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

August 26, 2007

A Short Interview With Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer

imageEvery year I try to end the summer with a look back at the summer's convention season via a short chat with Comic-Con International spokesperson David Glanzer. Comic-Con puts on WonderCon and the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco and the massive Comic-Con International in San Diego. This year's show saw sell-outs three of four days and multiple caps on ticket options throughout. A huge boom in interest stemming from Hollywood studios, manga publishers, traditional New York publishing houses and toymakers has pushed the San Diego show over the top and into pop culture event status.

While there has been on several tracks a corresponding rise in interest in comics-related material -- I know that I moderated panels that were three times the size of such panels five years ago, all with smart, attentive question-askers -- the overall financial investment required by the show and changing market strategies at several companies have called into question some folks' commitment to such a big event. Some comics booths had their best year ever, but I also spoke to multiple medium-sized exhibitors on the comics end who told me they were seriously considering making 2007 their last show. A couple of those were considering not coming back despite having a great year. With the convention in San Diego through 2012 and not likely to change very much in terms of attendance capacity over the next five years, and a changing calendar that effectively gives the corporation the first major show and the last major show of the season, I really wanted to talk to someone from CCI this year.

Do we make too much of conventions, particularly San Diego's? Maybe. Still, they're important comics businesses and a key access point into the culture and state of industry health for comics as well. Having made my goal for next year to be invited to no parties, sit in the audience at the Eisners and pay for all my own dinners, I'm less interested in the social outlet factors of cons -- although those have changed, too, as the Internet has become what cons used to be in terms of a place to meet like-minded fans, making conventions more of a place to continue/crystallize/consummate such relationships -- and more interested in their role of providing a public pop quiz to comics folks in terms of their priorities and ability to put a certain face forward. The fact that you can practically define some companies' current approach to comics by simply noting they don't exhibit at the show tells you just how large such events loom.

I appreciate Mr. Glanzer's time, and note that his employer is (at least for now) an advertiser here.

imageTOM SPURGEON: I want to ask you a couple of questions about the 125,000 attendance figure you gave Jonah Weiland Comic Book Resources, which I assume is rigorously accurate as I know you guys really work the numbers when the show is over. First, how exactly does a full sell-out three out of four days as opposed to last year's less dramatic one-day temporary shutdown only result in overall attendance gains that small?

DAVID GLANZER: Well, the short answer is we placed caps on attendance for each day this year and once those caps were met we basically shut down. And while our official number is 125,000 I think the actually number is plus that by a few hundred.

We opted, some time back, to forgo the money generated by selling exhibit space in Hall H (which is a pretty big hall) by turning that into a theater and filling it with chairs. Were that hall utilized as exhibit space, it might have resulted in us having to place these attendance caps much sooner.

In the past we sold a variety of different packages; Four-Day, Three-Day, One-Day etc., and while those were popular, the majority of sales happened at the door.

When we got to a point last year when we had to halt sales, we decided to look at registration in terms of how many different packages we sold, as well as registration from different departments and what was done at the door.

The caps we placed this year allowed us to accommodate at least as many people as came last year, as well as a small increase. So while we stopped registration we were well within our comfort zone of the center not reaching capacity.

SPURGEON: Did you curtail things too much? Could you have handled more people?

GLANZER: No and yes. I don't think our caps on attendance were too conservative. I know this will sound like a line, but honestly one of our main concerns for people attending the show is safety. There's a tremendous amount of people congregated in one place for four and a half days and we want to be sure that those who attend can do so in relative comfort. I know many will claim it was anything but comfortable at times, and I would agree. But safety is paramount so no I don't think we were overly conservative in our caps.

The answer to the second part of your question is yes, I think we could have accommodated more people, and generated additional income. But it really isn't about the bottom line. It is about providing as safe and comfortable atmosphere as possible. The attendance caops was an experiment in that direction and I think it worked well.

SPURGEON: To give an idea how you compare to some of the other festivals in terms of congestion, how many people do you figure are on site on your busiest day?

GLANZER: Wow. Well, conservatively I'd say at least 50,000 + on each day.

SPURGEON: How many four-day participants were there as opposed to 2006? How many of the special three-day passes were you able to sell?

GLANZER: There was a jump in four-day memberships this year compared to last year. And when the four-day's sold out, some bought three-days and a Saturday only. So some people mixed and matched their packages.

SPURGEON: Three thousand press passes sounds like a lot of press passes to me. In fact, David, that's the same figure I've seen for press passes issued for the Super Bowl. I'm not seeing a Super Bowl-level of press saturation. In fact, I'm not sure that I'm seeing three thousand stories. How would you explain the discrepancy?

GLANZER: Honestly, I'm sorry to say that I think some who attend as press probably aren't filing stories about the show.

SPURGEON: Does this concern you at all? Is there a benefit to a liberal policy when it comes to giving those out?

GLANZER: Yes, it does concern me, but it's a difficult beast to tame. We have always been fairly liberal in issuing press passes though with capacity concerns, I don't know if this is a policy we can continue.

I have to say it's very disconcerting to find websites that give instructions on how to thwart our very thwartable press registration system.

It really is a cause of concern.

Also, I can't believe I used the word -- or made up word -- "thwartable".

SPURGEON: You told me something very interesting about how you value a variety of press sources, from on-line to print to film media. Can you talk a little bit about your organizations general take towards the press?

GLANZER: Well as you can imagine we welcome a variety of press from a number of organizations, from major magazines and newspapers to online press and bloggers.

We have always held online press in high regard. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had where people refer to major publications as "legitimate" press, while insinuating that online press are not. For us, we probably hold online and fan press in higher regard that what some might consider "legitimate" press.

While a major publication or newspaper may write about us once a year, it's the online press and even bloggers who tend to write about us throughout the year. For us that is extremely important.

This year we had a very impressive guest list. But I have no doubt that of those 40 or 50 names, major press and publications would probably only know about a hand full. Online and fan press, on the other hand, not only know who they are, but their importance to this industry and they may write about their coming appearance at Comic-Con. And even if they don't, they know that those people will be there and may decide to cover a panel they may be on.

SPURGEON: I saw a few people complain about press not being able to access certain panels, and yet when I asked around, I couldn't find anyone who was unable to get access to events they were covering. While I'm all for a general ramping up of the press pass power to superhuman, immediate access levels, was this a legitimate issue from your perspective?

GLANZER: Trust me, no one would like to infuse the press badge with Gamma Radiation more than me and, by the way, how cool would that be? But I guess with 3000 press, it really isn't possible to allow all press special access to every panel. Some rooms don't even hold that many people. And with over 350 hours of programming, it's a safe bet that a reporter is probably not going to be able to cover everything they may hope to.

That being said, no one wants to turn away someone who wants to cover a panel. I don't know what the answer is yet, but it's something we're definitely looking into.

SPURGEON: Could you maybe go to a targeted press pass that allows comics press instant access into comics events but makes them stand in line to gawk at actors from Lost?

GLANZER: We are looking to some changes, but I don't know that it will be changes to the pass itself.

I have an idea that I've kicked around, it might work, it may not, but it's going to have to be taken apart, and discussed further. I really don't mean to be coy about this, it's just we do take this very seriously and I would hate to give a half answer before we've looked at the issue from a variety of angles.


SPURGEON: Assuming you're going to be working at near full capacity for the next few years, what can you now do to generally improve the experience knowing you're going to be working a variation of the same crowds from here through 2012?

GLANZER: My personal hope is that we can entice some people to work with us to program some off-site events. I know there was an event on Friday evening at PetCo Park , which we had no involvement with, but an big event like that, during the day, might be a partial solution to the crowding situation at the center.

Granted, one event won't alleviate the problem, but a number of events? It's something worth exploring and that might allow us to re-examine the attendance caps we utilized this year.

Again, this is just my personal take on things and is truly off the top of my head at the moment.

SPURGEON: I've seen you give some kind of vague answers about maybe pursuing off-site facilities for some of aspects of programming, like maybe finding a separate home for the big movie/TV preview track. More concretely, can we reasonably expect a new venue next year? When would you know? Is it a priority for the convention?

GLANZER: Currently there is no off-site facility that can accommodate the 6500 people that would normally see a presentation in Hall H. While PetCo Park may be able to accommodate the crowd, I don't know that they can present the clips and program in such a way as to rival the screens and sound of Hall H.

Another issue we are facing is limited resources. As you can imagine the show is an expensive one to produce. And we are, conceivably, at a point now where we can't accommodate very many more exhibitors or attendees so revenue probably won't increase very much in the future. However our expenses do.

This year alone, we saw some dramatic increases in some of our expenses. And I can only assume, that will continue.

But yes, it is a priority for us to see how best we can accommodate all those who want to attend the show.

SPURGEON: Speaking of which, what is the priority for the convention coming out of the 2007 show? What one thing would the convention like to see different at the 2008 show, or what one thing is most important stay a high priority?

GLANZER: Well certainly safety is a primary concern as I mentioned earlier and of course space. In regard to space, every department is touched by this one issue of how to accommodate the people who want to attend and those who want to exhibit.

I have read some reports that question why we didn't think of this or why we didn't think of that. And in many cases we may have, but for whatever reason it just wasn't possible to implement.

We have a big show on our hands, and thank goodness people want to return year after year. It really is up to us to try and accommodate them as best we can. And I can promise you that while it may not seem like a lot is being done in this area, we truly are working on it from so many different angles.

SPURGEON: There will be some adjustments in the convention calendar next year. Does any of this schedule shakeout have an impact on your plans for WonderCon or APE?

GLANZER: No I don't believe so. Especially with WonderCon and APE (and to a much smaller degree Comic-Con) we are really at the mercy of the convention facilities to give us dates that will work for us. But ultimately, it is up to them as it relates to the dates they offer.


SPURGEON: Is there anything the convention can do to alleviate some of the enormous crowding concerns on the floor itself? I have to be honest with you, David, there were times I was scared for some of the small children I saw, that somebody large or several somebodies might fall on them.

GLANZER: Yes, the first is limited attendance. The second I think would be some off-site programming.

We've always been able to move our attendees around pretty well. They're a seasoned bunch and are pretty familiar with how best to enjoy the show. But with the number of people at the show, and the number of children, yes, it's a major concern and one that we take very seriously.

Limited attendance means less people on the floor, and off-site programming space means the same thing.

This year there were several events that were held off-site and they proved pretty effective. I think we'll look more to that in the future.

SPURGEON: Can you speak to continuing rumors you might add a Monday or go a full week? You pretty much shot this out of the sky when we spoke at the show, but if you could do so here, I'd love to have it on the record. Can I take it you're committed to the four day plus preview night formula from here on out?

GLANZER: Yes. We will not add a Monday or go to a full week. And we are in San Diego until 2012.

Adding days is much more complicated than it might otherwise appear. The first issue would be trying to book the center for additional days.

Typically facilities book several years out and San Diego is no different. Because there are typically shows right before we move in and right after, I would imagine the soonest we could even entertain something like that would be several years down the road. But, again, it's not something we're entertaining.

The other is expense, both in terms of facility rental and expenses for exhibitors as well. Once you add a day, or a few days, you're talking about additional cost for space, additional hotel nights, additional food and, in the case of retailers, additional time away from their stores.

And this isn't even taking into consideration that anyone, whether they are organizers or exhibitors, or press for that matter, would want to spend any more time at the show than they already do.

There really can be too much of a good thing.

SPURGEON: Was it important for the con to get Marvel back a full exhibitor?

GLANZER: Sure. I mean, from a purely fan perspective absolutely. And I honestly hope it was as good for them to be back as it was for us to have them.

SPURGEON: At what point do you plan to start talking to San Diego about 2013 and beyond? Is there any one factor that you're looking at before you sign another extension?

GLANZER: Well to be honest a five year contract is pretty long. It's typical to have a three year contract and see how things progress. This year was a little different in that there was someone else looking at summer for those years. So we had to make a decision.

With 2013 some years away, I would think any serious talk about location would happen around or after 2010.

imageSPURGEON: I talked to almost seven medium-sized exhibitors who were seriously considering making 2007 their last year. Is there any thought from the con's views of doing things of doing some things that might make it easier for those exhibitors that don't have dedicated staff or a lot of resources? Would you be willing to hear feedback and suggestions from such exhibitors? Or is this just a case where the market will bear out?

GLANZER: Of course we would be willing to listen to exhibitors. I think there's a perception out there that we just do what we want, when the tuth is we really do try to do what is best for those who attend, whether they be exhibitors or attendees.

I know we go to some lengths to try and assist exhibitors with breaks on move in and such, but certainly, I would hope any exhibitor knows they can contact Justin (our exhibits manager) to discuss any issues they may have had, or suggestions for a smoother running event.

imageSPURGEON: Were there any complaints about the smaller artist's alley? Can you guarantee there won't be more space lost in that part of the show? Does the show follow up to see that those spaces are used?

GLANZER: By moving the Art Auction upstairs we were able to add more spaces to Artists Alley. Were there complaints about space? Yes there were.

SPURGEON: I'm sorry, I'm not quite following your response. It was my understanding that the number of artists alley slots were reduced this year. Are you telling me they increased?

GLANZER: Artist Alley (as well as some booth spaces) were to be reduced in that section of the facility this year to make space available for consessions. We were able to move the Art Auction upstairs to the Sails Pavilion so we didn't lose any tables in AA. In fact, I believe we increased space by by about 25 tables over 2006.

Can I guarantee there won't be more space lost in that part of the show? No I honestly can't. Not because we're planning on cutting space, but because the floor is always fluid. Artists Alley wasn't always in that location. It has moved around, as has the entire floor. It really depends upon the layout of the floor, and the layout is based on a great many things including aisle ways, space and the like.

I think it is true that there are some tables that aren't utilized during the entire show as much as we might hope, but to be honest, many of those people may be on panels or programs.

And no, we do not formally look at that space to see how constantly those tables are occupied.

SPURGEON: There's a notion that conventions have a different role as a place to consummate (in the g-rated sense) on-line friendships as opposed to simply being a place where people meet other like-minded people for the first time. Am I take it that you've seen some increase in things like use of space by clubs?

GLANZER: Oh yeah, this year more so than ever before. Each year we make available some rooms for clubs and organizations who want to meet at the show and for the first time in my memory, we actually reached capacity in some of those rooms.

SPURGEON: Was there anything that surprised or disappointed about the overall coverage of this year's show? Is there an aspect to the San Diego show you feel is under reported?

GLANZER: Oh, there were a couple of things. Probably the most frustrating is when information is disseminated that is inaccurate or just plain wrong. Again this year I read complaints that we've left our roots of being a convention dedicated solely to comic books in favor of embracing Hollywood. It is true that we are a comic book convention. It is also true that our main focus is comics and it always will be. But to suggest that only recently we decided to have a film or Hollywood aspect to our event is ignoring history as a review of any of our old program books will attest.

SPURGEON: How has the proliferation of Indy Cons and arts festivals had an effect on APE, if any?

GLANZER: If anything it has had a positive affect. I think most people are surprised when I say that having more comics conventions isn't a bad thing, it's a good thing.

Looking at Comic-Con through 2007 eyes you would think that comics were always popular and held in high regard, that Hollywood, or reporters, were always clamoring to see what the next big comic book story would be. You and I both know that is far from the truth.

But the more conventions that are held each year, the more people attend them. And, ultimately, the more people who read comic books can only have a positive affect on this industry. As we have long said, comics are as valid a form of entertainment as any other and we work very hard to get that message across. To see more shows with a focus on independent or self published comics can only be a good thing for everyone and it's something we are truly very excited about!

SPURGEON: I've seen WonderCon described as both an old-fashioned con experience but also as maybe the show which has benefited the most from the comics/movie crossover because of its calendar position to promote late spring/early summer movies. What would you like to see out of that show in five years? What would you want people to think when they hear Wonder Con?

GLANZER: I would love to see WonderCon continue on the path it's on right now. Which is a venue where fans and creators can meet on a more relaxed environment than the bigger show in San Diego.

WonderCon turned 21 this year and it's no fluke that it's been around for as long as it has. My wish for WonderCon is that it gets more recognition as a fun show than it has in the past. I hope people will take a chance and visit the show from back east and see what a terrific show it truly is.

SPURGEON: Here's my biggest complaint and the one I think you should devote all of the show's resources to solving: would you please make the typeface on the badges bigger so that I can see people's names? Please? Pretty please? I not only have bad eyesight, I'm much too shy to keep staring at people's torsos until my eyes focus.

GLANZER: Trust me, for someone who just had to get glasses, this was something that I was very much aware of. This was a suggestion we heard from several people and are seriously looking to see what our registration company can do about that.

SPURGEON: What is August like for you? Are you drunk the whole month? Do you come to work in flip flops and a undershirt and take five-hour lunches?

GLANZER: Oh, that we could. Honestly, while things aren't nearly as crazy as the month prior to the show, there's still a tremendous amount of work to be done. The show takes a great deal of time to wrap up. Bills must be paid, follow up meetings for what went right, and what went wrong, and planning for the year ahead are all things that consume us during August.

September is a little slower to be sure, but planning our other shows are just as important to us as planning for Comic-Con and with WonderCon in the early part of the year, things start to ramp up early for us.

But sitting in flip flops and shorts, drinking something with an umbrella in it sounds pretty nice right about now.

SPURGEON: What's the last good comic book you read?

GLANZER: Oh gosh, do I have to pick just one? I don't think I can really. I tend to read more Indy stuff, but I was just handed a set of a superhero title that I really liked.

One thing I will say, however, is that I read a very promising comic book some time back. It had a good story, good characters, a little more attention could have been paid to the editing, but it had so much promise. I was so excited about it that each Wednesday I'd ask about the next issue.

Sadly that was last year and there never was an issue two. And all this time later, I'm still smarting about it. I even thought of writing a script and sending it off to the publisher because I so wanted the story to continue.

As if I don't have enough on my plate, eh?


* Joan Crawford's signed message of love to the San Diego Con; San Diego Con people tend to emphasize the argument that the con's always had an interest in Hollywood and film, which 1) I think the better journalists already know, and 2) doesn't really get at the real issue of degree of attention, even though it's certainly historically accurate. Still, if it leads to fun art like this piece, I'm all for it

* a person holding up a sign that indicated she was looking for tickets; you can't read her sign, because I can't take quality photos

* Petco Park, once and potential future home for off-site events

* maybe the only place I could use a blurry floor photo; this was actually one of the places of great relief on the convention floor, just 15 minutes into Friday, showing how bad the crowding could get throughout the hall

* Chris Pitzer of AdHouse Books, with whom I did a short interview about his company's ability to show at such a huge con that I hoped would accompany this piece; I have temporarily misplaced this interview because I suck

* I believe this is Whilce Portacio drawing in Artist Alley; if not, it's someone sitting in his spot

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