Talking about Sketch Covers…

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Hey kids… today your Uncle Chris is going to talk about a new item you can put on your convention table that might draw eyes to your table and give you a nice priced item that might net you a nice little profit once it is sold.

What am I talking about, you might ask? I’m talking about SKETCH COVERS.

Now, as you know, your Uncle Chris already wrote a lengthy Webcomic Alliance article all about sketch cards but although sketch cards and sketch covers sound similar, they are really two completely different things.

What’s the difference between the two?

Well, for one, sketch covers are much bigger than sketch cards. Sketch cards are the size of a trading card. Sketch covers are special editions of printed comic books and are professionally printed by the major comic book companies such as Marvel, DC and Image to name just a few. Other companies also produce sketch covers as well.

They are regular comic books?

Yes. All sketch covers are real comic books that just have a “blank” cover on top of the regular comic book. In fact, if you open a sketch cover comic book, you will see it also has the actual cover of the comic book as well. The blank sketch cover is stapled on top of the regular comic book.

Is there anything different about a Sketch Cover than a regular comic book?

Absolutely. A regular comic book is usually printed on thin, glossy paper whereas a sketch cover is thicker – almost the same thickness as traditional card stock. It will also have the comic book’s logo and company information printed on it as well.

Below are some samples of what Sketch Covers look like from DC and Marvel Comics:

four_sketch_covers

DC Black & White Sketch Cover
To see a bigger version, click the Batman sketch cover above.

But not all sketch covers are the same.

For a long time, I avoiding doing sketch covers because they used to be printed using a glossy stock of paper. What that meant was the slickness of the paper was very hard to sketch on with a pencil and the only time of “ink” you could use was a Sharpie pen. And you had to be very careful using a Sharpie on the paper as it was real easy to smear and smudge your lines. Added to that, it was next to impossible to add any decent color to them unless you painted on them – as one of my artist friends used to do all the time.

And, whenever I got a request to draw on a glossy sketch cover for someone, I usually charged very little as there was not much you could really do with them.

But… in the last couple of years, sketch covers have gotten a LOT better and are a LOT easier to work with. As mentioned above, the modern day sketch cover is usually some kind of bristol board/card stock paper that makes it extremely easy to sketch on, ink on and accepts design markers very, very well which, in turn, allows you to do lots of color blending that was impossible to do with the glossy type paper.

So where can I find a Sketch Cover?

There are a few places where you can find sketch covers for yourself. The first place is to check your local comic book shop and ask them if they carry or have any sketch covers. At my local comic book store, they usually have a bunch of different ones on sale at the regular cover price of the comic the sketch cover is wrapped in.

The second place is comic book conventions. I have found that there is usually one or two long box dealers who will have several sketch covers on sale. Those sketch covers usually are $5 a book.

The third option would be fans who come to your table and request you draw something on a sketch cover they have brought with them.

A possible fourth option is to search for them online and see if you can find any available for sale that way. I haven’t done that yet. All of my sketch covers have come from a combination of the three examples above.

What should I draw on a Sketch Cover?

Usually, it’s always a good idea to draw a character featured in the book. For example, if you have a Superman sketch cover, you should draw Superman. If you have an Avengers sketch cover, you should draw one of the recognizable Avengers on the cover. But there are always exceptions.

For example, Deadpool is a very popular character at conventions but the one Deadpool sketch that I have was made of that glossy paper. So, I instead, drew Deadpool on an X-Factor sketch cover that had the card stock paper. And since Deadpool is still a mutant, he would “fit” on an X-Factor comic book.

Likewise, I wanted to do a Loki-Minion mash-up on a sketch cover but since there are no Loki comic books, I drew him on a cover of an Avengers comic book since Loki was in the Avengers movie.

But you really aren’t bound to any “rules” when it comes to sketch covers. You’re certainly ‘allowed” to draw a Superman on a Captain America sketch cover and vice versa – those are just my own personal guidelines for which characters get drawn on which sketch covers.

What kind of Sketch Cover sells the best?

For me, without a doubt, it’s my mash-up sketch covers. For those unfamiliar with the term “mash-up”, it basically means “mashing two entities together to form one illustration”… a Minion as Batman would be a mash-up. Drawing the My Little Ponies as the fantastic Four would be a mash-up. Drawing the Muppets as various super heroes would be mash-ups. So, for me, my “mash-up” sketch covers usually sell very well.

Here is a small collection of some of the sketch covers I have done:

Batman Superman Minions
care_bear_grren_lantern_sketch_cover
Deadpool Mashup Brigade
My Little Pony FF
NEW Back Loki Sketch Cover

Can I draw on the front and back of a Sketch Cover?

Absolutely. But if you do, I would charge more for a “full-cover” instead of just a “front” cover.

Do you have any tips & tricks for drawing Sketch Covers?

Yes I do. Below are seven tips I use whenever it comes to sketch covers and how I display them on my convention table. Some of the tips I discussed in more detail above.

  1. I didn’t do sketch covers for a long time because most sketch covers were produced using a slick glossy cover stock which was incredibly hard to draw and color on – you essentially had to use a Sharpie and hope that you didn’t smear any part of your illustration.
  2. Current sketch covers are produced using almost a vellum-type bristol board or card stock. MUCH easier to draw, ink and color on now.
  3. In my personal experience, my mash-ups seem to sell so much better than doing a “traditional style” hero on the cover. For example, when I did a regular Harley, that didn’t sell nearly as fast as when I did Harley as a Power Puff Girl.
  4. You can generally find sketch covers at a dealers table at a convention. Usually, the typically price is $5 a sketch cover but at your local comic book store, you can sometimes find them for cover price ($3 – $5).
  5. How do I plan out my front and back sketch covers? I usually sketch the individual pieces first. I’m not worried about size. When I have all the characters that are going to be on the cover sketched out, I scan them. I then take the actual sketch cover and scan that too. I bring the sketch cover into Photoshop and then I will layer all the sketches together to fit around the logo of the book. I will then print a copy of that layout on 11×17″ paper on my printer. I will then put it on my light table and carefully place the sketch cover on top of it. I work from side to side – meaning all the pages have to be on one side so I can work on the cover then I have to move all the pages so I can work on the back. Does that make sense?I intended to do that with the Fantastic Four cover but discovered something that screwed up my plans. There was printed advertising on the front and back covers – that meant I couldn’t light table the design I had planned. Instead, I had to do a home made pencil transfer.
  6. For shows, I also invested in getting a package of bag and boards – $10 each but they both come with 100 bags and 100 boards. I put the finished sketch cover in a bag and board and put it on display on my table. I think it looks nicer and slicker that way.
  7. For front and back sketch covers, I now print out a slightly smaller than full size, full color print of the entire cover and put it in the back of the board so I don’t have to constantly remove tape and pull out the entire sketch cover when I tell someone the sketch cover is front and back. I just have to flip the book around and show them the smaller full-color version.

I think that’s all the tips and tricks I have for sketch covers.

If you have done sketch covers before, what are some of your tips and tricks you have done? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

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me_at_va_comiconChris Flick just figured out how to put his photo and bio information at the end of these Webcomic Alliance articles. When he’s not wracking his brain on how to do that, he’s busy being a full time web and graphic designer working in the Washington DC area. When he’s not doing that, he’s working on his Capes & Babes webcomic which he created back in 2007. When he’s not doing ANY of those things, he’s usually at a convention on the east coast of the United States.

Chris has over 900 Capes & Babes strips. You can read them all by going to his website, Capes & Babes. You can also visit his woefully outdated portfolio web site at  CSF Graphics. And if you’re interested in seeing some of the wild Minion Mash-ups Chris has become known for, you should visit his Pinterest Minion Mash-Up Board. You can also find Chris on Facebook and Twitter by doing a search for “Capesnbabes”.

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Posted in Business, Conventions, Drawing, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Site News.

18 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article! It was not 2 days ago that I was wondering about the history of sketch covers. At ECCC last month someone approached me to do a sketch cover for them and I was honored. It was the first time I ever did one and I was super nervous. It was a Batman comic, so I got lucky there being that he’s my favorite superhero. They even brought a CGC rep to my booth to verify my signature for the Signature Grade Series! I was blown away!

    Anyways, great article!

    • Thanks, Michael. Glad you appreciated the article. It was something I had been meaning to do for some time now.
      Also, great ECCC sketch cover story too.

      Now that you’ve done your first one, the others should come much easier. They can be a lot of fun to do, for sure!

  2. Those are some awesome looking covers, Chris!

    Nice tips. Also worth mentioning that sketch cover for YOUR OWN COMICS can be a great item, too. Usually they don’t cost much more than the regular edition of your book to print, but you can sell them for 5-10Xs as much as the regular floppy.

    • Thanks for the compliments, Tyler!

      Also, that’s a great point about creating your own Variant Sketch Cover for your own comic book.

      I don’t have a c comic book since all of the Capes & Babes books are trade paper back (TPB) collections but for those that do self-publish their own traditional comics, that’s a great piece of advice! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the article, Chris. I bought a Walking Dead #109 at my local store but have been hesitant to start drawing on that sucker for fear of screwing it up. After reading this, I’m ready to tackle the process for the first time.

  4. Does anyone know if its ethical to make prints of drawn on blank covers with the logo and issue number on them?

    • Anthony, that would more than likely be in the “not legal” realm. That being said, although I have NEVER seen anyone make a print of one of their original sketch covers, my biggest question would be who would purchase such a print? I’m just not sure the reproduction of a printed sketch cover would reproduce all that well. It would be interesting to see if this ever happens though – I just personally have never seen it done.

  5. Pingback: Sketching in Artists Alley at the River City Comic Expo 2015 | LinWorkman.com

  6. I’m curious about the legality of selling sketch book covers. I recently bought a stack of blank covers hoping to sell some with my sketches on them, but wanted to check to make sure there aren’t any legal issues. It would seem odd for comic companies such as Marvel to produce blank covers only to turn around and sue any artist who makes a profit out of filling and selling them.

    • Well, I agree with you. If they make the covers available, then why would they sue you for doing what they’ve essentially asked you to do? I don’t see any issues with it. Yes, technically you’d be drawing someone else’s IP for your profit, but it’s on a cover MADE by Marvel, so how can they get upset? I’d say go for it until someone says stop.

      Almost always, you would receive a cease and desist letter from a lawyer first before being sued. A letter is MUCH cheaper to send then to file a lawsuit. And in the legal system’s eyes, if you ignored the C&D letter, then you’re asking to be sued.

    • Rachel, we’ve discussed this sort of topic on various podcasts before. A sketch cover would be no different than a one-off, original commission – which is perfectly legal.

      The trouble and legality comes when mass produced prints are involved. So, say you created a fantastic sketch cover that you really love and decide to make digital copies of the cover and sell that. THEN that’s when a question of legality comes in to place. I have heard of some people doing this but I don’t see the advantage of doing something like this since it has the sketch cover logo and extra content on it. I personally believe that the appeal of sketch covers is that the purchaser gets a piece of original art AND and actual comic with the actual cover. If they just purchased a print of the sketch cover, that seems to defeat the entire purpose and speciality of sketch covers.

      The other thing to remember is that the company in question has already made money off of the sketch cover since you have to purchase it before you can illustrate on it, right? I don;t think you have any worries whatsoever in this department.

      • Sorry, Chris, I gotta correct you: NO, it is not perfectly legal. Using someone else’s intellectual property, regardless of the form it is in, is NOT legal in ANY sense. Whether it is ENFORCED is another question, but it doesn’t matter if it’s done as a one-time commission or a mass-produced print. Still is technically illegal, and still could be used as the basis of a suit.

        We talk about this in depth in our copyright podcast: http://webcomicalliance.com/chat-podcast/alliance-chat-28/#more-8306

        • I thought the final consensus was – especially when it came to commercially produced sketch covers – that one-off original sketches were okay to sell… it was always the subject of when these things were mass produced that fell into the illegal arena.

          And I do believe the subject of parody was inconclusive as well.

          I’ll have to re-listen to that podcast again…

          • Parody falls under free use. Just replicating another existing IP does not. One time or mass produced, it’s still technically illegal. It’s just not enforced. Yet.

          • Okay… I have to sometimes remember that what I type and what I mean are not always the same things so I will try and clarify since I’m not typing real fast during my lunch break… 🙂

            The absolute golden rule is that in the US, everybody (and every artist) should remember that anyone can be sued for anything. And that includes large corporations as well.

            But now I have to correct even myself (and Robin a little bit) by saying that not even parody is 100% protected (even though it should be) as Starbucks once famously sued an artist for spoofing and parodying their logo – and Starbucks won.

            Ultimately, from an ethical and legal stand point, it’s up to you to know what you feel comfortable doing because, yes, you can potentially be sued for drawing anything that even resembles another IP. And you can certainly be sued if you tried to sell that artwork.

            Is it likely that you would be sued for selling a single one-off commission of Spidey, Superman, Batman and so on? Chances are no. You would most likely get a cease & desist letter first before you would ever get a court summons. But again, just because it has NEVER happened yet doesn’t mean it WON’T EVER happen.

            How does this tie into sketch covers? I think that is way more complicated than what was discussed on our show. In fact, I would love to revisit JUST this issue alone as I don’t think the issue is as clear as people think. And, my personal belief is that a good enough lawyer could make a case that the companies that create and mass produce sketch covers are giving consent to artists to create their own artwork on them. It’s been proven time again that lawyers can be the biggest difference in the court – no matter what the actual piece of legislature says.

            But, the real questions come down to:
            1) whether someone feels comfortable drawing other IPs on sketch covers and,
            2) if they are ever sued, could they actually afford such a high priced lawyer to defend them?

            I believe one of the things Byron and I both said during that podcast is that some of this is similar to things such as speeding. When you speed, you’re consciously breaking the law yet people do that all the time without consequences. Does that mean you SHOULD speed? I can’t tell you that but I can tell you if you do speed, you have the potential for being pulled over and given a ticket and there are consequences to that.

            So, ultimately, when an artist decides to make money doing commissions – whether it is on a sketch cover or a blank piece of bristol board – it comes down to a personal risk versus reward situation… are they willing to risk a potential (but highly unlikely) lawsuit versus the cash reward of selling their art? Only each individual artist can answer those questions.

            And now you all know why I try never to respond to these posts during my lunch breaks. 🙂

  7. Hi

    Does anyone know if this blank sketch cover concept has been made into a sketch pad by any comics company? I mean a sketch pad where the sheets are multiple black sketch covers, so that people could practice drawing.

    • Sorry… I haven’t seen anything like that. Just plain ol’ single one-off sketch covers.
      But, an easy solution would be to scan one and make copies and then practice that way.

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