Monday, August 4, 2014

Walk, Don’t Run: A Report of the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con

Click here to go straight to the photogallery from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con
"There is no running in the exhibition hall. Please walk to your destination." --repeated announcement each morning at the show's opening
The 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, held July 24-27, 2014 (with the usual preview night on July 23), was another fun and successful show. I sold lots of comics, connected with fellow cartoonists, friends and longtime fans, and made many new ones as well. The event’s footprint continued to expand beyond the convention center, with many official and non-affiliated programs and events now being held at nearby hotels or across the street from the convention center in the Gaslamp District. Even if you didn't have an attendee badge, there was plenty to take in—in fact, when I went out to grab lunch across the street one day, the crowd outside was as shoulder-to-shoulder as inside the convention hall!

Issue 15 of Rob Hanes Adventures debuted at the show, my 11th consecutive appearance as an exhibitor at Comic-Con since 1993 and my 17th overall. As noted in a prior press release, this show also marks the 20th anniversary of the series—admittedly, a slightly arbitrary number since I created and have worked on the title since well before then. The anniversary marks the year that WCG Comics officially launched as a business and released the series as a full-size comic-book, so that is the milestone I celebrate.

As anyone who attends the four-day show knows, Comic-Con is a big tent for all things fannish, pop culture, and geek: Films, books, television, cosplaying, gaming, anime—and, yes, even comics—are all there under one roof, with large, impressive, lavish exhibitor booths sharing the same convention space with small tables and booths like mine.

Though I generally stayed tied to my table, I did occasionally wander around to check out other booths, say hi to friends, and look at the various merchandise on sale, from comics, original art, posters, t-shirts, books, action figures, cosplay outfits and accessories (steampunk!), and more.

A Small Exhibitor’s Perspective
Though sales were in line with past conventions, this year’s Comic-Con crowd seemed a tough sell relative to prior years. As I’ve noted in past Comic-Con reports, unlike the convention’s early days when the show was exclusively about comics, not everyone attending the show  is there necessarily to buy comics, let alone commit to a little known ongoing indie comic-book series. (Some fellow exhibitors have found it necessary to boost their sales with merchandise having nothing to do with their comics—such as t-shirts and prints with cool images or fan-favorite characters.) With so many booths and tchotchkes competing for people’s eyes and a finite amount of disposable dollars, a small exhibitor like myself has to be very proactive to catch people’s attention for a few moments. And even though all my stories are stand-alone, it is always a challenge to convince people to commit to a series now 15 issues and two trade paperbacks in, even though “binge-reading,” like binge-television, is now a thing!

As a result, I was surprised by how many people pulled back from making a purchase, especially when they seemed genuinely excited about and tuned in to my work—an observation that some of my neighbor exhibitors (at least on some days) also noticed.

Nevertheless, it was still heartening to have people instantly connect with the series based on the concept or the sample art on display; or to have others return to buy everything, excited about discovering a new title, after reading a sample issue they picked up the day before. There was also the usual crop of people who had not seen me for years and were delighted to rediscover the series and learn it was still being published. And, of course, the wonderful longtime fans and supporters who stopped by to pick up the latest issue and ask about what was up next.

I genuinely enjoy Comic-Con (as does my family)—it is the major convention in my "backyard," which I have steadily attended since the late 1980s. Comic-Con has done well by me, playing a major role in putting my book on the map when it launched. I have established a presence here and many people know make a point of looking for me to get their latest fix of Rob Hanes Adventures. So though it may no longer be exclusively a comic-book convention, it remains a show I still enjoy immensely.

The Fan Experience 
Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop signing
I rarely have the time or patience to stand in lines for panels or signings. With that in mind, a friend asked me to purchase at Comic-Con the book, The Art of Film Magic: 20 Years of Weta, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the special effects company that rose to prominence supporting filmmaker Peter Jackson’s extraordinary work on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie trilogies, and get the authors' signatures during one of their scheduled signings. (Since I'm a huge fan of the books and movies,it gave me an excuse to visit the Weta booth.)

Though I initially warned my friend that I might not be able to break away to fulfill her request, I was pleasantly surprised to find no line when I went to purchase the book; and not only did I get the author to inscribe the book to my friend, but I was also easily able to obtain the autograph and photo above of the head of Weta, Richard Taylor, as well as the one below of one of Weta's concept artists, Daniel Falconer, who I recognized from the Lord of the Rings DVD making-of extras. These were some of the most  memorable fan moments for me personally in many years!

With Weta concept artist Daniel Falconer
Fellow professionals I saw at the show included Sergio Aragones, with whom I took a picture (I have a picture with him from many years ago, but couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a newer one!); John Roberts, one of the co-founders of Comixology, which earlier this year was purchased by Amazon (John has been incredibly encouraging of me to finally get on the platform and sent out the tweet below to mark the appearance of my first issue on Comixology; and Barry Gregory of and Ka-Blam and Steven Butler of Gallant Comics, who were there to promote John Aman: Amazing Man, and with whom I discussed at length our mutual admiration for cartoonists Milton Caniff, Roy Crane, and Frank Robbins. I unfortunately heard I missed Usagi Yojimbo writer-artist Stan Sakai who stopped at my table early during the show to say hi. (A book to raise funds to help Stan with medical costs he has incurred due to his wife’s illness was released at Comic-Con.)

Twitter announcement about the release of Rob Hanes Adventures #1 on Comixology

Every Comic-Con, I also spot the occasional celebrity walking by. This year I saw comedian/actor/screenwriter Tom Lennon (Reno 911), actor Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men—in fact, I’m pretty sure I saw Cryer last year!), and actor Deidrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show), most with their families.

Apparently, actor Paul Rudd (for the upcoming Ant Man) and the full cast of the Avengers also visited the Marvel Comics booth on the main floor. Given how crazy it became just for free posters when I walked by a few hours afterwards, I can only imagine how frenzied it was with the actors there!

I half joke each year that I must depend on outside news sources like everyone else to learn what has gone on at Comic-Con. Some of this year's highlights appeared to be Stephen Colbert's appearance as the moderator of the Hobbit panel; the appearance of the Avengers cast at the Marvel Comics booth; and the appearance of the stars of the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film.

Even by my standards, compared to past shows, I really didn’t walk the floor much or attend panels. My main purchase was the first coffee table book sized volume of a projected collection of the Terry and the Pirates comic-strip by George Wunder after its original creator, Milton Caniff, left the strip to create Steve Canyon. I was strongly tempted to purchase some original Johnny Hazard comic strip art dating to the 1960s, but decided to hold off as there were so many good pieces to choose from.

My children are now older and went quite to town with purchases thanks to the generosity of my wife. One of my favorite purchases for my son was a set of steampunk goggles we found for him at a retailer booth.

The kids also exercised more independence exploring on their own—my daughter has become quite a big animé fan in the past year, so she was frequently going to showings, sometimes with her little brother in tow.

Of course, what gets all the attention at Comic-Con are the cosplayers. Some people clearly attend just to be seen, but they of course add to the fun and atmosphere.

It’s always interesting to see what the popular themes are at each show. This year, it was clearly the Disney film, Frozen, with plenty of Princess Elsas on hand. Also popular was Maleficent and Finn (or Fiona) from the animated television show, Adventure Time.

It’s obvious that some cosplayers choose certain characters because they bear some resemblance to them (like here and here from previous years), which occasionally leads to fun appearances. In the photo gallery, you’ll see a steampunk Teddy Roosevelt; characters from Orange is the New Black; and John and Yoko (the Yoko was indeed a dead ringer, not so much John though).

Steampunk continued to be a nifty cosplaying category. It has even begun mashing up with superheroes: I saw a steampunk Green Lantern and Iron Man. See the photogallery for more!

Food and Drink
If I have any complaint about Comic-Con, it's the quality of the food at the show. Concessions appear to be operated by the convention center and consist of a rather unimaginative menu of unappetizing hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and packaged salads and deli sandwiches. The only outside vendors are Starbucks and Mrs. Fields.

Clearly, they are banking on the fact that attendees simply want to eat and run. Given the long day, however, I like to enjoy a good meal and the only way to do that is to go to the Gaslamp or a nearby hotel. With all the great eateries in San Diego, it seems a shame they can't get better quality and more variety of food inside the convention center or even food trucks (which they did one year).

On top of that, unlike past years, we had bad streak of dinners this year. There are several tried and true upscale restaurants that I have frequented regularly through the years, but this year we decided to explore new places and were somewhat disappointed each time. The quality of the meals were themselves generally fine, but for the money, they seemed a bit skimpy on the portions and one place gave us some of the worst service we ever experienced, by getting our orders wrong and then not getting the correct meals to us for more than a half hour.

Oh, well, you can't have everything!

Anyway, it was otherwise another amazing show. I’ve always given credit to the organizers for their skill at handling a crowd as large as Comic-Con. Every year they make adjustments to respond to issues. In a show this size, problems will always arise, and there are always the scofflaws, but the staff should nevertheless should be complimented for their outstanding work.

See you in 2015!

Click here to go straight to the photogallery from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Special thanks to Rodney Reynaldo, who took some of the photos featured in the photogallery.

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