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

July 29, 2008

The First Great American Pop Culture Con—50-Plus Thoughts on CCI 2008!


By Tom Spurgeon

This is the first in a series of articles driven by coverage of Comic-Con International 2008, held over the July 24 to July 27 weekend in San Diego, California. It should be joined by week's end by an ongoing "collective memory" of links, a stand-alone news article or two, and some photos. I hope to eventually do an interview with someone at CCI once they find their sea legs and get some official attendance figures.

"You know, if they had put Fae Desmond in charge of post-Katrina New Orleans, that whole region would be back on its feet by now."

* my primary memory of the just-completed Comic-Con International 2008 is the sense of admiration most expressed for how relatively easily the convention unfolds. CCI is a massive undertaking, and while I'm certain several people encountered major obstacles and others severe disappointments, for most people -- including every single person I spoke to -- the convention ran smoothly. The detail work was good, too. The aisles were noticeably clearer; bringing security out into major traffic flow points helped; even the temperature of the hall was generally amenable to most people. Even the people with whom I spoke that complained about specific things tended to absolve the Comic-Con staff of any significant role in their personal misfortune.

* the other general feeling I got from the show was a sense of comics mentally circling an event that after several years of explosive growth has now settled into its post-Hollywood Invasion form. For the first time in a while, people spoke to me in terms of recent continuity, asserting that this year's show was more like last year's show than last year's show was like the show from the year before that. In short: people know what CCI is at this moment in time; they now have to figure out how to use it.

* one thing it is is not theirs, not all of it, and not anymore. You could almost hear the older attendees coming to this conclusion during the weekend.

* and this may just be my age, but I also heard a lot about coping mechanisms. There seemed to be two general strategies in terms of how to deal with the show's full-court press of events and coverage: people coming in and staying only 36 to 48 hours, and people building some time on each end of the show to reduce the severity of its impact. Going for the length of the show, and working full-bore Wednesday noon until Sunday night and then leaving, that seemed to be the thing to avoid.

* it's also worth noting that what's changed about the show has a lot to do with shape of the culture that surrounds it. For instance, my own trip began in Tucson on Thursday morning, where that afternoon I saw Hellboy 2 at a mall, bought some comic books and drove past an In-And-Out. The point: it was a lot like an afternoon in San Diego. For those of us that grew up in the 1980s, conventions were a place you went to find all the comics that your store might not carry, as well as to live in a world where these things were the primary order of business for everyone on hand. Now you can get almost everything from your shop or on-line, and you can spend as much time as you want on-line in the same kind of atmosphere of fellow-traveling you used to only get in a convention hall. This has changed the emphasis. From a business standpoint, for instance, I have to figure that for most publishers this is a marketing event and not a retail event. Even those exhibitors with a significant retail operation seem to offer exclusives or con-only or handmade material as much as the stuff that can be obtained anywhere.

* I suspect that the next few years for many publishers will be about maximizing the marketing aspects -- figuring out why Darwyn Cooke's Wednesday night announcement he was working on adaptations of Donald Westlake's Parker novels hit with people while other announcements by other publishers didn't and what if anything is replicable from the positive ones -- and also reinforcing the talent relations aspect, as in being on hand to support the talent that wants to go and have these experiences at such a show. I think supporting and interacting with talent is a more important function of such shows than anyone realizes. In other words, it will be more about carving out space than co-existing with other aspects of the show. People won't hit as many parties; they'll escape to do something with friends or fellow travelers. When this initial Hollywood period ends next year or the year after that and becomes an ingrained fact of the show, comics people won't want to go to those parties nor will they be invited; attending one will be a lark like it used to be for an alt-comics person to crash the DC or Marvel shindig.

* this may not go in this section as well as I want it to, but I have to ask: did anyone notice that the security seemed younger and better groomed than previous years? Maybe I'm just getting older, but the security folks as a group used to look like a crowd shot from Matewan; this year they looked like a mix of working class folk, college kids, and young people with first jobs.

"People at my hotel are asking me if we're moving; they really, really don't want the show to move."

* on the way into the show from the airport, the local radio station in the cab had a long feature on the possibility that Comic-Con might move somewhere else when its next lease is up 2012. That's a theme that continued to manifest itself all weekend.

* the basic hook of the radio piece was "Comic-Con Sold Out: Good Thing... or a Bad Thing?" I hadn't realized it when this idea developed, but that is a pretty terrific hook, so it's no surprise that a lot of the press coverage picked up on it.

* I personally hope the show doesn't move, and I say that as one with significant love for frequently-cited potential future destination Las Vegas and with nothing against Anaheim. I just think both cities are bad matches for the show, and even if they became good matches neither place is as nice as San Diego as a destination to spend four days looking at comic books and related pop culture stuff. I have to imagine that energy utilized arguing on behalf of Las Vegas could be better spent elsewhere. San Diego is awesome, and as the con changes in the next dozen years, its setting will be just as important as its location.

* then again, it's not about what I personally like. I'm also certain the decision will be made based on factors that have nothing to do with the convention making sure Mr. Guy From A Messageboard has the best shot at an $89 hotel room, even though that's how it's almost always discussed.

* I don't think they're moving.

* or let me put it like this: any factors by which they would decide to move haven't nudged themselves into existence yet and anybody who suggests otherwise is projecting and/or guessing. 2010 is a long way off, and 2012 even longer.

* speaking of cheap hotel rooms, I stayed at the Bristol, a sturdy establishment of the kind no one talks about. It's just across the street from Broadway and its Westin-Westin-Sofia-Westgate-US Grant core group of hotels. What used to be a publisher and professional hub is more of an attendee repository at this point, but I always liked that whole group of hotels: close enough for walking, far enough away people on the floor don't ask to use your restroom.

* except for its boutique-style lobby, $10-$25 entree restaurant and its frequently wide-open computer, the Bristol reminded me of the kind of mid-20th century big-city hotel where a dad in the 1970s might take a child on the way to some sort of business or event, the kind of place where you'd have steak and eggs for breakfast while wearing a tie, pour water down the mail slot when your pop was sleeping and accidentally break the thermostat without telling anyone. I liked it just fine, and would be happy to stay there again.

* as equally ridiculous and even more myopic as the thought that the convention will make their decisions based on what best suits the needs of hardcore internet-posting fans has been the outcry from some fans that feel that San Diego doesn't love the convention enough.

* this may be more hopeful than perceptive, but I'd maintain that the city will show love (or not) for the convention in ways that don't have anything to do with whether or not you feel like the hotel staff thinks you're cool. I'm not certain why conventioneers need love and admiration with their pleasantly delivered and affordable services, and everyone I've dealt with in San Diego the last five years has been kind and solicitous and, best of all, pretty competent in what they do. I think they desire our business a lot, which is better than being loved because I want to do business there, not be loved. I don't care if the hotel clerk thinks I'm a fat dork as long as they get my wake-up call right, I really don't.

"Are you telling me this is the first day you've been here?"

* downtown San Diego has the surprised look on its face of an urban neighborhood slapped across the jaw by this new downturn in economic fortune. The visible trickle of blood only mars in a slight way the general health and beauty of the place. It is full of female joggers, aged 25-30, sporting sleek ponytails and a confused expression on their faces over the number of people crowding their sidewalks.

* the rule is that you see one comics professional the first time you head to the convention center, before you get to Ralphs. This year I saw Steve Rude seated in that deli area at the edge of Horton Plaza, the one that does a nice job doing sidewalk advertising to bring in Comic-Con guests.

* the other rule is that you see one person you know before you register. For the last few years I've seen Marc Mason of Comics Waiting Room the first thing at the convention, and I have no idea why that is. He was sporting a lot of hair. Because it's the convention it is now as opposed to the one from five or ten years ago, I never saw Marc again. I didn't see a lot of my fellow on-line writers-about-comics, mostly I think because I wasn't on a journalism-related panel.

* yet another rule of mine is you see one guy in a man-skirt between Ralphs and convention center proper, but this seems to only apply to me. Seriously: like five years in a row now. I would totally take on another rule if it meant fewer kilts.


* if there's anything more comforting and pleasing and edifying to the spinner rack part of your soul than seeing Mario, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez at a signing together -- with Natalia Hernandez! -- I don't know what it is. My friends and I make jokes that everything always comes back to the Hernandez Brothers, but it does.

* in general, there seemed to be a lot of booths where it was just a group of artists sharing a booth, as opposed to a formal publishing effort as the organizing principle. I think this may be an even more important set-up concept in the future as publishers try to figure out how best to use the show.

* there were also booths (and I guess panels) that were not comics and not related to the kind of fantasy genres that people tend to associate with comics. A presence for the show The Office was probably the most notable of these. I have no idea what this means, but it was sort of interesting.

* other than the exact mix of publishers, the loss of the curtained-off Eros Comix booth (it hasn't been around for about a half-decade) and the presence of the National Cartoonists Society, the alt-comics area of the show looked much the same as it did a dozen years ago. It was anchored by folks like Tom Devlin, Dan Nadel, Alvin Buenaventura and Jason T. Miles; not exactly a changing of the guard but a mix of older and newer industry folk.

* no Eric Reynolds made a lot of folks sad, but he has the best reason for not attending -- a new kid -- and who isn't happy for someone with a reason like that?

* among the many comics people at the show I'd never seen before I got to meet Lynda Barry, whom I found to be intense and extremely excited to be there and look at all the sights; Rick Marshall, late of Wizard and now of ComicMix, for about 2.3 seconds; Nick Abadzis, extremely charming and likable in person with an even more likable and charming spouse (they managed to find good Dominican in the Gaslamp); Tim Sievert of Top Shelf's next generation; the Australian publisher Daren White; Andy Kuhn, who was selling drawings onto airplane barf bags of various characters vomiting; Gary Spencer Millidge, who looked serene; the writers Jai Nitz and Michael Sangiacomo; the discovery of 2007's show Jon Vermilyea; Ted Adams and Dean Mullaney at IDW; the writer/artist Dan Hipp; Lelands Purvis and Myrick; Faith Erin Hicks, whom I think works at First Second and publishes through SLG; JK Parkin of Blog@Newsarama and Lea Hernandez, the only person into whom I've ever physically bumped at the show and actually wanted to meet. There were tons more.


* among the many comics people at the show I enjoyed seeing once again were Joel Meadows, the British journalist I've seen at just about every show since the mid-1990s; the writer Ian Boothby and artist Pia Guerra; the writers Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Steven T. Seagle, Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick; the artist Justin Norman, one of my favorite people in comics; the retailer/prominent blogger Chris Butcher; artist Rutu Modan and the artist Yirmi Pinkus; Top Shelf gurus Brett Warnock and Chris Staros, the editor, publisher and writer Jim Ottaviani, Kim Thompson and Lynn Emmert; Jackie Estrada and Batton Lash (to wave at a dozen times); cartoonists like Eddie Campbell, Alex Robinson, Adrian Tomine, Ted Stearn, Zak Sally, Dash Shaw, John Pham, Jordan Crane, Johnny Ryan, James Kochalka, Kim Deitch, Lauren Weinstein, and Paul Karasik; fellow bloggers like Heidi MacDonald (plus one), Kevin Church and Laura Hudson. It's still a great show at which to shmooze, with a high concentration of left coasties.

* the cartoonist Gary Spencer Millidge mentioned that as soon as he clears room in his schedule and saves up the money required to make it happen, there's one more trade paperback's worth of Strangehaven to be done, which will give the self-published titles a shot at one of those 600-page jaw-dropping collections.

* the editor and artist's representative Denis Kitchen reports that he just turned in the manuscript for the forthcoming Harvey Kurtzman book.

"That's more people than I've ever had at a panel. Seriously, dude. Ever."

* a lot of people spoke well about the general attendance at and enthusiasm for the better comics-related panels. The signings were well-attended, too, particularly for older cartoonists with a built-in fan base. I mean, duh, but it's worth noting that people were going to have specific things signed or to meet specific cartoonists. I always get the sense at some shows and at conventions where stuff is free, that people are lined up just to line up.

* people were especially effusive in their praise of Lynda Barry's spotlight.

* the great Jim Woodring did a signing on Thursday that was so well attended that convention security approached Fantagraphics to help them with the line. Jim noted he hadn't been to CCI in about five or even ten years, and it was noted by several people on his behalf -- frequently sighing while doing so -- that he's no longer really doing comics anymore, and that a planned Ignatz book featuring Frank probably won't happen. His painting work is reportedly as impressive as one would think.

image* with fewer artists on hand, which makes sense given the size of their catalog, the Drawn & Quarterly signings were steady and well-attended throughout. The beatific look on people's faces as they got to meet and interact with Lynda Barry was a real treat to see.

* the comics panels I attended or walked by seemed totally freaking packed, or at least very well attended, with the possible exception of some of the spotlight panels without a big-name attractor or artist with a reputation for being articulate. One thing that seemed to do well with audiences is panels that combined some sort of attractive concept with an artist that then made sense speaking on that project -- I know that sounds ridiculous, but I mention it because I always got the sense in the past that people went or didn't go to panels based on name and publisher recognition rather than for its topic.

* one such panel was a panel on getting into the graphic novels business with Larry Young and, reportedly, half the people on his Rolodex. Larry has proselytized in the past on the attractiveness of the graphic novel as a publishing format, so it makes sense that people might want to hear what he has to say about that format right now. I spoke to Young; he showed me photos of his kid and noted that next Spring marks the tenth anniversary of his publishing company.

* for all you parents out there, here's a tip: Young says he and Mimi Rosenheim took their kid to a baseball game to judge how he'd handle the convention crowds.

* I moderated one panel about The World of Graphic Novels on Friday afternoon. Alex Robinson, Nick Abadzis, Eddie Campbell, Rutu Modan and Adrian Tomine. As I joked too many times for it to be funny, it was one of those panels where they put a bunch of smart guests together with a generic title and you have no idea what the audience may be looking for. It was a good panel with a lot of back and forth between the participants, which is rarer than you might think, and several smart questions.

* although in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked for the question from the guy dressed as Robin. Apparently, there's a great divide in the comics world between alternative comics and hero books.

* there was a question at the panel to Adrian Tomine that might have been the most adorable question I ever heard, something along the lines of "what advice do you have for a young artist that also wears glasses that's not sure high school will ever end?" Adrian's answer, that a lot of art directors are like the teacher that was bringing down this young artist, was really funny, too.

* back to the Boy Wonder: there was an army of people dressed as Robin at this show. I'm not kidding you. Either that, or I have some sort of connection to the character that make me see him everywhere. Either option is slightly depressing.

* costumes in general: an army of Jokers, a lot of super-professional looking costumes, a lot of skin, a lot of manga/anime I didn't know, and every single part ever played by Johnny Depp, including Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands and Hunter S. Thompson. Seriously, there was a dude that had a cigarette holder and a fake bald head and everything. Ten years ago, people only dressed up like Hunter Thompson chemically.

* all that said, I'll never understand the costume impulse.

* the writer Pam Noles approached me on late Friday afternoon to tell me they were laughing with me instead of laughing at me. I guess this was intended as comfort, but since I didn't know anyone was laughing at all I was immediately concerned.

"I could have been at a party with Seth Rogen instead of going to this."

* no one believed me when I told them, but the Eisners were of a reasonable length for one of those evenings. According to my $5 Wal-Mart watch, they ran about 2:50 after starting late.

* the fact that so many people treated the ceremony as if it were a four and a half hour show is probably the most telling sign in terms of how it was received by a lot of people. Since I just sensed Jackie Estrada opening up a new browser window to e-mail me that a lot of people greatly enjoyed the show, I will say that I am certain many people did. Just nobody I spoke to.

* and that's too bad, because it was a not-bad show in some ways, one that primarily suffered by coming after last year's confluence of good fortune and funny presenters and guys smooching that will likely be the standard for years to come. There were several funny moments in 2008, the winners were a mix of old favorites (The Goon) and pleasant surprises (Laika), and I've never seen so many drink tickets. Samuel L. Jackson showed up, which is kind of astonishing if you think about it. You can't help but love an awards program where Shaft gives out some awards and Len Wein gives out others.

* by the way, Jackson both pronounced everything correctly (not that he's a mushmouth but comics people have strange names; they need to either rehearse or provide phonetic spellings. I laughed every time they said "Mo-May") and noticed how long it took for people to get to the stage, without anything to fill the time, by doing shtick about it.


* one of the problems with the show's length may have been the frightening number of categories; my table expressed bafflement at a category called "Special Recognition," with one person concluding that was the award where they put the five books released last year that somehow didn't make it into any other category (I was later told it was the old "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition" category with the name change so that the losers didn't seem less "deserving" -- which is, of course, insane).

* another problem were visual cues that made things seem longer even if they really didn't add much time to the overall length. For instance, they named all the nominees and all the finalists for the Spirit of Retailing award and probably could have mentioned the latter group only once.

* that collective stomach ache you sensed on Friday night was the reaction to Jane Wiedlin's bizarre presenter stint: at first it looked like she was pulling a George Jones, which actually would have been cool, but then she hit the stage with a groaner of a set piece way too indulgent of her level of celebrity and displayed ability to entertain and, worse, failed to bring the goods and generally set comedy back several decades. I'm not at the point where I'm nostalgic for Snakes on a Plane jokes, and I hope to god I never will be. It was amateurish and awful.

* although I have to say, when Wiedlin was on stage with all those Stormtroopers announcing the Journalism category, I immediately stopped rooting for myself and started rooting for Gary Groth and The Comics Journal. Gary standing in front of a line of Star Wars characters would have been my screen saver for the next 10 years.

* unfortunately, we both lost to Matt Brady and Newsarama. I mean unfortunate for my chance at this year's Christmas Card photo; I'm happy Matt won, to be honest with you. That guy -- and Jonah Weiland of CBR -- get way too much shit from people, most of whom are criticizing them from the vantage point of an imaginary perfect comics publication as opposed to one that exists in the real world. I don't like everything they do, but I like a lot of it, and respect the effort. So good for Matt.

image* by the way, as much grief as Gary Groth gets at times, he was the classiest dude at the Eisners. Gary accepted three awards for people and -- GASP! -- had actually solicited a written response from each of them to read to the audience as opposed to getting up there and mumbling and shrugging his shoulders the way so many people do when accepting for someone. Gary wore a coat -- I thought coat and tie, but photos I've seen since say coat-only. I'm still not sure why people that make six-figure salaries that aren't artists decide to forgo a suit like they're so many surly teenagers going to Sunday morning church service. Trust me, guys: you don't look cool, you look like a self-hating douchebag. Gary also always spoke in terms of the privilege of working with the artists in question. He was terrific, and made me feel good about working in comics.

* my point is, when a professional agitator like Gary is the classiest, most reverential guy in the room, you know comics has some issues.

* does anyone else think of John McEnroe when they see Gary operate in public?

* this year will be remembered in part as the year in which multiple Eisners went to Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, who responded with a passion and excitement that really raised everyone's estimation of the awards' potential meaning, and, to be honest, made some people a bit more cognizant of the fact that some people were getting awards for their life's work from a lady with a bunch of Stormtroopers and that others didn't have their names pronounced correctly. Moon and Ba even brandished their Eisner awards at their exhibition hall table the next day in intimidating fashion. They were great.

* a good thing was that everyone who was at the show and won was I believe on hand to accept, which hasn't always been the case in the past.

* I couldn't for the life of me tell you a single thing Frank Miller said in his keynote address. I was kind of hoping he'd come out with a computer linked to and cut it in half with a chainsaw.

* there were some bizarre acceptance speeches and a few noteworthy ones.
* Brad Meltzer's declaration that the San Diego Convention is about heroes seemed sincere but is just the kind of arrogant my-comics-only view of the medium that rightly aggravates the shit out of people.

* A lot of folks in my immediate circle commented about the anger simmering beneath the surface in some of the acceptance speeches along the lines of, "I really do have value and the world that hated on me can suck it."

* James Jean should have the job of calming crowds in crisis situations -- that's one placid dude.

* Archie Goodwin's widow Anne T. Murphy slammed unscrupulous publishers that produce material from dead artists and choose not to deal with the families of those artists, legally allowable or not. A lot of people felt that speech was brave.

* Paul Karasik's acceptance was dry as a bone and amusing, even slightly provocative in just the way an artist can be in accepting an award.

* Kim Thompson was funny.

* The best speech of the night a thank-you read by Gary Groth from new Hall of Famer Barry Windsor-Smith that slammed the work for hire contract and the general exploitation on which so much of the industry is built. BWS should be in the hall of fame of comics-event speeches, too.
I'm sure I'm forgetting a few.

* it may be worth noting Dan Clowes and Chris Ware won awards for their comics work (as opposed to a craft element), in the first time in the same year for I think many years.

* one win that made me happy was James Sturm and Rich Tommaso's Satchel Paige winning an award, because Rich deserves something like that. Ditto Nick Abadzis and Laika winning for teen book. Nick seemed to be the most surprised and delighted guy in the room.

* I mean surprised in a good way.

* one of the nice things about the after-awards cocktail hour was seeing both Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction -- current X-Men writers -- walk up to Paul Karasik on their own, separate volition and thank him for City of Glass.

* I like the Eisners, I really do, but its quirks feel more like liabilities with each passing year.

"I used to not mind the Hollywood people, but now I hate them. I hate them."

* I haven't seen an Inkpots list yet, but I know that they were given to at least Ed Brubaker and Ralph Bakshi. Those are the recognition awards from the con itself. Bakshi seemed delighted by his, and Brubaker noted that it was odd to receive one as he was once a local kid that attended the shows a lot earlier in his life than many of his peers.0

* the special prize for attending Whitney Matheson's Pop Candy meet-up was a small mini-comic of Twitter comments illustrated by some of her cartoonist readers. The reader who wrote into this site suggesting that Matheson might be giving away a "Pop Candy Assisted Suicide Machine" owes me $20 for the liquid I spit on my keyboard. I don't even know what that means, but it's funny. I met Matheson for the first time; she was very nice, and quite popular.


* a few other folks I bumped into were Brendan Burford, who extolled the virtues of health-booster Airborne and spending time on the water after getting sick on last year's flight out and mentioned that the Random House iteration of his Syncopated anthology was announced; Ben Schwartz, who was off to seek history-of-comics information from Robert Beerbohm; and Conrad Groth, who is really tall now and made me feel quite old. I also saw Tom King and Jeanette Moreno. I'm forgetting a billion people.

* Dean Mullaney was walking around with a few air-shipped copies of the forthcoming Noel Sickles book. The amount of material they found from Sickles' non-comic strips career seems like it will make the book a lot of fun. Mullaney also included strips on either side of Sickles' involvement with Scorchy Smith, which I thought was a nice touch.

* the book of the show was really Watchmen, if you were being honest about it. Nothing else came close. Everyone I talked to that brought copies of Watchmen at the show sold out, and the Owl Ship prop was being talked about by people you never thought you'd hear talk about a movie prop.

* as for other books I heard people talk about, a lot of people were excited about the Tori Amos anthology, there was a cool limited edition Darwyn Cooke book that Brett Warnock showed me that was quite lovely. Fantagraphics sold out of the new Los Bros Hernandez Love and Rockets volume by Saturday afternoon and the Ditko book did well; Drawn and Quarterly debuted four books including this one, and they all seemed to do pretty well; Alvin Buenaventura mentioned in passing that Matt Furie's Boys Club #2 was selling really well, and Dan Nadel said that Lauren Weinstein's presence was helping move copies of the first issue of Goddess of War. About four people mentioned going over to track down a Last Gasp book called Tokyo Zombies. A release of Scott Pilgrim material -- I'm not exactly sure what or in what form or maybe this was a rumor or maybe they just meant the cover image [added later: no, there was a book of material] -- from Bryan Lee O'Malley had a lot of folks talking, too.

* according to the latest Tripwire, I am the 25th most powerful person in comics. My older brother had to pull over to finish laughing when I mentioned that to him this morning. I am using my comics powers to give him nothing but papercuts the next time he reads a funnybook.

* as far as back issues and the like, it seemed like less of one strategy being applied -- say, discounted comics -- and more like a panoply of approaches being trotted out. I bought discounted 1970s comics, naturally.

image* by the way, I hope someone out there in the Time Warner neighborhood of Hollywoodland realizes that DC's Blade -- a character that could make a good, hit movie with a few cosmetic and surface changes -- is Deadman. You don't have to use the costume; Blade didn't have a giant 'fro and pirate boots in his movie, either. But a dead guy possessing people in order to solve his own murder mystery? Gold. Plus you can get a bigger star because you can go older with that character than with a lot of superheroes.

* its Iron Man is Green Lantern, in case there was any question. Tell me "fighter pilot turns space cop with magic ring" isn't just as good as "billionaire playboy builds mechanized suit" when it comes to visually appealing, easy to understand, wish-fulfillment concepts.

* the con badges were better this year, but they could still use some work. That SDCC icon is effective enough to be read at much smaller size, and the names should be bigger. I'm still not a lanyard fan, either. All lanyards mean to me is that half the badges are going to be turned around.

* not comics: I woke up on Saturday at 6:15 (I have a bad habit of sleeping on top of hotel room covers and waking up freezing to death from the air conditioning) and went jogging and I was surprised to see a ton of con-goers up and about; I figured out pretty quickly why: they were getting in line for the big movie and TV panels in Hall H. One guy from a cell phone was mobilizing his entire family in their effort. It's a whole different show for some people. I watched a bit of a card-game tournament on Friday afternoon and counted about 160 people in attendance.

* I hung out a lot with Sean T. Collins, who was stringing for CBR. Apparently, when I wasn't around, he had encounters with The Nite Owl and Shirley Manson. My sole reason for hanging out with Sean is that I wanted to meet Jonah Weiland, but it didn't happen. Sean's coverage reflects a more of a working writer's snapshot of the show, so it's very different than my own.

* one element of thinking that was expressed a lot is that no one minded the Hollywood presence in terms of the booths and the fans and people living and dying according to their ability to get into their favorite TV and movie show panels, but that the number of empty suits on hands scouting for "talent" and "strong material with a unique voice" and in doing so managing to treat the whole affair as some sort of distasteful garage sale they were gracing with their awesome presence made a lot of people sick to their stomach. As one cartoonist put it, roughly: it used to be the only assholes you encountered the whole weekend were frat guys yelling something at you from a car; now you're having to stand there listening to some guy talk about the project his company just greenlit or whatever when all you want to do is walk right past this preening bozo and across the aisle to shake Al Jaffee's hand.

* I prefer to walk and I like to make jokes about the buses, but walking out of an event at 1:30 in the morning, with sore feet and a light head, and seeing a bus right there that will get you to your place in about two minutes, well, that's pretty awesome.

* one of the funniest things at the show was that on the back of the cards with the names of panelists was a warning to refrain from foul language because of the likelihood of those in the audience aged younger than 18. Good advice, but all I could think was "So who dropped multiple f-bombs at last yeaear's Nickelodeon panel?"

* one of my favorite con people, Charles Brownstein, said the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund had a fine weekend, and that their party was well-attended.

* not comics: I loved the Johnny Ryan vinyl toys I saw. Another thing I saw that was gorgeous were a group of Seth color studies for some illustration art he's done. Original art seemed to be doing okay at the show, as were art objects created just for the show, but it's been like that for a while.

image* I missed Rory Root, and a lot of people said the same thing. I didn't know Dave Stevens much at all, but a lot of people said they missed him, and a few people even mentioned to me that the convention made them think of the late Michael Turner or the late Mike Wieringo.

* the Hong Kong Nite Club was closed, making alt-comics nation two for two over the last two years. What bar will they close next?

* a lot of people I spoke to expressed something I was feeling: I wasn't always sure what I should be doing to best maximize my time. Should one treat the whole thing as a vacation? How about a vacation-with-benefits? Should one fill the day with meetings and work opportunities or focus on a few of them while leaving the rest of the day open? I think most comics people see the show pretty clearly now, and I expect the next few years will see some surprising decisions as folks answer that most basic of questions: "What am I doing here?"

* I'm told the Hyatt bars were super-packed; entreaty to maybe drink elsewhere due to the discomfort gay comics professionals had because of that establishment's owner publicly supporting legislation against gay marriage be damned. I was going to go down and check, but blew it off. No one seemed interested in talking about the effect of the economy on comics or the convention, either, even though I think whether or not there's a leveling off of growth in attendance desires due to travel costs is going to be a huge issue for what happens next with the show.

* if you're leaving San Diego on the train, it really helps to go early enough before your departure time to get in line before the line gets huge; the seating options are much greater that way. It's a great way to decompress, though, and it was $125 cheaper for me to train to LA and use LAX than to use San Diego's airport. Also, if you're lucky enough to pick up 75-100 drunk young women in party dresses heading back to Irvine from the Del Mar racetrack, the whole experience can feel like a reality TV show.

Del Mar Attendee: "If I went to Comic-Con I'd go as Mrs. Incredible."
Guy In Nightcrawler T-Shirt: "That would be... [gulps] awesome."
Del Mar Attendee: "Is that an airbrushed t-shirt? I bought an airbrushed t-shirt in Barcelona once."

* another thing I think you'll start to see more of, or at least considered, is off-site locations being used to supplement on-site goings-on. I know I've suggested this before, but people brought it up without my prompting at least a half-dozen times during the convention.

* it will take some re-thinking on the part of of people that seem to not want to miss anything for anything off-site to become popular, but I think it's inevitable that some folks try to get something like that going. Two probable areas: First, there are enough press that want to see certain events that closed circuit viewing of major TV and movie panels or something equivalent seems like it would be very popular. Second, the fact that many of the comics publishers appeal to people that don't plan to go to shows six months in advance makes me wonder if someone will try a satellite alt-comics room at the Marriott or the Hilton that both accepts con badges and from people that just want to come and buy t-shirts and get Robert Williams' autograph or whatever. CCI is locked into San Diego until 2012, which seems to me a perfect amount of time to see what can be done to make sure this iteration of the show works as well as possible. A large part of the decision as to where the show goes eventually is figuring out how best it works right now. If I were them I'd jack up the prices (at least a bit) and support my exhibitors with being as creative as possible for next year's show.

* as for me, I had a great time. Special thanks to those of you that read the site that were nice enough to come up and say so. I never know what to say in response other than "You read my site?" but it made me feel really good and I'm greatly appreciative of any time any of you spend here.

* my show ended early. I didn't see a single celebrity in an off-hand moment the entire time when I was in San Diego, for the first time since maybe 1997. On my way out of L.A.'s Union Station I looked to my right and noticed I was walking stride for stride with Adam Baldwin. For a half-second, I felt like Christopher Makepeace.

* that night I fell asleep during The Dark Knight.


all photos by me, which is why they stink

Comic-Con International advertises on this site, and I'm a notoriously unethical bastard, so you may have just wasted your time

posted 8:25 am PST | Permalink

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