Tuesday, August 3, 2010

2010 San Diego Comic-Con Report

Below is my San Diego Comic-Con post-report for 2010. The usual caveats apply: since I’m chained by necessity to an exhibitor’s table for the duration of the four-day show, my views represent a very narrow view of the convention. But to paraphrase a commentator from a few years ago, given the breadth of interests covered at Comic-Con, the show is whatever you want to make it—and it’s often different things to different people. So with that in mind, without any further ado, here’s my take on this year’s Comic-Con...

(Or click here to go straight to the photogallery.)

New Location, New Faces

I’m glad to report that sales were up significantly this year, driven by sales to people new to the series! The uptick is probably due to a couple of factors.

In a major change from previous years, I was at a different location. I lost my usual place at the back wall of the exhibitor’s hall when I inadvertently missed the deadline for the show, but due to a cancellation got assigned a new spot closer to the middle of the floor. My new table was at the end of a small press area aisle (catty corner from the Peanuts booth).

While the new location may have led to increased foot traffic, I also made a more conscious effort to get people to stop at my table and check out my work. I’ve never been a natural showman or salesman, but I quickly realized that with all the distractions and sensory overload at the show, people needed a chance to notice my work. That often simply meant being a little more outgoing in saying hi to people and inviting them to check out the book. I’m not comfortable with the hard sell, and can tell when someone simply isn’t interested, but this approach nevertheless did result in sales to people who otherwise would not have noticed my table.

Having said all that, to paraphrase William Goldman’s book, Adventures in the Screen Trade, “Nobody knows anything.” Over the past few years the Friday of Comic-Con has become my best sales day because Saturday, traditionally the busiest of the convention, had become the day when the big Hollywood productions drew attendees away from the exhibitor’s hall and into the meeting rooms. That assumption went out the window this year—with every day now sold out, and the big names as likely to appear now on Thursday or Friday as Saturday, every day is now up for grabs. As a result, Sunday turned out to be my best day, followed by Thursday. Indeed, on Sunday the floor was a madhouse, as though everyone had finally felt they accomplished everything they needed to do at Comic-Con and were ready to buy comics.

Although I had some new material for the show—such as the new all-color Rob Hanes Adventures Special Edition—most of it was repackaged older material. As always, longtime fans and friends visited the booth to see what new material was available, and though many bought the new books, some said they looked forward to a new issue. I’ll definitely make amends next year when I plan to have a new issue of Rob Hanes Adventures in release.

But what clearly drove sales for first-time readers to the series was the affordably-priced 4-packs. Of course, people still need to be attracted to the art or the concept—but certainly the sampler packs encouraged people to give the series a try. (As often happens, several returned later in the convention to pick up the remainder of the issues after they had read and liked what they had initially purchased).

What also boosted the bottom line is that I also sold a couple of pieces of original art—including the cover art to Rob Hanes Adventures #10.

Anyway, my thanks to the fans and friends—both longtime and new, some of whom from overseas—who stopped at the table to chat and make a purchase! Thanks for your support!

Going Digital

A major undercurrent of the show (at least on the comics side) was the seeming continued drift towards digital comics. The introduction of the iPad has clearly added to the seeming inevitability of the trend. In fact, in the months and weeks leading up to the show, most of the major companies and many small ones had unveiled proprietary digital comics apps.

The technology clearly is still in its infancy, with comics publishers—much like the rest of the publishing world—having no clear or consistent model for delivering, formatting, and monetizing digital work.

Like many publishers, I was approached by several people seeking content for their digital comics startup. I was even invited to a presentation/pitch meeting for a company recently acquired by digital publisher Wowio. (They clearly spent a lot of money to be noticed—the presentation included free lunch, and took place on a yacht that was moored at a slip right behind the convention center!)

Across the board, all the proposed agreements from the startups were non-exclusive, with the creators retaining ownership, including print, and licensing rights. This may seem like a no-brainer in this day and age, but it’s significant for an industry that was built on the backs of work-for-hire creators who signed over the ownership of characters like Superman and Captain America that went on to become licensing bonanzas and pop culture icons, and who subsequently profited very little, if at all, from their creations. Back then, early comics publishers were desperate for content as well.

In any case, the question for today’s creator isn’t just what deal is best but rather what’s the right horse to choose. While one could theoretically choose multiple companies to work with, there is a a risk of both diluting the property, as well as having to expend a lot of time and energy prepping the comics for different formats.

Some of my work is already available digitally via webcomics and some digital comics sites. But until now, I’ve considered digital comics simply as a promotional tool for driving people towards the print versions, not as a separate revenue stream. While few people believe print comics are going away anytime soon, companies are obviously looking for ways to make digital comics profitable, no doubt in anticipation of the fact that digital comics will likely continue to gain marketshare and gradually eat into print sales. Even after attending the Wowio presentation, I must admit it’s still kind of a mystery to me how the new model enables publishers to make money in the digital world. On the other hand, although the paid subscription model is not yet completely DOA, for the most part this road has not been successful.

No 800 Pound Gorilla

As I mentioned in my preliminary Comic-Con post, notwithstanding a stabbing incident at the show, many observers seem to agree that this year’s convention was relatively subdued and mellow.

Goth Girl Holly Golightly and Stormtrooper
Yes, there was the usual frenzy for fan-favorite television shows and films (my wife and children were thrilled to get into the Myth Busters panel), and there were many high-profile projects that attracted attention—such as the forthcoming Green Lantern, Scott Pilgrim, and Thor films—but none seemed to completely dominate the convention or create the kind of palpable excitement (or polarization) like the Twilight phenomenon of last year. (The organizers contributed to the calmer atmosphere by prudently deciding to postpone their decision about whether they would be moving Comic-Con in 2013. While their claim that the demands of the show no doubt played a part in this decision, they must have also recognized that to have done so beforehand would have completely overshadowed the show.)

Absent such a lightning rod, the calmer atmosphere probably reflects in part the ability of the organizers to make adjustments each year to improve the logistics. (Indeed, some activities were moved off-site to nearby hotels to relieve some of the pressure in the convention center.) My wife told me how friendly and helpful the staff were in managing the crowd for the Myth Busters panel; I was similarly impressed by how quickly the lines moved for the exhibitors and professional badges. Even the weather cooperated: during the convention, the weather was remarkably cool, never breaking 70 degrees. (In fact, the convention hall was pretty chilly the entire show.)

The attendees, too, deserve much of the credit for such a laid back atmosphere, many of whom have now likely participated in multiple Comic-Cons and are old hands at this and set the tone for the newbies. Yes, the show was sold out again, so I’m assuming that means there were the same number of people at the convention as last year. But many of them probably are well familiar with the the ins and outs of the show.

Out and About

Thor's Throne at Marvel Comics' Booth
Being an exhibitor, I walked the floor only intermittently (usually with the kids), made only a few purchases, and attended just one panel. (For the record, it was the animated Brave and the Bold panel, which I attended with my wife and children since we enjoy the show as a family. A touching moment came when actor Diedrich Bader, the voice of Batman on the show, choked up as he acknowledged now that the show was coming to a close that it had become his favorite role, although he first approached it simply as another paid gig. It also was a treat to see Bader and actor John DiMaggio, the voice of a very bombastic Aquaman on the show, improv in character about the end of the show. My wife reported seeing Bader on the floor and being able to tell him how much the kids loved his Batman.)

I made just a few purchases, including the new Love and Rockets, as well as the new Captain Easy Sundays collection, both purchased at the Fantagraphics booth.

I always enjoy seeing what kind of displays the larger companies have, and to looking through original art and visiting Artist’s Alley.

For the most part, most of the usual exhibitors were there, so the floor was very familiar to me, which is somewhat comforting—except for the notable absence of Comics Relief and the significant smaller space occupied by Bud Plant Comics Distribution. Bud Plant and Comics Relief used to occupy full aisles that ran contiguous with each other, creating nice, inviting landmarks on the floor, but I can only assume that Plant’s sales last year or the higher booth costs caused them to downsize. I felt some real sadness at that.

Like many exhibitors, the only time I had a chance to really walk the floor and take in some of the sights was in the hours before the convention hall opened to the masses. Although most booths aren’t open for business, it’s a pleasant time to be in the convention hall before the crowds. (Indeed, it’s probably one of the few times exhibitors have time to relax a bit.) It often gives one a chance to scope out what might be worth buying later so that you can shoot over there when you have a few moments and quickly purchase what you need. Thor's throne at the Marvel booth (pictured above), taken from the film set, appeared to be a memorable hit among fans.

So wrong on so many levels, but I do love this picture
Friends and Family

Even though I’m primarily “working” at the convention, many family and friends also join me at the show to take in the spectacle, helping out at the booth at times. My wife always enjoys the show and, with the children, looks forward to planning their costumes for the convention.

Although my little girl (now 8 years old) has always enjoyed getting into character and the attention she receives, my 5-year-old boy is a bit more reticent. But this year he got into the spirit of things, dressing as Batman and a hobbit (he always hated the hobbit outfit though with his curly locks he was a natural—until he finally watched Lord of the Rings this year!) Photos of the kids even showed up on CNN's coverage of the show (see second photo at the link).

At the risk of missing someone, the industry pros and acquaintances who stopped by at the booth or who I stopped by to see included Tim Burgard, Kurt Busiek, Dave Olbrich, Jaime Hernandez, Mario Hernandez, Rich Johnston, Steve Leaf, Tom Mason, Mat Nastos, Andrew Pepoy, John Roshell, and Stan Sakai.

Also stopping by was Robert Haines, from the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards, who was accompanied by his wife, Jenn Stewart, a nominee for this year’s Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award for the Dragon comic-book store in Ontario, Canada. Haines said he had heard of my book and laughed when I joked that I appreciated his not being litigious—I also told them they had a natural way to promote the book in their store!

Anyway, thanks to my wife and the kids for their help and support, as well as Bob and my brother Rodney for being of great assistance (and moral support) as well!

Well, with the 2010 Comic-Con now over, I guess it’s back to the drawing board as I look ahead to 2011!

Go to the photogallery

Other links about the 2010 Comic-Con:

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