Saturday, July 30, 2011

"The Last Honest Comic"

2011 Comic-Con Report

Below is my usual full-length report of the 2011 Comic-Con. To simply view all the photos, visit the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con photogallery. Or feel free to simply scroll down through the photos included with this report and the ones included in my earlier pre-report.

I originally planned to title this Comic-Con report “The Walking Dead” in honor of the comic-book-property-turned-hot-television-series that was a fan favorite of the show. But in reality, as crowded as this year’s show was (in fact, it seemed even more crowded, if that's possible), to my eyes it was as smoothly run and drama-free as you could ask for. I’ve long learned to pace myself and not overextend myself at Comic-Con.

A large part of the credit goes to the hard work of the Comic-Con organizers and staff. There's always bound to be hiccups in a show of this size and complexity, but the staff and organizers have years of experience under their belt. They clearly make changes based on the previous year's experience and seem to have the ability to adjust on the fly to snafus that come up. They deserve credit for making the herculean logistical planning seem invisible and effortless.

There's also what the folks over at Comics Beat called the Year of Acceptance:

Instead of complaining about the craziness, attendees, and exhibitors accepted the long waits, surging crowds and tight security. When you have an event that prompts people to sleep outside for two days, you have something that people are desperate to attend–and desperate people do desperate things. Hence the surrender to complicated procedures and lines. The only person who didn’t get it was a drunk Welshman who paid the price.

Even those attending Comic-Con for the first time seem to understand the vibe and go with it. Given the increasing difficulty to purchase an attendee badge, at the end of the day, everyone was simply happy to be there and enjoyed a genuine good time.

The Bottom Line
When all was said and done, this Comic-Con turned out to be my most profitable show ever! My earnings were significantly boosted by sales of my original art, which are relatively high-ticket items. Though I don't put an emphasis on selling my art, I frequently receive inquiries and this year sold a record number of pieces for a single show. These included the covers of Rob Hanes Adventures #10 and Adventure Strip Digest #2 (pictured in the photo at right), as well as the original figure art from my booth banner and a Milton Caniff tribute piece that appeared in the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con souvenir program.

In terms of straight comic-book sales, my numbers were actually a bit down from 2010, though still respectable. I suspect this is partly due to the fact that less pure comics fans are able to attend the convention as it becomes more popular to a broader audience. I heard from many longtime attendees—including some readers of my work—who were unable to obtain a badge for the event.

This is borne out by many longtime dealers who reported disappointing sales and have seen sales slide in recent years. Despite the larger crowds, it felt more difficult than previous years to get people to simply stop and look at the book, let alone make a purchase. To put it in sobering perspective, the number of people attending the show nowadays exceeds the top sales figures of most of the best-selling comic-books.

"The last honest comic!"
Nevertheless, I'm glad that the target audience of my book still found me. Like last year, many sales were to people new to the series, who were simply turned on by the art, stories and/or concept. Those types of sales are always gratifying, especially when a customer returned to buy the entire collection after sampling an issue or two early on during the show! One person excitedly told me that I made his day when he found me because this is the first time he had seen me since the 1990s when recalled first seeing me but forgot where my booth was located. He promptly purchased everything and was excited to see I had so many issues out. Another longtime reader (pictured left), exasperated by the continued re-boots and convoluted storylines of many mainstream comic-book series, called Rob Hanes Adventures, “The last honest comic-book!”

As always, fellow industry pros and long-time fans of the series also came by to catch up and say hi. For a change of pace from the usual pictures of people in costume—many of whom I have now photographed several times over the past several years—I made a conscious effort this year to take photos of both new and long-time fans of Rob Hanes Adventures. You'll see their pictures scattered throughout this blog and in my photo gallery.

Taking it to the Street

Although off-site events have been a feature of Comic-Con for years, the 2011 show reached a real critical mass in terms of both official and unofficial Comic-Con related events being held outside the main San Diego Comics Convention.

Many consisted of storefronts, lounges and, in some cases, open air parking lots being used for sponsored parties, promotions, charging stations, etc. Along similar lines, many outlying hotels served as the official headquarters for companies like E! and Entertainment Weekly. The most strange, perhaps, was a storefront in the Gaslamp promoting a Marvel Monster Truck rally event later in the month.

One of the most interesting was Trickster, a sort of creator-run shadow convention held at the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center. The space was free to the public and partly intended to create a safe harbor where comics were the focus and creators—regardless of whether they had badges for the Comic-Con or not—could hang out and mingle more directly with fans.

Of interest to me was the introduction of a food truck area across the street from the convention center. The convention center's food is notorious for being mediocre and expensive—as well as not very diverse in selection—so it was nice to have an alternative food option nearby.

Panels and Programming

I have rarely attended scheduled panels and other programs at Comic-Con anymore because I need to be at my booth to make sales. However, this year, I attended two back-to-back programs on Saturday:  “Is the Comic Book Doomed?”and “Digital Disruption: Comics & Webcomics.”

Industry professional Mark Waid coincidentally served on both panels and embraces digital comics. In the first panel, Waid and several other panelists which included retailers spoke about the viability of the traditional periodical comic-book (often now referred to as “floppies”) versus trade paperbacks and digital comics.

Caniff tribute piece sold at the show. Click here to see the print version with logos
and lettering
In short, no one seems to think the comic-book is going away anytime soon. Indeed, the panelists mentioned the frequent prediction that “comics would be dead in five years” as a popular refrain every year for the past few decades. Though everyone seems to accept that digital comics are here to stay, the fact is that no clear consensus has emerged yet on a common delivery system nor on how to profitably monetize it. The impact of digital comics and declining periodical sales, however, clearly presents a serious challenge to the industry and particularly retailers as periodical sales continue to slide. The ability to launch a successful new small press comic-book like Bone was discussed.

The panelists on webcomics consisted of just Waid and PVP webcomic cartoonist Scott Kurtz, one of the few cartoonists who has found a way to make a living online. Kurtz came off as incredibly smart and insightful. He not only possesses solid business and marketing skills, he truly understand the differences between the print comics model versus webcomics, and has little patience or sympathy for the dinosaurs in the field among retailers and publishers who do not understand or embrace the digital model.

In brief, the traditional print model of comics has always depended on "scarcity"—with comics being printed in a finite quantity and subject to supply and demand. In contrast, as a digital "cloud" product, webcomics have the capacity to be viewed and shared infinitely without the bottleneck of distribution. In this model, creators have almost no choice than to give away their product for free and depend on the good will and the direct relationship with fans that webcomics affords to create income for the book by buying print collections of the series, making donations, and buying ancillary products. (Kurtz recently also entered into a transparent sponsorship agreement for an upcoming storyline.) Having said that, although what Kurtz has accomplished seems fairly straightforward and transparent, seeing the comic itself as something that should be distributed and given away for free. Yet at the same time, it’s a model that many may find difficult to emulate.

Downloaded publicity photo
Due to the wife and kids, it had been years since I attended any after-hour panels or programming. With the children now older, however, I was able to test the waters on two nights: the first was to attend the Star Wars Fan Film Awards Show on Thursday evening and the Batman: Year One animated DVD adaptation of the seminal Frank Miller/David Mazzuchelli series.

Though I rarely regret missing a panel, I do wish I had attended the Steven Spielberg Tintin presentation. Not only did Peter Jackson join him unannounced, but 10 minutes of footage from the upcoming film were shown. In addition, I learned later that Hall H, the room where the largest presentations are usually shown because it seats 6000 people and is usually impossible to get into, was only about half full! Ah, well, c’est la vie.

The Digital Revolution Continues (?)

Given the announced launch just this year of new digital comics platforms from Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics and Diamond Comics Distribution—joining the ranks of more established digital comics companies like Comixology—digital comics continues to be a potential game-changer. As I noted in last year’s report, though, no clear model has emerged yet for delivering, formatting, and monetizing digital work. I continued to be approached by startups looking for content for their sites. One of the most notable was Spanish cartoonist Pepe Moreno, who I remembered as the artist who wrote and drew Batman: Digital Justice, considered the first digital comic-book back in 1990. (Though I did know of Moreno, he had a copy of the book with him as a calling card. I had recently seen samples of his work at an exhibition of Batman comics work at the San Francisco Museum of Cartoon Art.)

While I recognize the growing importance of digital comics, my focus right now is simply producing my comics, with the digital side more tangential to this effort.

Friends, Family and Celebrities

As always, I had many old friends—and new ones—stop by the booth. As I mentioned above, I made it a point this year to take pictures of many of these friends and fans. Among those I saw was Sergio Aragones (who I seem to always bump into early in the morning during the Wednesday morning setup), Tim Burgard, R.C. Harvey, Anson Jew, Batton Lash, Bill Morrison, Mat Nastos, and Stan Sakai. Special shout outs need to go out to Randy Carter, Don Kelly, Lars, and Tom Stewart.

I was helped as usual by my brother Rod and my longtime buddy/college friend, Bob. My wife and two children also lent a hand—my kids are becoming quite adept at handing out the freebies! I was also fortunate to have as my booth neighbor Robert Wuest, who debuted his terrific new book, Monsters Among Us at the show.

Actress Alicia Coppola
In terms of the celebrity circuit, perhaps my most significant sighting this year was actor Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings). While I was having dinner with some friends at a fairly upscale restaurant in the Gaslamp, Serkis walked in and was seated with a small party of companions. (Apparently, Serkis appeared with Spielberg and Jackson at the Tintin panel. Serkis plays Captain Haddock in the film.)

Another sighting was actress Alicia Coppola (pictured at right). Although I’ve only seen her work sporadically in recent years, she made an impression me as the star of a short-lived television drama from 2000 called "Bull"—TNT’s first original television series—that centered around a Wall Street firm. I spotted her as she arrived at a booth—presumably to make a promotional appearance—and snapped this shot.

Also spotted was actor Blake Anderson, one of the leads in Comedy Central’s Workaholics, which I discovered just earlier this year. Anderson was running around the Small Press Area, showing real interest in people’s work. Though he did not stop at my booth, he did linger at certain booths near me.

On to 2012!

It's not clear whether Comic-Con has reached true critical mass, but it's certainly hit a sweet spot in terms of being all things to all people, bringing together under one roof comics, collectibles, television, film, gaming, and other related pursuits. As big as it has become, the show has preserved Comic-Con's tradition of starry-eyed excitement, providing a direct connection between fans and the creators that's always been a hallmark of Comic-Con and the many comic-book conventions that have followed in its footsteps.

Yes, I miss in the "good old days" when almost everyone who attended was there looking for cool new comics. But as long as Comic-Con retains its spirit of fannishness and fun, it's hard to begrudge its growth and desire to invite everyone to the party.

Visit the full 2011 San Diego Comic-Con photogallery
  • Other Comic-Con coverage:

From the photo galleries:

Comics historian and cartoonist R.C. Harvey
Cartoonist Batton Lash

Booth neighbor Rob Wuest

Another line at Comic-Con

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Comic-Con Report Preview...

Fangirls showing their love for ROB HANES ADVENTURES!
Well another Comic-Con is in the books! When all was said and done, this year’s show turned out to be my most profitable ever, with the bottom line  boosted significantly by sales of my original art—the most I’ve ever made in a single show!

I saw a few celebs (the most exciting being the Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis, who came into the restaurant with a small party where I was having dinner); spoke with several companies looking for content for digital comics projects; and for the first time in years actually attended some late night programs (the Star Wars fan films festival and the world premiere of the animated DVD film adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One series).

Dorothy Michaels, we're ready for your closeup!
On the downside, the increasing popularity of Comic-Con has made it more difficult than ever for people to get in.  Many longtime attendees—including some readers of my work—were unable to score a badge for the event. The proportion of real comic-book fans who attend the convention seems to have dwindled in recent years, which translates into less people interested in buying comics. This was reflected by the lower sales many comic-book dealers reported. Though my sales of original art boosted the bottom line, sales of my own comics were a bit down from last year as well. So even as attendance has soared, longtime comic-book dealers who have exhibited at Comic-Con for years (some for decades) have seen their sales slowly decline.

But this is all behind-the-scenes drama: everyone who attended was genuinely happy to be there and the personal interaction that fans can have with their favorite comic-book creators—not to mention the actors, writers and producers of their favorite games, television show, and movies—is what makes the San Diego Comic-Con experience unique.

I’m still in the process of organizing my photo gallery and putting together a more in-depth report for this year’s show. For now though, here’s a taste of some of the pics from this year’s show....

All exhibitors were tagged for the show with these non-removable wristbands.

Hobbit boy and Mom
Another satisfied customer!
Onward, Patsy!

Tintin maquette figures at the WETA Digital booth
Tintin book display

Waiting for Boba Fett to pick up his cargo...

Cosplaying as the Spirit (see below)

Row of limos for Comic-Con parties at the Hard Rock—I'm pretty certain these
weren't for the cartoonists!

Where's Waldo?
THERE'S Waldo!

Another day at Comic-Con

Breaking down after the show—this is less than an hour after closing!
Dealers waiting for the elevator with their product after the show —
I just carry my stuff down the stairs!