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All images (c) 2005
by Randy Reynaldo

Page created 08/04

Report on the 2005 Comic-Con International

   See the complete PHOTO GALLERY


(NOTE: To skip this report and go straight to the photo gallery, click here.)

Please note also that this report is divided into 2 parts: The first is a simple chronology of the show and starts below; the second is a more general essay about CCI.


A REPORT ON CCI 2005

The Comic-Con International: San Diego (CCI), held this year from July 14-17, 2005 (there also was a “preview night” on July 13), continued its growing ways. Early reports indicate that attendance topped 100,000 over the four days of the show.

I again had a booth in the small press area under my “WCG Comics” imprint. Though still within the small press area, my booth this year was against the back (west) wall of the convention center. I must admit that when I initially received my booth assignment, I was a bit disappointed; but it turned out to be a much better location than last year when I was situated on the far south side of the area on a major aisle, only to discover that people used the aisle more as a major traffic artery to get from one aisle to another rather than to peruse. Though I was still on a major aisle, people nevertheless seemed more willing to stop and look at work. Better yet, I had a great view of the whole convention hall.


Every year my wife asks me after every convention, “What was the one big thing at the convention?” In other words, what single item or product seemed to have received all the attention and “buzz”?

As a small press comic-book publisher who spent most of the show manning a booth, it’s hard to say whether I was plugged in well enough with what was going on -- particularly at a show of this size -- to determine what dominated the show. Though there were the usual high-profile celebrities and projects on hand to fill up the 6000+ size meeting halls (such as appearances by Natalie Portman and Jamie Foxx to plug projects), other reports I have read suggest there were no such single “800-pound” gorillas at the show (other than, perhaps, King Kong, nyuk nyuk). And I wasn't aware of any particular small press "darlings" this year. But this may simply a reality of today’s CCI, given the show’s size where there are so many disparate interests and industries represented. (At right is my contribution to this year's convention souvenir program, paying homage to Will Eisner. Click on the image, or here, to see it full size.)

From my own myopic point of view, however, here are some of the highlights that interested me and generated some heat at the show:

Superman Returns:
Bryan Singer, the director of Superman Returns, which heralds to the much-anticipated return of the Superman film franchise, was flown in especially to CCI from Australia where the movie is being shot to unveil a special preview put together for the convention. Response to the footage was ecstatic and caused quite a buzz, and Singer even played it a second time for the audience.

Will Eisner Remembered:
There was extensive programming devoted to cartoonist Will Eisner, who passed away earlier this year. The Eisner Awards, the comic-book industry’s de facto Oscars, are of course named for Mr. Eisner. The panels included the airing of 2 documentaries, one from Brazil and another that is currently a work in progress (and in search of additional funding). Predictably, the panel devoted to the planned Spirit movie seemed more heavily attended than the panels devoted to the man and his career. It’s clear that the producers see Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City as a template for the Spirit. Interestingly, the producers also mentioned two of Eisner’s conditions for a show based on his character: 1) to emphasize the film noir aspects of the series and 2) the character doesn’t curse or drink.

For me, however, the most exciting news to come out of the Eisner-related panels was the announcement that DC planned to publish new stories featuring the Spirit, in deals that Eisner apparently blessed before his passing.

The first is a one-shot Batman-Spirit crossover, written and drawn, respectively, by fan-favorites Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, scheduled for release in December 2005. This will be quickly followed in 2006 by an ongoing new Spirit series that Cooke will write and draw. The Batman crossover and new series are separate projects with no related continuity. During the panel, Cooke indicated that though the series effectively brings the character into the DC universe, he intends to keep the Spirit separate from other DC characters and locales at least during the first year.

For those not familiar with the Spirit, this is big news because aside from a few stories by Eisner and a short-lived anthology series by Dark Horse during the 1990s, these will be the first attempt at an all-new Spirit series since the series ended in 1952.

King Kong and miscellany:
In addition to a King Kong panel, there also was a performance Saturday evening by Tenacious D, the rock duo made up of Jack Black (who has a starring role in King Kong) and Kyle Gass. The concert was not a promotional event for King Kong, but rather for the Tenacious D feature film that he and Gass have been trying to get off the ground.


Getting an Early Start
Ever determined to avoid bad traffic at all costs this year, I decided to get a much earlier start: I awoke a little before 4 a.m. and was on the road by 4:45 a.m.! Though there was still a surprising amount of cars on the road at that hour, it nevertheless was free and clear nearly all the way down and I arrived in San Diego before 7 a.m. -- a ride of less than 2 hours!! I always forget the distance between L.A. where I live and San Diego (it’s about 115 miles), but in prior years it’s usually taken me about 3 hours to drive. So it’s clear the early start made a big difference!

After driving around downtown awhile deciding where to have breakfast, I simply stopped at my hotel to eat at the small restaurant there where I traditionally eat a hearty breakfast on each day of the show, and got parking and a relaxing meal.

After that, it was off to the convention center. It’s here where experience really counts because I got a great parking space almost directly beneath where I knew my booth was sited, which made it much simpler to unload my car and set up my booth. Again, thanks to better organization, I had my booth display up by about 9:30 a.m., so it was nice to work at my leisure in a relaxing manner. Last year I recall arriving a bit frazzled from the traffic late morning and rushing to put together my booth before preview night began.

It’s actually kind of fun and exciting to see the convention hall being transformed for the show -- considering it was only about 8 hours until preview night, it is surprising how much still needs to be done at this time: booths are still being constructed, product is still being delivered from the loading dock via forklifts that are running all over the place, and even the carpeting is still being put down! The only reason I stayed in the hall as long as I did (I was there ‘til 1:30 p.m.!) was because there was some unexplained delay in getting the drapes and tops for the small press tables, and I didn’t want to leave my stuff there unattended while so much activity was still going on. (By this time, a few other small pressers started arriving as well.) My wait was such that I actually went outside into downtown briefly to buy some lunch at a nearby supermarket to bring in to the convention center to eat; the one thing I forgot at home was the food I had prepared to bring down with me so as to avoid the expensive and unappealing convention hall food (and their attendant long lines).

Once the small press area seemed in place and secure, I checked into my hotel and took a shower and a cat nap (at which I am expert).

Experience also counted for a lot here: again wishing to avoid the rush, I actually had booked my hotel in November (the official convention hotels don’t come online ‘til February and this year reportedly sold out within minutes). I have stayed at the same hotel now for about 8 years or so; though no longer an “official” hotel as in past years, I liked this facility because it's priced cheaper than or competitive with the official hotels, has a fridge in the room (important for bringing food and having infants in tow), has a restaurant downstairs where I can grab a good hearty breakfast before every show, is within walking distance of several good restaurants that are away from the overcrowded Gas Lamp District, and until the policy changes this year was one of the only places that didn’t charge for parking (it's still cheaper than most other hotels, almost by half). And it's within walking distance of public transportation and one of the convention shuttle stops.

Preview Night
Preview night is reserved for professionals and 4-day pass holders. I don’t know what percentage of attendees buy 4-day badges [Note: I've since learned it's only about 20%], but preview night seemed just as busy as and was like any other non-weekend day of the show. Such preview periods used to exist for retailers and pros to give them an opportunity to network with publishers and creators, but I guess it’s a sign of the changing nature of the show that preview nigh has morphed into an excuse to simply add another day to the show (if only for a few hours). I kind of miss the more exclusive nature of the old preview night.

A Family Affair
This year’s show was complicated by the fact that my I had a newborn at home: my wife had given birth to our second child (and our first son) in late April. (We have a daughter who is now three-and-a-half and has attended the show already several times, though not before she was about 9 months old.) My wife the saint assured me months before the baby was born that she wanted me to attend the show. Though not a comic-book fan before we met, she is certainly a child of pop culture and loves attending CCI. This year, she intended to drive down on Friday.

Admittedly, I considered it as a “lose-lose” situation: either she would be stuck at home for five days with two kids or be stuck in traffic with two kids, one a newborn who conceivably could have a meltdown while she was sitting in a traffic jam. Fortunately, the worse case scenario did not occur: though she encountered two major traffic snarls due to accidents, she made it to San Diego in a respectable two hours and twenty minutes.

Unfortunately, the lively, strange surroundings and off-schedule made the baby fussy most of the weekend so my wife did not have an especially enjoyable time and spent little time in the convention hall; this was complicated by the fact that my daughter, now more aware of her surroundings, was frightened by much of the convention, despite our attempts before hand to prepare her by explaining that people were just in costumes and “making believe.” This, understandably, did not do much to assuage what nevertheless was still undoubtedly scary to a young child, so she spent much of her time in the convention hall either clinging to dad or mom, or covering her eyes with one hand. We actually reserved space for daycare but didn’t use much of the time we paid for in advance. In addition, given the young children, most dinners were eaten in our hotel room!

In future years, I am excited about bringing my daughter down with me as company if I need to go down early as an exhibitor; but obviously that’s still a few years away!

Life as an Exhibitor
As in past years, I was joined by my brother and a good friend who provided much-appreciated support when needed at the booth. Though I try to remain at the booth as much as possible, it was still nevertheless a relief to have some time to myself to have lunch, attend a panel, and walk the floor.

Among my purchases was Daniel Clowes’ new graphic novel Ice Haven, the new Frank Miller/Jim Lee Batman and Robin debut comic-book, the paperback full-run collection of Jeff Smith’s Bone (which I own in the original full run though I can’t find a few issues!), and a piece of original art: a Frank Robbins’ daily strip from Johnny Hazard, dating from the 1970s, priced affordably below $100.

I even got to attend a few panels, including several on Will Eisner, as noted above.

As mentioned in my separate commentary on CCI, “A View from the Small Press,” as someone selling primarily an old-fashioned, analog comic-book, I was a bit like a dinosaur on the floor. Aside from being one of the older titles in the independent and small press areas, it’s clear that in this era of multi-media, creative salesmanship is needed to attract people to one’s booth. While sales were fairly good and steady for me throughout the show, and there was a good mixture of returning fans and new people discovering my book, the size of the show and the mixture of companies and products on display means one must compete for the attention of attendees. It was not uncommon for people to be selling CDs, DVDs, and other merchandise at their booths. What helped me move product and was a great hit was selling back issues in affordable multi-packs--it not only made new people willing to try out the series.

For next year I will consider selling cover prints of my cover art (the original art at my table is often a big draw to fans) and am considering other tactics to attract more attention to my table.

Though the crowds would come and go in surges, generally traffic was heavy throughout the show. I recall at some points trying to navigate through the floor and being caught in traffic jams of people walking slowly along shoulder-to-shoulder.


COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL 2005: A VIEW FROM THE SMALL PRESS

This year’s Comic-Con International (CCI) in San Diego continued its exponential growth: I have yet to see official figures, but a senior staff person at the show told me that attendance surged this year again and the organizers anticipated final attendance to be over 100,000 people over the four days of the show.

Which, of course, begs the question, “Has the show become just too big?”

This was the eighth year I have exhibited at CCI; over the years, I have had booths both in the Independent Publishers Pavilion and the Small Press Area, and I was among those who had a table the year they debuted the small press area in 1993 (so I like to think I have some sort of a “legacy” status there!). And with the exception of one or two years (one of which was the year I was married and spent my honeymoon during CCI -- I guess that was bad planning on my part!), I have attended every San Diego show since around 1984. So I do have some context for understanding how the show has evolved and changed over the years, and can speak both as a fan and exhibitor.

As anyone who will tell you, the show is an exercise in sensory overload. It’s no secret that the show has significantly broadened its reach to encompass not just comics but, as its mission states, also “related popular art forms.”

Simply stated, CCI is essentially a big party that welcomes fans and geeks of all stripes: a show that initially celebrated just comics now encompasses films, animation, science fiction, fantasy, horror, toys, collectibles, etc., and, of course, Japanese manga and anime as well. Though many of these fields do have some connection to comics (even if in the most nominal way), the main connection among all these disparate genres is really the fan base: while the core fans of these diverse interests often have no interest in another area, there nevertheless is a great deal of overlap, and fans migrate freely back and forth from one interest to another. As a result, in addition to the requisite comic-book publishers and comic-book market-related retailers, regular exhibitors at CCI now include major and small Hollywood studios and their films, major book sellers with fantasy and SF imprints, toy companies, specialty comic-book publishers (including some from Japan and Europe).

Now I don’t think this is all necessarily bad. The circus atmosphere is fun (esp. with so many attendees dressed as their favorite characters or in gag costumes) and there admittedly is a sense of validation as a geek/fan to have so many like-minded people there together, with major entertainment corporations and celebrities sucking up to you. And there is an advantage to having simply everything together under one roof. My philosophy used to be that even if only 10% of CCI's attendees visited my booth, 10% of 55,000 is certainly much more than 10% of 5,000.

Still, I have begun to wonder if, from a small press point of view, there is a point of diminishing return.

Though there are definitely still plenty of people who love comics attending the show, I'm not sure whether the increase in attendance corresponds to a proportionate increase in the number of pure comic-book fans who attend. All of the people who attend CCI are clearly no longer necessarily comic-book fans. And though CCI does its best to keep similar kinds of exhibitors together (including both the Small Press Area and the Independent Publishers Paviliion), given the number of exhibitors, the crowds, and the sheer size of the show, I wonder whether people who are even on the look out for their favorite small press creators and new interesting comics can even get to everything they're looking for!

To me, another signal of how much the show and the attendees have changed is the number of sketches I do; in the past, I used to receive many requests for sketches at the show; the past couple only a few. I know there probably is a variety of reasons for this decline (chief among them, I am sure, because I am not a well known cartoonist, as well as the fact that people might expect to be charged for a sketch or that younger and newer attendees aren't aware that getting a sketch from most people is relatively simple), but I think it also reflects a shift in the kinds of people attending CCI.

I must admit that I also felt like a bit of a dinosaur at this year's show. As a long-time self-publisher who has spent most of his time under the radar (surfacing ever occasionally onto the radar), I remember that “back in the day” there was a time when I knew nearly all of the self- and small-publishers around the hall both professionally and, to some extent, mutually. Today, quite the reverse is true. I recall walking around both the small press and independent pavilions, and realizing that I was completely ignorant of about 80 to 90 percent of the work and their creators.This likely is a reflection of the explosion of new and small press publishers now out there and the great overturn of publishers that regularly occur in the small press.

I also was struck by how many people--even among the small press ranks--felt the need to diversify their product, to license, and to create a “brand.” Many were also selling (or giving away) CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, etc., and resorted to many gimmicks to draw people to their booths by featuring give-aways, multi-media presentations, raffle opportunities, sexy costumed women, etc. Like an old curmudgeon, I like to think the quality of my work will speak for itself. But I know that at a show as large, colorful and noisy as CCI, such gimmicks are necessary to break through the din--hey, it’s simply good salesmanship.

Fortunately, my core, ideal audience often still found me: someone would walk by my booth, stop in their tracks piqued by the art (usually because it reminded them of the classic adventure tradition I am trying to emulate), hear a little about the book, and pick up an issue, then come back on another day to pick up the rest of the series because they were excited by what they had read and discovered. Such experiences make it all worthwhile. It also was heartening to be found by longtime readers who came looking for me (or, rather more disconcertingly, told me they had bought an issue years ago and didn’t realize I was still around!)

Regardless, I don't believe it's constructive to begrudge the Comic-Con International for what it's become. It remains a great party and I am grateful that I continue to have an opportunity to exhibit at the show, and to meet many of the people who attend.

As for myself, I did return from the convention serious about considering new ways to attract people at my booth for next year without sacrificing my self-respect too much or the integrity of my book.

I wonder if my wife would be willing to wear a costume next year?

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