San Diego Comic Con International 2008

Ah, where to begin. This one was a little bittersweet. Rather than regale you with tales of my adventures through numerous panels, after parties, conversations with creators and publishers, and all of the high falutin’ spectacle, I thought I’d concentrate instead on the two most prevalent themes I encountered. Those trends basically lead right into the intent and primary content of this post. There were indeed highlights, but it was a very lackluster experience; even the Eisner Awards felt predictable and safe. When Brian K. Vaughan and Y: The Last Man are winning, instead of Jason Aaron on Scalped or Brian Wood and his amazing body of work, it disturbs me. Not that there’s anything wrong with BKV and Y, that’s a fine title, not picking on him per se – it’s just makes the ceremony a little rote. I mean, does anyone really think Meltzer’s JLA #11 was the best single issue last year? Really?! I know the awards are influenced heavily by the nominations and personal taste of the rotating judging panel, but how many comics did those people actually read? It’s an ok issue, but for my money there’s dozens more qualified single issues. I can only watch James Jean win for the same category so many times. I’d prefer to have more innovation and an edgier quality recognized. Of course, that’s just my personal taste, your mileage may vary, but it all did have me asking… do I need to even go next year? Could I get by with just one day instead of all four? Would LA or Chicago be a better show for me?

Theme 1: Where Are The Umm… You Know, Comics? The feeling that Hollywood (and by extension, everything non-comic related such as video games, toys, t-shirts, merchandising, jewelry, etc.) has long been co-opting the con to an increasingly alarming degree has permeated the show strongly for the last few years. It was always noticeable and understandable, but this is the first time I really felt palpable disgust and resignation across the board from retailers, publishers, and con-goers alike. I heard a lot of comments that boiled down to “Where are the comics at Comic Con?” The CBLDF charity auction was treated to a sermon from Mile High’s Chuck Rozanski on getting back to our roots. Multiple retailers I encountered on the dealer floor flat out stated this is the last San Diego they’d be subjecting themselves to. It’s too expensive; when you take into account the rising gas prices, travel costs, staffing, merchandise, booth rental, and just the pain in the ass factor of even finding a hotel room or place to eat, it all culminates with an overwhelming sense of being more trouble than it’s worth. One dealer from the East Coast told me that his total operating cost for the con will be around $11,000. So just to break even, the guy’s got to do $11,000 in 4 days! Now perhaps he was overstating his costs to make a point, but he was certainly not the only dealer I heard spouting out five figure price tags for the junket. He asked rhetorically, why would I come back when I can go online? I’m better off focusing my efforts on Chicago, a “real comics show,” and as far West as he was now willing to travel. He continued, why participate in an an environment where 90% of the people walking by just want to watch movie trailers and get free t-shirts? They could care less about comics. And for every retailer pushed out by this dynamic, there’s a waiting list of non-comic related enterprises waiting to sign up for booth space. The numbers are dwindling in a downward spiral. Bummer.

Theme 2: Reconnecting With Friends! This phenomenon really seemed to grow out of the first theme. Everyone in the inner comic book circle seemed to be feeling a bit marginalized, as if to mainstream America we are now a minority within a minority – the only guys at the Comic Con actually interested in comics anymore. It was a bizarre Days of Future Past motif, an oddball lot banding together with fellow mutants for survival. This very act seemed to create a tighter bond, sense of solidarity, and mutual recognition that this dying breed is in it together, until the end. I chatted with Ryan Claytor of Elephant Eater, checking in on the best autobiographical comics around. I introduced him to Tim Goodyear at Sparkplug Comics, the Portland powerhouse which takes credit for my largest single purchase of the convention. I found myself dragging folks away from Marvel (where there was nary a comic to be had, what you found was primarily people taking pictures of the Iron Man armor) and DC (which was an odd mélange of the Watchmen trailer, toys, and free posters) and over to Top Shelf or Drawn & Quarterly where I could introduce folks to the work of Matt Kindt or Rutu Modan. I met up with Jaime from SoCal Comics and discussed the merits of showing original comic book art at the museum I work for. There was Lee Hester of Lee’s Comics, which was the only place I could find this week’s comics, a novel concept in the sheer audacity of its antithetical logic. Many times I heard tense and genuine quivering in their voices as people spoke of the late Rory Root of Comic Relief. I ran into Phil and Terry who used to run Heroes in Campbell, CA (Phil is now the Foosball World Champion – whodathunkit?). I spent time connecting with new creators like GB Tran, whose work I was an instant fan of. I visited the CBLDF booth and found it oddly vacant during my three visits, though over $55,000 was raised at the charity auction Saturday night, around half of what the recent Gordon Lee case cost to adjudicate. It was really a special honor to meet Gordon Lee himself, who is an unassuming guy who readily admitted his life would have been destroyed if not for the fund. Talk about personalizing a cause; if one ever needed a lesson of the hard reality in an industry of fictitious creations, this was it. All of these experiences really touched me and reminded me of the importance of personal connections in any business. Lastly, we had the “Boys from Brazil,” Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, along with Becky Cloonan, who were just mopping up Eisner Awards. From these guys, you could feel the sheer joy of the craft. Gabriel got on that podium at one point, composed himself, paused, and simply proclaimed… “I love comics.” Yes, more of that please.

Yes, it’s about the comics. Or rather, it should be. So instead of talking about the amazing Watchmen trailer, the entertaining Terry Moore panel, the gratification of seeing Jeff Lester of Comix Experience on a blogging panel, or even the nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from Grant Morrison and Gerard Way, let’s look at some comics, shall we? Many free comics were shoved into my hand, all of which were shit. I was making it a point to leave the ones I read in the garbage in the bathroom or walk around with a couple folded in my back pocket, all Joe Nozemack style from the Savant Magazine days. It’s not worth anything! The only thing it’s worth is the value you derive from it while reading the story and enjoying the art! Without further delay, here are the real gems I picked up;

Concatenations (Elephant Eater): One of the first books I picked up. Forget the fact that I have a pull quote on the back; this is one of the most intelligent pieces of commentary you’ll find on the medium. Congrats Ryan Claytor! Hope you sold out!

Nerd Burglar (Sparkplug Comics): Very few people know that Sparkplug put out a freebie on Free Comic Book Day; this is chock full of goodness from some of their finest creators.

Godland: Celestial Edition One (Image Comics): I’ve been meaning to pick this up, having enjoyed the first few single issues. It was pretty fun to get it for $25 (regularly $39.99) directly from Joe Casey, chatting with him as he signed.

Content #2 (Self-Published): Brooklyn’s own GB Tran simply amazed me with his art style. I’ve read some of his work in anthologies and was pleasantly surprised to see some books that were wholly his own.

Aya of Yop City (Drawn & Quarterly): Aya was one of the finest original graphic novels I read last year and I was ecstatic to find the sequel and also learned that a third volume is in the works .

Jamilti & Other Stories (Drawn & Quarterly): Rutu Modan did a signing at the D&Q booth and was including wonderful and unique sketches for every person that attended. She told me that everyone was buying Exit Wounds because of the Eisner buzz, but I was the first person to purchase this book all week, which is both cool for me and alarming for her.

Ordinary Victories: What is Precious (NBM): The long awaited follow up to Manu Larcenet’s best solo work, in my humble opinion.

Mesmo Delivery (Image Comics): Mark my words, Rafael Grampa is going to be the next big thing. He’s going to blow up like the other Boys from Brazil. His style is like a delicious mix of Paul Pope and Frank Quitely, uniting thick inky lines with an incredible amount of detail. This was as close as I came to being blown away by anything I saw at the con based on first impressions alone.

Too Cool to be Forgotten (Top Shelf): Alex Robinson’s new book, really cool signature and sketch inside!

5 (Self-Published): From Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Rafael Grampa, and Vasilis Lolos, the Eisner Award winning anthology. Can’t wait to read it! Signed by everyone!

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less #1-2 (Sparkplug Comics): This Sarah Glidden work comes highly recommended from pal Tim Goodyear.

Reich #1-4 (Sparkplug Comics): Elijah Brubaker’s book, which I’d already heard great things about and wanted to try, also highly recommended by Tim.

Your Disease Spread Quickly (Robotic Boot): Tom Neely’s book The Blot from I Will Destroy You is one of my favorite books from last year, so I was excited to tell him that and pick up this book from him directly.

King K: I picked up this signed Paul Pope print from the CBLDF booth; it should go nicely in my new office.

Local #11 Cover: Picked up this signed print directly from Ryan Kelly, ditto on the office.

Content #2 Print: This is how much I instantly liked GB Tran’s work, picked up a print of a page from the second issue also.

Christopher Mitten Print: This color non-Wasteland piece is just gorgeous. It was a real treat to meet Chris for the second time, express my love for Wasteland, and to hear that he’s a fan and regular reader of 13 Minutes! Quick Plug: I just read issue #19 last night and it basically blew my fucking skull off. So many twists and turns, so much revealed, so much plot development, these guys are brilliant. Go buy it! If you’re not reading Wasteland, you’re really missing out on something special.

See you next year!


At 2:42 PM, Blogger antony said...

Man, I didn't even realise you were there. Wish I'd been at the Oni booth when you stopped by to see Chris :(

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Hey Antony, thanks for stopping by! You know, I saw you but you had just arrived and were getting settled in, I didn't want to intrude. My fault for not introducing myself. I bought the print from Chris and my brother-in-law picked up the trades and was chatting with you (I think).

Thanks so much for Wasteland, issue 19 just totally blew me away! I couldn't believe how much you were laying down in that issue, just spectacular.



At 2:07 AM, Blogger Lee Hester said...

A well written report Anthony. You captured well the glory and the folly of the show that we affectionally dubbed "Comic Con Irrational."

- Lee

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Hi Justin,

Just saw this wrap-up. First of all, thanks for all the praise. It was great seein' you out there.

Secondly, I must admit I was disappointed with the Eisner Awards this year. The keynote address (which was my girlfriend's introduction to the awards) was slurred throughout by a drunken and adlibbing Frank Miller. To sum it up, his pearl of wisdom about the comics industry went something like, "Make shome good comicsh before you shtart making a movie." AS IF WE ALL SECRETLY COVET A PLACE BEHIND THE VELVET ROPES OF HOLLYWOOD! Some of us like our place in comic-dom just fine, thanks. Needless to say, he was a far cry from a cheerleader for the medium. Directly after his "speech" I felt so ashamed, I simply turned to my girlfriend and apologized. Frank, your cool points plummeted big-time with that disregard of the Eisners.

With that said, the convention treated me really well, and I had a great time meeting new folks and seeing a lot of continuing readers. Big thanks to everyone who stopped by my table to say hello, including you, Justin.

Take care,

Ryan in Michigan :)

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...


Hey, it's good to hear from you. Yeah, Frank was definitely embarassing. The whole ceremony just felt wrapped in this shroud of Samuel L. Jackson and Stormtroopers - it was all just a little silly, far removed from the core essence of what I want from a comic con.

I actually saw you get up and leave part way through the ceremony, I was just a couple of rows behind you to the right. I was thinking, hrmm, either Ryan is tired from a long day or he's not feelin' this...

Anyway, great to see you, talk soon!



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