San Diego Comic-Con 2008 Report
So… how was San Diego Comic-Con?
I’ve been asked that a lot in the last 48 hours, so here’s my best attempt at wrangling the bucking, spitting beast that was this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. It’s a long one, so consider yourself warned.
First off, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t arrive until late Thursday night after a series of travel problems that included (but were not limited to): canceled flights, one missed connection, a sprained ankle (not mine), an hour spent standing in place during a "security breach" situation in the main Charlotte airport, and a pair of storms that seemed quite capable of ripping the roof off a house or sending various farm animals across the road in an airborne state.
Once I was actually in San Diego, however, there was a slightly more manageable form of chaos to deal with. Here were some of my thoughts on the whole affair, as well as some of the highlights from my chats with publishers, creators and various other groups around the show:
All of the hub-bub about press having a difficult time getting into many of the panels they were assigned to cover was certainly warranted, as entrance into just about every panel covered by the ComicMix team was the product of either several hours waiting in line (and more often than not, having to skip lower-profile panels you would’ve covered if you didn’t have to get in line four hours early for the Watchmen panel), or having the good fortune to know someone from the company putting on the event. As someone who worked as a journalist in the independent media before covering the entertainment industry, the latter requirement for coverage has always made me twitch a bit — as it’s a slippery slope from "friend of the company" to "extension of the company’s marketing department." However, I feel like our crew of Arthur Tebbel and Christoper Toia, Chris Ullrich and Van Jensen (who remote-blogged many of the announcements) and the ComicMix Radio team did an admirable job getting into many of these panels without doing anything that makes me twitch.
On a side note, one of my favorite comments about the major media panel events was this assessment by someone I spoke with several days after the screening of Frank Miller’s The Spirit footage: "It was like Sin City via 300 and Looney Tunes."
Another interesting item of note is that the crowd never seemed to have a low point this year. From what I’m told, Wednesday’s "Preview Night" and Thursday were both massively attended, and not any less crowded than the typical "big days" of the show on Friday and Saturday. Sunday was also a madhouse, with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds for much of the day despite the early departure of many creators, publishers and the like. What Artists Alley lacked in crowds (and artists) on Sunday was more than made up for by the crowds jamming the retailer and mass media sections that same day.
According to one publisher I spoke with, "Wednesday is the new Friday" at Comic-Con.
Among the panels I was able to attend this year, the "World of Graphic Novels" provided a nice counterpoint to all of the mass media chaos, and allowed me to finally meet The Comics Reporter himself, Tom Spurgeon, who moderated the conversation.
I spent a significant time during this year’s show navigating the webcomic waters, and there was a lot to report from the digital comics scene. The Dumbrella booth was packed throughout the entire show (or at least what I saw of it), with writer/actor Wil Wheaton (the subject of a recent three-part interview here on ComicMix) and comics creator Scott McCloud (Zot!) each taking turns signing books and creating a long line around the booth that stretched several times around itself. I wasn’t able to meet Wheaton, unfortunately, but here’s hoping he’ll make a return appearance. As I mentioned to Dumbrella hosting guru Phillip Karlsson a few days later, Dumbrella’s big presence at this year’s show made the webcomic collective a landmark of sorts on the show floor. Much like the way many creators reference their booths’ location by way of the can’t-miss Penny Arcade table, I heard more than a few people in the crowd using the Dumbrella booth as their point of reference throughout the show.
DayFree Press also went big this year, as evidenced by the great Dr. McNinja sign letting everyone know where to find them and threatening to kick passers-by in the teeth. It was that big. Inside the booth, DayFree guest Randall Munroe of xkcd seemed to be sketching from the moment the show opened until the moment it closed each and every day, while David Malki‘s recently released Beards of Our Forefathers and Dispatches From Wondermark Manor appeared to be big hits among attendees. In retrospect, I wish I picked up one of the DVDs of Expendable, the Malki film about the secret lives of henchmen which I posted about back in January — but the crowd was pretty heavy when I noticed the DVDs, and I was caught up in the surge. I was also finally able to meet Questionable Content‘s Jeph Jacques, who chatted with me a bit as he worked on sketches of QC characters Hannelore and Faye for fans.
By the way, I loved Malki’s pitch for Dispatches From Wondermark Manor: "It’s the Victorian Era as written by someone who has only heard of the Victorian Era."
Over at the aforementioned Penny Arcade booth, it seemed appropriate that PA business genius Robert Khoo was in the process of counting money when I stopped by to say hello, as the PA crew seemed to be doing a heavy business every time I wandered by. It always amazes me that they’re willing to continue doing free sketches for fans — but it never ceases to impress me, too. Here are a few of the sketches they posted throughout the show.
Oh, and providing one of the best segues into my report on the print-comics side of things, I found some time to chat with Moresukine creator Dirk Schwieger about the recent release of a print collection of his amazing webcomic/blog about "assignments" he undertook while living in Tokyo. Schwieger was a guest of NBM Publishing, who released the collection just before the show. Keep an eye out for my interview with Schwieger on ComicMix in the coming weeks, as it was a really interesting discussion and one of the highlights of the show for me.
On the print side of the comics world, I sat down for a chat with writer Christos Gage about his upcoming series for Avatar Press, titled Absolution. The Law & Order: SVU writer promised a nice mix of legal procedure and superhero action in the series, and I was able to peek at his long-form pitch that convinced Avatar to bite. It looks promising, and the interview should hit ComicMix as soon as I have time to transcribe it. Also on the Avatar front, the final issue of Warren Ellis’ controversial (but aren’t Ellis’ projects always "controversial") series Black Summer just hit shelves, so I made sure to pick the issue up before I left the booth. I read it on the way home and was quite satisfied with the finale.
Devil’s Due Publishing made good on their promise to bring in a big surprise guest at Thursday’s panel, as actor Kevin Spacey popped in to talk about the upcoming partnership between DDP and his film website TriggerStreet. Keep an eye here on ComicMix for more about that arrangement, as well as the announcement that DDP will be publishing some previously unpublished work by creators like John Cassaday and Geoff Johns as part of their deal with Humanoids.
I also spent some time chatting with the guys behind Hero Envy, an episodic online video series I’ve been a fan of since, well… a long time before I considered taking my journalism career into the comics world. It’s a fun, light-hearted project that always impressed me with how seriously it doesn’t take itself. The series has been gaining a pretty impressive audience over the last few years, owing mainly to the tireless touring by the guys behind it, and now looks to have a comic of its own released around the end of 2008. The third DVD collection of the series was just released, too. They’re a good bunch, so keep an eye out for them.
It just so happened that a booth away from the Hero Envy team was The Comic Foundry crew of Laura Hudson and Tim Leong who, fresh off their loss in the Eisner Awards, had set up a big ol’ sign advertising that they were an official "2008 Eisner Award Loser." The latest issue of Foundry was released just a short time ago, and after looking through it on the flight home, they can probably leave that sign home next year. It looks damn good.
In case you were wondering about what was going on just below the surface at this year’s show, Comic-Con was once again filled with the standard level of viral marketing campaigns. AMC went big on their push for the upcoming remake of The Prisoner, posting "Seek the Six" messages all around the show floor and surrounding areas of San Diego — even going so far as to hire a sky-writer to scrawl the message over the convention center. There was also a Lost game going on throughout the weekend involving members of the series’ Dharma Initiative mailing list. I don’t know too many details about it other than the fact that it was going on and I kept running into people holding weird signs who would only tell me that they were involved in something related to Lost and needed to find "a welder." Your guess is as good as mine. Anyone know anything more?
On the subject of marketing, here’s the rundown of what I brought home from the show:
- Posters — lots of ’em. There always far too many posters handed out during the show than any one person can carry home, so I tend to be pretty selective about the promotional prints I pack up for the return trip. This year, I grabbeda few posters advertising the upcoming Greatest American Hero comic, as well as one of the Shout! Factory DVDs collecting some of Lenny Bruce’s performances. I also ended up with some posters for the Spider-Man: Web of Shadows videogame, as they caught my eye for some reason I can’t quite explain now.
- The giveaway at Saturday’s PopCandy Meet-Up was really quite wonderful: An original minicomic featuring illustrated Twitterings of various PopCandy fans. It’s an excellent idea, and I’m not surprised that Whitney Matheson’s name is associated with it. I can’t say enough about this little comic, to be honest.
- I picked up a pair of plastic Clone Trooper masks from one of the many Stars Wars-related marketing campaigns going on throughout the show. They’re actually pretty nice, and sturdy enough to survive the long trip home.
- The trend of cardboard-and-rubberband masks that made New York Comic-Con a Skrull-filled affair seems to have really caught on this year, with cardboard masks handed out throughout the show featuring the likenesses of Spider-Man (both the red-and-blue costume as well as black costume), Lisa Simpson and my favorite, the television-version of Swamp Thing (promoting the Shout! Factory release of the TV series on DVD). However, nothing will top last year’s Simon Pegg masks — one of which still hangs in my office. I like to set them up around the room and pretend I’m working in a crowded office… Is that too much information?
- I also snatched up a few Strongbad pins promoting the upcoming release of the Homestar Runner character’s videogame on the Nintendo Wii and PCs.
- On the recommendation of Shortpacked webcomic creator David Willis (the subject of this recent ComicMix interview), I actually purchased one of the con-exclusive "Nemesis Prime" Transformers (basically it’s Optimus Prime with an "evil" paint job). I haven’t owned a Transformer toy in years, and was embarassed at having to read the instructions to figure out how to get it from vehicle mode into a recognizable robot form.
- I also picked up a few promo cards offering free downloads of Dexter and Californication episodes on iTunes. I haven’t watched either series yet, despite all the good things I hear about them (well, about Dexter, at least — I haven’t heard anything about Californication). Maybe this will be the impetus I need to start tuning in.
- I ended up sitting next to recent Infinity, Inc. artist Matt Southworth on a bus to the convention center and was really impressed with the promo he handed me for Stumptown, his upcoming detective series with Greg Rucka that will be published by Oni Press. The promo was enclosed in a tiny manila envelope with the word "confidential" stamped on it. Inside there was a black-and-white minicomic, as well as a plastic magnifying glass with which to read it. Southworth had this to say about Rucka: "He’s the most loyal person i’ve ever worked with, in that he almost aggressively insists that this is our project — together."
- At the far corner of the exhibition hall, anyone who signed up for the Ghostbusters videogame mailing list received an "Ecto 1" license plate and glow-in-the-dark Ghostbusters lanyard. I’m a sucker for Ghostbusters swag, apparently.
- A Poop Sign — ’nuff said.
- Finally, one of my favorite take-home items from this year’s Comic-Con was a sketch provided by ComicMix creator Mark Wheatley (Hammer of the Gods 2, EZ Street) for a themed sketchbook I’ve been putting together at the last few shows. What’s the theme? Well, you’ll have to wait and see.
And that’s my report, folks. Tune in next year for, well… hopefully a lot less travel problems. For more on this year’s Comic-Con, be sure to check our Comic-Con News Archive here on ComicMix.