Through the Mail Slot

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A couple-three more e-mails…
From BRIAN:

I was wondering what your policy on sketches and autographs at conventions was:
1) Do you charge for autographs, if so how much and after how many, and do you have a limit?
2) Do you charge for any type of sketch, and how much and for what do you charge for (e.g. head sketches, mini bust type sketches, full body sketches: what would you charge per different one)?
3) Last one being, would you sketch anything or do you want me to ask you to do something you know pretty well and is it better to ask you ahead of convention time or wait til I get there and ask?
That’s all I think that I am wondering, if you could get back to me that would be great cause I would like to know before Emerald City Comicon.
I’m pretty sure I’ve answered this before—this very e-mail, not just the general questions—but just in case:
1. I don’t charge for autographs. I don’t have a set limit, either, with the following two caveats: (a) if you have a big stack and there’s a line, I may say I’ll sign some of them but you’ll have to get back in line after that, because I don’t want to keep the people behind you waiting, and (b) if you bring an entire longbox full of my stuff I may say hey, let’s not be ridiculous. I’m willing to sign a lot of books, but let’s not try to have me sign my entire output.
2. I’m a writer, not an artist, so you don’t really want to get sketches from me. I occasionally do sketches, but they’re very bad, so I don’t charge for them. But I’d rather not do them at all and you wouldn’t be impressed by the results. Generally I do them for sad-looking children who don’t really get the idea that not everyone sitting on the other side of those tables can draw, but I fear I don’t make them very happy.
3. Even bad sketches have their limits. I can do a few crappy-looking head shots I have some practice at, but if I try to draw something other than those, it looks even worse.
Here’s one of my sketches:

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And that’s after years of practice, too. You really don’t want to pay me to draw.
From DIANE:
Have you checked this out on YouTube? Tim reviews your book Superman: Secret Identity. check it out!

Thanks, Diane. I’m crossing my fingers that the video will embed properly; I’ve never tried to do this before.
[Side-note to Tim: Glad you like the book, and happy to have made you cry. It’s actually ‘BYOO-sik’ and “IMM-uh-n’n,’ more or less. And yes, that was an ending in Shockrockets: We Have Ignition, though Stuart and I would like to follow up on it someday…]
From GEOFFREY:

Big fan of Astro City and was just enjoying your “breaking in” piece, and tried to read the 3-part interview when I got to a broken link for Part 1 (and 2, incidentally).
Probably an easy fix.
As for the breaking-in piece, it interested me because last year I embarked on an experiment in podcasting after a more-than-twenty-year attempt to achieve success in music.
And I think you’re right. It’s best to concern yourself with doing, with MAKING something, rather than planning or struggling to figure out the WAY IN.
Thanks for the heads-up on the broken links. It was indeed an easy fix, and they should work just fine now.
And I’ll take this opportunity to remind other readers that there’s more to this website than the Notes section—the Read section has a smattering of stories, previews, interviews and essays (not as many as I’d like, but hey, some), the Find section has information on upcoming appearances, the Shop section has links to my books on Amazon, and so forth. Feel free to browse around.
I’m glad you liked the “Breaking In” piece, Geoffrey. It’s gotten a lot of attention over the years, and I can only hope it’s been useful.

Through the Mail Slot

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So, I seem to have been neglecting the blog. Sorry about that. Since last I posted, we’ve done Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve spent a week in L.A. pitching a movie, a week in Florida visiting relatives, written a mess o’ comics, read a ton of graphic novels and three quarters of a ton of novels, gotten very productive, gotten sick and unproductive, and now I seem to be getting productive again.
But anyway, let me answer some of the mail that’s stacked up, at least, and I’ll feel a little less neglectful. For a week or so, maybe.
From VICTOR:

I apologize if this question is at all out of line or a sore point and I’m even more sad I missed the opportunity to talk to you last weekend at Mid-Ohio, but I’ve been wondering if you felt any kind of way about Marvel’s use of your story beat from the Confessor arc of Astro City as the general concept for the Secret Invasion event from two summers back? As a fellow writer, I wholly subscribed to a “my ideas are for the world to use and explore,” but I know I’m in the minority on that one. Was this something that you were addressed with before or is it possibly another happy-accident of creative synergy?
Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this and I hope I get to make your acquaintance on the con-circuit come next year!
I’ll confess to not having read Secret Invasion, but I expect what you mean is that there were shape-shifting aliens infiltrating humanity, right? If so, the idea wasn’t original to me—Skrulls have been disguising themselves as human at Marvel for years, going back to Fantastic Four #2, when they disguised themselves as the Fantastic Four. And of course, the trope goes back to stuff like They Live, The Invaders and Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well.
I’ve also seen people suggest that Marvel took the Superhero Registration Act in the Civil War event from Confession, but that too has predecessors—the Mutant Registration Act at Marvel, the “Last Days of the Justice Society” events at DC, where the JSA heroes were pressured to reveal their identities to the government, the Keene Act in Watchmen, and of course they’re all inspired by real-world examples like the 1940 Alien Registration Act or the Nazi registration of Jewish-owned property, and so on.
What matters isn’t whether ideas are new—most aren’t, after all—but how they’re used. And I’m reasonably confident that Secret Invasion used its ideas rather differently from what happened in Confession.
From MARK:

No question, no inquiry, no request.
Just wanted to say thank you for writing great stories that I really enjoy reading and coming back to again and again.
Reread Astro City Vol 1 again and felt compelled to tell you how much I enjoyed it, again.
Very glad to hear it, sir!
CLICK THE LINK BELOW FOR LOTS MORE…

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Perth

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The best store signing I’ve ever done was in Perth, Western Australia.
Ann and I spent two weeks in New Zealand and Australia, first doing conventions in Auckland and Wellington with Devin Grayson and Mark Waid, with a memorable and enjoyable trip from the one city to the other in between, a trip involving blackwater rafter, go-karting, dry luge, para-sailing, jet-skiing and the discovery that if anything anywhere went fast, if you’re with Mark Waid you have to stop and do it Right Now. Very good cons, a lovely country, friendly people, and we’ve taken one trip back since, to vacation in the Bay of Islands and Queenstown, and that’s not the last time we’ll go, either.
And then Ann and I went to Australia, where the original plan had been to do a convention in Sydney, but the convention fell through and was rescheduled, so we wound up arranging store signings in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. We also visited Ayers Rock (stunning, and we got to taste kangaroo and emu, but many, many flies) and took a side trip to Brisbane to visit Eddie Campbell, who had said come on out sure it’ll be great and then wound up delayed in England so we had a delightful barbecue with Eddie’s friends and prowled used bookstores for Australian editions of Nevil Shute. And Sydney’s gorgeous and parts of it look like the Blade Runner production designer’s idea of what New York would look like if New York was cool enough, and Melbourne was a treat, with the giant casino with the gargantuan gas jets that went off at odd intervals. And the signings were well-attended and friendly and enjoyable.
But when we mentioned we were going to Perth, what everyone wanted to know was, “Why are you going to Perth, of all places? It’s a hell of a long way to go!”
We pointed out that we’d come here from the United States, so if going a hell of a long way stymied us, we wouldn’t have come in the first place. Which was true. But mainly, I wanted to see as much of Australia as I could get in. I mentioned Nevil Shute, who I’ve been a fan of since I stumbled on his work in college and who was a strong influence on Marvels, so for years I’d been reading about all these fascinating-sounding places, and sure, I knew it was decades later than what he’d described but I still wanted to see them. And I wish we’d had time to get to Cairns and Alice Springs and Adelaide and Tasmania, but in the meantime I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see Perth.
And I’ve got to say, Perth is lovely. A pretty green gem on the edge of the Indian Ocean, with the Swan River snaking through it in arcs, very muck a mixture of British heritage and Indian proximity, making for a distinct and charming combination. I definitely want to get back someday, and not only see more of Perth, and see more of Western Australia, too.
But the signing.
The point at which I realized it wasn’t going to be an ordinary signing was when we were at breakfast with the owner of the store we’d be signing at, and a reporter who was there to interview me for a local radio show, and we were up on a hill overlooking the city in a spacious and comfortable room with spectacular view windows (my memory says the restaurant was a converted colonial-era mansion of some sort), just chatting and enjoying good food, when the store owner’s mobile phone rang.
It seemed there was a line, and it was in danger of blocking the entrances to other nearby stores.
So there was management stuff to be done, and I’m sitting there thinking, “There’s a line?”
It was 9:30 in the morning. The signing was going to start at either 4:30 or 5:30 in the afternoon. And there’s a line?
It turned out I was the first American comics creator to visit Western Australia and do a signing. Unless you count Neil Gaiman, I was told, who came for a science fiction convention, so that was books, not comics, and didn’t really count. All those people who went to Sydney, or Melbourne, and then went back home…boy, were they missing out.
It was like being a rock star. When we did get to the store, which was below street level, the line wound round and about through the stacks in the store, out the door, up the stairs, around the corner and off far enough that I wasn’t sure where the end of it was. I think every comics fan in Western Australia had turned up.
The store had built be a signing booth, with Astro City displays, including a 3-D re-creation of the Astro City logo, complete with electron-ringed rocket. And I chatted with people and signed for hours, and the line slowly snaked its way through, but it felt like there’d be no end to it. I’m sure that gets exhausting for people who get that sort of thing all the time, but I’d never had anything like it at that point, and I didn’t have anything remotely like it again until a couple of years later when I was at a Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina and was signing books and looked up for a moment and realized the line went on forever and had an, “Um, guys, Neil’s over there” moment, before realizing that, well, doing three monthly books for Marvel on top of Astro City did stack up the number of books to be signed as well as the audience that wanted signatures.
But even that, and the well-attended signings I’ve done since, were anything like that day in Perth.
The other thing I remember from Perth was the next morning, scuttling around in the rain, trying to find a pharmacy open early enough for us to get a pregnancy test before our flight back to Sydney, because Ann was having morning sickness and we wanted to confirm her guess. And yes, it turned out she was pregnant with our first child, Sydney.
[But no, she’s not named Sydney because of Australia, she’s named Sydney after my mother.]
Anyway. It was a great trip and a glorious signing, and one way or the other, I intend to be back someday. And maybe this time I can get to Cairns and Tasmania and Adelaide…