In a sad reminder of declining faculties, it is no longer possible forThe Beat to write a cogent, well-reasoned essay about anything longer than a 30 minute sitcom. So I’m reduced to bullet points. Yes, that’s what it’s come to. Frankly. it’s Friday and everyone has said everything that needs to be said. I’ve lost a whole day to Post Con Stress Disorder and I’m ready to move on. But before we do…
• It’s sad that the only way you find out that many of your friends were at the con is reading their blogs afterwards, but that’s how it is. I don’t think there’s any point in going to Comic-Con without a business-based agenda, because there’s a lot of business you can do. Hanging loose and going with the flow is the other path, and this can lead to fun but you must just accept that you are going to miss 200 cool things. As a blogger, I learned long ago that if you weren’t there, someone else was, and they will blog about it. Of course, firsthand observation is always superior, but now the con exists as a virtual con report anyway, so on that level it still works.
• Comic-Con is Hollywood’s #1 marketing platform of the year. Although last year’s PetCo park promotion remains the Everest of promo, this year had viral signage every two inches, skywriting, a phalanx of warrior statues outside the Hilton, elevator dressage, cows, hide and seek games, and god knows what else that we never saw. In the new viral world, shortage, scarcity, and desire are the currency of the realm. Four different Warner Bros. bags were handed out each morning, and it was their very scarcity that made them effective. That and the fact that everyone who carried one was a walking sandwich board for CHUCK or whatever. BTW, these bags (even the WATCHMEN one) are going for under $10 on eBay right now, so their aftermarket is definitely limited.
• Actors fear Comic-Con. The guy who plays Chuck was astonished to see all those people walking around carrying his face. We saw panelists in Hall H and Ballroom 20 TAKING PICTURES of the audiences in the room. Unless you’re a moderately successful musician or athlete, talking in front of the 6500+ people in Hall H could be the biggest live audeince you will ever face.
• There are celebrities and there are celebrities. It may not be Cannes, but the four days of con are the Internet era’s version of dinner at Sardi’s. And not everyone has figured it out yet. The kernel of comics at the heart of Comic-Con is ever present, but you really have to be in the know to know about it. The IDW party on Thursday was one of the best comics parties we’ve ever attended, a barn burning mix of comics folk, nerdlebrities and Hollywood development folks. In fact, we met more development peeps at that one party than we have in the rest of our lives combined. A few of them were really nice. But a few of them were so alien to our concepts of life, liberty and happiness that we suspected they were going to rip off their faces, MEN IN BLACK style at any moment.
For instance, one perfectly lovely, nice fellow explained that he was responsible for one of the Hilton/Kardashian appearances. “I wanted to make sure that this was the party that everyone should be at,” he explained.
It was loud and we weren’t sure we had heard right. Surely he had said ‘the party that everyone shouldn’t be at” — counterintuitive for someone throwing a party, perhaps, but the only sane reaction to throwing a party centered around “Paris Kardashian.”
“No, no, everyone SHOULD be at,” he said.
Not much to argue with there. Pointless to try.
There are quite a few Hollywood types who think that debutards make a party, but there are a surprising number of folks who understand that actual writers, artists, and creators are also good conversationalists who make for a lively mix. There was a major snafu with this that we witnessed however. All of the cartooners from EW’s Visionaries party were invited to the EW/Sci-Fi bash at the Solamar. However there was a looooooong line to get into the party, and even people on the list stood in it, even while certain actor/musician types were let in without waiting. One of the cartoonists on the panel cut through the velvet rope, and several waiting in line witnessed this, engendering some hurt feelings.
Our own opinion of this incident is that Cartoonist A is a star and knows it and knows how to cut lines. The other cartoonists we saw are not used to the A-list treatment but SHOULD BE. It is a sad day when you seem to be advising people to become brash egotists for their own good, but sometimes you’ve gotta just dive into the scrum.
That said, we hope that the countless producers, directors, development wonks, and celebutards realize that treating the idea farm cartoonists with the respect and reverence they deserve is a necessity. We don’t have much hope of that happening globally, but it needs to be said.
• SPEAKING OF PARTIES…the Dave Stevens 53rd Birthday Bash on Sunday night thrown by Bob Chapman, (replacing the traditional Dead Dog party) was the most awesome party of the show. The guest list was cut back to mostly people who would have been invited in the ’90s, but that means you got to hang out with Frank Miller, Dave GIbbons, Geoff Darrow, Diana Schutz, Bob Schreck, Mike Mignola, and really too many other cool and talented people to mention. It wasn’t crowded, it was just relaxed and everyone had a fabulous time.
• WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE CON. It is too unwieldy in that it has no place to grow and no place to go. With attendance, hotels, and floor space maxed out, the con will need to look at all of their options in order to keep revenues above costs. This year, there was two or three times as much security as in years past, and that couldn’t have been cheap, for example. Whereas in the past, the biggest problems were Hall H and registration, this year, the problem was getting into almost ANY panel of any note. Although we had very, very good luck getting into everything we wanted to (we even walked right in to Hall H for the WATCHMEN panel) time and again we heard about lines for everything. It’s obvious that there was so much programming in order to keep people off the floor but really, what is to be done about this? Given the innate human ability to think that if something is exclusive, you must have it, this means even more people will show up to get on even more exclusive panels to the point where 200,000 people will attend just to wait in line for 20 panels.
One idea mentioned not as often as Las Vegas is the idea of raising ticket prices or starting some kind of VIP ticket level. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense: it would raise a lot of money for Comic-Con and there is certainly much demand for such a thing. On the other hand. all of the problems with access for the convention are because the folks running it have a sense of egalitarianism. I’ve been told many times that the show wants a kid who saved his pennies to go to get as much chance as a celebrity to get access, and a blogger is treated the same as a reporter from the Times (generally speaking.) Although putting in organized levels of access would help a lot of people, it does seem to go against the spirit of the thing. (And I say this as someone who has pretty good access to lots of things but was still denied many things I had my heart set on.)
• PRESS WHINING. We heard so much complaining from our fellow journos about not getting in here, or being turned away there. With over 3000 journalists attending the show, it just isn’t possible to give them all equal access. The con has left specific access up to the companies who put on panels and events. After seeing this in place for many years, we’ve come to the conclusion that that may well be the only way to do it. The sad fact is that if you absolutely, positively have to cover something, you need to grovel before some studio/network PR flack to do so. We know from our own experience– and from countless horror stories — that these PR peeps are by and large nice, friendly folks, but they have a lot of petty feuds and favorites and so on. (Infighting among movie Website journos makes comics squabbling look like a kitten fight.) As in all things regarding the con, we surrender.
• COMICS ARE STILL AROUND. We ended up spending minimal amounts of time on the show floor, but when we did, all the comics-related booths seemed to be busy and profitable. However, at the show, IDW wasn’t particularly hiding the fact that they probably weren’t going to be back at the show in 2009, and Tom Spurgeon caught up with IDW head Ted Adams to talk about it:
I think we’re likely not to be at San Diego next year. There are people that work for me that think that’s not the right decision. I’m trying to weigh what they’re telling me, think hard about what they’re telling me. Certainly for the freelance community that works for us, it’s important to them that they have a place at this show. I’m trying to think about how can I accomplish those goals with drastically reduced cost to us. Not so much the financial cost, but the opportunity cost. How can I have a place where Ash Wood can meet his fans at San Diego Comic-Con without it requiring all this time?
Adams’s thoughts, although obviously brewing even before the con, strike us a bit as fog-of-war musings, but plainly, the place of comics at Comic-Con is the big question after this year’s show. Today, Tom runs a very thoughtful roundtable of responses to the IDW question from a variety of very smart comics folks. We’ll have perhaps more to say about this later (as a larger issue), but it’s notable that the one person who’s most gung ho about returning to SD is Chris Oliveros of D&Q. Not to say that Chris is a curmudgeon, because he isn’t, but D&Q has long been very worried about their particular brand of award-winning, thought-provoking, lasting material getting lost in the hype/pop scrum…so to hear that they are doing so well should hearten all.
I do think that comics need to get more press savvy. The Parker press conference (to which i contributed some early brainstorming with editor Scott Dunbier) was cited by several as a success and I sincerely hope this sort of thing becomes the norm. My reasons for hoping this are completely selfish — I would rather go to a few press events than spend four days going to 10 “Cup of Nation” panels where I have to sit through endless in-jokes and asinine fanboy fretting. I was told by one seasoned comics vet that the panels can’t be done away with as press vehicles because that public banter is an important part of the proceedings, but why not have both?
Several people wished aloud for a return to the “Expo” format of old, when Wednesday afternoon was retailer and pro only. This model has been picked up by New York Comic-Con, with a Friday morning “industry only” morning and early afternoon. I’m told that it would be impractical at San Diego because then, exhibitors would have to set up that much earlier and there would be no rise in sales or PR value in allowing press like me to get all four of their Warner bags without braving the scrum. (Insert unhappy face.)
Perhaps this is so, but I can definitely see comics companies using Wednesday afternoon as their own press day. As I’ve mentioned here before, at European conventions, where guests are treated like rock stars and basically wined and dined for a week or so, interrupted by brutal one-hour signings, there is generally a press day, where TV, newspapers and other media come interview them.
I think a “San Diego press day” on Wednesday afternoon, before the scrum begins, would be a fabulous idea. A company could hold back their precious news of a new Ant-Man miniseries until their exciting panels, but they could give some of the 3000 journos on hand access to some of the cartoonists who actually create the material that they are covering. I know firsthand that most of these Masters of the Universe don’t give a shit about comics, but there are enough press moles out there to make this a worthwhile idea.
For all I know, maybe this is already going on, and I’m just on the wrong lists. DC has been holding “press dinners” on and off for a while — a standard practice in the book industry, BTW — but has apparently halted them for now.
At the end of the day, comics have little chance of competing head-to-head with the big budget streets teams and cow pastures of the movie company promotions at Comic-Con. However, if you don’t think you are important, no one else will. As several of the people in Tom’s survey said, the San Diego Comic-Con is still the biggest comic book event of the year — as well as being the biggest movie, TV and video game evenrt of the year — and they’ll drag us off kicking and screaming.
Me? I’m already on a stretcher with an IV of fluids going into my arm. But I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.