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Look Bitch, You Knew I Was a Pirate

todayMarch 21, 2014 9 18

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He kinda looks like this, but ginger.

Guys, this is a somewhat personal blog, and I’m a little angry right now so bear with me.

In late August 2013, Ben and I had a table at Intervention 4. (We’ll be back again next year and I swear to glob I better see some of you guys there, but I digress.). During slow periods I would occasionally shop around at Artists Alley. At one of the tables I spotted the devilishly charming pirate artist Robert Quill, selling books and prints of his works along with custom illustrations.

I’d seen him the year before at a Star Trek convention in Cherry Hill, NJ. After buying a handmade necklace from his booth, he tried several ways to Sunday to convince me to commission a drawing. Like a used car salesman, he threw out incentives to get me to purchase other products. He also offered a naughty discount if I would let him imagine me in certain levels of undress. (I did not.) He’s pretty dang talented, but also rather pricey … and convincing.  Still, I somehow managed to make it out of the Trek con with my wallet intact.

At Intervention, though, I convinced myself that I needed a commission from him: I’d get a picture of my boyfriend Ben and me as Time Lords and use the characters to represent us on our Playing Doctor Podcast! Brilliant!

An artist’s representation of me at Mr. Quill’s booth.

There was of course some paperwork to fill out, a small disclaimer saying something like “must pay in full, no guarantee of deadline, no lube shall be provided for the services you are about to receive, you may become a human centipede,” etc.  (OK. I didn’t really read that way, but it should have.)

Sure, sure, whatever. I had hired artists before, and I wasn’t in much of a hurry, so no big deal. I’ll get the art whenever.

I received a first draft sketch  in just over two weeks. I approved it almost immediately and got confirmation of my approval within 10 days. (We’re up to October 3 for those of you playing along at home.) This all basically  matched my idea of a  “busy artist” schedule, assuming his business is full-time freelance/commission.

So when he said I’m afraid it’s going to be some time until it gets to the top of the “completion queue,” I wondered what could possibly be the latest date. Maybe January? No problem. I figured the best thing to do was to forget about it and avoid impatience, because then it would be like no time had passed at all!

On February 5, I finally came to my senses and sent him a quick, courteous little email asking for a status update. Something was stirring in my gut, and it wasn’t the burrito I ate for lunch. I started suspecting that I needed to escalate the issue. I needed to find another way to contact him and get some more information on why it was taking so long. I was already his friend on Facebook, but he didn’t seem to be posting much. I checked Twitter.

Instead of an active Twitter account, I found this:

Upon seeing this, I immediately ran a Google search on his name.  As I scrolled through the results,  I found dozens of people whose reports were similar to mine. Some had waited 12-18 months and may or may not have actually received the product they’d paid for.

Robert Quill himself  has chimed to defend himself in the comments of a couple blogs and his Better Business Bureau page.  In almost all cases – stretching back to the beginning of 2011 – I see a list of excuses about why he’s been so far behind schedule. Always the same thing: life is busy, unexpected turns, etcetera.

Life is tough man, truly. I feel your pain. I bet you also have kids and a full-time job and two or three podcasts, and the commissions are just so far behind all of your other obligations, and you have been slaving away at them whenever you have time, and …

Oh, what’s that? …This IS your full time job? You’ve found time to table at MORE conventions, where you undoubtedly took on MORE commissions to add below the list of the ones you’ve still haven’t completed?  And what’s THAT?  You are happy to charge extra for VIP status if your customers are unhappy with your schedule?


That seems absolutely NOTHING like a shakedown, does it?

He dressed like a pirate and talked me up like an expert snake-oil salesman. “Oh, that’s just an act,” I thought. “He’s just a cool guy and an expert salesman! Way to find a niche! I mean look at all these other people buying from him. He’s totally legit.”

I look at the facts now and think, “How could I have NOT known he was a con man? Man. I’m an idiot. ”

The truth is, most people don’t stop and research artists at conventions. There’s really no time and often the wi-fi/cell coverage is spotty to slow at best. You look at their portfolio and make a judgement.  Some convention artists even work on your commissions overnight and will give them to you before you leave the show. That means, they bypass all of the fun post-convention party time to do their job.

I wrote a rather curt email to Mr. Quill earlier this month, basically saying “Hey bitch, where my art. Put out or get out.”

At any point in this process, it would have only taken one simple trick to not get my feathers ruffled: COMMUNICATION. At no point since October did I receive an email saying, “Sorry, it’s taking longer than expected. You’re #937 in the queue, and you’ll likely have your order sometime next year.” If I had received such an email, I would have been unhappy; but, at least, I would know whether I would ever get anything for my money other than a rough sketch. A little communication often goes a long way.

At this point, I’d kind of like to dispute the charges with my credit card and perhaps report it to Square, but ya know what? I still want my art. Does that make me a sucker?** Please see update below**

Artists have a bad reputation for being flakes. The LAST thing any PR team needs is a guy like this.

The worst, to me, is that this happened to me at Intervention, which has the coolest community of artists and creators on the planet. The people who table there range from beginner to advanced, from hobbyist to professional, and a little of every imaginable style is represented. My giving money to Mr. Quill indirectly took money away from so many talented individuals who would absolutely LOVE to do art for cash.

To take it up another notch, I personally know several character artists who could have used the money and actually would have delivered.

And THAT’S the final thought that made me turn this blog into something positive. Below I’ve posted links of artists that I either know personally or were vouched for by Facebook friends. Consider it a little bit of positive karma for making a bad decision.

Here’s the lesson:

Buy art from the good guys. Try to get a personal recommendation. Trust your gut. When all else fails, check Google first!

Shown Above: Robot Portraits by Ben Rollman (who has done at minimum 5 sketches for me over the years), Chris Flick (who also did the Mouthy Broadcast caricatures),  J.K. Woodward, Drew MossModern Folk – Amy Klein, Nick Pendleton

More Non Shady Artists!

 Amy C. Moreno – Children’s Illustrations, Lisa Leach, Mark Winslow


I am a little late in doing this, but to be fair, my update on the eventual resolution was faster than his customer service.

After writing this blog, I filed a fraud claim with my credit card. I was extremely upset with the bank, who settled in his favor, deciding that a 3 month non-response from the merchant was not enough to prove he had horrible customer service and had not stolen my money. What!

So I filed with the Better Business Bureau. Shockingly I suddenly started getting emails from him. Now that it had been a year, I decided I certainly did NOT want his art any more, because it would mean I’d be posting it on Playing Doctor and helping to advertise a business that I could not support.  I would have accepted the pencil sketch if necessary, which I would take to another artist for finalization.

However I’m happy to report that I was given a full refund. It’s frustrating that I had to wait over a year and make it official, but in the end I got my money back and didn’t have to go to small claims court.

Further Research:

Other people’s similar experiences: Abbie’s BlogKillian McRaeDonya Lynne

Robert Quill’s Better Business Bureau report

You know it’s pretty bad when there’s a facebook group called Robert Quill owes me artwork.

Soapy Smith scammed yer great-grandpa

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  1. Oni Hartstein on March 21, 2014

    Definitely keep in touch with me on this. I’ve noted this such that the InterventionCon Artist’s Alley head knows to deny him a table until he gets his business in order – if he ever does.

  2. Chris Flick on March 21, 2014

    No problem adding me as a list of your featured artists. And to think, I get super, super guilty when it takes me more than two weeks to get a commission done – WHILE I have a full time job AND draw a cartoon strip three times a week AND do two podcasts a month for the Webcomic Alliance AND write a Webcomic Alliance article every OTHER month… oh, and go to at least 20 or conventions a year AND coach little league baseball and help run my son’s Challenger Baseball team as well…

    • Jennie Zell on March 21, 2014

      Chris – I feel the same way! I love your work (clearly) and have similar issues with my own freelance art business. I feel bad when someone needs a rush job and I can’t turn it around in less than a week. Since I work full time, if there are revisions, my work is delayed at least 6 hours until I can get home, fix dinner, and get BACK to work. And, even when this happens I try to stay in communication with the customer as much as possible.

  3. Kris on March 21, 2014

    I’d like to mention that Jennie turned around a request for artwork in a very quick amount of time, and was very pleasant to work with. I’ll use her again. This quill guy? Not so much.

  4. mikewrytr on June 20, 2015

    This stuff is still going on. I got rooked at RavenCon 2014. After a year of back and forth I go the conchar involved. He is reviewing Rob “Quill” Elsin’s potential to be at the ’16. I am also pinging as many con chairs as possible to deny this guy access to their vendors’ alley.

    • Jennie Zell on August 24, 2015

      Ah man, sorry to hear that. Best thing we can do is to keep spreading the word about our experiences. The BBB was the only way I could get through to him.

  5. Ziz on August 16, 2015

    At a convention in CT today and Robert Quill is here. He is such a smarmy douchebag. I have been in artist’s alley for a few years and have seen him many times and he always gives the same, slimy routine. I bought a necklace once (that his wife apparently makes, btw.) and couldn’t get away from him fast enough.

    • Jennie Zell on August 24, 2015

      I’m glad you got away! I have a necklace too – he managed to talk me into a glow in the dark one. I don’t entirely regret it.
      Unfortunately when he was recently at Tidewater Comicon, a friend of a friend purchased a commission from him. They’ve been advised to stay on top of the situation.

  6. mikewrytr on September 24, 2015

    FWIW, I may be registering as an attending professional (with my first published work) from Oct. onwards and I wonder if I should wear my “I Was Defrauded by Rob Quill” t-shirt to any panels I am invited to. I will check with my attorney but it imagine doing that at DragonCon. Happy face!

  7. Beth on October 16, 2015

    Hello! I have been doing some research on R. Craig Enslin (Robert Quill) after he took my cash and hasn’t delivered since JUNE 6 2015. A woman named Celine and I were taken for QUITE a bit of money and he’s not responding to emails.

    I’ve contacted Wizard World and Reedpop to get him reported and they are repulsed that someone with such shady business practices put a stain on their shirts, so to speak. I encourage every one of his victims to rally.

    I manage and edit for 5 diferent artists and writers who all have work commissioned on top of their other projects and selling at conventions. His lack of organization and communication is disrespectful, bordering on disgusting. I plan on sharing this article, along with all the others on my social media sites as well as with my own personal connections to ensure that future convention goers are safe from this kind of crappy business.

    • Jennie Zell on October 20, 2015

      Hear hear. As an artist myself I cannot stand this sort of thing. It’s shysters like that who give all of us a bad reputation as a community.

      Interesting that you say he was at Wizard World. In the comment I just replied to (below) I said that small conventions are happy to accept anyone with cash… completely forgetting that sometimes the big conventions just don’t care.

      Keep me posted, and definitely continue to spread the word.

  8. Ashley on October 17, 2015

    Robert owed me a portrait of a friend and I that I commissioned back in Jan 2015. After absolutely *no* email contact from him over the entirety of 2015, I finally went to the BBB, filed a complaint (still an F rating), began the process of retrieving the money through my credit card company and emailed the con organizers. The *only* one that worked was emailing the con organizers and telling them my tale of woe. You need to cut off his supply of cons since organizers don’t want to hire someone who rips off their patrons. This will affect *his* bottom line and is ultimately what finally made him respond (my theory). Thank you for this page! While I certainly wouldn’t wish this on anyone, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one dealing with this situation.

    • Jennie Zell on October 20, 2015

      I hope word gets around and I’ve informed the convention organizers that I am close with. The problem is that sometimes smaller events, desperate for money and filled tables, will accept someone no matter the reputation. Hopefully the well dries up eventually.

      In the meantime be sure to tell people … word will get around.

      What was your resolution, if any?

  9. Mike on March 10, 2016

    Two data points – the Quillinator never paid me back (despite offers and promises) and after the last go around I decided to extract my satisfaction in being his anti-marketing. Upcoming RavenCon reminded me that I need to get going on this, so I am going to design and make some tshirts for wear at cons. Anyone interested? I’ll give them away for the cost of materials. Also open to ideas on design. Something like, “I got ripped doff by Robert Quill, ask me how?”

  10. Dan O. on April 12, 2016

    He did the same thing to me. charged an outrageous price and left me with no picture… his personal cell phone number is 603-973-2119. Have Fun!