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April 21, 2008


50 Observations And Notes From The Floor Of The New York Comic-Con, 2008

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1. Although I'm on the road and could be completely whiffing on a biggie or two, I would say these are the biggest pieces of publishing and related news arising or otherwise first reported from New York Comic-Con: 1) Gordon Lee case dismissed; 2) Viz and Tokyopop each starting major-sounding new lines; 3) Virgin Comics banks on serial superhero universe creator Stan Lee (not for the substance of the result but for what it says about Lee and Virgin and each entity's desire to make such a deal); 4) Analysis at ICv2.com graphic novels conference suggests structural difficulties in the marketplace related to shelving and over-saturation should only get worse in the months ahead; 5) NYCC enjoys a generally successful show marked by slight panel disruptions and some scattered pre-planning. I wasn't quite feeling this number, but I'm sure there were a lot of people there.

2. It was easy to detect a lot of enthusiasm by the hometown creative community and New York publishers for the show; the opposite reaction would be deadly, I think. If I were in charge of NYCC, I would try to harness some of that local spirit through an incentive program or something that targeted regional artists and professionals in some way -- they were the show's best ambassadors, by far.

3. There was also a sense, at least for me, that Marvel and DC quite liked being the largest and most vital participants of a big-time comics convention. It's pretty remarkable considering how they were situated vis-a-vis this summer's popcorn movie slots and how many TV and movie actors/writers/creators in total hit the show how little film and TV-related buzz there was on the show floor compared to some other cons, but I don't think the cartoonists and comics industry folk seemed to mind one bit.

4. People kept telling me not for attribution that the programming had problems in that it was disorganized: people didn't know what panels they were on until late, there seemed to be a bit of overlap, and moderators didn't always know who was to be on their panels. It should be pointed out I heard no complaints about problems executing that schedule, and the people I spoke to seemed to believe most panels well-attended.

5. A lot of the old-time fans seemed to take special pride in this con as a spiritual successor to the old Seuling Cons, once the crown jewels of fan interaction.

6. I have a hunch that Spring dates suit this show a lot better than Winter ones. If the city were difficult to navigate, the stress levels would increase ten-fold, and I'm not certain every professional wants to break out of the winter work season to go run around New York for a few days.

7. I'm certain the project itself has been announced in other places, but I'm not sure I thought about it in the following way: Andrews McMeel seems to feel their forthcoming Dilbert boxed set is of a kind with its Complete Far Side and Complete Calvin and Hobbes efforts, even though the ongoing strip is for obvious reasons by no means complete. One way they're getting that feel to the project is by including a disc that will access a site that will update the strip's complete run as it builds onto the material in the set. There was a point at which I thought we might see five or six of those big $150 efforts from modern strips, but I don't think that's going to be the case. I'd be amazed if there are three more out there to be published.

8. Mark Evanier has a great "it's a small world" story about Mary Skrenes that I hope by now is up on his blog. I saw two or three people with only Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics book as a purchase, even though it's been out for a while.

image9. Dash Shaw's The Bottomless Belly Button looks quite gorgeous as both a publishing package and in the way the interiors were realized. I hadn't known that Shaw recently moved from his longtime home of Richmond, Virginia.

10. The Comic Foundry gang continues their group effort to point out how old I am and how young they are by featuring on their next issue's cover a female television personality who apparently covers comics, someone I couldn't have picked out of a line-up. Thanks, jerks.

11. I kept introducing myself to people that I've met up to a half-dozen times, because apparently I really am as old as Comic Foundry makes me feel. Or New York made me tired and confused. Sorry, Dan. Sorry, Amy. Sorry, other people.

12. NYCC spent three years to develop the Thursday/Friday party imbalance that it took San Diego three decades to achieve. I'm kidding, of course -- it's not a race. I would assume that in both major cities 1) it's easier to get a space for a Thursday night and 2) if you're throwing a smaller bash you sort of naturally avoid the weekend nights thinking that there would be bigger parties those nights.

13. Buzz Dixon's Christian comics studio is launching a third series through Thomas Nelson, this one a science fiction parable about courtship and marriage.

14. Jog of Jog the Blog is a nice, young man with an odd day job, strange dietary habits and apparently no desire to get any closer to comics than writing well about them and going to the occasional show.

15. The talented cartoonist Jim Campbell has not only a third but a fourth issue of Krachmacher out. I thought that guy had quit.

16. The convention could use better organization within its sections. The general orientation of the show seemed to work, and the big booths were spaced out at great enough distance to reduce traffic jams, but within certain areas there were some odd pairings. For instance, Fantagraphics might have been more naturally placed with other book publishers -- despite their comics roots they publish more in line with those companies than with five or ten-title comics companies -- rather than between Thomas Nelson and one of those con-classic, super-odd self-publishing efforts.

17. I haven't seen this noted anywhere, but DC's been live with Random House under their new distribution deal for several days now. The important thing to remember about a deal like that one is that it not only should have a physical effect on what books are available where, it will likely have long term ramifications in terms of how a publisher like that rolls books out and deals with those elements of its process in-house that have an impact on the final distribution.

18. I'm told that the Metropolitan/Joe Sacco book deal I mentioned Friday is one from a few years back rather than a brand new one, more a diversification of publishing options for the cartoonist that started a while ago than any bold, new direction.

19. Andrews McMeel is also doing a series collecting the newer Prince Valiant work by Mark Schultz and Gary Gianni -- that had also been announced a while ago, but I wasn't aware they were going for more of an accessible trade-type deal rather than a prestige/collector's item option.

20. The vast majority of creators to whom I spoke early on at the show were targeting Grant Morrison's Saturday panel.

21. The first surprise, cropped-up-suddenly line that I had to walk around was for Captain America artist Steve Epting.

22. I still don't get the costumes.

23. In the retail booths I saw a lot of discounted trades and a lot of how-to books, or at least enough more than usual to be noticeable.

24. Fanfare/Ponent Mon was set up next to Knockabout; it was like a two-booth visit from a comics scene on another world.

25. In addition to syringe giveaway pens for the launch of Black Jack, a welcome old-school promotional tactic (syringe pens are usually the purview of medical supply companies), Vertical had the first issue of its Dororo series on-hand. We live in a rich comics publishing era when Tezuka books can arrive after one totally forgot they were coming. The project they have planned after Black Jack launches is an equally big-name one, although much smaller in page size.

26. Describing some of the costumes in a bar later Friday night, I learned that New Yorkers have names for body parts that people in New Mexico tend to avoid even thinking about.

27. The new Feiffer book The Explainers looks sharp and is hugely thick, like a Maakies volume after several cycles of dianabol.

28. If overlapping remarks are any indication, a lot of publishing people seem as generally encouraged by opportunities to provide comics for kids as they are broadly anxious by what everyone sees as that potentially huge shelving crisis about to hit the big bookstores due to the continued flood of publishing, random elements of still-pernicious comics culture that thwarts the marshaling of specific resources in fruitful directions, and even the peculiar quirks of certain buyers.

29. Generic press passes is either the greatest idea ever or the worst. It's always nice to be reminded the job is more important than the person holding it. On the other hand, because I lisp my own last name, part of me really wanted my name on my badge even though I couldn't bear to write it on there myself. Plus I feel like a knob either way: introducing myself up front or waiting until after we've chatted a bit.

image30. My feet greatly appreciated the carpeting, but my knee did not appreciate it when I stepped on some light fixture or plug or something hidden under one of the rugs and twisted it. Ow.

31. You know, we obviously have different news priorities, but considering how they're beginning to smartly press their advantages in terms of size and scope and ability to temporarily tweak their platform, I have to admit that I'm starting to feel the pressure to step up this site's game to match Newsarama's. They had guys covering Legion of Super-Heroes panels that would have doubled my ability to cover the entire show could I have afforded them. One year from now, they'll probably have 50 staffers on every convention floor armed with Flip Video Ultras, and the rest of us will look like 63-year-olds turning out mimeographed newsletters for the local Masonic lodge.

32. It was nice to see you, too.

33. Two advantages cited by many over the San Diego floor were multiple ATMs and a rumored (well, I never saw it), professionals-only lounge area.

34. One group where a couple of players professed an interest in a stronger New York show over continued fealty to San Diego: book publishers, including a significant one not based in New York. It makes me wonder if Comic-Con International might benefit doing more work to make that a stronger, more distinct presence on their floor the way the superhero publishers, Indy Island and the art-comics areas have become dependable, recurring areas of special interest.

35. The dedicated Newsarama NYCC site has music that comes on about 30 seconds after the window opens. It scared the crap out of me every time I used it.

36. It's more an official hunch on my part than it is the result of some quantitative measurement, but I felt the mainstream American comic book companies did not fully endorse NYCC in terms of it becoming a place to hear breaking mainstream publishing comics news as much as they might have. At least it didn't seem like a ton of news of that sort was coming out at the show. There was some, just not a ton.

37. A continuing item of discussion among press people had nothing to do with the show but is a significant subject when it comes to comics publishing: a lot of folks seem at least slightly concerned whether or not they'll have a job six months, one year, five years from now. Not just a job covering comics -- a job covering anything.

38. One of the more interesting assertions made during Thursday's ICv2.com Graphic Novels Conference is that manga's ability to drive interest in fan participation has been a boon for publishers across the board in that there are more and more young people developing professional-level craft chops.

39. Best wishes and a speedy recovery from bumps and bruises to one of my three favorite comics/comics-culture bloggers, Kathleen David.

40. You know what was really popular without calling attention to itself? Any kind of statue or model that parents could make their kids stand next to while they took a photograph. You could probably do pretty well devoting your entire area to that kind of thing.

41. Marvel's not exactly all the way back into the conventioneering business, but their sparse booth stood in contrast to DC's now-familiar structure more through the presence of multiple DC staffers at their booth than by design. It's hard to say which strategy makes the most sense -- Marvel's requires almost no attention and investment, and although they miss out on multiple networking and press-shepherding responsibilities, the vast majority of people don't care about those things.

42. First Second will have an eight-book line-up this Fall, and will likely bounce between six and eight books in future seasons.

43. I'm not sure anyone's noticed -- I hadn't -- but the boutique publisher Oni Press has quietly almost tripled their staff the last few years, and is in either their 10th or 11th year of publishing, the latter depending on how you count things.

44. Del Rey Manga's Fairy Tale launch is apparently their most successful to date.

45. Heidi MacDonald made an interesting point in brief conversation that the comics industry seems to have little or no idea what to do with publishing news, and if I understood her point correctly, she's right. I just scanned a bunch of comics news and I'm not sure any of a number of publishing announcements I talked about on the floor were packaged and presented in a way that made them big news stories, and there's no reason many of them shouldn't be. Lead time issues still tend to punch proper marketing of individual books in the nuts. Serial comics tend to be the home of "what's next?" speculation. The industry doesn't have street dates to speak of. Diamond can't guarantee a date to ship anything even when stuff is listed. As a result of all of these things, material kind of floats to the surface rather than hits with a splash.

46. Good gravy, Ross Richie can talk.

47. I'm still a little skeeved out by the easy soft-porn/kids comics mix that you find all over the floor of a convention like this. "Naked Cylon Six" said one table banner over a few Playboys. I saw a few scattered porn magazines out on a table a few booths down from a line of kids waiting to meet Sonic the Hedgehog.

48. A strange, quiet young man walked up to me and asked if I had seen Jason Dohring, seemingly fired up with the certainty I could help him as if the actor and I were publicly-known old chums. Dohring wasn't murdered at the convention after 3:30 yesterday, was he?

49. I went into the press room at 2:30 PM on Sunday and didn't know a damn person in there. But there were like 20 people in there, all writing furiously into their computers.

50. One story that's not fresh enough or substantial enough by itself for me to consider it a top five news story but is worth noting nonetheless is the DC Comics imprint Vertigo making some PR hay about seeking out OGNs. This is important because 1) Vertigo was built upon a serial comics model and collection of same into trades, and 2) most of their big hits have come from writers with established credentials within comics rather than from outside of comics, and a call for agents to pitch OGNs indicates that a lot of outside talent will start to come to the imprint. That being said, it should be noted that three expected announcements all deal with projects from veterans rather than outsiders, including one from the great Peter Bagge.
 
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