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

July 24, 2006

Final San Diego Con Update

Here are my final thoughts on the largest North American gathering of the comics industry and comics readers, Comic-Con International. I apologize if they don't make a lot of sense, of if they're too self-indulgent. I'll do a Collective Memory entry and post it later this week.

1. It was a successful show. Huge crowds, most people selling well, lots of formal and informal meetings, people trying and mostly succeeding in having a good time.

2. The weather was a big deal. It was muggier than usual down there, which made moving around in the crush of people that much more difficult. I was constantly sweating in a not-charming Albert Brooks-in-Broadcast-News fashion. More like King Kong Bundy in Broadcast News, to be honest.

3. I talked to about eight to ten people on the train to Los Angeles about their show experience. These were people there for various reasons -- a couple of comic book people, a guy who was into illustration, a 20-something manga fan, and some general all-media types. Everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves. There were complaints about long lines and a general lack of communication when those long lines presented themselves -- "Where am I standing?" "For how long?" -- but most of those complaints were of the type where you could sort of tell the show was pretty well-organized and rolled with most of the punches. The size of the show was seen as an advantage; most of these people felt like they had attended an event.

4. I asked these same people if they had any suggestions for the show, and one I heard that made sense was from a couple of people that didn't attend the show at all but kind of wanted to. I'd never thought about this before, but if I were in town while a big show like that was going on, I'd want a chance to buy a t-shirt or something, too. So maybe sidewalk boutiques as far away as the Omni and the Marriott? Maybe satellite boutiques in participating hotels? I don't know; it seems like those people could be reached in some small way.

5. I've never seen a show that's an unqualified success. Qualifications make sense, though, and not in a bad way, for two reasons. The first is that there several gathered factions in attendance. What works for some people isn't always going to work for others. The second is that a show like San Diego exists as a continuity. There's going to be some ebb and flow to how people make use of the show. Not everyone is going to have a peak year at the same time.

Because of the institutional nature of the San Diego show, what you're most likely to see is people simply ajusting their relationship to it. For some people this means "No, thank you" or "Screw that place." For others, it may mean just going one or two days when they used to go all four -- I think that will start to happen. Or maybe people will attend in select years, like many authors orient themselves towards BEA. For yet other people, it may mean getting a booth, or dropping a booth. Publishers adjust what they bring to the show (Fantagraphics used to bring a ton of porn, for example), and comic book retailers adjust what they sell (there are differences between what many bring here and what many take to a show like Chicago, I'm told). It make senses that they and others will adjust to the size and orientation of the show, too.

6. I'll be interested to hear how the small publishers did overall. I get a sense that the big business days were Wednesday/Thursday this time, and that things kind of trailed off over the weekend, but that's my hunch as opposed to a conclusion based on any sampling.

7. Fantagraphics sold 100 copies of Linda Medley's Castle Waiting hardback by a little more than halfway through the show. They have two reprint projects that should be announced soon that should please a lot of fans. One was a total surprise to me.

8. Hotel Watch: I heard a few from-left-field horrendous things about the Radisson, the Hyatt and the Wyndham Emerald Plaza. I heard unsolicited positives about the Omni and the Hilton. The US Grant looks nowhere near opening back up.

9. I stayed at the Westgate and liked it very much. For one thing, the rooms are huge, which was nice because you could actually have people up to your hotel room for pre-dinner cocktails and not feel like teenagers stuffed into a room drinking at the Motel 6 before a basketball game (your choice of sport; I'm from Indiana). The staff was nice, and they have a fine, expensive but well-stocked hole-in-the-wall bar in back with a piano. It's one of those places Uncle Seymour and your dad escape to from the wedding reception and no one can find them for hours. One of the Westgate's musicians sang "Miss Otis Regrets" for my party on request, and if that made you projectile vomit, it's probably not the place for you. The hotel distributed a unintentionally funny letter to hotel guests describing the convention and preparing them for the costumes and promising the parties the hotel was hosting for the show would not go too late or be too noisy. If you want a nice, quiet hotel with big rooms and a well-appointed bathroom in that general neighborhood, I'd certainly recommend the Westgate.

10. Best diet ever. Me: "You look 15 pounds lighter." Cartoonist: "I was audited."

11. Publishing news seems full speed ahead; book publishers adding to the relentless mix of new offerings and musical chairs from the established publishers. I'm not sure the framework is there to support all these books or help them find their proper audience, but that's a story for a different time. Several cartoonists I talked to were able to rattle off a variety of projects with a variety of publishers, which is a huge change from the lean years around the turn of the century, where if you had one thing planned you seemed to be doing really well.

12. I heard more people talk about Geof Darrow than ever before, which makes me think he's working his way into wider consciousness in that way that Mike Mignola did around '98-'99. Jordan Crane's a fan, as are a lot of artists.

13. Ted Rall was there to fulfill his function as a kind of a new talent coordinator for United Media, and was giving out business cards. Well, okay, he gave out one that I saw. Could United Media become the Nickelodeon of newspaper strip syndicates?

14. Everyone I talked to was reasonably pleased by the programming options. Some of the spotlights were sparsely attended, but that's always the case. I did a spotlight panel with Roger Langridge and it went about as well as those kinds of things can go, I thought. There were multiple fans there that were really into Roger's work, who seemed pleased by being able to ask more than one question. Roger is a thoughtful cartoonist and seems a very nice guy.

15. James Sturm says that things at the Center for Cartoon Studies are crazier than ever, despite my reading last Friday of their press, but he seems genuinely excited about the school's progress thus far and their immediate outlook. I heard Jason Lutes will be teaching there for a year. I await my opportunity to coach the CCS football team some years down the road.

16. I don't think people in town were more hateful towards the show as much as it had a higher public profile so it was a topic of conversation from both the positive and the negative directions. My initial cab driver said his con fares were "loud, they were in costumes, they smelled bad and they DID NOT TIP!" which is the angriest response I've ever received from a cabbie about the convention (I always ask). But I also overheard a conversation in the Westgate bar between two managers talking about how much they enjoyed the bar the night before, and the interesting people that had settled in. That kind of thing worked out about 50/50 for the weekend.

17. One of the funniest things I saw was a haggard con-goer at the end of the day walking towards his hotel suddenly given a dollar by a man in the suit, and the congoer realizing what it was and then yelling back, "I'm not panhandling!"

18. My backpack was stolen; my own fault. I always wondered what kind of person attended panels about comic book blogging, and now I know: thieves! Fortunately, I had a phone and a camera so old and cheap they don't even make them like that anymore. I will miss the sunglasses, though. I hope whoever nicked it enjoys them and they weren't dumpsterized.

19. Batton Lash and Rory Root both expressed appreciation to readers of this site for tracking down their respective booths according to the CR Comic-Con Guide.

20. I had a Truman Burbank moment when I opened the back door at the Picadilly and the Pickwick was gone, replaced by a kind of backroom. I hadn't noticed they were renovating until that moment. The bartender at the Picadilly on Saturday night was great. The place needs the ability to move in a few more chairs, though.

21. It was a great meet and greet show. In terms of comics I saw tons of people I hadn't seen in years (like Tom Devlin, Souther Salazar and Dan Clowes), saw a bunch of regulars (everyone from Sammy Harkham to Joel Meadows), and met many people for the first time (Todd Hignite, Kevin Huizenga, John DiBello), and met other people out of the blue I wasn't aware of before. I even get to meet some art heroes. San Diego still has that effect on me where I'm not visually disciplined enough to keep from looking away a lot of the time or keep from being distracted -- cons turn everyone rude in that way -- and there were loads of people I saw either briefly or not at all that I wish I had. It was that big of a show, though.

22. Surprise book of the show for me: a Jeremy Eaton collection from Drink Me Press, which I guess debuted earlier this year at APE. I was also pleasantly surprised to see Patrick Rosenkranz's Greg Irons book had come out. Lost Girls was selling well and was paid the ultimate compliment by a friend of mine. He went back into the show just to buy a copy.

23. I don't know what they're going to do about the size of the show. It could be that people will naturally adjust and that faced with the heat and long lines this year a significant chunk of con-goers will now attend fewer days or go every other year, I'm not sure. If superhero movies begin to tank the size of the movie exhibits may scale way back. Panel size and my general impression of the comics end seems to indicate that the growth is not reflected in as rapid a way with the comics part of the show, and although there are few complaints, all commerce is local, and eventually decisions will be made on that level as opposed to the lines to see the Lost preview.

24. I didn't see a single Klingon.

25. Did I mention I had a real good time?
posted 9:52 am PST | Permalink

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