7.23.2011

San Diego Comic-Con 2011: The Year Comic-Con Finally Gave Up The Ghost

THE BOOKS

Comic-Con started early Wednesday morning when I met Ryan Claytor, of Elephant Eater Comics fame, for breakfast at The Waterfront. As we sipped several rounds of cranberry and pineapple juice mocktails, I passed along some of the better mini-comics I’ve encountered so far this year and he gave me a hot-off-the-press copy of And Then One Day #9. I’m excited to read this for the first time on paper and in one sitting. Later in the day, I met up with a friend from the SF Bay Area and it was, perhaps, an early omen that I’d be enjoying time with food, drinks, and friends more than I would the actual Comic-Con. For lunch, we ended up at a hot new Mexican eatery (thanks to Food Network) called Lucha Libre. Great food. After hitting up the LCS circuit to grab the latest DMZ issue, I headed home as everyone else dove into Preview Night.

On Thursday, my first stop was Terry Moore and the Abstract Studio booth. The new Echo Hardcover is gorgeous; it’s an ultra limited San Diego Comic-Con Edition collecting the entire series of 30 issues in one shot. I chatted with Terry briefly and picked up the first issue of his new series Rachel Rising before moving on. From there, we migrated toward the Top Shelf booth, where I picked up Any Empire from Nate Powell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969, and a free copy of Infinite Kung-Fu #7. We made our way to Artist Alley where I talked with Nathan Fox about his upcoming interview at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. On the way back, we wound through Avatar, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, and Archaia, where I picked up about 6 random issues of Mouse Guard for free. Over at Oni Press, I picked up the first two issues of Spontaneous from writer Joe Harris and let him know I’d be posting some reviews of the issues. We polished off the Small Press Pavilion, and then covered the Silver Age area where my boy Mike finally completed his 70’s Iron Fist run. I chatted with some retailer friends from the Bay Area, Terry and Phil, who used to own Heroes Comics. I played soccer with these guys back in the early 90’s and it’s a main staple of Comic-Con for me to do the annual check-in with them. I made a few key stops, but Thursday was a bit anti-climactic. We actually left prior to the Exhibit Hall closing and made our way to Filippi’s, where we demolished a large pizza and a pitcher of beer.

On Friday, I was with a different crew of people and we began scouring the discount trades. We saw plenty of good deals, up to 60% off of cover price on trades in some areas, yet I didn’t buy a single one. It was either stuff I owned or had read, and I couldn’t find any of the items I was really looking for anywhere. Similarly, we scoured many of the $1 and $2 comic bins, but at the end of the day, I only spent $10 on discount singles, picking up some stray Cliff Chiang stuff, and one issue of Secret Avengers I need as I catch up on the series in anticipation of Warren Ellis’ run. We decided to do a really thorough pass through the Small Press Pavilion and found some gems. I picked up The Adventures of 19XX from Paul Roman Martinez, which I later discovered was actually nominated for an Eisner Award in the Most Promising Newcomer category. He didn’t win, but it’s a fun retro deco series, and I think he had one of the best deals going at the convention. There were different packages at different price points, with various combinations of the two books, t-shirts, bookmarks, posters, and misc. items. We stopped and saw Rick Geary and I picked up a really cool HMS Titanic one-sheet that you cut out and fold up into a paper model of the ship sinking. I’ll put that to good use at work, the “subtlety” of the symbolism will not be lost on anyone. The last thing I picked up was a fun looking sci-fi adventure series called Major Maddox from Jason Chalker. It looks like what would happen if Fear Agent had actually come out in the 1950’s. That was it for the books I picked up.

THE PANELS

With only two days available to me this year, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in panels. Luckily, none of the panels seemed that interesting to me, so I basically tagged along when one or more members of the group expressed interest in attending something. On Thursday, we caught the tail end of a Flashpoint panel. It was interesting to me (and this will be a recurring theme) that when I hear creators on books like this talk at panels, the stories actually do seem interesting. I’m not sure if I’m succumbing to the marketing spiel or if something is lost in translation from concept to production, but when I actually go and read this stuff, it turns out to be awful. We arrived early at that panel only so we could catch the next one in the room, a spotlight on Grant Morrison. The Scotsman is endlessly entertaining. Between his accent, euphemisms, and general outlook at what the purpose of comics as modern mythology is, I’m always entertained by Morrison in person. Yet when I read his comics, so few of them seem to really connect with me. It’s become clear to me that I like the man and his worldview far more than I like his scripting.

On Friday, we wanted to avoid the initial rush into the Exhibit Hall, so we opted to wait in line for an early panel. It was The Black Panel, which turned into a tribute to Dwayne McDuffie. I can’t say I’m extremely familiar with Dwayne’s work. I did read Damage Control back in the day, and I remember picking up the first wave of Milestone titles, but I don’t think I read any of his material as a mature adult with any degree of criticality. Despite some horrible technical issues and a really hot mess of organization, it was a nice tribute to the man, with some genuine and heartfelt emotion coming through. Later in the day, it was Grant Morrison and JMS, along with the Superman line editor Matt Idelson and a few other writers, like, ugh, Scott Lobdell, and some other bloke. I was tempted to get in line and ask why the hell Brian Wood isn’t writing Supergirl, but I doubt they would have given me a $100 Wayne Casino black poker chip for that zinger. As with my previous DC experiences, the panelists all sounded surprisingly interesting, I laughed at Grant Morrison, and was generally entertained, but I know I will probably not pick any of these books up expect for, maybe, Grant Morrison’s first issue of Action Comics, just to see. My last panel of Comic-Con was a CBLDF number, where they discussed the recent cases they’re supporting, and even mentioned Tom Neely getting stopped at the border when issues of Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions and Ryan Standfest’s Black Eye were seized. The panel was not well attended and I remarked to my friend Jason that it seems like the most important panels are always the ones least attended. From there, we headed to Joe’s Crab Shack for our pre-Eisner Award tradition. I’m reluctant to speak about this “secret” further, but oh well, I’m sure the crowds will eventually ruin it like they’ve ruined everything else. Cry! As 129,900 people seem to head to the front of the San Diego Convention Center into the Gaslamp, about 100 always head to the back of the Convention Center to Joe’s. We’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for a table, and it’s a short walk to the Hilton Bayfront for the Eisners. Crab legs and Arnold Palmers. Yum.

THE EISNERS

Oh, excuse me. The AMD 23rd Annual Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards. Corporate sponsorship and all. Because Advanced Micro Devices, as a semiconductor manufacturer specializing in microprocessors, has SO much to do with comics. As usual, I just see the flaws inherent in the Eisner Awards. The process is not comprehensive, it allows too much overlap, and it’s completely subject to the whim, individual tastes, and/or agendas of the voting body assembled. It rewards familiarity and not quality. The only good news was that the ceremony basically ended on time, but most of the intended comedy fell flat, while a few examples of genuine emotion still managed to find their way through. As presented, I feel like I don’t really have many horses in the race and am largely indifferent to what goes on. As far as I can tell, there are about 34 categories. Of that number, I agree with about 4 (12%) of the selections, don’t care about 21 (62%) of them, and vehemently disagree with about 9 (26%) of the choices. That’s as presented though. For just about any category, I’d change the presentation and can think of about half a dozen other books/creators that I’d like to see nominated instead. In most categories I’m forced to choose from a group of books, none of which I think deserve to be there in the first place.

A few random items of notes I’ll just run down. I would have gone for Afrodisiac instead of I Thought You Would Be Funnier in the Best Humor Publication category. I think it’s cool that there are so many online outlets in the Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category. I’m so glad that 20th Century Boys won the Best US Edition of International Material category. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that Rodolphe Topffer hasn’t already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, ridiculous that he didn’t make it in this year, and ridiculous that his name was spelled incorrectly in the printed materials. No disrespect to Harvey Pekar or Marv Wolfman and the other inductees, but c’mon. Topffer only basically invented the modern form as we know it way back in 1842. Good God, it should basically be called the “Rodolphe Topffer Hall of Fame.” If you honestly think that Ian Boothby, Joe Hill, John Layman, Jim McCann, or Nick Spencer are the Best Writer(s) working in comics today, then you don’t read many comics. Similarly, if you think that American Vampire, iZombie, Marineman, Morning Glories, or Superboy represent the Best New Series in the medium right now, then you and I have WAY different taste in books. I was very disappointed to see Darwyn Cooke win instead of Terry Moore in the Best Writer/Artist category. Probably the only 100% “correct” decision of the night for me was Daytripper winning the Best Limited Series or Story Arc category. Any time that Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba take the stage, I remember why I like comics in the first place. More like that, please. Best Continuing Series was probably the most ridiculous category aside from the Topffer debacle. I would have been happy with Echo, 20th Century Boys, or Scalped winning in this category. Really, truly, all three are deserving of the award in my opinion. Instead, we got the one-note Chew for the win. Wednesday Comics won the Best Graphic Album-Reprint category, so kudos to Mark Chiarello for that. Can we bring back SOLO now? And that was the Eisner Awards. As we walked back to the parking garage we were in at midnight, we saw people lined up for a panel the next morning. Literally chics in their PJs asleep on the sidewalk. Sorry, but short of having sex with Daenerys Targaryen or Entertainment Weekly offering me a job, there is absolutely nothing I’m interested in enough at Comic-Con to wait in line 8 hours overnight for. Nothing. Yeah. That’s a pretty nice segue…

THE VERDICT

San Diego Comic-Con now reminds me of one of those factory farmed, genetically engineered chickens, who is so bloated with artificial growth hormones that he can no longer support the girth of his own weight, and squats uncomfortably on his broken legs, wallowing in a soup of mud, fecal matter, and his own filthy foodborne illnesses. You can quote me on that. Good God, where to start?

So, at one point I actually sat down and tallied up all of the programming I could find in the programming guide. As best as I can tell by my fast, loose, and admittedly subjective sorting ability, there was something like 166 total events listed. Of that number, 101 were in no way related to comic books, and 65 were directly related to comics. That’s 61% in favor of non-comics related programming vs. just 39% being related to comics. At an event called the San Diego Comic-Con International. It’s an undeniable fact that it’s become predominantly about TV, film, video games, or peripheral “arts” like fantasy illustration or vinyl figures vs. traditional comics. No doubt those things can be fun to look at, but I, like so many who must sound like old fogies (at 37!), can’t help but question whether or not those belong at something like Comic-Con. It almost begs the question as to whether or not the event should even be called Comic-Con anymore. Why isn’t it the San Diego Pop Culture Con International, a name which surely encompasses a larger umbrella of mediums, inclusive of comics? I realize that the very name “Comic-Con” is an institutional piece of branding that probably shouldn’t be mucked with, but it sure is misleading. I mean, even the dopey emcees at the Eisner Awards were cracking the age-old joke that you couldn’t find any comics at Comic-Con, just overweight Wonder Women.

Not only can I hyperbolically not find any comics, I can find very few creators I like. Just off the top of my head, I can actually rattle off more people who DIDN’T attend this year. No Brian Wood. No Kody Chamberlain. No Antony Johnston. No Chris Mitten. No Tom Neely. No Dylan Williams, in fact no Sparkplug Comic Books booth at all. No panels I’m really interested in. So, my choices are to attend 5 repetitive panels with Dan DilDio blathering on about 52 new books I won’t be buying, or spend 5 hours in line to see the Game of Thrones cast (which I absolutely will not do as much as I love the show). It’s become a disproportionate experience, where the things I like are being pushed out by the things I don’t. Even if I felt like braving the insanity that is the infamous Hall H or the equally dreaded Ballroom 20 for something like the Game of Thrones panel, it’s gotten to the point where if you want to attend a panel that begins at, say, 11 and runs until 12, you have to attend the panel that precedes it, from 10-11, just to ensure you have a seat. Of course, you need to line up for that panel you’re not interested in at least one hour in advance, which means you’re there at 9. So, now you’re spending 3 hours, from 9 until 12, just to get a single hour’s worth of content out of it, and trust me, that method will only, at best, ensure a marginal chance of getting in or getting a decent seat. The effort required increases exponentially, while the reward it yields dwindles. This is no longer a Game of Thrones, but a Game of Diminishing Returns.

These lines are only exasperated by the retarded staff who works the events. As best as I could tell, there is the proprietary Convention Center security staff, supplemented by a contract agency’s security staff, and on top of that there seemed to be a third group, some sort of facilities management agency helping out. I’ve been a manager in the corporate security industry for about 16 years now, and I’m not impressed by the $4 per hour staff that looks like they couldn’t muster enough brain cells to pass a high school equivalency exam. Security is a joke at this place. It’s a sieve, you can penetrate their defenses unpredictably in multiple spots. It’s clear that they have no minimum standard for employment, no training, have not received any type of in-briefing or walk through, do not adhere to any set of post orders, and basically perpetuate every negative stereotype you can think of that's made the term "security guard" a pejorative. They can’t communicate, there’s an unclear chain of command, and the shit they’re spouting about sitting vs. standing being a “fire hazard” is absolute bullshit. They are marble-mouthed mumblers who possess no customer service skills whatsoever. And these cats are passively attempting to manage 100,000 fucktards who don’t appear to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, much less form a sensible line, or get the fuck out of the center aisle while they snap pictures of Voltron and the Camel Toe Variant Emma Frost. One of my typical exchanges with one of the security staff goes something like this;

ME: Hey man, how do we get to the line for blah?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: Is this the line for blah?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: Do you know where the line for blah is?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: What is this line for?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: What are you doing here?
FUDDLEBUTT: Uhh, watching the line?
ME: What line?
FUDDLEBUTT: This line.
ME: This line?
FUDDLEBUTT: Yeah.
ME: Which is for what?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: Sigh

It really does go like that. I swear I’m not making it up. We encounter that level of intelligence for two days straight. In some instances the staff will completely contradict each other. There are people in the same uniform, with the same title, clearly with the same caveman intellect, giving out the exact opposite information. Person A says you have to enter at Hall 2, but Person B directs you back to Hall 1 so you’re just going around in circles trying to figure out how to get to where you want to go. There’s just too many people, it’s absolute chaos and gridlock. I’m fucking annoyed at how illogical it all is. And if one more motherfucker in sweaty costume bumps or jostles me, there’s going to be a hate crime. Toward the end of it all, I’m not longer weaving in and out of traffic, I just walk in a straight line, hunker down my shoulder, and start ramming whoever the fuck might be in the path I’m clearing. I’m losing my mind. I don’t want to overhear one more inane comment.

Don’t even get me started on tickets for 2012. Last year was the first year that tickets for the next year’s show sold out a year prior. In 2010, tickets for 2011 sold out on the last day of the convention. So, this year, it seemed like they were prepared for the same thing to happen again. In anticipation of a sellout, they moved 2012 ticket sales to an off-site location, just down the street at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Tickets were on sale between 8am and 11am. We arrived about 7:50am and were initially met by nice signage and a steady flow of people that wriggled its way through the Hyatt back behind the marina area. Let me explicitly state that we were informed by the signage, by the staff, and by the people in line that this was the line for 2012 ticket sales. At no point did we cross other lines. At no point did we change lines. At no point did we lose sight of what line we were in. We followed the line all the way outside of the Hyatt, back to the marina, and all the way through a parking garage, and then back to the Convention Center. Things seemed to be going well, until the line turned the corner in front of the Convention Center and then abruptly dissipated into three other lines, which seemed to be for volunteers, entrance into something at Hall H, and the general entrance line for the Exhibit Hall. We asked multiple staffers where the 2012 ticket line had gone and the responses were either “oh, I don’t know,” or “oh, that’s over at the Hyatt.” Yeah, we explained that we’d started at the Hyatt and ended up over here shit out of luck with a disappearing line. We asked to see a supervisor or manager and 3 idiots stood around pretending to check their phones, pull out pieces of paper to stare at them blankly, asking over and over “what are you trying to get to?” Fucking exasperating. I actually told someone to their face “you’re a fucking idiot,” then turned and marched away. The time was now a little after 9am, so we’d basically wasted over an hour in line for absolutely nothing.

We gave up and decided to go all the way back to the Hyatt to see what happened. Of course, before we even get to the lobby of the Hyatt, there is a nice woman who is calmly and definitively telling everyone that 2012 is sold out for the day and that we can return tomorrow morning at 8am to try again. It’s probably not coincidence that the only useful or precise information we got was from a Hyatt employee, not someone affiliated with security at the Convention Center. One of my party double checks with the woman face to face. Yup. We were in the right line. The theory is that maybe once they sold out, it never got communicated to the people who were that far back in the line, and the line just evaporated. So anway. Yup. Sold out. Yup. Come back tomorrow at 8am. 8am to 11am, same as today. Tickets go on sale again right at 8am. Got it. 8am. At this point, I’m so pissed off that I told my friends, this is the last year I’m going to Comic-Con. This is stupid. I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s totally broken. I wanted a way out anyway, and this is probably the excuse I needed to push me over the edge. I’m actually a little relieved that I won’t need to be bothered with all this again. It was a telling moment.

So… we do our thing and come back Friday morning right at 8am. The very first official we encounter says “oh, we sold out 20 minutes ago.” 20 minutes ago? 20 minutes ago was 7:40am. How can you sell out of something by 7:40am that we were explicitly told wasn’t supposed to go on sale until 8am? “I guess they started early,” he says. “I guess I hate you,” I say to myself. “I suggest you come back tomorrow at 5am.” Are you fucking kidding? 5am? That’s fucking insane. In that moment, Comic-Con officially died for me. The image of the bloated diseased chicken who can no longer properly function pops back into my head. I’d basically already made up my mind the previous day that I was done with Comic-Con. Once I’d cooled off and slept on it, I decided that if I could get tickets the following day I might buy just a single day to stay connected to the whole clusterfuck out of some misguided sense of obligation. But, I thought, if I can’t get tickets, then that’s that. I’m not going to sweat it. I won’t miss it. It was probably meant to be then. At this point, you just basically have to know someone to get in, and I can probably work that angle more reliably than this ugly mess. The scales finally tipped in the risk-reward proposition that was Comic-Con. The scales finally tipped in the interest-disgust proposition that was Comic-Con. The scales finally tipped in the me thinking I’m the right demographic vs. the wrong demographic for Comic-Con. I honestly just don’t care that much anymore. I’ll still buy comics of course. I’ll still support the creators I love. Forever. But this Comic-Con thing is a brand of organized religion that I feel too frustrated by, too intellectually stunted by, to continue.

I’ll let Jim Morrison & The Doors sing this one out…

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end

Of everything that stands, the end

No safety or surprise, the end

I'll never look into your eyes...again

Can you picture what will be

So limitless and free

Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand

In a...desperate land

Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain

And all the children are insane

All the children are insane

Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

There's danger on the edge of town

Ride the King's highway, baby

Weird scenes inside the gold mine

Ride the highway west, baby

Ride the snake, ride the snake

To the lake, the ancient lake, baby

The snake is long, seven miles

Ride the snake...he's old, and his skin is cold

The west is the best

The west is the best

Get here, and we'll do the rest

The blue bus is callin' us

The blue bus is callin' us

Driver, where you takin' us

The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on

He took a face from the ancient gallery

And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived, and...then he

Paid a visit to his brother, and then he

He walked on down the hall, and

And he came to a door...and he looked inside

Father, yes son, I want to kill you

Mother...I want to...fuck you

C'mon baby, take a chance with us

C'mon baby, take a chance with us

C'mon baby, take a chance with us

And meet me at the back of the blue bus

Doin' a blue rock

On a blue bus

Doin' a blue rock

C'mon, yeah

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

It hurts to set you free

But you'll never follow me

The end of laughter and soft lies

The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

2 Comments:

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you been reading American Vampire or Marineman? I can answer that anyway having read your blog. No. So instead of bitching you have no comics to read anymore and how amazing your buddy Brian Wood is, why don't you try some? You might be supprised. Both these comics are passionate, well written and supremely illustrated.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Justin said...

I've read both, actually. Not my cup of tea. Thanks for playing.

 

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