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

March 10, 2013

Several Notes From Emerald City Comic-Con Weekend


By Tom Spurgeon
Additional Reporting And Coverage By Jen Vaughn

What follows are several observations from a weekend spent at the Emerald City Comicon in beautiful downtown Seattle, Washington. This is going up on a Sunday because my site has been a disaster on the server end recently and I haven't been able to get on here to finish it up before now. So please forgive me.

* so in a few short years Emerald City has gone from promising newcomer to basically the start of the North American convention season. That doesn't mean there are no shows held before this one, or that they aren't great, or that there aren't shows elsewhere which attract the attention of North American comics-makers. What it does mean is that this is the first show which enough people in comics attend and/or to which they pay attention to kind of mark the collective mental adjustment into con season. No sleep until Brooklyn.

* my apologies for how uneven the following might become. It's been difficult to post recently.

* because of various quirks inherent to travel in 2013, it was cheaper of me to take a train into Los Angeles for about 36 hours and then fly north to Seattle. I think this is actually becoming more of a thing, as I have friends that will assemble trips according to lowest cost in a way that takes them three or four hours away from their intended destination. This is particularly true of people on the West Coast going east, I think. They might fly to Louisville to drive to Indianapolis. It's worth noting how much changes in the way we travel have an impact on cons and shows and thus comics. I still know people that set what days they attend San Diego, or what East Coast shows they'll do at all, based on travel considerations.

* I did a couple of comics-related things in L.A. despite my best efforts not to. I honestly thought I wasn't going to have any time to do anything, so I wasn't going to try and contact anyone, but I ended up having a few hours here and there.

image* I visited Jonah Weiland in the new North Hollywood Comic Book Resources offices. I did my morning Internet about 200 feet up the street in a corporate coffee place, taking a long break to do so in the middle of my morning walk, so it seemed rude not to say hi. I'm as friendly with Jonah as two guys of approximately the same age who do sort of the same thing but in a way where there's almost no overlap whatsoever can be friendly. That's pretty friendly. I generally enjoy Jonah. We come at things really, really differently, but I still like reading things on that site and the things he does that I wouldn't do -- like the "exclusives" fixation -- are things I understand someone else doing.

* it's a nice space, the new CBR, with half of the office now given over to... well, if you follow CBR and track the kind of things they've started to do over the last few years you can guess why they wanted some extra room right in the office. They were still in the stuff in boxes stage of unpacking when I showed up. But I liked the building. CBR has kind of a back office, but the building has space in it on the street that'd be nice for a publisher. That's a cool neighborhood, still growing, adding shops and restaurants like mad. You could do much, much worse.

* Jonah is one of the few comics editors that also thinks like a producer/publisher, if that makes any sense. I like talking to him for those insights.

* we both enthused over how much we've come to enjoy Comic-Con, which is weird in that Jonah spends the entire week on a boat in the harbor and I cover the kinds of comics people are quick to say the convention doesn't emphasize anymore. We also talked about the possibilities for more shows in the greater Los Angeles area.

* anyway, I think CBR is pretty settled in. I liked the feel of the place. North Hollywood is kind of perched on top of that whole region, so I bet they're bound to have a lot of guests popping over to do whatever. It made me want an office again, that's for sure.

* I can't really share any of the gossip, which mostly involved Jonah and I explaining to the other person who we were talking about. Jonah betrayed no confidences, and I have no confidences to betray, so it sort of worked out. We agreed that in general it's time for the non-creatives in comics to pick up their games to match the creative flowering of the medium. So get to work everybody. Seriously, stop reading this site and go do something that makes money appear in cartoonists' pockets. Jonah and talked about you, specifically, needing to work harder. I mean, we blew a big chunk of an afternoon doing this, but the rest of you are on the clock.

* Jonah suggested I walk up the street to Blastoff. This is a new store in North Hollywood, run by a team including half of the Eisner SOR-winning team from the Earth 2 store a few years back, Jud Meyers. Here's a half dozen photos from my visit, including Mr. Meyers right up top. My brother Whit Spurgeon took them on his phone. Please note my vintage t-shirt, as I'm able to fit into all sorts of clothes from the late '90s now.


* as you can see it's a nice, clean store, perfect for signings and events, with a devoted kids place in the front of the shop and some decorative elements that are fun but not overwhelming. I liked it. I bought some superhero books, since I don't usually see them. Stuff with apocalyptic events facing brave Jack Kirby co-creations. You know how they are. The thing is, I went into two brand-new stores like this in the two weeks I was on the road, both from retailers who were using the good year that the Direct Market of hobby and comics stores has enjoyed to make something of their own in a new place. It's enough to give one hope. I really like comic shops; my criticisms of them usually come when I feel they've asked to be privileged in a way I think is detrimental, or when figures are kind of fudged in a way that flatters them in a way they don't deserve. But shops are great -- they've made comics healthy and profitable in a way people keep coming in and exploiting that money away from creators, so that's a sign right there. Oh, I'm just kidding. I like all the ways to buy comics, but I like comic book shops best of all. I wouldn't be here without them.

* good luck to Blastoff. You should visit, particularly if you're nearby doing an interview with Jonah. That'd be a good comics half-day, right there.

* you could probably spend a chunk of the remaining half-day at The Iliad Bookshop about a mile or so away from Blastoff and from where Jonah Weiland is sitting checking his phone for LA Clippers updates. The designer and writer-about-comics Sonia Harris drove over from Sherman Oaks to hang out and visit and chat. I think we both liked the place; I know I did. They have a huge wall of comics that's as eclectic as I've seen a used bookstore of that size offer, and there are a lot of signs of comics art around the place. So I recommend that place.

* I also briefly stopped into House Of Secrets when I was on another walk, and bought some Hellboy-related comics. That's a nice shop, too.

* from here we get into my notes on the convention itself. To help me cover Sunday and to provide an extra set of eyeballs on what I was seeing, I hired Jen Vaughn to keep her eyes open on that last day of the show and to provide me with a report. So when I start talking about "Jen," I'm not referring to my imaginary friend or a 1970s TV Movie side to my personality. At least not as far as you know.

* first of all, Seattle's still a fantastic city. It's a big deal to have cons in fantastic cities, because these are places everyone wants to visit and having comics festivals in great cities also makes comics look good. When they announced the Autoptic show in Minneapolis, that it was in Minneapolis during the summer was the initial big-deal part. Bar cons are great, too -- nobody in the small and indy press dislikes SPX, and people in mainstream comics still talk to me about the original WonderCon set-up -- but comics needs to be in all the great cities.

* speaking of great cities, the light rail to downtown from the Seattle-Tacoma airport still blows me away. How civilized. The transit system can be tough in Seattle, because it's hilly and winding and people are car-oriented in a way that keeps routes down a bit from the ideal. Over time that gets to you. But for a week or a weekend? Delightful.


* I even caught bus signage for the con.

* to my eyes the city of Seattle embraced the show more than in years past -- I guess everyone loves a winner -- although that's a tough thing to measure. I saw more local signage, merchant signage, and advertising outreach than in years past. This is key because Emerald City is one of those shows that basically provides national guests to a regional audience, so the audience and the locale have to supply all of the energy that the visiting professionals and companies do not already provide. It's not like a San Diego Con where a significant percentage of the attendees are flying in, at least I don't think so or at least not yet; most of the crowd struck me as Northwesterners.

* and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, that the audience is local. In fact, in the overall landscape, I think it's a great thing. Regional conventions where you can still get a ticket if you work at it a little ahead of time can drive attention and focus to comics for the remainder of the year. We think of Seattle as a great alt-comics town because of Fantagraphics and all the great cartoonists that live there and that many of them have found work in related, pop-culture expressions from that region. Ditto Portland, and its versions of those same things. But there's a strong mainstream-oriented comics culture there, too, with a lot of people working in professions marked by geekery and relative affluence. If the alt-comics crowd is a little low-key at this show, they do have others, and there's more than enough people willing to make this a weekend about Adventure Time and Hellboy and that new Hawkeye comic and standing around in costume and getting something drawn for your kid and all the related flourishes of junk expression.

* I think the shops that sold tickets did well. Certainly the three I visited on Wednesday saw constantly ringing phones as people asked after by-then sold-out tickets, particularly for the weekend. Eric Reynolds told me that Fantagraphics even sold out of their allotment at the store, which surprised him.

* so no surprise walking in that ECCC seemed from my perspective to be a successful show. From a sheer asses-in-seats standpoint, it would almost have to be a successful show. There were a lot of people there.

image* I thought the crowds were okay, though, in terms of traffic and flow. It didn't seem a burden except in a few bottleneck points. Others I talked to disagreed with me on this, and were slightly horrified by the number of people they get through there now. It seemed like San Diego to me, but only the end of the CCI show floor with the comics and comics dealers.

* one reason why traffic may have seemed mostly okay is that ECCC was physically bigger this year, at least the comics area was. There was the entire comics area from 2012 plus another one of about 55 to 65 percent that size across a walkway. It seemed bigger to me physically than most shows I've attended, to be honest with you, but people tend to freak out if you make comparisons and don't have your numbers. I do know that a lot of people didn't know there was another half, which is a sign right there of a pretty big show.

* another sign that things are going well is that local people complained to me about the show being better a few years back, which is a natural Seattle thing to do. You've arrived, ECCC!

* I saw Dan DiDio walking around at least twice, and when I mentioned this to other folks they expressed surprise. I 'm not all the way sure what that surprise means -- I guess it could have been a DiDio life model decoy, even, and the real DiDio was making live appearances 2000 miles away, although I doubt it.

* the surprise at DiDio's presence could stem from the fact that DC still has a very modest presence at the show and Marvel I'm not sure had one at all. Given that Marvel's Comic-Con displays are basically re-appropriated movie sets now, it makes sense the House Of Ideas would go big or, basically, go home.

* I would imagine there's a very good chance both companies ramp up in future iterations. It will be interesting to see how ECCC handles the show's growth in that sense, and I don't mean that in a way I want to put them on the defensive. ECCC built its reputation on being a creator-forward show, and a bigger company presence is one thing that cuts into that element; more company booths sort of has to mean fewer creator booths, at least proportionally. I don't think it will lose that as long as artists and writers want to table, but the feel of the show may be transformed over the next few years.

* ECCC is still small enough that knowing the basic landscape and layout yields specific benefits. Like I know a bunch of people avoided a lengthy line downstairs at the show by entering through the walking park next to the convention center. Certain stairs and elevator banks were much less frequented than others. There was even an advantage to avoiding, say, the most immediate coffee place for one up the street. ECCC is still a convention that can be worked.

* the ECCC volunteers were mostly super-pleasant and smart, which make sense as Seattle is sort of a ground zero for super-pleasant, smart people.

* I thought the signage could use some work. I know that the convention program had the required information about events, and that this information is downloadable to one's phone now -- if, unlike me, you're a functioning member of digital society. I also saw that each room had a physical listing of events that were in that room. I still think centralized listings somewhere -- maybe one per floor -- would be a good idea. I mean, I know why that's not a priority with all of the other options, but I would still love to see as much information out there as possible, and those volunteers pulling out a program with someone to talk them to another part of the convention center might agree.

* I thought the sixth floor was generally confusing. This was an upper floor of the show with a lot of the comics-related programming and some of the TV stuff. I honestly could not find the BOOM! Panel -- the signage kept driving me to Gillian Anderson's panel, or, rather, angry people that thought I was cutting the line at the Gillian Anderson panel.

* I am more convinced than ever that the essential separation of comics from other media by floor, this actual physical separation, is a huge boon for the show. It frequently felt like a hardcore comics convention next to a celebrity-driven convention, which is a nice feeling.

* for whatever it's worth, the one celebrity about whom I heard from multiple folks, both comics people and local Seattle-ites I know, was Anderson. People seemed pretty excited to see her. I have no real idea what that means, although I recall that the X-Files was a pretty humongous show amongst Seattle 20-somethings in the '90s, finding a place into early Friday nights (early on, anyway; I want to say it later switched, and maybe more than once) the way that Armisted Maupin noted all sorts of people in 1970s San Francisco watching Mary Tyler Moore on Saturdays.


* to repeat myself a bit, and link some things together, the comics part of the show arrangement was split into two big parts, which probably could have also used some signage tweaks or something along those lines to better communicate that there were two rooms. The skybridge between those rooms contained the worst traffic flow decision of the convention a photo area right at the corner. This not only took away this key area of traffic but had people slowing down to gawk instead of continuing to walk. Seattle people are polite enough to not just stop in aisles posing -- at least not on a regular basis -- so if you make good decisions about where to put formal photo areas, you should be fine.

* this is a feel-thing for sure, but it seemed to me that more professionals on hand made greater use of the city, such as leaving the con or even the immediate neighborhood for meals. I'm not really all that interested in the culinary habits of comics pros, but this indicated to me a class of pros that are making ECCC a regular stop, the kind of place where you figure things and feel comfortable venturing into the city as opposed to clinging to one's hotel and immediate environs. As I think the key to the festivals and cons moving forward is greater city-wide participation, this is a positive for the show as well.

* of all the writers-about-comics on hand at ECCC, and there were a number, I had maybe a half-dozen pros and industry people tell me that they had been happy to finally meet David Brothers, and about that same number tell me that they enjoyed meeting the ComicsAlliance editor Joseph Hughes. Nobody was happy meeting Robin McConnell.

* I'm kidding about McConnell. Everyone likes that guy, and people were familiar with his work whenever I introduced him.

* Jen Vaughn noted something about Sunday that was also a good sign for ECCC, I think: that the show went pretty strong, pretty late. By that I mean there were still people hitting booths late on the last day. That's not always the case with comics shows, which can crash horribly on the final day after about noon. This may have been partly because of some misprints in terms of how late they were running Sunday, but for all I know this could have been the Seattle resident's over-fondness for Sunday brunch. It was likely a bunch of things -- the fact that you're drawing attendance locally and regionally means fewer people scrambling for the airport. The comics floor apparently didn't thin at all until 3 PM on the third day, and kept fairly busy right up until 5 PM.

* here's something I kept hearing that Jen also noted as something she encountered: a lot of people at the show expressed an interest in buying serial comics but simply aren't served by a comic store a) at all, b) in a way that's of bare minimum interest. This seems like another big opportunity for comiXology and related services as more and more people may become willing to engage comics, particularly serial comics, on-line. This would likely have an effect on people being willing to try comics with which they're unfamiliar. If they're not seeing them, they're not buying them. It's not that that system was ever reliably fantastic for that latter function, but we need every system we can get. Jen points out that MonkeyBrain and other on-line publishers fulfill the curatorial role a bit, and could be even more important moving forward. I don't know how that will shake out, but I certainly admit the possibility. It's funny that the strong publisher branding which is mostly a comics thing may end being a strength in this very broad, public, and technologically-forward way.


* I saw a bunch of service vendors. Jen saw this as well, and she found art-supply providers like Copic and a WACOM digital table booth particularly intriguing. There were a bunch of geek-material providers, too, maybe most notable someone displaying customized gaming tables in one of the crossing-through spaces. I think a lot of people fiercely interested in those activities like putting their hands on that material at least once before they buy it. Those tables sure beat the card tables one found in the basements of my youth. At any rate, I'd love to see cons drive more business like this to shows, and maybe even make a bigger deal of it as its own section.

* this note from Jen made me laugh: "God bless the stroller people who leave the stroller at home and carry their baby dressed as Lumpy Space Princess or a TARDIS on their shoulders."

* basically at this point I'm just looking at what Jen sent me.

* okay, here's one. One booth a bunch of people including Jen said bothered them a bit when I asked around was a zombie-type photo booth where you could get your photo being taken, with the result that bunches of kids were being given guns and then photographed with them looking cool. I think those are very difficult discussions to have, the one about violence in culture, but I was encouraged that people weren't shy about expressing their distaste. I think discourse is healthier than summary hand-waving.

* as a company representative, which I am not, Jen noticed something I didn't: that a lot of people working the show as journalists were also working it as professionals. In other words, they were pulling a modern-day Ham Fisher: in the midst of doing their jobs or at least in proximity representing themselves as journalists, they'd bring out material to pitch. That's kind of gross, although it's a bit hard for me to throw a knife at someone mixing tasks on the con floor as I'm pretty personally social at those things in addition to seeing to my job with this site. I have to imagine it's common, too. Jen confesses she used to do the same thing. I don't know if there's anything that can be done about that other than to point it out. Also, if any journalist's conduct makes you uncomfortable, complaining to the editor that sent them usually works, particularly over the long run. I can't imagine there are a lot of people working shows that go on long, creepy runs pressing this to their advantage. It occurs to me comics may have a bigger, more basic problem in that so many of our journalists would rather be creators.

* more random notes.

* did you know that tabletop gaming culture has a secret, invite-only convention going? This has nothing to do with ECCC, but two different people told me this. I could see this developing in comics, for sure. It probably already has, and I'm not invited. There's a lot of stuff left to try. Can you imagine if someone did a Spirits Of Independence-type tour but didn't reveal where they were until 48 hours out? That would be kind of cool.


* the new ComicsPRO president, Thomas Gaul, looks a bit like UFC head honcho Dana White. Actually, he probably doesn't except in the broadest terms, but that's what flashed across my brain when I met him while out on the Thursday night preceding the show, in a Capitol Hill bar that was trying just a little too hard. I think their electing him bodes well. It's good to see a new face in the retailing world. Gaul seems nice, and it was cool he came to hang out and have drinks with a bunch of alt-folks and hangers-on. I like that Gaul comes from a background of other-stuff-not-exactly-comics and that he came to brick-and-mortar retail after starting selling books elsewhere. I also like that he had jobs before running comics retail -- one of the big retail giants, which one I can't remember. I think those experiences are all potentially valuable to ComicsPRO members. He seems a forceful and sincere advocate for retailing.

* I also noticed that night and over the weekend what a strength Alex Cox's retailing background must be to the CBLDF.

* the Thursday night dinner and drinks scene was fun, although I crapped out long before it ended up back in the main hotel bar. I met some local Seattle cartoonists from the publication the Intruder who seemed to show up just to tell me every building in which I ever had fun in Seattle has now been destroyed and replaced by condos. That was very kind of them, I appreciate their time, and I'd have fun doing the same to their tabloid, except I can't because it's pretty good.

* this one is out there a bit, but it strikes me that it's great to be around young alt- and indy-cartoonists in a setting like ECCC, because seeing people a lot like you but that aren't you is the greatest aid to letting go of the egotistical conception that poisons comics a bit, this unwillingness to see comics as anything that extends past your own experience. Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics and I talked about this a bit, how awesome it is to see people carving out a space similar to our own from decades earlier. Comics goes on. We're all just renting our booths. As soon as we recognize an industry, an art form, a medium greater than the a conception that flatters our own particular contribution, the better off we'll all be.

* here's a note I made myself on booth design. I thought the simpler booths did better: table/backdrop set-ups. There were a few booths with recessed spaces and it always seemed to me people avoided those a bit, like they smelled a bit unpleasant. I've always felt the big advantage of traditional table-focused cons is that attendees understand them as something equivalent to a flea market or a high school jobs fair, and I think that's also true of traditional booth set-ups directly. You can't invited someone into a space for discussion if they don't want to go.

* the only physical copy of a book I bought at the show was an art-driven handmade publication from Miriam Libicki, a long-time comics road warrior. She was there with her family, they are all adorable, and it's always nice to talk to her a bit. I get most of the comics I use for this site for free or from a retailer, but it's nice to buy direct when you can, or at least participate a tiny bit in the con economy. I wish I could do more.


* I walked around the city a bit. The thing that was striking about Seattle on this trip was the retail sprawl, by which I mean the store corridors had been extended in every single neighborhood I visited -- about a half-dozen (Ballard, Wallingford, Downtown, Capitol Hill, University District, International District). I wonder if that's not just a mini-trend in terms of people trying out things in this economy, or starting out stores as a second career, or long-term investment, or even as the structural basis for retirement. That last is a model I see in my small New Mexico town a lot, where people run a business at break-even points just to have something to do.

It hits me, though, that this does indicate there may be opportunities for comics shops. One thing about comics shops is that there are multiple models that haven't been tried yet -- it may be the only good thing about the rigid model past the retention that model has given comics in a broader sense during the general collapse of physical retail over the last 15 years. I like all the ways of selling comics, I don't think there's too much in the way of overlap that isn't just something broken being fixed. So if we're going to have more retail, I figure that's a potentially good sign. Comics leads the way in everything.

* so I met the writer Garth Ennis on Friday evening at the end of my time in the Sheraton bar, and as I tweeted out I was just slightly unfocused past the point of being able to make enjoyable use of that opportunity. He seemed nice as all hell, though. Ennis has had a formidable career as a comics writer, and a big enough one now that your assessment of his work may not even depend on how you feel about ur-'90s comic book series Preacher.

* I'm not sure how much booth placement was good or bad. It was different, or at least seemed that way, and I'm not sure it always cohered into set structures. Someone pointed out that if someone has a crappy show they indict booth placement and if someone has a great show they credit their awesomeness, and that's pretty accurate, I think. I learned at Comic-Con a long time ago that it's also hard to judge which placements are good: I've seen people die in the front aisle with primetime exposure and people thrive in back corners. ECCC seemed to -- seemed to -- opt for mixing things up, mostly, and sprinkling people into different locations throughout the rooms, although you could argue there were a few dedicated areas. I thought foot traffic was pretty good throughout -- it didn't have the thing I've seen at smaller show where entire rows were just dead empty. I think if they stick with that format a bit, people knowing where things are and how to get to them will yield benefits.

* everyone likes Jim Demonakos. It's not always fair to conflate our personal feelings about someone with the institution they run, but it's a human thing to do so, and it's a very, very comics thing to do so strongly and without reservation. I think that personal affection that people have for Demonakos is a huge bonus for the show.

* I ran into the writer Matt Fraction briefly, who is the kind of guy that thanks me for coverage of his events because it allows him to see things he couldn't see from his perspective signing books. I look forward to his Image Comics collaboration with Howard Chaykin, which should be fascinating on one level in that Chaykin tends to nail the comics he writes himself fairly quickly in terms of how he wants them to work and I tend to think of Fraction as a person who on his creator-owned material fairly feels himself settle into them, where an issue done a year in is different than the very first one.

* the Fraction, Brandon Graham, Chaykin, Joe Casey Image Comics panel -- there might have been one more person on there -- sounds like it might have been one to remember. I totally missed it.


* the creators I saw tabling where I did a double-take just because I didn't know they would be there were Chaykin, Simon Bisley and Gerry Conway. These are men that have very specific reputations and seemed more than happy to live up to them in person, at least as far as you might think this would have an effect on meeting them at a con.

* I got to meet Fiona Staples, and people enthused at various points during the weekend about meeting her.

* I think a lot of people were busier than in past years. I know that a few people to whom I spoke easily last time -- the writer Greg Rucka for example -- were pretty slammed this time around. I did hear an array of perspectives, though; you always do.

* I ran into Kurt Busiek over by the Joe Casey/Matthew Southworth table. I was happy to see him, I had heard there were some health issues, the latest permutations of his ongoing difficulties in that direction, and I thought he looked good. It's also nice to hear he'll be returning to his Astro City work.

* I was not allowed onto the con floor with my press pass like I was in 2012, which didn't surprise me because that particular access felt like an aberration. My check-in experience was super-smooth, although it's my hope before I die to be in a comics convention press line with some peer I recognize instead of the usual long line of people I don't know.

* I didn't see a lot of press and PR people this time. It's starting to get like that at shows.

* I spoke to Ross Richie of BOOM! at one point, which I was happy to do because I hadn't seen Ross since he became a daddy. I like Ross, and I don't like all that many guys with the aggressive advocacy skill-set he has. I think you need guys like Richie at companies like BOOM!, as it's their energy that's going to help carry a company like that in its initial stages after which you need someone that's going to also be able to instill a culture that works when they're not around and that holds together during what is likely to be high editorial turnover. That's not an easy pair of things to combine, and I think Richie has done a fine job so far. I like that the people that work at BOOM! seem really, really into working at BOOM!

* Richie said something that I've heard a lot of people say, about how important it is for comics people, particularly in their 40s and beyond, to listen to younger employees in terms of just getting a grasp on what's out there to be published and sold and which creators are worth pursuing. Richie described the Adventure Time stuff that BOOM! has been doing as something that fairly burbled up from the editor and senior editor level rather than from the top down.

* saw Shannon Wheeler at the BOOM! booth and picked up a copy of their Daniel Johnston hardcover. It's always good to see Shannon, someone I've caught at these shows for almost two decades now. There are fewer folks like that at every show, which is healthy rather than sad, but it makes seeing those folks you do see a lot more fun.


* ran into David Malki and Dave Kellett on the floor, both con veterans at this point and certainly comics veterans. They were working a fairly active webcomics area of the floor, and both were busy when we spoke. I'm a fan of both guys, and I hope they do well.

* I got to meet Ryan North, whom I hadn't met before. I've enjoyed his comics.

* I wish I had something profound to say about the presence of webcomics and the like. I think the personalities are interesting over there, the way that that element of comics culture has grasped onto these public appearances in a way that seems slightly different than more traditional comics areas -- I'm not sure I can articulate that very well, but I've never gotten that overall pushback of "I don't want to be here" from the webcomics people that I've sometimes sensed from other cartoonists and comics folk I know. And now they're getting good at being at cons, adjusting to what works. If I had to table at a con and was allowed to hire a consultant, I might spend that money on Malki, for instance.

* It's also fun that various people in that world are developing as cartoonist. I've enjoyed this latest run of Meredith Gran comics, for instance, and even though I'm always afraid she's going to take my lunch money for no other reason than she could, it's always a delight to see her at a show. Gran was one of several creators I only saw outside of the show, which speaks to the overall size of the place.

* God bless you if you stopped me and told me that you read the site. That is really nice of you, and a great reminder that people may actually read what gets put out there. I received many fine recommendations of things to go see from you folks.

* hey, let's talk about panels.

* I thought in general that the programming was infinitely stronger comics-wise than it was last year. That's a snap-judgment, but I couldn't find any comics panels that interested me at certain times of the day last year; at this one, I missed panels for the sake of seeing other panels.

* this was the first year that when I went to panels nearly all of the panelists were working their phones before the panel started. I thought that was a striking visual.


* so I went to a panel moderated by Allison Baker on the Internet's effect on comics. Kelly Sue DeConnick pulled a slow-motion rant over the course of the hour indicting the expectations placed upon creators that want to do the fullest array of on-line promotions as a) time spent away from writing, b) something of a waste of time given that so many publications mirror a publicity function that can be self-directed, c) potentially futile given that there are structural barriers keeping people from buying books they enjoy hearing about on-line. The other panelists -- Jen Vaughn, Emi Lenox and Shannon Watters -- were intriguing mostly for how matter-of-fact they were about using these tools as opposed to kind of strategizing their use of them, if that makes any sense. Soem of the throwaway lines made me perk up a bit, like Watters' reminder she basically recruited for her books at BOOM! by tapping people she knew could do the job because they were doing work on-line where it could be seen and tracked.

* I spoke to DeConnick after the panel a bit, which was fun. She is super-busy, and that she gave me that much time was really nice of her. She's nice generally, and was kind to me when I was sick a couple of years back. I'm glad she's getting superhero-comic work and I look forward to her Image title. Her writing is different than a lot of writing that's being done in that world right now, in that she strikes me as more of a novelist or essayist, naturally, than the kind of scriptwriter/screenplay-maker that usually scores comics gigs, at least right now.

* one trend that's interesting that I thought continued at this year's ECCC is that people were active in terms of wanting to improve panels. People want to be good on them and they want them to be good. Like one person said to me that they wanted panels to be full of practical advice no matter the subject, just really serve the needs of those in the audience. That's not exactly how most people approach them, and maybe it's time to try out different ways of doing them. I've always thought there would eventually be site-specific downloads for those that attend panels; maybe we're headed in that direction, maybe another.

* another panel I saw was a "Best Of Times/Worst of Times" panel, which was sort of fascinating for the array of opinions and industry conceptions on hand. The thought that if someone could just get on TV they'd become a big chat-show superstar driving people to their comics was actually floated, which was an idea I didn't think existed anymore. I think it was Bill Willingham that floated the super-oddball idea that there must be some sort of diversity at Marvel and DC because if there wasn't he wouldn't like some of the comics and dislike others, which I guess means the Brady Bunch was a diverse crew because I didn't care for Bobby...? That just sort of confused me. At any rate, it was that kind of panel. I have to say, I'm also a little uncomfortable with new financial models being asserted when I'm not sure I know their details. That applies to people that may be presenting themselves as doing well that are doing poorly, but I think it's also true of people that are portrayed as doing spectacularly that are simply doing well. I know I made that mistake with Don Rosa over the years, so it's not just happening now. I'm not sure our dialogue about career models and success are all working out of the same shared ideas of what the broader terms we sometimes employ actually portend. Of the individual panelists, Brandon Graham was funniest, and dropped a great line that when people talk about breaking into comics what they really mean is breaking into making a living at comics. That is very, very true.

* I guess Bill Willingham might be working on something for Monkeybrain either sooner or later, if what he said on the panel continues to progress. I would imagine that a lot of comics creators are going to explore all of the models out there, and that some sort of on-line model will be worth it for people to explore. Willingham also expressed deep admiration for this strip.


* I also attended the Jeff Parker spotlight panel moderated by David Brothers, which was somewhat sparsely attended but about twice what I might have thought at that time of night. He's very funny, that Jeff Parker, and served me booze right from his seat at the panel, which I recommend to all panelists on all future panels. Parker talked a bit about eschewing standards of structure and prescribed story conventions for entertaining the reader while letting those elements kind of follow in the wake of how you choose to engage the audience. Parker's sort of the living embodiment of Marvel's deep writing bench right now, and I imagine his body of work will be one that hardcore fans will return to the way we used to dig up certain Steve Gerber mainstream runs.

* I got to meet the writer Chris Roberson, one of the show's comics stars, I think. He has a commanding presence and is charismatic in front of a crowd, whether on a panel or gathered around a few cigarettes outside of a bar. He could be Darwyn Cooke's brother the junior senator. Roberson's slams on the current culture at DC Comics made up about 80 percent of the lines I heard repeated or talked about outside of the panels themselves.

* ran into Dan Goldman, recently returned from Buenos Aires, which he described as a tough but useful experience. He has a bunch of work out there, or at least already done, so I hope he received the publishing platform he was looking for, or that it's coming soon.


* I hit Randys Readers, the finest booth in all of ECCC boothdom and one of my favorite places on the planet. Seriously, I could just sleep under the table, except there are comics down there, too. I even love having Randy -- I assume that it's Randy -- look at my pile of already-purchased comics and start suggesting things. Bought some $3, perfectly readable Jack Kirby Fantastic Fours, and a bunch of Master Of Kung Fu. I experienced little-kid joy of the fat-kid-that-buys-things variety, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. You could assemble a pretty good comics company from the people that visited that booth over the course of any random hour.

* saw Justin Norman, still at work on the DC's All-Star Western title, now for the first time actually set in the American West. I like his art on that book. Norman was discussed at several points throughout the weekend in social situations in which he was not present, a figure slightly larger than life. He's recovering from arm pain. I always enjoy catching up with Norman. He's an all-time favorite comics person for me. He's been a really solid worker for DC, and I hope they realize it and appreciate him.

* the cartoonist Ellen Forney said her book Marbles was still doing very well, and I couldn't be happier for Ellen Forney. She's kind of like the living spirit of Seattle comics in a lot of ways.

* also spoke to Peter Bagge, one of the great figures of alternative comics and American comedy of the last quarter century and I will fight you if you don't agree with me on both points. Okay, not really: I'm old, and it's not worthing fighting over, but I do strongly think these things. Peter and I talked about his forthcoming Margaret Sanger book, The Woman Rebel, which he turns in at the end of April. It's 72 pages, Drawn and Quarterly, and probably not a barrel of laughs given her immense career on behalf of women and as a much-battered symbol of women's right and liberal ideology. I'm doing the introduction, so I can't wait to read it. I also saw a new Bagge book of odds and ends from Fantagraphics, which I enjoyed quite a bit, particularly for the collaborations -- there's a Rick Altergott strip in there with the funniest visual depiction of Peter Bagge ever I was happy to see again.

* people seemed quite impressed with the collection of books and art at writer and consultant Rob Salkowitz's house. He threw a reception for Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada Saturday night. It's also get to see Lash and Estrada, and their view on the show given their primetime perch as longstanding Comic-Con International royalty would likely be worth its own article. Lash is teaching himself to paint, and I think he's already there.


* so we were sitting at breakfast waiting for Brandon Graham to show up talking about how he's a rock star now and he shows up carrying a bass guitar. It was for him to draw something on, but still. He had a really good show, I take it, and last year's was kind of a debutante's ball in terms of his showing up on a lot of different radars. I like when people are kind of linked to different shows; that's a super-intriguing cultural lever there.

* did everyone know but me that Emily Carroll had a new comic up? And that her work appears in this book? I mean, that's one very, very talented cartoonist for me not to know either one of these things.

* I also met the talented artist Simon Roy, whose pants exploded into shreds at the convention.

* the ECCC bar con was pretty weird. It was packed but it wasn't... it wasn't humongous, if that makes any sense. It didn't seem like that big of a show if you just went to the bar at 1 AM. But that's a nice bar, and there is plenty of seating if you can snag one. Saturday night, I'm told, was legitimately crushed.

* it's actually encouraging when the main hotel bar is smaller than you'd think, because it means that more people are spread out into more places having their own experiences and adding to the overall tapestry of the convention weekend. This isn't important, that, say, Charles Brownstein was heading over to The 5-Point in Belltown rather than joining folks closer to the convention itself at some sort of more traditional city-type restaurant, but I think it's healthy.

* spoke with the writer Joe Casey for about two hours regarding the specific satisfactions brought to him by his recent, really interesting run of creator-owned comics. He has two sizable projects out this Spring, including the first issue of Sex -- out this week. No one engages with comics quite like Casey, in that he deeply cares about some elements drawn from his comics-reading and yet cares about others, including some which typically travel with the ones he does admire, not at all. Also, it's weird to hang out with Joe away from a convention when you can see his eyes. Also, he looks 28 years old. So did Ennis. Me, not so much. Someone at the Fanta office asked if I worked at the company in College Park, Maryland, back in the late 1970s.

* I didn't get a lot of mainstream comics news -- I'm not sure how much people gossip, I suppose a lot, but they obviously don't gossip around me. A couple threads I found interesting: a lot more attention to "what am I getting out of this publishing deal?" thinking than I've ever heard, which I think could be a huge positive, and basic economic disparity issues, that certain cartoonists were getting money that didn't seem to relate to their talent or to their assignments or to their sales or to the time they've been in the industry, while others wilt on the vine. As always, it's the younger cartoonists that seemed most positive.

* the day after the show I hung out at the Fantagraphics offices a bit, and went from editor station to editor station being shown books that they were working on. All companies should consider doing this more formally. Getting press to casually talk with someone while they call objects to a screen is a super-appealing way of sorting out certain efforts from the tidal wave of books to come. Like one thing I didn't know about the Mike Catron-edited Blake Bell/Michael Vassallo Marvel Secret History book is that it will have a bunch of Magazine Management art and illustration from comics veterans, including Jack Kirby. I also saw Catron's flow charts for all the forthcoming EC editions, which was formidable and terrifying.


* Jason T. Miles, the cartoonist and publisher whose momentum in the small press was curtailed a bit following a bit of post-Dylan Williams soul-searching (that's my guess, anyway) and some family matters (less of a guess), will have some fascinating work out this year. I hope to announce some of it here at CR.

* saw Preston White, whom I owe an interview. The longtime Fantagraphic art director/production person has seen a lot of comics history. He was very gracious, I thought, talking about how skilled the young designers are today, contrasting it with his own work which is just a job that fell to him in the early days as other people took editorial control.

* had a nice comics-related lunch on Monday -- discussion, not the cuisine. I'm not sure what a comics-related lunch would involve: probably giant slugs and spinach, and this was much nicer. The group included Allison Sampson, whose work I've seen and whose work you'll eventually see. Her traveling companion's job is that of a weapons designer, so of course we talked about comics instead.

* what else?

* the one show that the indy/alt people were excited enough to talk about? New kid on the block Autoptic came up a bunch. There's going to be a big want-to with that one. The calendar is hugely crowded though. There was also the usual talk of going to shows not directed at small-press or comics efforts, the risks and potential rewards. A lot of mainstream-y comics people were quick to point out similarities in feel between this show and HeroesCon in Charlotte, as well the Baltimore Comic-Con on the other side of the summer. Next up for a lot of those people is WonderCon, and I don't think there was any desire from the professional I talked to that that one move back into the Bay Area any time soon considering a) Southern California's continuing importance to that whole realm of comics, b) the enthusiastic crowds that the show saw last year when it relocated down there -- for how long is still unknown. So that's some convention-business drama, anyway, as all of this hashes itself out. I didn't hear a whole lot of enthusiasm for Chicago's Reed show, even when I brought it up, but most of the pros I talked to are West Coast people and might not naturally attend that one.

* I think a lot of people did well at their tables, at least as far as I paid attention and heard back. Brandon Graham and a lot of (broadly) similar cartoonists with some name recognition and fantasy-art type comics chops looked like they were doing well as a general rule. There were commissions delivered to people at the show, which is a sign that folks are beginning to count on ECCC on their calendars. One comics pro told me he was extremely happy having made about $2200 at his table by the end of the weekend. I have no idea what people make at their tables, but from my perspective it would be an outright con novelty to have made $2200 by the end of a con weekend rather than have spent that much money. This strikes me as one of those things almost entirely made up of personal benchmarks and hard to compare.

* the best "And Now You Know… The Rest Of The Story"-style story came from Justin Norman and ended with, "The name of that mysterious cartoonist? Lewis Trondheim." I'm pretty sure 84 percent of all comics stories can be improved with that ending.

* I did talk to a few pros that seemed to experience the convention more as a group of people there to cosplay and simply not buy anything as a firm decision right from the start, as opposed to it being a place that provided a stream of 100 percent potential customers. I also didn't find anyone promoting a specific thing or things as the way to sell at this show, and you usually find someone out there that confident. This makes some sense as cons have become so important to so many cartoonists the last half-decade that there are a bunch of different, well-developed approaches right now.


* one thing I saw that was fascinating to me was a long line at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for the Image honcho and writer Eric Stephenson, who was apparently signing a variant of his comic book that was linked to the show and I think maybe the Fund. It seemed like something of a joyless exercise, but man, it was a long line. I don't really understand the entire collectibles impulse as expressed there -- it strikes me that these constructs aren't really sustainable except in this sudden-flowering way, that there's no real value to these variants except some sort of understood, immediate value to these variants. This strikes me as totally insane, but as long as the damage is restricted I see them more as a waste of time than as a poisonous influence -- I imagine the Fund enjoys the money, too. Yet another reminder that comics is a big tent. Standing in that line holding a stack of books for someone to sign was a highlight for more than a few weekends.

* the retailer and occasional publisher Jason Leivian had a small table there, that he shared with folks like Francois Vigneault and Zack Soto. Leivian was coy about future Portland-related convention plans: coy in the sense he didn't want to accidentally announce anything, not coy in the sense of "Leave me alone, I'm never doing anything again and just talking about it breaks my heart." Not that way. I bet in general we hear about the rest of 2013 from all potential shows sooner rather than later. It will be more than we can all attend.

* cons are mostly pleasant experiences spent among friends engaging in things for which we hold great affection. It's entirely possible that more than a few lives changed last weekend in addition to all of those good times being had. This isn't a horrible thing, and as long as cons work, and they seem to work right now, we should probably work with them as a strength than to push them away as not having anything to offer comics, or one specific kind of comics, or our own experiences with comics.

* there were a lot of costumes at this show. I swear it was only a dozen years ago you'd have about ten. I don't really understand the costume impulse, but I was told by three different people that I'm over-thinking it and that "costumes are fun."

* speaking of which, at one point walking back from a dinner somewhere, I overheard an attractive, well-dressed young woman respond to a friend by pointing at herself and saying "This cosplay is called 'style'." Not really sure what that was about, but it made me laugh.

* you know what someone mentioned that I think might become a thing? Stunt-tabling. Like what if Fantagraphics at an Emerald City decided to emphasize a big back-issues sale as opposed to having their usual array of books on hand -- or in addition to having those books? Or what if the entirety of Indie Island at HeroesCon did similar 4x6 paintings of superheroes for $40 each and made a big deal of it in advance? Or what if someone released an entire series in serial comic form only at six different cons? I bet this takes hold a bit, as conventions become more ingrained, and there continue to be more of them and people angle for attention during them.

* so that was about it.

* it looks like Emerald City Comicon may be the show a lot of folks have been waiting for, and in a couple of years could round into a significant anchor for the first few months of the year, even though so many of its strengths are that it's a regional show, and creator-driven. They go late March in 2014 -- I wondered if they'd add a day, but they're still doing three -- and each of their next few iterations should be fascinating. I hope to attend them as I'm able.

* congratulations to the sponsors, organizers, owners and volunteers on their success.

* my personal thanks to all the kindnesses shown me that weekend. Thanks to Jen Vaughn for the eyeballs rental. Please visit her site. And a big thank you to my hosts: Rhea and Clem and Eric.

* Seattle remains a comics culture jewel and one of the great, cool places to live ever. I usually have a hate-hate relationship with places I've lived to the point I've considered building tunnels to get people I know out, but not that city on the Puget Sound. I miss it.

* as always, it was great to see everybody.

* on my way back home, I diverted for 14 hours to my friend's small town in California. On our way to dinner we stopped at a comics shop that had only been open two days. It had high ceilings and lovely cabinets -- it was nice, the kind of store you happily take your non-comics reading pals and the kind where you anticipate signings and social events. I'd send my Mom in. It was much like the Blastoff store pictured above, more Secret Headquarters than Bob's Secret Dungeon. On the front table sat The Walking Dead and Journalism. There were toys I'd never seen before and an entire wall of trades. Two small kids were negotiating with their parents for a book apiece.

A man in his early 20s walked in and beamed into his phone, "I can't believe it! Comics!"



posted 7:56 am PST | Permalink

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