DC in the 80s: How long have you been collecting original art/commissions?
Travis Ellisor: Well, I‘ve been a big fan of comics and comic art since I was a little kid. As more artists started putting their work on the internet, I became an even bigger fan of the art itself. I especially loved process pieces, seeing the pencils, inks and colors in stages. I began following many of my favorite artists online, and that’s when I began to learn about commissions. Many collectors seemed to have themes, and some had very interesting ideas and pairings of characters that you’ll likely never see in published comics.
My first commission was of Karate Kid fighting Green Arrow (Connor Hawke), drawn by Derec Donovanin in 2009. Derec had posted on deviantART (a website featuring many artists) that he was currently taking commissions and I figured that he would be a great artist to start with. I was a big Green Arrow fan, and Derec had drawn a fantastic-looking Connor Hawke miniseries. Also, I am a HUGE Legion of Super-Heroes fan, and Karate Kid is my favorite member. Since Connor Hawke was such a great martial artist, I thought it would be cool to put him in a match-up with Val Armorr. Derec was all for the idea and delivered a fantastic piece to me shortly afterwards. In fact, I liked the commission so much that I decided that "Karate Kid vs." would be the major theme for my collection. And now I have over a hundred Karate Kid commissions!
|Karate Kid vs Green Arrow (Connor Hawke) - illustrated by Derec Donovan and colored by Simon Gough|
Also, I should point out that working with Derec Donovan on that commission was such a great experience that it lead to me commissioning him many more times, and we have since become friends. It’s always cool when your favorite artists turn out to be nice people. I highly recommend Derec to anyone interested in commissions.
In fact, most of the artists I’ve commissioned are just incredibly nice, cool people. Mike McKone, Chris Batista, Evan Shaner, Norm Breyfogle, Phil Hester, Steven Butler, Tim Lattie, Tom Fowler, Gene Gonzales, Mike Rooth, Dave Stokes, Andrew MacLean, Mike Hawthorne, Brian Churilla, Jay Fosgitt, Andy Kuhn, Ron Salas, Nick Pitarra, Joel Carroll, Scott Wegener, Chad Thomas, Cory Smith, Kyle Starks, Nathan Stockman, well I could on for a while, but you get the idea. There are many awesome, friendly artists out there.
It’s also really cool when you discover an artist’s work before they get big. For instance, seeing James Harren become such a major talent, and knowing that I already had three commissions from him. It’s like knowing about a band before they sign a major record label deal and get mega-popular. I’ve had that happen a few times now. I would say that I have an eye for artistic talent, but that sounds like bragging.
|Karate Kid vs OMAC - illustrated by James Harren|
DC80s: What's the most that you've paid for a commission?
Ellisor: I *think* that my most expensive piece is my Karate Kid vs. Bengal commission that Humberto Ramos drew for me. But my memory about that stuff is horrible. I do remember that it was expensive, but oh so worth it! I set that one up with his agent Joseph Damon and picked it up at a convention in New Orleans. They were both great to work with.
|Karate Kid vs Marvel's Bengal - illustrated by Humberto Ramos|
My most inexpensive pieces would be the ones that I’ve gotten for free. Sometimes an artist will throw in a free sketch or page when they think that they took too long on a commission, which is cool but unnecessary. Or an artist might do a sketch for free just because I’ve been a good repeat customer to them. I also once got a sketch for paying for a guy’s dinner one night after a convention.
Digital colors are another kind of commission that I sometimes get, when I really want to see a piece colored. Simon Gough has been my main go-to guy for that, and he always does incredible work, putting a lot of thought into how he colors each piece. He is amazing. Jeremiah Skipper has colored a few commissions for me as well, and he is another great up and coming talent.
|Adam Strange - illustrated by Nate Stockman and colored by Jeremiah Skipper|
DC80s: How do you store your commissions/original art? Do you sell or trade them, and if so how does that work?
Ellisor: Framing is expensive and my wall space is limited, so most of my art is stored in binders. You can find them at most art supply stores, or order them online through companies like Blick Art Materials.
And I’ve never sold any of my commissions, though I have had an offer or two.
DC80s: I'm understanding that you plunged into this 'buying commissions/original comic art' thing on your own. Can you tell us about any hard lessons learned or missteps you took along the way? Any advice you can give to anyone who is thinking about taking up this hobby?
Ellisor: One of the first things I learned about setting up a commission, particularly through e-mails, is to be VERY clear about what you want. And make sure you ALWAYS provide reference. Artists usually have a good idea of what characters look like, but even they forget the details of a lot of costumes. And most characters have worn many costumes, so providing reference helps to ensure that you get what you want. Also, there are many Spider-Men, Robins, Green Lanterns, etc. nowadays so be very clear about which character in particular that you want drawn.
Be sure to give the artist some freedom to work his or her magic. For instance, I’ll ask them to draw, say, Karate Kid vs. Galactus, but that’s all the detail I’ll go into. I don’t ask for specific fight choreography or anything like that. These guys know what they’re doing and most of them have great imaginations. Give them freedom and they’ll often amaze you.
As for prices, well, that’s up to each commissioner as to how much they want to spend. If an artist is too expensive, let it go and don’t try to haggle. But if you really want a commission from them, then save up for it. Some years I get a lot of commissions, some years hardly any. Everyone has to follow their own budget. Many artists have commission prices listed on their websites and most of them who have art agents will have their rates listed on the agent’s site. Google whichever artist you’re looking for, and you’ll usually find the information you’re looking for. If not, e-mail them through their website or contact them via social media. Almost every artist in the industry is online in some form or another.
If you set up a commission online to be mailed to you, be prepared to be patient. In my experience, almost all commissions take longer than the artist estimates. This can happen because of many factors, both personal and professional. They have careers and families that come first, and you have to respect that. But I have generally found that they almost all come through in the end, and the commission ends up being worth the wait.
If you’re suspicious of an artist’s reputation with commissions, do some research or ask about them on some original comic art collecting forums. Or Google "Deadbeats In Commissions".
If you’re really concerned about the reliability of the artist but still want to give it a try, just don’t pay up-front. Tell them you won’t pay until you see a picture or low-res scan of the finished commission. Or offer to pay half up-front, and half on completion. You should be able to work something out. And if not, move on.
If you plan on commissioning an artist at a convention, make sure you find them very early in the show. This makes sure that they have time to actually draw your commission, and a lot of artists have sketch lists for their shows which fill up quickly. And bring cash. Some artists are equipped to take payments in other forms, like credit cards, but cash is always welcome.
DC80s: If you're buying a commission/original comic art from a third party dealer (ex: someone on e-bay who's NOT the artist), is there a way to verify that's it legit? That it's not a counterfeit or forgery?
Ellisor: It's difficult to be 100% sure on those things. Personally, I'd start off by closely examining the scan and comparing it to the published work. If the seller is only providing a low-res picture of the art, I wouldn't trust it. If possible, ask the artist themselves about it. Most artists can be contacted online and many don't mind verifying things like this (I see it happen on social media from time to time). If the artist can't be contacted, ask some experts, such as fellow collectors or art dealers. And of course, check the seller's feedback ratings. If anything doesn't look right, don't take a chance on it. If it looks too good to be true, like a Curt Swan Superman cover going for less than a hundred dollars, don't trust it.
DC80s: As an owner/collector of original comic book art and a curator of a fascinating blog dealing with comic art, can you tell us about the best practices of posting comic art on the internet and why it's important?
Ellisor: Well, if you want to post your personal collection, I highly recommend Comic Art Fans. That site is a fantastic resource. You can browse through other people’s collections, and make friends with other collectors there.
If you just like comic art and want to share things you’ve found online, ALWAYS credit the artist. They put in a lot of hard work into their art, and they deserve the credit.
For instance, I love looking at comic art, and one great place for seeing art is Tumblr. But after spending some time on Tumblr, I started noticing a lot of art being posted with no artist credit, or sometimes the wrong artist being credited. For instance, I once saw a cropped panel of Thanos posted on Tumblr that only said “George Perez” below it. The first thing that bothered me was that the drawing was obviously not by Perez, but by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom. And the issue the drawing was from should have been credited. Because hey, if someone likes the art, they might want to check out the comic it’s from! Now this stuff might not bother some people, but it bothered me. So, I started my own Tumblr at Mostly Comic Art tumblr blog where I post comic art from throughout comics history. I spend so much time browsing comic art online, I figured I could at least spread the love.
Recommended Art Collecting Resources (provided by Travis):
All-around great site
Original Comic Art Message Forums
- Felix Comic Art
- Albert Moy
- Spencer Beck
- Anthony Snyder
- Kwan Chang
- Catskill Comics
- Splash Page Comic Art
- Essential Sequential
- Comic Art House
- More Great Art
- Pencil Ink Color
- Chiaroscuro Studios
- Cadence Comic Art
- Spanish Inq
This article has run a little longer than expected. In our second article, we interview Travis Ellisor about his favorite commissioned comic book original art from his personal collection and how he first got into comics. Needless to say, our next article is going to be very image-heavy with some never-before-seen original comic book art, so stayed tuned for that.