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Page created 08/06

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

Randy's familyIt’s speaks volumes about the size of Comic-Con International (CCI) at San Diego when someone like myself who actually participated must rely on outside reports and blogs to find out what actually happened during the convention.

Of course, I do have understandable excuses: I traveled with a young family (as seen in the photo at right), and except for a few quick forays out to the exhibitor floor, I faithfully manned my booth during the show. Nevertheless, in past years when the show was quite less sizeable and far-ranging, word about the major announcements still made their way down to the convention floor as fodder for gossip and discussion. Nowadays, however, given the sheer magnitude of the event and the plethora of major announcements that come out during the comic-con competing for everyone's attention, that's no longer a given. The ingeniously-marketed upcoming film Snakes on a Plane probably came closest to being the one single project that seemed to be on everyone's lips!

A review of the reports and blogs filed during the show and afterwards confirm, however, that my observation is not unique. Heidi MacDonald on her online Publisher’s Weekly comics column at “The Beat,” wrote, “Speaking as someone who was at the San Diego Con, we think everyone watching at home probably had a better idea of what went on than anyone who was there.” Elsewhere, she aptly describes being at CCI at being in the center of a “perfect storm.” Similarly, the Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon acknowledged in a posting, “I'm never quite sure how it should be covered,” partly because “being more interested in art and business than people and personalities, I have a hard time working up much enthusiasm for ‘comics culture.’”

As this suggests, it’s simply impossible anymore for any single report to successfully encapsulate or characterize the show in its entirety. Furthermore, given the range of the show, such reports are bound to be dependent on one’s individual tastes and interests. So the best I can do is to report on what I saw in my small corner of the convention floor.

Most of the news reports seem to confirm that the 2006 CCI was another monster success. Exhibitors generally reported good sales, and attendance undoubtedly soared to another new milestone. Some assert that when the final attendance figures come in, they likely will be in the vicinity of 125,000 or so. (Attendance for the 2005 show was approximately 105,000.) This figure certainly seems plausible from my first hand observation. Every day was incredibly busy, even the Wednesday evening three-hour preview night; the first and last days of the show, Thursday and Sunday, were also incredibly busy, which traditionally are the days that exhibitors and retailers can catch their breath a bit. I remember walking outside the facility at about 2 p.m. on Sunday—three hours before the end of the whole convention mind you—and being shocked that there was still a long line of people dutifully waiting to purchase a one-day ticket to get in! At one point on Friday, when I tried to navigate my way to the opposite end of the convention hall to Artist’s Alley, I found myself moving slowly shoulder-to-shoulder through packed throngs.

Despite the crowds and the nearly stifling hot and muggy weather (atypical for Southern California, particularly a beach community like San Diego) there was a buoyant mood at the show. Aside from the fact that the comic-book industry is on a sales upswing (and is benefiting from the attention it is getting from films and other media based on industry properties), the event truly has become a touchstone for not just comics but pop culture in general. It's not just a "must see" event for not comics, but many in the movie, television, book, toy, and gaming industries and their somewhat overlapping audiences. One must give CCI’s organizers full credit for their efforts: the convention was as well organized and smooth as one could expect for a show of this size.

Though some bemoan the size of the show and the fact that many non-comics-related interests are on hand to steal the spotlight from comics, this year there seemed to be plenty of people genuinely interested in comics. As I mentioned in my report on last year’s show, CCI has become a behemoth; however, in keeping with this age of multi media, there clearly is a lot of synergy going on among all the disparate properties, genres, and platforms, with many properties and ideas feeding off of each other.

The Changing Market
Sales for me were generally steady and solid throughout the convention if not spectacular. As announced, issue 9 of Rob Hanes Adventures was released at the show, and it was heartening to have so many new and longtime fans express delight at seeing a new issue and pick it up. Also encouraging was to have so many new people purchase the series, some of whom were attracted to the book and my booth by the art: some people would literally stop dead in their tracks while walking by my table, struck by the series’ classic look and feel. Such experiences make the comic-con all worthwhile.

Nevertheless, I have come to the realization that I need to broaden awareness of the series. Although I take great pride in the series’ longevity, with issue 9 released at the show, Rob Hanes Adventures is no longer a novel new hot product in what is, after all, a periodical market. While industry support for the series always has been good, I always have accepted the fact that not being a constant presence in the market that appears on a more frequent basis (say bi-monthly or at least quarterly) would make it difficult to dramatically build sales and momentum. It’s clear that the series needs a fresh boost to broaden awareness, and given my limited resources as a small independent publisher, this means taking advantage of opportunities offered by new media—particularly the Internet—if the series is to remain viable and relevant.

The realities of the market also are clearly changing. As I walked through the Independent Publishers Pavilion, I was struck not only by the sheer number of publishers and titles, but also by the upscale quality and style of the packaging. These included trade paperback and square-bound formats, as well as sophisticated, book-quality jacket designs. It’s become commonly accepted that the trade paperback format is the future of the market, and my conversations with colleague industry professionals, including my Diamond Comics Distribution rep (who expressed his continuing strong support for Rob Hanes Adventures), Mark Thompson at Cold Cut Distribution, and many fellow pros and independent publishers confirmed this assessment. As I mentioned to everyone with whom I spoke, I love the “pamphlet” format (as the periodical comic-book now has come to be somewhat derisively referred), but it’s obvious that the market is changing, and that a periodical with “pulp” packaging and style may no longer speak to today’s audiences. The people I spoke to, all of whom were supportive of my book as well as sympathetic to my situation, were helpful and gave me many suggestions and ideas that I will be mulling over in the coming months.

Anyway, these observations and thoughts have led to some serious consideration about how to re-invent Rob Hanes Adventures for today's market realities. Everyone should be assured that I wil continue producing the series; and with the anticipated milestone of issue 10 coming up (as well as an upcoming series of fun stories that I think will showcase my long-range plan with the title), I have no plans to change the present comic-book format. However, following up on my earlier comment above for the need to seriously explore new ways to attract readers, some kind of ancilliary approach or project to the comic-book is clearly needed that will draw readers to the print version of the series. Stay tuned!

As mentioned above, given my responsibilities at my booth, I had little time to walk the floor, let alone attend panels.** Nevertheless, I still managed to spend more than $100 in comics (sorry, hon!)--mostly comic-book collections, news magazines, and graphic novels; show my support at a panel featuring a buddy of mine, Scott Brick, who in recent years has become successful as an audiobook reader; and arun back and forth between Scott's panel and a concurrent discussion that was moderated by fellow self-publisher Batton Lash on Web comics.

Another highlight was a tribute panel on the life and career of legendary cartoonist and personal idol Alex Toth, who passed away in May, that I attended on Saturday evening.

The panel included prominent cartoonists and entertainment industry storyboard artists who were friends with Toth, as well as two of Toth's children (who are featured in the photo above).

An exhibition of Toth’s original art was mounted the following day at a hotel across the street from the convention. It was quite a treat to see his original work up close.

CCI After Hours
CCI has become legendary for its parties, many of which are spontaneous after-hour get-togethers in the local hotel bars where one can rub shoulders and talk shop with industry’s professionals, including many of the field’s current hot artists, legends, etc. Again, due to the size of the show, large convention-wide parties have given way to bashes that are a bit smaller and more fragmented. (Some reports I saw actually seem to suggest that some parties are reaching Hollywood-level proportions in their exclusivity and guest-lists.) Being a bit of a party-pooper--as well as having two young children at the convention--limited my participation at such events.

My thanks to everyone who stopped by the WCG Comics booth!

For a somewhat less parochial view of CCI, broader coverage about the convention may be found at the Beat, Comic Book Resources, the Pulse.

Or go to the photo gallery.

** As always, of course, I had the able and generous help of WCG staffers and cohorts-in-crime, Rodney Reynaldo (my brother, of course) and Bob Westal (blogger at his insightful and entertaining “Forward to Yesterday” website)—as well as my family (my 4-1/2 year old daughter even managed to sell a full run of the series!).

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