Four years ago, I wrote an article called Artists at Grand Prix: Their Future. Collaboration was my ultimate goal.
It laid out a question; whether it's financially viable for artists choose to attend if they don't have a full suite of products, changing their business model from "artist" to a "Magic vendor."
Being a vendor focuses resources, time and energy developing products specific to one brand and putting all their eggs into that one basket. Artist Guests of Honor in other events and industries are literal guests of the organization. While some GoHs cover some costs or have some wares to sell at the venue, organizers generally comp these guest with a free table, attendance and participation for the entire event and some amount of their travel and lodging are covered. It usually still costs the artists their own overhead fees to ship display pieces, artworks, and any products they have to sell of their own.
Conversely, vendors pay the organizer for a table, for the ability to sell to customers. Guests are brought there, while vendors are given the option to attend if they pay a fee.
My hope was that this was not a binary hypothesis as guest or vendor, and writing it would encourage discussion. For all artists/creatives the reality is that it is the blend of both that makes them uniquely beneficial to Magic events.
Years have passed and the many Grand Prix tournament organizers have consolidated into one, with smaller side events bubbling up regionally like Eternal Weekend, Dreamhack, and a variety of Star City Games events. The landscape has changed from what I thought would happen.
I then reread my quote:
Many artists, especially the established ones, will boycott Grand Prix events.
We've reached that point.
Some artists are organizing today, with a letter to Channel Fireball, specific to the "MagicFests" being promoted as the next evolution of the Grand Prix events
A note for those unfamiliar with standard convention/event practices: before you read the artist's letter:
- Guests of Honor are invited and not asked to labor in exchange for the invitation. This is common in conventions for authors, artists, and other marquee people.
- Being a vendor is overhead and creates a cost for artists that they must recoup in sales, in addition to lost time being able to make art. This already lowers already marginal profit for the vast majority of artists.
- Conflating vendor/guests/panels into something artists are charged for allows the organization to advertise off name value while charging the names they are advertising without compensation - this is not the standard in other areas of sports or fandom participation. You pay for a Marvel person's appearance fee, or training class, for example.
- There are many more artists who don't feel they can sign this.
What are some solutions?
- Adding corporate sponsorships would largely cover all the aspects they're looking for in terms of cost with ease. One thing to note is that corporate sponsorships are largely absent from the Grand Prix and now MagicFest circuit. Dreamhack has them yet the reasons why they are not present at the Grand Prix level is unknown.
- Artists will still go to MagicFest events as of today, but we as players will see fewer of them as more artists see this, and you the player will see largely the same people. A solution is to do nothing, and this is the result.
And now we are here.
This is not a quickly created item, but rather a document years in the making to improve their conditions. These concerns are not new, but artists going public about conditions is new.
I am sure the list of artists who are on this list will also grow in time.
The letter is as follows:
Dear Magic players, grinders, professional players, and fans who love Magic's award-winning artwork,
We regret to inform you that we are boycotting all MagicFest
events in 2019 due to the continued changes made by the Channel Fireball organization.
Art is a core pillar of Magic: The Gathering. It is highly valued for its impact on the game, the story and the community. The fantastical art of Magic brings The Multiverse to life, capturing the minds of fans and inspiring cosplayers, storytellers and artists. For many, it is the thing which captured our interest in the first place. Art is the beating heart of this game we love, and along with the rich mechanics and the passionate community, helps to make it great.
Behind this art are people who work tirelessly to create the finest illustrations they can in order to do right by the long history of the game. For most of us this is a full-time gig, and we are incredibly proud of our role in shaping something so important to so many people. Some artists choose to take time out of their busy schedules in order to attend a Grand Prix, often traveling long distances to do so. The primary reason we do this is not for profit, but rather as a way to connect with the community; we are not paid to attend these events, instead this is a rare chance to get out of the office and spend some time with like-minded people, sign some cards and to share our experiences with fans and friends. The opportunity to sell our work directly is, of course, an element which adds to the appeal of attending (it's far more enjoyable to sell prints or playmats to people in person and have a conversation, for example), but in the past it has always been a bonus as we were reimbursed for many of the costs incurred during travel and generally treated well by the tournament organizers.
This all changed when we began to be viewed as vendors rather than as guests. Support dropped sharply, travel was no longer funded, and services slowly started to erode. The financial burden was passed onto us and subsequently onto the people attending. There is a misconception that every artist who attends a GP walks away with money to burn, but unfortunately this is far from the truth; many of us barely break-even and frequently make losses now that our overall costs have increased.
On top of the additional financial burden, we are often asked to host art classes, seminars and workshops without compensation. This may seem like a small inconvenience, but in reality these events take a great deal of planning and time. It is worth noting that all other workshops, both public-facing and within the entertainment industry, will happily pay for professional artists to attend in exchange for their time, paying for flights and accommodation as well as tickets to the event. It is an industry standard.
The recent removal of even basic conveniences, such as support during lunch breaks and a safe space to store equipment and gear, highlights the low priority artists have become for event organizers, and led to the formation of this letter.
For context, here is a list of the services MTG artists could expect at GP's just a few years ago:
- Paid Flights
- Paid Hotel
- Break room
- Place to store our gear (often locked or secure)
- Free large tables
- Thursday dinner with organizers
- Sunday group event with event staff
Here is a list of what we are offered in exchange for our time today:
- Smaller table arrangement (expensive upgrade option)
- Limited and unclear hotel sponsorship (for some)
We are happy to be invited to work with you to make 2019 a better year, however the relationship becomes increasingly unhealthy for artists. How can MagicFest be a celebration of the game without also celebrating its artists? Channel Fireball's email statement about looking forward to working with us and making it an even better year despite worsening conditions is quite plainly disingenuous; as costs rise, these events are becoming harder to justify.
We love the Magic: the Gathering community and want to see it thrive. We do not wish to hurt attendance at Channel Fireball events, create division in the fanbase, or otherwise be antagonistic. Our goal is to improve Channel Fireball events with support for artists that attend; to make them sustainable for those artists who wish to appear as guests, to make events stably profitable for those who wish to attend as vendors; to ensure that busy artists are properly valued for their time; to unify the fanbase by giving attendees an event with well-supported and enthusiastic guests.
We hope our voices of concern will spark changes that make these events more fun, engaging and rewarding for everyone involved.
Paul Scott Canavan
Jonas De Ro
Bastien Lecouffe Deharme*
Doug Alexander Gregory*
Michael C. Hayes*
*s added after initial posting
You should be asking yourself, "So what do I do?"
If you are an artist, please contact me and I will work with my editors to add your name.
If you are not an artist, your call to action is to contact Channel Fireball and Wizards of the Coast in a manner that works for you. Tell them these conditions are unacceptable and you want solutions for artists.
Other organizations that use volunteer based programming are non-profits or offer volunteers on-site comps such as entry waivers, water, food, or green rooms. To move to charging "guests" as vendors for a for-profit Tournament Organizer also leads to problems where the community can be exploited on multiple axis like pro players, cosplayers, content creators, and more. It's not just about artists, it's about the entire community.
Email Channel Fireball: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Wizards of the Coast: email@example.com
Tweet at Channel Fireball: @ChannelFireball
Tweet at Wizards of the Coast: @Wizards_Magic
Submit a ticket at Wizards of the Coast about the "Store/Event" circuit here.
Your voice can help our whole player ecosystem to have more and a greater variety of artists attending Magic Fest events. I will work behind the scenes on this as well. When I have more news, I will report back.