Bootleg prints, dumb with a capital “D”

Bootleg prints, dumb with a capital “D”

For those of you who have not been to a comic book convention…I’ll give you a real quick lay of the land of a typical mid-sized con.  You got your celebrity guests, some washed up, some still famous, usually against the back wall.  You got a few larger publishers with a corner or an island type multi table set up with different pros there over the course of the show.  You have a bunch of stores with multiple tables selling old comics or comic related toys and merch, and you have your “artist alley” where THEORETICALLY the comic book professionals and aspiring artists each get a table or two to sell their books and art.  Theoretically I said, let me explain what about 40% of the “artist” tables actually are in many shows-

A giant wall/display/backdrop of prints of illustrations for sale of your favorite pop culture characters, Captain America for example.


*pics courtesy of Ben Eller*

So far so good right? Lot’s of people like Cap.  The problem is, Cap is not their  intellectual property. He, by law, is owned lock stock and barrel by someone else.  and so is every other character on their wall of prints. They were not at any point hired to draw him and thus did not in any way shape or form contribute to his popularity past or present but are reaping the rewards of those who have. They are bootleggers. They are thieves.

“meh…so what? Disney’s not hurting for money.”

I’ll explain some of the “so what”, bear with me…

I used to LOVE being at comic-cons for this reason- It was as level a playing field as you were going to get.  If you were a decades established pro, a publisher with generations of name recognition, or a young buck with a brand new idea…you were all in the same building competing for the same passersby and it was your ideas vs everyone else’s…bring…it..on. Loved it!  It’s of course less appealing now that name recognition is actually to my advantage, but I still love the level playing field because it keeps me honest.  But these bootleggers erode that level playing field because these are not their ideas.  These are the ideas of someone else, that they did not earn the right to draw.  They are able to make a quick buck because many others have put effort, time, and money into making the characters so beloved that a simple print of their image has value.  In truth, they have little effect on me DIRECTLY at this point in my career, but what harms the industry affects all in the industry to some extent. And here comes the harm…

There is a different type of print seller, pros who have at some point been paid to draw such characters.  maybe they were hired to draw Cap or Spidy or whoever. That’s a different story, different companies have different policies on if their illustrators can sell prints or their renditions of the characters they were hired to do.    So it is a “the chicken or the egg” argument as far as why that print is selling.  Is it the character, or the artist’s rendition of the character that in some way helped sustain the characters popularity, that is the reason for someone buying the print.

The bottom line it that this is a character that they earned the right to draw and contributed to it’s current popularity in some way. Let’s say he or she drew The Back Cat for the last year…keeping that character popular…and he/she has to sit there and compete with some a-hole moving bootleg prints of the Black Cat that are only moving because the pro worked hard to keep her popular!  madness. and to make things worse there is no differentiation between the two of them. The bootlegger sure as f*ck isn’t going to mention he/she was never actually hired to draw any of those characters.  And if the pro mentions it, he/she comes off as a bully or egomaniac.  ( I have no qualms about being refereed to as either…or BEING either for that matter, thus me saying here what others would rather not have to)

  Put yourself in that Pro’s shoes. You worked hard, worked your way up the ladder, follow the laws, and you are seated next to a thief/con man literally making money off of your hard work…AND  are at a disadvantage because while you are only selling prints of property you have actually been hired to do at some point, they have no qualms about selling unlicensed work of anything that isn’t nailed down.  Eventually, even the most suborn among them will just stop going to cons.  Those actual comic book pros will be replaced with…another wall of prints.  The “Starbucks” of the comic book industry, in a sense.

Speaking of pros at tables, there are obviously only so many tables available at any given comic-con and the law of supply and demand takes over eventually.  There is no shortage of these people who know they can draw up ( or steal off the internet) images of a bunch of characters they don’t own who are popular enough to have anything with their image on it get bought by someone.  This eats up the number of tables in a hurry.  Each of those wall-o-prints tables COULD instead be some actual comic book pro, or better yet COULD be some young aspiring comic book maker trying to get his/her own new ideas off the ground.

Most pros don’t have to pay for a table at any worthwhile convention, but those young indy types do.  and the increased demand means an increase in cost for them.  The new talent out there, that this industry sorely needs, is having to miss out on opportunities to get their work seen and reacted to by comic book fans, because they cannot get tables…or if they do manage to get one before the bootleggers scoop them all up, they can’t afford it.  Tables in “artist alley” used to be 50-150.00 for medium to larger sized shows.  These days they are 300-800.00.  That’s not inflation, that is the affect the bootleggers, who have less risk since they are peddling posters of characters that have multi billion dollar movies hits and 50 years of brand recognition, have on the supply and demand.

I was one of these young aspiring indy types once.  The risk is high and recouping costs by selling comic books no one has ever heard of, in the 5.00 range, is  tough.  It was tough when tables were 50-150.00, it would be like fighting the ocean now.  BUT there are young people willing to do that.  There are still young creators out there willing to take that risk, to beg borrow or steal the cash and through force of will get enough people interested in their ideas to make a few bucks…if only they could get a table.

But they can’t…the tables that could be stocked with strange, and wonderful, and rough around the edges, indy comic books, some destined for greatness…are instead simply row after row of illegal prints of pop culture characters.  This makes for a far less interesting convention, that serves the interest of far less people, and forwards far less new ideas.

Wanna be’s and would be up and comers who are drawing characters and making prints (copies) of characters that they do not own the rights to and selling those prints are a problem to the pros, the industry in general, the cons, and to themselves.

 If you are one of the people making them you might say to yourself. “Feh! I can make a quick buck this way, and the risk vs reward is pretty far in my favor.”  (If you are a con operator you might want to hang around til I’m done with the “artists” and explain YOUR risk vs reward).  If you are and ‘artist” that thinks like an insect, then yes, you can make a quick buck and the worst that happens is they don’t let you back, or kick you out of the current show.  If you actually take what you do seriously and would like to eventually be more than a grown adult selling prints over a folding table 6 times a year, than your risk vs reward is a completely different story.

There have been, for years as I exhibited at these shows, people selling prints they have drawn of other peoples intellectual property…and it could be argued that many of them are/were actually more talented than me at drawing an image.  I can think of such a guy I’ve been at the same shows with for years. and over the years I have gotten work with Mad Magazine, have cartoons appear on Comedy Central, done work for Valiant Comics, Image comics, recently drawn The Tick, and helped on several pitches for Hollywood producers, and he has….drawn more prints…and sold them over a folding table.

The reason is this,  I (for example), by doing my own work, have shown I can write, illustrate, tell a story, design characters, market a new idea.  So If someone needs any of those things, I have shown an ability to do so at a high level.  Someone selling prints of other peoples work have shown none of that and shown a lack of respect for the industry as a whole.  They are showing no story telling skills, no imagination, and very little drive and less ambition.  That’s not the kind of person people with real money to spend on a project are looking to hire.  Many projects come with a Non-disclosure agreement, because the people funding projects don’t want anything leaked about them until they are good and ready.  How interested do you think they would be to have corporate secrets in the hands of someone who doesn’t even give a crap about simple copyright laws? They aren’t very interested in that.

The person publishing his/her own work on the other hand, knows  how to keep his mouth shut about something and for how long and the importance of this or he/she wouldn’t be in business.  the person forwarding his/her own ideas shows an understanding of all the tasks at hand, which is valuable even if they are  only to be hired to do one aspect of a project and they as less likely to be a problem to work with, because they understand the bottom line, the end game, and the importance of secrecy.

The person making bootleg prints has shown no such competence or even a curiosity to learn any skill set beyond drawing someone else’s property looking cool in a single image.

It comes down to – what are you looking to do with your life/talent.  It’s far tougher at times to get a new idea off the ground, to get people interested…but the upside has no ceiling.

All you bootleggers out there, take your best profit over the course of a convention season. That is the ceiling of success for you.  That is as high as it will get.  that’s it.  Whether you do this for one year or ten.  You will move into middle ageness, into greying hair and not have moved forward one iota.

If you actually have any talent, which MANY of you do…this is dumb with a capitol “D”.

But hey, you do what you want, rake in that 20.00 a head with your prints for as long as the cons allow you to set up. I have T.V. show pitch to help produce, for people with a considerably higher budget with a considerably higher audience.

As for you who are buying such prints, you’re spending what? 20.00-40.00? For a bootleg print of Captain America.  Do you realize that at such a con a guy who actually drew Cap for Marvel Comics is probably just a short walk away? and that for the same money you could get a quick sketch from him?  I’m not sure what everyone charges for sketches, I tend to be less expensive because…well, I’m just not as detailed with quick sketches as most pros.  But I assure you that yo could take that money and walk up to a pro and say “give me whatever size sketch this can buy” and get a pretty cool quick sketch or even detailed sketch depending on his/her mood and the amount of traffic that day…that’s a piece of ORIGINAL ARTWORK by the actual pro who worked on the book, that no one but you has. OR, even better, you could get a sketch or a book from some young buck who’s trying to bring something new into the industry.

Let me remind you that just a decade ago you could have gotten such things from the guys making The Walking Dead…somewhere hiding behind a wall of prints you are considering is the next comic that will hit it big.  Given all that, I’d say you wasting your money on a bootleg print is dumb with a capital “D”.

AS FOR YOU CONVENTION OPERATORS.  let’s look at your risk vs reward.  The reward is that you sold a bunch of tables, maybe these people plug their appearance and you get some free advertising.  What does that add up to? a few grand?

Here’s the risk. Repercussions from the companies that own the characters.  Think some giant company like Disney isn’t going to bother?  Google NFL crack down on the name “Super Bowl”. The NFL years ago decided to take it’s army of lawyers, that where being paid on retainer for just sitting around, and set them lose on ANY copy right infringement they could find.  Bars, grocery stores using the name for a sale on party subs in their deli, charity events raffling off tickets…AN-E-ONE using ANY NFL licensed image, or name was tracked down by the attorneys and shut down.

hell, they even found and went afters some church with 200 parishioners in bumblef8ck Washington somewhere.

If you are selling booths to bootleggers, you are on borrowed time.  Any day now some accountant could notice the staggering amount of revenue comic book conventions make and notice all the bootleg prints being sold and decide they need to get their beak wet or shut it down.   It is far more efficient to go after YOU than to run after the 40 individual bootleggers at your show.

I’m not a high priced lawyer, but just off the top of my head, I’d say “You promoted these people, they promoted your show, thus a percentage of your ticket sales came directly from the use of OUR intellectual property and so you own us $$$$.  Our high priced team of attorneys, who have specialized in this for decades have a mathematical equation..and it says you own us 60%.  What does your local attorney say to that?…it doesn’t matter, we are having him disbarred. he knew ahead of time that these people would be at your show, you paid him with money generated from the show and that makes him an accomplice.”

AND after that they may say ” did any of the people who came to buy unlicensed prints by a hot dog at the concession stand? because we’ll need to get our cut from that to”  The concession stand is owned by the venue which will then say to you ” You and your show can go f8ck itself, you are not allowed back here”.

And that’s just me, off the top of my head, coming up with ways the companies who own the characters could sue you into the stone age.  They probably have WAY better ideas.

That’s your risk vs reward.  Maybe you make a couple grand extra…maybe you lose your show and everything you own.

Taking a risk like that..dumb with a capital “D”.

You bootleggers with talent, you convention operators… you need, and the comic book industry needs you to have more foresight than this.

The comic book industry cannot afford to be stagnant.  These movies, t.v. shows, whatever is popular now…does not promise you a tomorrow.  There seems to be nothing but comic book super hero movies being put out now, but back decades ago it seemed like there was nothing but cowboy movies being put out…you follow me? You better be making new characters, new stories, promoting those things. You better have booths at your show with new things so that next year…when whatever is hot now has become stale, people still have a reason to go to your show.  Getting the next issue of some comic book that they read and liked last year, and meeting the person who made it and being able to talk about the story with him/her is a far more reliable reason than the possibility they have any more room on their wall for some bootleg print .


When Douglas is not here, he and his work can be found at

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  1. I went to that artist’s website and the largest drawings on his front page are of a very Bela Lugosi looking vampire character, The cast from Alice in Wonderland, Cthulhu and the krampus.

    • I thought I had the comments turned off…for just this reason.
      1-The characters you mentioned are all “public domain” which makes it – not breaking the law. see the difference? one is breaking the law, the other is not breaking the law.
      2-I’ve been hired to illustrate each of those characters (re: blog you didn’t understand)
      3- If you are implying I don’t “walk the walk” as they say…then you have no earthly idea what you are talking about or who you are talking about. I throw up parody stuff once in awhile for fun (parody laws being something I know of from my 6 YEARS ON MAD MAGAZINE) but my actual income comes from my own intellectual property…some of which was seen on COMEDY CENTRAL.
      So your faux jab was cute, but shows your ignorance more than any hypocrisy by me.
      Having said that, he’s not entirely wrong, ’bout time I change the sliding banner on my site…it’s been awhile.

  2. Seriously, you couldn’t pay me to read through that blog post again. But here’s my takeaway-

    He’s railing against the system of artists who draw other people’s intellectual property. NOT that they are selling other people’s actual artwork. So it’s not an issue of an artist stealing someone else’s drawing of Batman and passing it off as he own. It’s about John Smith Artist drawing his own picture of Batman and selling it without DC’s permission.

    Kid… Tough shit.

    They are putting in the work to draw Cap or Batman, and it’s their own work. If you’re asking every artist to only come up with ORIGINAL CHARACTERS OF THEIR OWN and sell prints of only those, then this isn’t the industry for you. I would suggest the food service or housekeeping industry for someone with your top-flight qualifications.

    If you limit yourself to just drawing your own original characters, then that’s on you. I would be interested to see how a typical encounter goes at your table with a random guest.

    Guy: (points at piece of work) “who is that?”

    Arsenic: “That’s Relion, my own character. His story is 7,000 years ago on the planet Medilan, Prince Rufort had to..”

    Guy: I like ROM, The Space Knight (walks away).

    I’m going to sound mean, but you might need to hear it honestly from someone. You’re an idiot. If you think artists aren’t going to draw what makes them money, then do 2 things. Stop being an artist with morals. And stop writing EXTREMELY LONG blogs whining about it.

    Had you been even once on the side of artists who copy other people’s actual work, like Rob Granito and his ilk, I would have had your back. But nope. Kid, this is how those honest artists make their money and get their name out there. You pay your dues drawing original artwork, if not actually of original characters.

    It’s still their actual talent behind the art. Give them the credit they are due for that. Respect them for that as your peers or you are going to find that your fellow vendors at those cons are going to freeze you out and those hours sitting at that table are going to be long and lonely.

    I hope this helps, and good luck in the future, in whatever career you have. If you decide to stick to your principles and tell people you will ONLY draw your own original stuff, then remember- you are not an artist who only works at Applebee’s until you become a comic artist. You are an employee at Applebee’s who does some drawing on the weekends. Lean into that.

  3. …another person who has no idea who they are talking to (but I appreciate him calling me “kid”), who didn’t type anything that wasn’t already explained as wrong headed in the post he claims to have read.

    I like this part though-“you are going to find that your fellow vendors at those cons are going to freeze you out and those hours sitting at that table are going to be long and lonely.”

    Bwhahahaha. Oh yeah…i’m real lonely at my table at cons. I’m not there to make friends, goofball. I’m there to move product, which I do. They can listen to me…who has done it, and continues to, or listen to you and never advance.

    As long as he keeps throwing the tern “artist” around, yep…that’s just how Picasso did it, doing knock offs of the Mona Lisa. He had that whole “cheap knock off” period. I have a calendar of it on my wall, November is his knock off of “birth of Venus”

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