Monday, July 29, 2013

“As Featured on Wired.com....”


A Report on the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con... 

Click here for a slideshow of selected photos from this year's Comic-Con...

About the title of this year's report: prior to this year’s Comic-Con, a senior editor at wired.com contacted me with a request to interview me on Preview Night, when the show opens for a few hours the Wednesday evening before the official start of the show. After the interview, he told me the story would post the next day and would send me the link. I never received the follow up email and didn’t see the story, but when I returned home I found the story at the website. I guess I can now precede any mention of my comic-book with “as featured on wired.com"!

Scroll down to read my full report about the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con...

ABOVE: British entertainer and comics fan Jonathan Ross
I can't imagine there's an event as large and logistically complex as the San Diego Comic-Con that is as smoothly run and well organized. This year I had the opportunity to experience the show through the fresh eyes of friends of my brother (himself a longtime Comic-Con attendee), who were first-time attendees. They looked forward to their first Comic-Con with much anticipation and it was a pleasure to hear their reactions — they not only enjoyed themselves immensely, but their experience surpassed their wildest expectations. On the flip side, while strolling through the illustrators' booths on the far end of the floor, I overheard an older established artist, who described himself as “not a convention person,” tell a neighboring exhibitor that he found the show surprisingly fun and the fans exceedingly nice without any of the kind of “jerk fans” he said he sometimes encountered. So from the perspective of newbies — who said they quickly figured out how to navigate the show for maximum enjoyment — and a jaded professional at work behind a booth, the show was equally enjoyable.

As usual, my view of the show was limited to my corner booth in the Small Press Area of Hall B2 on the main floor. I’ve noted in the past that my presence at Comic-Con makes me no more privy to any of the special announcements and surprise appearances that occur during the convention than non-attendees, usually requiring me to check the usual entertainment/blog sites for news and announcements coming out of the show. (Hey, the Man of Steel sequel is actually going to feature Superman and Batman! Tom Hiddleston made a surprise appearance in character as Loki in Hall H!) But quoting more wiser souls, Comic-Con is what you make it and exists as a giant tent for people of all stripes and interests, regardless of whether it’s comics, films, television, books, animation, art, gaming, cosplaying, and more, where you often get to see the creative artists and stars both on the floor and at panels and appearances.

Comics writer Tony Isabella
Given the difficulty of getting a ticket to the event, everyone who attended was simply happy to be there to follow their bliss, whether it was sitting all day in one of the infamous cavernous halls to ensure seeing a panel later in the day, walking around looking for comics old and new, or meeting their favorite artists.

For years, Comic-Con-related programming both official and unofficial has gradually encompassed the surrounding local area, with companies taking over whole restaurants and storefronts during the entire show or for special events. The television show “Bates Motel” took over a storefront and parking lot, while the upcoming film, Ender’s Game, had a huge interactive tent across the street from the convention center. The videogame, "Assassin’s Creed," even had a full-size pirate ship docked in the marina behind the convention center! This year the show broadened its footprint even more, with some official Comic-Con business and events — like the pick-up of pre-ordered t-shirts — occurring off-site at neighboring hotels. The way most of the businesses in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter get into the spirit of Comic-Con reminded me that if the event moved to another city — as it nearly did last year when re-negotiating with the city — the show would lose a lot of the personality and character that San Diego gives it.

Sales for me at this year’s show were solid and on par with past shows. In addition to the regular longtime readers who stopped by to pick up the newest issue, I met many new fans who purchased a starter pack or the entire series. I’ve said this in past reports, but I can never tell what will compel someone to give Rob Hanes Adventures a try. While some say they love the classic/retro feel of my book, others read all kinds of comics and are simply happy to find something new and different. Some are stopped by me and eventually agree to purchase a sample starter pack, while others seem to “get” the series right away, quickly purchasing the entire series with little persuasion. And as usual, I had quite a few people “rediscover” me after not having seen me for several years and happily catch up on missing issues. Overall, people seemed more prepared to spend money compared to past years (perhaps reflecting the improving economy). Interestingly, although I’ve had the ability to accept credit card payments on my mobile phone thanks to Square, this year a significant number of my sales were with plastic — so thanks, Square!

A few other highlights:
  • Both my kids love to get into the spirit of things by trying to sell their own work. In fact, my son even sold a drawing for $8! (See photo at right.)
  • As always, I appreciated the fellow pros who stopped by to say hi, including comics writer and blogger Tony Isabella, who as a guest of the show was attending his first Comic-Con in 10 years and who plugged my book during a podcast interview he gave during the show; cartoonist Scott McCloud; Wolff & Byrd writer-artist Batton Lash; and Usagi Yojimbo writer-artist Stan Sakai. Another great thrill was meeting Tom Batiuk, the cartoonist who created and draws Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft. I not only had the opportunity to tell him that I grew up on his work, but I also learned he actually was familiar with Rob Hanes Adventures from way back!
  • Spotting celebrities on the floor is also always something to watch out for at Comic-Con. Actor Tim Daly walked by my booth in casual conversation with a companion and, during most of the weekend, actor Sean Astin was signing at a booth all day just down the aisle from me. My family was thrilled to see Morgan Freeman on the floor and Grant Imahara from one of their favorite television shows, “Mythbusters.” A highlight for my children was the opportunity to see internet personalities Toby “Tobuscus” Turner and his partner, Gabe “Gabuscus” Buscus on a panel and, later, outside the convention hall where the children took pictures with them.
  • Two such encounters were particularly memorable. The first was British talk show host Jonathan Ross (pictured at the top of this post), whose work I first discovered online before seeing him on BBC America. While strolling through the Small Press Area, he briefly stopped at my table to look at my work, smiled and moved on. (I've since discovered that he loves comics and, in fact, has written some.) A beat later, I recognized him and mentioned it to a friend. My friend disagreed but, because I was insistent, followed him down the aisle for a better look and perhaps a chance to hear his voice. A few moments later, I spotted Ross again walking down the aisle and, breaking all personal decorum, yelled “Jonathan!” Ross turned and, again breaking with my usual modesty, I waved him over and when he approached, I quietly asked, “Are you Jonathan Ross?” He actually seemed tickled to be recognized, said yes, and said he liked my work because it reminded him of the “ligne clair” of Hergé, the artist of Tintin. When I asked if we could take a picture together, he was delighted to do so. 
With SNL cast member Bobby Moynihan
  • My other celebrity encounter was with “Saturday Night Live” cast member Bobby Moynihan. He too stopped at my booth and when he did so, I said, “I know you.” I asked if I could take a picture and, like Ross, he graciously did so. Though I kept our conversation quiet, I felt a bit guilty immediately afterwards that I had outed him like that rather than give him a chance to look at my book (or have me sell him on it), so a few moments after he moved on, I followed to hand him a free issue of my book, to which he replied, “Hey, thanks, man!”

I rarely attend panels anymore, partly because I need to be at my table during the show. The larger halls, some of which seat up to 6,000 people, are of course a whole different animal, usually requiring a full-day commitment if one expects to get into a specific panel. The line usually starts literally the day before — with people camped out over night. One friend stayed in the room from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. My family love hitting panels, though of course it takes advance planning.

I did get out on the floor during breaks briefly once or twice a day. Though I tend to try and walk most of the floor during these times, I tend to focus on looking at the comics dealers with new comics and graphic novels for sale, original art dealers, and the artists booths. Much of my exploration of the convention floor, however, is done in the early hours before the show opens when it’s quiet and peaceful, though nothing is open or for sale yet. It is at these times I usually scope out what I'm interested in buying so that, during the show, I can go to the booth directly and swiftly make the purchase. Now that my children are getting a little older, there have been some opportunities to participate in a few after-hours activities. This year, for the first time ever, I attended with my family part of the masquerade ball, basically a costume contest, which has been a Comic-Con tradition for many, many years. It's quite a Comic-Con experience, partly because you're sharing the experience with so many fellow geeks.

For some reason, the cosplaying didn't seem as impressive as in past years, though that may simply be the result of my being at the same location for much of the show. In fact, for the most part, the more subdued nature of the people in costume reflected the crowds and overall tone of the show for me. Given the scale of the show, it's surprisingly mellow and easy-going — even when the crowds were shoulder to shoulder. Not all the attendees are old hands like me and others, but it seems now to be an inherent part of the event's vibe that new attendees quickly pick up on. And that's a tribute both to the attendees and the organizers.


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