December 23, 2014
Everything I Still Remember About Comic-Con International 2014
These are my notes and observations from the four-day weekend of Comic-Con International 2014
. They are very late.
Right before attending this show I accepted a position as Festival Director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus
, a show starting in 2016 with a launch event in 2015. Please read the following in the light of that knowledge, and come to whatever conclusion you like.
* I thought Comic-Con International 2014 was a good show. I didn't feel it was a great show or even a particularly memorable show, but it was solid. I'm sure it was the best show ever for a bunch of people, and the worst show in a while for another subset, but for the bulk of people with whom I spoke and in my own experience, it was a standard, quality, conventioneering weekend.
* I still think Comic-Con works. Not all shows do. To their credit, that's a show that's continued to work despite years of changes, almost across the board. It's not just bigger and different; Comic-Con is actually different now in terms of the experience one has there. There's a lot of give and take. What the show has lost in terms of being an alt-comics showcase, for example -- too many publishers are gone now for it to really fill that role anymore -- it's gained in terms of being a place to do some business: touch base, conduct interviews, plot out the remainder of the year.
* I think it does that business thing extremely
well. I'm nobody, and I take more meetings at one day of Comic-Con than I do at all the other shows combined. These meetings are hugely useful. Comics people have become oriented at Comic-Con to talk the business of the art form, and it's now the anchor show for all sorts of us in terms of setting up how we're going to do what we do for the next six to 12 months. I bet New York works this way, too, but they have no arts-comics elements at all -- or just a tiny hint of one -- and is thus useless to most of us that value that expression of the medium. Not everyone chooses to play under the big tent in San Diego, but it's still a big tent, and there are still publishers and artists and comics entities that I want to see
there that are difficult to see anywhere else.
* it's nice, too, to do business where it's sunny and there's a lot going on. Comics fans love to mix business with pleasure in this exact way.
* so the big change for me this year was to go for only part of it. I felt I could afford about half the show, so I attended from Thursday early AM to Saturday late PM. I missed some very good programming on Sunday and the general sense of settling in and enduring that comes with going for the whole magilla, but it still felt like I was there for a whole show's worth of paneling and conversations on the floor and the like. I was also less exhausted, a big deal for me this year.
* I've always joked that once you start going for part of the show, you never go back, and I don't know if that will be true of me or not. I imagine my attending the whole thing again will depend on my financial situation and whether or not there's a significant advantage to staying the extra days. I don't buy all that much there, so Wednesdays are kind of lost on me (I am of the less than one percent that wishes Preview Night would go away). Sunday nights stopped being something I would I do when I realized I was never going to be invited to a Dead Dog party. Saturday nights -- formerly the night for a big alt-comics party, or at least people standing around on a beach -- is now basically half people from alt-comics attending film or animated TV show parties, and half exhausted alt-comics regulars going to bed early.
* like I said, a different show.
* I regret missing the summer's Image Expo, which I think was smart for them to do on the Wednesday before the weekend in one of the nearby hotels. I do wonder if they can maintain a twice-a-year pace without that getting pretty ordinary pretty quickly (one thing they'll do to spice things up is variants), but they certainly own the daily news cycle when they do one of these mini-shows. I remember more name artists than usual as part of the announcements, which is a big deal for Image because an artist's commitments are more important for their ability to make only a certain number of pages a month. I don't think the resurgent Image story is over yet; I think there are a lot of creators that given a chance to step away from some of the peculiarities of working for the Big Two companies or for the companies modeled like them are going to do so. I think if we do get a surge of writers and other comics-makers with a footprint in wider media -- and I heard rumors of three such deals Comic-Con weekend -- this will likely be the way they choose to work in comics.
* I had representatives from four different publishers tell me that a specific mention in Eric Stephenson's keynote address at Image Expo was aimed at them. I thought that was funny. Maybe it was meant for more than one person.
* one big thing I thought in play this year with the Expo and with a lot of other publishers was a slight but important shift in PR strategies regarding how to use Comic-Con to encompass more of a "narrative" strategy than a "news splash" strategy. A narrative strategy gives you the news up front or leading into an event so that your work at the event can be explaining what was announced to those already intrigued by the pre-show announcement. It's a really strong partner to the news splash announcement, which counts on the force of the news being announced at the show to carry enough weight to be noticed. I love both, but Comic-Con has been oriented for so many years towards news splash strategies -- I can remember just seven or eight years ago having to leave panels to call people so they could get some item of news up on a web site -- that I get why the top five publishers in particular might want to do a bit more of the former. BOOM! announcing stuff every day of the month leading up to the show is a variation on that same idea.
* one way Comic-Con works is as a publishing news clearinghouse -- the time of the year and the focus on comics drives news stories. Restricting myself to what I can remember two months later -- after which I'll code -- here is a sampler of that wall of publishing news, both from the show itself and from publishers taking advantage of the show's place on the calendar. Let's focus on what I do most strongly: alt- and art comics. Katie Skelly announced
her follow-up to Operation Margarine
; Koyama Press is collecting
A. Degen; AdHouse will have a one-book Fall season
featuring Eric Haven; Geoff Grogan is doing Plastic Babyheads
material through Andrews McMeel, Jeff Smith will do a new Bone-related poem comic
for a special release of Bone
Vol. 1 to celebrated the 10th anniversary of Scholastic's Graphix imprint. Retrofit named
its 2015 creators line-up; Hic & Hoc announced
its SPX debut; Fantagraphics is doing a big line
of Vaughn Bodé books; Lucy Knisley released
a cover to her second Fantagraphics-published travelogue; Scholastic made official their plans
for a new volume one of their Bone
series to commemorate the tenth anniversary of their Graphix imprint; Conundrum Press will be working
with Dakota McFadzean and Drawn and Quarterly released a cover and announced details
on a 25th anniversary book and a slew of their 2015-2016 releases including things like SuperMutant Magic Academy
* I mean, good gravy, that's a lot of encouraging and fun and important publishing news. I never understand why people aren't sky-high comics wise coming out of that show, and how a big chunk of stories like this isn't 10X the news of whoever showed up to promote whatever movie -- or, this year, who didn't. (No big Star Wars
movie stuff was a recurring complaint.)
* so a lot going on. We should probably get my brother and I down to the show. Thursday. My brother Whit and I had a freaking blast shooting down the highway from LA for Thursday at the show, driving 5:30 AM until mid-morning. It was dark and dramatic and we stopped for breakfast at some little coast town and talked about things we wanted to maybe buy. It was a great way to get excited about attending the show. We felt like we were on a mission. A nerd mission. During the last 25 miles, traffic slowed, and we noticed people in other cars in half- or full-costume.
* my big new travel tip was that I dropped my brother and our luggage off at the hotel -- it's wonderful to take real luggage to a show rather than airplane-sized bags! -- and I parked at the airport long-term parking. I saved about $95 for the time I was there, hotel parking being very expensive. This is probably not allowed, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was able to get away from and later back to my car with a short transit train hop and a six-minute walk. When I picked up the car after our time at con, I drove back to the hotel to pick up Whit and the luggage. It worked out extremely well -- in fact, given how long it's taken the Westin to find my car in their garage at past shows, it was probably less time for me to go up north and grab the car out of the lot.
* I stayed at the Westin Gaslamp, formerly known as the Westin Horton Plaza, formerly known as the Doubletree. It was my first San Diego Con hotel -- there was a brief time it was the alt/art hub -- and thus the one of which I am most fond. This was a redesign about two-three years ago, now. It's an expensive place to set up shop, but there were always people in the lobby doing business and having drinks. One thing that is very much the same about the hotel is that the pool, hot tub and exercise room were completely empty every time I used them this year and every time I used them in 1996. This was the first year I heard people disparaging the hot tub room, and I could not argue that it's a handsome one. I'm all for an approach to attending Comic-Con where we all start demanding nicer hot tubs.
* and yes, it's time all of these hotels stopped charging paying guests for Internet access. The Westin's was I think $12.95 a day. That seems really weird at this point, and it's certainly something I take into account as a room cost when I'm looking at rooms. If rooms are becoming more difficult to offer at a convention rate, maybe this can be thrown in as part of those negotiations.
* the first people I saw on the street were Chris Butcher -- who immediately asked me for a ride to the convention center -- and Shelton Drum. If I saw Warren Bernard, I was going to shout "Yahtzee!"
* I did take one cab that weekend, very early on, on a surprise errand. The driver was really nice, and only I after I browbeat him a bit right at the end did he admit that I was the first comic-con customer he had that even tried to tip him. He said that a lot of these con-goers had giant amounts of luggage, too. We could all stand to lean in the other direction on tipping at these shows. There's really no easier way to have a city welcome you than to be gracious visitors to that city. I have a lot of affection for San Diego having visited there so frequently, and I hope other folks do, too. If you can afford to be at a convention for a few days buying stuff, you can afford to throw a cab driver $5 and tip a waitress 20 percent.
* registration in the press/pro line was, according to my notes, 14 minutes. I don't always understand the updates for which we're asked during the year, but the result on the ground is far superior to what it used to be that I find myself nostalgic for all the jokes about standing in line and hearing bigger-name professionals gripe.
* I forget what the "big bag" of the show was, but my brother always wants the Supernatural one so whatever the latest bag of choice might be gets lost on us. There's a Comic-Con success story, by the way, the solid-but-never-a-breakaway-hit TV show Supernatural
, and its legions of involved, intense fans who have almost ritualistic habits at San Diego now. There are so many worlds upon worlds now. This isn't a comics room and then some people off playing role-playing games anymore, this is I bet two to three hundred micro-communities now. Somewhere at San Diego there is a group of 40 people with a specific film industry job you've never heard of that have more than one panel and I'm sure a recurring cast of major players and drama and romantic entanglements.
* the outside of the show is now its own ridiculous thing, a bunch of temp agency carnies taking advantage of the crowds to get eyeballs on any one of about three dozen competing properties, ideas, experiences. The spread of show business parties and meetings and lunches and dinners into the immediate neighborhood also continue at about the same rate as last year.
* the most impressive meeting I had Thursday/Friday was with Ted Adams at IDW, whose presentation to me covered everything from how they're participating in film versions of certain projects (by securing the funding themselves, and then selling the end results, as opposed to finding someone to fund what they're doing) to successful sales models we don't consider (how bundles can bring in as much if not more than a super-successful con without the up-front costs, how some of their packaging of licensed properties has caught on) to their book about Puck
, the great-great-great grandfather of western satirical expression.
* although there are plenty of people at Comic-Con that gripe about the "where's the comics" aspects -- and if they're paying that much to be there, I say let them complain -- I think the panels for comics people are clearly better attended, with more knowledgeable and more respectful fans, than they were in the 1990s. That's true at least from the alt- and art- comics end of things. It's hard for me to imagine the CBLDF packing them in for their presentations back in 1996 the way they are now. I bet a Dave Lasky panel I moderated would have had five instead of 60 people. And I mean people there for that panel. Comic-Con still does that thing where they let people come in before panels are done, which in some cases can be extremely disruptive if not disrespectful to the pros in attendance. I wish they'd change that.
* by the way, the most important lesson of that Dave Lasky panel was how many pages of interesting comics that guy has done almost entirely off the alt-comics radar over the last 15 years -- maybe 150 pages that could go into a solo omnibus? Someone please get on him and publish this. Also, Dave is really funny.
* Comic-Con did a fine job this year with what I'd call mid-level guests that added a lot of substance to the show for those of us with intense comics interests: Lasky, Eleanor Davis, Faith Erin Hicks, Lucy Knisley, Jim Rugg -- a lot of really solid, years-in comics makers were in attendance and participating in programming. The attendence for the back to back panels featuring Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters may not have been exploding at the seams attendance-wise, but those were excellent panels, and about a half-dozen comics people ran up to me during the show to show the lovely dedications they received in those books.
* the CBLDF presentation I saw was Carol Tilley's, which was quite good. (It was nice to meet her, too.) Everyone's getting better at that aspect of the shows now, and I hope there's a day a half-decade away where we no longer have people making grumpy, saracastic remarks at audience questions in lieu of an actual presentation and legitimate, respectful Q&A.
* someone from my hometown ran up to me after the CBLDF panel, having simply recognized me as a friend of a friend. We traded notes. He was having fun taking his kid around; the kid sounded like more of a general geek, but this included comics so they felt right at home.
* one of the more interesting panels I saw was the comiXology one. This was mostly for the fact they gave away hardware prizes -- that didn't happen in 1995 -- but it was intriguing to me that a lot their Submit creators showed up at the panel and gave testimony as to how much that service meant to them. I guess I had blown their PR announcement of new publishers by a few minutes and received some grief. I had tried to find publishers so critical of the the Amazon deal they were willing to make pointed criticism, but didn't come up with many -- everyone remained concerned, but that was about it.
* I did enjoy a meeting later that weekend in the little space Comixology carved for itself out of its exhibition space. Someone really needs to do a photo essay of all those hidden rooms at the con.
* I thought the floor traffic was the lightest at the comics end I'd ever seen, particularly Thursday and Friday. No one reported abominable sales or traffic to me, but I think it was slower in the build across the weekend than in any recent-past year.
* I had my usual nice Friday pre-Eisners dinner with close comics pals. It's funny how San Diego provides so many opportunities for ritual. It also seems to me that the hotel restaurants are starting to become that much more important to people as the show gets more difficult to traverse, and the hours extend so that the leisure moments become shorter and less stable. No one I know wanted to even walk five blocks for dinner, and it used to feel like SDCC settled into that entire downtown. Now it feels like it's right up next to the convention center and everything else is slightly less desirable. This won't change my own habits, but I bet people attending now see the town differently.
* this seems like a place to finally mention this: The Comics Reporter
recused itself from the Eisners this year, and will every year from now on. I don't mean co-publisher Jordan Raphael and I just didn't submit, because you can get nominated without submitting. What I mean is we actually reached out to Jackie Estrada and each individual judge and asked to no longer participate. They were very kind to respect our wishes.
* we really appreciate the awards and the acknowledgements we've received over the years, particularly the three Eisners, but we're not comics-makers and we're frankly not operating on the same level in our chosen discipline of writing about and covering the art form as the great comics-makers are in theirs when it comes to making the art form. Our blog should not be winning the same award that a book by Chris Ware wins. We also need to occasionally stand apart from comics, if only a little bit, to better facilitate our mission, and this is one way we can do that.
* both Jordan and I are happy to see other people take our place in those years we might have secured a nomination or lucked our way into a win.
* my younger brother pointed out that this means the next time I appear at the Eisners is as either a judge or when I die. Brothers are good for reminders like that.
* so without a nomination, my brother and I declined all invitations to the tables up front and found seats way, way, way in the back. I snuck in a six pack of beer. We laughed and talked a lot and really enjoyed the show.
* the one surprising thing I remember at this late date was that March
was shut out. I thought it would take at least one. I heard later that Team March
left the hotel after the show's conclusion and quickly found themselves at a private function featuring heavy metal luminaries, which is the way we should all get to end every awards program we ever attend.
* I remember thinking the book Black Comics: Politics Of Race And Representation
had the nicest, classiest people accepting of all the people accepting awards that night. It's weird, but the academics category has been really strong in terms of people making good speeches.
* it was nice to see Brigid Alverson in the group that accepted for CBR
. And congrats to CBR
; that's not an easy mission they've adopted and they do it with honor and class.
* it was wonderful to see the Hernandez Brothers pick up their first Eisner Awards, which of course was also slightly odd and a tinge embarrassing. They were both sincerely taken with the wins, I think. Jaime was very sweetly nervous and Gilbert's first declaration was that the awards were rigged: both reactions being perfect. They are great art heroes and I'm glad that they have returned to the fore of comics consciousness as the sublime cartoonists they've become. Long live Los Bros.
* Heidi MacDonald has pages from the next issue of L&R here
. It was a different San Diego for not having a great new issue out, but those guys can work however the hell they want and I am grateful for every single page.
* I had a more fun than usual time at the reception following the Eisners, creeping around the room, trying to get Eric Reynolds into trouble. The one conversation on which I was dying to eavesdrop was Joe Ferrara holding forth at a table to the Secret Headquarters guys, one dulcet-toned generation of North American retail expounding to another.
* Joe sang, which was nice.
* the show went lickety-split, by the way, and maintained its audience pretty well from where I sat, which was where I could see the entire crowd. That's rare. But it's good. I think people treat the Eisners a bit more respectfully than they used to: people try to attend if they're nominated, most people put on at least a jacket, and there were a lot of nice dresses on stage. That doesn't mean you have to fully endorse them, or any of the comics institutions, but kind of passively rebelling while in attendance got to be a tired pose there for a while. I like it better now.
* oh, I had a really interesting conversation with Zander Cannon, whom I met at a San Diego block party (literally a party in an abandoned lot with enough homeless around it looked like a Walking Dead sequence before we knew what that was) about 17 years ago. He pointed out something about his experience that I think has been everyone's at one point: he's now old enough that when he goes to cons he doesn't have a lot same-age peers that are just routinely going to cons to break in and get jobs, but he's also young enough that his same-age peers aren't routinely guests of shows, not quite yet. I think that happens to a lot of folks in comics. You get to a year and you look around and think, "Where are all my people?" And if you're lucky, you hang around long enough to see them start to come back.
* his next book is from Oni Press. I think it's all-ages and very monster-centric. Cannon is a greatly underappreciated creature designer.
* Saturday doesn't really stand out in memory. Lots of people, again. Most people feel that day is exponentially busier and crowded, but that wasn't my experience this time out. I wandered around quite a bit and had conversations about a wide range of things.
* the people to whom I spoke seemed mostly bullish on comics' business possibilities. Or they're resigned -- it's hard to tell. There was a lot of worrying after the size of the crowd on the comics-end of things, although many of the indy/genre publishers seem to do very well there.
* in that light, I wish that Comic-Con would do a bit more to recognize the special experience that comics people have at that show, and compress that part of the show so that it's easier for people to make it through that experience and get some of the down time for informal meetings and the like which are equally important. I've talked to reps of that show about this a few times, and these always turn into grumpy arguments, but I'd love to see them think of the comics part as a Show Within A Show because the needs are so different. I think they could restrict/orient things accordingly: no late panels (or very few), a real focus on getting comics people those close-by hotel rooms when available, continuity in programming rooms so that a small press spotlight presentation isn't filled with cosplayers or video game fans rolling their eyes and looking confused and bored, a program to specifically facilitate putting comics stories under the nose of all that press on hand.
* everyone in comics takes things so personally that I always hope that people don't take these suggestions as declarations of huge dissatisfaction -- and I'm sure that now I'm working a show of my own I'll see how hard it is to negotiate some of these things. But I do think the comics part of it can be made more special, particularly as Comic-Con is already oriented to doing what it can to keep its comics soul.
* that said, I think there are entities that do a better job of rolling with the punches and keeping up with the changes in terms of where cons function in the overall landscape, and there are entities that don't and just it want to be 1992 again because they prefer to do business in 1992. Some of the retailer rhetoric I heard on the floor put this in my mind.
* I left town after a nice dinner with the Drawn and Quarterly people at a not-fancy restaurant a short hop away from downtown; the kind of neighborhood where locals wait in long lines to get into the better reviewed places and everyone parks alongside a highway or takes a cab. The best part was sitting down in one restaurant that sold us drinks and then closed the kitchen without warning us they were about to do so. That was an odd decision on their part. But it was nice to end the weekend that way, around smart, nice, comics people, in a setting that didn't involve the constant, driving beat of the show floor.
* my brother and I drove up the berserk California late-night highway and we were asleep at his North Hollywood place by early Sunday AM. We both had a really good time.
* reading about the show over the next few days revealed a couple of really distressing and bullet-dodging stories where outside events and activities led to a person being struck by a car during a "zombie walk" that isn't an official con event, and a young woman who was in attendance at the show experiencing a late-night injury, with an older companion at one point suspected of doing some of that harm. There was also at least one instance of someone being assaulted -- let's call that kind of thing what it is -- on the floor in terms of the costume they were wearing. I'm probably forgetting one or two others, and there were likely some never reported.
* all of these things get dumped on Comic-Con no matter if they much in the way of participation in those elements of the show where these things take place or not. Right in the hall? Comic-Con. Three miles away from the hall in the streets with people that aren't even in attendance at Comic-Con but it's vaguely geeky? Comic-Con. Comic-Con seemed pretty determined this year -- both officially and in behind-the-scenes advocacy from longtime attendees -- that we know the show does more than any other in terms of having a lot of professional secruity on hand. And they do, I think -- I think the level of security hired individual to individual has improved over the years. (It was partly the lack of crowds, but I wasn't asked to clear an aisle one time in 2014.) In the case of a couple of those reported-on experiences, it seems like the con worked pretty well with the local authorities and the active press to figure out what happened and how the show was involved.
* Comic-Con has also reiterated that their complaints system favors a kind of privacy that makes public scrutiny difficult to impossible -- almost no information comes out about what gets reported by whom or to what eventual effect. While we were told that line policies were reviewed a few years back after a traffic-related death preceding Comic-Con, we've never been told what that entailed. That policy does shape how we react to Comic-Con and how it's viewed. I'm both encouraged when I hear from the show they cut ties with the volunteer that post-Ferguson was abusive and threatening, and frustrated they would not respond to a question I sent as to whether or not this person would be banned from the show outright.
* let me be clear, though: I also get distressed when people choose someone's choice of a different strategy for dealing with important issues as them "not being serious" about the issue. That always strikes me as wanting to win an argument on-line in convincing, punishing fashion more than it does wanting to make the situation better or even convince someone their way could be improved. I do think Comic-Con is serious about the way they approach issues of harassment and violence at their show. I just think they're old-school and kind of automatically defensive in the way a lot of old-school fans can be about everything under the sun. It's always possible to just be wrong, or partly wrong, without that being a sign of disdain or moral failing.
* what I hope for Comic-Con is that they'll abandon this defensive crouch a bit to look into each and every way they can be proactive from a culture-changing aspect like some of the other shows are doing, and then, and this will be key, go public with what they might try or what they've decided not to try and why. This should include but not be limited to things like fliers and bringing fan input into volunteer sensititivity training. I'd rather see every kind of solution tried out and potentially used than a limited set of solutions favored because that's the way things have always been done. If there are structural barriers to something being implemented, I'd rather Comic-Con just say so publicly rather than privately. If Comic-Con remains adamant that their solutions are the only ones, with all of these solutions hidden away from view, they may start to lose the support of key elements of the comics culture.
They may already have.
* one thing I think some of us can do that go to this show in particular is file complaints about behavior that we're a witness to even if we're not a direct witness. I have been told those complaints are more than accepted, they're encouraged. I know that in the New Year I want to spend a couple of evenings and watch a lot more of those "guy talking to ladies in costumes" videos -- from the Kimmel show on downwards -- and see if I want to complain about any of them.
* and as always with such issues, I think we can all do what we can to engage in a higher level of professionalism our own selves, whether this is curtailing how much we drink, or asking people out in a professional setting, or stop calling professional peers by inappropriate terms of endearment (I'm the worst at this: I get tired, I turn into Kojak), or just being present and available to younger comics-makers and fans in a way you wanted those people to be present and available to you once upon a time. These are definitely things I can work on, and thus there's a great chance this might improve. I can do this and
call people on their bad behavior and be supportive of people when they're pursuing justice to resolve some of the more dire circumstances. You can be scorched earth towards the worst of it, and rehab the soil on the rest. There should be no limit to the things we try and the energy with which we try them.
* I'm likely wrong about big chunks of that. It's a work in progress. Let's keep working, for sure.
* touching on a slightly more ludicrous fan-culture story, I didn't have any sense of people in costumes at Comic-Con running around in a way that cost anyone in comics customers. In fact, it seemed like 25 percent fewer costumes than the year before. Lot of anecdotal affirmation on that point.
* so that's it on the impressions. I look forward to attending Comic-Con International for several more years, no matter how many days I can afford to attend year to year. I think it's one of the shows that makes the most amount of sense on my calendar in terms of the role it plays and the thing it can do for professionals and fans and press. I plan to take advantage for as long as I'm able.
* Hey, let's look at some more pictures:
* as mentioned, one of the big issues of the 2014 show is that traffic flow and getting from one place to another has to be further worked on, or drastically reconsidered, or something
. I did not make a single meeting or panel on time when I had less than a quarter-hour to get there -- and I know how much time it takes to walk place, that would have been enough in the old days. I never saw the beginning of any panel I wasn't moderating. One panelist with whom I worked told me that it took them 45 minutes to get from their panel back to their hotel room... at the Omni right across the street. It was routinely awful, and after never hearing such complaints for years and years I began hearing them last year with some regularity and this year it was a major item of discussion.
* the space above is a great example of how things have become severely crowded at certain chokepoints. That is one of the major corner streets heading into the con. One afternoon I got stuck behind people taking a photo of pretty goddamn ordinary-looking Batman for about six minutes near the Gaslamp. This steamrolled into about a 20 minute delay just due to bad timing: I hit a crowd surge, and then a train, and then a long wait for traffic on the street in front of the convention center. I can't remember ever waiting that long to go that short of a distance.
* the end result I think is that a lot of people were just made weary by the show, much more than the typical exhaustion of years past, which could usually be chalked up to late-night socializing and the ramped-up energy of the show floor. Given the creep of programming into the evening hours and the need to do semi-formal business meetings not during show hours, and I knew several people that you wouldn't typically think of as busy at all pulling 14 to 16 hour days in the push and pull of a super-crowded convention. There was almost a comedic industry collapse after the show in terms of the energy to do much of anything worthwhile, and not everyone goes.
* as I mentioned, they do a really good job with registration now, particularly the on-site execution of professionals and press badge dispersal. I think it's because they use this weird module set-up (more like airport self-service machines than they are like airport ticket windows), and because they separate the problem people -- someone who forgot their scanned document, for example -- into their own section. Kudos to them.
* the people in that pro/press line are also the only security out in front of the building that always had the right answer for what was asked them. That said, I still get confusing answers and confused security people about who is allowed to enter where and when. All of my encounters with security this year were pleasant, far more pleasant than they used to be.
* this is a mid-afternoon Thursday shot from up above. That doesn't look like jampacked traffic, although the flow of it looks fantastic. Only two cartoonists expressed concern about their sales level. Most were satisfied. There weere pockets where things excelled: Miriam Libicki told me she sold out of her bigger items Saturday morning.
* one thing that was different for me this year is that for whatever reason my show was very focused. The number of people I typically see there that were there without me seeing them at all is epic. Tom Scioli was there; he's hard to miss. Never saw him. I still don't know if Joe Casey was in attendance. Didn't see any of the First Second people at all, even away from their booth. I saw Kelly Sue DeConnick at a distance, twice, and that was it. Never saw Trina Robbins. Nick Abadzis I saw later in a photo printed on this page, but never in person. Chris Roberson and Allison Baker I saw not at all. Mark Waid and Christina Blanch I never saw. Ditto Eric Stephenson. If Justin Norman was there, that's the first time we didn't see each other at Comic-Con, well, ever. It's a show that lacks a central defining presence for comics, which is weird in that there are definite candidates for this: the CBLDF party, the Hyatt and Bayside Hilton bars, the Eisners. I sort of like it in that San Diego is in part about comics in context and the context of comics is sprawl now, but it does add to the isolation and hassle aspects of it a bit. If you want to be surrounded by the comics community, San Diego is a long night spent fussing with a blanket that never quite covers as much of your body as you'd hope.
* there were plenty of people I did see. Van Jensen and I talked a bit about his various comics, and how working in the warehouse of Top Shelf is a hard-to-argue springboard to a writing career. Also, I just think this is sort of a fun picture.
* I love running into Zander Cannon, and as mentioned did so at this show -- that's not always a guarantee, as I learned in years past. This is my brother Whit seeing him later on that weekend. My brother was excited to see Cannon and take his photo because two years ago he ran into his empty table four times.
* here's the photo of the CBLDF party, Thursday night. While you don't see everybody
there, it was nice for seeing a lot of people in one place that I never saw again. This is a rooftop party, very old-school comics, all for that agreed-upon cause. I ran into Gary Groth charging away as I made my way up to the event. I sat at a table with my brother, Team Drawn and Quarterly, and Jaime Hernandez. Eric Reynolds visited. I've been going to shows long enough to know when Eric's about to bolt a party, and at one point I talked him out of it before he said anything out loud. The writer about comics Kiel Phegley came up and said hi. He's out of Chicago now and over in Ann Arbor and he and his wife are expecting their first child. He's teaching, and I think he would be a very good teacher. I don't always find myself in alignment with the coverage choices of Comic Book Resources
but I respect their writers because they do the job. Not everyone does. I hope Phegley can fit in some writing about comics in the years ahead, as much as suits him.
* I ran into Lasky that evening. Lasky provided me with the original art to his Comic-Con advertisement as a thank-you gift. I was floored. It's really sharp-looking.
* another important fact learned that first evening is that Julia Pohl-Miranda can't order wine.
* I had a few interesting conversations about Top Shelf over the course of the weekend. I'm not sure how much everyone has been paying attention, but they've obviously shifted priorities over the last few years to become less of an old-school alt-comics publishing house with a lot of ballast in the backlist in favor of becoming more of a boutique publisher: fewer books, long-term relationships with their talent. Chris Staros confirmed this general move to me in a conversation we had in the hallway outside the show before the security made us move. He pointed out something even more interesting: they're basically shutting down production for part of the year to give themselves some time off from the grind of working their way through books. They had Kevin O'Neill and Jeffrey Brown for big chunks of the weekend. O'Neill in particular had a number of fans on-hand. I talked to a couple who were so sweetly grateful for a chance to get him to sign their books and to shake his hand, that wonderful happiness that comics fans can exude.
* I ate well at this year's show. A trend I've noticed in recent years and written about on the site is that restaurants with $15 to $30 entrees are pretty empty compared to restaurants that are cheaper and restaurants that are more expensive. That seems to be holding true. Nowhere I ate in that price range was ever over-busy and I remember 10 years ago not being able to find a restaurant of that type that could even seat me and my friends if we hadn't made a reservation. Most of my friends fall into this general vicinity of restaurant-goer now, and I heard almost no complaints. People even stopped into restaurants for snacks a few times, and drinks, and the restaurants were happy to accommodate them. A few were closed for private parties, but those that weren't were more like public space than ever before. I don't know if this will change as more chain restaurants enter the gaslamp.
* this again may be an age thing, but I heard less about uproarious binge drinking and saw more people drinking all of the time. The last couple of years seemed pretty alcohol-soaked in retrospect, actually, although last year's cathartic show after Kim Thompson's passing may have been part of things in 2013. Still, I saw more people drinking on the floor of the convention than ever. Don't know what that means. I had a beer myself.
* here's what I wrote the Tuesday after the show about Guardians Of The Galaxy
: "lot of Rocket Raccoon at the show; lot of talk about how that movie was going to do. Some folks had seen it and liked it. I heard from a source that Marvel used Disney PR in at least an unofficial, advisory capacity on this one, a story that was told to me in the context of their being worried about how it will do. I think it will do extremely well, but I've been way wrong about movies recently. I know they've been allowed to float a pretty low opening weekend guesstimate, which always helps negotiate that first weekend. I think people have found the commercial campaign appealing, but the danger is they may find it appealing as something they'll catch up to on cable or via streaming six months from now." I needn't have worried.
* there's a whole two-thirds of the show I basically ignore now. I used to trudge at least once up and down the entire show, working from some kind of nostalgia and misplaced sense of duty that the entire show was important to what I do, but I don't even do that walk anymore. It looked very comfortable, very busy. I know that people on the comics part of the floor routinely make jokes about that end being crass and overly commercial. Like if someone uses a microphone in the comics publishing area, someone will say that's taking the other end of the show and bringing it down here.
* Faith Erin Hicks seemed to have a really good show, or at least the show she was having that intersected with mine looked fun. Hers was one of three candidates for most affecting moments at the Eisner Awards. She cried a bit, and talked about as straight up validation for the hard work she puts in. I liked her part of the Words and Pictures panels that I saw. She was also in the audience for the Jeff Smith panel, and admitted to not liking thumbnails even as Smith declared he liked the entire process, period. Hicks is a lifer in terms of talent and disposition; I hope that the structural part of the industry is able to support her ambitions and reward her hard work.
* nearly forgot: I had a lot of fun moderating the humor panel; it was Drew Friedman, Mimi Pond and Lisa Hanawalt. I asked Johnny Ryan and Tony Millionaire if they'd consider crashing, but both were busy and demurred. I don't always know what to do with humor panels, because talking about humor is boring to a lot of people, but at the same time I just don't want to put funny comics on the screen. Drew Friedman talked about the influences of his father and extended family, his multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by Joe Franklin and what part of the portrait he did of Bob Dylan that Dylan hated (his knees). Mimi Pond talked about both of her career transitions into doing comic, the generation of cartoonists and humorists of which she's a part and her difficulties in returning to comics in the 1990s. Lisa Hanawalt talked her experience with caricature in contrast to Drew's and the communities in which she's found herself during her career. She also drew the whole time, and shared some of that with the audience when they asked a process question. It was really nice. Maybe the best part was when a young woman asked Hanawalt and Pond about the idea of women not being able to be funny, which drew a very sharp and emphatic answer from both. I had a good time and that was a fine Friday panel, in one of the convention rooms just this side of the Mexican border.
* that new Drew Friedman book was very popular and I met three or four people whose brains were just melting that they had a chance to meet him and get their books signed. I was talking to a peer and we both agreed that one thing Friedman does very well at public events is focus in on you for a conversation that makes you feel like your presence is important to him. We both wondered if that had something to do with the way he's negotiated the world of old-time comedians. At any rate, that is quite the skill at a visually distracting con, and I admire him for it.
* I love seeing Larry Marder at Comic-Con and at conventions more generally, just for how he seems perfectly happy to be doing the grunt work of introducing people to his comics people via one-to-one interaction. He said business was pretty good Thursday/Friday; I'm not sure I saw him after that. Bye, Larry!
* Another shot of the crowds. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but my biggest space memory of this year's show is crossing the street over by the Omni. It's usually the area around the D+Q booths or a panel room I see a bunch of panels in, but not this year. Comic-Con 2014 is me trying to walk around someone and not twist my ankle on a sidewalk.
* this is a pretty good representation of my seat at the Eisner Awards, way in the back. I had fun. As mentioned, my brother and I drank some beers and took in the whole show, talking back and forth in a way maybe we couldn't up at one of the tables. You can see what I meant when I said they kept an audience this year, I bet partly because it was shorter time-wise. One thing Whit and I regretted being back that far is that we couldn't get a better look at Orlando Jones' wristwatch, which looks like it cost a billion dollars.
* this was my brother's favorite picture he took at the show. That's Drew Friedman engaging with a fan, Don Rosa hard at work signing a book and Tony Millionaire drinking a beer. Whit called the photo "three approaches to art."
* Pete Sickman-Garner was there! The cartoonist, once an anchor talent at Top Shelf, hadn't made a comic before this year in more than a decade. We reminisced about a few specific Comic-Con memories, and talked about the difference between working then and now, particularly the way a cartoonist can lose an audience in just a few years unless work is regularly released. The reason for the absence, Sickman-Garner says, is partly that he ran out of stories for the three original Hey, Mister!
characters. He added, "So I added this fourth guy and I also became obsessed with making comics about Jesus." That would mean a lot different coming out of someone else's mouth. The still-irreverent cartoonist lives full-time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and swears that he'll be doing more comics sooner rather than later.
* the very talented Jim Rugg was there. Jim Rugg has comics out all the freaking time, and I think may get taken for granted as a result. I was glad to see both of them on the floor. Rugg I saw only briefly charging back to his table.
* I don't really have anything to say about Rob Liefled, but I enjoyed this picture when it popped up in my inbox. I haven't even spoken to Liefeld in person since 1999 or so... a time during which he seems not to have aged.
* I had fun asking Jeff Smith questions at an upstairs spotlight panel on Saturday. We discussed the new Bone
work he's doing for a forthcoming anniversary edition of the Scholastic-published Bone
Vol. 1 -- it's a Walt Kelly-like poem. It has since come out. He thought about doing an actual comic, but he didn't think he could into that headspace again. He told me that "Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures" page, a really memorable one that distinguished the book for a lot of us reading it at the time, came about because of trying to find a page rhythm for material he had at one point prepared for newspaper syndication. He talked about feeling his way through research, about his enjoyment of working with grand themes, about the similarities between an early human's pack of tools and a cartoonist's favorite drawing implements, about the surprise he felt when RASL
won an Eisner the previous evening. He talked about the surge of energy he felt when he realized that self-publishing was an option, and he didn't have to ask anyone's permission to create. It's always fun talking to Jeff Smith. We had a few questions from the audience of at type I love, about people having the desire to work on a big piece like Bone
but finding the task daunting.
* in demeanor and approach and in practical terms like providing a slideshow, I consider Jeff Smith kind of the driving force behind the way we do creator spotlights now. Certainly no one seemed to do them like his 15 years ago, and everyone seems to do them that way now. I may be the only person who thinks about these things, though.
* this was one of the "go see this" things I heard about from about a half-dozen people. The person with the pages Jack Kirby contributed to an operation designed to free hostages in Iran, as dramatized in the movie Argo
. I think this person has been there in previous years, but I hadn't seen the pages. Still haven't! I don't even know here the Heavy Metal booth was.
* Ed Chavez of Vertical was one of the exhibitors I talked to that seemed to be having one of those years that was slightly off -- at least in the Thursday/Friday phase -- because of something not working in the overall alchemy of their floor position. You see these folks all the freaking time: booths that are rarely visited even when they're in-between other, more successful booths, or people that killed it the year before not being able to sell a thing. Chavez says Vertical is doing pretty well. I'm a great fan of their book that's now a little older, Helter Skelter
* one of the people I didn't see until 10 seconds before I left was Paul Hornschemeier. He was talking to Johnny Ryan about his new homebase of London. I congratulated him on a recent crowd-funder.
* last photo. Traffic seemed about usual to me in the comics retailing section. I'll miss Mile High if they can't make Comic-Con work, but I'll continue to miss Comic Relief more. I always buy comics from someone at Comic-Con, but I also realize that people have all sorts of ways to buy comics right now they didn't have a generation ago, and those ways have become normalized in a way that has a drastic impact on convention sales. I also think what we're seeing is natural development in that convention's audience away from people looking to buy old comics and discounted trades. There's rarely a magic bullet to these things. We have entire festivals now that never
had a comics retailing presence. We have festivals, including Comic-Con, where entire other facets of the industry aren't strongly represented. Again, I love buying comics there, but if it stopped being a thing I could do there I'm sure there would be something I could find to fill that 120 minutes.
* so that's what I remember about 2014 at Comic-Con International. It's settled into a really workable space as a big business show in addition to the usual pomp and spectacle of a comics convention. I think the comics part of it could use some special attention, and the violence and harassment issues could use a thorough looking-at, publicly reported, in terms of adding culture-changing elements to the security measures. There may be a problem with a few more publishers reaching that decision-point as to whether to they should keep exhibiting; I bet some of them would be gone already if it weren't for the thought of losing their place in line. The Eisners were fun. Long live Los Bros. It's a changing comics world, including the parts that interact with wider geek culture, and I welcome those changes. Let's hurry them along.
* see you next year! Well, Thursday to Saturday at least.
* all photos by Whit Spurgeon. Thanks, bro. My favorite times at San Diego all involve my brother now, and I'm grateful that everyone treats him so well. It's a comics thing: Whit never knows who's mad at me because when he meets those people on the floor they're as nice to him as the people with whom I'm getting along.
posted 8:00 am PST
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