San Diego Comic-Con is over and done, the streets have been cleaned and many words have been written about the convention; Hollywood has taken over, comics are not the focus, too much, too crazy. Let’s not forget that this focus from Hollywood is because of comics and the passion of the fans. This year it seemed that Hollywood was determined to take over the show – it has become the Cannes of cons. The money they spend is insane – so as a comic book publisher, how do you compete with displays that look like a theme park has been built in the middle of the convention floor? How do publishers and their comics get anyone to pay attention to them?

Is it the media attention we’re worried about? Did the mainstream media ever really cover comic con that way when it was just comics? Is there that much of a shift? It has always been difficult to get the mainstream media to pay attention to comics – do they pay that much attention to publishing in general?

Walking the floor, it seems that the publishers’ booths are just as busy as they used to be. I know that the retailers are saying that sales are down, but it is a much more expensive show to attend than ever before and we are in a recession. As for the long boxes of comics – I think the incredible amount of graphic novels and collected editions out there may also account for a drop in sales.

But back to the main issue of how Hollywood and the cast of Glee is taking attention away from comic books. Most of the publishers had traditional booths; large images of the characters on plastic banners, tables set up for signings and a few posters and maybe a bag to be given away to the fans waiting to get a book signed. Except for Marvel — they had a gigantic golden throne in their booth to promote the movie THOR. Nothing says “We’ve got Disney money!” more than a huge golden throne in the center of your booth. My first thought was -– boy, it seemed like just a few years ago when Marvel seemed to be exhibiting at fewer and fewer trade shows and now there’s a damn golden throne in their booth. I hope the expense was worth it.

Did having that golden throne bring more people to their booth? Did anyone see that booth and think -– “Now I’ve got to go see THOR because the booth looks awesome!” Or did anyone walk away saying, “I need to go read a THOR comic book right now! Find me one!” A lot of people seemed to be waiting in line to climb the golden stairs and have their picture taken on the throne, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to actually buy a ticket or a comic. Hell, I’ve seen people waiting in a line to get their picture taken with the Naked Cowboy in Times Square -– never saw anyone run out and buy a cowboy hat. Is the purpose of these types of displays to get you to buy something or just to have bragging rights? Is it the right way to promote anything?

Allow me to put on my Don Draper fedora for a minute -– the purpose of marketing and adverting is to persuade you to buy something. Maybe I’m jaded, but sitting on a golden throne doesn’t make me want to buy anything. Nor does climbing into a stasis chamber from ALIEN propel me to log onto to Amazon and pre-order a copy of the Blu-ray boxed set. It just makes me feel like a dork. So what would convince me to spend some money?

It was Saturday and I had a series of meeting and I needed some time in the afternoon to pack -– I had an early morning flight on Sunday and plans for dinner that night. I went back to my hotel and was sorting through all the things I wanted or needed to bring back with me. I was trying not to pick up too much stuff. I was happy I didn’t need to go back into the convention. I got out the trash can so I could toss some of the stuff I didn’t want to carry back. I had been to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party and they had a bag they gave out with Hellboy on it -– he is one of my son’s favorite characters and I decided that he might like the bag. There was something in it and I emptied it out, fully ready to toss the contents in the trash to lighten my load.

A copy of the first issue of CHEW fell out of the bag. It had won an Eisner the night before and I thought I’d check it out. From the first panel I was hooked. I read the whole thing and I wanted more. For a second I thought of walking to the local Borders to see if they had a copy of the trade they advertised in the free comic and then I realized – I have to venture back into the convention center.

The entrance to the Gaslamp district is packed with what are called “street teams” -– their purpose is to promote whatever they’ve been hired to promote by shoving crap in people’s faces. The sidewalk was littered with dropped and discarded cards, pieces of paper, pins, tattoos and other assorted promotional material. I wished I had a super power that would encase me in a protective bubble as I made my way from my room at the Hard Rock over to the convention center. Either that or I wished that I could hire a street team to come and beat and drag away all the other street teams.

I first checked some of the vendors to see if I could find a copy of the trade of CHEW. I was striking out -– I was hoping that they were in short supply because of the Eisner win. I made my way over to the Image booth where I found the author (John Layman) and artist (Rob Guillory) sitting with no one around and a single copy of each of the two trades in front of them on the table. I wasn’t sure if they were selling them or not -– I walked over and asked if the trades were for sale. They said they were for sale and even signed them for me. I paid, congratulated them on their Eisner win and walked away.

I felt a little sad when I left; here were two guys who had just won the industry’s highest award sitting alone selling their own books. Then I realized they have something that the other exhibitors there didn’t -– my money. With all the shouting for attention going on at the show -– a mere whisper in the form of a free comic book, compelled me to put my shoes back on and fight through the street teams, the religious protesters and convention crowd to buy a copy of their book.

A few days earlier I felt like I had entered Hollywood Con and I was leaving convinced that I had been to San Diego Comic Con, all because of a free comic book. Maybe John and Rob should be the ones sitting on that golden throne.


  1. Next time you have to deal with street teams, try the method shown in the first “Airplane!” movie. (The scene where the pilot has to brave a gauntlet of religious zealots…)

    Or confuse them by handing them free material!

  2. hey Rich, Sounds to me like you just had an authentic Comic-con moment. Yes, the Hollywood con can be tedious although I’m not sure where this notion has come from that comic-con is above marketing and promotional giveaways. Anyway, I bought (and yes, got a lot of books for free cause I’m media) a lot of books in just the same fashion.

    I also came back with galleys of books I didn’t know about and was able to announce some book format comics news–although who knows if anyone noticed over the super hype of the movies.

    But your comic-con moment sounded very satisfying and shows again why Comic-con is so awesome.

  3. I would suggest that the things that make Comicon awesome are also to be found at smaller comics-focused events (Alternative Press Expo, etc.), minus the breathless hype and Hollywood focus. Which makes the smaller events awesomer.

  4. I think John and Rob did well at the con and it was nice to chat with both of them. If all they had left were the two trades, then they sold a lot over the weekend. There was also a special edition Comic Con cover for issue 12, and they debuted the hardcover Ominvore edition with the first ten issues (selling all 50 of them). As John noted on his blog, they thought the hardcover was going to be out general sale before the convention, but it won’t be until later in August. So they only ordered 50 for the con, figuring other sellers would have them. However, those copies got delayed getting to them and they finally got them on Friday and I think they were all gone by mid-day Saturday. I’m glad I was able to get one of them and have it scribbled on.

  5. As an adman, Don Draper might not have had an opinion about marketing, but I think the idea is to spread general awareness.

    Marketing and publicity stunts for things I’m unfamiliar with plant the meme, so when the actual ads appear later and the actual product is available for purchase I’m more open to it. The marketing may even have made me believe I need it. In that way, half of the ad’s job (to part me from my money) is already done.

  6. Its always those moments that make you feel like you had a good con. I always like to go through the independent artisans and spend some of my money there. Every year I come home with something I love. Last year it was “Rose and Isabel” by Ted Mathot and this year it was “Native Drum” by Chuck Paschall and Vince Riley.

  7. I agree that if the point of things like the throne or the cast of Glee showing up is to sell more DVDs/movie tickets/increase ratings then yes, from a marketing standpoint they are doomed gestures. No one who was not interested in Glee last season is going to suddenly decided to wait in line for hours for the panel and subsequently pick up the DVDs or start watching the show. The print and internet media bombardment they’ve conducted for that show for a solid eighteen months now has reached every person on the planet who cared enough to find out about it.

    I think the real marketing reason for a lot of the con appearances is simply keeping your product in the mix for already established fans who might be considering moving on to the new Best Thing. It’s less about attracting new fans than it is keeping the current ones.

    If you’ve got a portion of your fan base who are wavering about watching the show for its second season, or if you’ve got someone who’s pissed that Ed Norton’s out of The Avengers movie, hopefully the fact that they got to play around on a giant movie prop or see some stars in person is enough of a showing of love to convince them to keep up with your product.

  8. I had the same experience at Randy Reynaldo’s booth – I sought him out because Heidi published his pre-con announcement, bought a copy of Rob Hanes Adventures Special Edition #1 (the new color issue), chatted with Randy for a little while, and moved on. Same at Zach Weiner’s booth, Aaron Lopresti’s booth and Curio & Co which had a big book called Finding Frank And His Friend. Four good con moments.

  9. @Todd: “Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve heard anything about a Buzz Book coming out of SDCC.”

    I succumbed when I saw it: the Artists Edition of “The Rockeeter.” I don’t know if you’d call it a buzz book, but I do think it sold out that weekend (emphasis on “think”).
    Of course, making only 300 copies probably helps sales.

    Lance Roger Axt
    The AudioComics Company

  10. I had real trepidation approaching Comic-Con this year. I had a chance to go for the first time since 1992, and after years of reading about the growth and the crowds and the Hollywood Con transformation, I had lost a lot of interest in going. But I was going to be in San Diego that weekend anyway (family vacation), some Sunday tickets became available, and, most importantly, I knew my 17-year-old daughter really wanted to go.

    Sure, one huge draw for her was the panel on the TV show “Castle,” and we both wanted to see the “Glee” panel (couldn’t get in), but even though that ate up a significant chunk of our one day and with the big golden throne and shield and whatnot sucking up so much oxygen in the exhibit hall, I still came away feeling more like I’d been to Comic-Con than Hollywood Con or Toy Con or Pop Culture Whatever Con.

    Of course, the comics convention is the one I *wanted* to go to, and I really focused on the con’s comics elements, hitting the Kirby Tribute Panel and the original art sellers and visiting as many comics artists as I could. I think Mark Evanier has it right: Comic-Con is really a multitude of different conventions now, and it’s up to you to seek out the one or ones that mean the most to you.

    I sought out the comics convention for the most part and came away with some beautiful Comic-Con moments, most involving my daughter: watching her seek out Kathryn and Stuart Immonen just so she could tell them personally how much she enjoyed their work on Runaways and Nextwave; seeing her face when she got a free sketch from Amanda Conner, whose art she loves; seeing her shake hands with Eric Shanower, whose Oz books she’s been reading since she was a tyke; seeing her spend all of what little money she brought to commission a sketch from Francis Manapul and the amazement on her face as she watched him spend 20 minutes creating this gorgeous ink wash of Supergirl for her.

    So I’ve seen for myself now what all the gnashing of teeth is about, and I get it, and heaven only knows if I’ll ever make it back to San Diego for another Comic-Con. But at least now I know I can. The convention I knew and loved a long time ago is still there.

  11. At this point Comic-Con is the experience that the individual brings to it. Just like many industries nowadays it is up to the consumer to *drive defensively* and seek out their type of convention. The fact that attendees have choice is good.

    The same with marketing. Every degree is there, from over the top to subtle and even none at all. Either you’re beat over the head by street teams or you find a unsolicited diamond in the rough in Artist Alley. Or… all of the above. That’s the beauty of the new era of Comic-Con.

  12. Even though we get tired of having Hollywood dominate the Comic-Con, maybe having the movie media clamboring all over it can be a benefit in raising the profile of the comic industry.

  13. Bleeding Cool recommended Finding Frank and His Friend. It’s the only Comic-Con item I’ve ordered so far this year. It’s the sort of thing that one goes to Comic-Con to discover.

    My copy is #0143, and it is a delightful book. No web-store, but they are the nicest people, and accept PayPal.

    There’s also a new and improved Bone collection (Tall Tales) due shortly, which was available at the Cartoon Books booth.

    As for forthcoming books, I just read a galley of “Vietnamerica” by GB Tran, due in January from Villard. He’s scheduled for NYCC, so that might be the book of 2011.

  14. Rich-this is some great writing; you are the first person who made me wish I was at the con. I too fell for Chew after the first issue, and knowing that they were sitting in that madness, accessible to any fan who decides to make their way up to their booth is a great image. I would have given them my money too!