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In what other medium can a someone get an original work of art made just for them by a creator whose career they’ve followed? Not movies, television, music or fine art, unless you’re a millionaire. But in comics, many of today’s artists are for hire to fans looking to own a piece of their work — and even commission something especially for them. Comics are crazy that way, but that’s a good thing.
It’s nothing new, of course. The idea itself goes back into the roots of fine art, but with the advent of conventions and now the internet it’s available to virtually everyone — with some creators even reaching out to fans to make it happen.
This idiosyncratic facet of comics has turned into a niche industry for artists like Adam Hughes. But for others, commissions are a away to rake in some extra money between gigs or to cover an unexpected expense. Everyone from George Perez to Dustin Harbin can be commissioned to draw something, from standard superhero fare to something as unique as Harbin’s Sammy Davis Jr., as seen above.
Some commissions can be had for as little as $20 to $30, while in-demand artists can charge into the thousands. Sean Murphy, who rarely accepts commissions, opened a window for them in 2013, but with a price tag of $1,000. While some balked at the high price, Murphy quickly filled his calendar, and used the money to help fund the purchase of a house.
On the other hand, from time to time at conventions there presents an opportunity to get free sketches. While they aren’t the finished renderings one would expect from formal commissions, they’re a unique part of the industry and add a personal touch to the fan-creator relationship.
Why does this happen in comics and not in other mediums? Like I said earlier, there’s a long history of art commissions, but the tradition has found a place in comics at a generally lower price point, allowing even the most cash-strapped fan to own a piece by their favorite creator.
The original-art community is large and diverse, with numerous websites, forums and mailing lists devoted to the collection of published pages and commissioned pieces by comics luminaries. Perhaps it’s due to the relatively clear communication between artist and fan — it’s not like actors, musicians and other mainstream professionals are as approachable as comics creators are; even before the Internet, you could meet Jack Kirby, Alan Moore or other favorites if you went to the right convention.