I’m back at home after the short flight from San Diego to San Francisco and in the midst of unpacking, but I thought I’d take a break and share with you some thoughts and reflections from the 2009 edition of the San Diego Comic-Con. This year marks my 8th visit to San Diego for the largest comic book convention in the world. Every year as I walk down First Avenue in San Diego, Jamba Juice in hand, I laugh at how it feels a bit like Groundhog Day, in that every year we arrive and power through 5 days of con madness and then return a year later to do it all again. But each year is different and unique in its own wonderful way, and that’s why we go every year. Because you just never know what’s going to happen, and the opportunity to immerse yourself in this wonderful sub-culture of comic books that we have is too good to give up.
With that, I’ve put together a small list of observations about San Diego that crossed my mind as I wander the exhibit hall:
1. Everyone in Comics Works Their Ass Off
I think I realized this year why I’m attracted to the comic book industry: the work ethic. I am a strong believer in working your ass off, and that is exactly the type of people who are successful in comics. Now while this applies to writers and artists who are out there hustling and getting their work out there to either be noticed and find work, or on the other end of the spectrum, get more attention for the projects to increase sales. But there is an entire world of people who work their asses off behind the scenes, with names you’ll never hear: the people who build and man the booths, the PR and Marketing people who handle the media and panels, the people who keep the con moving and on schedule, the crews of website and media types who are covering what’s going on at the con, the list could go on and on. There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of people who work their ass off in order for San Diego Comic-Con to be something that is both a spectacle and an experience for the hundreds of thousands of people who walk through the con floor. It’s these people who I have to tip my hat to, because while of course we wouldn’t have much without the amazing creators and character being discussed, without the people behind the scenes we wouldn’t have much of anything at all.
2. Tyrese Is For Real
To build upon the idea of working your ass off, I have to step up and testify that this Tyrese Gibson guy is indeed for real. If you haven’t heard about it yet, singer/actor Tyrese Gibson has co-created a comic book at Image Comics called Mayhem. Now, to be fair, I haven’t read the comic yet and I have heard and been involved in conversations that you would expect along the lines of “Another Hollywood person invading comics…” as die-hard comic fans who have been burned so many times before by Hollywood types are oft to do.
That said, Tyrese was everywhere at the con this year. Clad in a Mayhem t-shirt, he and his crew were working their asses off to promote his book. And people were responding. Nearly every time I walked by the Mayhem section of the Image Comics booth, there was a crowd and people yelling “May-hem!” and I saw a ton of people walking away with the comic. Whether you’re a fan of Tyrese or not doesn’t really matter here. What does matter is that Tyrese was there in the trenches with other creators working his ass off to get people to check out his book. I have to admit, it was quite the scene to witness and really pretty cool to see.
3. Comics are Growing Outside the “Big 4″
We all know that Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics are the dominant forces in comics. There are smaller independent publishers that we’ve enjoyed as well over the years. But for really the first time I was uniquely impressed by the offering of products available by publishers like Oni Press, Top Shelf and Archaia Studio Press. Now I don’t know if it’s the natural evolution in those companies as they grow and get better at what they do, or if it’s a reflection of the times, with the increased interest in comic books by Hollywood and the media etc. But whatever it is, this year several publishers upped their game and it was hard not to notice.
Oni Press has taken a leap both in how they present themselves with their new booth and in the quality of their books. Between new graphic novels, like You Have Killed Me and Festering Romance, and collected editions of previous releases like Wasteland, Barry Ween and others, Oni Press is making graphic novels that just look amazing both inside and outside. Top Shelf shares that same distinction of quality products being released. Every book at the Top Shelf booth was something to marvel at while holding it in your hands. The Essex County Trilogy collection (in both paperback and hardcover) is just as fantastic as I hoped it would be, the new Lost Girls packaging is beautiful and the special limited edition Surrogates collection was awesome and a must-have before the movie comes out. Archaia Studios Press definitely impressed me both with their booth this year, with a bold banner hanging above and the placement (between Marvel and Image) shouting to everyone that their making a go at things. Led by Mouse Guard, with the second series hardcover being released at the show as well as a breathtaking oversized hardcover black and white edition of the first Mouse Guard series, Archaia seems to have a solid line of titles coming out, bolstered by the news of their deal with the Henson Company.
It’s great to see such diversity available in the comics industry, where these smaller companies are no longer overshadowed by the big 4 and are possibility putting out superior products here and there, proving that not only are they here to stay, but things over the next few years are going to get interesting.
4. We Bitch About Hollywood, But Maybe We Shouldn’t
Even I’m groaning about the number of times I’ve written the word “Hollywood” here, but it’s hard to ignore the influx of entertainment at the San Diego Comic-Con. Over the past few years, we’ve gotten used to the presence of movie studio booths and panels, as well as video game companies. This year showed an increased presence by TV shows as well, with many networks/studios showing previews of upcoming shows.
I’ve had a lot of discussions about the future of comics and what it will take for the industry to survive etc. And as far as I’m concerned, the attention from “Hollywood” is welcome, because it means that so many talented and deserving creators have their opportunity to not only share their creations with millions of people, but to make enough money to enable to keep creating amazing stories. When I saw the news break about Terry Moore and his current title Echo getting a movie deal, I couldn’t have been happier. To see the anticipation building for the Scott Pilgrim and Surrogates movies is great for comics. The Marvel booth was packed constantly as people just wanted a glimpse of Iron Man armor from the movies. Even beyond what was reported, some of the deals I heard about that aren’t public news yet are great opportunities for some awesome creators. Say what you will about the invasion of Hollywood, but I think it’s a good thing. Sure they’re going to screw up a movie or two here and there, but I think when we look back to this time, the ends will justify the means.
5. No More “News” In Comics
When talking to people in the halls at the San Diego Comic-Con, there has been an evolution in what’s discussed. A few years ago, Comic-Con was all about “news.” Panels would break news like what creator went exclusive to what company, or what new titles were announced or things like that. Which lead to the conversation starter, “Hear about anything cool?” as everyone tried to keep up with the news.
This year though, I noticed a shift in the conversation. Less questions about what I have heard, and instead the question became “See anything cool?” Meaning did you see anyone or any art or anything that was worth noting. The Comic-Con experience has become less about acquiring knowledge, and more about living the experience. Meeting that writer who you love reading. Getting that sketch from that artist you waited in line for. Sitting in the audience for a panel about your favorite creator, comic title, publisher etc. It’s the experience now, and if you ask me that’s a ton more fun than worrying about the “news” of the con.
The passion of comics fans is what fuels this industry, and to see thousands of people clad in Green Lantern related t-shirts (which, by the way, Green Lantern related merchandise was EVERYWHERE) or to see the reaction creators received at panels and the line of questions during the panel is just inspiring. It shows that even though times are rough and maybe sales are what they once were, comics are alive and well and being celebrated.
No con experience would be complete without surveying the haul. Having just finished unpacking, I took a moment to capture my own personal haul from the show:
Starting clockwise from the top:
- Strangers in Paradise Omnibus
Which came with a tote bag because it’s too big to carry, and I got a sketch from Terry Moore inside Vol. 1, which impressed even Terry himself.
- Phonogram original art
Only 2 are shown here, but I picked up the 4 pages I purchased from artist Jamie McKelvie to add to my original art collection which at this point is about 40% McKelvie.
- Image United Preview Book
I can’t contain my excitement for Image United, it takes me back to being 14 and discovering Image and that’s a good thing if you ask me. And the art looks awesome, they’re really pulling this jam book thing off!
- Surrogates Special Edition Hardcover
Containing the first and the newest Surrogates stories in one volume, in a sleek hardcover, this was an awesome get.
- The Essex County Trilogy Collection
Almost as thick as the Bone: One Volume edition, and just as good if you ask me.
- Sketch and Signature from Darwyn Cooke in my copy of Parker: The Hunter
This one speaks for itself.
- Sketch from Jeff Lemire of the Hockey Player brothers from Essex County Vol. 2
I’m a total geek for Lemire and had to get a sketch while I had the opportunity.
- Scott Pilgrim “LOVE” T-Shirt
In what’s becoming a con tradition, I picked the “LOVE” T-Shirt from the 2 Scott Pilgrim themed t-shirt’s Oni Press had this year.
Not a bad haul, eh?
Finally, I want to take a moment and reflect upon and thank everyone that made this year’s San Diego Comic-Con so special for me, personally
When Josh and Conor first ventured to San Diego back in 2001, I would never have thought our con experience would grow to what it is today. In addition to the folks I mentioned above, Josh and Conor should be honored for being 2 of the hardest working guys in the comics media. I couldn’t ask for better partners in covering the con, consummate professionals, even when exhausted. It’s their dedication that keeps mine going and I’m continually impressed by them.
In addition to my brothers in arms, this year was special as we had the strongest representation of iFanboy folk at any convention. Gordon the Intern clocked in for his 4th San Diego Comic-Con and has become such a fixture, I can’t imagine it without him. Having staff writers Mike Romo and Sonia Harris in San Diego for the second year in a row was great as seeing their love and passion for comics come to life at the show is a great reminder when my ankle feels like it’s going to explode and I just want to go home. To have Jimski present was something I never thought would happen and his recent write up of the experience is 10 times better than any words I can come up with, but it can’t go without saying that Jimski is as great in person as he is written.
And then there was Paul. Sure it would have been great to have Paul in San Diego, but then we wouldn’t have been treated to his epic video series as well as his top notch Jimmy Olsen impression, posting about the news we’d be interested in from home. Paul continues to prove himself an invaluable addition to the iFanboy team and even though he wasn’t there in person with us, he was just as important as any one of us there.
The representation from the iFanbase continues to leave me in bewildered awe. Not an hour passed on the con floor where I wasn’t stopped by one of you to say hi. Every day I saw people in iFanboy t-shirts. To have comments made to us by creators like “So many people have told me they bought my book because they heard about it from iFanboy…” is amazing. To add to that, to have people comment to us about how they’re seeing iFanboy t-shirts all over the con is something I never would have expected to happen.
I wish I could name everyone who we hung out with, drank with, laughed with and enjoyed the con experience with but I would be afraid to leave someone out. Thank you for coming out to our party and rolling strong throughout the rest of the weekend. I’m completely honest and sincere when I say that it’s because of all of you that we do iFanboy, so thank you for reading, listening, watching and continuing to support iFanboy.
The comic book industry has been a fascinating and awesome one to be involved in, even in as limited of a capacity that we are. Some of the most friendly and welcoming people work in comics and we’re lucky to have such fantastic friends and relationships within comics publishing and comics media (web sites and podcasts) and comics retailing. The fact that we were out nearly all night every night, with old friends, meeting new ones and getting up early the next day to do it all again really stands for something. Again, I wish I could list and thank everyone, but the list would be far too long, I know I would forget someone and besides, no one really enjoys a name-dropper, do they? Let’s just leave it with the fact that I cannot think of a single person that I talked with this past con that wasn’t awesome at what they do and someone I’m glad to know.
Alright, enough gushing. This is me closing the book on the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, but it’s not over for iFanboy. Stay tuned for our excellent con coverage videos which will take you through much of August. I can only hope that our excitement and good time can come across in video.
See you next year San Diego!
PS – Thank you Thomas Jane.