Sunday, July 29, 2007

Countdown to San Diego IV (364 Days to Go)

I've just arrived safe and sound from the Comic-Con International in San Diego. Fortunately, the traffic back to Los Angeles seemed lighter than last year. Though the 5 and 405 freeways were heavy at the usual bottleneck points (starting in Carlsbad), unlike last year when it often slowed to an unbearable crawl or came to a dead stop, this evening at its worst the freeway moved at a steady clip of about 30-40 MPH. Which meant I got home in only about two-and-a-half hours (I think it took me more than three last year). Believe me, it was a treat compared to last year, and a pleasant trip. The Beatles and Ben Folds Five kept me company.

I'll be posting my usual annual Comic-Con report shortly, but a few quick impressions:

  • Apparently, the sales pattern I experienced was mirrored by many other exhibitors at the show: namely, as reported in The Beat, that sales were "disappointing for Friday and Saturday, as thousands of people stood in line to get into Hall H or get bags or just gawk at girls in skimpy costumes." (Saturday sales for me were quite strong, but not until very late in the day—the first part of the day was a complete wash!) Overall, I was satisfied by the sales at my booth, even though as I mentioned it was uneven throughout the show.
  • For the first time ever, all 4-day passes and all single-day passes for the convention sold out in advance. As a result, the traditional "slow" days of the convention—Wednesday's preview night, Thursday, and Sunday—felt just as crowded as a Saturday. (Those days actually seemed MORE crowded). I can vouch for that personally—navigating the convention floor was truly a daunting experience.
  • It was nice to learn that I'm not the only one trying to deal with what continues to be a challenging market for small independent comics. One colleague and prominent fellow publisher flatly told me that he thinks the traditional retailer model is dead. Though I'm not quite sure I agree with that entirely, I understand the reasons for such sentiment. Many people are hungry for a new distribution model that will enable more diverse work to be seen in the current environment.
As this quick overview shows, I caught up with a lot of fans, retailers, and fellow pros. In particular, I received some good feedback that will help me in promoting the series. And despite some of the more sobering assessments mentioned above, I still found the show to be greatly energizing; the comments, feedback and expressions of support I received, particularly from longtime fans and retailers, were deeply appreciated—it's humbling and a thrill to know that my work continues to entertain and excite readers. My thanks to everyone who stopped by!

(Stay tuned for a full report shortly!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Countdown to San Diego III: The Early Bird...

When I was a kid, we had a tradition of departing for family trips by car very early in the morning, around 4 or 5 a.m. Though I'm not quite sure of the reasons behind this, I have pleasant memories of this tradition—of sitting in the back seat half-asleep watching the sun rise as we embarked on a trip cross-state or cross-country, with my parents in the front seat.

The last couple of years, I've done the same for my trips to San Diego. Of course, I have more practical reasons for adopting this practice: living in L.A., I know how bad the traffic can be on the 405 Freeway corridor between these two major cities, especially during rush hour in the middle of the week. So I try to get an early start, and often end up in San Diego around 6 am.

I've arrived even before the convention center was open, but this gave me a chance to grab a nice breakfast, and park my car close to where I need access to get into the convention hall. (On the morning of the last day of the show, I also get up early to get a good parking spot so that it's easy to load up my car when I tear down my booth. Then I go back to the hotel to prepare for the show.)

It's actually fun to be at the convention center so early. It's surprising how much work still needs to be done before the show opens for preview night, so there are forklifts all over the place, the carpeting is still being put down, drapes on tables, and people are putting together their booths. I'm usually done by lunch, so I walk around, take in the atmosphere, see friends, then check in to my hotel to wind down before the show begins.

Based on my experience, over the years, I've developed check lists to remind me of things I need to bring down for the show and when I need for vacation. I'm happy to post them for download (click on the file to download): my Convention Checklist (for exhibiting) and my general Travel Checklist.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Countdown to San Diego II: My Contribution to the CCI Souvenir Program

Below is my contribution to the souvenir program for this year's Comic-Con International in San Diego. Click here to see it in fuller detail.

Each year, contributors are given a variety of themes to choose from, and it was a no-brainer for me to focus, of course, on the centenary of Milton Caniff's birth. (Caniff, of course, is the creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, and one of my idols who inspired Rob Hanes Adventures.)

Caniff is pictured seated at the table, and surrounding him from Terry and the Pirates are Pat Ryan, Terry Lee, and Burma from Terry and the Pirates; Steve Canyon (from his namesake strip); pining away in the foreground at far right is the iconic Dragon Lady.

I also usually try to somehow work my own characters into the theme. So at bottom left, you'll see my character, Rob Hanes, and his partner, Abner McKenna, commenting on the proceedings.

Also included in the drawing are various Caniff characters, all from Terry: Captain Judas (visible behind Rob and Abner); Anthony Sandhurst and his put-upon wife, Normandie Drake (Sandhurst is the direct inspiration for my own character, Antony Cromwell); Chopstick Charlie, Raven Sherman and Dude Hennick (the first two are partially obscured by the Terry logo); and at the rear of the club on the balcony are Terry's companions, Connie and Big Stoop.

I should note that I also thought about contributing a drawing celebrating the centenary of the birth of Herge, the Belgian creator of Tintin. My plan was to draw my character putting gel in his hair to emulate Tintin's famous spiked forelock, just as Tintin walks in on him. But I just didn't have the time to complete the drawing.

(At right is a personal favorite Comic-Con drawing from 2005, honoring Will Eisner, which you can see full size here).