Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Look at Comic-Cons Past, Part II: Comic-Con Explodes (1991-2000)

1995 Comic-Con (photo by Jackie Estrada*)
Second in a series. See Part I here.

The 1990s was the decade when the San Diego Comic-Con exploded. 1991 was the first year Comic-Con was held at the newly-opened San Diego Comics Convention. The new modern venue gave the show a more professional sheen and more breathing room. Attendance hit a new high of 15,000+ that year—compared to 6,500 the first year I attended in 1986. (The convention first reached capacity and sold out in 2007 with an attendance of 125,000. In 2008, all badges for the first time sold out prior to the event. It's now estimated that, along with Comic-Con-related activities in the area, more than 165,000 visit the area during the show.)

Comic-Con did not take up the entire convention center that first year. If memory serves me right, I recall that there were other shows/conferences going on concurrently, one involving primarily elderly women (I think it was some kind of knitting show) and another that seemed to involve a lot of bikers! Afterwards, however, Comic-Con would take up the entire venue every year, even after the convention center doubled its size in 2001.

That year, 1991, proved to be another whirlwind visit—my brother flew down from his home in Northern California to attend the show on Saturday, but we drove back to L.A. that night so that he could catch his flight home. Though I didn’t plan to, I had so much fun and unfinished business, I drove back down with other friends and my girlfriend (now wife) the following day!

Cover to 1992 souvenir program
That Comic-Con brought me into contact with cartoonist and comics historian and essayist R.C. Harvey; Comic-Con co-founder Shel Dorf; and cartoonist Gil Kane, to whom I handed a copy of my self-published zines (I recall him leafing through it while he sat on a discussion panel!). Thanks to a friend, I also got cartoonist Will Eisner to autograph my edition of his graphic novel, To the Heart of the Storm; scored a Sgt. Rock drawing by cartoonist Joe Kubert, one of my favorite cartoonists growing up; and purchased my first pieces of original art, two pieces by Howard Chaykin from his Blackhawk mini-series. That year’s show also featured a special performance of the play, “American Splendor,” starring Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)—highlighted by an appearance by Harvey Pekar, the writer whose comics were the source of the play. (In case you’re wondering, the 2003 American Splendor movie, an outstanding work in its own right, was an original screenplay adaptation and not based on the play.)

The 1992 show was another landmark, with Batman, the Animated Series, and Image Comics exploding on the scene that summer.

Exhibiting at Comic-Con
The series began as a photocopied zine
The real watershed for me, personally, was 1993, the year the San Diego Comic-Con introduced its Small Press Area, which was my debut as an exhibitor. (The cost for a table that year in the Small Press was $75!) Since then, to date, I’ve exhibited at 18 San Diego Comic-Cons, as well as 3 Alternative Press Expos (APE), 3 WonderCons, 1 Chicago Comicon, a show in Toronto, and a Spirit of Independent Tour stop in Seattle.

For some context, let me provide a little bit of my publishing/comics history: it wasn’t until after college, in the mid-’80s, that I became serious about doing comics. Though I had done “home-made comics” and kept sketchbooks, it wasn’t until this time I began to seriously produce full-length stories at a professional, print-ready level. As one can imagine, those earliest efforts were pretty crude (and cartoony). In fact, I ended up not publishing those early stories in the regular series until I released them in a separate “special edition” series for non-canon work just recently (Rob Hanes Adventures Special Edition #2).

Nevertheless, I began showing the work around and, as this was the dawn of the self-publishing/independent movement, got a few bites that never materialized (usually because the company went under just after the first issue was solicited!) It was at this time I discovered the small press zine movement, complete with their own newsletters and reviewzines, which was a DIY route I found very fun and appealing, and gave me an outlet to publish my work in zine/ashcan format (printed at my local Kinko’s/copy shop) while I developed.

I soon gained some recognition and even a few minor awards for my work – I also began sending copies of my zine to publishers and industry professionals and got attention that way as well.

First time exhibitor – 1993
So, yes, I was there for the debut of Comic-Con’s Small Press Area in 1993, with ashcan copies of Adventure Strip Digest on hand. That first year, I got to meet fellow pros like Karl Kesel, Scott McCloud, Kurt Busiek (who discovered my work early on and even re-designed my Adventure Strip Digest logo), and Don McGregor. Jeff Smith was also in the Small Press Area that first year, with his earliest copies of the great Bone.

I even participated in my first panel at that show, along with, among others, Dave Sim (Cerebus) and Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man). (At one point during the panel discussion, Sim held up one of my zines and said that although it was “pro-level quality, Randy is willing to take his time and play Triple-A ball for awhile. There’s no rush.”) Boy, in retrospect, he sure wasn’t kidding! (I participated on panels again in 1994 and 1998).

Pro badge 1993
It was also a bit of a cheap thrill to be recognized at events by people who were fans of my work, simply by my name badge when out and about.

The response and sales eventually led me to begin publishing Adventure Strip Digest as a regular comic-book series in 1994, though the first issues did not appear until after that year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Regardless, I made connections with many more fellow pros like Batton Lash (Supernatural Law) and Don Simpson (Megaton Man). (My notes show that I made a little over $400 at the convention, which covered the table, travel and hotel!!)

In 1995, with Adventure Strip Digest now available as a full-sized comic-book, I shared a regular booth with fellow indy publisher B.C. Boyer (Hilly Rose) and had another successful show. At that show, I recall connecting with Jeff Smith, Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Mike Vosburg (Lori Lovecraft). That year, at that year’s Eisner Awards, I also was in the running for the Russ Manning Award for Most Promising Newcomer, alongside Jason Lutes (Jar of Fools) and Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise). Good company to be in!

The series debuted as a regular comic-book
in 1994
The year 1996 was another memorable show, held over the July 4 holiday. One of the highlights was meeting fellow pros like Frank Cho, whose booth that year was located across from me (he had just signed the contract to his syndicated strip, Liberty Meadows), and we often chatted during lulls. Mike Vosburg also brought by one of my idols, Howard Chaykin. Chaykin said kind words about my work and when I told him I was a big fan, he replied, “Why not, we steal from the same people!”

That year, I actually also had a bit of a memorable adventure that fortunately turned out well. At the time, I was using a very small printer who had a rather bad reputation for meeting deadlines and not even fulfilling orders, though he had always come through for me, though with some prodding—I have to admit, I think it's because he liked my stuff. As many printers do, he promised to ship issue 4 of my latest issue, Adventure Strip Digest, to me at San Diego, but on the second day (Friday) of the 4-day show, I still hadn’t received the shipment!

During the Eisner Awards show (and remember, this was in the days before cell phones), I happened to check my messages at the hotel and learned that I had received a message from Northwest Airlines saying my books had arrived at the San Diego airport and were waiting pickup. When I called Northwest’s warehouse, I learned the facility was closed weekends and would close at 10 p.m. at night – I kid you not, it was nearly 9:45 p.m. I was resigned to not getting them, but my girlfriend (now-wife) suggested hopping into a taxi right away. We ran outside, hopped into a taxi, and told the driver I would pay him double the fare if he could make it in 10 minutes – I made it with 5 minutes to spare and got the books!! (When we returned, the driver actually did not want to take the entire tip I had promised, but I told him he deserved it – he was great and I think somewhat enjoyed the adventure as well. It helped that the airport is not far from the convention center and traffic wasn’t like it is today!)

In many ways, this was the heyday of the Comic-Con, when comics were still a central part of the show before it became a broader pop culture phenomenon that became a big umbrella for all kinds of fandom.

It was also a heady time because, as the new kid on the block, in those years I connected with retailers, distributors, editors and publishers, people in the entertainment industry, and others interested in carrying my comics, licensing it for other media, or working with me. These included many of the top studios in Hollywood and numerous production companies.

Though I don't think they're necessarily related, the explosion of Comic-Con in the 1990s coincided with the rise of the small press/indie comics movement of the same period—a trend recognized by Comic-Con when it introduced the small press area.

The small press continues to be a great engine of activity and creativity—new technologies like print on demand and the web (and social media) have vastly democratized the comics industry and lowered the barrier of entry to producing a comic-book. By the same token, as a result, there has been an explosion of product, making it very difficult to be noticed and break through, even for quality comics.

Comic-Con Traditions/After Hours
Although Comic-Con really exploded at that time, it was not yet quite as wide-ranging and fragmented as it is today. As proof of these, there were several years where there was often one big off-site party (at least one of which, if not more, was hosted by Fantagraphics). These technically needed an invitation to enter, but it was fairly easy to get a "ticket"/flyer. They were really nothing more than large kegger parties where people could hang out, relax, mingle, drink and smoke. It was in later years that Comic-Con would expand and fragment, including more exclusive Hollywood parties that were as much a press junket as a party.

One of the great traditions of my buddies and I after the end of the convention back then was to meet up at Anderson's Split Pea Soup, a full-service family restaurant famous, of course, for its famous split pea soup as well as its distinctive windmill that could be seen from quite a distance. Located in Carlsbad, about 35 miles north of San Diego, it was a nice meeting point on the drive home where we'd meet for a late dinner and celebrate the end of another show.

I got married in the year 2000 and, prior to that time, took a hiatus from comics, feeling a little burned out, particularly since several opportunities for the series that I had been pursuing did not pan out. So the combination of having no new product and being on my honeymoon (in Tokyo) led to that year being a natural break for me from both attending and exhibiting at Comic-Con as the '90s came to a close....

Next: The series relaunches and Comic-Con matures.

Comic Book People 2: Photographs from the 1990s by Jackie Estrada (2015)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

WCG Comics Makes 21st Exhibitor Appearance at San Diego Comic-Con

For Immediate Release

New bookmarks for the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con
When the Small Press Area debuted in 1993 at the San Diego Comic-Con, WCG Comics—the imprint for Randy Reynaldo, writer-artist of the independent globetrotting action-adventure comic-book series, Rob Hanes Adventures—was among the inaugural class of exhibitors. With the series still going strong, this year's Comic-Con, scheduled July 18–22, will mark Reynaldo's 21st appearance as an exhibitor.

Reynaldo and his WCG Comics imprint will be at Booth K1 in the Small Press Area, a location he's held for several years.

“I’m proud to be a regular exhibitor at Comic-Con,” said WCG publisher and Rob Hanes Adventures writer-artist Randy Reynaldo. “I began as a true small press publisher, first selling my work in zine format. My work has grown with Comic-Con and I’ve made many friends at the show. I'm grateful and amazed by the level of support and attention I've received from Comic-Con and fans over the years.”

The 2018 show promises to be especially memorable for Reynaldo—perhaps in recognition of his longevity as an exhibitor and indy publisher, he is a Special Guest at this year’s Comic-Con!

Highlights for Reynaldo's' appearance at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con include:
Issue 19 will be released at the
2018 San Diego Comic-Con
  • A spotlight panel on Reynaldo, entitled “Adventures in Self-Publishing,” where he will speak about his work and experiences and insights as a longtime self-publisher, on Thursday, July 19, 12:30–1:30 pm, in Room 4. He will be joined by moderator Barry Gregory, CEO, Ka-Blam Digital Printing. Attendees will receive a free sample issue and other souvenir items.
  • A new issue of Rob Hanes Adventures (#19) will debut at the show, featuring a new direction for the series inspired by current events, as announced earlier.
  • A new trade paperback, Rob Hanes Adventures, Vol. 2, collecting issues 5–8 of the series, as announced earlier.
  • Also available at the booth will be pin buttons and a new collectible bookmark debuting at the show.
If you are attending the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con, visit Reynaldo at Booth K1 in the Small Press Area on the main exhibition floor of the San Diego Convention Center, up aisle 1500 (and just off major aisle 1400) on the north end of the hall. For the closest access to the booth from the front entrance, enter through entry doors B1 or B2 and proceed towards the rear of the hall.

Reynaldo will also be posting on social media throughout the show on Twitter at @randywcgcomics and Facebook.

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Other recent press releases from WCG Comics related to the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con:

Reynaldo's work first appeared in zine format.
2015 San Diego Comic-Con

2017 San Diego Comic-Con

1993 San Diego Comic-Con – Debut of Small Press Area

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Look at Comic-Cons Past, Part I: Before the Frenzy (1986–90)

First in a series…I already planned to share some of my reminiscences and thoughts from past San Diego Comic-Cons, but my status as a Special Guest at the 2018 show seemed to make this an especially perfect time to finally post this...

I don't have the greatest memory and have only a few photos from these early years in the days before the convenience of digital and smartphone cameras, but fortunately personal letters from the time helped in these recollections, as well as the outstanding souvenir coffee table book published by Comic-Con in 2009, Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends, to help with some of the chronology...

San Diego Comic-Con helped me meet many distinguished fellow pros like Sergio Aragones (2014)

I went to my first San Diego Comic-Con in 1986 and haven’t looked back since. Since then, with the exception of the year I married and went on my honeymoon (2000), I haven’t missed a show! (It helps to have an understanding wife who enjoys Comic-Con herself.) In 2001, my wife even came down while expecting our first child and in 2005 with our 3-month-old son and 4-year-old daughter in tow. (We have to travel separately since I'm an exhibitor and have to transport items for my booth.)

For those of you too young to know, there once was a time when you could decide on a whim to attend Comic-Con, drive down at the last minute, walk up to a registration booth, and purchase an attendee badge for the day or the entire show! I did this several times those first few years. This included booking hotels at the last minute as well—boy, those were the days! And no doubt like many attendees today, to save some bucks on the then-$79 per night hotel fee, my friends and I would double up (or more) in a room.

Cover to 1986 San Diego Comic-Con
(from Marvel Comics of the 1980s)
The first time I attended, in 1986, was with a college buddy who I introduced to comics and would later work in the industry himself. We stayed with his older brother who happened to be living in San Diego at the time. (His brother was also taking flying lessons and during our visit, he took us up in a small Piper Cherokee, an experience which is very different than flying a commercial airliner!) In the years that followed, I attended Comic-Con with a rotating entourage of friends—nearly all college buddies—who mostly shared the same interest in comics. Also usually joining us was my brother, who's been incredibly supportive of my comics work over the years.

Though I had been reading and producing my own “home-made” comics since my tweens in the early 1970s in New York where I was born and raised, I wasn’t aware of “comics fandom” until I moved to Northern California and discovered my first comic-book shop. These pioneering comic-book stores had a grungy/garage sale feel, often run by aging hippies in dilapidated, stripped down store fronts—and I don’t mean this in a bad way! You usually could hang out all day reading comics (then leaving with some purchases). By the time I hit college in the early ‘80s, comics—always a boom-and-bust industry—were on an upswing with independent comics like American Flagg (1983) and Love and Rockets (1982), which themselves had been preceded by early breakout hits like Cerebus the Aardvark (1977) and Elfquest (1978), to be soon followed by landmark mainstream series like Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-86), Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns (1986), and The Watchmen (1986-87), all energizing the era’s comics scene.

I know people whose attendance date back to the very first year of the show in 1970. Before I attended, Comic-Con had been held at a variety of locations in San Diego, notably the El Cortez Hotel. By the time I began attending, the show had moved to the San Diego Concourse and Performing Arts Center, a rather drab facility that felt dated even then. But I wasn’t there for the ambiance!

Catching a glimpse of comics legend Will Eisner
In those early years, my innate shyness and apprehension about attending after-hours fan events like the masquerade ball, award shows, or the after hours bar scene tended to limit my Comic-Con participation to the exhibitor’s floor and panels. (The Will Eisner Awards, often referred to as the comics industry’s Oscars, was first held in 1988.)

As an aspiring cartoonist, Comic-Con was an eye-opening experience. It gave me the opportunity to see and meet my first comics pros in person. In these first few years, this included Frank Miller, Howard Chaykin, Jerry Bingham, Gary Groth, the Hernandez Brothers, and Steve Rude.
I often like to say that I started attending Comic-Con at a time when the biggest celebrities were the actors who portrayed Lois Lane on the Superman television show (Noel Neill) and Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore). With that said, Hollywood did occasionally show up at Comic-Con to connect with fans. At my first Comic-Con, I attended a panel for the television pilot based on Will Eisner’s Spirit that starred Flash Gordon’s Sam Jones. It never got picked up, but I saw the pilot when it aired and, years later, purchased a bootleg DVD of the show at Comic-Con. Most famously, but before my time, one of the first movie promotion success stories at the event was Star Wars, which created a buzz in the fan community long before it was discovered by the mainstream. Of course, today, many film studios consider Comic-Con an important part of their promotional effort, sometimes even pausing productions so that their directors and casts can make an appearance. Years later, the Flash television show and the first Tim Burton Batman film would be heavily promoted at Comic-Con. For many, Batman was a major turning point since, along with 1978’s Superman starring Christopher Reeve, the film arguably heralded the start of comic-book-based films that fans felt were faithful to the source material and not disdainful of it.

San Diego Concourse, 1982 – Photo by Alan Light (posted at Marvel Comics of the 1980s)
On one occasion, after driving down to Comic-Con from L.A. just for the day, still flush with the excitement of the show, I drove back the very next day with a few additional friends in tow! Another time, in 1989, the night before driving down, I went to a Hollywood Bowl concert with my new girlfriend (now my wife), got home at 3 a.m., and somehow found the energy to drive down to Comic-Con that very morning. I then drove back to L.A. that same night since I had made plans with my girlfriend to visit the Getty Center in L.A. the following day! (Ah, love and youth!) And in yet another year, I threw a surprise birthday party for my girlfriend and then drove down to Comic-Con the very next morning!

Steve Rude drawing Space Ghost for a
Comic-Con art auction/fundraiser
And what comics convention experience is complete without a story of tracking down a long-sought after comic-book issue? In my case, it was finding issue 4 of The Rook, containing the second and final chapter of a backup story by famed comic-book legend Alex Toth, featuring his original series, Bravo for Adventure! This is the reason comic-book conventions were invented! Of course, the advent of online shopping and the fact that so many comics have been collected and reissued has somewhat reduced this pastime, for me at least.

Those early days also gave one the luxury to methodically walk each aisle of the show aisle to check out the different booths, deciding where I might come back to make a purchase. As the show got larger, however, this became impossible as the surging crowds tended to determine which aisles to navigate and which to avoid.

But in subsequent years, Comic-Con began to change and grow, starting in 1991—the year the San Diego Comic-Con moved to its present home at the San Diego Convention Center.

Next: Comic-Con Explodes

Jonny Quest, also by Steve Rude


A photographic timeline of the San Diego Comic-Con from the Los Angeles Times 

San Diego Comic-Con: The Untold History, Rolling Stone Magazine, July 19, 2017

Comic Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans, And Friends (2009)

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Spotlight Panel at 2018 San Diego Comic-Con Confirmed

The San Diego Comic-Con began posting their schedule for the show later this month and I can now confirm that my Spotlight Panel, "Adventures in Self-Publishing," is scheduled for Thursday, July 19, at 12:30 p.m. in Room 4, joined by my buddy Barry Gregory, CEO of Ka-Blam Digital Printing, as moderator!

Click here (or the image below) to see the scheduled item at the Comic-Con website.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Tackling the Era of Fake News in Rob Hanes Adventures!

The Globetrotting Action-Adventure Series Takes a New Direction with Issue 19

NEWS RELEASE – For Immediate Release

For additional images, visit WCG Comics’ media room

Often known for stories “ripped from the headlines,” issue 19 of the long-running globetrotting action-adventure independent comic-book, Rob Hanes Adventures, will take readers in a startling new direction that pushes the era of fake news and the current political climate to the extreme within the fictional world of the series in a story entitled, “Enemy of the State.” The issue is set for release in July and will debut at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con where WCG Comics will again have a booth.

Rob Hanes Adventures has often featured stories inspired by real world events, and the current rhetoric and uncertainty in the country and the world seemed perfect story fodder,” said series creator and writer-artist Randy Reynaldo. “Of course, headlines are just a jumping off point and at the end of the day, this is all fake and make-believe, heightened to the nth degree—the goal as always is to entertain and have some fun and adventure.”

In the story, Rob and his private investigation and security firm, Justice International, are deputized as a new national police force by the new president, Chester M. Humbert, who distrusts the existing agencies of the government; Rob soon finds himself in the middle of political intrigue as terrorists attempt to detonate a dirty bomb in Europe, working with a mysterious paramilitary organization known as the ABPF.

Reynaldo will be an invited Special Guest at the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con and will have a spotlight panel, entitled "Adventures in Self-Publishing" at the show on Thursday, July 19, at 12:30 p.m. in Room 4 of the convention center. He will be carrying Rob Hanes Adventures #19 at his Small Press booth at Comic-Con.

Rob Hanes Adventures is a free-wheeling, light-hearted action-adventure series featuring the exploits of a globetrotting private eye and troubleshooter from Justice International who travels the world on assignment, facing adventure, intrigue and romance at every turn, with occasional dashes of good humor and forays into other genres. Every story is self-contained, making it easy for readers to jump in with any issue.

The title is one of the longest-running indie comics series still running. Inspired by classic adventure comic strips like Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Roy Crane's Buz Sawyer but set in the modern day—with dashes of light-hearted humor reminiscent of Will Eisner's Spirit—readers and fans have praised Rob Hanes Adventures for recapturing the spirit of the classic adventure strip and updating it for modern day audiences.

For more information about the series, previews and to purchase back issues, visit wcgcomics.com or facebook.com/rhadventures.

Additional information about the series is available at the article, "Twenty Years (and more!) of Rob Hanes Adventures."

Scroll down and click on any of the images to view sample pages in full size from the book or click here to view the complete gallery.

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