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July 17, 2012


Comic-Con International 2012: A Few Notes

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By Tom Spurgeon

1. Someone died. Her name was Gisela Gagliardi, she was from New York, she was an accountant and a Twilight fan, and she made a deeply unfortunate decision darting into traffic, a decision for which she paid everything.

2. I think it's important that we remember Ms. Gagliardi in a prominent position in our summary reportage on the show. I believe this should be the case mostly because I think human life trumps both publicity and the fitful yet poignant celebration of art that San Diego Con provides. I also believe it should be done because comics at its worst adopts a consumer's myopia where everything is colored by whether or not one's own appetites are being met, and how, and to what extent. What happened Tuesday to this woman and fan may not have anything to do with things you and I value or choices you and I might make, but they were important to her just as she was important to somebody.

3. I thought this was a fascinating show on a lot of levels, likely colored by the fact I had a great time. Man, I had a blast. I saw and spent time with close friends, I laughed a lot, I got to meet and talk to some of my art heroes, I was able to conduct a fair amount of necessary business, I met new people I like very much, I received tag-team life advice from two completely different couples I admire, and I spent five days deeply engaged with the fruits of the mighty comics art form. They gave the site an award. Freaking Bill Blackbeard got in the Eisner Hall Of Fame. Everyone was nice to me about my no longer hating myself in a specific way that shaped and defined my appearance. I felt okay at the end of the show, which wasn't the case at my first two attempts at post-surgery convention-going (I thought I might die in Brooklyn during a panel). It was a near-ideal weekend of its type, all things considered, using a measure of pleasurable experiences rather than a rigorous standard of peak ones.

4. The central dilemma of writing about something like San Diego Con is that you want to make strong choices in terms of what it all means, but doing so is ridiculous. It's not blind men describing an elephant by touching an isolated part of its body; it's blind men discussing the quality of being enjoyed by an elephant after touching an isolated part of its body.

5. Let me unpack that one a bit. A thing I enjoy about San Diego is that it takes place in this bewildering array of Things I Could Never Enjoy. I don't understand the costume impulse. Lines give me the hives. I don't want to take endless photos of people dressed up as superheroes. I would never willingly spend an hour watching trailers and then listening to people stumble through worshipful questions of celebrities because I figure there will be plenty of that in Hell. There's relatively little in San Diego I would take home with me were it free. And yet I don't have any more right to decide what that show is all about than the first-time visitor from Staunton, Virginia that wants to buy some steampunk art and maybe be in the same room as Jensen Ackles. It's good to remember that.

6. I'm also as I get older more and more impressed with the basic logistical aspects of the show: the fact that the whole thing works as well as it does. Stop and think about what they're trying to do for a second and then remember the barely restrained chaos and potentially heaving collapse of your average 45-person school field trip, or, hell, getting eight people to dinner at any random funnybook convention. I know, right? It's hard to believe how quickly you get processed through press registration now; the only time any security guard stopped me to make me do something weird I said "no thanks" and went through the door I wanted to go through anyway -- without being tased. It's not comics-festival attentive there in terms of finding help when you need it, but it's not bad.

7. That said, I heard a number of complaints about arbitrary policies concerning lining people up -- particularly on Wednesday -- and a lack of attention paid to helping exhibitors with significant booth lines on the show floor.

8. I think I was right to guess the driving comics industry story would be digital. Fantagraphics made an announcement that was a very loud thing snapping into place, particularly for that corner of the market. I agree with Image publisher Eric Stephenson that we're likely to see more cycles in how people approach digital publishing, but I also think making choices and actually executing policy is a much more fruitful development than imagining one and talking about it.

image9. My hunch from reading these things on the faces of people and talking to those around them is that Los Bros Hernandez had a very good show. If that's true, I'm thrilled. I loved their panel. I love that Mike Allred came to pay tribute, and a lot of other faces I know were in attendance. I greatly enjoyed spontaneously talking about them with so many people during the weekend. There always seemed to be attention to their signings. Their books and t-shirts sold well. There was enough publicity about their 30-Year Anniversary I'm hopeful they can receive even more attention through SPX and APE. Positive stories are good stories, too. Was it a top five story of the show in terms of the overall crush of the PR campaigns for mega-corporation owned properties, this stuff that passes for news now? No. But it was up there with the top comics stories and the bottom-line reality of the attention was encouraging. As a fan, I'm grateful to so many of my peers for writing about them in the last several days.

10. There was a lot of talk about where people are in their careers and where they're going, worked into a bit of a frenzy by recent attention to creator's rights stories. It's interesting to me the kind of shorthand you get now because you can talk about these things on-line first. At any rate, I think more and more people are looking to become islands unto themselves and that this is a good thing -- maybe the only potential good thing. I did sense some hurt about the excesses of the conversation so far, but I'm also encouraged by the fact that comics sort of had a conversation about this, and that it continues.

11. I've hinted at this elsewhere, but I think there may have been a noticeable diminishing of monied comics buyers. The people that flashed down to San Diego day-of to buy a bunch of stuff are way gone, but I think until the last couple of years it was possible to plan a San Diego vacation a few months out like you might plan other things. A lot of people did okay sales-wise, but no one I talked to killed and some people were hurting. A common thread seemed to be higher-end items. Lots of potential reasons for that, but when I think of who was missing from this show among the dozens of people I know that attend and things like the mostly empty restaurants I could never get into before this year, I wonder if it's simply becoming too difficult for a certain kind of fan and buyer to attend.

12. I intensely disliked the fact that there was a lot of evening programming that was just like daytime programming but in the evening. This has been creeping up on attendees for a while now, but is full-blown ridiculous now. Plus the way the programming is done you sort of agree to do these things before someone comes back at you with the time.

13. I think comics is getting its act together a bit in terms of using the weekend to drive attention to certain publishing projects. Bunch of interesting stuff announced this weekend if you go to those sites that cover these things as opposed to those that cover Iron Man movie footage and then whine abut the lack of comics at Comic-Con. We heard about a slew of "we're not stopping with the new series" Image stuff, Gaiman/Williams Sandman, Spiegelman at D+Q, an Anne Ishii-produced giant book of gay bondage porn, Oni and Top Shelf among others with significant digital content announcements, and so on. Marvel treats the weekend as a movies-related toilet announcement wise, but they're suffering a bit from always counting on content and Jack Kirby's mighty IP God Machine talents to make up for doing all the small things correctly, so if they want to continue down that path, fine. The best moments for me at recent shows have involved people sitting around and talking about comics to an audience eager to hear about them, and there was a lot of that this weekend if you looked.

14. My big suggestion for the Comic-Con International people is that they revive "San Diego Comic Con" as a brand, make it a 10-6 show within the show (in soft ways, not hard ways), restrict the comics label they use for programming to things actually about comics, sell memberships on a staggered schedule that only allow for access to comics stuff for people that want those (color the badges differently), then turn around and sell any extras as general tickets at an inflated price with the CBLDF and Hero Initiative getting the difference.

15. While I have some of you Comic-Con folks -- well, maybe -- the one question I hear all the time from other people in terms of how the show goes now is why all the panels aren't recorded.

16. It's worrisome to me how many fewer younger cartoonists in which I'm interested choose to attend this show now. I don't know that my concerns are significant, but I do have them.

17. My impression of Trickster is that this year's space was much less amenable to the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle goodwill feel that the off-site indy-comics driven venue had last year, but that there's still enough of a strong desire for that kind of thing they were fine. A bunch of people endorsed the food, actually, although that wasn't a part of my stops over there.

18. People still go to the Hyatt.

19. One thing that you remember at conventions is that there are so many cool, smart people working in comics that aren't creators or editors or publishers -- the three groups that probably get the most attention on a regular basis. I hope there are ways I can drive more attention to that fact in the weeks ahead.

20. Too much attention has already been given to people quitting Comic-Con after this year, basically pros for whom the show doesn't work right now. I expect a few more people to engage this year's "I'm out" class as if they're the first ones. In actuality, people have been checking out of that show for years; it's not a new thing. Adapting to a show that's changed this much is going to include a component of people walking away. I still find it an incredibly useful industry and fun comics show, and I think others can, too. The things that have worked best about the convention the last five years have come from people striving to improve what goes on there; I think Comic-Con itself could take a lesson from that and become more active in shaping the comics portion of their show.

21. It was an honor to meet and talk to Gilbert Shelton, one of the greats. It was fun -- and instructive -- to watch a Kate Beaton panel. I enjoyed talking to Alison Bechdel and sitting down with Eric Stephenson and catching up with folks like Matt Fraction and Craig Thompson. And so on. I've written in the guide about how bad I am when it comes to making introductions, but it's such an underrated great feeling when you make one that's brand-new that you never would have guessed hadn't happened before, when comics becomes more connected despite the hammering insistence from so many that things stay as atomized and exploitable as possible. God bless the five-day funnybook hang-out.

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