Another year goes by and we wrapped another San Diego Comic-Con just a few days ago. It’s always a bit of a culture shock to come back home after spending nearly a week in San Diego as a citizen of Comic-Con land, and usually I need a few to days process everything that we saw and took in. And of course, it’s always fun to show off what I picked up at the show.
My overall impression of the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con was that after years of everyone complaining about the influence of non-comics marketing (Movies, TV Shows, Video Games, Toys etc.) and years of my optimistic nature arguing that, “Yes, there is a place for comics at Comic-Con!”, this was really the year that comics got brushed off to the side. But that’s nothing new, Comic-Con International has been dealing with comics as an albatross around their neck for years. What makes this year unique was this was the year that the majority of the comic book industry agreed and allowed comics to get brushed off.
Now, I’m not saying there weren’t any comics at the show, there definitely was and I’ll get to some of my highlights and observations from the show below, but being a working media professional covering the show, comics sure weren’t the highlight. I know that things like The Walking Dead, the Marvel movies, the next Superman movie and things like that are BASED on comics, but if I was a fan of just comic books, I would have been severely disappointed. Why? I’ll run down some reasons:
- Lack of Comics Rock Stars - There were definitely some comics superstars on hand at the show (like Scott Snyder, Darwyn Cooke, Robert Kirkman and Mark Waid), but as you walked from booth to booth and through artist alley, you couldn’t help but realize that very few “stars” came out to the show. Marvel Comics seemed to be the most lacking in terms of major comics talent there to promote their work, with the majority of panels featuring editors and upcoming talent. Even big names like Greg Rucka and Matt Fraction only came down for a day or so, unannounced. Which ties into the next point..
- “Can We Go Somewhere Else?” – That was basically the most common comment made around the show. It seemed that everyone in comics was constantly looking for ways to get off the con floor or to go somewhere less crowded.
- Programming Ghetto – Did you go to Comic-Con? Did you go to comics panels? Did you notice how they seemed to get the short end of the stick for scheduling? Our own Josh Flanagan was on the comics podcasting panel which was at 6 PM on Thursday night. If you wanted to see “journalists” from those other comic sites on their panel, that was at 7 PM on Thursday. Excited by the news of Monkeybrain and their digital comics? Well that panel was at 7 PM on Friday. Hell, even after over 30 years of attending Comic-Con and in the year of Love & Rockets 30th anniversary, Fantagraphics got screwed by having to share a panel with Drawn & Quarterly (at least it was at 5:30 PM on Friday). Want to know how to break into Marvel Comics? Well you would have had to have been at the show at 10 AM on Thursday to hear C.B. Cebulski tell you. Of course there were other panels throughout the day and I know how hard schedule a show can be, but it seemed that all the panels that were actually interesting in the world of comics were either super early or super late at the end of the day, and that’s purely to make room for the other things at the show. Further, the panels that WERE during the day seemed to have been shoved off to the far ends of the convention center. Case in point, the big Image Comics panel on Saturday (where last year they announced Brian K. Vaughan’s return to comics) was put in one of the panel rooms furthest away from the con floor. You just get the sense that comics aren’t as important to the programming after this year.
- Can’t We Afford A Rug? – If you are into comics, there are 3 places on the con floor you go: The company booths with all their glitz and glamor; Artist Alley where you can interact with the people who make the comics; and the Small Press area where historically some of the best next big things have come out of. Of course the company booths are always a sight to be seen with some really nice, soft rugs. But if you wanted to go to Small Press or Artist Alley, I hope you had insoles because it was all concrete floor, all the time. Factor in that, as every year, they’re spread so far apart it becomes a major accomplishment to make it to either section. Artist Alley was probably the smallest I’ve ever seen it at Comic-Con this year, and it was all the way on the end of the con floor, which required navigating a labyrinth of TV, Movies and Toys booths, which are notoriously the most congested areas of the con. It makes even thinking of going to Artist Alley a hassle, which leads to not going there, which is a shame when you’re at Comic-Con.
This is me being negative, and I do hate being negative and truly there were some fantastic things at the show, but as I walked around the booths of the comic book publishers, I couldn’t help but notice how roomy the aisles where, how less crowded they were compared to the other sections of the con floor and that simply punctuated what Comic-Con has become and that makes me sad. That said, there were some things comic related worth talking about and let’s get right to it.
Publisher Of The Show: Image Comics
They did it again. After single handedly winning the show last year with the announcement of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, in my opinion, Image Comics won San Diego Comic-Con again this year. But this time, it wasn’t just one book, but a slew of books from some of the top names in comic books. Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin, James Robinson, Darick Robertson and a bunch of other creators announced new and upcoming books as the creator owned revolution of 2012 continued. At the Image Comics Experience Panel, publisher Eric Stephenson, in rapid succession, talked about at least 10 new series that will be coming out of Image in the days to come. That’s impressive. In a year when we’re seeing creator after creator start to invest in themselves and their own ideas, to see names that have been attached to the big 2 for so long like James Robinson, Matt Fraction and Greg Rucka come to Image Comics with these new titles shows that , as we said back in February at Image Expo, something is happening here with Image Comics in 2012.
Some may argue that DC Comics made a run this year with the announcement of a new Sandman story from Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III. While that is exciting for some (and my bias towards Sandman aside), for my money, it’s no different than Before Watchmen or Avengers vs. X-Men, another example of one of the major publishers going back to the well. I’m fairly certain it will be a great story. Gaiman and Williams III are masters, but I’m way more excited for Satellite Sam from Fraction and Chaykin or Lazarus from Rucka and Lark or any of the other titles announce by Image. Why? Because they’re new ideas from talented creators.
I do want to take time out to praise DC Comics for redesigning their booth space into what was a beautifully designed and well thought out booth for DC Entertainment. Walking into their booth, you really got a sense of what DC Entertainment was. From the comics, to the movies, to the toys and statues to the video games. Compared to Marvel Comics, which had the same basic booth design as the past few years (Major movie thing in the center flanked by signing spots on the sides), DC Entertainment really stepped up in terms of booth design. That said, Marvel’s booth was constantly packed and hopping, whereas DC’s booth was quiet and while sometimes crowded, I wouldn’t call it “packed.”
It’s clear the driving force behind Marvel’s booth is the movies. This year, they had a gallery of Iron Man armors from the various movies, and then on Friday, they unveiled the armor for Iron Man 3. People went nuts over that for days. You couldn’t walk through the booth because people were constantly snapping photos. Over at DC, with The Dark Knight Rises set to open a week later, you’d think there could be that level excitement in their booth. But there wasn’t. Instead of having Batman’s costume or perhaps unveiling the new Superman costume for the upcoming Man of Steel movie, DC had two costumes from the Watchmen movie (almost like a meta-nail in the coffin for Before Watchmen critics) and the costume for the Green Arrow from the upcoming TV Show, Arrow. Cool, yes. Driving people into a frenzy to get a photo? Not so much. So while DC gets points for their new booth design, Marvel beat them again in terms of being the place to be.
The New Threat
Over the years, we’ve criticized other types of fans at Comic-Con. Most recently the dreaded Twilight fans have been the target of fans. Years of “Twilight ruined Comic-Con” seem to have run their course and this year, I’m declaring a new threat to Comic-Con: Toy Mongerers. Who are the Toy Mongerers? They’re the people who RUN to get into the show on Preview night or first thing in the morning, to line up at the booth of choice, Mattel, Hasbro, whomever has the hottest exclusive toy available in limited edition. These people push and shove to get where they need to go. Once they get their beloved bounty, you’re then subject to dodging these people as they carry long cardboard boxes containing what is pretty damn close to life size Helicarriers and other toys like that. Getting nudged once or twice from a box is okay, but by Friday my legs have been brutally battered by these toys. Seriously, they’re dangerous and I finally had to readjust my walking patterns to avoid the Toy section of the of the con floor altogether. Don’t kid yourself, these toy people are brutal and the last thing I want to do is get between them, their toys and eBay.
Book of the Show: The Walking Dead
In past year’s, I’ve been on the lookout for the one book that everyone was buzzing about. The book that everyone said, “have you SEEN this?” Last year, it was the Walt Simonson Thor Artist’s Edition that everyone raved about. While I know this flies in the face of everything I said above about the distractions away from comics, but there really wasn’t any way you could avoid The Walking Dead at the show. With the record breaking release of issue #100, the success of the television show, the Hyundai car thing, and the Walking Dead Obstacle Course at Petco Park in San Diego, The Walking Dead was everywhere. That said, the reason why I think the book of the show was The Walking Dead is because at the center of all that hoopla and hype is the comic book. The entire machine that is The Walking Dead is powered by the comic book, and as far as I can tell from our discussions with Robert Kirkman, it will continue to be. The Walking Dead is the example now for creator owned comics of what the potential is. There’s no way any book could ever replicate the success this book has shown, but in the year of creator owned, it’s clear that it’s woken many creators up to what could be. Comic-Con is a noisy place with tons of distractions and even through all that noise, The Walking Dead was one of the biggest properties at the show. That deserves some credit.
Aside from those observations, there wasn’t much else going on at the show that was really worth discussing or calling out. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but considering there wasn’t any drama that we became aware of, like year’s past, I think it may be a good thing. We joked that this year felt a bit like Groundhog Day, in that it was pretty much the same as last year, and the year before and I think that’s what we’re going to come to respect from Comic-Con moving forward. We see less and less announced at the show, because unless it’s of the caliber of the Image announcements, it just gets lost in the noise. With the emergence of smaller, regional shows, San Diego Comic-Con becomes less and less of a destination for a true comic fan. You’ve got a better chance at meeting your comics heroes at a smaller, more intimate show. (Like say, MorrisonCon? Shameless plug.) Now, that doesn’t mean that Comic-Con isn’t a fun place to go. If you’re fan of movies, and TV and video games and the toys, then Comic-Con continues to be the premiere destination for you and over 150,000 other people. But if you’re just there for the comics, better to look at Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle or New York or C2E2 in Chicago.
My Comics Haul
I probably got the smallest haul of comics ever this year due to a combination of the fact that several books that were at the show, I had already pre-ordered at my local shop (like Parker: The Score and Blacksad), I was insanely busy and had no time to “shop” at the show, and was on a tight budget this year. But there were several books and a few surprises that I did snag:
(Clockwise from the top)
- Underwater Welder – The one book I wanted to get was Jeff Lemire’s latest graphic novel from Top Shelf. Luckily I got it while he was at the booth and I got it signed and a quick sketch. While Lemire’s work at DC is great, I always enjoy his written and drawn graphic novels and I can’t wait to sit down and read this one through
- Archie Meets KISS – Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time, like I was. Thanks to the generosity of the staff at Archie, I was able to get my copy of this hardcover signed by the creative team, including the legendary Gene Simmons.
- Love & Rockets T-Shirt – One of the most coveted items of the convention for comic fans, this t-shirt was one of the series of shirts that Graphitti Designs printed up to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of Love & Rockets. I snagged mine as soon as I saw it and lucky that I did because they sold out by Friday.
- Love & Rockets: New Stories Vol. 5 – I did a little dance when I saw this was available at the Fantagraphics booth. After the amazing #4 of this series, I can’t wait to see what Los Bros Hernandez come up with this time out