SDCC 2012: New Show, New Expectations

And suddenly, it’s here.

San Diego Comic-Con. The big daddy. The much-maligned behemoth filled with comics and comic book panels and luminaries that supposedly has nothing to do with comics. Four days of crowds, awkward Q&A’s, and agonized livers.  The thing so many of us have looked forward to since getting up extra early to get our Willy Wonka-esque tickets what seems like a lifetime ago.

Usually this time of year I post some article on how to deal with conventions, how to interact with creators, or how I am not looking forward to the convention at all, just the chance to hang out with friends I see only once a year. You’ll see lots of “Survival Guides for San Diego” popup all over the Web this week, you’ll start reading tweets about which panels to go to (and then, later, tweets about how it was impossible to get into them), followed by the inevitable articles about how frustrating the convention is, how it has lost its way, how Hollywood has co-opted it, and how this was the year where it all just fell apart.

You can read all this stuff later.

This year’s convention is important. I think this year’s SDCC comes at a crucial time for everyone involved in comics and fandom, and could very well impact the tenor of the shows for years to come.

In the months since last July, we have seen the future of comics arrive. Digital comics are now every day. While the publishers are still adjusting to this new reality, their base strategy is out there, and digital is the new normal. What we all feared (or hoped for) is now out of the bag. No more secrets.

I am really interested to see what the publishers talk about now, you know? Now that we don’t need to argue about comic book formats, we can now have, I hope, more discussions about how stories will drive business. How the relative ease of finding comics will get these stories into more hands. How publishers are learning to leverage digital and printed formats to engage customers and energize retailers and improve the overall health of the comic book industry.

I am really looking forward to Marvel’s discussions, if only to see how the audience reacts to another re-invention (but not) of a universe. I want to see how they discuss Marvel NOW! and explain why customers should trust the publisher on this gambit.  (Aside: I love how if you print a question about Marvel NOW! it communicates a certain frustration, like “In your words, what is happening with Marvel NOW!?” — kinda like here).  I think this captures my feeling with the company perfectly

We won’t get them, but I find myself hungering for panels that discuss the health of the industry, how trends in content distribution have helped or hindered the comic book publisher’s business, and have thoughtful discussions on how to engage readers without exhausting them, to argue different business and pricing models, to ask the hard questions about the comic business, to acknowledge just how insane this industry truly is, and figure out a way that fans, creators and publishers can work together to keep this vibrant and necessary art alive.

Maybe I am being idealistic when I say that that there are fans out there that want more from these discussions than announcements about new creative teams and hints at “major changes” for “major characters,” where we can agree that the phrase “nothing will be the same again” means nothing and just talk about stories without adding hyperbole about how important the stories are.

There’s a quote in the article I linked to from Axel Alonso that really drives me nuts. He is quoted as saying, “Marvel NOW! hearkens back to 11 years ago, when Marvel found great success employing a simple formula: great artist plus great writer plus great character plus great story. All of these creators are inspired and motivated to do their best stuff.”

So…what are you saying about the books you’ve been publishing over the past few years?  Your creators were not inspired and motivated to do their best stuff?

Look, I realize that you need to get folks excited and that these quotes were probably written by someone in PR and Alonso just approved the quotes, but let’s just agree that trashing all the work from before to tout the new ones is not the way to sell new comics. I know, some of you will say, “he wasn’t trashing the other books,” but still.

Marvel NOW! is going to generate a lot of stories and buzz, and I hope that some great stories come out of it, but I am honestly expecting to see the folks from Marvel do some Level 2 Yoga moves as they try to explain how this is not really a reboot alà DC’s New 52.  Indeed, if you read the article, you can see that Joe Quesada has already limbered up as he tries to explain their digital strategy with the new books:

There [are] really two answers to this, and I think both of them are right. It’s going to play a tremendously huge role, and I don’t know. And the reason I don’t know is because technology is changing every single—oh wait, it just changed again. It changes every second. There’s so much new stuff coming out that I can’t tell you what’s going to be the rage 12 months from now with technology. What I can tell you is that if it’s something that is applicable to things that we do for a living, we’re going to try it. And we’re going to see if it works for us. So it is the great unknown, it is really exciting, but it’s also something that we’re not going to be left behind wondering why we didn’t get involved in the world of digital much earlier. You know, we’ve been involved in the digital world for a long, long time—longer than most publishers—so we are already ahead of the curve and we’re already getting a sense of what the readership is really thinking, what they’re not thinking, because ultimately it’s about the readers. It’s about making their experience a better one, a more convenient one, and really much more entertaining.


Uhm… what?

The Marvel NOW! panels are going to be delicious, I can’t wait. I hope they serve popcorn.

On the flip side, I can’t wait to see Image Comics at SDCC. If there is a company that has really found its swagger this year, it has to be Image. They’ve got some great new books, a classy ad campaign celebrating creators, and creative and commercial track records that demand everyone’s attention. I am curious to see how they treat the convention — do they use it as a platform to over-promise and under deliver, as has been the case with Marvel and DC over the years, or do they take a breath and just discuss what has been going on with their books and let the creators do their thing in the months to come?

What fans feel like doing.

And how about DC? Yes, The New 52 books made huge sales splash, but from what I have read, sales have stabilized and we are basically almost back to where we started with the titles. Do they push forward or do they start dropping hints about returning to the old universe (too soon, like they did with Bruce Wayne’s return!)? Or will they discuss the impact of the new books and actually listen to the fans discuss the merits and frustrations they have with them? While the Batman panel will be fun, I personally cannot wait to attend the Superman panel — I’ve got a few torches and bought a new pitchfork this past weekend.

I guess I want some kind of accountability this year. I would really like the publishers to realize that they cannot afford to take their customers for granted anymore. I will demand that Marvel drop the prices on their digital books. I will ask about subscriptions. I will ask them why they cannot seem to embrace a digital model that makes sense and ask how they could not have learned from the failures of the music industry. I want to know, honestly, whether or not they are still interested in my business, and, if they are, why they make it so expensive to be a comic book fan who prefers digital versions of their stories and whether or not they understand that digital readers do buy books, how different kinds of stories are better printed than they are digital…

In short, I want a more sophisticated conversation about comic books this year. Oh, I still want to roam the floor and meet the creators and hang out with the iFanbase. I want to get too little sleep and complain about my feet, I want to run across town just for the honor of complaining how the Hyatt just doesn’t get it and argue the merits of the Hilton Bar and acknowledge how it’s cute they keep trying…I mean, I love all that stuff.

But this year, I want to be told more than “be excited.” I actually don’t want to be told anything. I want to discuss our love of comics with those who make comics happen. I want to trust that the people who make comics understand that their audiences are changing, and that they need to at least acknowledge that fact, and give us some insight into what they are doing to address this rapidly evolving (and aging) community, whose patience is wearing thin with new universes,changing costumes, killed-but-not-really heroes and changes that just amount to clumsy re-numbering of tired titles.

Hope to see you there!


Mike Romo is an actor in LA with dreams, baby—dreams. Go ahead and send him e-mail, visit his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter. He’s “rikemomo” on Instagram, too.


  1. Lots of great points here, Mike. I’m hoping to hear/participate in the kind of discussions you describe at Morrisoncon in a couple months.

    • I’ll see you there Ken. The more and more I hear about how different MorrisonCon will be, the more excited i get. i can’t wait!

  2. I, for one, can’t wait to see the second of the Kryax2 vs DC Editorial fight

  3. Well i wouldn’t really call that DC is back on the same path they were a year ago. I mean the best title they had last year was Green Lantern at 60k. Also i can’t wait for the new announcements at the Vertigo panel. I have my eye on 2 new ongoings with one being a Unwritten-related book by Mike Carey. Hell, they might even bring someone from the .5 issues they did.

  4. I applaud your call for a more sophisticated conversation about comics, and agree that the now that digital is here, we need to move the conversation forward a little.

    BUT, specifically concerning Marvel NOW, how is it anything like what DC did? Honestly, I don’t give a fuck what number they put on the cover. I groan at 0’s and pointones and yet another number one same as anyone, but really, who cares when you compare that to a continuity wipe? THAT is the bold step of the New52, and Marvel isn’t doing that. Renumbering is a fact of life for over a decade now, and I’m pretty numb to it, but wiping the slate clean and saying the Lee/Kirby years didn’t happen is something else entirely, and Marvel isn’t doing that.

    And what is wrong w/ the Joe Q quote? I actually appreciate that someone has the balls to say “we don’t know what we may do with digital in the future, because we don’t know what the future will bring in terms of technology”. Neither does DC, or Image, or Microsoft, or anyone else. And he’s right, Marvel has not been afraid to embrace digital. Their website is ambitous, with a character wiki that has been growing for years; they have experimented with digital comics, and delivered them to ipads and xboxes long before anyone else. They played with subscriptions and back issues digitally before anyone else. I think they’ve proven they are not afraid of digital, and have earned a little respect in this arena.

    • I truly appreciate wanting more REAL information and discussion about where the comics biz is headed Mike, but to expect that from the big 2’s panels at san diego is setting yourself up for a big let down.

      This is like the auto show for comics. Ford and GM aren’t going to have serious talks about where the auto industry is going in the next 10 years at THE AUTO SHOW.

      Also I see Marvel Now as just a clever title but really the creative changes and new books are about what we got in the early 2000s, with no real reboot. The post AvX titles are like what we got coming out of events like avengers disassembled and civil war .

      As for the cooks (Marvel) letting the customers in on their digital plans…does anyone have a handle on what is the best way to create stories and get new readers via the digital format? This is still the new frontier, and they are all still walking that new reader-wed warrior tightrope , in terms of making digital comics.

      If you want “serious discussion” panels, they do still happen at SDCC, but not during the typical hype panels you’re describing. That’s not going to change.

  5. Great article Mike. I think I’m only smart enough to handle character and creator announcements, but I’d love for you and Kenpops to experience the smarter panels you want. I’d love to see write ups about things like that. I know these are our collective pipe dreams, but maybe one day.

  6. I wonder why people think that marketing people (including publishers, editors and creators) don’t think that those people would speak Marketing-ese at a Marketing Event. Oh wait, THE Marketing Event. Where people speak in the zen koans of Marketing-speak.

    Marketing: Where We Say We’re Very Interested In That If You Are, In Fact We Have Been For a While Now


  7. I will attend San Diego Comic-Con eventually. THIS I SWEAR!!