern Rebirth #1’s I have in this long box for me?” thing. Recently at this years Charlotte Heroes Con I had two experiences that sorta turned me off on two creatives. I try hard not to take up too much of a creative’s time, I just say hi, ask politely for a signature, and move on my way. I just don’t wanna be one of those crazy chatter fans that stand there for like fifteen/twenty minutes jabbering when there’s a line. But I digress…

    The writer was just sitting there talking to another creative, completely ignoring me (I have a confession. I get it, you as a creative want to talk to other creatives. But I’ve stood in a couple lines where the person completely pretends you’re not even there, while talking to the other creative. And they just keep on talking, and talking, and… i just think that’s rude. I might be wrong there, though?) Well, the writer was so negative, and bitter about everything that seemed to be coming out of his mouth (con related, and etc.), I finally just walked away and gave up on him.

    The artist I stood in line for, and asked for his signature (mind you, he had stood up to throw something away in the trash can, which was further away from his table, so I can understand I might have been interrupting his lunch, etc.) just said to me “Yeah, uh, maybe later.” when I asked for his signature. Again, didn’t go back to his table, either. Still love his art, but it did leave an impression on me about him. Maybe just find a nicer way to say “I’m busy, but I’ll be available later?”

    Mind you, I try to also look at these as, well they might be tired, they’ve had a long day, worried about deadlines, who knows! So I try hard to see the human side as well.

    I will also say though, this kind of stuff is really rare! 99.5% of all creatives are amazing sweet and nice to their fans! Which is wonderful!

  18. The last con I went to (the first NYC Comic Con) I had approached the writer & artist of a certain Image mini-series at their table to get an autograph. I even went so far as to buy their comics AGAIN (from them) just to show my support.

    There was no one else waiting there, so I thought I’d chitchat w/them for a bit, asking questions about their mini.

    I was very nice and professional and genuinely interested in what they had to say, not a crazy fanboy type. The artist was very nice but the writer after the first few questions I asked started looking around, refusing to make eye contact w/me and gave gruff answers. Obviously he wanted me to get lost after I bought his books and got them signed.

    Feeling that behavior towards me was totally uncalled for, I purposely stuck around for a few minutes more, asking this guy question after question just to see what he would do. :-D

    He eventually excused himself and left for the BR. Mission accomplished! The only person/fan there giving you any business/or interest and this is how you treat them?!? F that…

    The artist politely thanked me for my business and I went on my way. Nice and respectful is the way to go. I’ve avoided the @$$hole writer’s work ever since…what there was of it!

  19. I think Tony is absolutely correct. He’s talking about how to act when you’re a “paid guest” of the convention, but I’d say this attitude is appropriate for ANY pros attending the con, even on their own dime.

    If you aren’t willing to engage the fans, why show up? And I don’t think you should expect to ever be invited as a paid guest. There are plenty of us out here who’d love the attention… AND the perquisites…

  20. I would kill… KILL for these problems.

    I don’t think it’s a hard and fast rule (as Tony Lee is amending), it’s just common courtesy. The comics world is so small that word gets around fast if you’re a jerk. Some people may look past that if they enjoy your work… others, like Snikt Snakt says, may ultimately provide their own undoing.

    Whether you’re famous or not just be respectful, polite and courteous; on BOTH sides of the equation.

    At cons I give my undivided attention to whoever I am talking to for the length of the conversation (even this crazy guy who wanted to discuss mass transit layouts of specific cities and had zero interest in my work or seemingly comics in general; but that was tough!). Maybe I’ve worked retail for way too long, but it really pays off in sales and people do keep these things in mind when shopping. They’ll see your work and have a positive association with it.

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