Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

July 23, 2014

All Eyes On San Diego: Comic-Con International Preview Night Launches San Diego Con Weekend

imageIt begins tonight in San Diego with Comic-Con's official Preview Night opening, followed by an official opening for business tomorrow. By "it" I mean Comic-Con International, both the event itself and the overlapping set of experiences that will also bear its name. It really does begin tonight. Because of the lack of dedicated programming running concurrent to what's happening on the floor, and because of valuable incentives in the form of con "exclusives" being made available by some of the vendors, Wednesday night has grown from a bonus event to a crucial part of the exhibition weekend.

There is also an Image Expo being held today -- that's one of the Image Comics events that involves a presentation of publishing news combined with a signing/interactive element. Image putting an Expo here throws the spotlight on the increased looseness of Comic-Con as a home for mid-year comics publishing news. More and more companies are pushing their news as far back as a couple of weeks before the show so as to maximize the attention that comes with Comic-Con. I think the idea is that by announcing beforehand, you get your own piece of spotlight and you go into the weekend with a storyline that people will remember as you make use of the on-the-ground elements of exhibiting and dealing with media. In other words, as a journalist I know there's a Thor story going into Comic-Con; if there's a Metamorpho story, I haven't been told that yet, and will have to notice when it happens and then make room for coverage based on my other plans.

So that's one change at Comic-Con on which I'll be keeping an eye. Not just the publishing news announcements themselves -- we'll have a good half-dozen of those here, and will track all the others -- but the way in which each publishing company and similar entity uses the convention. The convention has changed in massive fashion over the last ten years, and most comics publishers and creators are no more resource-stuffed in order to affect change than they were in 2004. Comics people are clever, though, and the work continues to be of a high quality and worth announcing to the world. More people than ever are interested in covering it. It's about time that a lot of comics really begins using the unique opportunities of this weekend rather than only continuing to claim about them. I think that will be in play this year. I expect comics to have a good con.

There are some fine stand-alone books to pick up, and I'd like to see that lock in more explicitly as a big part of this show. Bryan Lee O'Malley's Seconds is a book of the show just by being here, so effective a publishing phenomenon was Scott Pilgrim. I hear good things about the work, too. The art comics publishers are going to have a bunch of stuff out on tables -- I think if I had to suggest a single volume from that world it would be Eleanor Davis' How To Be Happy (Fantagraphics), but there are going to be a bunch. I think we get to see several copies of the next John Porcellino, and I'm very excited about that. IDW has new Artist's Editions, including I believe the Mignola. It's not just books. The NCS will have paper copies of a new magazine launch, and Jeff Smith will have an honest-to-god color comic book. It would be nice if San Diego Con continued to offer a rich slate of debut books moving forward; any late-summer or early Fall launch but also previews of any work ahead that a publisher is willing to have previewed. I'd like to see this more thoughtfully pursued rather than simply kind of tossed out there. Almost no one wants to carry around a grocery cart's worth of books, not anymore, but a few signed books in a variety of formats? Sign me up. It may even provide some marketing focus. Thinking more broadly, a focus on a few potential hit books is also a way that comics can continue to distinguish itself -- comics isn't just showing people commercials; we also have the real experience available, in a variety of ways, right there.

imageI'm interested in the sprawl of the show business side of things, the way that events have seeped out into the parking lots and hotel rooms and theaters of the San Diego that touches up against the convention center. There is a significant slate of events and things being done away from the comics show, starting but certainly not ending with that Image Expo. On the one hand, this makes total sense to me. I've been saying for 10 years and will say so again that there's an opportunity for someone to park a small press show somewhere in the vicinity. Also, with marketing budgets to be justified, bigger events make sense as a supplement if not a more fully-controlled replacement for a presence at the show. I feel bad for Comic-Con, in a way; it has to be sort of like people parking winnebagos outside a big house party you're throwing and promising people more party. If someone is dissatisfied by an out-of-convention-center event with that nice young man from Chuck, they're likely to blame Comic-Con as much as that individual event.

I'm interested in how harassment issues currently of significant and welcome interest within comics-culture circles might play out at an event this size. By adhering to their existing policy, Comic-Con leaves themselves open to criticism if the perceived results fail to fall in line with what people would prefer. Because of the nature of the debate, and the enormous, culture-wide disinterest in doing serious work making it stop, I'm sure there will be some opportunities for criticism. Keep an eye on more public flourishes of piggish culture on display at the event, particularly in terms of cosplay: video chronicles, photosets, on-line commentary about same. Also look at the more public meeting places -- the hotel bars -- and see if there's a shift in tone and mood there. As always I urge everyone right now to pay attention to this stuff to the point of dismantling or backing away from behavior that dances up against the line of unwelcome attention. What's going on isn't just correction, it's correction and resetting our baseline expectations. And it's about time.

I'm basically interested in the whole damn thing. I think we're at a moment where a lot of elements about comics culture and comics publishing have saturated to the point where they constitute a new normal, a status quo we've felt for a few years now even as we haven't explicitly acknowledged its existence. That's structural and well as about personnel; it's about the kind of art as well as the demographics buying it. It's about the future and how we perceive the past.

There's a good feeling in the air for a lot of comics people this year, which may make for a potentially strong Comic-Con weekend. I'll be there: doing a few panels, buying a few comics, seeing a few great artists talk, having the obligatory meetings. I hope you'll make this site a part of your convention weekend. We'll have about a half-dozen project announcements and will cover the whole lot of them. Eisner winners with linked-to nominees as soon as we can post. Observations and notes on Tuesday.

Everyone be safe and have a rewarding time, whether you're in San Diego or whether you're not.
posted 2:25 am PST | Permalink

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