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All images (c) 2004
by Randy Reynaldo

Page created 08/04

Report on the 2004 Comic-Con International

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2004 marked the first time since 2001 that I had exhibited at the Comicon International in San Diego, so this year's show was a homecoming of sorts. Held Thursday, July 22, through Sunday, July 25, the show marks the seventh time since 1993 that I had a booth. (Except for the year I was married, I've attended the show pretty much every year as a fan, pro and/or exhibitor since about 1986; my first table at the convention was in 1993, the year the Comicon introduced the small press area.) The show always has been a very positive experience for me as an exhibitor, and this year was no exception.

I'd like to thank everyone who stopped by my table. It was very gratifying to know that my book still has a devoted readership. Several prominent distributors, retailers, industry pros, and reviewers also came by to express their support for the series. That meant a lot to me as well! Now we just need to get the word out (and I need to stay on a regular schedule!) It's clear that I have established a presence at San Diego, because people mentioned to me how they look for my booth year to year; others confirmed that the only time they have a chance to stock up on my latest issues is when they see me at the show! I also encouraged everyone to give me their retailer's name to ensure they are on my mailing list and can order my books for their stores.

The Comicon continues to experience tremendous growth in attendance, and the show has met this demand with a corresponding level of professionalism. Final tallies indicate that attendance approached or may have topped 90,000 over the four official days. (The new ballpark for the San Diego Padres is literally across the street from the convention center. I don't know if it's actually true, but the Padres reportedly scheduled their season so that they wouldn't be in town on this weekend ­ makes a lot of sense and probably saved a lot of aggravation for baseball and comic-book fans alike.)

Since I've exhibited at the show quite a few times, I almost ignored reading the exhibitor's manuals. I'm glad I didn't, however, since many things have changed over the years, partly because the organizers are constantly striving to improve and streamline the show. Had I decided not to read the documentation, I might have failed to complete and submit the many requisite forms that are now required, let alone miss other crucial information about the appropriate procedures and times for move-in and set-up!

For those who have never attended the show, it would be an understatement to call it "huge." I often describe the convention--which is the biggest of its kind in the country--as sensory overload, with more than 500,000 square feet of exhibition and programming space. It's easily the length of a couple of football fields (maybe more?)--and that's just the main floor! It can be exhausting to try and see everything.

A relatively new addition to the show is "Preview Night," held Wednesday evening, before the official Thursday start of the con, for industry pros and pre-registered 4-day ticket holders. The main advantage for me as an exhibitor is that it allowed me to drive down Wednesday morning and set up my booth at my leisure; although this obviously required me to arrive a day earlier and pay for an extra night at the hotel, it was a much more pleasant experience than driving down very early on opening day to set up, which often resulted in my being pretty frazzled and tired by the time the show opened. Instead, I arrived in the morning, put my booth together, watched the other booths be assembled, had lunch, then checked into my hotel so that I could shower and relax before Preview Night began. (My booth was on a major aisle near a major entrance for the loading dock area, so there was a constant parade of forklifts running back and forth in front of my table. It's fun watching the convention and all of the booths take shape before your eyes; they were still laying down the carpet when I arrived!)

Although Preview Night is a nice perk, for the most part it is like any other day of the con ­ in other words, it's just as crowded! In the "old days," when ProCon used to be part of the comicon, I believe a similar time was set aside for retailers to visit publisher booths. However, because of the show's shift from purely a comic-book convention to more of a "popular culture" convention, this retailer preview seems to have fallen by the wayside, and has morphed into Preview Night.

As always, being among other small press publishers was fun and energizing. There always is a good mix of older publishers (like myself) and new ones. This gives one a great opportunity to see other people's work, to meet up-and-coming artists, and to talk shop and swap trade secrets! I had the fortune to be seated next to Janet Hetherington and Ronn Sutton of Hetherington/Sutton Studios, and not too far from me were friends and fellow cartoonists Anson Jew and Benton Jew, who had just published Babes in Space. Comics industry people who stopped by to chat include Karl Kesel, Batton Lash, Heidi MacDonald, and James Sime.

The "star wattage" at the show continues to be high, which is indicative of how the show has become a requisite showplace for the Hollywood movie studios and their stars promoting their films. Jude Law, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Keanu Reeves, among others, all made appearances. (Last year, Ben Affleck, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Halle Berry showed up in back-to-back panels to promote their respective projects.) To accommodate the crowds, the convention took advantage of a new meeting hall that seated close to 7000 people (with closed-circuit monitors down the length of the hall so that those in back can still see what's going on). This is an improvement over the room used in previous years that seated "only" 5000 people-but was still impossible to get into! It was possible to just sit in this room all day watching one program after another-in fact, I have some acquaintances who did just that on Saturday! (Of course, I saw little programming myself since I was at my table most of the show!)

There were plenty of signings on the floor as well. I saw Billy Boyd from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy signing at New Line's LotR Pavilion--or, rather, I saw the back of his since security was trying to keep the aisles clear from looky-loos and photo hounds. My brother also told me he saw actor Giovanni Ribisi go by my table with an entourage of buddies.

But, of course, there were comics too--lots of it! There also were the usual fans of all stripes walking around in costume; characters from the Lord of the Rings and the Crazy 88s from Kill Bill were popular themes this year. This was in addition to the usual comic-book/Star Wars /Star Trek/anime fans who are always there. Though there was no single comic-book series that seemed to dominate the show, there was nevertheless lots of projects generating heat: friends Batton Lash and Stan Sakai, for example, both were celebrating the tenth anniversary of their respective series, Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, and Usagi Yojimbo. Jeff Smith and Dave Sim also celebrated the planned conclusions to their respective magnum opuses, Bone and Cerebrus the Aardvark (though I don't think Sim was actually in attendance). Technically, I'm celebrating my 10th anniversary as a comic-book publisher as well, but I presume the policy requires one to have actually published 10 years in a row! There was much, much more so this is just a small taste of what was happening at the show.

I also looked at a lot of original art, which always is inspiring and humbling. Each year there is always one piece that gets me salivating and seriously considering purchasing. Almost always, I opt out since it's too expensive. This year, it was the cover to an issue of Marvel's Adventures of Indiana Jones by Michael Golden. For some reason, when I first looked at the piece I thought it said it was only $700; but when I went back to look at it again the next day, I realized it actually was $2000! (I knew the $700 price was too good to be true!!)

I must admit the first two days of the show were very slow for me ­ in fact, among the worst I have ever experienced in sales! When I first received my booth assignment, I was very excited -- I was placed on the outside perimeter of the Small Press Pavilion on a main aisle and assumed there would be a lot of foot traffic and casual prospective buyers. Unfortunately, because it was a main aisle (and very wide), the opposite ironically turned out to be the case. Because the aisle was a major "artery," people were zooming by without browsing or stopping! In contrast, the heart of the small press area seemed to be teeming with people who obviously had gone down those aisles expressly to look at publishers' wares. People who were looking for me specifically had no problem finding me, but it was difficult attracting casual buyers those first few days. In talking to some people, however, they often had the same feeling--buyers seemed to come in waves. I say this knowing that my first word of advice to anyone who asks me about exhibiting at the show is that they should not expect to make money! The show is as much promotional as it is sales.

Midday on the second day (Friday), however, things picked up. Though there was no direct connection I can say that the turning point came when a fan of the series purchased a page of original art (the cover to Rob Hanes Adventures #3) that in itself nearly paid for the cost of the whole table! This somehow seemed to change the tide because after that sales were brisk, which continued into Saturday and Sunday. So my thanks to that fan for helping to change my fortunes!

Anyway, it was a fun show. I saw many old friends and fans, and of course met new ones as well. My wife Sadina and two-and-a-half year old daughter Peri were there to share in the fun, and they served to help "prove" to fans what's been taking up my time the past few years! Sadina and Peri actually went to nearby Legoland on Friday. Though my social calendar at the show was somewhat limited due to the little one, I still had a chance to have dinner with friends who work at Bongo Comics one evening, and on another our friends (and fellow publishers) Julie and Jack, who publish Poppie's Adventures and 893! We also had the good fortune of discovering that Little Italy was just a few blocks from our hotel (a place I have stayed numerous times for the show), which was a great boon since it was away from the crowds that flooded the Gaslamp District each night across the street from the convention center--the restaurants at the Gaslamp are great, but the wait can be very long due to the convention crowds, especially if you have a young child in tow! In addition to Sadina, who watched Peri while I worked the booth, my thanks to my brother Rod and good friend Bob for helping out and giving me some breathing time away from my booth!

Well, assuming that I stay on schedule as I intend to, I plan to be at San Diego next year. I still haven't decided yet whether I will be in the small press area or upgrade to the slightly more "upscale" Independent Publishers' Pavilion. But that all will depend on what kind of buzz and momentum I have going into next year's show!

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