Friday, July 28, 2017

2017 San Diego Comic-Con Wrap Up

Below is my report on the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con, held this year July 20-23. Scroll down to see some select photos or click here to go straight to the photogallery! Thanks to my brother for allowing use of his photos here as well.



My thanks to everyone who visited the WCG Comics booth at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con and made this year another success. As I hoped, the special comicon issue of Rob Hanes Adventures (#18) proved to be a draw to even those not familiar with the series. As always, it was fun to meet new fans and have longtime readers stop by to say hi and pick up the latest issue.

I approached this year’s show feeling somewhat more relaxed than past Comic-Cons, primarily because for once I completed the new issue, as well as put the finishing touches on my new trade paperback, well in advance. It was quite novel to not be burning the midnight oil to complete an issue and get it to the printer in the weeks leading up to the show.

This year’s Comic-Con featured a few firsts for me as well:

  • I refreshed my old PVC-pipe booth banner, which I had been using since 2012, with two, simpler retractable vertical banners, featuring fresh pieces of art from the new issue (18) and the next (19).
  • I made an effort to be more present on Twitter and Facebook prior to the show.
  • For the first time, my tween-aged son joined me on my pre-dawn drive down to San Diego! My family usually follows me separately later in the day, so he was quite excited to get a glimpse of Comic-Con behind the scenes before it started.

Despite the number of attendees, it’s no secret that Comic-Con can be a challenge for exhibitors. Over the years, the profile of attendees has evolved, meaning not everyone who attends the show necessarily is interested in comics, which is much different than when I first began exhibiting at the show back in the 1990s. And, of course, the sheer number of exhibitors vying for attention and dollars adds to the challenge.


As I have noted in the past, some small press publishers and exhibitors have resorted to other means to boost sales. This sometimes involves selling prints, t-shirts or other items featuring characters and properties that are usually unauthorized and unlicensed. I overheard one small press publisher admit to another that his Bob’s Burgers items flew off the table while he “couldn’t sell a $3 comic-book.” When I mentioned this to a fellow small exhibitor, he told me that some companies were looking into ways to start cracking down on such practices since they felt the conventions themselves weren’t stepping up. (I recall years ago there being exhibitors who sold bootleg VHS and DVDs of rare and hard-to-find cult films and TV shows, but these disappeared long ago, no doubt due to a crackdown.)

Nowhere was the changing face of Comic-Con more evident than in the decision by Mile High Comics to skip this year’s show after a 44-year run, as well as that of Bud Plant Books to move to a smaller booth at a different location from the space it traditionally occupied on the main floor in prior years. Both used to be prominent anchors on the main floor, occupying prime locations along with other notable comics dealers. While there are still traditional comics dealers on the floor, they are not at the level or standing of Mile High or Bud Plant—in some ways, like the entertainment and Hollywood booths that occupy the north end of the hall, Comic-Con seems increasingly dominated by publishers and companies that now try to connect their brands and artists to fans directly, rather than through the “middlemen” of retailers and distributors.

Sales were steady for me throughout the show, not marked by the kind of long lulls that sometimes struck my booth in past years at various times during the convention. I am not a natural salesperson or self-promoter, but I have learned it helps to put myself out there a bit, if just to break through the glassy-eyed stares that invariably strike attendees overwhelmed by the show’s sensory overload. Sales on Sunday, the last day, were also surprisingly strong and brisk, with people seemingly ready to buy after four days of activities and panels. Of course this no doubt varies publisher to publisher, but I found that others had similar experiences to mine.

Along with some personal and professional connections I made, it was overall a great show.

Practice Makes Perfect


New vertical banners introduced at this year's Comic-Con
As I always do, I packed my car the night before with my luggage and booth material, and departed before dawn, at 4:50 a.m. I do this not just to beat the traffic, but also to get a prime parking space directly beneath my booth at the convention center (the parking pass itself was purchased months in advance). My departure was actually just a tad later than usual but I still made it to the convention center from L.A. by 6:40 a.m. (In contrast, it takes my wife anywhere from 2–3 hours later in the day to make the drive.)

I actually enjoy the early morning start and being on the road at sunrise—and as I mentioned earlier, my son joined me, who was quite excited to join me. My brother, as he does every year, flew in from Northern California and was also at the convention center by 8 a.m. My car was fully unloaded and my booth set up by 9 a.m., which then allowed me to pick up my son from Comic-Con's exhibitor's daycare and get a nice breakfast. Then it was off to the hotel for early check in.

The banner retired this year
This year, through the hotel lottery, we were at a hotel a bit further out at Hotel Circle—during the show, Comic-Con has several shuttle lines running throughout the city running 24/7. I have to give credit for Comic-Con because, in my experience, even though the departure times for the shuttles are supposed to be 15-20 minutes, whenever the lines got really long either at the convention centers or on the route, they would run multiple buses almost immediately. It's pretty amazing and says much about Comic-Con's commitment to keep fans happy. Taking the shuttle from a little farther out than my usual and preferred hotel near San Diego's Little Italy really wasn't that much of a difference, other than leaving a little extra time—the shuttle stops tend to get a little more crowded in the mornings, but as an exhibitor who can get in before the doors open, I was leaving the hotel by about 7:15 a.m.

On the last day of the show, I actually always drive my car from the hotel to the convention center before dawn, again to be parked so that I can load up my car at the convention center as soon as the show ends. Those round-the-clock shuttles sure come in handy, though of course there's also the option of a taxi (or, nowadays, Lyft or Uber). But at that hour at the convention center, there are already people on line.

The Floor


Since I feel obligated to remain at my booth for most of the show, I only occasionally get to check out the floor or attend panels. For me, the best time to simply see things, is the “magic hour” before the doors open each morning when things are more peaceful and people are getting ready for the morning onslaught of attendees.

Some of my favorite places to visit are retailers like Bud Plant Books and Stuart Ng Books (Stuart actually visited my booth and picked up some recent issues of my book); publishers like IDW, Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly; Artist’s Alley; the areas selling original art and prints by talented artists as well as established names like Neal Adams and Michael Golden.

As always, it was fun briefly catching up with colleagues, friends and fans. These included new Mad Magazine executive editor Bill Morrison; comic book writer, artist and creator Mark Wheatley; Usagi Yojimbo writer and artist Stan Sakai; fellow cartoonist Batton Lash (Supernatural Law) and his wife, Jackie Estrada, who has run the Eisner Awards for years; and First Comics News journalist Rik Offenberger, who recently helped arrange an interview with me that ran just prior to the show.

It’s difficult for me to get away for panels as well—indeed, while taking a somewhat leisurely lunch on Sunday, my wife sent me a frantic text telling me that people were showing up at my booth looking to see me!

This year marked the birth centenary of one of my comics idols, Will Eisner, but I unfortunately missed a panel retrospective of his work. (This year also marked the great Jack Kirby’s centenary and Comic-Con prominently honored the legacy of both artists at the show.) On another day, I did catch a panel of another cartoonist I admire, Wally Wood. Members of my family tried to attend panels on Bob’s Burgers and Rick and Morty, but the wait turned out to be too long and the chances of getting in slim.

Print by MAD Magazine cartoonist Tom Richmond

Off-Sites

As Walking Dead, Blade Runner 2049, Westworld, Netflix and Stranger Things, The Tick, the History Channel, and others abounded downtown and were made even more apparent to me by the fact that even at 7 a.m. in the morning, lines were forming for them. (In fact, that was a consistent theme both in the hall and outside downtown—there were lines for something related to Comic-Con everywhere!) Apparently, some even featured immersive experiences for visitors.
I’ve reported in past years, a growing trend for Comic-Con has been off-site activities and pop-ups. Some rent out storefronts for the show while others create pop-ups in the downtown area adjacent to the convention center. Again, I have little time to check out these off-site venues, but I certainly saw them. Sites for

Cosplay


Print by cartoonist Neal Adams
Like last year, I felt the cosplaying was a little less evident this year. Of course, there are still plenty of people in costumes (as evidenced by my photogallery), but it just seems less frenzied. You can take this with a grain of salt, of course—I always point out that being at my table through much of the show likely gives me a narrow view of the show and, like everyone else, I have to depend on news sites and social media to know what’s going on. I noticed this year that the registration areas were moved to the upper floor, leaving the large open areas in the main lobby once occupied by these booths to cosplayers to gather and pose for photos.

I still take plenty of photos of cosplayers, and I particularly enjoy those that are a little more obscure or clever. Many of the cosplayers also really get into their roles, staying in character when they pose for photos. Among my favorites were a series of different cosplayers from different Wes Anderson films, including the Lobby Boy from the Grand Bucharest Hotel, Team Zissou from the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom (unfortunately, this last shot I missed!)

As expected, Wonder Woman and Rey from Star Wars proved to be popular cosplayer choices. Another trend I noticed this year was a lot of guys cosplaying as female characters! Rick and Morty, from the animated television show of the same name, was also a very popular choice this year.

Hollywood Glamour

From a media site
Aside from cosplaying, a feature of Comic-Con that often receives plenty of attention is the star quotient at Comic-Con. Though reports noted a slightly reduced studio presence in Hall H compared to previous years, the casts of the upcoming Justice League movie, led by Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck, as well as the cast of the Black Panther, created quite a stir on the floor when they respectively appeared for signings at the DC Comics and Marvel Comics booths.

New trailers for Justice League and Thor: Ragnorak also premiered at the show, shortly before being released online (I caught them on Twitter at my booth).

One evening after the show, on the way to dinner, I inadvertently also ran into a crowd of fans milling about the side entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel across the way, that suddenly began screaming and filming as a side entrance opened and a party of people, surrounded by security, were escorted to waiting limos. It turned out the Hard Rock was the green room for VIPs appearing at the show and Ben McKenzie, lead actor of the television show “Gotham” had just emerged.



The show invariably ends in a whimper—when the announcement is made, cheers go up, but people often still go about their business as security slowly starts to get unauthorized people out the door. It's amazing at how quickly everything starts to be torn down, almost immediately. Since I have a smaller booth, it's easy for me to strike down my booth, pack everything up and, with the help of my brother and a buddy, pack up my car, using the stairs rather than the elevator to the parking garage which has long lines of people with larger boxes and booth pieces to bring down.

Writer and blogger Mark Evanier writes in his summary about the show that "Comic-Con has an odd way of always being too long but at the same time, not long enough."

And so wraps another Comic-Con. I have to say, for some reason, I enjoyed this year quite a bit, partly due to my increased engagement with social media that made me feel more connected to what was going on elsewhere at the show and the fact that I felt a bit more energized by the release of the comicon issue as well as what’s coming up next in the series—here’s looking to 2018!

Below are some choice photos from the show — or click here to go straight to the photogallery!














Print by MAD Magazine cartoonist Tom Richmond





Aquaman photobombed by... Aquaman!

















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