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Below is my report on the 2007 Comic-Con International San Diego, held Thursday, July 26, through Sunday, July 29. It’s important to note that the report below reflects just my little slice of the show—given the convention’s sprawl, ranging from comics, to films, to television, to gaming, it would be impossible to cover everything that occurred. For complete coverage, I suggest linking to one of the web sites I’ve posted at the end of this article. My four preliminary blog entries leading up to the event are also available as follows: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.
Selling the Series
This year it really hit home how much of a niche series Rob Hanes Adventures is. I’ve always known this, of course; fans of my work tend to be people who love the classic high adventure genre tradition, or simply appreciate the clean, straightforward art and storytelling styles. (For these reasons, I count a lot of pros as fans of my work.) Trying to tap into this target audience always has been a challenge, and several conversations during the show brought this home for me.
The first was a fan who told me how he discovered the series: his retailer knew he was a fan of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon comic strip and suggested he try out my series. In fact, his retailer told him that if he didn’t like it, he’d refund his money. Needless to say, he became a fan. When he found me, he purchased all the back issues he was missing from my catalog (he also bought a poster!)
Another eye-opening conversation was with a retailer who carries my series and does well with it. He pointed out that Rob Hanes Adventures is not something a typical kid with limited funds who reads Spider-Man or X-Men will pick up; but he also noted that many of the readers who tend to gravitate to my work—and who are fans of classic adventure strips—tend to be have more disposable income and would have no hesitation in picking up any books I might publish.
I had several conversations of this kind during the show. It underscored how simple it would be for a retailer who knows his customers’ tastes to sell the series. While I recognize that retailers have a lot of products to push, I plan to share this information with retailers to encourage them to take a little effort to promote the series to the right customers. This not only helps me, but more importantly, their own bottom line!
The Big Show
People have begun describing the Comic-Con International in San Diego as “Cannes for geeks” (including the New York Times of all places). It’s an apt description. After all, it’s on the seashore, there are tons of movies being pitched, and comely young ladies in revealing costumes stroll the event having their pictures taken.
“Teeming” is another good way to describe the mega-event. For the first time ever, this year’s Comic-Con International (CCI) completely sold out of both advance 4-day admission tickets, as well as single-day admission passes for each day (there also is a three-hour preview night on Wednesday for 4-day ticket holders). I’ve yet to see an official attendance tally, but the figure I’ve heard is 140,000.
Traditionally, the Thursday and Friday of Comic-Con have always been expected to be “slow” days in the run-up to the weekend; while Sunday, as the last day of the convention, was the wind-down. As a result of the sell-out this year, however, EVERY day felt like a Saturday, with the floor jam-packed wall-to-wall with crowds.
In fact, much of Saturday actually seemed LIGHTER than the other days—the result, I suspect, of the crowds being sucked to the premium events that are scheduled on that day. Stars like J.J. Abrams, Nicholas Cage, Rosario Dawson, Robert Downey, Jr., Jon Favreau, Edward Norton, Clive Owen, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Liv Tyler, were all on hand to push projects. As a result, sales were depressingly low early Saturday—though it picked up considerably by the end of the day. Only after Comic-Con did I learn that most exhibitors at the show experienced the same thing.
For those looking to discover new talents and great new comics—both independent and mainstream—CCI is still a great place to go, with everyone under one roof and for the most part conveniently grouped together. But a large portion of the crowd clearly are not regular (or even casual) comic-book readers. All the heat generated for the show by the media are due to the films, sci-fi, TV shows, and videogames. As such, I’ve long learned that it’s simply not realistic to expect my little indie comic-book to appeal to everyone at the show. At the same time, trying to tap in to the right audience at a show as immense and sprawling as CCI also makes it a bit of a crapshoot! Given the many people who discover and fall in love with my work purely by accident, it’s clear that there’s a swath of people at the show who likely would enjoy my book but simply don’t ever see it.
Family and Friends
I’ve attended nearly every Comic-Con since about 1986, missing it only in 2000 for my honeymoon. As a result, the show is much more than a trade event for me since many friends and family attend the show as well.
This year, my wife intimated that she had a surprise for me. I knew it involved some costumes for the children, and when the family arrived on the first day, I my 5-year-old daughter dressed as Batgirl and her toddler brother in a doggie costume. (His current obsession are dogs.)
Even more surprising (perhaps disturbing is a better word) was how quickly my daughter took to posing for the cameras! Whenever someone asked me or my wife for permission to take a photo, she immediately struck an appropriate super-hero pose. My wife admitted she taught her to put her hands on her hips, but the rest of it was otherwise all my daughter’s doing—as I told friends, “Where did that come from?!” She was quite the hit, and even drew the attention of actress Rosario Dawson on the convention floor. (See the photogallery for more photos.)
Regardless, I was there to work for the most part, so full credit must go to my sainted wife for being responsible for the children during most of the show; it was quite a burden considering that I had to arrive at the convention center early in the morning and work each day until the show closed at 7 p.m. After closing down the booth and dinner, I usually didn’t get back to the hotel until 10 p.m. The only plus side was that since we were on vacation and the kids were quite stimulated, we allowed them to stay up later than usual, so I got to see them and play with them a bit before bedtime. (Having ayoung family has precluded me in recent years from attending any after-show parties or events.)
One of our most enjoyable nights was the opportunity we had to spend with the family of one of my oldest friends who works at a prominent comic-book company; our families and some friends got together on Thursday night for an after-show swim and pizza party at the Marriott swimming pool
My participation at the show also is made a lot easier to a great extent due to the help of my brother, Rod, and good friend Bob (who blogs at forwardtoyesterday.com). Both help me with setup and teardown at the start and close of the show, and they man the booth when I need to take off either to conduct business or to take a break to walk the floor myself. They’ve become quite effective at selling my books on their own, so I know I’m leaving the booth in good hands when I’m away!
This year I also had the opportunity to catch up with some fellow professionals who I’ve become acquainted with primarily because they were among the earliesst fans of the series. These included Kurt Busiek, Karl Kesel, and Andrew Pepoy, and we had fun talking about the state of the industry as well as our mutual interests in the work of classic cartoonists like Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, Frank Robbins, and Noel Sickles. R.C. Harvey’s recent massive biography on Caniff also was a topic of conversation.
The Panels and Walking the Convention Floor
When one is working at a booth—especially when you are the sole creator—you can imagine it’s difficult to find time to simply enjoy the show. That has become even more difficult given the growth of Comic-Con and the size of the crowds. It’s simply impossible anymore to methodically explore the show and take everything in: to a large extent, the crowds dictate the flow of foot traffic and define the areas to avoid.
Like many exhibitors, I tend to walk the floor in the morning before the show opens to check out product and decide what to buy; having a specific goal when walking the floor makes it a much more productive and less daunting process.
In addition, because of the need for me to physically be at my booth as much as possible, I need to be very selective of what panels I attend. This year, I attended a tribute panel for Milton Caniff, where they showed a restored episode of the Steve Canyon television show (brought to you by the U.S. Air Force and Chesterfield cigarettes!). The show obviously was of its time, and is more of a historical curiosity for Caniff fans than having any real entertainment value.
Of greater interest was the tribute panel for the late Alex Toth, whose death last year rated coverage even in the mainstream. The panel featured a preview of what appears to be an outstanding 80-minute documentary on the artist, which is included as an extra on a new Space Ghost DVD compilation. As one of the panelists noted, the documentary’s quality was easily at a level for PBS and its “American Masters” series. I didn’t find it available at Comic-Con but plan to purchase it shortly.
The documentary also got me to thinking about the recent telephone-book-size Caniff biography, Meanwhile..., by R.C. Harvey. By all accounts, Caniff's life was quintessentially all-American, both in his upbringing and his personality. He had a flair for publicity, was hard working, gregarioius, had few if any vices (and even fewer enemies), stayed married to his high school sweetheart his whole life, and was widely acknowledged by his peers as the dean of cartoonists within the industry. In contrast, Toth was known as being irascible and volatile, and his own worst enemy. I look forward to the Caniff biography (which I pre-ordered months before it was released), but I wondered how interesting it could be given Caniff’s affable life and personality; in contrast, Toth’s conflict-filled life would seem to naturally lend itself to a rather fascinating biography.
While hiccups in a show as large as CCI are to be expected, one must marvel at the ability of the CCI staff to pull off a show as large and complex as this one. It’s clear they make changes based on feedback and experience; this year they made the hallways by the large panel rooms one way to help ensure that the meeting rooms emptied and filled up in a more orderly fashion.
Nevertheless, now that they’ve completely sold out out the show, one must wonder where they’ll go from here. On the plus side, at least we know that this is as crowded as this show ever will get (at least at this site!)
See you July 24-27, 2008!