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July 28, 2009

Convention Report: CCI 2009


These are my thoughts on Comic-Con International 2009, just past.

* 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.

* 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.
posted 8:00 am PST | Permalink

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