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The Collected Notes From The Comic-Con International Floor, 2013
posted July 28, 2013
 

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By Tom Spurgeon

The following is a collection of day-to-day notes and observations from the floor of Comic-Con International 2013, held mid-July in San Diego, California.

A more general summary was posted here. Links to a number of reports and related resources can be found here.

*****
THURSDAY
*****

* first thing: a note riffing from an aide in yesterday's preview piece. There apparently won't be a Kazuo Koike panel at the show this year, and I'm told that can be the case for a lot of late-additions, particularly those that are sponsored relatively last-minute by publishers. I do know some people that have interviews, and I'm very jealous. I missed that opportunity.

* so: San Diego.

* I don't know that I have a whole lot of hardcore travel notes this time out. I'm going for the entire show this year, so that meant an early morning dash to the Tucson airport. There were two young ladies who took both flights with me that chatted excitedly of anime. On the LA to San Diego leg it was almost entirely adults and almost entirely folks who were con bound. The flight attendant was amused. There is something very cool about a show so big that you can start to encounter it in an airport parking lot shuttle 2000 miles away.

* there's one thing I always mention in the SD guide I wanted to underline because it's been a while. If you're coming in on a small plane and use the small-plane terminal at the San Diego airport, get out to the cab stand as soon as you can -- there are not a lot of cabs going to that terminal, so it can take a while. I was first, was there 11 minutes, and there were about nine groups behind me. Yikes. It's also a good place to combine rides, but no one was going my way.

* there is also about a five to seven dollar difference if you go deep into downtown, to the hotels near the convention center, as opposed to staying up around Broadway. So if you're a walker, or you need to buy something at Ralph's, you might consider an early dump-off. That's not a lot of money to save, though, now that I think of it. Still, if a move to over $20 spent is something you want to avoid, that's one way to avoid it.

* my cab from the commuter terminal at San Diego's airport to the Hilton Gaslamp was $30 with heavy tip tossed in.

* the San Diego downtown was relatively sleepy for the Wednesday before, I thought. I would not have guessed this a show day. There was a lot of last minute-construction on the outside displays in the various parking lots; those exhibits go up very quickly, as do a lot of hotel decorations. (The Hilton Bayfront was not decorated in this fashion, a sign of either the relatively tapped entertainment economy or the "cursed" nature of that particular ad venue.) There were a lot of folks walking around generally. I saw two different carloads of con-goers finding parking in the street 2-3 blocks away from the show, which I hadn't seen in a dozen years. I don't know if you can even park there but I know that by 9 AM Thursday, there will be no such parting available.

* hadn't been down to Seaport Village (west of the Marriott and Hyatt) in years, but went to do some targeted shopping for a relative. It's a cute little shopping center, the kind of place my Mom would visit, and that walk down from the Marriott along the water is fairly pretty. Lot of joggers, I bet, early in the morning. There were a lot of non-con people down there, at least as far as I could tell, mulling around during lunchtime.

* the popular breakfast mainstay Buster's Beach House was packed. Everywhere else I saw looked pretty wide open for Wednesday lunch.

* the Hilton Gaslamp doesn't have refrigerators in their room, at least none that I can find. That's interesting. My room is much bigger than the room I had last time I was here, too. The nice lady at the front desk told me that it's a good weekend for them, and the biggest complaint is from people that thought they had a certain kind of bed arrangement reserved but did not.

* another line of con advice to stress: you really want to be up on the top floors if you plan on being in a hotel anywhere near the trolley line. Those bells are very loud. They don't go at all hours, but they certainly go at some sleeping hours. They're all sleeping hours at Comic-Con.

* it seems like every downtown business is con-outreach oriented now. That was not the case even five years ago.

* my first sighting of a comics person I recognized: Terry Nantier. I don't know that there's anyone in comics I've seen more frequently over the last two decades at these things about whom I know less. I always enjoying seeing Nantier, though, and I've been enjoying a lot of NBM's kids' books recently, the translated material.

* the neighborhood grocery store Ralph's is loaded for bear: ton of discounts, extra deli food, outside vendors along the west side of the store. I think they have competition downtown now, which would make some outreach understandable.

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* it might be my imagination, but a lot more comics and comics-related people seem a lot more conventionally attractive than comics and comics-related people used to be.

* the Fantagraphics set-up trio of Jen Vaughn, Jacq Cohen and Kristy Valenti wasted no time in blowing me off for lunch. Thanks, ladies.

* the press registration line was really long, but I got through it in about 40 minutes. I just texted the whole time, mostly to press people not in the line yet about how doomed they were if they didn't get down there immediately. I also saw Charles Hatfield and met his kid. That was nice. They were texting-respectful. The con volunteers and registration people work really quickly inside and this kind of amorphous shape they have in terms of the final set of tables that prints out the badges keeps the line jams to a minimum. I'm not sure how that it is, but I think the shape of it may keep a linear jam by encouraging people to kind of settle across an array of tables. Once I was inside it was literally like 25 seconds to get my badge.

* but yeah, a lot of press people. I'm of two minds about the number of press people. I love the con's commitment to non-traditional media, but I never get the sense that the coverage out there really reflects this enormous number of people supposedly working the show.

* I saw some folks linking to this essay by Mike Gold about Comic-Con. I guess that piece unpacks a certain mindset people have about the show. I don't know. I went to those Chicago shows back in the day; I really liked them. I think the comics part of today's Comic-Con kicks the crap out of those Chicago shows in terms of scale, breadth and depth. It also always seems weird to me when articles like that appear on sites that seem to routinely cover a lot of that stuff whose coverage is apparently ruining the con.

* so: Preview Night.

* I have to admit that I'm one of those that doesn't all the way get Preview Night. I think it's popular, I think it has its uses, and I think if they didn't have it there would be a hole in the week. It's never going away. I also get opening a show at night rather than at 10 AM. That said, I suspect -- suspect -- that it's one of those things, if not the major thing, that kind of wears people down over an already-long weekend.

* it was nice enough: there wasn't a ton of heat in the small-press, indy and alternative sections where I spent the bulk of my time, but there was a reasonably solid flow of people. I spoke to Jeffrey Brown, who seems to be enjoying the success of those Star Wars books he's been doing. He told me that while he doesn't know if any of his books will ever be as appropriate to the moment as Clumsy was, the new book is awfully good and he's proud of it.

* Jackie Estrada has a line-up of presenters and a way of doing the Eisners in structural terms (no proper host except for a voice speaking over the proceedings; video-only memorial section) with which she seems really, really happy. Here's an Eisners note that may interest only me. The three biggest North American comic book publishers are apparently holding parties at the same time as the awards, which has never happened before that I can remember. I would imagine Friday has become a popular day for such parties because Saturday may fall to entities with more money to spend on such things...? There's also that Friday you don't have people bailing on the weekend quite yet the way you might Saturday. Anyway, I thought that worth noting.

* First Second's Mark Siegel and I talked about the forthcoming softcover for his Sailor Twain and the limitations that adult-themed comics fiction seem to enjoy in the book market. Kids fiction and adult non-fiction has a firmer hold, that seems like a reasonable argument for sure.

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* Tom Devlin and Peggy Burns were not on-hand this year, but just about every member of the D+Q staff is convention-ready now.

* saw Bob Harvey and Steven Grant at a distance. Grant was talking to Steve Leialoha. I'm happy for Grant that something he wrote will be a late-summer movie with something of a high profile -- the Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg vehicle Two Guns -- and hope it provided a payday and leads to more work. He's been a comics lifer.

* a bunch of different people talked to me about what a loss not having an anchor retailer for that whole section of the floor in the way that Comic Relief and the larger Bud Plant presence used to play that role. There are very few places to send someone to find a book if the publisher isn't somehow on hand. I saw two different publishers unable to direct a customer to a place to buy a book by one of their cartoonists published by a company not at the show, which has to be frustrating. I can't even imagine the commitment necessary in terms of skill-set and flat-out cash to have that kind of retail presence, so maybe this is like hoping the skies would rain $20 bills for a couple of hours every morning.

* unlike last year, when there table seemed loaded with brand-new books, there is not a lot of new Fantagraphics material on hand. I wonder if that will make a difference in sales. I directed the writer Andy Burns -- who recently sold a pop-culture related property book so congratulations to him -- to the paperback Los Bros Hernandez series. I hadn't seen the Gene Deitch, the Love & Rockets covers book or the Willard Mullin baseball book. The Fantagraphics staffers described the office mood as upbeat but admit that the summer has been a bit wearying with the passing of Kim Thompson and all that means for that company. The next big project up may be the just-sent-to-press color Sunday Peanuts volume, which I think should do very well for them.

* met Carol Burrell, who is now seven months into her comics-related gig at Abrams (she came over from Lerner, I believe). She seemed very nice, very settled into the new job.

* ran into Calvin Reid, who kindly stood in place and accepted peer-to-peer grief from me about particulars of his recent comics coverage. I always enjoy laughing with that guy, who is one of the fitness-forward folks of the last few years. He was one of a few to traverse to the far end of the hall where the pop-culture type stuff was, or he at least knew and feared that realm's existence.

* first secret-book-of-show mention: there's apparently something just out featuring work by Heinrich Kley at the Stuart Ng booth that two different people mentioned to me as something they hadn't seen before but enjoyed.

* a lot of folks on the show floor were still talking about Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story book, particularly when there was room to stretch the conversations out a bit.

* there seemed a general feeling about optimism in terms of using the relative stability of comics right now -- even if by stable what that means is simply certain folks settling into specific areas of struggle -- to find some long-term solutions for some longstanding structural issues facing the industry. People seem ready to work, which is nice.

* love the 2000AD-loaded Rebellion booth. What a great booth.

* briefly commiserated about my Indiana hometown with former one-time graduate student/local professor Steven T. Seagle. Go Cardinals.

* don't remember meeting Dirk Wood or Duncan Rouleau before yesterday evening. Or Shelly Bond. That also may be the longest I've spent in the convention center without accidentally running into Gus Norman.

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* ate a nice dinner and went out for hotel bar conversation for an hour or so before bed. Talked movies and prose fiction with Gary Groth, who reported he had dinner earlier that evening with Gene Deitch. Gene Deitch! Ran into the CBLDF's Alex Cox, who is scheduled to become a father right around New York Comic-Con. He said that he ran into a physically-rejuvenated-by-hip-surgery Sergio Aragones.

* ran into Denis Kitchen walking up the street right before heading back to the room; he was walking back to the Marriott with his daughter and seems genuinely excited to have an imprint at Dark Horse in a way that frees him up for the editorial direction and book-making that he enjoys.

* I talked to an inordinate number of people fussing with their permanent collections in terms of how many comics to keep, which ones, in what form and where to put them in terms of where they live. This makes sense with the enormous run of books available to everyone right now. The way that people are politically guarded now, and very conscious of how they appear, also came up a few times in different places.

* it was nice to see the writer Paul Tobin, on hand in support of Bandette's multiple Eisner nominations. It's nice to see people take that stuff reasonably seriously. I know how silly industry awards can be, and awards for art generally, but really the only value stuff like that has is the value that folks bring to it. If you're going to participate, you should do so respectfully. It always kills me when people blow off an awards show in which they otherwise participate.

* I always enjoy seeing Kiel Phegley from CBR and think he does a good job generally. It was funny to see him recall to Gary Groth having interviewed him once upon a time for an article about Robert Crumb that appeared in Wizard.

* walked past the folks sleeping outside. I'm sort of deeply fascinated by that impulse -- it seems a strange mix of early twenty-somethings of the kind you'd expect to be there and folks into maybe even their fifties that you'd never think would do that kind of thing. I'm not even sure there's a specific thing that people are anticipating from the "show biz" side of the con, or if this was just sort of baseline attendance. God bless people and their enthusiasms.

* this Comic-Con seems like a nice show so far, with a very positive but not excessively wild mood. There's nothing content-wise that's driving anyone's excitement, but there seems a general acknowledgment that there are positive things in the field right now and some elements of deep potential in terms of working in this industry right at this moment. Or maybe everyone is simply settled into effective coping mechanism. Who knows?

*****
FRIDAY
*****

* so, Thursday.

* ran into Craig Yoe at the Marriott on my way to breakfast. He's very happy with his recent run of books, and he's a new daddy again, which I'm not sure I knew.

* had breakfast with the cartoonist Jeff Smith. Our one discussion that might have some resonance here was about the nature of going to conventions itself, the familiarity it breeds, the sense you never left. Smith admitted to a surge of affection for the San Diego Con as he flew into the city and saw the convention center from the plane, and called the city the "capital of comics" during the five days or so of the show. He's been almost every year since he started in comics. There is a bit of gravitas to the San Diego show that doesn't quite yet exist for the others, although you're starting to see similar sentiments from people for places like TCAF, Heroes, Emerald City, NYCC and SPX. I don't know if it's the size and scope of the overall event kind of transferring some energy into the comics side of things or what; I couldn't say. But it's definitely there. I think the big-tent aspect to it may play a role. There is something extremely useful to a show where you can walk over and see all sorts of people from various aspects of comics as opposed to solely people in your camp.

* Smith also noted an under-reported regular hassle of the show: the sheer number of people working various limited-space walkways makes getting from one place to another a kind of hassle. I think it's one reason why people clinging to their hotels in terms of after-hours stuff is becoming more and more of a thing. Having the movie and games stuff in non-convention center locations only seems to expand the area where you're likely to be blocked by people watching things. Those choke points are the only infrastructure let-down of the facility, it seems increasingly clear.

* a security person tried to tell me that everyone had to always enter the same door where they registered for the entirety of the show, but her supervisor was nice enough to walk over and correct the person working under her. Hey, it happens. Someone mentioned something I imagine may be true: the Boston Marathon bombing has to be a scary reference point for anyone throwing an event right now. I had people tell me they thought there were more security people because of that event, but I couldn't tell. The individual security staffers did seem more generally willing to engage with people around them, which I think is always a positive.

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* I don't think enough people made as much hay as they should have over Eric Reynolds' new haircut and clean-shaven style. One prominent member of the alt-comics community whose name rhymes with "Banawalt" failed to recognize the new-look Reynolds.

* the hall traffic was reportedly extremely heavy for folks on the eastern end of the convention center, and relatively modest from the first group of pure comics people all the way west to a new-ish gaming section. But solid all around, I thought.

* my favorite thing at the show so far, at least to gawk at: very pretty Farel Dalrymple Prophet original art. That stuff was super-attractive in a way that doesn't even come across in the final, printed version.

* programming started promptly 30 minutes after the show opened and wouldn't stop until well into the evening. I'm not a fan of the comics panels extending past 6 PM because I think that particular industry culture counts on some room to breathe at night if only for informal meetings and event attendance, but I'm in something of a cranky minority on this. After further thought, I really do think that's important, though. This is the comics industry show – an industry show functions slightly differently than a pop-culture convention because the stuff at night and the extra hours in which to have meetings and even social/business functions are really, really important.

* ran into Don Rosa, who was buying comics. Don Rosa buying comics at comics conventions, specifically comic-con, is one of the great things in comics. I love that he came out of and remains a part of comics fandom in that way. Rosa talked about trying to find complete sets of a lot of comics, and that as he's an older man now he prefers sets that are made up of comics in fine condition or better. It was an amazing list, and in a small enough font that he can't be experiencing a down period in terms of his eyesight right now.

* went to the 25 Years Of The Eisners panel, and it was very old school: folks talking and sharing stores; then more people from the audience sharing stories. I enjoyed it, and the audience did as well, although in my case I'm a huge mark for panels about very focused elements of fan culture, of which a long-running awards show is one. Denis Kitchen reminded everyone to dress up if they could stand it, and he always has at that awards program, so he's more than allowed.

* I was once again reminded how amazingly Scottie Pippen-/Howard Schnellenberger-like Joe Ferrara's voice is.

* sat in on Mark Waid interviewing Chris Samnee at his spotlight panel. I've seen Waid do the moderation thing a few times: he's very good at it. There is an alternate universe where Mark Waid Red is a writer/eic at DC Comics and Mark Waid Blue runs the industry-leading Amazing Heroes web site. Anyway, I did not know that Samnee was not even of driving age when he started to get his first professional work. He doesn't seem too much older than that now. It's nice when an artist and a writer in that world of comics get along as well as Waid and Samnee seem too. He's one of the more interesting artists in mainstream comics; I think I own most of the work he's done there, and look forward to more. It's also nice when there are slight adjustments for allowable styles to let an artist who is not 100 percent settled into the commercial tradition of the moment to get work, although that seems like so little to ask it might make me more mad than grateful.

* I told the librarian and Columbia University comics point-person Karen Green that I thought there were fewer costumes this year, and she agreed with me. It could be that we're just not seeing them, but the last two of these shows I attended it felt like every third person was in some sort of get up and here it seemed like 1/15th of the folks. Like it was noticeable when someone was wearing a costume, and that had stopped being the case the last few years here. I'm not seeing any trends with the costumes themselves, except maybe for a few more young men in Doctor Who outfits than ever before.

* caught a bit of Gene Deitch's animation panel. Deitch is very lively and funny and it's hard to believe he's the age he is. The practicalities of the various animation projects he's done and how low budgets and quick turnarounds have driven some of the most fruitful creative choices.

* Green said that Leonard Maltin -- a sometimes writer about comics who comes at them from the animation end of thing -- is about as nice as can be.

* ran into Miriam Libicki and her family set up in the small press area. She has a ton of t-shirts, and I don't think I've ever noticed her having a bunch of t-shirts before. She is one of my favorite comics exhibitors.

* it may be that I'm a bit chunky this year -- and people have been nice about that -- but this seemed like the healthiest overall crowd I've ever seen at Comic-Con, in the sense that the folks themselves seemed fitter and more frequently outright in shape than in past years. That's a relative term when you're talking Comic-Con folks vs. the rest of the world, but still. I've seen maybe two or three folks that just looked like physical wrecks, and I'm used to seeing about two dozen such folks by this time during the show. In the mid-1990s I would have seen more Klingons in bad shape than I have people entirely this time out. Others on hand have told me that there are just as many really unhealthy human beings as there ever were, but I'm really not sure about that.

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* Tucker Stone is here, I guess subbing in a physical-presence way for a very pregnant Jennifer De Guzman at Image Comics. As much as his writing can be scabrous -- I almost enjoy reading them or listening to them on the various podcasts he's done -- Stone is really good on his feet on shows like that, and works hard to fulfill folks' needs when he's working a comics show or at the Bergen Street Comics store in which he's invested. We talked a bit about having higher expectations for non-comics makers working in the comics industry moving forward, that those of us in the other industry roles could be better at what we do as a general rule.

* two books I enjoyed seeing in the alt-comics realm were the Brian Ralph Reggie-12 collection at D+Q and the aforementioned Willard Mullin baseball book at Fantagraphics. I hope the Mullin doesn't slip under the radar; that's a cartoonist where it's just nice to have a bunch of his work under one cover.

* saw a few more panels. Todd Klein noted that Dave McKean's panel let us all in on the secret of how much work -- even comics and related work -- that Dave McKean does, even though we might tend to think of him as a not particularly prolific artist. I loved a bunch of tableaux he showed from a restaurant for which he's done some artwork.

* Tom Gauld is awfully good on his feet, working his way through various samples of his work and the influences for and methods behind Goliath. It's always great to see cartoonists read their work like that; it's not the primary way I'd choose to experience someone's material, but there's usually an insight or two, even if it's just in the way they move from panel to panel, the speed and rhythms involved. Gauld read the initial sequence between the giant and his shieldbearer.

* at the Tom Gauld panel there was a father and daughter (I checked) two rows in front of me with two generations of comics t-shirt and I really liked that. It did seem like parent with 'tween/teen, both male and female, was enough of a attendance pairing that it was one of the standard units you'd see at panels and on the floor.

* Jeff Smith says RASL "rassle" like Dusty Rhodes. Okay, maybe not like Dusty Rhodes. But it's not a z-style s sound, is what I'm saying.

* watching Smith back in 1997 or 1998 do his panels was a revelation in terms of how good he was on his feet and how much the fans liked him, how generally professional the presentation was. Now it's much more standard to have people present in the manner Smith does, but it's still fun to watch him work. There was a lot of affection for Smith from the various crowd-members. He was slightly delayed in doing some Make-A-Wish related work right before the panel, and people applauded Smith getting his mic turned on and his presentation set up.

* there was a bit of noteworthy, by-surprise news at the panel, which I'm going to pull out into its own post, but I liked that he just slipped something in there like that.

* Smith later laughed that an involved scene he chose to read from RASL might not have been the best choice on his part. I thought it was a good scene, and the bounce and pacing that Smith intends with that comic is something to experience.

* Smith noted that both halves (RASL; Battling Boy) of a one-time anthology he and Paul Pope were going to do together will arrive in collected form in September under separate covers having enjoyed a much different path to publication than originally planned. Smith praised Pope and a bunch of other cartoonists he reads right now, a list that included Jim Rugg and Kate Beaton.

* one thing I didn't know: Smith based the face of the lead in RASL on Kamandi. Because, you know, Kamandi.

* Smith should have a buy fall between the September releases of RASL and a Bone-related Artists Edition from IDW, followed by the launch of his webcomic in November. Smith is I think a little bit uncertain as to his specific on-line release strategy with the webcomic, but he's settling into a rough plan at this point.

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* Zander Cannon actually spent time at his booth this year. It's always good to see Zander, a person I've known for almost two decades now because we're both terribly old.

* finally ran into Justin Norman, who laughed a lot when he kept mentioning a project he thought was something only he knew about only to have people say over and over "Oh, I knew about that." I think he's one of the most reliable artists in mainstream comics right now. He told me that Kim Thompson's passing was an additional shame in that no one else would likely ever give us more Gil Jordan in translated form.

* actually, a lot of folks kept telling Kim Thompson stories yesterday; it was a good day that way.

* it was good to see David Brothers working in the Image booth. He seems very much at home there.

* loved seeing the grab-bags and pogs (!) that New England Comics is apparently selling wherever they are. Tempted to buy one myself.

* the Rebellion folks said their Preview Night was crazy. I bought several volumes of 2000AD material for a friend that would rather not pay to have it shipped from Amazon UK.

* talked to Scott for a few minutes on a range of subjects from Habibi to Joshua Quagmire to his own forthcoming work. He says he's recently moved past page 400 in the forthcoming First Second work, which is pretty incredible. We talked about one thing that's kept coming up a lot this weekend: establishing a firmer beachhead for comics fiction for adults in the book market. Both of McCloud's girls are in college now, which is amazing to me, and both are in attendance at the show.

* Steven Seagle's shirt... not the quietest shirt.

* saw Ellen Forney, whom I always enjoy. She showed me a queer anthology in which she and some other artists I know took a part, noting that she liked its orientation towards bisexuals because apparently that is an expression of human sexuality perhaps under-served by the bulk of the work in that realm of comics. She seemed to be enjoying herself. It's been interesting to see folks that aren't at the show every year to get impressions from a slight remove.

* I was grateful for the dozen or so folks not there for the next hour's videogame panel who made it to the bloggers presentation I moderated during the dinner hour 7-8 PM. I thought the discussion, which ranged from various blogging issues (whether or not a failure to pay your bloggers makes you a weaker witness to comics' exploitative practices) to comics issues (the potential for entire generations lost to financial life-damage moving into their old age). I was impressed with Alexa Dickman, a person on stage with us for her Ladies Making Comics that I hadn't met before that panel.

* I saw an angry con-goer take out their frustrations on a piece of signage. So did some security folk, who are nice about setting the piece back up. It would have been nice to see that person confronted and thrown out, but that didn't happen.

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* had a nice dinner with a bunch of folks, including Gilbert Hernandez (with his family), Lisa Hanawalt and Noel Murray. The brutal financial outlook for most avenues of comics-making and the difficulties in having a real dialogue about those things was an item of discussion, along with some flat-out gossip ranging over a couple of decades.

* with a big chunk of my evening already gone I missed the Scholastic cocktail party, which I heard was a huge success. I did make it to the CBLDF cocktail party. Saw Zander Cannon there, whom I like very much. Met a digital comics distributor I apparently misunderstood in an on-line exchange a while back. Saw Joseph Remnant, Steve Geppi, Jaime Hernandez, I think maybe Pia Guerra for a half-minute, Charles Brownstein, Kiel Phegley, Joseph Hughes, Ed Brubaker, Glenn Hauman, Sonia Harris, Peter Birkemoe, Rob Salkowitz and a bunch of other folks. It was fun talking about the early 'zine days with Gary Groth; it's amazing how all of those guys knew each other from such an early age when their only connection came via the post office.

* got a report on this year's HeroesCon from Shelton Drumm and his wife Linda: moving to the fuller-sized space was the big story this year, and he's grateful to have room to grow the show a bit moving forward. It was nice to introduce Drumm to a few folks who enthusiastically conveyed either how much they enjoy that show, or how much they want to attend.

* ran into the very busy Chris Butcher on the street about 1:50 AM. He seemed... well, somewhat less busy than he might have been had I seen him earlier in the day. Still busy, though: he had fulfilled about a half-dozen social obligations. Thursday night is like that for comics folks in that it's the night most of the smaller cocktail parties take place.

* read the latest Optic Nerve to put myself to sleep. Comics are the best.

*****
SATURDAY
*****

* Friday I heard a lot of talk about the show itself. While no one reported dismaying levels of traffic, and a few vendors told me they were doing very well, the perception from a lot of folks to whom I spoke on hand to do at least some business was that things thus far had been slightly down. Further, I talked to some individuals who spoke openly of not seeing a book or element of comics that excited them. This made a lot of my conversations "state of Comic-Con" ruminative.

* as I think perceptions may change over the weekend, I don't want to get into my own hunches on what they're saying and what I'm seeing, but I think I heard every standard theory as to what's going on, from the over-sophistication of comics fans in terms of purchasing elsewhere over time what used to be an experience for which they saved up to the lack of sophistication from said fans when it came to engaging with comics at all. I want to see how things play out Saturday and Sunday for sure because I had the sense that Friday was different than Thursday.

* it does seem reasonably easy to negotiate the comics section of the show, and particularly so in comparison to the other parts of the show. Gilbert Hernandez also noted something that I saw the first two days of the show: people left more easily near the end of the day. I wonder if that's not a legacy of the stuff surrounding the convention center, in that maybe a group or a few individuals plan on hitting some of those things at the end of the day.

* I haven't really heard back about the superiority of any single choice among the on-the-street things to do, but it does seem this was the first year where what I saw out in the various parking lots and spaces next to hotels sort of attracted a general traffic of people standing and sitting around near the things. They no longer seemed solely like something someone might do on their way to something else.

* I'm still hearing about security at times limiting where people can walk into the show, non-exhibitors in particular. That seems odd to me, and I'm not quite sure what's going on there. I mean, it's not a big deal in any way but that there has to be a confrontation at all between a security person and anyone just trying to walk into the show for which they're badged up seems like a psychic drain on the place. Seems like a hiccup somewhere. Like I wrote before, security seems much more engaged person-to-person.

* had breakfast with Charles Hatfield and Douglas Wolk, who are near-same-age peers and thus had similar con experiences. Douglas spoke about switching to a limited time-wise interaction with the show, which is something I am seeing a lot more of: just coming in Friday and leaving Saturday evening, or something similar, to reduce costs and the potentially exhausting exposure to all that is going on. We all talked about the rapid decline in freelancing rates, and discussed the perspective of academics like Hatfield on the kind of alternative accruing of cultural or professional capital in which their kind of writing may sometimes trade.

* talked to Team Fanfare/Ponent Mon; they have a new Taniguchi out (the latest Botchan volume) and another one squarely in the works. They also had some small-press I think British comic student material that looked interest. One comic made use of die cuts page to page to use visual elements of preceding pages as parts of new images, which was sort of fascinating to process.

* they're having a good show, incidentally, and cite a move away from one of the more obscure portions of the floor to a more standard post in the small-publishers section as a big positive. Makes sense. Anyway, if you're at the show and looking for a few comics that you maybe haven't seen discussed to death, head over to that booth.

* so apparently there's a multiple-hundreds-of-pages Farel Dalrymple book coming from First Second?

* First Second seemed to have very solid signings from what I could tell, and are nice enough like most of the veteran publishers to wrap their traffic around their booth first. Signings seem super-weird at this show: some signings from people that usually attract a pretty big crowd ended with very little or even no traffic. I honestly couldn't tell you if that's just a thing where a capricious and changing audience matches some artists' profiles better than others, or if there's maybe even a relative lack of sophistication in how others get the word out about this kind of thing.

* the Love & Rockets covers book is gorgeous-looking; Fantagraphics apparently actually used a ton of preexisting productions piece that were still in the office to put the issue together, including stuff for that iconic first L&R cover.

* here's a question that came up twice in completely different contexts: does anyone know why original comics art isn't subject to laws about the value and re-sell of paintings? Granted, this is the first time I've heard of such a thing, so I may be describing it poorly.

* I'm not hearing any specific buzz from the showbiz section of the show but I'm not in any position to hear such buzz. Usually something penetrates in a "did you hear?" fashion, but not this time around, not yet.

* caught the bulk of Ellen Forney's Marbles presentation. Many of the questions seemed to come out of a place of deep personal connection to the issues raised in her treatment of her bi-polar diagnosis.

* one of San Diego's natural advantages has been on display all weekend: 65 to 75 degree weather in a week where much of the country is 30 degrees hotter. I have never seen the back-porch area of the convention center stuffed with so many folks.

* one aspect of Comic-Con I suspect still thrives is the hands-on meetings portion of what Comic-Con does. I talked to multiple people with ambitious retailer meet-and-greets, for example.

* got to catch up a bit with Chris Staros at Top Shelf, asking him if he was willing to release print-run figures on the first volume of March. The congressman John Lewis is signing later today and Staros would love to see folks turn out -- that would be a great gift purchase for a lot of folks back home if not yourself, and it would be nice to see a book like that have a real-world expression that reflects overall interest.

* my afternoon panel schedule was humor in comics, Kim Thompson and Jeffrey Brown. The humor in comics panel with Lisa Hanawalt, Ellen Forney, Jeffrey Brown and Tom Gauld talked a lot about creative issues in making that kind of work, from the perception from others that making funny comics is an unending source of delighted guffaws at the drawing board to the comics-makers' influences (such as Lisa Hanawalt's affection for B. Kliban's work). The Kim Thompson panel featured more than a few anecdotes I hadn't heard yet about the late art-comics industry prime mover, and an absolutely hysterical postcard from Thompson to Ware on the eve of Jimmy Corrigan's serial publication. That was very well-attended: I saw Charles Brownstein, R. Fiore and Charles Hatfield in the audience. One person even pointed that one thing he admired about Thompson was the care and attention he paid to Fantagraphics' admitted money-maker Eros Comics. Gary Groth also pointed out something I hadn't thought about: Thompson's mysterious relationship to reading prose. The Jeffrey Brown spotlight featured the announcement -- not sure if it's the first one or a subsequent -- of a Jedi Academy comics-and-prose book featuring a rough take on the approach used by Brown to good effect on his Leia and Luke with Daddy Darth Vader books. Brown is a thoughtful, articulate cartoonist.

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* after the Kim Thompson panel I talked to Diana Schutz, Charles Hatfield and Eric Reynolds.

* Peter Birkemoe had the coolest-looking Sunny t-shirt on underneath a suit.

* so apparently Mario Hernandez has a prose book coming out featuring a Latina teenage crime-solver? I want to see that.

* I still detect a relative slack level of business in any restaurant that requires sit-down service more than 400 yards from the railroad tracks.

* one difference in this year's Eisners as opposed to previous versions of recent vintage is that instead of a large crowd that diminished by the ceremony's end, there was a modest crowd that stayed around pretty much the whole time. I mean, there was bleed, but not the "Whoa!" of previous years' events.

* I thought that was a solid show: no more overlong than any typical show (people are always going to find awards shows long), a lot of funny people getting awards (Chip Kidd, for one) and giving them (Jonathan Ross/Neil Gaiman; Michael Davis), a video sketch in the middle of the retailing award where such a break is sorely needed pacing-wise; a lot of happy awards winners. Grateful for this site's win. Happy to see Milestone acknowledged via one of the presenter slots. I hugged poor Michael Davis twice, and if Bart Beaty's book had received the nod, would have been three for three.

* I was also happy to see so many people give shout-outs to Kim Thompson from the podium.

* Chris Sparks was nice enough to find me for a brief chat after taking home a humanitarian award for his work on behalf of the cartoonist Richard Thompson. I was the accidental connection that introduced Sparks to Thompson's work a few years back. That's a nice project, and Sparks strikes me as a nice man. Thompson, of course, is aces.

* I'm not sure anything was super-surprising; I don't think I predicted Michael Kupperman would win, but it's not like it wasn't deserving. It's good to see a wider awareness of Michael Kupperman mainstreamed a bit back into comics' talks about who's good and funny and why. That "Quinception" comic is a touchstone comedy comic that people will likely talk about for years.

* was honored to accept Sean Howe's award for Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and read his lovely statement:
Thank you for this tremendous honor.

I'd like to thank the dedicated scholars of the past and present, for ensuring that the historical details of the comic-book medium, and its attendant industry, are never forgotten. There's still a wealth of information about our heritage that resides exclusively in dusty old files, curling mimeographed fanzines, and shoeboxes filled with photos, many of which are hopelessly neglected in garages or hoarded in basements. If you feel a shudder of recognition at that description, there are bright-eyed staffers at comic research libraries that would love to hear from you.

I'd also like to express my gratitude to those generous souls who shared their memories with me, who entrusted me with their stories and opened my eyes. It's always been my hope that this book would serve as a reminder that credit should always rest with the men and women behind the comic books. No company has ever created a comic book, or a character, on its own -- for that you need the creativity of individuals. I know you know this, but... sometimes we forget. Sometimes there are very enthusiastic consumers who will excitedly name the holder of a trademark but have no idea who sat behind a desk or a drawing table in 1966 and just let their imagination wander.

Maybe it's not too late to change that. Thanks.
* it was a nice evening for that awards program. I mean, just Mort Meskin and Spain Rodriguez getting into a Hall Of Fame is nice.

*****
SUNDAY
*****

* I'm going to move some of my observations about specific events that took place on Saturday during Comic-Con into the combined-weekend that will roll out tomorrow. It was a very busy day for a lot of people.

* the sheer size and crush of people on the floor and at the various outdoor checkpoints is still staggering to behold. I try to cross the length of the floor at least once depending during the weekend. It took me an incredibly long time to do this on Saturday. The main culprit was a bunch of TV people showing up at one of the bigger booths which meant that there were suddenly a hundred cameras pulled out of various pockets to document this important event.

* there were also some big costumes that took up a lot of space. I think at least in my crowd there was 100 percent certainty that costumes were down overall, but there were several good-looking ones. I was not prepared to see fewer costumes on the floor, although, come to think of it, I wasn't really prepared for this element of the show to explode as much as it did.

* I ate breakfast with IDW's Scott Dunbier Saturday morning. I don't really have anything to report there, but I wanted to frighten Dunbier for the 1.5 seconds it took him to figure out I wasn't going to say anything after he initially scanned and found his name. I think he's enjoyed the increased profile that's come with those successful Artist's Edition books IDW has been doing.

* also, standing with Scott across the street from the convention center and having traditional comics folks stop and chat reminded me again of the comics-as-an-island feeling I first sensed last year.

* I have a hunch that this has been a very successful show for the smaller, independent companies like BOOM! Or maybe it's just been good for BOOM! My thinking is there may be opportunities for some of these companies to combine selling books with a sort of meeting-con going on throughout the weekend. In fact, it seems the face-to-face opportunities at the show have stayed pretty vital. It's a good show to arrange some face time.

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* spoke with Steven Weissman at some length about how people are reacting to Barack Hussein Obama in book form as opposed to the serial. Talked to Paul Hornschemeier about moving to Boston after a dozen years in Chicago.

* went out for lunch with a couple of friends. Hoo, boy.

* one of my standard pieces of advice, that you can wander East in the gaslamp and lose the crowds quickly, that doesn't really apply the way it used to. There are people everywhere.

* I have to say, I have yet to see a glimmer of excitement behind any book discovered at the show. There's a ton of great material to be had, but none that people seem to be rallying behind.

* had a long talk with Steven Grant about his last comics columns and about San Diego more generally. We agree in general principle on a lot of the latter; it's a show we both enjoy.

* Johnny Craig is this year's great cartoonist that keeps randomly coming up in a variety of conversations. We tried to get him to interview in the Journal back before he passed away, but he turned us down. Dan Clowes is a big fan, as I recall.

* saw Coop on the floor and spun around and headed the other direction for a while to talk with him and his wife Sorkin-style. He's a get-in, get-out Comic-con attendee at this point, but he said he thought sales were quite good considering the minimal investment he makes in getting down here from LA. We agreed that disappointing young people is the quiet joy of the getting older crowd.

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* there was a lot of affection on the floor from various folks for new Eisner Hall Of Fame member Trina Robbins.

* the Prism display looked humongous to me, but part of that just may have been their taking up a facing-aisle position instead of one bending around a corner. I enjoyed a brief conversation with Ed Luce.

* Andrew Farago told me Cartoon Art Museum was ahead of the game fundraising wise at this show.

* heard great things about an Eisner panel made up of various comics heavy-hitters of the late cartoonist's acquaintance. Gary Groth told me there were about 70 people in the room for the Fantagraphics/D+Q forthcoming comics presentation, which is way more than a similar panel last year. I do think that in general the attendance at comics panels is way up from a decade or 15 years ago, particularly for smaller publishers and the artists they serve.

* there was always great sadness in someone's voice when they told me they were going to be on any panel that started after 6 PM. Just saying.

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* nothing like an ebullient RC Harvey standing on the street handing out multiple business cards when you ask for one.

* Saturday night provides the greatest range of comics-folk activities: a few comics-people parties, some invites to bigger-media sponsored social events, folks grabbing dinner and going to bed, and the afterparty-as-party hotel bar scene.

* I still don't detect the binding element to this year's show.

*****
MONDAY
*****

* it struck me on the train that this is the first San Diego Con I ever attended where I never went to the Hyatt. I can't tell if I'm old, the Hyatt is dead, people don't go to bars as much as they used to or all of the above. Or I might be increasingly lazy.

* I have a sense that more and more people are just kind of squatting where they are, so that when it comes to late night they're drinking in the various hotel lobbies rather than all making their way towards one or two of them...? Does that make sense? Like all the late-night options for drinking seemed stuffed with people, not just one or two.

* I enjoyed staying at the Hilton Gaslamp. Staying that close to the show is indeed super-nice, although as I recalled (it's been a while since I scored a room at any of those hotels) it makes leaving the immediate convention center area that much more daunting. You get less of San Diego that way. My room was a good one, too; I could see the run of the convention center from my windows and it was freaking huge. I'm also fond of the breakfast buffet concept maybe once during such a weekend for speed rather than the ability to punish my body with hash browns. Although, as far as punishments go...?

* I still miss Rory Root.

* Larry Marder had this great description of why he does more business on Sunday than any other day, calling Sunday the day for "kids and shy people." Marder was set up in that small press section that's on the south side of the show nearer the alt-indy section, and if you stop and think about it it's pretty amazing someone with his small-press pedigree is set up over there. He's selling a lot of craft items now, and they're all pretty fun. I'm not sure I've seen the latest run of trade collection on those books, either.

* Marder seemed perfectly sanguine about his audience becoming younger, kind of a mirror response to something Jeff Smith pointed out in his panel -- neither man intended their work to be seen that way, but it is, and well, that's sort of cool.

* the one mainstream comic about which I was asked "Is that actually good?" more than any other: that Batman '66 one. Second place: Saga.

* I never notice Kids Day in terms of what it's like to take a kid to Kids Day. People ask me about this, too. My one memory of kids from the show was a family where the mom and the dad had wrapped their arms train style around the kids in the middle to battle through the Saturday crowds, more of a terrifying than heartwarming image. But I do know that kids go there and enjoy it. Something to look into. If anyone does this and wants to send me an e-mail, that would be awesome.

* stopped by a lot of booths and talked to industry representatives about their show. I don't remember doing that before. Both what I heard and the fact that I've never done that before are something I'm thinking about today for my final, brief report tomorrow. But basically it seems like a lot of people had a pretty good show. On the comics end, the show seemed to favor independent makers of high-end genre material as opposed to the now-to-the-bone arts/alt core. I was also struck by how many permutations of sales strategies were represented by the publishers on hand: Image, for instance, moves a bunch of books, but it's not like they're there as a store as much as they're a more general con presence with a sales presence. I hope that makes sense. It's more difficult to measure the success of any one show when people have 1800 different ways of approaching it, different goals and different methods for getting there. It's not a bottom-line event for everyone.

* literally nothing that happened in the show business end of the con penetrated into discussions in the comics world... I can't remember that ever happening before. I guess a Superman/Batman announcement and that fun actor that played Loki showing up in character were the two pop-culture moments from the show...? I'm not entirely sure. Maybe the fact that Avengers 2 will feature Dickish Robot Overlord Ultron in a version of that latest Marvel event series that will probably be better off for being streamlined according to the movie version of the Marvel universe. It does seem that 2015 is shaping up to be the movie year that sprang from my 11-year-old head Lathe Of Heaven style, what with another Avengers movie, and more Star Wars and Batman/Superman -- although I have a feeling that one may move.

* talked to some folks in the train line on my way to Los Angeles. Talked to a guy who works with something called the Art Directors Guild; they had either three or four panels at the show, I don't remember. There are worlds within worlds within worlds within worlds at that thing.

* also talked to two people who had come down for Comic-Con but didn't have tickets and didn't attend any of the show. They just went to parties and outside exhibits and had a couple of meetings. For a watcher of that con, this is like finding a mythical woodland beast.

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* I missed a ton of people at the show, including Reed Waller.

* the funniest thing I heard from a vendor on Sunday was one who told she did extremely well at the show but felt like she couldn't tell everyone about it because she didn't want to make them feel bad if they had done less well.

* no one ever smiles and tells you you can't enter a restaurant because it's been shut down for a private party and they're sorry for the inconvenience. It's like they're instructed to let you know that you're not invited to this thing you just heard about three seconds ago and you should definitely feel bad about this. Which I guess is part of the point of having a private party.

* it was great to see Steven Grant and I hope you're enjoying what might be his final run of columns.

* can't remember if I mentioned this, but I caught Steven Weissman reading a comic solely because it was autobiographical and he heard some of his friends appeared in it. Now that is a very specialized reading strategy.

* I was going to make a joke about stopping buy Publisher X to do my yearly introduction to the new PR person, but I think that company has really only had like three PR people in their entire existence so that would be unfair. I like the shape of that joke, though.

* talked to Chip Mosher briefly Sunday, who made a couple of very funny jokes about how not to write press releases for the comiXology European initiatives that use the phrase "conquering Europe." They are doing very, very well that comiXology.

* apparently Top Shelf did better with March than they've done with any other book in Comic-Con history. That's nice; they certainly brought with them a metric ton of these things. The congressman was well-reviewed, and availed himself of any number of press opportunities to get this book out there in front of people.

* talked to Ed Chavez at Vertical. San Diego is an odd show for them because, well, it's an odd show for everyone right now but also because they have a different "season" than other folks displaying at cons and San Diego comes right between two really heavy traffic-and-interest shows for them.

* I really enjoy the part of my Comic-Con weekend that allows me to see a whole bunch of panels in succession, or at least parts of them, but that tends to come way early in the show weekend now.

* okay, on second thought entering Comic-Con weekend by staying up the entire Tuesday night before hand probably wasn't the best strategy.

* I am still wearing my Supernatural cape.

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* my thanks to my brother Whit for working so hard and for all the various folks that hosted, talked to, and/or were nice to me in various settings and social settings. My apologies to anyone to whom I was unknowingly rude and to anyone that might have suffered my being scattered, distracted and tired.

* it was good to see folks like Sergio Aragones and Robert Williams looking healthy and happy.

* it was good to see everybody, really.

*****

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*****
*****