Monday, July 29, 2019

SDCC 2019 Report Part II: Comic-Con at 50

Read Part I here. To go straight to the photogallery, click here.

The 50th gathering of the San Diego Comic-Con—SDCC 50—was another exhausting, fun, memorable success. While the importance of manning my table each year often prevents me from seeing everything and everyone I'd like, it's still a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues, connect with new and longtime readers, and be inspired by the creativity and talent all around me.

Given that this was my 22nd time exhibiting (and my 32nd as an attendee since 1986), of course I have my Comic-Con routine down pat. As in past years, I left L.A. around 4:30 a.m. (with my teenage son in tow for the first time) and made the 130 mile drive in just over two hours. I like getting an early start on road trips, but aside from the lighter traffic, the early arrival also allows me to nab a perfect parking spot in the garage beneath the convention center close to the elevators where I need to enter the convention center with my two-wheel dolly and access my booth. (I also wake up early on Sunday morning, the last day of the show, to park my car at the same general spot so that I can quickly load up my car when the show ends, returning to my hotel room afterwards). My brother, who is a big help at the show, usually arrives by plane from Northern California around this time, and helps me set up.

Last year when I was an invited guest at the show, I was put up at the Marriott right next to the convention center. Its proximity to the venue and center of the action was, of course, incredibly convenient and significantly reduced my commute time in the morning to get to the convention center by opening—I traditionally have stayed at hotels anywhere from within a mile to several miles of the convention center and while the round-the-clock shuttles are a great convenience, I still need to allow about an extra hour or more for travel. In contrast, staying at the Marriott cut the commute time to merely a ride down the elevator. As I anticipated, the family asked that we stay at the Marriott again this year. While the rate is quite a bit more than hotels further out, in the end my wife and I decided the convenience was worth the extra cost.

Everything really seemed to click this year—the convention hall opened to exhibitors earlier than in past years, allowing me to immediately move in and set up when I arrived before 7 p.m. Following tradition, after I set up, my brother and I (along with my son of course) grabbed breakfast at a nearby downtown restaurant. Even better, when I went to retrieve my car afterwards and check in at the Marriott next door, our rooms were ready! Check in time at other hotels is normally in the afternoon, so this gave me time to relax quite a bit and grab food before having to return to the convention center that evening for Preview Night. And during mid-afternoon, when I decided to pop in to the convention center to check things out (while my son slept!), I was able to pick up my kids’ guest badges—again, earlier than in past years!

This is a good opportunity to acknowledge the fine work and professionalism of the Comic-Con staff. I found the staff, particularly at the service counters, genuinely upbeat and friendly (understandable, I guess, given that most are volunteers who want to be there!). When one considers the scope and scale of the show, you have to give credit to the organizers for such a relatively smooth and well run event. The Walt Disney theme parks are renowned for their attention to customer service, the customer experience and crowd management—I truly believe Comic-Con comes a close second! They never sit on their laurels and make adjustments every year. Given the number of attendees, it’s remarkable at how relatively smoothly the show goes.

Annual Hellos
As I mentioned up front, since I feel obligated to be at my table during most of the show to sell comics, I actually don’t get out much, so I’m fortunate friends and fellow pros make a point of stopping by my table or happen to walk randomly by. (I’d love to see people over in Artist’s Alley but it’s at the far end of the hall!) Among fellow cartoonists who stopped by or I happened to catch at some point during the show (sometimes only briefly) were Bobby Breed, Tom Batiuk, Kurt Busiek, Jackie Estrada, Nat Gertler, Scott McCloud, Andrew Pepoy, Jimmie Robinson, Stan Sakai, Scott Shaw!, Mark Wheatley, and others, talking shop with a few of them. On Friday, I also grabbed lunch with Barry Gregory, my partner-in-crime/moderator at my spotlight panel last year! Like last year, I also got interviewed by a Filipino radio station (but a different one!).

This year, I took in more programming than usual. On Thursday evening, I was honored to be invited to a 50th anniversary reception, which seemed to be made up mostly of longtime Comic-Con attendees and officials. I arrived late due to dinner plans and apparently there were presentations at the beginning that included San Diego’s mayor saying a few words. By the time I arrived, mostly just mingling was going, where I had an opportunity to see and/or touch bases with many friends and colleagues I’ve known over the years through comics and Comic-Con.

Cartoonist Sergio Aragones presenting at the Eisners
On Friday night after dinner, I popped in for a bit to the Will Eisner Awards ceremony, often referred to as the comics’ academy awards, partly to give my wife an opportunity to see the event for herself. We arrived just at the right time to see the presentation of the Hall of Fame Awards. The event has become known for the participation of celebrities as presenters—this year included actor/screenwriter/comedian Thomas Lennon and his Reno 911 co-star Ben Garant, actor Ernie Hudson, actor Phil LaMarr, and cartoonists Sergio Aragones, Bill Morrison, and Raina Telgemeier. Though I had hoped to grab late night drinks with my wife, she turned in early so I ended up having a nightcap with a buddy.

Saturday I took the kids for their first time to a presentation of Scott Shaw!’s hilarious Oddball Comics presentation and on Sunday I attended the panel remembering fellow cartoonist Batton Lash who passed earlier in the year. The panel included his widow, Jackie Estrada, comics historian/journalist (and 2019 Inkpot Award winner) Jon Cooke, and Morrison.

As always, it was great meeting readers both longtime and new. My trade collections are starting to move more and being a bit more expensive than my single issues, they make a difference in the bottom line. One great trend I’ve also noticed is an increase in the number of women trying out the series (and sticking with it, picking up new issues every year!) At the end of the day, sales for me were not spectacular but okay—but there’s always next year! This year’s issue—Rob Hanes Adventures #20—wrapped up a story arc begun in issue 18 and received good feedback, with an ending that seemed to genuinely shock and surprise some readers (in a good way). Inspired by the current political landscape, it was something I needed to get out of my system and I look forward to a whole new adventure next issue! And, of course, it’s always great meeting some of the real uberfans of the series who stop by every year!

It was great having the great experience I usually have every year where someone who is a fan of classic adventure comics suddenly notices my book, sometimes like a lightning bolt! This year it included a random person in cosplay who I asked to take a picture—when he said he liked my Spirit and Steve Canyon buttons, I pointed out to him that my work was inspired by these classic comics and he ended up buying a collection. An editor from one of the top second-tier publishers also bought some comics and also met a comics scholar from Spain who turned out to be a big Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon) fan and ended up picking my book and returning the next day to pick up more!

Thanks to all who stopped by the table to say hi and making this year’s show another memorable success!

See the full photogallery, click here.

Just minutes after the end of the show, the carpet is already being rolled up!

Performing for their dinner in the Gaslamp after the end of the show

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