The Dark Age Of Celebrity Autographing And Photo Ops

1186783_10151928634575579_1853255530_nWhen the New York Comic Con announced on August 27 that Sylvester Stallone would be a guest at the show, there were still Sunday passes to the show available. When it was revealed that he will only be attending on Sunday, the remaining tickets sold out within hours. I wonder what all those fans who rushed to by tickets to meet Sly will think when they find out how much it takes to get his autograph.

If you go to the Autographing section of the NYCC website, you’ll find…nothing. They have no list of who is signing where and for how much. Lucky for us, Sly is being brought to the show by a company called Celebrity Authentics and they are nice enough to provide a price list. For Sly’s autograph, it will set you back $395. If you want a picture with him, that will be another $445. And, of course, that will be on top of the $40 you paid to get into the show on that day.

MarkyRamone_PhillyComicCon_smallIf the Hollywood studios are the bane of San Diego Comic Con attendees, the celebrity autograph industry is the bane of pretty much every other major convention in the country. Once the purview of shows such as The Hollywood Show and Chiller Theater,  more and more comic book conventions have become part of the celebrity autograph circuit. The Wizard World Cons, once a fairly strong string of cons catering to comic book sellers and creators, have pretty much give themselves wholly over to the Sign & Snap people. At the recent Wizard World New York Experience I attended, half the convention floor was given over to celebrities hawking their signatures. You can still find comic books represented in the con’s artist alley and a handful of vendors scattered in amongst the cologne sellers, the people promoting the Medieval Times restaurant, and the guy selling the electronic doodad that can turn any box into a speaker. But it’s clear the celebrities are what Wizard World is building their shows around.

ChrisHemsworthThe Wizard World shows are the standard bearer for the celebrity comic con incursion, so I’ll use them to provide a little context to Sly’s ticket prices. Last year, their Philadelphia show had Chris Hemsworth as a guest.  At the time, he was the most expensive ticket prices I had seen, due to the fact The Avengers had been released about a month prior to the show and Snow White and the Huntsman hit theaters the day before his appearance at the con. His VIP package cost $349, and I heard a fair amount of grumbling about it.  You might think to yourself, that’s only $50 off Sly’s authograph price. Well, yes, but for that $349 you not only got his autograph, you also got a photo with him AND an 8 X 10 glossy of him AND a collectible Chris Hemsworth badge AND a guaranteed seat on any panel he was on AND front of the line access if you wanted another picture or autograph. On top of all that, not only did you get a 4-day ticket into the show (which was a bargain considering Hemsworth was there for only one day), but also you were able to get into the show a half hour before it originally opened. With Sly, all you get is the autograph.

853To further prove my point using Wizard World, they have a con in Columbus, Ohio coming up in a week and the most expensive autograph to get is William Shatner’s. To get the signature of the actor with a 50+ year career, a man who created not one, not two, but three iconic TV roles (T.J. Hooker, Denny Crane and, of course, James T. Kirk), you’ll have to pay $75 (plus admission to the con). That’s the same price you’ll have to pay Celebrity Authentics for Chloe Grace Moretz’s autograph at NYCC, a woman all of 16 years old, who, while working in a lot of geek-friendly projects, has arguably created only one iconic performance (as Hit-Girl in the Kick-Ass films). If you wanted to get a picture with either of them, Shatner would be your best deal. His photo op will only set you back $80, while Moretz’s will cost you $95. I guess the extra $15 is to make up for the skeeve factor of an adult actually wanting to pay to have their picture taken with a 16-year-old girl.

But how can you put a price on a memory, some of you might say. Some might think it’s worth it to pay $445 to get your picture taken with Sly, just to be able to have a conversation with him and be able to tell him what his work meant to you. Well, yeah, if that was what you got for your money.

464818_621648854117_675124373_oI went through two media celebrity photo ops in my years of con going. One was with Stan Lee at the Baltimore Comic Con in 2011, the other with Patrick Stewart at the same Philly Con Chris Hemsworth was at in 2012. Both were essentially the same experience. You stand in line and it moves fast. The reason why it moves fast becomes apparent to you when it’s your turn to get your picture taken. The moment you get into the “room,” the handlers start barking at you. “Put your stuff down! Get behind [Name of Celebrity Here]! Smile!  Pick up your stuff and move along!” The entire “experience” lasts only seconds.

Autographing session are a little better, if only because the act of signing ones name takes longer than getting a picture taken. But still, you will have handlers speeding you along, so have what you want to say ready and say it quick.

Of course, this isn’t exclusively the case. There are times when you can get something resembling the experience you imagine. My friend, seen above, is a big Boondock Saints fan, and has the tattoo to prove it. A chance run in with the cast the night before the show led to his tattoo making an appearance in his photo ops. The cast seemed impressed by the way he showed his devotion to their film, so they added a few seconds of conversation to the photo op. My friend was stoked.

But when it comes down to it, these companies like Celebrity Authentics, Froggy’s Photos and Lightspeed Fine Arts aren’t selling memories, they are selling pictures and autographs. And they want to sell a lot of them in a short period of time. As much as they might wrap the process up in sentimentality, they don’t really care about your experience. They just want you out of there quickly so the next customer can come in.

If you know what you are getting and still are willing to pay the money, more power to you. You made an informed decision and good on you for it (our Patrick Stewart photo op was part of a VIP, so even though we knew we’d be rushed, we knew enough to work with it). But I think a lot of those people who bought tickets to the show to see Sly won’t know the way the system works, and might leave the photo op feeling cheated.

I’ll be at NYCC and I will keep an eye out for the reactions after Sly’s appearance. His Sign & Snap prices are the highest I’ve ever seen and the way people respond to them will have a bearing on the whole industry. If people still line up in droves, I fear that comic cons will increase the number of celebrity guests and the price they charge us to meet them. If people stay away, then the tide might shift in the other direction, and the trend for Sign & Snaps might recede.

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About William Gatevackes 1931 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.

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Gary Cohen
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that’s a hell of a lot of money

Tom Stroud
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Carl Cannon
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Ray Estrella
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Ray Estrella

This was his PR company’s response to me: Hi Ray, We fully understand your perspective, the same way many are now purchasing flights from around the globe including Australia, UK, Germany, Canada and across the USA to meet Mr. Stallone and believe that $395 is a great price to meet him and get his autograph. To you the opportunity is not worth it, while to others it is the chance of a lifetime. Mr. Stallone’s signature on boxing gloves and other items sell for in excess of $1,000. For example, a knife he signed recently sold on eBay for over… Read more »

William Gatevackes
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Really, I’m not surprised by this response. The whole “his autograph goes for $1,000’s on eBay” is the knee-jerk reaction these companies use. And if this was a closed event, open only to autograph sellers and brokers, then, sure, charge whatever you want. But even “Abby” is selling the idea that this is a special event for fans. I hope this article gets spread around so the everyday fans know that the special event they think they are buying is just them herded through a line like cattle and that they should grab whatever sliver of a personal experience they… Read more »

Ray Estrella
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Ray Estrella

Somehow, Stallone must owe them a favor. Can’t think he would do that to his fans.

Valerie Gallaher
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I just can’t see how “valuable” an autograph is, without the personal experience (however short and fleeting) that goes along with it. That’s why autographs received on the spur-of-the-moment outside a Broadway show or concert or just a chance run-in with a celebrity seem more cool than this bloodless, pre-planned convention stuff.

Ray Estrella
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Ray Estrella

And I guess they do have to cover his $250K appearance fee and travel. But, maybe when ur a multi millionaire and feel a close connection to your true fans, it isn’t exactly necessary?

William Gatevackes
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See, if this was for a meet and greet, a set amount of time where you are granted access to Stallone and are able to strike up a conversation, I don’t think the price would be that unfair. But for what access you get with signings and photo ops, it definitely isn’t worth the price. But I guess that’s not for me to decide, it for all the autograph vendors who will resell his autographs to fans to decide.

William Gatevackes
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FYI, it’s just been announced that the same company is repping Sigourney Weaver at NYCC. Autograph $185, Picture $200

Rich Drees
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I got Ms. Weaver’s autograph on my GHOSTBUSTERS DVD for free after an event she did in Philadelphia several years back…

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