This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
When you mention Comic-Con to most people they think of the big yearly event in San Diego overflowing with cosplayers, big celebrity guests, and predictable superhero movie announcements. The actual comic books—you know, the namesake of the event—have taken a back seat to the spectacle. But the reality is that there are thousands of comic conventions around the world, and they aren't anything like the human zoo that is Comic-Con International: San Diego.
Most conventions actually celebrate comics, offering a sweaty space for fans to buy collectibles and meet their favourite creators. Comic book artists set up tables for attendees to buy their prints, or commission them for original art pieces to add to their private collection. If it sounds like a perfect storm for awkward interactions, that's because it is. While requests tend to stay pretty innocent—though I imagine repetitive requests to draw other people's boring families or busty Harley Quinns would be a gruelling exercise in patience—sometimes commission requests get real weird, and real fetishized. Some have even reached the status of legend in the artist community, like the dude who asks artists to contribute to his book of "naked Catwoman covered in glue."
Most artists don't make enough money to support themselves on book sales alone, so commissions are an important part of making a living. Drawing bizarre, detailed requests from strangers is a right of passage in the life of comic artists, so I set out on a mission to find out artists' worst and weirdest commission stories.
Tom Fowler, artist and writer of 'Rick & Morty'
Sometimes you get stuck in situations at cons where if you've paid for a hotel and such, you need to make money at the table. So when someone makes a particularly creepy request, you can suggest something else, say no outright, or swallow it hard because you need the money.
The one time I was in this situation of needing money, I didn't quite know what I was agreeing to when I accepted the commission request. What he wanted from me was a drawing of Rogue and Sauron from X-Men. Sauron is some pterodactyl villain in the antarctic jungle land called Savage Land. I agreed to this because it didn't seem horrible, but then he pulled out the reference photo and I realized what I had gotten into. This was a period in X-Men continuity when Rogue was wearing almost nothing, and she was supposed to be like 17 or 18 years old. And of course, she was to be drawn like a porn star, with just swatches of fabric dripping off her body. In the scene the dude wanted me to draw, Sauron had hypnotized her into becoming his slave. This is one of the great moments of metaphorical Marvel rape. Marvel was all ages at the time and so they couldn't get into rape, but there were a bunch of scenes like this where women's choices were taken away from them. So I wound up doing the least salacious version I could. It was Rogue from behind wearing way more clothing, looking like a normal teenage girl, and Sauron was coming out of darkness toward her… I'd robbed this creep of his boner, and that's the real satisfaction that a cartoonist should feel.
Tristan Jones, artist of 'ALIENS: Defiance'
There was this guy that asked me to draw him, which is usually an immediate no from me on the spot at conventions, but as Jack Skellington (whatever that meant, I assumed it meant drawing Jack slightly heavier set and with this dude's hair) as a Ghostbuster, busting the ghost of his mother (who he had a photo of) from Jack's reindeer sleigh. Another time saw a guy (and these sorts of "sexy ones" are relatively common) wanted himself basically blowing his load on Janine's tits (from Ghostbusters). Except by "load" he wanted me to draw him in cosplay with one of those slime blowers from Ghostbusters 2, doing a rocker salute with one hand and Janine loving it. I kind of deliberately avoid weird shit. Working in comics is weird enough.
Carrie Potter, artist of 'Juniper'
Someone approached me at a convention wondering if I could sketch her original character. I said sure, I can draw anything if I have a reference. She e-mailed me an image of her character… which was a naked furry. A cross between a mouse and a wolf. She explained that she didn't like this artist's design, and she was looking for someone to do it better.
She detailed the changes she wanted, and I agreed to do it. She paid, and I told her to come back in 30 minutes. The main thing she didn't want was her character to have a boxy snout like the last artist had done. Simple enough. But I discovered that putting a petite mouse nose on a wolf's large face was extremely problematic. A flatter face to accommodate a mouse's snout wasn't working. A longer canine face with a tiny nose lost its mousey-ness. Nothing I did was helping the face come together. I realized that this design, if it was even possible, would require specific, dictated adjustments. I was running out of time, and every few minutes I had to stop to hide the naked commission from passing kids. When I finished, I felt my interpretation was as close to her request as I could get. But when she returned to pick up her artwork, she looked at it appraisingly, thanked me, and walked away. She didn't smile, and she didn't say that she liked it. I felt that I'd essentially been paid to feel awkward and ultimately disappoint someone. After that, I decided it wasn't worth the stress, time, and disappointment to do any more nebulous original character sketches.
Katy Farina, artist
When I was 18 and just starting to sell my art at a local convention, I had a guy come up to my table asking if I took commissions. He was pretty friendly, so I figured, why not? I had a bunch of Digimon products on my table, and he asked if I would do a Digimon-related commission. I tentatively said yes, wanting to know more details. Unfortunately that set him off on a very long rant about how much he loved Veemon, and it ended in his commission proposal: Veemon having sex with child-aged Goku from DBZ, but if Goku was also a pig (looking like Oolong from DBZ, I think). It was so blunt and unexpected that I didn't know what to say other then "no thank you." He asked for just SFW Veemon instead, which was fine. I drew it with markers and sent him a scan after the convention—the method of delivery we had agreed upon—he paid me, I thought we would be done with this transaction.
Several months after the delivery of this artwork, he got really aggressive about getting the tangible artwork from me. I was away at college and that piece of artwork was at my parents house… He got so aggressive about it that I ended up blocking his email and figured he wouldn't bother me anymore…
He made a new email and emailed me occasionally for the next year. Unfortunately the coordination to get this very specific piece of artwork that I had no idea if I still even had from my parents house was too much, and I couldn't get it to him by the next year's convention. He made a point to visit my table, ask me about it, asked me if I would reconsider his original idea, then left. This cycle repeated for three more years, until FINALLY I was able to coordinate things enough to get this stupid piece of paper with old artwork on it to this dude.
Total pain in my ass. I stopped doing convention commissions soon after this, and I no longer go to that convention.
Andy Belanger, writer and artist of 'Southern Cross'
Well, there is a famous story from the Toronto area where I used to live when I was coming up in the industry. There was a guy who had a jam packed sketch book full of the who's who of comic artists. His book had one theme and he would approach you like this. "Okay, I want a Wonder Woman sketch but… She has to be naked and trapped in glue." We would say, "So you want a naked brunette trapped in glue." "NO! Wonder Woman!" he would say. And we would say, "Well without clothes it's just sort of a naked lady! He would say, "Well, you can leave the tiara on, I guess!"
This guy had everyone in that book. Amazing artists that just thought the whole thing was so weird but when you saw all the other big artists in the book, you felt compelled to do it. Paid of course but it was totally strange. The story had a creepy end where he came to a con one time where they had a kids day care for the day area and he would stand there staring at the kids. I think it was Chip [Zdarsky] and I that went over to say something and I think Chip chased him outta there never to be heard from again!