It’s a sign of the length of the Comic-Con Recovery Process that even though I thought I could wrap this all up on Tuesday, it’s taken me another four days and many many packets of Vietnamese Instant Coffee (Cà Phê Hòa Tan) to have the energy to write my thoughts. If you don’t want to read them you can listen to much the same thing in the PW Comics World More to Come podcast. While I’m pretty sure everyone has purged the week of July 11-15th from their mind entirely —and I just about have forgotten it all myself—for the sake of completeness, here’s what I thought and observed and smelled and saw and heard:
I’m pretty sure that people have had heart attacks and been carted away from Comic-Con before…but this was a little different. Just why Gisela Gagliardi felt she had to run into traffic may never be known, but this sad event did serve as something of a symbol for the levels of fannish obsession that now motivates people to enter the escalating grail quest of successive lotteries and line-ups and camp outs for hours. It isn’t worth dying for…but some people think seeing their favorite celebrity is a life-changing experience and act accordingly.
* It was the year the con truly busted loose from the convention center and went surging over the land like the smoke monster:
We all knew the offsites were going to be out of control this year, and they really were. You could have spent a whole day just wandering around looking at stuff outside the Convention center…and apparently lots of people did just that. And many of the installations were quite impressive.
The WB’s huge Batmobile-and-performance-stage set-up outside the back of Hall H occupied what I called the “Apocalypse Now” portion of the show. A wistful, grassy park that smelled like seaweed and sounded like seagulls was turned into a wistful entertainment expo set on a grassy park that smelled like seaweed. I don’t know how crowded this area got, but I hope you enjoyed it because this is where the expansion of the convention center is going to go when it eventually gets off the ground. I’ll miss that incongruous patch of grass, but… people gots to exhibit.
The Grimm set-up at the Tin Fish was just ridonkulous. NBC spent a ton of money putting moss on the umbrellas and setting up a little maze of fake fog, TV monitors and plastic trees that in the end…went nowhere? It took you 10 second to walk through and you got a pin and a bag at the end. The Frankenweenie exhibit looked great from the outside, but I never go to go in. *sniff* DC had an art exhibit with a Lego Catwoman but I never go to go in there.
PetCo Park turned out to be infested by ZOMBIES, and from what I heard that was good fun. Here’s a video of someone from CBR doing the Walking Dead zombie run:
Some people swore by the History Channel barbecue pit, others by the Adventure Time art show, yet others by the Shifty Look arcade. Whatever it was you were looking for…there was a lot of it.
* By the same token, it was the year that the locals jacked up the prices.
I heard anecdotal tales of beers that cost $6 on Tuesday and $7 on Wednesday and landlords were definitely jacking up prices on every available scrap of land. Even the fish tacos seemed more expensive and not in a “cost of living” way. This is trend that is definitely going to continue, making it ever more expensive to exhibit even outside the show. The “Slam Dance Con” people have been talking about for years may never be affordable even if they do try it. In my random conversations with locals, the “ugh, Comic-Con” nose holding of past years has been replaced with sloganeering. “The con brings over $80 million dollars to the city!” one barrista quoted at me. Everyone has embraced the gravy train.
While I was checking out of our hotel—far, far in the rearguard, as the desk clerk told me only 3 people remained from the fever dream of Comic-Con—she mentioned that the hotel would again be full in a couple of week due to a doctor’s conference. I guess she was talking about ESRI, the “map muddlers” who in past times the city insisted outspent Comic-Con 10-to-1.
“Are they big spenders?” I asked the desk clerk. In return she shook her head with exasperation. “No. Not like Comic-con. They don’t spend any money at all.”
Now this stands in opposition to a cabdriver I quizzed on the same topic. He said that doctors do spring for big trips to the golf course and Sea World and so on. So let’s just suggest that the map muddlers — digital map specialists or something — might not spend as much as the kidney doctors, and leave it at that.
* It was the year the ocean smelled like poo.
Seriously, every time I went near the water front, there was a bad smell. And it wasn’t just a cosplay infantalist diaper accident.
* It was the year Love and Rockets celebrated its 30th birthday.
For some reason, the matchless 30-year saga spun by Mario, Gilbert and Jaime never gets included in all those academic comics are art confabs and shows. But as the heartfelt tributes and puddled eyes of those assembled shows, the comic survives in the hearts of those who hold on to it fiercely as a part of their own lives. While Los. Bros didn’t get the skywriting and theme park they deserved, they got a lot of love, and that will last a longer.
* It was the year Image ran the show.
DC’s Sandman and Quentin Tarantino announcements definitely made headlines, and Marvel stuck with its movie agenda, but a classic returning for one more spin around the corral and a movie adaptation don’t have the snap of most of the mature stars of the industry collectively deciding to fund their own ideas outside the “studio system.” If anything proved that Marvel and DC are now institutionally unable to launch new ideas, this was it.
The Walking Dead was the biggest thing comics wise. With the best storylines from the comic about to start appearing on the TV show…it’s going to get even bigger.
* It was the year that digital imprints were everywhere
Madefire, Monkeybrain, Thrillbent…I must be forgetting the rest. As I keep telling people, several years ago when Comixology, iVerse and Graphicly were launching everyone was wondering whether anyone would read digital comics. Today everyone is wondering if anyone will read original digital comics. In two years, that question will seem equally stupid. Apple was at the show and they know that people are buying their products just to read comics. Amazon isn’t far behind. That’s where we’re going to be.
Despite that retail was bubbling with joy. After a few years of sounding gloomy, even Diamond was acting chipper. Maybe there’s room for all in the big tent?
* It was the year I asked if there was still a place for indie cartoonists at Comic-Con.
Actually, I should have asked a lot more people this question. I only asked it three times and got widely divergent answers.
Jeffrey Brown was an unambiguous “yes.” He told me that every year he saves his frequent flyer miles and makes sure he goes. “I don’t think I’d have gotten the kind of opportunities I’ve had unless I came to Comic-Con,” he said. It was a commission done at the show that eventually led to him co-writing a movie, and he forged valuable connections that led to his blockbuster Vader and Son. For someone who still does sometimes painfully autobiographical indie comics, Brown had definitely taken advantage of some of the opportunities presented. Others should heed his lesson.
On the other hand, I asked writer Derek McCulloch the same question. He had a simple answer. “The bigger this show gets, the smaller my sales get.” McCulloch’s work isn’t very comparable to Brown’s, and in the next breath he told me he was flying to New York for a reading of a play he wrote, so who knows where that is going.
Finally I asked Gilbert Hernandez. He just kind of shrugged. That answer is what I would call “in the middle.”
The truth lies somewhere between all this. While Comic-Con is no longer an overt comix love fest like TCAF or SPX, if you have the stomach for it, you can definitely still wade through the sea of douche and find opportunity. By nature, I’m drawn to the pragmatism of a Brown. Everyone would like to make a living at this thing, and that mountain of money ain’t gonna come to you.
* It was definitely the year that comics and cartoonists were still a vital and popular part of the show.
This is another one I’ve evolved on. For the easily distracted there are always going to be loud, shiny objects that get attention. But in case the hundreds of panel reports haven’t made it clear, this is a place to talk about comics and listen to others talk about them at a level that is hardly achievable anywhere else on earth.
* It was the year you couldn’t get into Hall H on Saturday.
Despite the overall acceptance of the madness of con, it’s still a little hard to grasp just HOW motivated some people are. The blockbuster line-up of Hall H programs on Saturday — Quentin Tarantino, Superman, The Hobbit, Iron Man and “surprises” — meant that unless you had lined up at 5 am or earlier you just weren’t getting in. There are many tales of sorrow and regret out there on the ‘net about Saturday. I myself have a theoretical one-time golden ticket that I would have tried to use for The Hobbit…if I hadn’t had a panel opposite it. Oh well.
On a more immediate basis, during and after the con I’ve had many back and forth with various people about whether the fanatical competition among fans to get to the show for the media stuff means fewer comics folks get in, meaning lower comics sales. Without question, some people had sales that weren’t comparable to more focused shows like HeroesCon and Emerald City. But most vendors said sales were stable. It seems the badge lottery is allowing various demographics in in percentages proportional to past years.
* It was the year Tr!ckster was less cool but more successful
I haven’t heard any concrete figures on how Tr!ckster did for artists selling their work there, but it was certainly packed every time I went near, and I did hear artists praising their sales there. The new location, right behind PetCo park, was neither as bucolic nor as symbolic as last year’s “across the tracks wine bar,” but that venue was unavailable due to raising its prices to Sega-levels (See above item.) Also, the loud music playing at the new venue gave the place the vibe of a hot club where scenesters are always arriving nodding to pals and then rolling on. I don’t mean to suggest by any of this that it wasn’t a success for its goals of promoting creator owned work though — “Lets meet at Tr!ckster!” is still the default socialization plan and people seemed enthusiastic about sales.
A stand alone Tr!ckster retail store is opening soon in Berkeley, and there are rumors of future expansions. “Indie” comics have a strong enough audience to support a whole show circuit — how far will the Slam Con! concept take off?
* It was the year Margaret Atwood came to Comic-Con.
Margaret Atwood! And the only person I got to meet was Casper Van Dien. Not fair.
* It was the year I didn’t get a breakfast burrito
If this report seems a bit remote it’s because I spent most of my con in my hotel room, the press room or a deserted corridor working on prep work I should have done at home. I had planned to get it done before leaving, but I just ran out of time, partially due to an unexpected crisis the day before I was to fly out. I never got to do half the fun things I wanted to, but that’s okay because things got done the way they were supposed to. Like I learned Keynote on the fly because Scott McCloud told me to. That kind of thing. It was, to be honest, a kind of eh show for me, with no defining moment.
So, Sunday I left my hotel at around 1ish, after reading tweets about the streets being flooded with breakfast burritos and saw and smelled the above street fair just a block away. Victory! I thought. “Are you still serving breakfast?” I asked, salivary glands activated.
“No, we just stopped taking orders,” said the nice lady.
Dizzy: Rico, I’m dying.
Johnny Rico: No Diz, you’ll be fine.
Dizzy: But it’s OK, because I got to have you.
As suspected, the vacant lot that housed 2011’s food truck carnival was instead rented out to the History Channel barbecue. I guess there was street food on Sunday, but my burrito was just not to be. And it’s okay. Duty before breakfast.
* It was, however the year I stood under a troll’s butt
* AND I got to sit onstage while Lynn Johnston and Kate Beaton talked about stuff. WINNING.
I’ll wrap this up with some links and commentary I had saved up for the last two weeks:
Tourism officials said this year’s Comic-Con may have been the most successful year in the event’s history, bringing in an estimated $180 million to the local economy.
The single can of tune theory has been quashed for all time.
§ Earlier this week The SD Union Tribune ran through con complaints and David Glanzer’s reactions to the same. It’s a pretty useful guide to where things may evolve:
Suggestion: Relocate some exhibits and make more room for different genres.
Glanzer: “Who would agree to be relocated and to where? We tried relocating some section of the floor to the Sails Pavilion some years ago, and it was met with unhappiness by those particular exhibitors.”
That’s kinda the bottom line…we can all sit and say “They should put an Elephant in room 32!” but someone has to actually FIND an elephant.
§ As we’ve long predicted, Hollywood is beginning to wonder what it’s all about, as this anonymous insider told THR:
The Dark Knight? Biggest domestic gross of all time for a superhero movie, and it bypassed Comic-Con altogether. Preaching to a choir and spending what can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege might not be the best way to go. Especially since a big, splashy presentation has become far less special. It’s now the norm — hardly even a news event. After you fly in your A-list movie stars, put them up in a Hard Rock Hotel suite and pay their $2,000-a-day makeup person and stylist, is their 45-minute appearance going to translate into global ticket sales six or 12 months later? Probably not. Sure, there are examples of Comic-Con presentations that were followed by buzz and big box office (Avatar in 2009, Avengers last year).
But you could probably still generate that same media attention from a strong trailer or viral campaign via a team of hardworking marketers and publicists. And less competition fighting for ink. Now, if studios want to support Comic-Con as a gift to the fans, good for them. But if they’re trying to sell movie tickets — and isn’t that the point? — save your money for a broader campaign. And may the force be with you.
§ Even as mighty a force as Peter Jackson feared bad fan buzz:
Still, Mr. Jackson, one of Hollywood’s boldest directors, made the unexpectedly timid decision to present “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in a standard format here — it was not even in 3-D — because he feared an online outcry that could hurt box-office results.
It is no small worry. “Unexpected Journey” and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again,” due next year, together carry an estimated $800 million in production and global marketing costs.
“I didn’t want to repeat the Cinema-Con experience,” Mr. Jackson explained. At that convention, held in April for movie theater owners, his high-speed presentation of “Unexpected Journey” footage received a sharply mixed reaction. “Hall H is not the place” where he wanted fans to experience it, he said.
Many of the showbiz post-Con wrap-ups have suggested a similar danger for the theatrical end of things. LIke Mitt Romney going to England, the dangers of a misstep are so great that the dangers far outweigh any positive gain. Thus, TV is getting bigger and bigger at the show however, and splashy events for new media ventures—Tom Hanks‘ company threw a series of events for his new webizodes—will increase. For quite a while, the big exhibits at Comic-Con are really about showing who has the bigger dick among studio marketing execs. And that is a very important contest.
§ Wondering how the Con 1% spent their time?
The primary reason Reardon and her Hollywood compatriots head to San Diego is networking. With so many of them bouncing among the same events over a few days, Comic-Con has become akin to the Sundance Film Festival as a place to make connections and talk deals. “This is the densest concentration of entertainment industry professionals you can find outside of Beverly Hills,” said Jason Taylor, president of production at “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer’s Bad Hat Harry Productions, whose digital series “H+” previewed at the Con. “I’m discussing business with people who it would take a long time to schedule a meeting with in L.A.”
….At the same time fans gathered for costume balls and “Star Wars”trivia contests, the Hollywood crew gathered in settings that resembled the Cannes Film Festival. Behind the convention center’s Hall H, where the biggest movie panels are held, Warner Bros. welcomed talent to a VIPs-only tent that featured a pool table, foot massages, a gift suite and luxury Porta Potties. At the CAA party, there were divisions even among the entertainment industry pros, as the elite sat at tables marked “reserved.”
§ Funny how no comics website does the same sort of “winners/losers” thing for comics, innit?
§ OTOH, this blogger found Marvel Studio’s promotion for their short film Item 47 lame-o
On Friday morning, we got the call. Our iOS pushed a notification for the first location in the scavenger hunt around 8AM. We literally ran all over the Gaslamp, entering codes and solving puzzles at four different locations (complete with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and faux destruction at each), to reach the end and secure our spot at an exclusive screening of the short film later that evening.
At the 7PM screening all attendees were required to check their bags and surrender their cellphones, which was a minor inconvenience since we all expected great things from such an elaborately staged event. We were told to stick around after the screening for a special event, which ended up being just a Q&A with cast and crew. We all waited around for something to happen. Could it be a big reveal? A special guest star? Some cool giveaway?
Nada. Nada. Nada. Instead we saw a ten minute movie that we’ll all see anyway in a couple of months on the DVD, and hear a cast and crew of no one we’ve ever heard of talk about the making of the short. Now, we aren’t looking for handouts, but at normal SDCC movie screenings, at least they give free popcorn or t-shirts to attendees. Not here. Instead, we physically ran around town searching for clues for nothing, while missing other events and panels (and dinner!) which were taking place.
§ Among the 1000s of representative reports from comics industry pros, here’s a nice one from GB Tran.
And Randy Reynaldo.
As far as sales, it was a solid but not spectacular showing for me, boosted by my sale of some original art. It’s been observed for several years now that regular comics fans have become an endangered species at Comic-Con—ironically, as the event has become more popular and grown, it’s become more exclusive. Obtaining a golden ticket to the event has become a lottery, with many longtime attendees of Comic-Con squeezed out. It’s been many years since I could automatically assume anyone stopping by my booth was a potential customer who read comics.
§ Augie had an excellent wrap-up from afar.
§ Photos 1
There are lovely little gatherings here of people who yearn to emotionally connect over their favorite manga books and machinima and online cartoons. But there is also a sickness at Comic-Con. A pop culture pathology. I grew increasingly disgusted at the thought of all these people paying for the privilege of being spoon-fed gobs of entertainment gruel. Lapping it up. If you camp out overnight, we might show you a couple clips from The Expendables 2!Frankenweenie! Fringe! The Cleveland Show! Resident Evil: Retribution! Do you have a question for our panel? What was it like to work with Dolph Lundgren? Will the CG dragons be bigger this season? When is your character getting a love interest? Do you find the period costumes help you get into the proper mind frame on set?
At lunch, Stevenson told me he’s also covered mega events Burning Man and the Winter Olympics, so he’s been at bloated showcases before. While I’m sure we can all pick at stuff he wrote, sometimes the viewpoint of a total outsider produces insights:
“It’s really hard to run in armor,” a man dressed as some sort of outerspace soldier lamented with a sigh. “It’s impossible for me to get anywhere in a hurry.” The crowd murmured in assent. “People forget that we’re human beings,” said a woman dressed as something decidedly un-human. “They keep wanting to take photos of us no matter what. They hover over us while we’re eating. They think we don’t need to go to the bathroom.”
* Oh yeah it was the year I finally found the secret cosplay bathroom and I’m not saying where it is.
As usual, Con was made bearable by the many many kindnesses of friends and strangers, from David Gabriel helping me with my luggage to Evan Narcisse sharing his precious precious MeFi in the spartan press room. My home based crew gets smaller and smaller every year, though. The days of hanging out at the Hyatt with Zena and Brian and Furry are long gone. So I recruited some new peeps. Big ups to Pam Auditore, Gabriel Neeb, Alexander Añe and Henry Barajas for all their reportage and help during the show. And good god, what a job Todd Allen, Torsten Adair and Steve Morris did reporting from home. The Beat’s traffic was the highest ever for Comic-Con and it’s ALL because of them.
Thank yous this time to Calvin and Jody, Deb Aoki, Brigid Alverson, Charles and Alex, Ted McKeever for the work pass, Rob and Cory at Shifty Look, Peggy Burns at D&Q for solving many terrifying problems like the Hilary Clinton of comics that she is, Fantagraphics’ new dynamic and unstoppable duo of Jen Vaughn and Jacq Cohen, Andy, Tom and Rich for being on my panel, Scott, Gabriel, Ben and Ramon for being on my other panel.
Huge huge thank yous to my awesome Events/Previews Editor Jessica Lee, who was indispensable for just helping me get around the con. This woman will be running comics in a few years!
§ We’ll givethe final word to Jamie Hernandez, because he is the final word.
25. I remember when every panel ended up “How can we get comics into book stores?”
26. I remember when everyone could get in.
And with that, the final packet of Vietnamese coffee has been consumed. See you next year!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.