San Diego Comic Con 2009: Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends
I went just two days this year, Friday and Saturday, and overall it turned out to be a good convention. Not as great as 2007, but much better than 2008. Sure, there were still plenty of things that aggravated me, namely the insane volume of people (I really hate crowds), the stupidity of the lines, flaky creators who disappeared from their booths (there’s a difference between “5 minutes” and an hour and 15 minutes, people), and my general disdain for things not having to do with comics. The lines are usually ridiculous, but this year they seemed to take it to a new level of incoherence. Jaime from SoCal Comics probably summed it up the best. “These people are so stupid; they don’t even know what they’re in line for.” There were about 300 people in a line in front of his booth. He’d asked 4 of them what they were in line for and not a single one could tell him, they just followed the crowd hoping for something free. Turned out it was a free Twilight book, but it’s silly they didn’t know. Not to mention the fact that they were blocking access to his booth for the better part of an hour; this is in the Silver Age section!
The rampant sense of consumerism also sickens me. There were so many people racing around trying to get their limited edition Han & Luke bullshit from Sideshow Collectibles or Orange Green Lantern whatever the fuck ever figures. I overheard one bloke explaining that you had to go to one line and enter a drawing to get a ticket and then if you got a certain ticket you could redeem it in this entirely different other area for another thing that let you go to this other place where you could fight the crowd and only get two and then he would repeat this process over and over until he got all the colored figures and then he could keep one set for himself and then he could sell one on eBay and then his friend said that… Now I’m all for a bit of the hustler mentality. My parents are antique dealers and they hustle. I’ve been with them in the bowels of Philadelphia as they scour some old lady’s attic discovering an oil painting from the 1800’s that they then turn at a high end auction at Sotheby’s in New York. That’s hustling. But there’s a world of difference between that and getting your retarded Doctor Who action figures and hawking them online. That’s just manufactured demand. From a financial perspective, I actually only spent $208 this year, which is nothing for me. Two years ago, believe it or not, I actually spent 10 times that amount.
I think the biggest lesson I was reminded of this year was that San Diego Con is a humongous place, you will never see everything, and every single person has a unique experience. Because it’s so big, there’s still room for you to be able to carve out your own individual con experience. You can eke out a con that works for you. If you’re smart about it and know what you want to buy, who you want to see, what friends you want to hook up with, or what panel you’d like to attend, you can be in and out and make it happen. Having attended too many panels last year, I tried to spend much more time in the Small Press Pavilion, Artist’s Alley, and the dealer’s floor in general. I basically stayed in a triangle around Oni Press, CBLDF, Top Shelf, and Fantagraphics, with occasional forays into the Small Press Pavilion, the Silver Age dealers, Artist’s Alley, or down to Avatar Press.
After some online exchanges, I finally met Brian Wood! He was gracious and complimentary about my reviews. We chatted briefly about his new DV8 book, some other projects in general, and the highs and lows in telling a long form story like DMZ. I picked up the first two Northlanders trades from him, since my LCS is so inconsistent with the single issues, and he gave me a copy of Public Domain #2. From there, I met up with Ryan Claytor from Elephant Eater Comics. I learned about a new gig he’s got in the works, it’s not even my place to say, but I’m proud of the guy. He’s living his dream, teaching comics at the collegiate level and cranking out self-published work. He’s going to be the next Scott McCloud; the guy from our generation who teaches people about the medium with wit, style, and insight. I picked up his latest autobio book And Then One Day #7, along with his latest 24 hour comic, The Machinist. Another highlight for this year was finally meeting Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten after much online correspondence. I met up with them during their signing at the Oni Press booth and picked up my copy of Wasteland: The Apocalyptic Edition: Volume 1 along with Wasteland #25 (I swear I think I have the only copy known to exist in San Diego County). It was just an exuberant meeting. We’ve chatted online numerous times and believe me, having worked at the largest networking company in the world for 11 years, I have a deep understanding of how the interwebs has empowered voices and revolutionized the communication paradigm, but there’s nothing like a good old fashioned handshake and looking someone in the eye as you tell them how much you respect their work. They too were gracious and complimentary about the reviews and there was a real sense of genuine appreciation that was flowing back and forth.
After those meet and greets, I headed into the Silver Age area and picked up a copy of Strange Tales #120 from a dealer from New York. This is the first team up between Iceman and Human Torch from 1964 and I’ve been looking for a clean copy of this book for years, ever since I sold the copy I used to own and regretted it ever since. I really enjoyed attending the Wednesday Comics Panel moderated by Editor Mark Chiarello, who delivered SOLO to us a couple years ago. Paul Pope characterized the process of creating for this project as “brutal and elegant” comics. He said that the format forced you to eliminate the superfluous, which was extremely difficult, but ultimately yielded astounding results. He further explained that from his experiences working for Kodansha, it felt like the opposite of manga in a way. Manga can give you a decompressed 40 page fight scene, but Wednesday Comics forces you to pack the contents of an entire issue into just one page. It was also great to see everyone, including Paul Pope and Dave Gibbons, lavish so much praise on Ryan Sook, who’s really turning in the best stuff of his career here. Gibbons explained that doing Kamandi was a treat, he had the Hal Foster Prince Valiant in his head, along with Kirby’s The Demon, which he felt was just Kirby riffing on Prince Valiant. I met up with Jason Crowe, a friend from the Bay Area, and sold him my copy of Asterios Polyp. We discussed him doing some more reviews for 13 Minutes, perhaps Asterios Polyp itself or even the Berlin trades from Drawn & Quarterly.
The next day I spent some time in the Silver Age area, looking for a few key books that I’m still interested in, including Uncanny X-Men #168, Uncanny X-Men #129, Fantastic Four #10, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD #7, etc. I checked out the V panel, where they screened the pilot episode of this reimaging of an 80’s cult favorite ala the recent Battlestar Galactica. A decent first episode, though there were some wonky acting bits and very predictable moments, it leveraged 9/11 paranoia in a great way and touched on some hot button social triggers like universal health care. It was great to see Morena Baccarin, Alan Tudyk, Scott Wolf, and Morris Chestnut discuss the project. I met up with Tim Goodyear, another friend from the Bay Area who now lives in Portland, and works with the Sparkplug Comics crew. I gave Tim a script to work on and picked up Reich #5 and 6 from Elijah Brubaker. Tim threw in a free copy of an interesting little book called Sausage Hand from his Teenage Dinosaur imprint. I spent some time at the Avatar Press booth looking into some Warren Ellis junk, and then headed over to Top Shelf to chat with Matt Kindt. I crossed the way and picked up I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! from Fantagraphics. I thought it was silly that by Saturday morning, they’d already sold out of the follow up You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! While it’s nice to see the high demand for this great book, you’d think the publisher would come plenty stocked with a book that just came out that very week. Generally speaking, I like picking up books directly from the creative team or publisher, but I was forced to buy it from Comic Relief around the corner. I chatted briefly with Nathan Fox in Artist’s Alley and then suddenly realized that I’d completed all of my goals for the con by about 4pm on Saturday.
Overall, it was generally easy to navigate in terms of spatial relationships, since it’s for the most part the same people in the same places. Some people I encountered seemed to have a pretty sour attitude about the recession. While dealers seemed ready to wheel and deal, often dropping the price without me even asking, my observation was that the middle ground was being eliminated. Meaning that you could find deals on low grade books and numerous tables with 50% off trades… or you could find ultra high end CGC books holding their prices steadily – with nothing in between. I didn’t miss not being at the con on Sunday. I sat at home with a cold drink, my daughter in my lap, and watched about 3 hours worth of coverage on G4TV’s Attack of the Show, which was great. Not only was it more relaxed, but I didn’t have to inhale fanboy funk (would it be crass to suggest a booth selling deodorant at the con? I think I’d either make a ton of money or… hrmm, perhaps not a single dollar). I saw decent interviews with Ian Sattler, Joe Quesada, and Jon Favreau, and where else can you see Olivia Munn dressed up as Emma Frost fondling Kevin Pereira’s furry testicles?
For the completists, here’s what came home;
Top Shelf 2009 Catalog
Athena #2 (A.M. Works)
Some New Kind of Slaughter #1 (ASP)
Dark Horse Preview Book 2009
The Talisman #0 (Del Rey Books)
The Last Days of American Crime Preview (Radical)
Wildstorm Universe #0 (DC)
The New Avengers #54 (Marvel)
The Engineer #1 (ASP)
Primordia #1 (ASP)
Killing Pickman #1 (ASP)
Awakening #1, 2, 3 (ASP)
Absolution #0 (Avatar Press)
The Comics Journal #269 (Fantagraphics)
Comic Strip Masterpieces #1 (Fantagraphics)
Fantagraphics Books Catalog: Spring/Summer 2009
The Dark Hunters: Volume 1 (St. Martin’s Griffin)
IDW Coming Attractions: The Hunter
IDW 2009 Catalog
Hybrid Bastards! #1, 2 (ASP)
Okko: Cycle of Earth #1 (ASP)
Okko: Cycle of Water #2, 3, 4 (ASP)
The Killer #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8 (ASP)
The Secret History #1, 3, 4 (ASP)
Entertainment Weekly #1057
And Then One Day #7 (Elephant Eater)
The Machinist #1 (Elephant Eater)
Northlanders: Volume 1 TPB (DC/Vertigo)
Northlanders: Volume 2 TPB (DC/Vertigo)
Public Domain #2 (Brian Wood)
Wasteland: Apocalyptic Edition: Volume 1 (Oni Press)
Wasteland #25 (Oni Press)
Strange Tales #120 (Marvel)
Uncanny X-Men #168 (Marvel)
Reich #5, 6 (Sparkplug Comics)
Sausage Hand (Teenage Dinosaur & Sparkplug Comics)
I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets! (Fantagraphics)
You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation! (Fantagraphics)
Freakangels: Volume 1 (Avatar Press)
Freakangels: Volume 2 (Avatar Press)