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Notes From The Floor, Comic-Con International 2009
posted August 1, 2009
 

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The following are notes and observations gathered on the floor of Comic-Con International 2009 in San Diego, California.

*****

For Wednesday, July 22; published Thursday, July 23

* the ICv2.com Comics And Media Conference took place in one of the Marriott's ballrooms, with doors located right off of an elevator bank. It looked to be about 55-65 percent full for the bulk of it, with a number of badges still available generally even near conference's end (indicating people that RSVP'ed or even registered that didn't show). I sat in front of the Tripwire guys, in front of the Top Shelf crew, and next to a late-arriving Shad Petosky, who look harried and wondered out loud during a break when the heart attack is going to come.

* the writer Jeph Loeb gave the keynote speech, an old-school walk through his personal relationship to comics emphasizing key issues that he encountered along the way and a cultural mechanism or two at work behind each one (a Superman comic as a serial adventure; the pre-Superman movie hype as providing a rooting interest in the movie's success). Because this was the media and comics panel, there were a lot of TV shows and movies talked in, but the high points were fairly recognizable. Loeb, for instance, looks at the wish-fulfillment provided by Marvel comic books as a way he processed the helplessness he felt in the face of his parents' divorce.

* some of Loeb's choices were interesting. He selected the X-Men movie as more important than the earlier Blade, for instance, oddly citing both its ability to put a number of superheroes on the screen at once and the star-making performance of actor Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. He also cited its ability to make a cohesive movie from elements of a comic book that weren't a part of wider culture like the Superman movie was. I wonder about this to a certain extent, in that I wonder if 25 years of X-Men comics and cartoons hadn't penetrated into the subconscious mass culture to the point that a Superman had a decade earlier to the extent that our culture currently processes things, but that's a conversation better left to being stoned and sitting in one's dormitory hallway.

* although Loeb's speech was traditional in a way with its emphasis on "modern mythology," there were some interesting notions curling at the edges. For instance, he talked about the face that everyone knows the story of Cinderella and suggests that a similar cultural consciousness exists around Superman, even pointing out what people knew about that character (came from outer space, could fly, vague notions of Lex Luthor and Lois Lane) going into the TV show Smallville. I wish he had looked at this in terms of hit movies like Iron Man, which seem to me depend less on mythological resonance or their having permeated the culture than an easy to understand concept that sounds appealing. I think "Iron Man" is fairly easy to understand, all things told.

image* Heidi MacDonald interviewed the net two subjects, both "test cases" for a comics work's journey into Hollywood development. Top Shelf Publisher Chris Staros and writer Robert Venditti of the forthcoming The Surrogates went first, and I wasn't aware of the lovely backstory there: Venditti came to work for Top Shelf as a warehouse employee during their big money plea from several years ago, and both actively sought the advice and patronage of his employers while also believing that his work wasn't exactly suited for their line.

* the main things that Staros and Venditti stressed were the vast chasm between verbal interest and actually getting a film made, the ability to assemble a team of people to make the development process easier rather than relying on the strength of a pitch all by itself, the measured quality of that process and how to keep an even emotional keel during its ups and downs, researching what is easy for the entertainment companies to give up and what is not traditional they change so as to focus one's energies during the long negotiation process and winnable battles, and Venditti's feelings of gratitude upon seeing so many talented people working to make his creation come alive on screen.

* one element that I thought was interesting is how Staros and Top Shelf seemed well-prepared to move into this kind of venture. When Staros and Venditti talked about their personal friendship allowing them a sort of common cause and platform from which to negotiate, it struck me that that could cover a multiple of i-dotting and t-crossing sins. But when I asked if the venture had changed anything about Top Shelf's standard contract, Staros insisted it hadn't in any way, which impressed me. He also pointed out that the reason "Productions" was in the company title was because they wanted to move into wider entertainment areas almost from the start, which I hadn't known.

* Jeff Smith's interview with MacDonald was memorably for the most part in that it was frequently funny, with several stories of Hollywood overtures regarding the Bone property, most of which failed because of inflexibility regarding elements of control over which Smith had no intention of letting go: the fact that the didn't want a musical number of the kind that were popular in animated films, and the core emphasis on the story on Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone as opposed to the more traditional elements like Thorn and Gran'ma Ben.

image* one thing Smith said struck me -- that he carried core principles of the self-publishing movement into these negotiations and that many of those came from the Creator's Bill of Rights, which is over 20 years old now. I'm not sure why that hits me as noteworthy, but it does. Seriously, if you extend back 21 years from that document, you're talking the height of the Lee/Kirby era at Marvel.

* a fascinating part of Smith's interview is that they had planned at one point to pursue a Bone film by replicating what big-studios do in farming out scenes to smaller animation studios, basically a farm system without a big-league club but funding mechanisms to include the government of France kicking in some money if a French company or two were among the hired. Smith referred to it as a "virtual animation studio."

* Smith repeated something Venditti said in that it was easier to negotiate with film companies when Bone was completed, both in terms of what they had to present to such interested parties and emotionally so due to the fact that even if a film went sour the book existed on its own merits.

* Smith noted that the Bone film is currently back in development, and that while their deal was made in part after bringing an agent aboard he wasn't certain having an agent earlier would have changed the tenor of any previous negotiation. He also said that it could always go south, because, "we're talking about me." He noted that his past flirtations with Hollywood had left enough of a sour impression that he was brought up as a bad example to other comics creators and that people had frequently told stories back to him about some of the negotiations that went badly. He mentioned with a laugh that one of the things folks didn't seem to like is that he talked about the bad experiences so openly.

* Smith said that there had been on average weekly calls of interest in movies rights to the work over a 14-year period.

* he was much more tight-lipped about movie possibilities for the ongoing RASL, although Smith did mention in passing that the agent that helped put together the Bone deal was originally contacted in order to represent RASL.

* the crowd was mostly invested and involved for the duration of the conference. There was talking between the final two panels mentioned below, and a break extended into the regular San Diego meet and chatter a bit longer than I suspect host Milton Griepp would have ideally liked, but mostly it moved along. It was odd to me to see a room mostly media professionals texting openly during other people's presentations -- as no one in the room was a high-ranking military official or a doctor, I can't imagine anything was so important you'd need to do that right out where someone could watch you do it. But that's probably schoolmarmish of me.

* a panel on transmedia storytelling followed, with participants Nick Barrucci, Robin Brenner, Greg Goldstein, Jeff Gomez, Jim Killen and with Milton Griepp moderating. This basically broke down into a few panels, some of which overlapped and some of which didn't.

* Brenner (a librarian) and Killen (buyer for Barnes and Noble) talked a lot about what they were seeing from their customers, what was popular and what was keeping people coming back in terms of franchises that were popular elsewhere and franchises that might not have so much juice right now. Killen noted, for instance, that Joss Whedon's decision to make his comics-only Buffy Season 8 venture canonical had not only attracted readers to those book but also to omnibus material put together by Dark Horse from earlier material that may or may not -- and mostly is not -- considered part of the "official" Buffy story. Brenner had a great point when she talked about franchises have a longer life than they used to, both from the need for repeats on cable television but also because of DVD set sales -- she gets teen customers for the Whedon material that could not possibly have fully understood the series if they watched them while they were on.

* Barrucci and Greg Goldstein provided a great deal of insight into their publishing companies' forays into licensing character. Both emphasized putting together the comics aspect of it as vitally important -- few if any licenses are strong enough to carry weak execution -- and how each company (Dynamite with Lone Ranger; IDW with Star Trek) benefited by becoming a licensing partner with an entertainment property on a down cycle in terms of overall impact. Each man poo-poohed the idea that an actor or writer attached to a project was a good idea, Barrucci saying it was usually a detriment to comics overall and Goldstein pointing out it was unfair to be biased to actors that might be able to contribute to an effective comic simply because they were actors.

* Jeff Gomez was on the panel, I think, mostly to scare the crap out of me. He was by far the person most invested in the idea of storytelling on a number of levels, including original contributions from licensing partners, such as how the Star Wars comics have told stories that have become part of that franchise's overall official story and so on. He presented a personal history of cross-platform storytelling whose first two steps were Japanese post-War economic recovery and the Blair Witch project and rhapsodized about things like "transmedia stringers" and the fact that his company was moving from the marketing end of things to being involved from the very beginning in terms of shaping different projects.

* a theme at the end that fans decide on when something is official and something isn't rung hollow to me -- Barrucci was the only one who provided examples, and they seemed kind of distant and obscure compared to other processes by which something receives the "canonical" tag. A more interesting notion I think came from Brenner in that fan fiction had created an expectation of extended interaction with a property that these efforts were able to fulfill. A kind of "if you don't give them more, they will make their own" construction.

image* a final panel on "Comics After Hollywood" consisted of Matt Hawkins, Rick Jacobs, Jeff Katz, Mike Mignola and Joe Nozemack with Tom McLean moderating. This was mostly about the state of deal-making and related successes that could be had now that media companies had become more interested in comics, and issues like whether or not that was sustainable or something that was simply peaking now or both.

* I had to leave about 20 minutes in, but two things struck me: one is that Jeff Katz of American Original has the gift of gab, and should be able to rely on that alone for a place at the comics table for as long as he has one. He looks like a cross between Guillermo Del Toro and Ivan Brunetti, and spent the first ten minutes of the panel reminding those in attendance that media company interest was solely financial and had a desperate air in part because the entertainment industry may be due a massive contraction in size over the next several months.

* the other noteworthy element of the final panel as far as I got into it before having to catch a train was that Mike Mignola provided a sharp contrast to Jeff Smith's experience -- he made his movie deal in large part on faith, and without a director interested in his involvement and a confluence of other factors could have been a much less rewarding experience. He also spoke directly to the universes of difference in public perception that comes with a movie that opens on 2500+ screens, noted that his movie actually sold books where some others hadn't (Matt Hawkins from Top Cow said that his company sold more Wanted trades over the last several months than everything else they offer combined), and said that his books exist in the shadown of that enterprise to a certain extent.

* Mignola also said that the day he signed the movie deal he went home and created another character in case he had just ruined the first one. I wonder if after I left someone from the audience asked if that character might be available for license.

* that was it for me; I'll try to go back over my notes and rewrite this at some point, but that was the gist of the day. I enjoyed it. Also in attendance were folks like Kiel Phegley (a little rubber-legged from a night sleeping on CBR's boat, but sporting a fine-looking tie), Calvin Reid (who told me it's the "best time of the year -- San Diego time"), the always-enjoyable Joe Rybandt (who decided not to punch me in the jaw as he had every right to do), Arie Kaplan and Douglas Wolk. Wolk at one point caught me eye because I swear he had taken out the entire contents of his swag bag and placed it in front of him (Douglas, tell me if I'm wrong; I thought it was great). For the record, mine was a pen, a notepad, a 2008 Tripwire annual, a coffee tumbler with the named BuchalterNemer on it, an ICv2 Insider's Guide, and two hardcover books: Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 and Gunnerkrigg Court Vol. 1.

*****

For Thursday, July 23; published Friday, July 24

* unsurprisingly, the general topic of conversation on Thursday from those to whom I spoke was the unruly nature of the stuffed-to-the-max convention. At least from an eyewitness standpoint, the conversation seemed justified. I saw at least a half-dozen lines to a few random panels that ten years ago would have had a hard time putting together 40 people that were dauntingly long this time out. One story that three people told me was that one mainstream comic book writer had a signing so stuffed that security was involved in processing the line. Twilight fans began the day camped out for entry into the hall where their dedicated panel was to take place, which, like most things with Twilight fandom, was either awesome or slightly disturbing depending on to whom you spoke. I'm still not understanding the fake outrage on behalf of defending those fans. They seem to be doing fine without anyone's scorn or anyone's thumbs up.

* in one of those coordinated announcements that always confuses me a bit, kids book giant Scholastic announced mid-afternoon yesterday that they'll be doing more Bone books to be supervised by Jeff Smith, written by Tom Sniegoski and drawn by Smith. I saw Smith like three times in the last 24 hours; he was carrying Moomin books and thinking about buying a Moby Dick print from Tom Neely. That print was indeed gorgeous.

* top three North American comics publisher IDW announced the hiring of Bob Schreck as Senior Editor. Not only does this seem a natural fit, but I don't know a single person who didn't think this would happen. When Bob Schreck was laid off by DC Comics, someone in my circle joked that they thought IDW had been created solely to provide Bob Schreck with his next job.

image* Richard Thompson had a crowd of about 60-75 folks, which was terrific because he's a great, great cartoonist. He took the show on himself, no moderator, and presented a slide-show walk-through a lot of his work.

* not so great was that they started letting people into the panel for the next panel at about half-past the hour. Thompson is enormously soft-spoken and the folks on hand to learn how to pitch to Hollywood or whatever made the last 20 minutes of Thompson's panel really, really hard to hear. I have no idea why this is a policy.

* Thompson has a new book coming out this Fall, as previously mentioned on this site. It will start with the strip from the day after the previous book ends, and contain no more archived sort-of Cul De Sac material. The only reason that material was in the first volume is because they wanted a book out before the current strip was ready to provide enough material for a standard book. Still, it's awesome to have that material.

* someone really needs to do a Thompson art book, focused primarily on his New Yorker, Washington Post and USN&WR work.

* I saw Charlie Kochman from Abrams walking down the aisle. I guess they moved back the Jaime Hernandez art book, although they remain excited about the book that I think may be a bit difficult to nail in terms of finding the right kind of publicity. I stand second to no one as a Jaime fan, but I get the sense that some people confuse his ubiquity with overexposure and you won't get the kind of anticipatory buzz on that project. I saw Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett at Abrams cocktail gathering later on, and they seem fully stoked about the ramp-up to Boilerplate, which had a long and somewhat chaotic publishing history conception to final copy (maybe eight years if I remember what they were saying). They told me they were among the first if not the first Portland comics transplants.

* the Man of Action guys are doing well enough in their television endeavors to afford suits now.

* I asked Peter Birkemoe of The Beguiling ownership fame about their original art business in the down world economy and he said that there was almost no way to tell: a new batch of art from one of their popular artists results in just as many sales as it might have two, three years ago. In general, questions about the down economy are dealt with in terms of some delicacy -- most of the publishers have adjusted, so it's not like there's a gap between a set of plan meant for a different economy and this one. Most of the concern expressed by cartoonists on the floor was for either the state of newspaper cartooning, which remains a subject of some mystery to people both in and not in that specific line of work, and the more quotidian difficulties of trying to get a specific work noticed in a huge wave of new releases. One publisher referred to a long list of books and let slip at the end, "and there's another XXXX XXXX book." This made us both laugh as that book is really quite formidable, and would have made us freak out with joy 10 years ago, but as a soldier in an army of new releases circa 2009 it kind of get lost even when your intentions are the opposite.

* I saw and enjoyed a crime comics panel with Max Allan Collins, Darwyn Cooke, Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber -- Rucka told those assembled that if they went to the Whiteout movie expecting the graphic novel "they deserved to be disappointed" and pointed out that at mystery conventions the average age of the audience was 30 years older than that in comics, which is something I hadn't considered but of course he's right. It was a very old-school panel.

* I knew not a single person at the Hyatt at 1:40 AM, and have never been happier just to go to bed.

*****

For Friday, July 24; published Saturday, July 25

* the big publishing news of the day for most folks was Marvel acquiring the rights to publish Marvelman. This is one of those things that's going to bear some analysis rather than is all that well-served by a single announcement of the "hey, look" kind, especially since a few years ago a big announcement had me thinking Stephen King was going to be writing scripts for the company Stan Lee style while sitting in Marvel's bullpen. Still, that's all the big names lined up in a row to make for an interesting story. As one CR reader put it, it could be that Marvel is just throwing its hat into a really crowded ring. We'll see. I'm also not certain the time hasn't passed on this one in terms of it being super-exciting news. I don't really have a Marvelman hole in my heart anymore, and I read the Alan Moore revival about 50 times.

image* the big publishing news for me was that Fantagraphics will do the complete Ernie Bushmiller Nancy, which is awesome. One of the prominent alternative cartoonists apparently has a complete collection from which they'll be working.

* in related news, Fantagraphics' second and more complete shot at Pogo finally starts next Spring. The delay with Pogo was purely archival; it's quite difficult to find good Pogo copies, and it took them longer than they expected to find copies with which they were willing to move forward.

* a close second in the news department (third if you count Walt Kelly, I guess) is that Darwyn Cooke will follow up his The Hunter with a book that will adapt part of the The Man With The Getaway Face and huge chunks if not all of The Outfit. That will be out in 2010. The Outfit is one of Donald Westlake's best books, so this should be a lot of fun. IDW had sold almost 350 of the current Parker book by 5:30 Friday afternoon, which is great in these times of being able to get such work anywhere. Cooke was signing and completing a frontpiece with some drawing.

* as much as I complain about the show and what it could be, I have to say Friday afternoon was a pleasure for me and I'm sure a lot of other comics fans with similar A-B-C stories. Mine was that I realized I got to spend Thursday afternoon listening to my current favorite strip cartoonist Richard Thompson talk about his work, and a chunk of Friday watching Pat Oliphant draw with terrifying facility in charcoal while he was interviewed on stage. Then I got to go meet Leonard Starr.

* one thing that cracked me up is that Dylan Williams has been encouraging the people working the Sparkplug table to take a full day off so as not to be burnt out. He told me he went to the zoo.

* there are no lines at the ATMs. Spooky and disheartening.

* I am greatly appreciative to Seth, Jason Lutes, Gene Yang, Lewis Trondheim, Bryan Lee O'Malley and Derek Kirk Kim for their participation in a well-attended "graphic novels" panel on Friday. The panel got wonky -- Lutes and Seth went back and forth on editing, for instance -- but the audience was there to hang and asked a lot of great questions. Everyone was funny. I was pleased and people seemed to genuinely enjoy it. Those panels are tough because you get a lot of people up on the panel and a lot of people in the audience that may have vastly different takes on what a panel on the broad subject matter so named should encompass. But this one worked.

* I hardly know Bryan Lee O'Malley, but he looked slightly stunned and maybe just finding his sea legs at what has to be a crazy convention for him. He seemed pleased, though. I'm happy for him.

* Judith Hansen told me that the various editions of Crumb's Genesis will have different covers according to the country of their publication, and she looks forward to seeing the reaction. The covers are selected by Crumb.

*****

For Saturday, July 25; published Sunday, July 26

* it's easy to take all this con stuff way too easier, and then you read a quote as goofy as this one from Lev Grossman. The second graph. I'm not one to stand in lines, and those people can look sort of sad sometimes, but no one's been beaten to death and there's little that's ugly about the scene beyond the faint state of not-meeting-expectations that usually comes with focused fan activities. From my perspective, for every bombed-out looking fan there's five little girls psyched to get a drawing ofthe Neopets. Lighten up, Lev. Sheesh.

image* big news of the day is actually old news that just wasn't announced via formal press release: Eric Reynolds was named associate publisher at Fantagraphics. Reynolds is the best person I know in comics, and I'm both happy for him and pleased that the company has paid attention to that crucially valuable resource.

* second big news of the day that I heard at least is that Lewis Trondheim will be doing a six-panel color comic for the iPhone that will be available in 18 languages. "Not English," joked Trondheim at his morning panel.

* a third story is that AdHouse Books will be doing an art book with Rafael Grampa, although Grampa's schedule is such that it may be more than a year before it's formally scheduled.

* I hope no one feels I'm doing a disservice by posting these stories in here. They're all good enough to deserve their own headline, and they'll hopefully be archived here that way. I consider such stories every bit as significant as the bulk of the ones more formally announced, and it has me thinking about the state of hype in comics that I'll talk about here Tuesday.

* I'm hearing sales stories all over the place, from apocalyptically low sales at some publishers and some comics retailers to really high sales on unexpected things, like Buenaventura Press doing well with the non North American books they're carrying. One typical sign in the retail section -- which seems about two rows shorter, by the way -- "It's Like It's Sunday Already."

* I think everyone realizes that most people are on hand for something other than the kind of book sales that come from simply not being able to find the books locally.

* folks are still bantering about Asterios Polyp.

* everyone in the indy-alt section of the floor was being very nice to Nate Powell all day for his big win at the Eisners, and feeling good both about Powell's enthusiasm for the win and his parents being on hand.

* you can see a copy of the cover to the re-release of the Bone material here.

* I got to meet Pat Oliphant, who did a sparsely-attended signing at Comic Relief and then hung out for a while afterwards. He seemed like a very nice man and said he was enjoying the experience. It's still very odd to m to see Pat Oliphant in his vest standing next to a group of teenaged goth girls with butterfly wings or whatever.

* someone pointed out to me that it was funny that in the fan-club mezzanine the Battlestar Galactica booth went mostly unmanned, like even they didn't like the finale.

* Calvin Reid of PW suggested Neil Kleid's new book as one that should come out of CCI with more buzz than it might actually be able to generate in these star-driven times.

* Lewis Trondheim was very good, very funny, very thoughtful at his morning panel. At one point he mentioned that he hopes money doesn't flood into comics, because he thought that would mean compromise and difficulty. He also spoke repeatedly about the challenge of a project being exciting to him, trying something different. Also, apparently, he has had very little work published in Japan. I hope Mark Siegel won't mind if I bring this up, but there was a funny moment when he talked about the strip that MOME did of Trondheim's about growing old and French cartoonists, and simply didn't know it had been published in the US, saying it was probably untranslatable because of all the references. Luckily, Kim Thompson was on hand to mention that copies of that work were available -- heavily footnoted, of course -- across those three issues of their anthology.

* I finally saw Mark Siegel frown as he stomped his way outside the convention on his way to another meeting. He told me that Lewis Trondheim set something on fire at their booth to replicate Marvin's fire-breathing abilities, but I don't have confirmation on that or really know how big that fire was. Apparently Brian Heater may have pictures.

* One great image I saw about noon was slipping into the back of the Jeff Smith panel in the CBLDF's masters series -- artists drawing and talking about drawing and then giving that drawing to the CBLDF auction -- ands seeing a bunch of teenagers with lunch and bento boxes eating at the back of the room watching Smith draw. The programming in general has been really strong this year from my perspective, and has been a great balm for the craziness of the show business track and resulting crowds.

* although Brian Doherty of Reason was quick to point out that that the crowds not only didn't seem bigger on the floor they couldn't seem bigger because the attendance was capped at the same number. Good point. As for why Wednesday was the biggest day on the floor, isn't it obvious? It's the only day without an aggressive programming track. Batton Lash told me they killed Wednesday evening sales-wise, and good for them.

* Seth's panel was really cool -- a series of 12 mostly unrelated stories about comic books and his aesthetic development separated by a tiny bell ring. This was accompanied by a slideshow that one person on my way out described as stunning. I guess this is a standard way of him to deal with signings, but it was still nice to see something prepared as opposed to someone plopping into their chair to take questions.

* both Seth and Chris Oliveros received Inkpots before that panel, which was nice. Seth pointed out it was a pretty cool-looking inkpots. I like the Inkpots. They remind me of this thing we had in Indiana called I think "Sagamore of the Wabash" which was basically the government sending you a document telling you you're awesome.

* I nearly killed Leonard Nimoy whipping around a post near one of his signings, but caught myself in time. It's a weird celebrity show, mostly on the floor people you're used to seeing rather than people that are brand new to the show and wander over. I get the sense most of the actors and stars are sticking to that end of the show and then slipping off to the James Cameron party or whatever. Paul Pope was supposed to DJ at that thing last night.

* OTBP: Abrams has their Kurtzman and Brian Fies book here, but I somehow missed they have a new George Booth collection with an introduction by Bill Cosby.

* the one signing that seemed to do really well at the Comic Relief booth that I saw was Stephan Pastis with Richard Thompson -- Richard later told me it was mostly Pastis and that he drew really slowly to look busy, which cracked me up. I saw their panel with Keith Knight that afternoon, and it was slightly scary in that they had really no answers for the ongoing cartoonapocalypse other than maybe more fully embrace diy practices. This wouldn't normally be scary, but the panel's title kind of suggested there might be more ideas generated. All those guys are classy and smart and answered a bunch of questions for wannabe cartoonists in the crowd, though, and I always enjoy hearing Keith Knight talk. Lee Salem and Oliphant sat in the middle of the room, and I kind of wondered what they might have to say on the proposed subject.

* I'm not sure what mainstream news there is out there. Bill Willingham is going to write some stuff for IDW, but isn't everybody?

*****

For Sunday, July 26; published Monday, July 27

* it used to be that Sunday was about discounts and, for comics publishers, about sub-distributors and big stores and catalog people coming to buy in bulk and at a discount. I'm told the latter happens a lot less than it used to, if it happens at all. I did see a number of happy shoppers licking their lips to descend upon the first 11 to 12 aisles of the convention floor and buy stuff. This was also the first day I saw people lined up at the ATMs.

* again, I heard any number of things about sales from various sources. I heard from about a half-dozen folks that sell books on the floor that Saturday was lighter than Saturdays in the past, and that this was the first time that a Saturday was lighter than a Friday. For whatever that's worth. It's obvious that with the heavy emphasis on television and film and related panels for many folks there was bound to be some fallout for how the exhibition floor behaved.

* talking to the Fanta-folk, I guess at least the new Fletcher Hanks and the new Johnny Ryan book sold out. That new Johnny Ryan book is fairly amazing.

* here is news of a publishing deal that brings the Gold Key characters to Dark Horse with Jim Shooter in charge of them. You don't string together that many well-known names without it resulting in a news story, but I couldn't find anyone on the floor with a lot of enthusiasm for what seems likely to result comics-wise. I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around any such excitement now, frankly. Shooter will be writing as many as he can handle, it seems.

* not comics: I talked to an extremely attractive woman waiting for the always-slow Westin elevator and then through the elevator ride and a lobby walk about the convention. She informed me her entire show was sitting in Hall H for three days in a row. She measured her ups and downs on the quality of what she saw placed in front of her and was most excited about getting to see multiple minutes of the forthcoming Avatar -- maybe as much for the idea of getting to see that much footage as for the footage itself. I asked her how she dealt with the line and she gave me a silent response to the effect of "are you aware of how incredibly attractive I am?" which makes me imagine some sort of special pneumatic tube system for beautiful people popping them straight from their hotel lobbies into the center of Hall H. The only other person I spoke to about the movie previews, Douglas Wolk, who was covering them for Rolling Stone, said that District 9 looked like a winner. So there you go.

image* I had a nice, short conversation with Scott McCloud, who said that Wolk's recent piece on Asterios Polyp (that book being an item of discussion that weekend in my circle of acquaintances) in the Times may be both the best thing on that work so far and the best thing Wolk's ever written.

* Gilbert Hernandez had an amazing-looking pen and ink drawing of the Captain Marvel whose arms and legs shoot off. And a Golden Age-ish Batman.

* a want-to-see book from the future that came up twice in separate conversations is the Frank Young and David Lasky collaboration on the Carter Family. That could be a really, really good book.

* Stevie Weissman told me a horror story about he and Jordan Crane trying to drive over from the Embassy Suites (about three blocks away) to the other side of the convention center for ease in loading their prints and the like back up and then being redirected through traffic for about an hour before parking back at the Embassy Suites and walking over like usual.

* not comics: it may have been my imagination combined with the imagination of others, but I spoke to a lot of people that agreed with me the sheer number of costumes seemed to be down slightly, although there were still a ton and many were more elaborate than ever. I saw a number of costumes that changed the height of the wearer, mostly with gigantic boots of some sort. There also seemed to be more high-concept costumes, many of which made me laugh. I was hoping for more of a Klingon comeback given the recent Star Trek movie, but I didn't see as many as I thought I might.

* for the record, I will never, even given the opportunity to lead 10,000 lifetimes, truly understand the costume impulse.

* had a dream last night I was at the con doing PR for the Don Johnson/Heather Locklear remake of Sapphire and Steel. This is extra sad in that this is a recurring dream.

* a lot of people for whatever reasons were holding up crude cardboard signs, like one kid near the lecture halls holding up a sign asking people to scream if "Twilight ruined Comic-Con." I'm not exactly sure how Twilight could ruin Comic-Con, but I guess if one is really caught up in the various kinds of fandom and how each one jostles for cultural space at such a show this could be energizing and fascinating. Except for seeing a bunch of that book's fans camping out very early in the week and briefly thinking this is somehow not a good trend, I didn't think of Twilight fans at all, and I think you'd have to be pretty churlish to let someone else's experience color your own. It's not like while I'm sitting watching Mike Mignola draw I was about to become enraged at the idea of some teenage vampire fans off in the distance somewhere.

* men were selling badges in the ad hoc promotional area just across the railroad tracks. It was exactly like seeing people selling tickets to a sporting event or a concert. I have no idea what that means but I'm guessing maybe they were getting people leaving the show to give them badges and/or buying them for a small price, maybe? It was fairly odd.

* I saw David Glanzer of CCI being interviewed, and thought it interesting he was in a coat and tie and the interviewer was in a t-shirt and jeans. Your mileage may vary.

* there has to be some difference made between booths that are so awesome they make people stop and stare and booths that are designed to attract a crowd to stop and stare at them, blocking the movement between rows.

* I'm afraid I never got my planned "Dharma and Greg" theme sketchbook going. Maybe next year.

* I saw Jackie Estrada briefly, who pointed out that George Herriman as per popular speculation may have been the first partly African-American comics creator in the Eisner Hall of Fame after I asked if I was correct in asserting that Matt Baker was the first to get in as he did last Friday night. Estrada works very hard on the awards, and I suspect feels every negative word about them as a body blow, although I think they've clearly settled in as comic book awards #1 in no small part due to her consistent and hard work.

* the writer Matt Maxwell showed me a really neat Ramona Fradon drawing he picked up during the show and we talked briefly about the nature of comics hype and news and what's important to talk about and what isn't. I tried to browbeat him into writing something on the con for his blog because his con reports crack me up. I saw Maxwell a bunch over the weekend, and realized why I took pleasure in his company was that he was representing a lot of bloggers and writers who made up a significant presence during my recent con visits. He was really the only one from that crowd I saw over the weekend.

* it's my understanding there may be a reconsideration of the direct market status of Tripwire magazine based in part on its performance in bookstore channels. I hope it gets another shot. Although I think I was correct in pointing out that Tripwire has been around for enough years to make a DM go of it, they've only in the past few years settled in on a format by which they might make a longtime stand. I can't imagine at its current price point and with the level of production that they can't eventually be a good DM citizen and pull their own weight.

* food report for the weekend: I got to enjoy meals at Cafe Chloe, the Red Pearl Kitchen chain location right next to Oceanaire and a couple of the big-hotel breakfast buffets. I also got to hit longtime favorite Las Cuatros Milpas right before the show Thursday, but it seemed only okay this time around rather than as good as I remember from past visits (still a line out the door, though, and I still recommend it). The bar food at J-Six looked great but I couldn't stay long enough to have any and it would have been wrong besides as I was only tangentially invited to the event there. Looking back, I ended up skipping a lot of meals just for time's sake, which I don't recommend unless you also weigh 1473 pounds.

* I attended the Stan Sakai spotlight, figuring that would put me in a good mood as I headed out the door. It did. It was a nice, very old-fashioned panel, Sakai taking questions about various characters and on matters such if Usagi would ever get the girl while drawing roughs of his principals in marker on the giant notebook placed next to him. His fans clearly adored him, and the majority stood up and bowed respectfully to the cartoonist after his presentation when directed to do so by hardcore fans in attendance. There was even a birthday cake. That stand-alone graphic novella Dark Horse is doing sounds like it will be fun.

* I saw newly-minted Eisner Award winner Jonah Weiland talking to super-retailer Chuck Rozanski, which was interesting to me in that it was my understanding that Jonah stays off of the convention floor for the most part.

* the last comics professional I saw on the floor was the first comics professional I saw on Wednesday: Milton Griepp. I think I may have also seen John Davis about 30 seconds before that. I had a capital time.

*****

For All Five Days Of The Show; published Tuesday, July 28

* first of all, were you aware that Lewis Trondheim did a signing where he set one of his sketches on fire? I heard about this and CR reader Jeremy Stone confirmed:
I was standing in line behind a woman who got a copy of Dungeon signed and she asked for a sketch of Marvin breathing fire in it. Trondheim drew Marvin in the corner of the first page with the fire line spreading out, then lit the corner on fire, let it burn to his inkline, and threw it on the floor, closing it to put out the flames. I wish that I had my camera ready, because it was awesome, and it turned out great. I should have at least taken a picture of the finished product, but I was too awestruck.
I mean, if nothing else happened this year, Trondheim using fire as an impromptu illustrative tool happened. Isn't that cool?

* Okay. The con overall? I thought it was a good show.

* when I say it's a good show, I don't really have a grasp of the entire show and I would look at anyone who would care to make that claim with one of my eyebrows raised and both of my arms crossed. I don't know what it's like to attend the television and film programming even though I could list a bunch of announcement related to such events, or links to such coverage, or a list of the cool parties. To be honest, I don't know what it's like to be more than half-way interested in any non-comics related booth. That's a whole different world.

* but you know, Comic-Con has always been about these different worlds. It's just that it used to be Klingon Ascension Rituals and people playing Magic: The Gathering furiously in a room somewhere (maybe it's still about these things, too), and now it's about people standing in line to watch commercials and maybe establish some sort of connection to celebrities and pop culture makers and the next round of movies and TV shows.

* so what I mean when I think CCI 2009 was a good show is that I think it was a good comics show.

* I will say that I thought you could sense all that other stuff this year more than in years past if you were a comics-interested person. It wasn't just the occasional squeal of a Twilight fan or the Twilight playing cards line that occasionally formed in the more comics-focused area of the exhibition floor or the fact that everyone you know back home wanted to hear about your celebrity sightings when you got there and you might have been able to provide two or three. It may have been a hangover of all the hype and television coverage that wasn't about comics but that you paid attention to anyway. It might have been that comics programming sneaked into more rooms with numbers like 30 and 31 putting you in visual contact with one of those tremendously sad-looking lines. For me, the convention simply felt a bit crazier, an ounce or two more focused and furtive and strained, and I'm not sure I can state it with any more clarity or any more convincingly than that.

* there was also a sense that many people reported to me of the show having settled in, not so much an infusion of new blood but old blood asked to do new things, fans resentful at these other fans for whatever goofy reasons, writers straining for ways to describe the action that were hackneyed in 1995, old-timers seeing a bunch of teenagers and mostly happy kids as some sort of malevolent force because it makes for good copy and a simplistic way to understand what's going on in the comics field and general economy.

* and there was also a sense from some folks that all of this threatened comics, an ironic twist on the days when people wished for mainstream attention like so many Price Is Right contestants wishing to be called on down.

* the mega-retailer Chuck Rozanski lost no time in getting this year's version of his "nobody pays attention to Neal Adams" hue and cry up for folks to see. He has a point in that comics retail may be threatened by a combination of disinterest and the pressure to put on the floor any number of wider media-related booths only too happy to hit the con floor without a figure in their head necessary to make the trip a positive one. I hope that the CCI organizers will treat comics sellers as a unique class and one of value and work with them in a way they can keep a significant presence, as being a place for the purchase of old comic books and original art is a strength of CCI that shouldn't be abandoned easily.

* I don't want to be a hater, but watching Tyrese Gibson in action for a few minutes on I think Thursday made me uncomfortable, mostly because it felt like he was operating as the most effective male booth babe ever seen rather than as a proud creator with a comic of import and impact. I'm uncomfortable with a lot of the hard selling that goes on at the show, so maybe I'm just old, though.

* on the flip side, I don't think that it's the fault of emphasis or the strength of other types of media showings that's putting a cap on comics sales and comics interest. It's the economy generally and the comics economy specifically that's keeping people from buying huge runs of Master Of Kung Fu right now. Many people don't have money right now for more comics than they might otherwise buy. The fact that you can buy comics at a discount through the mail at any time you want from Rozanski's own company kind of puts the damper on hitting the cons looking for anything but the most aggressive bargains. I myself have in recent years have not bought comics at the show -- I did this year -- and instead dropped money on Rozanski's site with its related bargain password. My own reaction is that comics sales were all over the place depending on the individual booth and individual exhibitor, and what might sell varied greatly. The convention and the industry are in flux, so it makes sense that convention sales would be in flux, too.

* I never once had a desire to tweet.

* that said, I would argue that the convention was more comics-interested than ever in an absolute sense. There were 75 people or so at a Richard Thompson panel, 150 very engaged and smart people at a graphic novels panel and maybe 250 or so at Seth's spotlight panel. Ten years ago, numbers for similar panels would have been 25, 40 and 75, respectively. Saturday was dead for a lot of sellers as compared to years past, but I heard that Wednesday and Thursday were better than average and Sunday was competitive. A bigger change mentioned here for many publishers is the lack of wholesale purchasing that used to provide fans with the ability to watch a Bud Plant shop for comics in the manner of someone on a grocery shopping spree, sweeping piles of books at a time into his shopping cart. It's way more complicated than some sort of pressure being felt on comics from the cast of Fringe and the voice actors from The Cleveland Show.

* I really liked Gary Gianni the one time I met him and enjoy his work, but not enough has been made of his method acting at the Eisners. That was really, really odd. Of course, I don't know what to say about it more than note it happened, and to hope that one day I can win one and that Gary will accept it for me as me.

image* where CCI really excelled this year comics-wise was in a mostly-strong programming track. I greatly enjoyed the 150 minutes of CBLDF-related "Masters" classes I saw, artists like Mike Mignola drawing for an audience, many with pens and paper of their own. The art made went to the CBLDF auction -- which I'm told hit expected levels generally -- but the pleasure of watching really good cartoonists make comics art and the sight of a bunch of teenagers eating lunch with Jeff Smith while he talked about panel design hit me as an overall positive. On one day, I went from watching Mike Mignola draw to seeing Pat Oliphant sketch in charcoal with a terrifying facility to meeting Leonard Starr on the comic strip reprints panel in the space of about 70 minutes. Starr even told a story about debating the future of comics with Gil Kane, saying he told him that if there were ever a Fyodor Dostoyevsky of the comics, that artist would starve to death. Seth's apparently much-traveled lecture went over extremely well (Seth was a personal tonic for many frantic cartoonists at the show). There were glitches -- I hated the fact you couldn't hear Richard Thompson after the security began to let people into the "Hollywood pitch" panel early -- but for the most part there was a lot of solid talk about comics, and how to make comics, and the value and joy of comics. Darwyn Cooke spent five minutes of his panel talking about David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, which isn't exactly shooting free t-shirts into the crowd. Lewis Trondheim extolled the virtues of a smaller comics industry and the freedom it inspires as well as an international understanding of comics according to the ambition of cartoonists to make long-form work of value and meaning and personal significance. When Stan Sakai finished talking, the audience stood up, bowed, and thanked him for 25 years of comics they enjoyed. Even the mainstream announcements of this creator and that hero and this project seems slightly subdued in favor of an appreciation of this effort over that one. There was a comic-con out there to be had and it was a really good one.

* there was a whole bunch of small stuff that I'll remember from this show. I have a lot of questions, too. Was it my imagination, or does the Elite security team use color-coded shirts now like they're the people from Star Trek? I found the idea of an elite within Elite slightly terrifying. What would cause a teenager to stand in a crowded hallway holding up a sign about the state and nature of Comic-Con for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon? What was Herbert Jefferson reading every time I walked by? Where does a line wrangler employ their skills the rest of the year, and do they use them at places like the grocery store or the DMV? Is it bad that I think I preferred the people that used to be grumpy at CCI than all the questions about how the con was going from hotel staff and servers and cab drivers (although I actually heard plenty of grousing, too, particularly about tipping). Why were there fewer costumes? Where was Warren Ellis? How could I not see Ted Stearn when I was there all four days? Where are my pants? What is my name? How much money was it for one of those con badges that guy was selling?

* finally, I bet someone writes an article about how comics needs to make better use of the hype machine that attaches itself to Comic-Con's film and television and games and related media portions, that the publishers need to do a better job of making talent available and making a bigger deal of its publishing news. Ironically, this may even come from a site or two that spent more of the show noting the presence of such media and furrowing its brow over what it all meant more than it did making a big deal of, say, Fantagraphics announcing The Complete Nancy. I think it's actually to comics credit that it hasn't made a bigger deal of maximizing hype. There was a lot of news at this show. Off the top of my head, Jeff Smith announced a further partnership with Scholastic on Bone material, Darwyn Cooke and IDW announced the content of the next Parker adaptation and the expected due date, longtime absolute anchor of the alternative comics world Eric Reynolds was announced as being promoted to associate publisher at Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly will be publishing the next Dan Clowes work, AdHouse will take its winning approach to art books that served it on projects with Paul Pope and James Jean to relative newcomer Rafael Grampa (who will also do two projects with Dark Horse in the interim), Boom! is going to be doing an edition of Don Rosa's The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck and taking its muppet comics back to an ongoing series format, books from vastly under-appreciated artists like Johnny Ryan and Bob Sikoryak sold out, Marvel will throw its hat into the Marvelman ring... a lot of that news was reported here during the show in timely fashion but more importantly news of these projects need to shape our expectations and anticipation and our ongoing attention moving forward. Like the fire set by Lewis Trondheim, a lot of what passes for news in San Diego quickly burns out. I don't want to think about Megan Fox anymore, and I'm not sure why we had to. We have an industry to sustain, full of great projects and talented artists. This week is more exciting than last week because while there's no convention to cover or attend there's also nothing getting between the cartoonists in attendance and making the work which is the medium's lifeblood. Hooray for CCI 2009. Now the real fun begins.

*****
*****