Comic-Cons and Commissions

August 25th, 2015 | Posted in General

Anna at WWC

The Lovely Anna and I just returned from the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, where we had a busy but fun time.

I only do a handful of conventions a year: the San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Cons are the only ones I get on an airplane for. Then I do both the Wizard World and C2E2 shows in Chicago because that is a reasonable 7 hour drive from here. Last year I did the Wizard World Minneapolis Con, and I will probably do that one again this year just because it’s right in my backyard. Other cons I have done because I was invited to be a special guest, but these are my main five a year. If you are ever wondering where I might be appearing, just click the “Appearances” link up there on the website menu.

Conventions are fun to do, but exhausting. I do them in part to promote MAD and my work in general, but to be quite honest I mainly do them as an extra source of revenue. It’s hard to keep convention expenses down, especially for the far away ones, but if I plan ahead and am smart I can turn a decent profit if it’s a big enough show. I sell copies of my book, my limited edition prints, signed copies of MAD (if I can get some), Smaller mini-prints, original sketches and original pages from MAD.

One of the principal things I sell at these cons are commissions i.e caricatures. I’ll draw them of you or of any celebrity you want. These are of the “quick draw” live caricature variety, so I only spend about 10-12 minutes per face working in black and white graphite only on 12″ x 16″ paper. These start at $30 for one person and go up from there. What I do is take your photo and then give you a time to come back and get it. I get very busy doing these and end up cutting off the line sometimes several hours before the end of the day. Most of the ones I do are of the people attending but some are of celebrities or movie/TV themes. Here are some bad smartphone pics of a couple I did this weekend:


Monty Python




The Goonies

I probably should charge more for this sort of thing but I prefer to keep the prices reasonable and stay busy doing them. Sergio Aragonés scolded me last month at San Diego Comic-Con for being too cheap with my prices. When I told him I only spend 10 minutes per drawing he said “It’s not the 10 minutes they are paying for, it’s the 30 years you spent learning to do that ten minute drawing they are paying for.” Sage advice, but I consider these conventions a promotional venture as well as a profitable one, so I like more people going away with sketches who might then pick up a few copies of MAD or whatever else I am working on during the year. If I charged more I’d feel obligated to spend more time on them, and then I’d do less drawings. Also, these folks spent money to get in the con and took time from their lives to go there, come up to my booth and support comics in general. That’s worth giving a little more to them for.

The big problem I have with this is making people understand that I only do these “quick draw” style of caricatures live at shows. After every convention I get emails from people wanting to send me pictures to do the same sort of thing for the same price. Sorry, but I just cannot do that. I block off these convention weekends and dedicate that time to doing the con thing and the quick draw stuff, but studio time is a different matter. I can’t spend hours in the studio doing live-style caricature drawings and mailing them out for the kind of prices I charge at the conventions. Also, I don’t want to do that. Those spontaneous quick draw ones only turn out so well, and if something comes out of the studio I would want it to be a better quality piece. I do have much more high end commission options available here, but again I only accept them as time allows. They are much more expensive, but they are like the Taj Mahal is to a youth hostel compared to the live stuff I crank out. I spend a lot more time on the studio commissions.

I know people sometimes have a hard time understanding that if I can just whip out a caricature in ten minutes why can’t I just do one of them and their cat “real fast” from a picture through the mail. Well, it’s not just you. I’d then have to do a dozen others and it would go on and on. It would be the proverbial “can of worms” I’d rather not open. Besides, I like the idea that you can only get one of these if you go to a convention and find me. That makes it a bit unique… one of those increasingly rare things you can’t just look up and buy on the internet with a few clicks and a credit card.

So, my apologies if you took my card at Wizard World this past weekend and are preparing to send me pictures of your six kids with grandma to do a live-style caricature. I won’t be doing that for you. On the plus side, grandma won’t be upset that I made her look like the Crypt Keeper. If you’ll be at New York Comic Con in October, I’ll be there doing these quick-draw commissions and I’d be happy to rip grandma a new one then. No refunds.


  1. J.Bird says:

    Thanks for writing out what I find is hard to explain to people about the quick draw caricatures versus studio work. I’ll be saving this to memory!

  2. Elizabeth W. Pankey says:

    Well written explanation. Thank you, Tom.

  3. I say the same thing. If they want it at the show it’s one price. If they order afterwards it’s usually quite a bit more expensive for the same “studio piece” reason. I feel your pain.

  4. Bruce says:

    GReat article Tom!

  5. Angelo Sherman says:

    One of RICHMONDS LAWS: “Thou shall not crank out a STUDIO DRAWING in 10 minutes”


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