So, its been a week since San Diego’s Comic-Con International and as anyone who works or attends the show, I’m still in recovery mode. I had a blast this year, same as the last and the one before that and the one before that one and. well….you get the picture. What can I say, I LOVE COMIC-CON.
Highlight’s of the show for me start with attending Hall H with my teenage son, continue on through many lunches and dinners I shared with friends and professionals, the parties all over the city, long walks through busy crowds in the Gas Lamp District, and climaxes as always with the many great fans I meet, wether at my table or in the aisles. Comic-Con 2014 exceeded my expectations and I left on an absolute high.
As I write this, I’m aware that some may have another view of their Comic-Con experience, a less than satisfying or enjoyable adventure than I experienced. To them, I say, I completely get you, I understand, the show can be an unforgiving grind and it is definitely not the show of my youth. My first Comic-Con was in 1981, after months of selling the show to my parents, my Dad took me to the show. I was 14 years old and had no idea what to expect, I had attended one smaller show at the Disneyland Hotel but San Diego was my first major show, I had never experienced anything that size before. The show was advertised in comics and comic magazines, also through flyers at the local stores in my area, i had shown those advertisements to my Dad and he made it a little 2 day vacation for us. We took the train from Fullerton, California and arrived in time for Friday’s doors to open, an experience I will never forget. I was able to meet dozens of my favorite artists and writers. George Perez, Dave Cockrum, Paul Smith, Bill Sienkewicz, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, so many heroes of my comic book youth, up close and personal, I was blown away. I bought sketches and stocked up on signatures and the entire day went by in a blur of adrenaline. The next day was more of the same and in all honestly, even at 14 years old, by the time we boarded the train home on Saturday evening, I was wiped out. Despite my elation and delight, I fell asleep for the entire ninety-minute ride home. That weekend changed my life forever and I will never forget the experience with my dad and with the show.
Here we are in 2014 and some things never change, you can still enter that show and spend the entire weekend chasing autographs and buying sketches from your favorite artists. The hall is bigger and the lines are longer, the crowds are formidable at times, but the opportunities for the “magic” still exist. I’ve been attending Comic-con for 34 years now and I just can’t quit this wonderful show. Most of the show’s appeal comes for me comes in sharing it with my family and spending time with friends. My 3 kids have been coming to the show for most of their very young lives and they absolutely adore the show. They frequent all of the big movie studio exhibits and booths, they visit the toy and gaming booths and they sometimes frequent the comic book section of the show. Well, my daughter does, she loves reading comics and Archie has become her favorite comic book and she was treated like royalty by the staff of the Archie Publishing Pavilion. They gave her some free books which in turn prompted her to buy more Archie collections from their display and then they introduced her to the writers and artists of those same comics. She’s a fan for life and I’m grateful to everyone at Archie for the enthusiasm and kindness they showed a young fan. My youngest son loves manga and anime, both available in droves at Comic-Con, he pursued his favorite manga and related games the entire four days of the show and as I write this, one week later, he is downstairs sorting cards and face timing his friends, talking about his adventures. I’m not sure I would view the show the same if it were not through the eyes of my kids and their friends. Their fondness of the show has translated to me and altered my perception of Comic-Con before I was able to tire of it.
The personal interaction at the show is priceless, we all chat online or on the phone but nothing beats that personal face-time a show like Comic-Con provides. Only at this particular event was I able to hang out, break bread and get up close and personal with all manner of talented folks from the worlds of comics, film, television and journalism. Huge name drop to follow – Erik Larsen, Robert Kirkman, Todd and Wanda McFarlane, Nick Dragotta, Sean Mackiewicz, Ron Richards, Marat Mychaels, Buzz, Jeph Loeb, Peter Johnson, Matt Cherniss, Borys Kitt, Devin Faraci, Erik Davis, Amy Nicholson, Simon Kinberg, Elmayimbe, Steven Weintraub, Daniel Alter, Chris Daughtry, Tom Scioli, Jim Rugg, Chris Ryall, John Barber, Mat Nastos, Jimmy Jay, Jesse James, Matt Senreich, Germaine Lussier, Peter Sciretta, Russ Fischer, the gang at HitFix, Jim Steranko, Chuck Wojtkiewicz, Jeff Wadlow, Geoff Bucher, Frank Miller, Matt Hawkins and so many more that I can’t quite recall… that list, that list right there, would take multiple conventions to complete, but at Comic-Con, just another part of the casual atmosphere over the course of four days. How do you not love that??
My approach to the show is the same as many recent years, set up in Artist Alley, work the show between 6-7 hours a day and look forward to the dinners and parties that follow. After many years in the publishing pavilion, I shifted my focus to Artist Alley on the advice of my peers, and have found a much greater experience as a result. Artist Alley is twelve aisles of pure, unadulterated comic book art and the creators that provide it. The comic book community knows where to find the talent and generously flocks to it over the course of the busy weekend. It is a busy, well trafficked area that allows for the intimate interaction of smaller shows. The Publishing Pavilions are not nearly as intimate and many of my peers have realized this as well, resulting in the eventual exodus over to Artist Alley in Hall G. This does not represent a failing of the publisher pavilion’s in any way, the public expects something very different from that particular interaction, buy books and exclusive merchandise, maybe attend a signing, grab a FREE promotional poster or five, and that’s where their focus remains. The publisher booths from my youth functioned in the same manner, albeit, the booths were smaller and less expensive to mount and operate, which brings us to the hot topic of the moment, publisher exclusives.
The advent of publisher’s providing exclusive editions at Comic-Con is nothing new and dates back to the heyday of Image Comics some twenty years back. The advent of the Big Two companies, Marvel and DC, providing a litany of exclusive comics and toys is very recent and very new, in fact, Marvel now has a dedicated store built into their pavilion in order to showcase the dozen or so products. And you know what? Good for them. I mean, why not? I’d rather they subsidize the substantial costs incurred by providing an impressive booth for public consumption rather than them miss the show entirely. For those of you that are unaware, from 2000 through 2005, Marvel did not have a booth on the floor at Comic-Con. There was no discernible, physical Marvel site with which the public could interact with the publisher. It had come from on high, the top of the Marvel infrastructure, that the cost of doing Comic-Con was prohibitive and detrimental and Marvel was not allowed to set up at the show. They had a presence, they did panels, and occasionally they borrowed space from a licensing partner along the way, like a video game booth where they were granted a few square feet to display their comic interests. This was the difficult post-Bankruptcy days for Marvel and no one wants to go back to that do they? Not me. I like having Marvel as the centerpiece of the show, they are the top publisher and have created some spectacular booth display’s over the years. That year that they displayed all the Iron Man armor’s was an absolute stunner. The exclusive comic books that they sell and the plush Rocket Raccoon dolls were some of the nicest items available at the show, and yes, they certainly soak up dollars on the floor, but I have many retail buddies who increased their presence this year, adding extra booths to their convention strategy and they had record earnings. They will be the first to tell you that they have had to alter the way they sell comic products at comic-con, opting for more of the high end mass market trade collections and less a variety of comic books, but change is a constant and I’m here to remind you that we all need to roll with it because its certainly not going backwards. Rumors abound of adding extra days to the show and making it a 7 day event, these are probably closer to becoming a reality than you or I are aware, but I’m confident that the same “magic” I had access to in my youth, will still be there.
The entertainment component has changed Comic-Con, that’s an undeniable fact. What is also an undeniable fact is that big, giant super hero movies have changed comic books and comics stores, likely forever. The attraction to Comic-Con will only grow more severe and the attendance will continue to swell to downright uncomfortable levels of body heat as it did this past Sunday in what was easily the single most crowded day on the con floor that I can ever, ever recall. Remember, I’ve been going to this show for 34 years, if i say it was the most crowded in my memory, give that some credence. But even as I squeezed my way past the swelling masses of people in every single aisle, I was excited, I was thrilled. Some were seeking autographs, others were buying comics, many were chasing show exclusives, toys and knick-knacks, but as a tribe we all shared our love for the fantastic and that is something I cherish.
To my comic book brethren, both retail and professional who have left the show and are not coming back, I completely and totally sympathize and understand. The show is a grueling obstacle course that starts weeks before the show if you are setting up on the floor, or even just attending as a participant. The every day hurdle starts upon leaving your hotel room and the level of difficulty only increases as you attempt to travel north, south, east or west, whichever path you navigate in order to arrive at the hall. Upon reaching the hall, the effort to make it from the sidewalk to your particular booth or pavilion represents the final exhaustive leg of what has already been a brutal trail of human pinball better representing a mobile mosh pit of elbows and knees. I get it. And a special shout out to any and all who travel to the show from outside the Southern California bubble. I can only imagine the stress of flying across country and dealing with luggage, security, long lines, taxis and overcrowded planes. I drive 90 minutes and the show stresses me out, the parking, drop off, etc. Anything more would break me, eternal respect to all long distance travelers who make the show.And I would be remiss if I did not give a huge shout out of love and appreciation to my beautiful wife, Joy, who manages all our kids and their many friends that come down and attend the show with us. Her enthusiasm and care keep the whole machine running peacefully during comic-con.
I have many friends, pals and fond acquaintances who have given up on the show in recent years with no intentions of returning. You have no idea how much this bums me out as the honest truth is that the representation from the comic book community is legitimately getting smaller, not bigger. I cherish the remaining relationships I see on the floor and as with all things, I’ve made many new friends with which I now share the show with. My words of advice to those of you on the fence are to focus on a component of the show that really works for you and maximize it. Wether that is Artist Alley as i have mentioned earlier or getting a group to invest in a booth and share responsibilities, freeing you up to enjoy other aspects of the show as well as carry the costs. I’d encourage you to attend or be part of several panels, give Hall H a try if that is available to you, reserve a dedicated day to shopping and exploring the vast aisles that carry more cool stuff than you probably realized. Do something to revitalize your show experience. I know that show is costly as both casual attendee as well as a pro or as a vendor. We budget for the show every year as our family adores the con experience, its given a special priority. Smaller shows are great, but there is only one Comic Con International in San Diego. My journey began with a train ride with my Father and has evolved over many years, carrying on a lifetime love affair with Comic-Con that I just can’t quit.