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July 31, 2007

CR Commentary: CCI 2007 Wrapped


Here are my final thoughts about Comic-Con International 2007, July 26-29 with a July 25 Preview Night at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

So How Were The Eisners?
1. Overall, I quite liked the Eisner Awards this year. The music makes such a difference getting people on and off the stage. Bill Morrison is a charming and low-key host. The presenters were consistently amusing with three of the pairings (the Reno 9-11 guys, Brian Posehn and some other fella, Jonathan Ross and Neil Gaiman) about as good as you're ever going to see. Jane Wiedlin was a hit with her natural target audience of males aged 35-40. Also, and I think this was huge, no one struck a sour or inappropriate note the entire time: no super-dour proclamations of doom, no self-serving or smarmy wisecracks, no stories of cartoonists borrowing money in a public washroom. What you heard from folks was mostly gratitude with a dash of perspective. Other than the fact that every single person that hit the stage should have kidded Paul Pope about his shirtless vest ensemble, the show itself went as well as could ever be expected.

2. Only one major no-show: Darwyn Cooke.

3. There were things I didn't like about the Eisners. There seemed to be more technical glitches this year, from things mis-identified on the overheads to broken equipment that needed adjusting to people not knowing how to pronounce names. It's still way too many awards. Europe has a more diverse industry and I think Angouleme sports fewer than 10 awards at their big ceremony. As always, I'm not sure the voting was inspired, even with the categories mostly split so as to prevent a lot of superheroes/vertigo vs. indy/alt battles. Are this year's winners really the greatest books and creators of comics' greatest era? Perhaps combining exhaustion from a number of awards and some sloppy voting habits, someone at our table pointed out that a lot of first choices as listed on the ballot won during the last hour, and in general.

4. There's one thing about the Eisners that continues to drive me batty over all other factors, though. It's a major pet peeve of mine that actual cartoonists and major industry figures like Hilda Terry and Michelle Urry, for example, respectively, can somehow fail to be honored with a memorial tribute, while people in related art forms (the kids' end of the pool, naturally) or active in the fan community are honored. There's something that seems selfish and maybe even self-loathing about that. Nothing will likely ever be as ridiculous as the year where a cartoonist's spouse was included (a lady I liked very, very much, by the way) and William Freakin' Steig was left out, but it continues, and it should stop right now.

5. But yeah: best ever. First time I was ever surprised by a presenter: Jonathan Ross. He killed, too. As one pro put it, "I have never uttered these words before but I will now: the Eisners were fun."

Pressing Issue: The Size of the Show
1. Although it didn't come out, the photo above is of a young woman holding up a sign looking for a ticket.

2. I think what the heck CCI plans to do to manage the crowds is the major issue heading into 2008. Other than praying that this latest cycle of geeky TV shows and movies works itself out, and that ain't going to happen anytime soon, there's going to have to be positive steps taken. I don't know if that means taking over some space somewhere nearby with tent cities like the Hilton lawn had going, moving the biggest TV and movie panels off site, or what. Something.

3. If there aren't steps taken, that means the Con just sort of hopes that none of the stresses of a swollen convention become fractures -- something violent that gets exacerbated by the elbow to elbow crowding, for example, or maybe just someone big falling on one of those bitty kids and really hurting them -- and that the stress of people trying to get tickets as they become desired by more people early into the year doesn't turn the whole six months before the show into that horrible Tuesday morning when the convention hotels go up for reservations.

4. It really feels awful on the floor. It's a new reality, and people deal, and a lot of people have no problem "editing" what the con is to them. At the same time, I remember walking around the floor used to be something a lot of people looked forward to. The con is already more Balkanized than it was just a few years ago, with crabby movie people suggesting a name change and comics people feeling isolated and left out of some things. I think that continues if people feel it's not worth the hassle to dabble, scope out things outside your particular interest and just kind of naturally enjoy the entire scene. The press of humanity isn't so bad at certain places on the floor, aka comic books, but that makes it doubly worse for those isolated booths out of their natural habitat, enduring tight crowds naturally disinterested in their work and keeping people from wanting to walk over. I think you may see another round of people dropping out because of general weariness, both publishers who find the whole weekend exhausting and people there to see related media who aren't willing to camp out for seats and are thus consistently turned away from the biggest TV show.

5. My solutions would include taking a cricket bat to anyone in costume who stops and poses, blocking the flow of traffic for 100 feet or whatever, and rousting squatters from every event in the biggest halls, but I'm sure there are more humane ways to approach these troubles. Every bit counts. For instance, anyone standing in front of their table to sell their goods is extending their booth space at the cost of people moving around in the aisles and therefore should be discouraged. There needs to be hands-on monitoring, though, and attention must be paid to the details.

6. Another thing that might be coordinated is an aggressive track of multiple art shows throughout the city, thus solving two problems: no art shows like the European festivals making SDCC seem extra-crass, and giving at least a few thousand people something to do as an option other than heading to the convention hall. I might spend a morning away seeing a group show or two somewhere if they were good. I bet a lot of people would now that might not have two or three years ago.

7. Is it crazy to suggest that the shrinking and perhaps even endangered Artist's Alley space go to people with more comics credits over those who are illustrators, those who are prepared to draw while at the show rather than using it as simply free booth space, and perhaps maybe those who pledge to do kids' work at a certain discount or even just at all? How about lifetime banning anyone who doesn't spend at least 2/3 of their time with that space manned? I think some of the traditional spaces can be made more vital with a higher entry point that emphasizes certain roles such spaces play at the con.

8. The on-site registration seems to have improved 400 percent since two years ago, even, and now seems able to handle large crowds as best as anyone could imagine. I also like the flow system used to clear panel rooms with some hallways being exit hallways and some being entrance hallways.

With So Many Things Not Comics, Name Three That Struck You
1. It's sort of weird to go to a San Diego Con and not see a single Star Trek person. There were so many Klingons running around in the mid-1990s you could fill a couple of dozen photos with an arbitrarily selected subset like blonde Klingons or kid Klingons or Klingons in wheelchairs. Now? Nothing.

2. The dressing up thing is perpetually odd, no matter how the individual cycles play themselves out or how we get inured to the fact of having a book show in the midst of a costume party. We should stop pretending that it's normal. It's not bad or anything, but one reason why people fixate on the costumes is that no other industry convention or arts festival features it. Is there any explanation for the explosion of costumed people at these things over the last decade more comprehensive than simply the rise of cosplay?

3. We had no problem parking mid-morning within five blocks of the convention center and only a minor one finding a seat at Sun Cafe on a Saturday morning. Go figure.

What Was Buying Comics at the Show Like?
1. What used to be a show that stressed more expensive collectible comic books, and then seemed in recent years to put a lot more emphasis on bargain comics, this year seemed totally dominated by discount comics in the $3-$7 range rather than $1 range. I don't know exactly why that is, but I'm not complaining. Has the non top-line Silver Age comics market collapsed recently or something?

2. It does make me slightly worried that retailers seem to be making new stabs every year at what will sell, which indicates a shallower level of commitment than might be healthy.

3. There seemed to be fewer straight-up comics retailers than ever before. This could be fewer exhibitors of that type, or exhibitors diversifying what they bring in so it appeared like fewer comics.

4. Also almost totally gone compared to what it used to be: off-major 1940s and 1950s comics (your Dells, your Standards), once a big attraction.

5. The more book publishers that enter into comics means more cartoonists will have books out with multiple publishers means dealers like Rory Root, Chuck Rozanski and Bud Plant will serve as that much more of a purchasing backbone for the con. I heard people invoke Stuart Ng's name this year more than the past five years combined.

What Did You Think of Programming?
1. I thought the comics-related programming was solid this year: there was a lot of it, spread across all four days, and the panels themselves seemed well attended. Like I wrote before the show, I would have liked to see an aggressive macro-industry panel or two, mostly because I think these issues are just as important to talk about when things seem slightly flush as they are when things seem abominable, but what the programmers chose to execute over the weekend they did so very well.

2. The thing that was best about the four or five panels I saw, and this could be luck, is that none of them had panel/audience connection problems. The panels with a lot of sophisticated talk up front seemed to garner sophisticated questions, while the more basic panels seemed to have an audience for that level of discourse, too.

Three People That Attendees Asked After and Then Made a Frowny Face When I Said, "No, I don't think they're coming."
1. Dean Haspiel
2. Patrick McDonnell
3. Adrian Tomine

The Five Comics Publishing Announcements I Can Remember Without Looking
1. Writer Grant Morrison and Artist JG Jones getting DC's Final Crisis assignment, meaning that very important event series for the periodicals-slipping publisher might be good in more than a "solid effort of its type" way. That's might be, mind you.

2. Paul Pope takes hist THB to First Second, which threw a big spotlight on that company heading into the rest of its first five years.

3. The crush of prose authors or just sort of vaguely famous people moving into comics via various deal structures, which 1) might be read by some as a slap in the face to some of the existing creators working certain areas, 2) practically guarantees a lot of clumsy, mediocre comics on the horizon, and 3) shows that it's still a concept with some PR and marketing legs.

4. Darwyn Cooke to leave The Spirit and DC Comics to work on a pair of original graphic novels; Jeff Smith courted as part of the creative replacement on the DC title.

5. Dark Horse's manga efforts expanding out of their favored genres and into a potential new format.

25 Things People Were Talking About On the Floor
1. Book deals, particularly swirling rumors about the size of certain advances.
2. Death of comic book comics as a viable platform for alt-comics people.
3. Douglas Wolk's new book Reading Comics.
4. The still unannounced Ellison-Fantagraphics lawsuit settlement.
5. Where the next Pickwick -- an alt-comics favorite bar now closed -- is going to be.
6. Moebius (I kid you not; I was in three separate conversations about Moebius, three more than in 2006, when he was in attendance).
7. The tricks creators use to get publishers to comp them a copy of a book they want.
8. Whether or not CR makes any money.
9. Leveraging whatever deal is out there to be leveraged; absolutely no one was saying, "I'm going to concentrate on ______ this year."
10. The Eisners.
11. The ongoing culture change at DC Comics and its emphasis on more sophisticated marketing.
12. Marvel Comics building a big DM sales lead on DC, and whether it's a big deal or not. (Weight of argument: it is.)
13. Whether there's a deep, rich pool of webcomics or a few aberrations that are actually good while a ton more exist hugged to the bosom of a forgiving arts sub-culture.
14. Whether webcomics will ever make serious money as a group.
15. Next year's Russ Manning Award front runner: Fletcher Hanks.
16. Old San Diego (stabbings, bums) vs. New San Diego (William Morris Agency parties, Starbucks)
17. The new wave of book publishers completely not getting a) conventions, b) what artists need to use and deal with the Direct Market
18. A seemingly sudden shift to a lot more companies buying people dinner.
19. Video, video, video coverage everywhere.
20. Some of the more kid-hostile elements of the show -- the endurance test aspects, the sexualized costumes -- as more of my friends consider bringing their kids and start to ponder the positives and negatives.
21. Mainstream press coverage reversion into "look at the freaks" mode.
22. The extravagance of newer boutique hotels like the Ivy and Hotel Solamar.
23. Special Guest Warren Ellis.
24. The trains blocking access to the convention center, and their exquisite sense of timing.
25. Twittering.

Next Up: July 24-27, 2008
Overall, I think CCI 2007 was a solid show, with the con showing a lot of depth and skill in programming, a lot of folks on hand showing their veteran con-going skills in dealing with some unpleasant crowding-type concerns, and the Eisner folks pulling off their best show ever. The attendance has to be as bad as it's ever going to get -- by definition, right? -- which is a relief, but the overall growth of the show and its attendant difficulties in terms of travel and lodging may cost the con some mid-list exhibitors among comics publishers and, perhaps, more retailers unless that group grasps onto a more solid foundation for what's going to sell. Like comics itself right now, the positive feelings about the convention outweigh the nagging suspicion that things may be rotting from the bottom up a bit. At least many of the problems facing the convention can be isolated and attempts to solve them may be pursued.

All that said? I had a real good time.

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posted 3:06 am PST | Permalink

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