The Artist and the Internet: A Cautionary Tale

Posted by Gregory Johnson on

I'm old enough to remember when the internet was nothing more than a really intriguing idea. There gradually emerged talk of an "information super highway", in which information could be instantly obtained. Not just information, but ALL THE WORLD'S knowledge at our fingertips. As I sit here now, writing this on my computer, (another far-fetched idea), to be published on my website, (can I even have imagined?), with my "phone" at my side, I see with wonder that it has indeed all happened and more. As an artist, this has changed everything. It's so much easier now to reach a far greater number of people with my work than anything I could have done in the days of analog.

But just as in everything, there is a dark side to all this. I used to comment that it isn't called the "web" and the interNET for nothing. And it's really easy to get caught. On the one hand, the internet is a fantastic tool for business, research, and entertainment. On the other hand, it's a breeding ground for con artists and manipulators. The hounds go where the smell of money is. And let's not forget the trolls and meanies who seek to hurt those they don't know hiding behind the cowardly veil of anonymity. I look at the on-line world the same way as I look at the outside world: good and bad in equal measure. Yin and Yang, if you will. As an artist, when I present my work to basically the entire world, I must understand that I make myself vulnerable by doing so to a varied group of people, from decent folks to scalawags, and everything in between.

One of the banes to an artist's on-line existence is the con man. Someone  who preys on the hopes and dreams of sometimes desperate artists, who are just trying to do the thing they love the most. Instagram seems to be their favorite spot. When an artist promotes his or her work, they seep into the process, usually with a commission request. When I get such a request, the caution flags go up. Most of these guys go to a lot of trouble creating what looks like a legit social media presence, sometimes even lifting people's social media accounts to make it harder to research them. I encountered one of these the other day.

He messaged me via IG requesting a drawing for his five year old son's birthday, who was a Spiderman fan. Now, since you're reading this blog, I'm sure you know I don't do cartoons. My spidey sense began to tingle. It just so happens that when I was younger, I was a cartoonist, but there was no way this guy knew this. But I thought, what the hell, this will be fun and good practice to brush up on my anatomy. And who knows, maybe this is for real? In any event, I had nothing to lose. I sent him a rough sketch. NEVER send anything even remotely finished in case they just lift it and sell it as their own. He came back with more suggestions so I thought, hey maybe this is for real. When I submitted the second sketch he thought it "was great". So then the moment of truth: money. I only accept Venmo and I told him I'd take 30% paid now with the balance due on completion. Then he came up with a by now familiar M.O. He would email me a copy of a check which I could copy and deposit. It usually involves a personal check for these guys. Their aim is to get to your personal info so they can bleed your bank account dry. Now, I was really tempted to give him an eyeball full of invective, but I finally just blocked him. There must be people out there who fall for this stuff, since they keep on doing it. If you don't have the time to screw around with these spiders, talk money first, and watch them spin their hem and haw web.

Well, anyway, it was indeed a chance to brush up on my super hero chops and stale anatomy skills. The attached picture is the end result, albeit greatly altered from the original idea. So I guess I owe my charlatan pal a backhand thank you. It turns out all that bullshit wasn't for nothing. It's entitled "Mr. Negative", or Yin to you. If you want to purchase it, message me. Venmo only. (Wink wink).