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Boston Comic Con & the Cartooning Industry: A Conversation with Mark Slater

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 21, 2017

New England Regional Representative Mark W. Slater took it upon himself to be the face of the Guild at Boston's Comic Con this year. It was a way for him to combine two of his passions: comic books (of course!), and advocating for artists and the arts. Mark’s enthusiasm made a great impression – if the comments posted to our social media feeds are any indication! — so we decided to interview Slater to ask him about his impressions of the experience.

Q: Why did you decide to take a table for the Guild at Boston Comic Con?

I’ve been taking tables in Artist Alley since 2009. It’s an opportunity for me to hobnob with artists I admire and I crave that vibe that I haven't had since the last Con (new and old faces alike). I’ve always set aside a corner for Guild materials. This year I wasn’t as prepared with personal work – I’ve been tied up with taking care of our baby boy — but I felt it was important to have a presence there. So I decided instead to make my table a Guild table. This happened only after having had gone through the appropriate channels, I was given the go-ahead to do this event under the Guild's banner via our Executive Committee.

Q: Why is it important for the Guild to have a presence at Comic Cons?

I’ve been really shocked over the years by the level of infringement that the artists in Artist Alley are engaging in. About a third of the people showing work were showing original artwork, a third were showing work they’d created for major publishers, studios and companies, and the rest were selling knick-knacks — t-shirts and trinkets — with branded characters and artwork copied from other artists on them.  Most of those people seem to be unaware or unconcerned that they’re infringing trademarks and copyrights, when in fact what they are doing is blatant infringement.

What I find disheartening is that those individual artists are not being driven to create their own work(s); they’re stuck in fan art. If we could educate those artists who are profiting off of creating knock-offs, there would be a whole new level of originality.

Q: So the Comic Con artists are selling what is essentially fan art. What would you tell them if they asked you what’s wrong with that?

They can make money off of their knock-offs, but Marvel/Disney, DC/Warner Brothers, Image etc. could come by and shut them down at any moment and ask for receipts, reimbursement, and god knows what else. For now those giants of the industry see it as free advertisement. What I find disheartening is that those individual artists are not being driven to create their own work(s); they’re stuck in fan art. If we could educate those artists who are profiting off of creating knock-offs, there would be a whole new level of originality. The earlier we can make art students and young artists aware of what they're doing, the better chance we have of changing the paradigm in the US and the industry as a whole.

Q: Do you create fan art yourself?

When I was a child and teenager, I was a fan of comic books and I copied them — that was what helped lead me on my path to becoming a professional artist. But for me, recycling someone else’s stories and characters now as an adult isn’t as compelling. Keep in mind graphic novels and comics are treated differently in Asia and Europe; they’re not as tied to stock superhero characters, plot lines, and artistic "house styles." They’re also more likely to use other book formats and can at times use the graphic novel format for nonfiction stories. The page count is higher and it gives the reader more substance to digest.  It’s an approach I find more interesting and inspiring.
Q: How did people react to the Guild booth?

I ran a raffle for The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, and it was very well received. Every artist that got the Handbook looked so grateful — one recipient started to read it page-by-page. I think it’s important for the Guild to have a presence at these types of pop culture events. Advocacy for artists is going to pop in a good way — there are fewer and fewer organizations that are actively doing Advocacy work for the arts and I feel the Guild should be right up front doing positive "grassroots campaigning" like this.
Q: How has the Comic Con – and the comics industry — changed over the years?

Boston Comic Con has grown a lot — you see it in how the city reacts, and in the number of attendees. The industry has changed a lot too, as the Web and social media constantly change and mutate the formulas as to how we consume and make content. I’m alarmed at how the next generation expects creative work to be free. But I’m also intrigued by new platforms such as Patreon. It seems possible that public interest is shifting from wanting to purchase licensed artwork to wanting to support artists and have access to the artwork instead. It will be interesting to see where things go

Below: Setting up early – Slater at his booth.

Mark Slater at the Guild Booth, Boston Comicon

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