Writer Wars Round 3: The Life and Times of a Convention Facilitator by Adrian Reyes
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Life ain't easy for a boy named Adrian. That’s me, and I own El Rey Comics which is a facilitator for a popular grading service. I get a lot of questions about what a facilitator is, what we can do, what we can’t do and why we do what we do.
In short, a facilitator is the closest thing to being able to work freely as an extension of a grading company. We can offer grading services to those don’t have accounts. We can offer to get exclusives, albeit toys, comics etc. from conventions we attend, and the crown jewel, we can acquire signatures of your favorite artists on your comics. The last part is why I went from online and convention retailer to facilitator. It is also the reason I need new sneakers every 2-3 months. Being a facilitator allows fans to get their books signed at conventions they can’t attend for whatever reason. We charge a minimal fee to service the request.
How it works: The basic premise is we get your comics and show up to a convention and get them signed, witnessed, and then submit for grading. The real-life version of this is very complicated. I attended c2e2 and WonderCon this year. In total I walked 26 miles in 3 days in Chicago, stood up for 27 hours and went through 2 backpacks. At WonderCon, I had cut my visit short because I came down with a cold (but still made it to the Jim Lee private signing for a client). I was at 22 miles in 2 days. By the end of both conventions, I had 271 submissions, over 400 signatures, met Sophie Turner (who made fun of me because I was wearing a USC pullover) and probably drank 30 bottles of water. I probably prepped 100 books, spending most of the NCAA Basketball weekend nights in a room with a box cutter and painters’ tape.
The convention floor is a bit Game of Thrones with a mix of Tetris and Pokémon Go. Facilitators are mostly very nice to each other, but there is a level of cattiness and protectionism over “their” clients. So, we all play nice but sometimes it gets a bit testy. And Spoiler Alert, everyone has a story about facilitators. It’s the nature of the business. But we mostly all get along in these weird understood alliances. The floor is also set up in such a way where artists are on one side and the con is on the other, and grading company booths are randomly placed somewhere. This is where the walking miles comes into play. Getting multiple signatures has now become a little bit more difficult but not impossible. The real fun of this is getting the signatures from popular artists like Donny Cates, Lucio Parrillo, and the Clayton Crain’s of the world. Some artists are amazing with fans. Some treat this as a business and want to sign books at a rapid pace. Most are very nice and a pleasure to deal with. Some are not. Remember these are all artists.
Then you have the rare guys. Hickman, Spencer, Artgerm. These guys sign so rarely its great to see them when I do. Its also nice to see them recognize me from all the cons. But ever so often you get a unicorn. At c2e2, at Artgerm’s booth, Derrick Chew just showed up, unannounced. So, I went to Graffiti Designs, bought 10 of his Harley Quinn 57 Foils and got them signed. At WonderCon, through the miracle of Twitter, I was able to talk to Donny Cates and get Paul Scheer to come Friday to sign some of his new series Cosmic Ghost Riders. Sometimes the internet can do awesome things. Even the oft controversial Rob Liefeld, who I think is one of the better artists in how he engages with his fans, remembered me from a brief talk we had about a cover idea we wanted to do last year at SDCC. He really engages with his fans. Mind you at 60-80 a signature, I expect him to juggle balls and breath fire, but that’s just me.
There is a newish movement where artist that do charge for their signature now have a bifurcated pricing scheme. You want my sig? 5 bucks a book. You’re getting it graded? Now its 15 bucks a book. I don’t have a horse in this race, but it has made some of my clients not very happy. This is here to stay folks. Unless there is a market correction, i.e. crash, everyone in the comic book food chain is going to make some extra money somehow.
My Clients: I really appreciate my clients. They buy a lot; they demand a lot and its awesome when we can make them happy. I wish grading companies had an online course on how to pregrade your comics because I spend a lot of time breaking people’s hearts that their ASM 300 isn’t a 9.8 and that their COA’s are utterly useless. I think there has been a “reeducation” of the market place where if a slab isn’t a 9.8, it’s basically a frisbee. This has done a great disservice to the market. But it also makes my job a lot more fun and satisfying when these do come back 9.8 (or higher).
I’ve seen everything come through my booths at conventions for grading. From a Superman #4 signed by Joe Shuster (it was real), a perfect Hulk 181 that hasn’t seen sunlight in 30 years, to an amazing Cover Color Guide ASM signed by Stan Lee. I’ve also had to tell clients they have a serious silverfish problem in their collection as entire pages were eaten off the spine, had a heated argument that books aren’t close to 9.8 with numerous color breaks, and had a person tell me he had an Action Comics 1 when it was reprint. That last guy left my booth crying.
I’ve also had to tell clients the key to slabbing is just one thing: patience. And pressing but that’s a different story. If you don’t press, you are leaving a lot of value up to chance. If you want your book back fast you must pay for the faster service. So, if you are speculating, this is where the rubber meets the road. You must make a decision. Turn around times are estimates, and when con season starts those are TATs are a work of fiction. So, patience is crucial. Its also important that you value your books properly. I have heard horror stories where books are damaged accidently by a grading service (this is super rare) and they listed the value of their book at 200 dollars when it’s a really worth 2000 dollars because they wanted to save 15 bucks on grading. Don’t be that guy.
One thing people misunderstand is that facilitators for grading companies have different rules based on who they work with. At CGC, you must have a witness no matter what. There is no honor system. While this method guarantees the signatures are real, they also make it very difficult to get signatures from multiple artists in a timely fashion. And a side note, always be nice to the witnesses. They are there for you and to help. I bring mine coffee and RedBull. At CBCS, facilitators can witness pretty much any signature themselves. They go through a very rigorous process of vetting and are seen as part of the CBCS team. All it takes is one misstep and you’re out. As it should be. This has its plus and minuses, but the real plus is the ease they can get signatures, multiple signatures and where I have seen the best use, with celebrities. You see celebrities are usually on the other side from artists, so trying to get a witness requires a lot of coordination.
There is a lot of inside baseball here, so to not bore everyone, both services have their brand identities and usefulness. At the end of the day, its what my clients want.
Finally, being a facilitator is really about relationships. The artist, celebrity, their handlers, the venue, the clients and the grading companies. So, if you see me out there, stop me and say hello. I love to see customers and friends out there in the wild. And in case you work for a sneaker company, I am a size 11.