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

July 30, 2007

Your 2007 San Diego Con Update


Notes and Observations About or Caused by Comic-Con International, Taking Place July 26-29 (With a July 25 Preview Night) in San Diego, California


1. With a weekend marked by sell-outs, it's safe to say this is the best-attended Comic-Con International ever.

2. The con is committed to San Diego and its convention center through 2012, and moving the show at any point now or then after such a long relationship with the city might cause way more problems than it solves. This puts directly on the table how the show will deal with the increased demand and all the cracks and pressures of swelling that come with it.

3. One of the pressures ready to make itself known: two publishers good enough to be in the Eisner nomination pool this year spoke on the floor out loud that this was likely a last year for them to exhibit.

4. Another one: complaints of panel access for press, which once I was tipped off were pretty easy to track down. Press has the same access privileges into convention panels as attendees, so if things fill up, they can't get in. Contributing causes may include a combination of increased pool coverage (a lot of the entertainment magazines went from one reporter to five or six) and general high attendance at a lot of panels. I would imagine of all the hassles that might face the show, this is one that will be most easily handled by an administrative effort or two.

5. Then again, maybe the pressure will be seen in more and more ultra-violence committed against press people. Holy crap.

6. I really liked this Chris Butcher update featuring a few graphs from Peter Birkemoe.

7. I guess some of the film people think they should re-name Comic-Con International to better reflect its status as a film festival not really called a film festival. I never see any of the film people, never go to those panels and never notice they're there unless I see someone at the hotel or slumming at a party, so I don't really have an opinion on this. It's not that I dislike film as much as I don't care for previews and hype, I don't care to scramble after movie passes when I can go experience it a few weeks later in a comfortable theater I didn't have to wait to get into, and if you take away the shiny celebrity-ness of the film-related panels, I'm not sure what you have left. To be honest, all the San Diego film-related panel reports I've ever read make them sound smarmy and kind of dim.

8. I'll probably always remember this year for the moment when my pal Jordan Raphael and I were walking in an upstairs hallway to take part in the comics media panel and some Hollywood-looking guy literally elbowed past us, bellowing in a gruff voice, "Sorry, fellas. I have a panel to be on." This was obvious, as the two seconds needed to go around us in the 40-foot empty hallway was apparently two seconds too many. "Out of the way, you shitbag comics people; movie guy coming through!"

9. Granted, I was walking like Fred Sanford.

10. The media panel was enjoyable. Positives included getting to meet Nisha Gopalan of Entertainment Weekly and see Graeme McMillan, who is currently sacrificing years of his life by diving into the deep end of mainstream American comic books at Savage Critics. Graeme's general, genial silence was noted by the final questioner, who asked: "Who are you, and what do you do?"

11. The negatives of the media panel were 1) a long digression into a topic in which my disinterest cannot be measured by physicists working in conjectural fashion, whether or not "nerd" is a word for meanies, and 2) moderator Douglas Wolk talk-blocking me on the best question of the night.

12. Sometimes I find it hard -- not working at a factory hard, but degree of difficulty in hitting the landing just right hard -- to be on panels where I feel like I have little in common with my fellow panelists. I always feel like when I'm making distinctions between myself and them it ends up sounding like I'm touting my ethical or strategic superiority instead of just opting out of an assumed term of commonality or suggesting a different path than the standard one.

13. In other words, it's hard to answer a question about what draws people to your site if you never look at your numbers; it's hard to say "I don't look at my numbers" without sounding like a massive, elitist tool. I don't care if I sound like a jerk, but it sometimes gets in the way of being understood.

14. Then again, it should probably be noted that as I don't make anything, I'm not on many panels. So it's like this is an ongoing source for major feelings of disenfranchisement.

15. I was surprised by a couple of notions floated on the media panel. The first one was Douglas Wolk's statement that conversational back and forths are the future of on-line coverage. I don't think anything's set in stone, and as I recall the appearance of blogging nuked a similar but then message board-driven notion when it made the rounds 10 years ago. Put into this category a related notion made by someone I forget that somehow twittering or observational quote gathering or other accrual methods or even video has become something with which traditional written media coverage will have to compete. Other than in the broadest ways possible, which I guess does have its own impact, I can't see how most things compete. I could be wrong, but I feel more in competition with not sucking than I do with podcasts, video or phone based technologies. I don't feel any compulsion to move into those areas except maybe someday as their own thing.

16. The other notion I found surprising was one floated that there is no *real* comics journalism on the Internet, which I think is an unfortunate argument. I'm a believer in noting the excesses of coverage tendencies that reveal themselves through on-line media, for sure. I just don't agree that the best standard on which to judge a score of developing media enterprises is whether or not they practice certain kinds of journalistic inquiry. At least not over how they practice the kinds of journalism in which they do engage. Not quite yet, anyway. If there is less corroborative journalism in three years time, I might consider this something to note.

17. On Saturday, fleeing the con, I ran into the writer Warren Ellis outside smoking. He was extremely gracious, and I was happy to see him. The debut prose novelist and longtime comics writer was flanked by one of his charming, funny Engine enforcers, Rachel Young. If I remember correctly, the notoriously convention-shy Ellis was cajoled into attendance by an enthusiastic publisher willing to make good on a list of not-ostentatious but still very specific demands.

18. Ellis was the subject of one of the bigger announcements of the mainstream comics side of the show, that he'll be taking over what is probably the mutant comics flagship title Astonishing X-Men when Joss Whedon leaves.

19. Ellis' blogging on the event (you may have to scroll down until you get into the thick of it) feels like a bunch of war dispatches from a far-away jungle, which all in all is rather appropriate, I think.

20. Fantagraphics' Fletcher Hanks book edited by Paul Karasik, I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets, not only sold out at San Diego, it sold out of its first print run, with a second print run of equal size on the way.

21. Karasik and the great Mark Newgarden are teaming up for an expansion of their How to Read Nancy essay.

22. First Second not only has books planned through 2009; it has a rough idea of what's coming out in 2011. So I guess they're going to be with us for quite some time. One book I hadn't heard about features the re-teaming of the It's a Bird... pairing Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen.

23. It was entertaining that if you asked any Man of Action studio member where the untalented member of their crew was instead of being at the booth, they know without asking that you're speaking of Joe Casey. Either Joe doesn't spend a lot of time at the table compared to the rest of the gang, or they don't like him much.

24. Speaking of Casey, I hadn't known his Godland co-author, the artist Tom Scioli, is young enough I bet he gets carded.

25. Saturday night I had dinner seated near a number of smart and interesting people, including Eddie and Callum Campbell. Father and son had a number of highly amusing travel stories, including one from several years back about Callum taking all of his 10-year-old pocket-filling junk out of his pockets at an airport, including some sort of metal weapon and a bunch of candy cigarettes stuffed into a discarded real cigarette container.

26. Along with a decline in traditional comics-industry parties due to exhaustion, lack of funds to compete in San Diego's downtown spaces and perhaps even a shift in creator personality types away from the aggressively social has come a proliferation of parties, cocktail gatherings and dinners by various larger publishers and Hollywood players. For instance, my understanding is that there were multiple parties/gatherings/dinners held by agencies, not just studios with people on-hand.

27. I didn't go to many parties, but I did hit the cocktail hour launch on my way to the Eisners. I met and quite liked John Cunningham from DC Comics, and was happy to meet and see a number of fellow writers. Dan Goldman was there, and almost Zen like in his convention-going state. I caught Tim Leong by the door and he seemed to be extremely happy about reaction to the first printed issue of Comic Foundry.

28. Gene Yang was still beaming about his graphic novel category Eisner win 24 hours later when I saw him in a restaurant Saturday night. Because of timing, that award was likely the last in a long series of honors and recognition for his American Born Chinese, and he mentioned how pleased he was to get that award from people he knew and/or whose work he knew and admired. Gene also had the same child in his lap he had during the previous evening carried up onto the Eisners stage, which saddled me with the vision of Gene carrying the kid everywhere, perhaps even drawing his next comic around him.

29. I'd have to check to see how things played out in the past, but it may be subtly significant that the last category at the Eisners was a graphic novel category as opposed to a best ongoing series one.

30. I think because of the overwhelming number of things to do, the moments after panels were a key meeting point for a lot of people targeting someone they wanted to find. The con -- I can't remember if it was for the first time -- split the hallways upstairs into exit and entrance hallways to help traffic flow, so there were a lot of groups of people outside just-completed panel doors talking throughout all four days.

31. There was also one memorable security guy with a scary, deep voice that kept on asking people to move closer to the wall. This man terrified me.

32. One subject on the lips of many comics folks: the proliferation of semi-sizable advances for book contracts, including some rumored ones that I would term jaw-droppers considering the perceived station within the field of the folks involved and the perceived profit potential of what they might create. One con panel was closed with the moderator suggesting a cartoonist might even have career problems getting another book because no future pay out would likely match the advance they had just received.

33. I was lucky to be asked to moderate a panel about archival comic strip collections, a growing and important segment of the comics industry. Here are some of the notions floated during that hour, and other observations.

* Tom Devlin spoke about how he designed D&Q's Moomin not like the Gasoline Alley and Peanuts to make the books a more comfortable object to be held by children.
* RC Harvey was like a 1960s TV panelist, making jokes and telling funny stories about working on his massive, beautiful book on Milton Caniff. All that was missing was few references to having dinner with Groucho Marx.
* Apparently, Harvey had done the first chunk of the book when Caniff was still alive, and the cartooning great gave the comics historian a funny note upon reading them that he couldn't wait to see how things turned out.
* Harvey also proclaimed that this new wave of reprint books came about because he told the publishers to make it happen. I never disagree with Mr. Harvey.
* Don Rosa and talented comedian/voice actor Tom Kenny were among those in attendance.
* Walt Kelly's daughter Carolyn noted that one of the things she really wanted when looking for the right publisher for this year's launching Complete Pogo series was to do the Sundays in black and white rather than in color so the beauty of her father's line work could be more fully captured for the ages.
* There was at least one potentially major slam from one panelist to another if you listened closely enough. I didn't; I had to be told later on!
* The future is likely to see the bigger companies negotiating an expected decline in interest in later books and publishers of all types and sizes exploring the deep catalog of the various syndicates projects in a more in and out fashion, like the Mary Perkins On Stage books (Classic Comics Press's Charles Pelto announced a two-volume Dondi effort at the panel I hadn't heard about) and D&Q's recent Clare Briggs book.
* Fantagraphics made public previously discussed plans to do a complete volume of the Bill Mauldin Willie and Joe cartoons.

34. A lot of folks seemed to have luck during their off hours accessing bars, restaurants and hotels just outside the main 4th to 6th avenue Gaslamp District main strip, especially places east.

35. As one of those whose computer skills failed them on the first day of hotel registration through the convention, I stayed at a strung-together group consisting of the Westin Horton Plaza, the Hilton Gaslamp and finally the Crowne Plaza Suites out on the Hotel Circle. I had a pleasant experience with all three. I had never stayed as close to the show as that Hilton place is, and that was kind of amazing.

36. Some numbered observations were so potent they were later redacted to protect the innocent!

37. Sales stories were all over the place in terms of what sold and how well, but what I heard from people in general suggested that Wednesday and Thursday sales may have improved; Friday through Sunday sales may have been down.

38. Strangest line where I still knew absolutely what they meant: "If I couldn't have my wife with me at these dinners, I would want Paul Karasik."

39. There needs to be some kind of booth location czar to stop things from happening like PictureBox, Inc. and Sunday Press not being in the more directly alternative/arts area. Such placement would have helped their sales and sales for the entire area. And maybe there could be a dedicated area for supplies and art improvement services the way there is for small press or toys? I often think those get overlooked by people when they're isolated between two publishers, for instance.

40. Speaking of which, holy crap are the Sunday Press actual-size Gasoline Alley books nice-looking.

41. Top Shelf has hired Leigh Walton to do marketing and PR.

42. ComicMix is apparently going to re-launch at some point in the near future.

43. Stan "The Man" Lee was hustled through the hall Beatles-style at one point Friday afternoon, which was weird in that the aggression between any interaction between group and the crowd seemed to emanate 100 percent from the people with Lee; none of the fans seemed particularly dying to get any closer to comics legend.

44. Frank Santoro says that the recently canceled Cold Heat will be completed and collected sooner rather than later. We shared some disbelief over positive coverage of that comic book reaching as far as Wizard.

45. One of my favorite stupid memories from this year's show will be watching Wizard's Kiel Phegley at a panel walk up and take pictures like some sort of journalistic super-pro: walk, walk, pause, click; walk, pause, click; walk, walk, walk, click.

46. One item that was among the most impressive in a look-what-we-did-to-prepare-for-the-show way was a Wolff & Byrd companion book to be sold only at conventions; it doesn't even have an ISBN. I hadn't realized that Lash started that book in 1979.

47. According to the super-glossy Tripwire Annual, which looks terrific and features an nice prose-portrait triptych of Simpsons interviews (Matt Groening, Bill Morrison, Ian Boothby), I am one of the 25 most powerful people in comics. Before you ask, I'm definitely the only one in the "Who the hell is that?" category on the list; it's not a quirky list, but minus me a very straight-forward one. Apparently my power, which has yet to express itself in any discernible manner, is somewhere in the same vicinity of those on either side of me on the alphabetical list: powerful millionaire movie director Bryan Singer and generation-defining cartoonist and designer Chris Ware. I am both flattered and sure to hide the magazine from my brothers who will make fun of me for three years if they find out about it. Also, if it weren't clear to us all before now, comics is clearly doomed.

48. The rumor of Monday as an additional show day has been vehemently denied by con officials.

49. I don't think a full Wednesday is likely, either, as that would involve having Tuesday to set up -- Preview Night could be called Sneak In An Extra Day Night, if you think about it.

50. Two other rumors I'm putting here so I can remember to track them down or look up someone else tracking them down: 1) the question of continued existence of Artists Alley on the floor of the show. It was cut down this year. I can't see this going away, but it's a prime candidate to be moved. 2) Cold Cut, now for sale, and its sponsorship of a kind of independent publishers' pavilion.

I'll have a summary comment section regarding this year's show up tomorrow, based in part on what gets written Monday by returning pros, fans and reporters. With the anticipatory coverage now extending weeks before the con, I don't want to drag things out on the other end. Additional coverage relating to the con itself should include an Eisners commentary piece that will also hopefully go up tomorrow, a collective memory that should go up tomorrow and run until the end of the week, and an interview with show executive David Glanzer or some other CCI heavy once they get settled back in and have a better grasp on their own information and do their initial rounds of chatting. There are of course tons of stuff for the site that were set up while at the show, but those should appear over the normal course of things around here.


Five Things I Picked Up At The Show







For coverage of general comics news outside the convention and for differing views of the convention itself, I recommend my peers at, Publishers Weekly, Journalista, The Beat, Newsarama, Comic Book Resources and The Pulse. Groups of photos from the show can be found here.
posted 3:06 am PST | Permalink

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