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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.

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  1. My favorite “viral” or “guerrilla” marketing ploy was the Smallville room key to my hotel. Especially when I had to give it back to check out. Boy, that really showed how “hep” those Warner TV folks are.

  2. I attended the Con via the net. Started by refreshing Google News every thirty minutes. Read blogs. Did the occasional web search.

    As for the swag… Bidding a few choice items on eBay.

    I’ll only go if I’m guiding a virginal fanboy or girl, or if it’s work related. Or moves to a larger venue.

  3. Had to give back the Smallville souvenir? Does that mean that there will be a 2009 season of Smallville???
    ha ha

    Incidentally, I wonder, and perhaps this is “don’t ask” territory, but what does it cost a comic company for renting a typical space at Comic Con? Are we talking mega dollars or a couple of thousand for the space? I don’t mean the cost to ship the display units around.. just the cost to “be there”.

  4. I can empathize with your Men In Black feeling, but I feel that way with comic people. If I had the choice between partying with comic people or Kim Kardashian, I’m going to the Kardashian party. I’ve partied with comic people and I’ve partied with strippers and the strippers are a Hell of a lot more fun.

    The only comic person I’d want to party with over a stripper is Alan Moore; he’d have a sock puppet show and magic tricks.

  5. The prices for booths is on the application form for Comic-Con, so it’s not really secret information. The base price for a single 10′ x 10′ booth is $2,200 — it’s extra if you want to get an island or a corner. SLG gets ten booths in an island. That comes to, without early payment discounts, $23,100.

    Of those responses to IDW’s announcment, I liked Chris Staros’s the best. It pretty much sums up the advantages of attending the event, though it is awfully difficult to leverage press coverage without big event-like announcements and pre-con hyping, and I didn’t do so hot on that front this year.

  6. re: Press whining.

    That sort of whining annoys the crap out of me. As press, I bust my rear end for weeks ahead of the con putting together a schedule of interviews, etc., knowing (and planning for the fact) that the odds of getting into the big panels are extremely slim.

    At least, not without waiting in line for a LONG time.

    So, as Heidi says, you work with the PR folks. You create a sane schedule that allows you to maximize your time. And you don’t whine.

    For Comics Waiting Room, SDCC represents a chance to gather a wealth of story material that we might not otherwise have access to. So rather than piss and moan about what we *couldn’t* do, I’m always going to be happy with the things we could. More people need to adopt Heidi’s attitude (and mine) and be happy with the Con they have, not the one they can’t.

    side note: meeting and chatting with the future Mr. Beat as our group left the IDW party was a fun highlight. Ben’s an absolutely hilarious fellow.

  7. This is an interesting view of the con that I hadn’t considered before. I can’t imagine at this point in my life still wanting to party with strippers or, really, ever stand in line for a party again, and I don’t even know what a Kardashian is. (OJ’s lawyer?) But I’m also lucky in that I don’t feel compelled to cover anything that’s hard to get into and I’m just as happy having dinner with my comics pals as I ever was to get into a party with cool people everywhere. I know that sounds super-arrogant, but when I read some convention reports out there full of frustration and anger or even vague longing I really do feel lucky to be fat and old and set in my ways.

    I think there’s likely a distinction to be made between press complaining that they can’t do their jobs and press complaining that they can’t leverage their press passes into stuff they want to do; this year was the first year I saw legitimate instances of the former, and I still saw plenty of the latter. This happens with everybody, too, not just comics people — there are a lot of editors shadowing their actual reporters that don’t need to be at events they claim they need to attend because of their coverage.

    Similarly, while I think it’s smart not to dismiss new media as inherently less valuable than a print or broadcast source, there’s probably also a distinction to be made between receiving actual coverage and receiving attention that doesn’t actually lead to substantive coverage. Screw VIP attendee passes, though, although I think they could raise prices across the board and might consider event tickets to keep people from standing in line only to be frustrated.

    I’m a little wary of the idea that press deserves access to these events, because they’re just hypeathons; most of them aren’t real events. It’s like covering TV commercials and people watching them. It would be nice to see a press track develop that was actually about disseminating news that ran parallel to the presentations. Some of that goes on informally.

    I imagine that the enormous growth of the show the last few years and the industry in general has taken some getting used to and comics people will use the show more effectively in future years, however they want to use it. You can certainly embargo publishing news until a panel announcement but let press know it’s taking place, and this seems sensible to me just because press can’t attend everything. I wonder if the problem isn’t so much that we’re not effectively processing the Ant-Man news but that an Ant-Man series isn’t really the kind of news people would like for it to be.

  8. Why not take the Con out of the press picture by holding press conferences pre-show at all the hotels that surround the Con? Because there’s no point in having a press conference during the show–I never hear any news from the Con until I get back home. Have DC rent a conference room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt and everybody comes in, gets their info and whatever swag they want, and there’s no hurt feelings about not getting in to a panel.

    I had a great time this year in SD, helped by the fact that I wasn’t photographing anything for anyone but myself. And I’ve been to nine of the last ten shows. My wife came for the first time and LOVED it. She met and bought comics from indie cartoonists, attended panels, found a great vegan mexican restaurant not too far away (Pokez, how we love thee) and stood in line with me for an hour on Sunday to get tickets for next year’s show. From her perspective, it was a blast.

  9. There were horses in the elevators? I missed that.

    Regarding bags: friends of mine and I noted after the con that in this age of declining availability of plastic bags at grocery stores, the Jurassic Fight Club bags were this year’s bag winner, even if the property they were touting isn’t all that interesting. But the bags are just the right size for groceries, of durable construction, have an adjustable shoulder strap and a zipper closure! I regret not picking up a couple extra of those. The gigantic WB bags are practically useless, unless you’re sewing a dress out of them.

    My Comic Con experience was more about comics than ever this year, primarily because I completely gave up on going to any Hollywood-related panels. I didn’t even go to Lost. Why bother? Either it’s merely a screening of 10 minutes of “EXCLUSIVE!” footage that I’ll get to see in the context of the complete film in a few months (or not, because it will turn out that it sucks) with all of the panelists unable to say much because “we can’t give too much away” OR the entire thing will be on YouTube in a couple of days (see: Lost). Or there will be a detailed transcript somewhere from a fan more obsessive than I. So unless you’re entertainment press desperately needing a scoop, or a 15-year-old girl who would just DIE if she doesn’t get to see this year’s popular hunk of man meat (distantly, at the far end of Hall H) there isn’t much point in going. And yet that’s the engine driving Comic Con. Weird.

    Instead I was in Artists’ Alley, Small Press and the exhibitors’ tables which were generally easy to navigate compared to the inflatable-sword-induced gridlock around the major toy/media booths in the middle. My main complaint would be that this year’s con seemed louder. There were more obnoxious PAs being used at booths demoing video games or something, such that I nearly lost my voice by Thursday.

  10. Marc:

    Up until this year, I always demanded the access that my stature deserves. That sounds arrogant, but, let’s face it, I’ve been doing this 25 years. As a daily blogger, it’s hard enough just to go through my email and write a daily blog as contacting scores of pr people for access. Why can’t I just BE ON THE LIST?

    This year I realized that doesn’t matter. There really is no place for the Lone Gunslinger any more. Advance prep is absolutely essential, even if it means assembling a team. Even if that team consist of Face, Howling Mad, Hannibal and BA.

  11. Ha, Tom. If not wanting to “party” with strippers and pseudo-celebrities is being fat and old and set in my ways, then that’s me — at 125 pounds and 30 years of age. By Friday night, I was thoroughly annoyed with all the drunk hangers-on. I wanted a coffee, dammit, but the shop was lousy with drunk guys in luchador masks sexually exploiting a drunk woman.

  12. They’ve already raised the price a little bit. I’m fairly certain that I paid $60 last year for this year’s con, and last week it was $65 to register for 2009. Presumably the normal rates will be a bit higher this year as well.

    Not that $5 spread over 4½ days is a huge difference, but still…

  13. As someone who came representing a retail operation in the late 80s early 90s, I fondly remember “retailer night” and having spirited discussions with Carol Kalish, Mike Richardson, and many others that I wouldn’t otherwise had the chance to talk to during the week. Representing a publisher these days, I would on the one hand love to have that time to talk to press and retailers back. On the other hand, that’s just more time spent not making $ at the con, and I’d like to maximize our presence as much as possible. Though given that we showed up Tuesday morning this year and we could basically been set up by the end of that day, I think something like this could work. I’m torn, torn, torn!

  14. I wonder what price point might start driving people away and making attendance more bearable.
    $65 to pre-register won’t do it. And when the price rises to $75, that won’t do it either (especially since Disneyland admission is about $70 a day for access (and no one buys just one ticket).
    What’s the ceiling? $200?

  15. Jennifer, welcome to the club!

    I would pay for a set of Matt Maxwell Mr. Yuck Face stickers.

    I wouldn’t go to press day. That sounds awful.

    I’ve never had stature to trade on nor can I assemble a team to compensate. The only event I’ve ever been to with a list is the Eisner Awards, and I’ve always been happy to sit in the back of those — I moved to the back for the final awards this year when I got skeeved out by the folks up front. I was alone at the con this year, and only there for 30 hours, but I thought my readers were reasonably well-served. Then again, people have severely reduced expectations for my site when it comes to “event” coverage. So I’m lucky that way. Really lucky.

    I’d sure hate to be a stringer having to get into certain panels according to my assignments. That must be awful.

  16. The most fun I had at SD was probably the last year of pro/con, when I was part of the CAC academic conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    And I remember the year being part of TEAM BEAT, or whatever Heidi was calling her motley crew of correspondents for the Pulse.

  17. If one is a retailer, then the best con is the Diamond Retailer Conference, held this year in Vegas. One ballroom where each publisher gets up and presents. Followed by a day of exhibits.
    I know that some industry workers (behind the scenes types) flew out the weekend before the Con. Diamond could sponsor a retailer day on Tuesday and Wednesday. Allow media. Embargo news, or collect email and send out press releases each morning, or hold a morning briefing breakfast for journos where each Pub gets five minutes to announce that day’s news.
    I remember the trade expo. A nice way to ease into the Con, discover new things, and meet people. I would attend if they held something similar.

  18. Maybe the cost of getting into the convention is the main problem with the convention.

    If you are going to do a 4.5 day convention of this size, you should be charging a higher entry fee, say $40 for each single day, and $125 for a full pass. Maybe the convention center can help with this when they expand. They can add a surcharge of $10 to each ticket to pay for the expansion.

    One day for Chicago is $28, and the Chicago convention is lame compared to the one in Sandy Eggo.

  19. I went to the con from around 82 to 2003. One thing ive noticed on the blogs and on all television and cable coverage and all the talks of parties is the lack of the average joe plunking down his hard earned money to get into the event to begin with. I remember the friday or saturday night party and dinner when anyone…ANYONE could go and sit next to artists and writers. One year I sat next to gary and lisa carter and several others from CBM.
    How many parties were the public invited to attend? As far as the press or bloggers “deserving” space. Nonsense. The whole reason that movie studios started going to the con is to reach the “fans” not the press. It seems like the average person is getting squeezed out in favor of the media hounds and press people. All the footage I saw on the Con this year was condecending to say the least. Hardly any footage on comics at all. The G4 coverage of the event was almost insulting. If anything, it should be a level playing field. If everyone pays the same admission, if everyone has to stand in line, press, fan, blogger, it would be a far better scenario. No one, not the press or entertainment magazine or whoever should get ANY special treatment because in the end, its the regular folks that spread the word. I find it hard to believe that all these companies are there to get the word out to access hollywood, extra, entertainment tonight, or yes, even thebeat. I seems like the average fan is getting edged out. Everyone doing coverage of this event says that the geeks, or nerds or fanboys, whatever you want to call them are calling the shots at san diego. Far from it. If anything they’re the ones getting edged out and excluded. I say cut back the amount of press to 500 at most. I think hugh jackman said it best when he said to the people at the wolverine panel that he wouldnt have a career without the fans. Fans…comic book fans…not the press, not the bloggers, not access hollywood. Fans created this event. To see any of them excluded in favor of a flashed press pass is outragous. End of line.